Posts Tagged 'christmas'

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentle Readers

My dearest readers, this is it. Tonight’s the night Christian parents across the world will lie to their offspring about a stranger breaking into their homes to leave merchandise provided by large corporations, and soon Christmas will be over. Which means we’ve also reached the final chapter of our Hallmark journey. And so, without further ado… The Christmas Parade.

AnnaLynne McCord is Hayley, a correspondent on a New York City morning show. Hayley isn’t too into the Christmas spirit, but she is concerned about the upcoming break so that she and her longtime fiancé, high-powered investment dude Jason, can finally squeeze in some time to plan their wedding. Imagine her humiliation, then, when she’s stunned on air by a scoop about the new fling of a rising starlet: AND IT’S JASON. That conveniently inconveniently timed cad!

Fleeing to the country in her Mini Cooper, Hayley gets distracted by multiple calls/texts from Jason and runs her car into a fence. (Women drivers, am I right?) The cranky old man who owns said fence wants to call the police, even though she offers to immediately pay for the damage. Taking her offer of a blank check as a bribe, he reveals that he’s the local judge, and tells her to show up in his chambers tomorrow.

Thank god there’s a hot good Samaritan on hand for this disaster. He calls a tow truck for her, and she tries to check into the nearest hotel and make the best of it. But, being the Christmas season, there’s no room at the inn, and she’s directed to the one vacancy in town at a bed & breakfast. You know they’re not like city folk there, because they have a GRAMOPHONE.

Then comes the second convenient man-related shocker of the day: the good Samaritan runs the B & B! His name is Beck. I don’t know why. Also THERE’S NO WI-FI OR TV! (Hayley actually seems really chill about this, so I don’t even know why we’re establishing this country bumpkin vs. city girl dynamic. But we’ll get back to that.)

Hayley’s producer is pissed at her, and wants her back in the city for their big Christmas special. It’s not so great, then, when the cranky judge sentences her to 25 hours of community service before court closes for the year (in five days!) for using a cell while driving. She protests and maintains her innocence — those were INCOMING texts!!! — but when he threatens a jury trial, she agrees to do the time.

Her service hours can be fulfilled by helping Beck build a parade float with some kids at the local community center. (I guess there are no actual unfortunate people in Connecticut.) Hayley becomes interested in Beck’s story about how the center was started by a philanthropist ten years ago, but is going to be sold by the city council if he and the kids can’t raise $15,000 by the new year for their own down payment. And wouldn’t you know, they can get exactly that much if they win top prize for their parade float. (Fifteen fucking grand?? Shit, let me join that contest! I’ll let someone ride on my damn back for all of December for that much money.)

Thanks to the court clerk’s Twitter account, Hayley’s story ends up on “ZMT” (which is NOT TMZ, Hallmark’s lawyers assure me.) Now knowing where she is, Jason shows up to plead forgiveness. But she kicks him to the curb. Get out of here, city boy! Hayley’s busy discovering Beck’s secret painting studio and how he gave up a scholarship to the Sorbonne to care for this dying father!

Christmas Parade

Hayley, too, has secrets to share, like why she isn’t a fan of Christmas. She recounts a sad childhood memory of being made fun of for a second-hand bike after she’d begged her mom to get her a new one, how crushed her mom was about it, and how guilty she felt for not realizing her family couldn’t really afford gifts that year. That’s why she’s pissed that Christmas is about “making people want things that they can’t afford.” This is your spoiled city girl, movie? You’re not doing it right.

Saintly Hayley also turns down the mayor’s skeezy offer to reduce her service hours if she mentions local businesses in her broadcast, instead turning to Beck’s mother Wendy, who works for the local paper, to do an interview with her so she can take the narrative of her situation into her own hands. Of course what Wendy really wants is to help Hayley rediscover the Christmas spirit! She insists that Christmas is about looooooove. And is there anyone Hayley might find herself loving these days? Maybe someone she’s had a PAINT FIGHT with recently???

