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