Title: Elf Release Date: November 7, 2003 Director: Jon Favreau Production Company: New Line Cinema | Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions Summary/Review:
I guess I’m a little bit of a Grinch, because I finally watched this “beloved Holiday classic” for the first time and it didn’t resonate with me at all. There’s not even really anything that I can find to criticize about it, I just found it to be almost funny without every really being funny. Will Ferrell does a great job as Buddy, an elf at Santa’s a workshop, who discovers that he was really an orphaned human and goes off to New York City to find his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan).
I can appreciate Ferrell’s performance as a wonderous child in an adult body. I also like that this movie avoids cynicism and really commits to the belief in the Christmas spirit. But maybe because of these things there’s also no real conflict and everyone just seems easily won over by Buddy. I don’t know, I hate to poopoo on everyone’s favorite holiday movie, but this one wasn’t for me.
Title: The City of Lost Children Release Date: May 17, 1995 Director: Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet Production Company: Canal+ | Centre National de la Cinématographie | Eurimages | France 3 Cinéma | Televisión Española Summary/Review:
The Brattle Theatre podcast stated that The City of Lost Children is a Christmas movie, so I’m going to run with it since I’ve been meaning to rewatch this classic for some time. The makers of another classic, Delicatessen, created this visually-stunning, creepy yet heartfelt story about chosen family and hope in dire times. The setting is a gritty port city (kind of a dystopian version of Sweet Haven from Robert Altman’s Popeye) populated by sideshow performers, a criminal gang of orphans run by malicious conjoined twins, and a religious cult of Cyclops who kidnap children.
Many of these children are delivered to an evil scientist Krank (Daniel Emilfork) on an oil rog who is stealing their dreams because he can’t dream himself. Working with Krank are a half-dozen clones (all played by Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon), a dwarf named Marth (Mireille Mossé), and a brain in a fish tank named Uncle Irvin (Jean-Louis Trintignant). This all really begins to make sense over time as details are revealed. In retrospect, I wonder how much this movie influenced the tv adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Into this milieu enters the strongman One (a brilliant performance by Ron Perlman) whose world is turned upside down after his carnival manager is stabbed and his little brother, Denree (Joseph Lucien), is abducted. He aligns with a member of the orphan gang, Miette (Judith Vittet), to track down his little brother. The bond formed between One and Miette is what makes this film great, and I’m very impressed by the 10-year-old Vittet’s acting chops. I looked at her IMBD page expecting her to be in lots of great movies as an adult, but alas her acting career was very short (although she does work in costuming for French tv series).
This movie is absolutely brilliant but it has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and the Krank dream sequences contain imagery of many creepy Santa Clauses, so there is your Christmas content. The themes of hope and family, though, make it even more relevant to the holiday.
Title: Christmas in Connecticut Release Date: August 11, 1945 Director: Peter Godfrey Production Company: Warner Bros. Summary/Review:
The movie begins with the travails of WWII sailor Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) who survives 18 days in a life raft and a long recovery in the hospital back home. He becomes obsessed with food and particularly the columns of Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), a mother who writes about cooking and domestic life from her farm in Connecticut. The earnest publisher of her magazine, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) learns that Jones is a fan of Lane, and comes up with a publicity stunt of having the war hero spend Christmas at her farm.
There’s only one problem: Elizabeth is a single “career gal” who lives in New York City and knows nothing about cooking. Luckily, Elizabeth’s long-time suitor John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) is an architect with an actual farmhouse in Connecticut and is willing to pose at Elizabeth’s husband (and ultimately marry her for real). Elizabeth’s friend Felix Bassenak (S.Z. Sakall) is a restaurateur who agrees to come along and do the cooking. All of this takes way to long to set up in the movie (as it takes too much space for me to summarize) but once all the pieces are set in place, the movie really shines.
When Elizabeth and Jefferson finally meet, it’s love at first site. There are a lot of comic hijinks of Elizabeth trying to keep up with the imagined life of her column, especially for Yardley’s benefit. But the movie is also surprisingly progressive as we learn that Jefferson is actually far more domestic than Elizabeth. This is especially true in a scene where he expertly bathes Elizabeth’s borrowed baby when she has no clue. The babies themselves are in fact left in the care of Sloan’s housekeeper by immigrant women working in war factories. The war has turned traditional gender roles upside down and this movie seems to be saying that they don’t need to go back to them. Stanwyck’s performance is particularly brilliant and she delivers lines that clearly indicate that she’s had it with societal expectations even as she’s forced to go along with them. (For more on the subversive elements of this movie see this recent article from the AV Club).
