Monday 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve (2011)

New Year's Eve is a big, bloated, all-star romance that shows how different people reach big moments in their life on . . . . . . . . New Year's Eve. Written by Katherine Fugate and directed by Garry Marshall, it's happy sappy fluff of the highest order. Originally planned as some kind of continuation from Valentine's Day (which I have yet to see), things eventually changed enough to make this a standalone film although I'm sure that the two easily make up an acceptable double-bill for those who can handle the excess sweetness.

It is, of course, New Year's Eve. One man needs to get to a certain place by midnight to reunite with a woman he has fallen in love with, one woman ends up catering for a gig and party that features her ex-boyfriend as the main entertainment, one mother is determined to keep her daughter from making any big mistakes, a pair of strangers are stranded in a broken elevator, a young man sets out to help an older woman complete a fairly expansive "to do" list, two pregnant women end up with a chance to win a cash prize depending on who has their baby first, a man lies dying in his hospital bed and one woman feels the eyes of the world watching as she tries to ensure that the Times Square ball drops at midnight.

Imagine if Love Actually had been made in America. Then imagine that it was only half as good. You then have New Year's Eve. The writing is just weak and predictable, the direction is just dull and predictable and the only good points about the film come from the few cast members who do well. Zac Efron and Michelle Pfeiffer are fun to tag along with as the former tries to help the latter get through her checklist of special experiences. And then Josh Duhamel is at least likeable in his tale, he's the one trying to reunite with the woman he loves. And . . . . . . . . . . oh no, that's all. Aside from a few cameos from the likes of Hector Elizondo, Larry Miller, Matthew Broderick, Carla Gugino and Yeardley Smith, there is nobody else to praise.

Jessica Biel and Sarah Paulson may not be terrible but they're stuck in a terrible story (they're the two pregnant women). Robert De Niro, Cary Elwes and Halle Berry go through the motions in there tale, which is ultimately pretty dull. Sarah Jessica Parker often annoys me so while she wasn't the worst offender here I still can't say that I enjoyed her performance. Hilary Swank was dull but okay, Ashton Kutcher was okay but dull, Lea Michele was dull and dull and then we get a double whammy in the storyline featuring Jon Bon Jovi and Katherine Heigl. Thankfully, Sofia Vergara is also involved in their pathetic and uninteresting part of the proceedings so she at least brings a bit of energy to the screen.

Overall, this is something that most people will be able to sit through without smashing up their TV but few will end up revisiting. Unless they start feeling particularly masochistic every New Year's Eve.


Sunday 30 December 2012

Christmas Cupid (2010)

If there is anyone acting in movies lately who is more annoying than Christina Milian then I will be very, very surprised because I almost didn't make it to the end of Christmas Cupid simply because of her annoying and smug presence. She may have been easier to tolerate if the movie had been better but I doubt it.

The plot is a horribly modernised, warped version of A Christmas Carol in which successful and driven Sloane Spencer (Milian) ends up visited by the spirit of prematurely deceased starlet Caitlin Quinn (Ashley Benson, just about the only likeable presence in the movie) and warned that she needs to change her ways. Sloane has been a bad friend, a bad daughter and a bad person to fall in love with so her mistakes are to be pointed out to her by three ex-boyfriends (one from her past, one of her recent dalliances and someone from her future that she hopes she doesn't recognise). So it's kinda like a cross between Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past and Scrooged without any of the appealing elements of either, which I know may not be a lot in the case of the former film namechecked there.

The lazy screenplay by Aury Wallington is lazily directed by Gil Junger and the result is a Christmas film that actually makes you want to say "humbug", at the very least.

Where to begin with Milian? I guess to be nice about it all I could say that I prefer her singing to her acting. And I absolutely hate her singing. She's not helped by the fact that she's playing a character that viewers will struggle to root for but a better actress might have somehow made things more palatable. I've already noted that Benson is about the only likeable presence and she's good fun throughout but her performance is just too little among too much dross to make the movie much better. Chad Michael Murray needs to have a serious word with his agent because going from One Tree Hill and the House Of Wax movie to this is NOT the career path to move along. Burgess Jenkins, Ryan Sypek, Ashley Johnson, Jackee Harry and Patrick Johnson, on the other hand, were all people I'd never heard of before so if they don't move on to anything better I won't be particularly emotional about it.

But it all comes back to Milian - the biggest stench in the middle of a big cloud of . . . . . . stench. If there's any justice in the world then she won't act in any other movie ever again, leaving a role for someone else to take on. But the world is often a crappy place and isn't overflowing with justice. Exhibit A, I give you Miss Milian's career.

One to avoid unless you happen to be a teenager who just loves both Ashley Benson and Christina Milian. But if that's the case I urge you to seek at least some therapy.


Saturday 29 December 2012

The Silent Partner (1978)

I couldn't remember every person who recommended me every different Christmas-related movie for me to consider watching but I do remember that this particular title was mentioned to me by my highly talented friend, Christianne (the quality of her writing and art . . . . it's just sickeningly good almost all of the time and makes me want to give it all up - anyway, here is her blog).

Sometimes all you want for Christmas is a good caper and The Silent Partner is a damn good caper. It stars Elliott Gould as Miles Cullen, a bank teller who, by a stroke of luck, finds out when his bank is about to be robbed by a man dressed as Santa Claus (Harry Reikle, played by Christopher Plummer). Trust me, it makes sense when you see the movie and everything falls into place rather neatly. Anyway, knowing that he is about to be robbed gives Gould an idea - he puts some money aside for himself and then just has to come up with a way of keeping it safe until he can move it and be a very rich man. Of course, the robber isn't best pleased when he hears on the news just how much he has supposedly gotten away with and so begins a game of cat and mouse between one smart bank teller and one vicious, and pissed off, career criminal.

I wouldn't blame anyone watching this movie for not having heard of director Daryl Duke. He certainly hasn't appeared on my radar before now but he does a perfectly acceptable job here. What's more interesting in the opening credits is seeing that the movie was adapted from the Anders Bodelsen novel by a writer named Curtis Hanson. Yes, Curtis "L.A. Confidential" Hanson. The source material may be strong and good enough in its own right but the script by Hanson certainly doesn't put a foot wrong, it's smart and playful for much of the runtime before moving into darker territory during the third act.

Gould was the epitome of cool in the '70s and this has him exactly as he should be. Miles is not unflappable but he's always ready with an answer and always planning one or two steps ahead. Unfortunately, so is Harry but he does so using threats and violence as opposed to intelligence. From my limited exposure to Christopher Plummer's filmography, this is a bit of an unusually dark role for him but he's never unconvincing and makes for a very good villain. Susannah York plays Julie Carver, a pretty work colleague alongside Gould and she's fine in her role even if it's the poorest written of all the main roles. Celine Lomez does much better with her role, a woman named Elaine who gets friendly with Miles and may be genuinely wanting to cosy up to him or may be up to no good. John Candy fans may not want to rush to see this one just to make sure that they see everything he's ever done but he has a small role here playing someone surprisingly sweet and sad (I say surprisingly because the way he is treated by others is shown at times but never overstated).