Complications with the Parade Float Insta-Cash Plan arise when the mayor tells Beck that someone else made an offer for the property, and Beck should just give up. But the offer comes from Hyperion Enterprises — Jason’s company! So Hayley rushes back to NYC to beg him to stop the sale if he actually loves her. Though he dismisses the situation as “another one of her little human interest stories,” he also says he’ll figure out how to drop the deal.

Beck is ecstatic over the dropped bid, but the merrymaking is short-lived, since the mayor soon calls and says another investment group stepped in. The city is determined to turn the building into commercial space, the kids are sad, etc etc. But Beck makes a big speech about trying to win the parade anyway. Shit, I’m sure y’all can think of something to do with fifteen grand even if the center closes. Keep the money and hold your meetings at someone’s barn!

Community service hours finished and back in the city prepping for the Christmas special she’s hosting, Hayley’s struck with an idea in the middle of a meeting. Include the parade in the special!! Surely then the mayor will see how important this is to the community. She convinces the suits to change the theme to “From Manhattan to Main Street” and get in touch with the little people this year. What a gal.

Meanwhile, following his “good deed,” Jason is still trying to get Hayley back. He wants her to go on a Christmas trip on a Dubai billionaire’s yacht with him (sounds pretty good to me), but then she sees a call on his phone and figures out that the “new company” that stepped in to buy the community center is a subsidiary of Hyperion, and Jason’s been lying all along. HIT THE ROAD AGAIN, JACK. And take your yacht with you! (sob)

When the night of the parade finally arrives, Hayley ends up having to step in and play Mrs. Clause, with Beck as Santa, of course. Aren’t they adorable? Then, as soon as she goes on live TV and talks about the community center, offers for donations start to pour in from all over the country! (I thought this was a local show, but whatever.) They thwart the mayor, who’s been in cahoots with Jason and planning to rig the parade anyway, by setting up a Kickstarter and raising $264,000 in like an hour. I shit you not. I’m not sure if Hallmark’s lawyers checked with Kickstarter about setting up this unrealistic expectation.

Then Hayley and Beck kiss in their Clause outfits. She’s got that spirit back, y’all! Goodnight!

Okay, so here’s the thing about any level of rom-com… even though you know they’re going to get together in the end, the fun part is the conflict on the road there. Sooooooo notice anything missing with The Christmas Parade? Besides a single moment when he has to tell her the B & B has no wi-fi, Hayley and Beck are 100% on the same page the whole time. It’s super tame even for Hallmark, but otherwise, a perfectly serviceable bit of holiday nonsense.

Let me segue and take a brief moment to sum up a separate issue I’ve touched on throughout this series of posts. Usually Hallmark at least makes a small acknowledgement that not everyone in North America is a white Christian. Yes, a few of this year’s main characters have a black pal who perpetually exists next to the phone, someone they can call to commiserate about their romantic life. But last year, the season kicked off with Snow Bride, a film based around half-Taiwanese actress Katrina Law, and the year before included the (quite enjoyable) Joey Lawrence vehicle Hitched for the Holidays, in which his Christian, Italian-American character falls for a Jewish girl, and the cultural differences, while used for comedy, aren’t at all framed as the actual obstacle keeping their romance from blooming. These are very, very minor whiffs toward diversity, yet Hallmark couldn’t even handle that much this year. Disappointing.

Perhaps my critique of Hallmark’s heteronormative whiteness (combined with my scathing critique of A Cookie Cutter Christmas) has burned this bridge forever, but I still hope someday I get to pitch some ideas to them. (Or they can just read the ones I’ve already posted on my Twitter account…) I think these light, cheesy romances can be really good when done right, and I would write one of those scripts with nothing but gratitude and joy.

Final scorecard:

*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/12 films
*male lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 2/12
*female lead gets fired: 4/12
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/12
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/12
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/12
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 5/12
*dead parents: 7/12

We like, we like to party.

