Showing posts from 2023

Cronos (1992)

I first saw this ten or fifteen years ago while exploring Guillermo del Toro's filmography.  Filmed in a combination of English and Spanish, Cronos is his first film. I recall thinking it was good but being a little underwhelmed at the time, particularly compared to his follow-up, The Devil's Backbone. If I noticed this was set at New Year's, I forgot it soon after. While this didn't leave much of an impression on me then, it absolutely did now. I think I was expecting a more typical vampire story, and as a result wasn't ready to fully appreciate the more subdued, thoughtful film del Toro delivered, which is more a fairytale assembled out of deconstructed horror elements than the usual superpowered monsters. In my defense, understated genre films were more common in the '90s and early '00s, so something like this stood out less then than it does in 2023. Regardless, this is fantastic, which means it's time for a mandatory spoiler warning. If you're a

Ordinary Love (2019)

I found this on a list BFI released of "10 Great Christmas Films of the 21st Century," along with a mix of movies we've seen and ones we haven't (all of which of course went right on my watchlist). While I agree Ordinary Love is a worthwhile film, I'm less convinced it makes much sense to call it a "Christmas film," though it does have the holidays bookend the movie, a common use of them. The BFI's synopsis, however, claims this is "about a Belfast couple grappling with chemo over the holidays," which is demonstrably false - the holidays are well over before the disease is diagnosed, and the bulk of their ordeal takes place significantly later. I'm guessing whoever made the list didn't have a chance to rewatch this before finalizing it. Which is understandable. By their nature, these kinds of lists are typically tossed together at the last minute, and besides - it's not like the movie is unworthy of praise. I just wouldn't c

Mouse Hunt (1997)

Just about the only thing you'd describe as subtle in this comedy from the late '90s is its holiday setting, which - to be fair - is a bit ambiguous. The film definitely starts just before Christmas, though even that takes a little while to be established. Christmas Eve plays into the story in a fairly significant way, though we sort of breeze through the 25th itself. After that, the timeline gets a little muddled, though it certainly seems like virtually all of the movie would have to be set between Christmas and New Year's. But I'm getting quite a bit ahead of myself. Let's start by acknowledging what I assume is obvious from the seemingly contradictory fact that this involves some pretty impressive talent yet has been virtually forgotten: it's not good. That's not entirely accurate. Instead, let's say this really doesn't work, and most people without an interest in Gore Verbinski's filmography would be better off skipping it. This is Verbinski

Roadblock (1951)

I was torn on whether to write this up at all. The holiday section accounts for roughly thirteen minutes of the movie's runtime, plus or minus depending on when you assume some ambiguous events are taking place. The section is pivotal and the use of the holidays interesting, but this is more a case where it's relevant to trends of how Christmas appears on film, rather than of particular note to the movie itself. But I found it notable enough in context to want some notes, and this blog is largely turning into a sort of public collection of notes I'm compiling on holiday media for.... God, I don't know. I'm still figuring that part out. Regardless, the compromise I came up with was to write this up but hold the post until after the holidays. I don't want to water down our Christmas season posts any more than I already have. So that's why you're seeing this now. This movie, I should note, is a good one. Roadblock is a noir crime story with a tragic love st

They Live by Night (1948)

They Live by Night is one of several crime noir films Criterion is streaming this year for the holidays. It tells the story of young lovers on the run from the law. I was on the fence about writing this up. Because the movie's timeline is fairly nebulous, it's not at all clear what portion is set around Christmas. A fourteen or fifteen-minute section starting just after the middle definitely is and you could interpret the entirety of what comes before as being in December, but you could just as easily assume the earlier scenes are in October or November. It just isn't clear. The tie-breaker, of course, came down to some thematic connections, but even these aren't clear-cut. More on all that later. The main characters are Bowie (played by Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O'Donnell). Bowie just broke out of prison with the help of two older criminals, T-Dub and Chicamaw. They're staying at a service station run by Keechie's father, who's assisting them i

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg] (1964)

There aren't a lot of definitions of "Christmas movies" that would include this, and I'm not about to claim otherwise. Despite that, I wanted to share a few thoughts for a couple reasons. First, this is an incredibly important and influential movie, which naturally makes me inclined to loosen my criteria. It's also a foreign film (French, if it wasn't clear from the title), which means it's providing us with at least a little insight into how another culture views the holiday season. Most importantly, while it only contains two relatively brief holiday sequences, one of those uses Christmas in a fairly unusual way, which - unless I miss my guess - reflects back on American Christmas movies. More on that later. The film is a colorful musical drama about a couple torn apart by a combination of forces beyond their control and their own decisions. It's notable for its operatic approach - although the music is fairly modern (or modern for 1964 musicals), ev

The Closing of the Year. Sort of.