The Silent Partner is, overall, an excellent thriller that deserves to be known by more people. I'd never heard of it when it was recommended to me and I now hope to recommend it to others. The only negatives I can think of are a) Susannah York's character and b) the fact that the first half of the movie feels a bit too carefree and light when considering the danger that the main character is in. Those are minor niggles but they're enough to take the movie down from classic to great.


Friday 28 December 2012

Holiday In Handcuffs (2007)

If Holiday In Handcuffs was a layer of snow outside your front door on Christmas morning it would be yellow. It's a bad, lazy and unfunny film that doesn't even try to treat viewers as if they have more than two braincells (which may, in fact, be the case by the time the end credits roll). The plot is this - Melissa Joan Hart plays Trudie, a young woman who is due to take her boyfriend home with her for Christmas until he dumps her. This would normally be a bad thing to happen but for Trudie it's a bad thing coming after a number of bad things and she snaps. She just can't face going to visit her parents alone and so, of course, she kidnaps a man (David, played by Mario Lopez) and forces him to pretend that he is her boyfriend for the duration of the holiday trip. David is quite the catch and Trudie's mother and father (Markie Post and Timothy Bottoms, respectively) are happy to have him with them for their seasonal celebrations, even if he does react to uncomfortable social situations by "pretending" to be a kidnap victim.

I think that even that last sentence lets you know just how awful this film is. Yes, viewers are supposed to just accept that characters in this movie will believe that someone would pretend to be a kidnap victim as some strange joke they make when things get a little awkward.

Director Ron Underwood has fallen so far and it's sad to see. I mean, he's the guy who directed Tremors and City Slickers at the start of the 1990s and then he bottomed out, I suppose, with The Adventures Of Pluto Nash (which I've not seen yet, I'm simply going by its reputation) before concentrating on TV shows and TV movies like this one. Concentrating on TV shows and TV movies isn't the worst thing for a director to do but making something that stinks as badly as this is. It's not all Underwood's fault though, as the worst parts are the overall premise, thought up by scriptwriter Sara Endsley, and the increasing lack of plausibility and logic in every scene.

It doesn't help that the cast isn't great either. I've seen Melissa Joan Hart be a lot worse than she is here (in that awful Nine Dead, to cite the best example) but she's still pretty awful, as is Mario Lopez. The pair of them aren't helped, of course, by that script but it would still have been nice to see some chemistry or charm or just anything showing a spark of life in those dull eyes. Markie Post, Timothy Bottoms, June Lockhart (as grandma) and Layla Alizada (playing Trudie's friend) all fare a bit better but they're pulled down by the quicksand script. Kyle Howard and Vanessa Lee Evigan are stuck in the same boat while playing Trudie's brother and sister and I feel most sorry for Howard, who almost drags himself above the effluence in one or two moments but can't quite rinse off the bad smell. I went too far with my analogies in this paragraph but at least it saved me from having to use profane language.

I disliked Holiday In Handcuffs from, pretty much, start to finish. There were perhaps three or four moments that made me smile. Those few moments save it from an even lower rating.


Thursday 27 December 2012

Snow 2: Brain Freeze (2008)

It may be someone new (Mark Rosman) in the director's chair for this TV movie sequel to the TV movie original but with Rich Burns returning for the writing duties and three of the main cast members returning, this mildly entertaining sequel feels like a brief meeting and cup of mulled wine with old friends. Not your best friends, mind you, but people that you don't rush to throw out of your house until an hour or two has passed by.

Tom Kavanagh is still Nick Snowden AKA Santa Claus and Ashley Williams is still Sandy Brooks but this time around the movie starts with them together, living quite a happy life among the snow and the reindeer. Well, there's the little matter of Nick being so busy with Christmas stuff that he forgets to have any Tinsel-tastic time with the lady in his life but, overall, things are fine. That changes after an argument that ends with Nick travelling through his magic mirror and then getting a knock on the head, making him lose his memory. Sandy has to find him and make him remember who he is but it's not that easy - he has to realise and believe in himself so that the magic of the holiday remains. And, hopefully, he can realise before the dastardly Buck Seger (Patrick Fabian once more) manages to exploit the situation and get his revenge for what happened during the first time that they met.

Although there are some new challenges facing the main characters, this is pretty much a re-run of the first movie. Fabian is still the nominal villain of the piece, young Alexander Conti plays a smartass kid this time around and there's an additional kindly old man (Hal Williams) who has always known about the real magic of Christmas.

The other factor that's just the same this time around is the likeability of the leads. Kavanagh is good, Williams is a little ray of sunshine (or a little star on the Christmas tree or whatever appropriate analogy works best) and Fabian is fun when he's involved in the antics. Conti and Williams don't really add much but the script doesn't treat them all that well so it's not really their fault.

Many people might not even rate this as average but I do, I think it's a standard puff piece lifted up by the three main stars and I might even watch it again one day. It's unlikely but I might.


Wednesday 26 December 2012

Snow (2004)

Tom Cavanagh and Ashley Williams star in this pleasant enough Christmas fantasy film that almost rises above the level of average, thanks to the two likeable leads, but doesn't quite make it.

Cavanagh plays Nick Snowden, a man best known to children everywhere as Santa Claus. Nick has to make an unplanned journey when one of his reindeer is spotted by an unscrupulous hunter (Patrick Fabian), tranquilised and taken away to a city zoo. He needs to get the reindeer back for obvious reasons but he also just wants it out of the way from prying eyes as it's not quite learned how to fly yet but should be getting to that stage at any moment. Nick ends up enlisting the help of animal keeper Sandy Brooks (Ashley Williams) but he can only tell her so much. Who would believe that he's really Santa Claus and who would believe that he can use mirrors to travel between the North Pole and anywhere in the world? Well, maybe young Hector (Bobb'e J. Thompson) would but not many others.

Directed by Alex Zamm and written by Rich Burns, Snow is a decent little slice of family entertainment. Okay, so it does enough throughout to keep reminding you that it's a TV movie but it's better than a hundred other uninspired and unimaginative TV movies that have been churned out to fill schedules at this most wonderful time of year.

Tom Cavanagh may seem a bit bland to some people. Oh, alright, he IS quite bland, there's no denying it but I still like him nonetheless (mainly because I used to catch occasional episodes of Ed and then I also enjoyed his character popping up in Scrubs). Ashley Williams brightens up the screen so the movie is lifted slightly whenever she's involved, which is quite a lot, and Patrick Fabian is a fun "baddie". Bobb'e J. Thompson, despite his ridiculously apostrophised name, is good fun as the young smartass who has his heart in the right place.

There are plenty of snowy moments, some cute reindeer, fun with Santa making sure that nobody thinks he's Santa and at least one scene reminiscent of Ernest Saves Christmas ensuring that it's not all bad.


Tuesday 25 December 2012

The House Without A Christmas Tree (1972)

Directed by Paul Bogart and written by Eleanor Perry, adapting the book by Gail Rock, The House Without A Christmas Tree is a TV special that never breaks into anything remotely cinematic but doesn't feel any the worse for it.