I have tried, in my day, to be a person who throws great parties. The idea appeals to my nature as someone who is social but not spontaneous, an organizer at heart. But the expectations rarely meet the reality, do they? People arrive late and leave early and don’t appreciate your carefully curated playlist and would rather drink beer than the special themed cocktails you purchased specific liquor to make. Then, as time passes, we graduate to just meeting friends for a glass of wine and being home and in sweats by 9pm. Still, there’s a part of me that thinks back and wishes I’d had a little more success throwing Totally Major Parties. (Is it because I never had drugs? Should’ve had some drugs.)

At least my expectations never rose to those of Jennie (Torrey DeVitto, known to me as Spencer’s sister Melissa on Pretty Little Liars), who states multiple times over the course of The Best Christmas Party Ever that parties can be life-changing. She’s dedicated herself to party planning, sure that the path of her own life was changed at a Christmas party when she was seven years old, when she asked Santa for a job for her father. Santa was really the owner of the toy store Tyrell’s, and so began a great career for her now-deceased dad, and a lifelong friendship with old Mr. Tyrell, who throws a huge party that’s open to the public every year.

Jennie expects to take over the party planning company she works for when her boss, Petra, retires. It’s a rude awakening when Petra announces that her nephew Nick (the deeply cute Steve Lund) is coming to work for her, in order to someday inherit the company. Nick, an aspiring actor, has zero experience in planning anything, but charms everyone in sight — except Jennie, of course. She wants the ornaments and tinsel and lights put on the tree in the right order, and she doesn’t want pigs in a blanket at a classy party. Jennie is, in other words, uptight.

But Jennie is also beautiful and confident and clever, which makes Nick crave her approval. And he doesn’t like it much when a suave client named Todd, who works for the company that’s just purchased Tyrell’s, asks Jennie out on a date. Nick does his best to win Jennie over, but keeps making missteps, like inadvertently embarrassing her by asking her to tell a joke in front of a group, and taking over business meetings with his spontaneous ideas. And why should Jennie like him, really, when he’s swooping in to take over her company because of nepotism??

But Nick is relentless, and starts to win Jennie over by buying her a “truce hot dog” and discussing their lives. He teases her about being single because she can’t have fun, but she says it’s really because she compares guys to her amazing dad. In turn, Nick confesses that he’s a jokester/actor because it helped him make friends when moving around as a military brat, and it’s hard for him to let his guard down. They’ve totes bonded. But Jennie still has that date with Todd…

Bad news for Nick. Todd actually seems like a good dude, AND he and Jennie can commiserate over losing opportunities to nepotism (his bro took over their family biz because their dad thought he needed it more and Todd could handle life on his own). Plus, he gains points by taking her to a restaurant at the top of a skyscraper so that they can see the other buildings first light up for the Christmas season. COMPETITION.

On the night of a big Christmas-in-Hawaii themed party, Nick continues catching Jennie’s eye by doing things like being cute, badly playing the ukelele, and making small children like him. Plus, the party goes so great that they finally being to realize how Nick’s crazy ideas and Jennie’s attention to detail complement each other. Jennie wishes she could be more captivating with clients like Nick is! Nick wishes he could act natural around others like he can with Jennie! Could a match in love AND business be brewing?

thegreatestchristmaspartyever-0725

Cue a hot hula girl interrupting the big moment. Nick hired his pretty actress friend Kim to work the party, and they have plans to hang out after. Which is just fine, because won’t Jennie be seeing Todd, anyway? Isn’t that the sort of guy she wants?

Maybe not so much after all. Todd has a lot of ideas about the annual Tyrell’s Toys Christmas party since his company is taking over, and none of them fit with the traditional all-for-the-kids vision. It’s more like a VIP, caviar/hot waitresses/Lamborghinis-as-sleighs vision. You know, CHRISTMAS. Now Nick, he loves Jennie’s idea for a Nutcracker theme, but he also knows it isn’t what the clients want. They argue, and when Jennie realizes she’s been unreasonable and tries to offer up another truce hot dog, they’re interrupted once again by that blasted Kim. And this time Kim and Nick are going ICE SKATING. The romantic skating scene is for the protagonist, you meddling minx!!!!