The slow start to this movie could use some judicious editing, and there are some subplots I’ve left out of my summary that aren’t too interesting, but overall, once this movie gets to Connecticut it’s a great rom-com. By the way, despite the movie taking place over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it is not a particularly Christmas-y movie. Also, in an odd bit of trivia, this movie was remade in the 1990s as a tv movie directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger! I’m not going to watch that one.
Title: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Release Date: December 18, 1966 Director: Chuck Jones | Ben Washam Production Company: Cat in the Hat Productions | MGM Animation/Visual Arts Summary/Review:
With all the remakes and the ever-growing Grinch Industrial Complex, it’s easy to forget how short and simple this original adaption of the Dr. Seuss’ book is. It does bring together some remarkable talent, including legendary cartoon director Chuck Jones. The animation is noticeably superior to A Charlie Brown Christmas of a year earlier. It also features the voice talents of Boris Karloff as the narrator and June Foray as Cindy Lou Who. And the golden voice of the awesomely-named Thurl Ravenscroft sings the original diss track, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The Grinch of course is relatable to anyone who gets a bit grumpy about the commercialism and trappings of Christmas, so this show holds up well.
Title: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas Release Date: December 4, 1977 Director: Jim Henson Production Company: Henson Associates Summary/Review:
I’d heard about Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas when I was a child, but somehow I never caught it on tv and later in life I just couldn’t find. Being a lover of otters and Jim Henson, I’m glad that I finally was able to watch it this year. Henson and his associates created a charming Appalachian village populated with several down-home animals including the titular Emmet (Jerry Nelson) and his mother, Alice (Marilyn Sokol). In this “Gift of the Magi” inspired story, Emmet and Alice each hope to win the prize in a talent show so they can get one another the perfect gift. Emmet pokes a hole in his mother’s washtub to start the jug band, while Alice pawns Emmet’s tools to get fine clothing for her singing performance. It’s a sweet story with great music and fantastic set design and puppetry tricks that still hold up. I’m so glad I finally got to see this!
Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas Release Date: December 9, 1965 Director: Bill Melendez Production Company: Lee Mendelson Films Summary/Review:
It’s not the nostalgia talking, this show is really just great. This groundbreaking tv special deals with seasonal depression, crass consumerism, and even made aluminum Christmas trees go out of style. Add to that a banging jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. And it does all this in a story about kids putting on a Christmas play in limited animation by the Graphic Blandishment team.
Merry Christmas! Today I will be posting my reviews of my binge-watch of holiday movies. Enjoy!
Title: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Release Date: November 9, 1999 Director: Alex Mann, Bradley Raymond, Jun Falkenstein, Bill Speers, & Toby Shelton Production Company: Walt Disney Television Animation | Disney Video Premiere Summary/Review:
This anthology film is made up of three shorts staring the Disney Fab Five. The first segment (and the best) has Huey, Dewey and Louie wishing every day would be Christmas and finding that the day is less special when it’s repeated Groundhog’s Day style. Next, Goofy tries to make a perfect Christmas for his son Max, who begins doubting the existence of Santa Claus. Finally, Mickey and Minnie create a modern interpretation of “The Gift of the Magi.” It’s a good holiday film to watch with young children although it’s not anything special.
Merry Christmas! Today I will be posting my reviews of my binge-watch of holiday movies. Enjoy!
Title: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special Release Date: November 17, 2020 Director: Ken Cunningham Production Company: Atomic Cartoons | Lucasfilm |The LEGO Group Summary/Review:
This animated, LEGO-fied Disney + special is a funny take on the Star Wars universe, holidays specials, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special of 1977. Set after Rise of Skywalker, Poe is eager to celebrate Life Day with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk, while Rey looks for some wisdom to make her better at training Finn to use the force. Her journey leads her to find an Jedi artifact that opens portals through time so she can travel through time and witness Jedi masters training their apprentices. Things go wrong and soon characters from throughout the Star Wars timeline are mingled together, leading to some great gags such as Kylo Ren meeting his hero Darth Vader and the Emperor, and three different versions of Obi-Wan Kenonbi greeting one another with “Hello there!” It’s a good laugh for Star Wars fans who have a sense of humor.
April 15 was Patriots Day in Massachusetts and we celebrated in our usual way.
First, we attended the Red Sox game, the only scheduled MLB game each season scheduled to start before noon. The weather was cold and wet and the Red Sox lost, but it’s still better than going to work on a Monday morning.