The essence of the tale is, of course, the house without a Christmas tree. It's 1946 and young Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas) lives with her widowed father (Jason Robards) and her grandmother (Mildred Natwick). With Christmas fast approaching she tries to persuade her father to have a Christmas tree in their home. Her father, for reasons that he tries to keep buried, is adamant that they won't have a tree, there's no need for one.

If you can imagine A Christmas Story mixed with a pinch of The Waltons mixed with a pinch of The Little House On The Prairie then you'll have an idea of the tone and treatment of the material here. It borders on the overly sweet but doesn't quite tip over the edge, in no small part thanks to a decent performance from young Lisa Lucas and the usual greatness from Jason Robards.

Kathryn Walker and Alexa Kenin also do well as, respectively, a teacher and Addie's best friend but this is all about the three members of the Mills family and whether or not they will ever join in again with the standard Christmas traditions.

The different moments shown onscreen may not be exactly like moments from the childhood of every different viewer, of course, but there's certainly a lot to recognise and empathise with in the universal struggle that always happens when children get old enough to start questioning their parents and fighting harder to get their own way. The character played by Robards is, in many ways, even more childish and stubborn than his daughter but that happens sometimes, especially when it concerns matters of the heart, and it's that behaviour that keeps the audience onside with Addie, even when she's being a bit more precocious than your average little girl.

The House Without A Christmas Tree is sweet and, no doubt, some will find it too sweet. I thought it was just right and I'll admit it - come the finale I was almost a little watery-eyed. Ahem . . . . . . almost.


Monday 24 December 2012

Jack Frost (1979)

There have been many, many movies over the years given the title of Jack Frost so let me quickly inform you now that this particular review concerns the lovely stop-motion film from Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. The two men are adored by a generation of Americans who grew up with their stop-motion creations playing on the TV, mostly at Christmas time. In fact, I hope that they're adored by more than one generation as their better known titles were released throughout a period of two decades.

Here in the UK we didn't really get the Rankin/Bass creations, which is a great shame. Oh, they may have been shown occasionally but they weren't the essential part of the holidays that they became in the USA. I only discovered them after a lot of online conversation with my many American friends led me to Mad Monster Party, which you should seek out immediately, and then I was lucky enough to find that LoveFilm had Jack Frost among their Instant selection (it's also on YouTube here for anyone eager to revisit it). Result.

What's the story? It's simple, Jack Frost (voiced by Robert Morse) falls for a lovely young lady (voiced by Debra Clinger) and asks to become human. He is allowed to become human but to stop himself reverting back to his frosty state he must acquire a horse, a house, a bag of gold and a wife by the first sign of Spring. It sounds difficult but Jack is up to the task, he hopes.

At approximately 48 minutes in length and interspersed by moments in which the viewers is told parts of the story by a groundhog names Pardon-Me-Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett), Jack Frost never outstays its welcome. Romero Muller wrote the story and mixes the predictable with the pleasantly surprising. A few supporting characters, mainly a man who makes Snowflakes (named Snip), keep things entertaining and there's a classic baddie in the shape of Kubla Kraus (voiced by Paul Frees).

But the writing and characters and pacing are all secondary to the main draw here, the absolutely wonderful stop-motion animation on display. Despite my praise for this piece of Wintery entertainment, it's not perfect but the character design and animation makes up for that. I think that there's just something inherently rewarding about watching something that took such skill and patience to create and if ever a stop-motion work doesn't make me feel that way then, well, I'll be sure to comment loudly and vehemently on it (oh yes, check me and my bad self).

Jack Frost isn't up there with the very best of the Rankin/Bass films (TV specials, to be exact) but it's certainly worth watching if you know their style and enjoy stop-motion animation, as I do. And it's most certainly worth giving some of your time to during the Christmas holidays.


Sunday 23 December 2012

Surviving Christmas (2004)

Surviving Christmas is one of those movies that has a lot going against it. It starred someone that people loved to hate (Ben Affleck), it didn't do well when it was finally released (ten months later than originally planned to avoid it clashing with Paycheck, another star vehicle for, yep, Ben Affleck) and it was shot without a completed script. That's why I was surprised that for the first half hour or so the movie was fairly enjoyable. I had a couple of laughs and I liked the premise. Then it started to pile on more "comedy" and more and more and everything began to slide and fall apart like some kind of spaghetti tower under a warm stream of water.

Affleck plays Drew Latham, one of those handsome and happy self-made millionaires that only ever exist in the movies. After a wake-up call from his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison), he is set to spend another Christmas on his own. Not really happy about that, he instead decides to offer a family a LOT of money if they allow him to spend Christmas with them. They live in the home that he grew up in as a child so it will be a way to relive some happy memories and remember what he once loved about family and loved ones at that special time of year. Inevitably, tempers fray, secrets are revealed and there are some scenes of a farcical nature.

Let me start by praising most of the cast members here because the cast is the best thing about the film. Affleck doesn't do great so those who hate the guy onscreen won't be won over. To be fair, he's stuck in one of those comedies that works under the mistaken impression that the lead character is always funnier if he's louder and more energetic than everyone else. That's not the case. Please stop thinking that it is. The rest of the cast, however, fare a bit better. James Gandolfini, in particular, is great as the grouchy head of the family trying to grit his teeth and think of the money he'll get for enduring this Christmas. Catherine O'Hara isn't too bad either though she's not given much to do with the obvious exception of a hilarious photoshoot that places Udo Kier in the role of quirky photographer. Josh Zuckerman is okay as the morose teenage son, Christina Applegate gets stuck with a lot of the worst moments in the movie due to the fact that she's the daughter and possible . . . . . romantic complication and Jennifer Morrison tries her best to be more than just a plot device.

The story may have originated with Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont but at least two other writers are credited with getting the script finished. That becomes more and more apparent as the movie progresses and then hits viewers over the head with a horribly clumsy and unbelievable third act.

Director Mike Mitchell should also shoulder some of the blame but there are times when he hits the easy notes with precision (the soundtrack, early exchanges between Affleck and Gandolfini and a few other decent moments) so maybe it all boiled down to those script problems. After all, his next movie was the very enjoyable Sky High. Oh, what the hell, in 2011 he gave audiences Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked so, yes, let's just give him as much blame as the writers. He clearly has no moral compass.

Surviving Christmas is not entirely unenjoyable but it certainly tries hard to be. Casual viewers who flick through their TV channels and find that this is playing over Christmas would be well advised to watch it up to the halfway point and then turn it off before the rot sets in.


Guns In America AKA Let's Be Reasonable.

For context, please read a full article on Kontradictions here (a really interesting read).

I replied a few days ago and was quite happy with my reply. It was fair, I thought, and tried not to cause a big argument with every pro-gun person who had already replied. But, perhaps just due to a delay or a mistake on my part, that reply never appeared. So I replied again, a lengthier reply with a bit more fire in my belly after reading so many replies that had ruffled my feathers (metaphorically speaking, I have no such decoration, sadly).

Anyway, fed up of awaiting moderation, I decided to get things off my chest here. Apologies for the non-Christmassy-ness of it all.