Over a sad mug o’ nog, Jennie’s friend Natalie reminds her that Jennie should HATE Nick anyway because HE’S STEALING HER JOB. She has a good point, but then again Jennie is doing a pretty good job of sabotaging herself. Todd gets so frustrated over Jennie’s insistence with adhering to tradition with the Tyrell’s party that he ends up having to fire her — supposedly on his boss’s behalf — but still wants to date her. He gives her a gift he found in the company archives, a photo of her as a kid at that oh-so-important party. It’s actually totally sweet. DAMMIT, TODD.

Back at the ranch, Nick finds out he got a part on a soap opera that he auditioned for a while ago, but he can’t even be happy about it because he’s so focused on helping Jennie. He even pleads with Todd to hire her back, to no avail. Meanwhile, Jennie goes to talk to ol’ Mr. Tyrell about these pesky new owners of his store and how they’re not honoring his handshake deal about keeping the party as-is for the community. They all decide to go forward with throwing the party themselves… but will Nick take the part and have to leave on Christmas Eve? He’s ready to stay, until roses arrive for Jennie from Todd, and she seems for a moment to consider giving the guy another chance. It’s because she thinks you’re dating the hula girl, you idiot! And wouldn’t you know, his agent calls right at that moment — and he agrees to head to LA. (Nobody tell the makers of this film that daytime soaps are based in NYC anyway.)

As the group rallies to make the party happen (without telling Petra they’re going behind a former client’s back…), Kim confesses to Jennie how Nick fought for her with Todd. Hula Girl knows what’s up. But romance will have to wait, because Petra just found out about what they’re doing, when lawyers showed up to warn her about violating a non-compete clause. Jennie readies herself for a lecture and maybe a firing, but then Petra gets wise on her ass. She looks up “party” in the dictionary — repeat, SHE LOOKS UP “PARTY” IN THE DICTIONARY — “a social event, a gathering of people.” In other words, you’re not alone, I’m here for you, bitch! She’s only mad to have been kept in the dark, and tells them to go full speed ahead, because she’s got lawyers, too. Yay, old rich white lady!!

On the morning of the party, Nick must depart. He and Jennie share one last hot dog, and then it’s off to the airport. While there, he opens her gift to him — a vintage clock radio, in reference to how he once said he feels like a clock radio because he always has to be “on.” That doesn’t actually make that much sense as a gift when you think about it (he DOESN’T like being like a clock radio, Jennie), but sure enough it sends Nick running back to the party, ready to declare his love.

But is the party about to implode?? Todd and his boss have shown up after seeing a piece on the local news; will they try to shut it down? Shit, son, this is Christmas. One look at the happy kids and the boss man is converted, actually blaming Todd for trying to stop the party in the first place. (Poor Todd.)

And then! Nick bursts in and confesses his feelings to Jennie. Their kiss is eeeeeaaaaaasily the hottest Hallmark kiss so far this season. (Poor Todd times two.) AND IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN. Jennie and Nick are gonna bone down so hard tonight. And Christmas is saved and all that. The end.

The Best Christmas Party Ever is on the high end of this year’s Hallmark crop. The plot is cheesy in a fun, not overly-serious way, the characters quickly gain layers beyond the first characterizations of “uptight girl” and “fun-loving guy,” and the actors have actual sexy chemistry. “If you think It’s A Wonderful Life rates a 10, Best Christmas Party Ever is at least a 20″ says a crazy person on IMDb! How can you argue with that? It’s the penultimate entry in this year’s line-up, but will Hallmark end on a high note? Stay tuned for our season finale.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/11 films
*male lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 2/11
*female lead gets fired: 4/11
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/11
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/11
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/11
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 5/11
*dead parents: 6/11

Another Christmas Angel? Inconceivable.

Gather ’round, children. Closer, closer. I have a little bit of bad news, and then some very good news. First, I have to tell you: Santa isn’t real. I know, I know. It’s tough to face the truth. But there’s something else, something even better, that IS real.

FEMINISM IS REAL, BITCHES!!!

And that’s why, since Santa is a completely fictional construct, there ain’t no reason that Santa can’t be a woman. (Miss me with that Mrs. Claus bullshit. Do you even know her maiden name? DIDN’T THINK SO.)