Next, we went to watch the runners in the Boston Marathon. We somehow missed seeing all four people we knew running the race, but cheered on lots of strangers at the corner of Hereford and Boylston. This is a fun place to watch since it’s the first place the runners can see the finish line and they get very jubilant at the turn.
We met our guide Erin at St. Paul’s Chapel, and although her name was appropos to the day, she told us she was not actually Irish. The St. Paul’s churchyard has a memorial – but not the actual grave – of Thomas Addis Emmet. He was the elder brother of famed Irish martyr Robert Emmet, and participated in the rebellious United Irishmen in the 1790s. Exiled to the United States, he did pretty well for himself, and even became New York Attorney General.
The next stop was at St. Peter Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic parish in New York, established in 1785. The current church building dates to 1840.
The Marble Palace is under scaffolding right now, but it is a historic landmark that once held America’s first department store. Opened in 1846, it was home to Alexander Turney Stewart’s dry goods store. Stewart was an Irish immigrant made good. The store provided same day tailoring of clothing thanks to dozens of seamstresses working on the top floor, many of them recent immigrants from Ireland.
The Tweed Courthouse is associated with the graft of Tammany Hall, the powerful political machine that was initially nativist but grew to welcome Irish Catholic immigrants in return for votes. Across the street is the former home of Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, founded in 1850 by the Irish Emigrant Society to protect the savings of newly arrived immigrants.
We took a brief tangent from Irish history to discuss the African Burial Ground, which was pretty cool. Nearby in Foley Square, in the midst of a rally opposing discrimination against Muslims, we talked about one of New York’s first suburbs, built on the site of the Collect Pond which was drained in 1811 through a canal at what is now Canal Street. Since it was a natural spring, the water returned, making the houses unstable. As the wealthy moved out, the poor occupied the abandoned houses and created New York’s first slum. A short walk away in a Chinatown playground, we talked about Five Points, the notorious neighborhood known for its mid-19th century gang violence. But it was also a place where Irish immigrants and free blacks got a toehold in the city, and even invented tap dancing!
On Mott Street, the Church of the Transfiguration shows the immigrant heritage of the neighborhood. Initially a place of worship for the growing Irish community in the 1840s, by World War I it was a largely Italian parish, as the names on the World War I memorial plaque indicate. Today the church serves a Chinese Catholic community.
Another fascinating diversion from the Irish theme was passing by the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jewish Graveyard, which is associated with Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, founded in 1654!
Around the corner, we visited another Roman Catholic church, St. James, where the Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1836.
We stopped by Public School 1 to talk about how Irish Americans had their children educated. Erin also noted the architectural design of the school pays tribute to New York’s Dutch heritage. In the heart of Chinatown, we talked about the Chinese Exclusion Act and how an Irish American woman could lose her citizenship if she married a Chinese man. At the final stop, we discussed the notorious riot brought on by the conflict between two street gangs, the Irish American Dead Rabbits and the nativist Bowery Boys.
Finishing our Irish tour in the heart of Chinatown, we of course had lunch at Thai Jasmine. It was yummy. Then we headed uptown to see part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I hadn’t been to the parade since in 22 years, but had a lot of nostalgia for my childhood when it was an annual event. We remembered the year when the wind was so strong it blew wooden police barriers down the street like tumbleweeds, and told stories of family friends we met at the parade. I was impressed that the pipe and drum bands have significantly more women than in my childhood, and that black and latinx people were in the parade as participants as well as spectators, making it a much more diverse celebration than it used to be.
The crowds were light and I didn’t witness any misbehavior, which was also a plus, although it may have been due to the fact that we arrived late in the day and were way uptown. When the winds got too chilly, we decided to drop in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an hour or so. We wandered into a gallery of art from New Guinea, which was fascinating, and definitely not anything I’d ever seen before.
If the day wasn’t full enough already, we finished things of with a performance by the New York Philharmonic, who played Mozart’s Requiem, but only the parts that Mozart wrote. I had a peaceful half-nap to the music in the first half of the perfomance.
On Sunday, we went to the New York Botanical Garden for the Orchid Show. There were significantly fewer orchids on display than last year, and the greenhouses were very crowded, but it’s always a lovely place to visit regardless.
I like how these two photos turned out. One is a picture of the dome of the greenhouse, the other is the reflection of the dome in the water.
To finish out a proper St. Patrick’s Day, we went to An Beal Bocht Cafe in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. They had sweet Guinness poured properly and musicians playing a traditional Irish seisiún (although they snuck in a couple of crowd pleasers like “The Wild Rover”). It was crowded but friendly and definitely a place I’d like to visit again, albeit it’s a steep climb uphill from the subway station!