Hmmm, it seems I am either blind or my previous comment didn’t appear, which I’ll assume was an accident/mistake on my part and not anything else, haha.
I commented previously (apologies if it’s visible to anyone and I just repeat myself) that the start of this piece is based on a serious flaw in the logic. Any man, woman and child of any age can access water and anyone can be exposed to toxins, either in a natural state or chemically made, so the fact that deaths from those things outnumber guns is kind of expected. In fact, they should outnumber deaths by guns by an even greater margin.
The people rushing here to say what an impressively FACTUAL and even piece this is compared to other mainstream news outlets are missing some major points like that one, which shows a bias (and a bias is fair enough, I have no problem with that – my problem is with the responding folks trying to say that this is a completely unbiased and level-headed piece).
The replies have seen mention of everything from the almighty creator, for those who believe in him, to Hitler. Which is unsurprising. People cling on to the second amendment like it’s etched in stone and gives everyone the right to walk around their own home dressed up like Rambo. It shouldn’t, let’s be honest there. We know that prohibition didn’t work all that well but remember when that was added as an amendment? And then removed?
Then we have that response from the NRA just the other day, seeming to forget that Columbine and one of the other shooting spree locations (sorry, I forget which one and am typing this quickly) HAD security/armed guards.
If we had less water-filled areas in the world and less toxins there would, guaranteed, be less drownings and less deaths by poisoning. Less guns will never eradicate the problem but it will go some way towards helping the situation. I said LESS guns, I didn’t say NO guns.
People ask about protection from drug-fuelled maniacs? Spend the money you saved for a gun on a really strong front door, get more police back on the streets, starts dealing with the drugs issue as a health problem instead of just a criminal one (though it does, of course, tear lives apart through crime) and that’s a different way forward. Protection for livestock, time on the range, proper hunting and probably one or two others I can’t think of right now are situations in which guns and people can work well together. In all other cases, I can usually think of a number of other ways in which progress can start to be made before the guns come out.
Mental health is also an issue as is the increasing divide between the rich and the poorest of the poor. People shouldn’t be saying that the problem is JUST a gun problem and, despite how they put their foot in their mouth at the conference, I actually feel a bit sorry for the NRA because if they worked harder to compromise then their many members, surely, make the right people to advise on checks, training, etc.
And before someone plays the “who decides if/when/how I can have and use a gun and who takes away my civil rights?”. Well . . . . . . you go through checks in many areas of life – driving, travelling abroad, job applications – so if those extra checks can be tolerated in those areas then being further checked to get a gun shouldn’t be a problem. It MIGHT even be a good thing.
We’re not immune here in the UK. Nowhere in the world has eradicated death and murder by guns, we are not in the world of Minority Report. But, as flawed as the system may be, many other countries have tried their best to improve the lifespan potential of their citizens.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)

Good ol' Angela Lansbury, she can do just about anything. She spent many years solving murders, of course, in Murder, She Wrote, she was a wonderful granny in The Company Of Wolves and her filmography is dotted with moments of greatness, such as her turn in the original The Manchurian Candidate. And then she has her all-singing, all-dancing Disney standing. Mrs. Santa Claus may not actually be a Disney movie but it certainly feels like one. A bad one, at that.

Lansbury plays the titular character, a woman who has stood behind and supported her husband (played by Charles Durning) for many years, working just as hard to make Christmas what it is while receiving no credit for it. She yearns to travel and have an adventure. So she does. Yes, Mr. Santa Claus takes the reindeer and goes off on a little trip of her own. Unfortunately, one of the reindeer has a bit of trouble which means that Mrs. Santa Claus may have to extend her time away from hubby. As long as she can survive Manhattan and get back before Christmas then everything will still be okay.

Set in the early 1900s, there's just nothing here to make this a worthwhile viewing for anyone but the most undemanding musical fan. Yes, it's a musical. However, the songs by Jerry Herman leave a lot to be desired, I can't think of one that I actually enjoyed and now can't remember any of them (which is a small blessing). That wouldn't be quite so bad if the writing by Mark Saltzman provided some entertainment but it doesn't. Director Terry Hughes takes those negative qualities and somehow makes them worse, populating the movie with a number of poor actors and actresses.

Lansbury is fine in the lead role but she doesn't have the spark that she once had, it's as if she's going through the motions. Her manner is all just too artificial, perhaps simply too sweet in these more cynical times to be believed. Durning isn't onscreen for long but he's fine, as is Michael Jeter (playing an elf named Arvo). The same can't be said for the likes of Debra Wiseman, David Norona, Terrence Mann, Lynsey Bartilson and Bryan Murray, all playing their characters in an annoying and amateurish manner that would look bad even in a particularly cheap episode of Dr. Who (now now, many people love Dr. Who nowadays but you can still tell whenever there's that one episode that didn't get the same budget as the others).

Despite the fact that I hated the movie, I will say that some of the production values were okay and that it's always good to see Lansbury in a role that doesn't have her solving murders while writing books (god, I used to hate that show). I've heard from other people who have thoroughly enjoyed this but I honestly can't figure out how their minds allowed that to happen. Watch it if you like but don't say that you weren't warned.


Friday 21 December 2012

Twice Upon A Christmas (2001)

Everyone returns for this sequel to Once Upon A Christmas and, as you might expect, it's slightly inferior to the first movie but gets by thanks to familiarity with the characters and the lovely Kathy Ireland as Kristen Claus.

After the events of the first movie, Kristen has no memory of her life or who her father is. She is happy with the Morgan family but worries about knowing so little about herself. When Bill Morgan (John Dye) proposes to her it should be a joyous occasion but, instead, it reminds Kristen of her unknown history. She agrees to marry Bill on one condition, her background comes to light before the day of the wedding - Christmas day. Meanwhile, Rudolfa Claus (Mary Donnelly Haskell) is trying, once again, to usurp her father and change Christmas completely.

Tibor Takacs is the director again and Steven H. Berman is the writer so it's no surprise that the tone of the movie is exactly the same as its predecessor. It's also no surprise to find that everyone onscreen slips easily back into their uncomplicated roles. Kathy Ireland is still a welcome plus point in the lead role while John Dye, James Kirk, Kirsten Proust and Wayne Thomas Yorke are all smiling, happy and loving family members. The biggest problem here is the potential for boredom to set in as these characters had, essentially, completed a more interesting arc in the first film.

For those who enjoyed the first movie, this at least has the good grace not to move the goalposts or to try and run off in an entirely different direction. It may suffer slightly because of that but it at least goes along with consistent logic and keeps the characters true to how they were (for the most part).

A Christmas cookie sequel to a Christmas cookie first film, these aren't going to become enduring festive favourites but they're also enjoyable enough to pass the time when nobody can find the TV remote control and nobody wants to search for too long amidst the cloud of sprout-powered flatulence. I'll probably never watch these movies again but I didn't want to gouge my own eyes out with ceramic snowmen while they were on.


Thursday 20 December 2012

Once Upon A Christmas (2000)

Santa Claus (Douglas Campbell) is a bit fed up in this TV movie. He just feels that people aren't as full of Christmas spirit as they used to be and that the Naughty list keeps getting longer and longer each year. In fact, he wants to just pack it all in and stop providing Christmas to all when so many don't seem to deserve it. His daughter, Kristen (Kathy Ireland), is more optimistic and thinks that those who are still on the Nice list should still get the Christmas due to them. She's so optimistic, in fact, that she makes a bet on it. She bets that she can move any family from the Naughty list onto the Nice list. If that happens then it's all go for another Christmas. Unfortunately, she gets the Morgans, a family who don't seem to have had any Christmas spirit for many years. Can Kristen turn that around?

