Christmas Countdown — Day ?

by Kathy Larson

Predictably, I am behind in my goal to write every day about the Christmas/holiday themed movies we’ve been watching. What can I say? Life happens.

But I am here now, at the keyboard, attempting to remember everything we’ve watched and what I/we thought about it. Here goes: (these are in no particular order)

  1. Big Bake Holiday — I watched an episode of this just to see what it was all about. As the name suggests it’s about baking big things. In this case it was cakes, and they had to have an animated feature. The three teams who squared off in the episode I watched made a shotgun house in New Orleans complete with a working iconic street lamp; a California beach house with a little pink convertible that glowed in the dark; and the team from Thunder Bay, Canada(!) made a Japanese pagoda with a top that rotated. It was interesting to see how these bakers accomplished their designs, but the most amazing thing about it all for me was the fact the cakes were edible. That was an important criteria, and I guess, for people who have enough money to hire someone to make them a 4 or 5 foot tall cake with movable parts and working lights it would be an expectation. The team from Canada won, which made me smile, but I won’t be watching this show again.
  2. Black Christmas — we decided to mix things up a little and watch a horror/slasher movie. This wasn’t dreadful, but it wasn’t good, either. I was saddened to see Cary Elwes, of The Princess Bride fame in this one. Elwes is a good actor, I don’t know why he continues to make such dreadful movies as this one and The Purge series. Anyway. . .
    . . .this movie takes place at a college, Hawthorne College, to be exact and it is Christmas break. Most of the girls have left for the holidays and the plot centers around a few who either not going home or taking their sweet ol’ time getting on the road. Girls start getting mysteriously, and hilariously, killed, but no-one notices until it’s too late. There is a plucky heroine, who has suffered terribly in the past at the hands of a not-so-nice super-popular guy from one of the best fraternities, and her band of merry sisters, who save one, are all dispatched by the evil bad guys led by, you guessed it — Cary Elwes.
    Like I said it’s not dreadful, but unless you’re desperately in need of a switch from holiday goo, I’d avoid this one.
  3. The Holiday — this one is favourite of mine. I’ve seen it several times and it always makes me laugh and cry and feel really good when it’s over. Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black are the primary characters and Eli Wallach stars as an old Hollywood writer who Kate Winslet befriends.
    Released in 2006 it is the story of two women who are terrible at being in love and who decide to swap places for the holidays and try to forget about the men in their lives. Iris (Kate) is from Surrey, England, while Amanda (Cameron) is from, you guessed it, LA. It’s a sweet, rather predictable story, but the acting is wonderful and Kate Winslet is a joy to watch. As is Jude Law — that man is gorgeous! You’re not going to go wrong cuddling up with someone special to watch this movie.
  4. Santa Fake — this is a puzzling little movie. It’s available on Prime and was released in 2019. It stars Damian McGinty (Celtic Thunder), John Rhys-Davies, Jeff Fahey, Heather Morris and Judd Nelson.
    This is a story about a young Irish lad come to America who gets mixed up with a New York crime boss, ends up on the run and then disguises himself as a shopping mall Santa Claus in Santa Fe, New Mexico in order to avoid the hitmen sent to kill him. It sounds like it should be a helluva lot of fun, but it’s actually just kind of a mess. McGinty sings — thank goodness — because that makes sitting through this holiday mess of a movie more than a little tolerable.
    This is family friendly entertainment, it’s gentle and humourous and it’s not going to make you think too terribly hard. If you watch this one, you’ll probably be scratching your head at the end going: whaaaat?
    The bonus of watching this one? Doing a YouTube search after for performances by Celtic Thunder. They are amazing.

    Hallelujah!

Christmas Countdown — Day 5

by Kathy Larson

On day five we watched Love the Coopers. If you haven’t seen this one it was released in 2015 and stars Diane Keaton and John Goodman. They are a 60-ish couple whose relationship is in crisis and they are hosting what is to be one final family Christmas before they part ways. There is an eclectic cast of supporting characters that make up their extended, slightly wacky family.

This is a fun, funny movie, not too heavy on the syrup and with just enough charm that you don’t mind watching it again. Are the Coopers maybe a tad too wonderful? Perhaps, but we don’t really mind as we watch their various stories unfurl and they all find the happily ever after ending that we want them to find. This is Christmas, after all.

The performances in this movie are all good, all believable. Diane Keaton always amazes me with how beautiful she is and how absolutely effortless her acting seems. John Goodman does a good job as her husband of 40 years who is only giving up on their marriage because he can’t seem to get her attention anymore. All the other characters are well acted and believable, even if they are a little unbelievable. Even Rags, the dog, who narrates the story and is voiced by Steve Martin, is impeccable. He is a beautiful looking dog, has incredibly expressive eyes, and steals scenes while he’s stealing food off plates.

It was nice to curl up on the couch with my blanket and mug of warm cider and watch this one. I laughed, I cried and then I went to bed feeling I’d been fairly entertained.

Love the Coopers was playing on standard cable, but we opted to find it on Netflix so that we didn’t have to watch a bunch of commercials. Hope you enjoy it.

Are those sleigh bells I hear?

Christmas Countdown — Day 4

by Kathy Larson

Today’s choice was Jingle Jangle, A Christmas Journey. This is a Netflix original movie, released this November.

I had high hopes for this one based on the trailer. It stars Forest Whitaker, Ricky Martin, Keegan-Michael Key, Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad. The cast is nicely rounded out by a host of other talented actors. The special effects in this one also play a starring role.