Christmas Day is upon us once again, so it's time to wrap things up for another year. Well... sort of. See, despite some concerns about whether we'd have enough to keep up with our usual schedule this year, we're actually finishing with a handful of reviews we never got around to scheduling. While we relaxed our rules on limiting posts to media we deemed "Christmas movies" to include films of historical significance or movies that uses the holidays in interesting ways, we held off on a couple that are really movies where Christmas plays a minor role, and post-Christmas seems like a good time to run those. I also want to leave open the possibility we might start posting reviews during the off-season (hopefully shorter than most of what we've been doing) of other movies that fall more in the neighborhood of "movies with some scenes during the holidays" than bona fide "Christmas movies." As I said in my intro piece, this blog has piqued my int

Santa Camp (2022)

Being who we are, we've probably watched more documentaries about professional Santas than most people (such as  Becoming Santa ,  I Am Santa Claus ), and we even highlighted a book profiling a variety of professional Santas ( We Are Santa ). When we started up this documentary, we weren't sure how much of it would cover familiar ground, but the perspective here was specific and unique, and overall, I was impressed. Part of the film documents the particularly wacky vibe of the titular Santa Camp, an annual weekend retreat in New England for professional and aspiring Saint Nicks to come together and socialize and learn tricks of the trade. This setting provides many artistic and surreal shots and you can tell why the idea tickled the fancy of Australian filmmaker Nick Sweeney, who told The Guardian that he loves "documenting subcultures."   Of course, that article leads with the real core of the film: the founder of Santa Camp, Santa Dan, (along with strong support fro

Black Christmas (1974) [Revisited]

I originally saw and "reviewed"  Black Christmas back in 2010 , and if you're wondering why "review" is in quotation marks, go ahead and click on the link. For what it's worth, we weren't exactly trying to write actual reviews in those days - this all started out as sort of a novelty Christmas blog where the gag was we were binging as much holiday stuff as possible and writing about the experience. Sharing our discomfort as we sat through genres we didn't enjoy was all part of the fun. Or so we hoped. But over the years this site has evolved, as have my taste in movies and my knowledge of the history of Christmas media. Even back then, we knew Black Christmas was important (which is why we included it that first year). And as I've encountered various think pieces exploring the film , it became clear I really needed to revisit it. Having rewatched it, I still wouldn't say I enjoyed the experience, but it's far more nuanced and interesting

Tawo [The Tower] (2012)

Here's one that's been on our list for a while. This is a 2012 South Korean disaster movie set on Christmas Eve directed by Kim Ji-hoon. The effects and overall production values are, for the most part, at the level of a Hollywood blockbuster, and the movie was a massive success in South Korea. It was so well executed, I found myself a little surprised it hadn't received a US release... until it got to the third act, when it became extremely clear why this particular market wasn't an option. The premise is going to be familiar to anyone who's heard of the 1974 film, The Towering Inferno, whether you've seen it or not (which is fortunate, because that's another one I still need to get around to). At its core, The Tower is about people trying to escape a burning skyscraper, with the complexity coming from who the characters are, what their relationships are to each other, what they're willing to risk or sacrifice for each other, and so on. While the premis

WordWorld: The Christmas Star/A Christmas Present for Dog (2008)

FYI: This show is watched by our 4-year-old. Her feedback will be included in this review. WorldWorld is a PBS show (originally 2007-2011) that teaches preschoolers basic spelling and phonics along with some other positive messages. I've always found it generally amusing, although the in-world rules raise a lot of questions.  All the things, including the characters, are physically made up of the letters that spell their names. And if you can spell something, you can create it. For example, if you line up the letters H, A, T, you now have a hat. So it's a bit like the Star Trek question of why anything would be scarce in a world with replicators, but it's an exponentially larger issue here because the characters find letters basically anywhere (they don't seem to be a finite resource) and in several episodes, it's established that you can pluralize words to create infinite stuff.  Each half-hour episode includes two separate stories.   The Christmas Star This story

A Biltmore Christmas (2023)

Fairly high concept for a Hallmark movie, this is about a screenwriter scripting a remake of a classic Hollywood Christmas movie getting magically transported back to the production of said movie in 1947 and falling in love with its tragically doomed star. If all that sounds a tad over-ambitious for a studio known for cranking out relatively uniform (but surprisingly high-quality) low-budget television movies... well... that is an issue here. While A Biltmore Christmas is decent, it's clear they're biting off a bit more than they can chew. Watching, you can tell everyone involved is putting in real effort, but you can see where they just didn't have the time to set up complex shots, learn more than surface-level impersonations of characters from classic Hollywood films, or nail the look and feel of the era they were emulating. I don't think any of that is necessarily a dealbreaker, depending on what you want out of this. This is, after all, a TV Christmas movie, and in

Spoiler Alert (2022)

Spoiler Alert is a romantic dramedy starring Jim Parsons based on a memoir titled, "Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies at the End", directed by Michael Showalter (the guy who made The Big Sick). The adaptation is co-written by Dan Savage, making his screenwriting debut. That's a pretty remarkable collection of talent, and I didn't even mention that Sally Field and Bill Irwin have supporting roles. The movie is effectively split into two sections: the first is a straightforward rom-com about a gay couple falling in love, building a life together, and encountering complications. Around the halfway mark, the film pivots to drama, as one of the two leads is diagnosed with cancer, which eventually kills him. The movie let's you know where it's heading at the start (sooner, if you're familiar with the full title of the book it's based on), but that doesn't make the transition any less jarring. That's intentional, obviously. The movie is an exploration of t