John Dye plays the inattentive father of the Morgan family while James Kirk and Kirsten Prout play the troublesome children. They all do what is required of them but that's not a hell of a lot. Luckily, the film is lifted every time the lovely Kathy Ireland is onscreen although she's also a bit sugary sweet at times. Indeed, the whole film adds plenty of schmaltz and eye-rolling character developments when it can but that, to me, is a given in many Christmas films. Elsewhere, Rachelle Carson has a small role as a potential new lady for Mr. Morgan and Wayne Thomas Yorke is okay as the uncle who just seems to hang around the house and not teach the kids to behave themselves but Mary Donnelly Haskell is the most fun as Rudolfa Claus, the daughter of Santa who would happily make the most of a chance to make Christmas into something else entirely.

Director Tibor Takacs does nothing to elevate the material here, written by Steven H. Berman, but he at least just goes along with it all and creates a standard fairytale feeling for the whole thing. That's all this is. A princess in disguise finding some commoners and trying to help them without revealing her true identity. If you accept that as soon as the opening titles appear then you won't be surprised by the constant . . . . . . niceness of it all. Nothing edgy or unpredictable here, thank you very much.

Far from essential Christmas viewing, this is a relatively painless TV movie that may keep the family amused for 90 minutes if there's nothing better scheduled at the same time. Mind you, I can't think of any Christmas TV schedule that would let that situation arise.


Wednesday 19 December 2012

Silent Night, Zombie Night (2009)

Silent Night, Zombie Night is that all too common thing, a great title lacking a great movie to accompany it. It's not a terrible film, it's just that . . . . . . . . . nope, wait, I guess it actually IS a terrible film. Yet it has some aspects that save it from being completely unwatchable.

The plot is as simple as you can get. There's a zombie outbreak. That's it. Two cops (Frank, played by Jack Forcinito, and Nash, played by Andy Hopper) are caught up in the middle of things and that at least distracts them from their argument for a while until they meet up with Frank's wife (Sarah, played by Nadine Stenovitch). You see, Frank isn't a nice guy most of the time and his wife was about to leave him. Frank suspects that she's been sleeping with Nash but that might be his imagination. Or is it?

The biggest problem with Silent Night, Zombie Night might be clear to you after reading the above plot summary. Sadly, writer-director Sean Cain undoes any of his good work by using a zombie outbreak to frame an uninteresting and melodramatic love triangle. It's as if a bunch of zombies just wandered into the middle of a series of As The World Turns.

Cain throws in some decent special effects now and again, there's a fun (though far too obvious) homage to Reservoir Dogs within the first 5-10 minutes and the rare moments when viewers are reminded that everything is happening at Christmas makes for nice juxtaposition. If only it was something that Cain remembered to keep threading throughout the movie.

Jack Forcinito acts mean and tough, Andy Hopper acts nice and tough, Nadine Stenovitch acts with the poor material that she's given, Lew Temple isn't too bad as a family man holed up in his attic after the chaotic outbreak and Vernon Wells and Felissa Rose are just about adequate, I suppose.

While this is no Zombie Nation, it's certainly no The Living Want Me Dead (available to view HERE). I could have marked this one lower, it's really too much filler and very little thriller, but it's clear that the writing and direction may be flawed but Cain tries to paper over the many cracks with his love of the horror genre. And that gets him a bonus point.


Tuesday 18 December 2012

Reindeer Games AKA Deception (2000)

Ben Affleck stars in this twisty turny action thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and written by Ehren Kruger and it's not as bad as you may have heard. It's not as good, or clever, as it thinks it is but it's a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours and benefits from the presence of the gorgeous Charlize Theron being absolutely gorgeous.

The plot is as follows: Ben Affleck plays Rudy Duncan, a man imprisoned for stealing cars who is about to get his freedom. His cellmate (Nick Cassidy, played by James Frain) is also near the end of his term, five years. Nick has been developed a relationship with a woman who has been writing to him in prison and is looking forward to getting out and meeting her. But as the day of freedom approaches, tragedy strikes. When Rudy leaves the prison he sees the lady of letters (Ashley, played by Charlize Theron) waiting. After a few moments of wrestling with his conscience, Rudy jumps off the bus and runs over to her. He then introduces himself as Nick. What follows seems too good to be true. Rudy is happy, he's in the arms of a beautiful woman who wants to look after him and the only problem is the fact that he lied about his identity. That problem soon becomes pretty major when the happiness is spoiled when Ashley's brother (Gary Sinise) and his gang crash the party. They are planning to rob a casino and they know that they now have the man who can help them. At least, that's what they think. If Rudy comes clean then he's worthless to them and will end up dead but if he tries to keep up the pretence his options aren't looking as good that way either.

Starting with a bunch of dead Santas and then moving back in time, this is a movie that you know isn't necessarily going to end well for most of the people involved. Seeing that Gary Sinise has a gang that includes Danny Trejo, Clarence Williams III and Donal Logue reaffirms that notion. Yet, strangely, it never feels that tense and that's possibly due to the main role going to Ben Affleck.

Here's the thing, I am no Affleck hater (I'm about the one guy who enjoyed Daredevil, as flawed as it was, and I am happy to see him doing so well in his directorial career) but he just doesn't make this role work. He never seems worried, he's not all that convincing and he walks through the movie with that Teflon coating of a star that won't be unexpectedly killed off. I'm not going to spoil the film by telling you if that remains true by the very end of the movie but it certainly kills off the tension for the first 3/4 anyway. Thankfully, the rest of the cast includes those already mentioned (and did I remind you of how gorgeous Charlize Theron is?) and a delightful supporting role for the great Dennis Farina.

The direction by Frankenheimer is solid although with the film running at just over two hours you can't help thinking that a little pruning here and there might have helped. A better script from Kruger would have also helped. It's not THAT bad but it just doesn't hit the sweet spot required. The surprises aren't as surprising as they should be and the lines that are supposed to be cool sound like they were written by someone pretending to be Shane Black as opposed to, y'know, Shane Black. It's a shame that Kruger appears to have peaked so early in his career and has never come close to writing something approaching his work on the superb Arlington Road.

Thankfully, the performances carry this movie along for the duration. Affleck may not be great here but he's okay, which doesn't matter when time is given over to the great supporting actors anyway. Charlize Theron once said that this was her least favourite of all her movies but I think she was too harsh. It's not essential viewing but it has some nice touches, a bunch of great actors and a chance to bask in the glow of the gorgeousness of Charlize Theron (which you might recall me mentioning just two paragraphs above).


Monday 17 December 2012

Santa Baby 2 (2009)

Jenny McCarthy returns as Mary Class (aka Santa's daughter) in a sequel that nobody wanted and, unbelievably, it's actually an improvement on the first film. Okay, so the first film didn't exactly set the bar high but I still went into this movie fully expecting to have to tolerate it as opposed to try and enjoy it. I can't say that I loved it but I can say that it didn't make me want to smash in my TV screen in a blind rage.