It’s a simple plot: man has everything, man loses everything, man becomes bitter and turns his back on life. Jump forward 30 or so years and he is forced, through the machinations of an innocent, equally talented as himself grandchild, to confront his fears and embrace life again.

This is a musical — however, the singing is kept to a minimum, and there are only a handful of stunning, though sadly repetivive, dance scenes. The sets, costumes and musical score are all beautiful — you definitely know that this is a fantasy. Victorian England, or wherever the story is supposed to be taking place, never looked so clean or colourful.

The movie was . . . okay. I wish I could say it was fantastic, but it just wasn’t. Despite all the lavishness, and the depth of the actors involved it fell flat. Whitaker seems to sleepwalk through his role, while others seem to go way over the top in trying to deliver their performances. The shiningest light in the whole movie is young Madalen Mills, who plays Journey. She has a lovely voice, and brought to her character a simple and honest portrayal of a young girl trying to forge a relationship with her grumpy grandfather.

This is family friendly entertainment. If I was going by a star rating I’d give Jingle Jangle 2.5 stars out of 5.

Jingle, jingle, jangle!

Christmas Countdown — Day 3

by Kathy Larson

Day 3 was a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t feeling particularly festive after what can only be described as a ‘trying’ day. But, I persevered and after a little bit of searching I stumbled upon It Happened One Christmas.

The movie was released in 1977 and it stars Marlo Thomas. Remember her? Danny Thomas’ daughter, star of That Girl and The Marlo Thomas Show. For a while Marlo was a huge star on television and personified the all-American, girl next door. I remember watching That Girl, it was funny and, for its time, groundbreaking.

But, we are not here to discuss old tv shows. We are here to talk about It Happened One Christmas.

Essentially, this movie is a reimagining of It’s a Wonderful Life, with the main character roles reversed. Instead of George Bailey we have Mary Bailey. Instead of Mary Hatch we have George Hatch. It was a simple character switch that allowed the main plot of the movie to stay the same. Another character shift was to replace Clarence the angel, second class with Clara the angel, same designation. Cloris Leachman played Clara, and honestly, she was simply awful. It was a good thing that her role was much smaller in this adapted version of the story than was Henry Travers’ in the original.

Despite the movie hailing from 1977 it was easy to watch and not at all as dated as you might expect. That is due to the fact that they kept it true to the era of the original film — 1928 — so costumes, scenery, and attitudes were essentially the same. Bedford Falls was recognizable as Bedford Falls, supporting characters looked and sounded enough like their original counterparts that I sometimes found myself thinking they were the same actors from the 1946 IAWL.

The major changes were subtle, but important. In this version you have a strong, independent woman who wants to chart her own course through life, but, like her male counterpart George in the original story, sacrifices her personal goals and desires for the good of her family and community. The important distinction, however, is that Mary Bailey is the representation of the true feminist ideal that was being pursued in the last half of the twentieth century. She was smart, strong, beautiful, knew her own mind, was unselfish, thoughtful, and caring. On top of that she ran a successful business, managed to have and raise four children, looked after her injured war-hero husband and happily took a backseat to her younger brother’s dreams and aspirations. Through it all she remained perfectly put together, with impeccable clothes and beautifully done hair and make-up. And, unlike George Bailey, she never shows any frustration or anger at her situation (other than when she wishes she had never been born, there is no way that could have been left out of the story). Other than that one lapse, she is a stoic and smiling figure of the EVERY WOMAN all women should strive to be.

At least in the 70s. Now, of course, we know that for women to try and be all that is ridiculous. And exhausting. And not good for our mental health.

Political overtones aside, as in the original, this is charming little movie. It is not nearly as good as the original with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, but I didn’t expect it to be. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie the whole family can enjoy this will fill the ticket. We found it on Prime.

Happy holidays!

Christmas Countdown — Day 2

by Kathy Larson

Okay, so today I watched two Christmasy/holiday shows.

  1. The Holiday Baking Championship — I actually started watching this about a month ago. It’s a ton of fun. Jesse, the hunky host, who is actually a former NFL player, does a great job leading the show, introducing the day’s challenges, as well as adding some gentle humour. Today’s show saw the contestants get whittled down to six.
    I’m always amazed at what these bakers can whip up in the allotted hour to ninety minutes they’re given. Sometimes the ingredients are more than a little bizzare. Like the time they had to make a holiday dessert based on an ingredient from a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Sage? Balsamic vinegar? Sausage? In the end they all presented some pretty astounding, and according to the judges, delicious desserts.
    This is a fun way to while away some COVID hours and get a little inspired to try some holiday baking. Check it out.
  2. Die Hard — Now some may argue that this is not a holiday movie, but I am firmly rooted in the camp that believes it is. It takes place on Christmas Eve, in New York (no city in the world dresses itself up better for the holidays than New York!), there is Christmas music playing during much of the movie, and who can dispute that Alan Rickman is the grinchiest Grinch that ever was?
    This movie is a classic. Originally released in 1988, it has stood up well and I had as much fun watching it this time (probably my twelfth, though I can’t honestly say for sure) as I did the first time. You can’t help but cheer for John McLean and I can barely watch without flinching every time he pulls all that broken glass out of his poor, battered bare feet.
    If you have been living under a rock and never seen the film (the best one, imho) then do yourself a favour and grab a bowl of popcorn, a pillow to grab on to and enjoy a fun, fun, fun ride.

    Well, that’s what I watched today. Hope this gives you some ideas for your own quarantine-until-Christmas television watching.

    Ho!Ho!Ho!