A few faces have changed onscreen (Santa Claus is now played by Paul Sorvino and Luke Jessop is now played by Dean McDermott) but the rest all remain the same and behind the camera it's still Ron Underwood directing from another script by Garrett Frawley and Brian Turner.

The story this time around is all about Santa having what can only be described as a bit of a mid-life crisis. Mary did such a good job organising Christmas the previous year that he has more free time on his hands than ever before and spends it playing in jazz bands, playing golf and just being anywhere but where he's needed most. He's left everything being overseen by the efficient Teri (Kelly Stables) but then expects Mary to step in and finish everything off in the last stretch. Mary isn't happy about this and nor is Teri, who has been working hard to gain recognition and possible promotion.

Everything just works a bit better this time around. McCarthy has some spark to her once again, helped by the fact that this film kind of pits her against the meddling character played by Stables. McDermott is an adequate replacement for Ivan Sergei in the role of Luke, here elevated from potential love interest to actual boyfriend, and Sorvino has a lot of fun as a Santa who just wants to cut out and enjoy all of his new free time. Mig Macario, Gabe Khouth and Richard Side have some fun while Jessica Parker Kennedy makes a very, very cute elf, and also has fun with her role.

It's as predictable and inoffensive as the first movie but it's just that bit more fun. The sugar and schmaltz starts to pile up in the last 15 minutes or so but it's offset ever so slightly by the preceding cheating, scheming and manipulation.


Sunday 16 December 2012

The Dead (1987)

Based on the short story by James Joyce, the final tale in "Dubliners", The Dead is a handsome and well-acted movie that nevertheless just left me cold. It's also the final film to have been directed by the great John Huston (the story was adapted into screenplay form by his son, Tony).

The plot is all about a Christmas dinner being held by a couple of old spinsters (Cathleen Delany and Helena Carroll). The ladies have invited a mixture of friends and family and everyone gets a chance to make an impression on the crowd, be it with a rendition of poetry or song or a loud debate during the main meal. Two guests in particular, Gabriel and Gretta Conroy (played, respectively, by Donal McCann and Anjelica Huston), find that the evening gives them plenty to think about, cause to reflect on their lives and wonder about past events that led them to become their present selves.

I'm actually explaining the film very badly, and misrepresenting it somewhat, so I can only apologise to those who have already seen the movie and who may be wondering if I even watched the damn thing. I did watch it, I enjoyed it, but it's a very difficult film to pin down, in my opinion. It's the film equivalent of a cloud of damp mist that seems to move through your pores when you walk through it.

I'm not even sure why I didn't like it more than I did. The script was a great mix of lively chat and sombre introspection, with a couple of pieces of very beautiful poetry in there too, and the direction from Huston (who was very near the end of his life and, sadly, died before the film was released) is solid and keeps the naturalistic performances and material always watchable. The cast is pretty flawless. McCann and Huston are very good in their roles but they're more than matched by Delany, Carroll, Donal Donnelly (as the ever-so-slightly drunk Freddy Malins), Dan O'Herlihy (as the ever-so-slightly antagonistic Mr. Browne) and everyone else, including the ever-reliable Colm Meaney.

John Huston deserves a lot of praise for capping a fantastic directorial career with a movie that never reflects just how his health was failing while it was being made but I can't lie, there was something about this movie that left me unengaged. Perhaps just the beauty and the nature of the material left it all feeling slightly too artificial for me to lose myself in. Perhaps.

The Dead is certainly worth your time but whether you end up loving it or not is another matter entirely.


Saturday 15 December 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

Good grief, this is a bad film.Thankfully, it's amusingly bad for most of its runtime but there are many aspects that could also cause some viewers to get angry. Like the fact that half of the film is made up of recycled footage from the first movie. Apparently, because the first movie was so reviled in certain territories and deemed to be so offensive, the producers felt that they could get away with an edited version of events being incorporated into another film that continues the Yuletide murder and mayhem. They were very, very wrong.

Eric Freeman plays Ricky Caldwell, the brother of Billy (who went on a killing spree in the first movie). As the movie begins, things are being set up to let Dr. Henry Bloom (James Newman) interview Ricky and determine his state of mind and what has caused it. Ricky soon begins to talk and spends 30-40 minutes recounting most of the events of the first movie, events he wouldn't actually know a thing about if this movie had any passing acquaintance with reality or logic. Once the film passes the halfway point, Ricky goes out into the big, wide world and starts a killing spree that would make his big brother proud.

To call Lee Harry the director of this movie is, I feel, doing a bit of an injustice to Charles E. Sellier Jr (director of the first movie). I'm sure there are sequels that recycle more footage than this one but I honestly can't think of any right now. Harry is also credited as co-writer with Joseph H. Earle and that's another exaggerated claim. All of the best bits come from the first film and the rest is like one extended joke leading to an unfunny punchline.

It doesn't help that Eric Freeman is a terrible actor. Hey, I'd love to break it to the guy more gently but I think by now (25 years after the movie was first released) he has probably received harsher criticism than anything I will throw his way. Freeman gives an eye-rolling, stilted performance that's not usually seen outside of the lowest budgeted Troma films and it weighs down a ship that was already sinking. Newman isn't all hat good as the doctor interviewing him either. I suppose I could be nice to Elizabeth Kaitan and say that she was okay but it's hard to judge anyone accurately when they're put alongside the sheer awfulness of Freeman. The same goes for Jean Miller, the actress portraying Mother Superior this time around (although, of course, Lilyan Chauvin is shown in the flashback footage).

I laughed at how bad it all was so it wasn't an experience completely devoid of fun (and many people who have already seen it will smile knowingly at the very thought of the words "garbage day") but there's no getting away from the fact that it's a dollar-chasing, lazy, clumsy and unworthy follow up to one of my favourite Christmas horrors of all time.


Friday 14 December 2012

You Better Watch Out AKA Christmas Evil (1980)

When young Harry sees his mum getting a bit too up close and personal with Santa Claus (it's actually his dad but he doesn't realise that fact) then it sets him on a path that will see him affected by the very best and worst of the holiday spirit. As an adult, Harry (Brandon Maggart) often wears a Santa suit when he's at home alone, takes notes of those around him who have been naughty and those who have been nice and keeps trying to spread good cheer in the face of increasing opposition. As his positive attitude is worn away by others, Harry starts to show cracks in his Christmassy demeanour and then he dons his Santa suit and sets out to deliver just what some folks deserve on this very special Christmas.

Writer-director Lewis Jackson has made a very strange film indeed. While Christmas Evil is obviously not a traditional movie full of mistletoe and mulled wine it does still have a sprinkling of magic over a number of moments, especially during the last 15 minutes. Harry has major psychological problems but he also firmly believes in what he's doing and firmly believes in the spirit of Christmas.

Maggart is good enough in the lead role, making Harry quite a sympathetic figure when he's not killing anyone, and the supporting turns from Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull and others prove to be acceptable enough. There are a number of child actors who also do very well, easily selling the fact that children will always see Santa as someone doing good. Of course.

The movie may not run for TOO long, it's about 100 minutes, but it feels like it drags in places. This shows that Jackson has taken care to build up the main character and show the problems that beset him but I can't help thinking that the whole thing could have been a little bit sharper and more economical in places.

The other main problem that the film has, and it's a big one considering how it was marketed towards horror fans, is the lack of any real tension or impressive bloodshed. The deaths aren't all that great or imaginative, though there is one enjoyable set-piece that takes place on some church steps, and the tone of the whole thing removes some of the potential for sheer entertainment. It's too ridiculous to be a serious look at a damaged mind but it's also too serious for most of the runtime to be a rip-roaring Psycho Santa flick.

I still recommend seeing the movie, it's a delightful little curio quite unlike anything else I've seen (including the more obvious killer Santa films), but don't expect anything like Santa's Slay.


Thursday 13 December 2012

Treevenge (2008)

A bonus short for today because you can never have enough Christmas spirit.

Treevenge is a wonderfully demented short from Jason Eisener (who is now best known for directing the wonderfully demented Hobo With A Shotgun). It's all about the horror of being a tree at Christmas and shows everything from the point of view of the scared, tortured trees. That's all there is to it.

The cast aren't really all that important here because the focus is very much on the trees. Viewers are even treated to subtitles, showing just what the trees are thinking/saying as they get uprooted, chopped down in size and forced into a stand that then has screws tightened to hold them in place.

It may be only approx. 16 minutes in length but Treevenge is very much a short film of two halves. The first half shows how nasty we humans are to trees at the most wonderful time of the year and the second half shows the outright carnage of the revenge (hence the title). While the first half is full of some nice little observations and great gags, the second half lets rip with bloodshed and gore and does so in spectacular style. Eyes are poked out, limbs are removed and even babies are severely harmed.

It's like the best kind of Troma film nicely compacted into one near-perfect short. The fact that it's very rough around the edges just adds to the appeal (as do the soundtrack cues from classic Euro-horrors of yesteryear) but the most admirable thing is probably how polished it all is despite that roughness, something that Eisener would nail perfectly in Hobo With A Shotgun.

I have nothing else to say, this is just a bonus, short review for a short film that every horror fan should watch at least once. It makes for a fine appetiser before the likes of Santa's Slay or Silent Night or even Bad Santa.


Treevenge is available to watch for free on YouTube here - - and I'm not sure if it's actually available on DVD attached to any other feature. If you watch it and enjoy it then do at least consider buying the excellent Hobo With A Shotgun so that Jason Eisener keeps getting money and keeps getting to make movies.

Christmas With The Kranks (2004)

Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis star as the Kranks in this enjoyable Christmas comedy from director Joe Roth that is adapted, surprisingly, from a novel by John Grisham entitled Skipping Christmas.

After waving their daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), off at the airport the Kranks head home and start a new chapter in their lives. It's not long until Luther Krank has what he thinks is a brilliant idea. Instead of spending the $6000+ that they spent on Christmas last year he wants to go on a Caribbean cruise and just . . . . . skip Christmas. His wife, Nora, is tempted and agrees only after Luther promises that he'll match the main charity donations that they included in their Christmas spending the previous year. When Luther informs his colleagues of his plan to skip Christmas he is labelled a Scrooge and sense no small amount of resentment but that's nothing compared to the feelings of his neighbours, who are marshalled by do-gooder Vic Frohmeyer (Dan Aykroyd). It's not long until the Kranks have upset many of their friends, their neighbours, the Christmas tree salesman, their local priest and even a couple of police officers who raise money each year by selling their own calendar. Can the Kranks actually skip Christmas or is there no escaping the festivities?

Everything you associate with a Christmas movie is here (the tree, the decorations, the songs, the need for certain foods, the monetary cost and stress, the life lesson about the real meaning of Christmas) but it's nicely inverted for a good 2/3 of the film. The Cranks do only have themselves to blame as the pressure and pressure builds for them to join in with the fun but they also get some sympathy due to the fact that Christmas should be up to what any individual wants to make it.

Director Joe Roth keeps things moving along nicely and the script from Chris Columbus only really starts descending into his usual mawkishness during the last 10 minutes or so. Everything before then is coated with cynicism and the feeling of an ongoing war so that makes it more digestible than many other, overly sweet, Christmas movies you could take a look at.

I've been a fan of Tim Allen for a long time and he does his usual schtick here. I like it, some folks don't. If you don't like him then, obviously, you're not going to enjoy the movie as much as I did. Jamie Lee Curtis is a lot of fun as the wife struggling to keep her resolve in the face of mounting festive pressure and the supporting cast is full of many great stars: Dan Aykroyd, Austin Pendleton, M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth Franz, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey and even young Erik Per Sullivan (who is probably best remembered from Malcolm In The Middle).

Christmas With The Kranks is a lot of fun and does, deliberately or not, make some of the usual points about the yuletide season. It's not all about the materialism and the money spent but it's also not a time to skimp on anything that may put a smile on the faces of others.


Wednesday 12 December 2012

Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)

Anyone who knows me either online or in the real world will know that I'm not only a fan of the Christmas season but also a huge fan of A Christmas Carol. After years spent watching movie adaptations, I finally got around to reading the original story when I was in my mid-20s and I rate it as one of the most delightful classics ever written. The fact that there have been a number of great movie adaptations over the years pleases me immensely but the fact that some people can take such great material and still somehow screw it up really irks me. From the numerous adaptations of the story that I've seen, none have screwed it up more than this one - a shockingly bad animated film that features a largely British vocal cast (to their, and my, eternal shame).

I'm not going to reiterate the story of Ebenezer Scrooge here because everyone already knows it. Okay, I'm being horribly assumptive there but I'd wager that ALMOST everyone reading this review knows of the tale so that's good enough for me. The story is changed this time around, but only ever so slightly. The main addition to the material comes in the shape of two mice who go alongside the main characters and observe everything. There's no reason to have these mice scampering around onscreen. They're just there to appeal to kids who like cute little animals.

With a vocal cast that includes Simon Callow, who also plays Charles Dickens in a small live-action prologue, Kate Winslet, Michael Gambon, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage, Jane Horrocks, Juliet Stevenson and Robert Llewellyn (who is best known to many fans of UK comedy for his role as Kryten in Red Dwarf), this had the potential to be something very enjoyable indeed. There was even a hit song included, "What If" sung beautifully by the talented Miss Winslet. Everything had the potential to be great.

Sadly, all of the failings of the movie become obvious within mere moments. Director Jimmy T. Murakami gives audiences lifeless, flat and horribly poor animation while the script (actually written by Piet Kroon and Kryten, I mean, Robert Llewellyn) is so bad that it will hurt the ears of anyone who enjoys the best lines contained within the source material.

Then we have those vocal performances. It's only Kate Winslet who appears to have put any energy and effort into her performance whatsoever. Callow is especially disappointing in a lead role that most viewers, myself included, would expect him to attack with relish and from the rest of the cast, it's only Cage and Gambon who stand out, simply because their voices are more recognisable.

This film was so bad in every conceivable way that it actually made me angry while I watched it. The only good thing I can take away from the experience is knowing that it didn't sell quite as easily as those involved surely hoped it would, performing relatively poorly at the UK box office. I would advise everyone to avoid this travesty at all costs. Even if it just happens to come on telly while you're recovering from a typically excessive Christmas meal I urge you to rouse yourself from food-induced drowsiness for just long enough to change the channel. Nobody will thank you for leaving it on. Nobody.


Tuesday 11 December 2012

Santa Baby (2006)

Jenny McCarthy plays Mary Class, a high-flying business executive, in this Christmas TV movie that starts off pretty dull and then quickly slides downhill from there. She's a busy, busy lady but is forced to take some time out during the holiday season when her father takes ill and she is required to help run the family business. Oh, and her father (George Wendt) happens to be Santa Claus.

I can't bring myself to rate Santa Baby highly, I can't even give it an average score because it's just too unexciting and unfunny for the entire runtime, but I can't bring myself to really "put the boot in" either. It's a little TV movie that tries to be mildly distracting fun and I'm sure that there are at least one or two undemanding viewers who will enjoy this when it's shown on TV during the Yuletide season. It's inoffensive and somehow caters for almost all sections of the viewing demographic. Kids will like the elves, the parents won't mind McCarthy and co. in most of their scenes and the grandparents will like the element of traditional values. There are also some sweet moments to please couples while single folks can enjoy the whole way in which McCarthy has to stand up to her partner Grant (Tobias Mehler) to assert her independence and protect the Claus way of life. Men get to watch the not unattractive Jenny McCarthy while women can wait for scenes that include the handsome Ivan Sergei.

Director Ron Underwood is seemingly happy to go along with the flat script by Garrett Frawley and Brian Turner, as are all of the actors. McCarthy is a world away from the loud, sassy gal she used to be and it's a shame that she doesn't get to at least once remind people of the ballsy woman she used to be. George Wendt turns up and wears the Santa suit, which is really all he's required to do. Ivan Sergei is nice enough in his nice man role while Tobias Mehler has to play the nominal villain of the piece. Poor Michael Moriarty is given a couple of scenes and doesn't even have the good grace to look embarrassed while he's given the most cringeworthy and ridiculous moment in the whole film. Kandyse McClure fares quite a bit better thanks to the double whammy of her not being well-known at all (at least, not to me) and also playing the most sympathetic character of the lot - the poor assistant dragged into the middle of the Christmas madness.

If this comes on TV at some point over the holidays then you may find yourself leaving it on and you may even smile once or twice but you won't laugh and you won't ever rush to rewatch it. It's not a good film, it's just so irritatingly inoffensive that I can't really bring myself to completely trash it. To think that they made a sequel. And to think that, so help me, I'll be watching that sequel very soon, obsessive completist that I am.


Monday 10 December 2012

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

AKA Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas AKA the one that everyone thinks was directed by Tim Burton when it was really Henry Selick who should have got more of the credit.

There's no denying that Tim Burton has his fingerprints all over this, it was developed from an original poem that he wrote when he was a Disney animator in the early 1980s and uses many key players he has used again and again in his movies, but it's important to remind people that Henry Selick really guided this movie through the years that it took to get it on the big screen (while Burton was only present for a number of days).

Lovingly crafted, this is stop motion animation that easily puts itself right alongside the very best examples of the craft. It's full of beautiful little touches, macabre delights in every scene, and while the kids will keep returning to spend time with the strange characters and perhaps sing along with the songs, adults can take in fresh details with every viewing.

The story is all about Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon though the singing voice is provided by Danny Elfman), the pumpkin king. Jack is an important resident in Halloweentown but he's starting to lose his enthusiasm for Halloween. That's not good because Halloweentown is all about the holiday, as soon as one is over, the countdown to the next begins. When he discovers Christmas Town, Jack is inspired and re-energised. He decides that Christmas shouldn't be something excluded from the residents of Halloweentown and he immediately plans to put himself in charge of the event for a year. This will mean kidnapping Santa Claus but keeping him safely away from nasty Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), creating toys and flying animals to pull a sleigh and getting a jolly Santa suit made for him by a patchwork ragdoll named Sally (Catherine O'Hara). Sally has a bad feeling about everything but Jack isn't listening.

I almost, ALMOST, class The Nightmare Before Christmas as a perfect movie. The visuals are gorgeous throughout, most of the songs are winners (with the high point being the wonderful "What's This?" although the opening number, "This Is Halloween" really gets everything off to a great start) and the story is a delightful, simple one with good lessons to be learned. The only big mark against it is that the second half of the movie can't keep up the high, high standard set by the first half. The second half is still very good but it has a number of the slightly weaker musical numbers and has to tie everything up as opposed to the pieces being put into place in the first half. In fact, the scenes in which Jack is trying his hand at Christmas are the weakest in the whole film, mainly because the style and design of the film doesn't fit as well with Anytown, USA as it does with the quirky Holiday worlds.

I feel like I'm nitpicking but I'm only highlighting the very small points that stop this from being a solid 10/10 classic. Despite those very minor flaws, I have still watched this film more than almost any other movie in my collection and I can still watch it repeatedly at any point between Halloween and Christmas (the optimum viewing period, of course). If you haven't seen it yet then do yourself a favour and get to it this Christmas. If you have seen it already then you're probably wondering why I rated it "so low".


Sunday 9 December 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

When he witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of a vicious criminal dressed in a Santa suit, young Billy develops a perfectly acceptable fear of the avuncular giver of gifts. Growing up in an orphanage with his younger brother, Billy is further traumatised when the Mother Superior tries to force him to sit on the knee of a visiting Santa. All of the other kids think of Christmas as a happy time when gifts are received. Billy thinks of it as a time of murder and bloodshed, especially for those who have been naughty instead of nice. When he becomes a young man, Billy gets a job in a local store and does fairly well in his role. Until he has to step in to play . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Santa. Anyone on the naughty list is really going to suffer this year.

Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr. and written by Michael Hickey (developing from the story by Paul Caimi), this movie upset a lot of people when it was first released and was dismissed as trash by people such as Sickel & Ebert and Leonard Maltin. I love it.

It's gloriously demented from start to finish, piling on the psychological damage to the main character throughout and barely pausing for anything that comes close to the reality of how killers are created. Actually, to be fair, the events shown could certainly shape someone into a killer over time but everything is heightened and taken to an extreme that keeps the focus on the entertainment rather than any rumination on damaged psyches.

Robert Brian Wilson plays the grown up Billy and he's very good in the role, all twitchy and eye-rollingly insane. Horror genre fans will be pleased by the small role for Linnea Quigley, playing a babysitter who is busy trying to be a bit naughty before Santa pays a visit, while Lilyan Chauvin and Gilmer McCormick play a couple of nuns involved in the running of the orphanage who start to put two and two together when they hear of the killer Santa on the loose. The gorgeous Tara Buckman has a small but important role and Eric Hart is great as Mr. Levitt the storekeeper.

There are many moments in the movie that are laughable but that doesn't matter, even the laughable moments are entertaining and this is one big slice of brilliant sleaze that goes all out from start to finish to entertain. In that regard, it's a success and while it won't be to everyone's taste but I absolutely love it.