In Christmas at Cartwright’s, single mom Nicky (growing Hallmark staple Alicia Witt) loses her job before Christmas when the dress shop she works at closes. She’s determined to stay positive and find a new position with the holiday hiring upswing, but nothing has worked out so far. She’s dodging her landlady, explaining to her daughter Becky’s teacher why she can’t afford a reading tutor, and certainly not putting any effort into dating, though Becky is determined that a love match is just as important as a job match to make her mom’s life great again.

One evening, Nicky and Becky are walking home when they find an odd sort of silver coin on the ground, one with an image of an angel on it. Becky is sure this will be good luck, and indeed, Nicky soon finds that her neighbor and friend Liz has a tip about a job at Cartwright’s, an upscale department store. She goes to the interview with high hopes.

While waiting for the interview, Nicky starts chatting with a cute manager named Bill who finds her dropped resume (get it together, girl). This turns out to be bad, though, because the lady exec conducting the interview, Fiona, clearly has a crush on Bill, and thus develops immediate, utter contempt for Nicky (everyone knows only whores chat). That good luck from the coin seems to have run out already.

Or has it???

While trying to leave the store, some sort of elevator malfunction dumps Nicky on an Employees Only floor. As she tries to find the way out, she stumbles on a room full of Santa costumes and gets locked in. She hears a voice outside, asking her if she’s put on the suit yet. The kids are waiting! And by the way, being store Santa is a really great job that comes with all sorts of benefits!

Who is that voice outside the room? That elfish man who bears a strong resemblance to the angel on that silver coin? IT’S MOTHERFUKKIN WALLACE SHAWN.

Literally the only way I could have been happy about a third “angel helping on the ground” film in this year’s line-up is by having that angel be Wallace Shawn. Well played, Hallmark. Well played.

Nicky makes a snap decision to go with this weird situation, pitching her voice low and slapping on the beard before anyone can see her. Soon her slim, “new, modern, healthy-looking Santa,” as Harry the Christmas Consultant slash Angel describes her, is a huge hit with the kids, especially since, with Harry’s winking help, Santa seems to be almost psychic about what the kids want. Peg, the store’s longtime Head Santa’s Helper, is beyond happy with this new guy who takes the job so seriously. But Bitchy Lady Exec Fiona is livid to have had her pick for Santa replaced, and also deeply suspicious about the new hire, who’s gaining popularity while failing to push expensive gifts on the kids and parents. She demands a background check on this man Nicky Talbot.

Meanwhile, in her non-Santa guise, Nicky keeps running into Cute Manager Bill. In the coffee shop, in the tree lot, in the elevator: he’s everywhere. And a much better prospect than the sad single dads determined Becky gathers to introduce to her mom at her school’s Open House. They finally make a dinner date, and all seems to be working out beautifully. Except, of course, the fact that she still has to hide her job from him.

christmasatcartwrights-1154

This becomes an issue on the date, when he confides in her about a past fiancée who cheated on him, and how it’s made him value honesty. Uh oh. Panicked over the fact that she’s lying to him about her vague “holiday” job, she pretends that a call from Liz is a huge emergency and flees. Liz’s advice for a sad and guilty Nicky is to just make it through the next week until Christmas and then try again to go out with the dude. Ah, logical.

BUT there’s still that pesky matter of Fiona. Harry has angel-ed away the background check several times, but this is only causing her ire to grow. And when Harry gets called away on some other angel business, the shit hits the fan. A store security guard catches Nicky in the Santa dressing room and assumes she’s stealing, dragging her to Fiona for some reason. She recognizes the name “Nicky Talbot” from the background check, revealing the Santa lie to everyone (including a disappointed Cute Bill), and fires her, vaguely citing bad publicity for the store.

Nicky’s very upset about the situation, but then Liz, a former publicist, gets her story of being fired for being a woman — despite being the most popular Santa the store’s ever had! — on the local news. Getting a story of injustice on the local news is, of course, the only thing it takes to right a wrong. (Hey feminists, have we tried this in real life?? So easy!!!)

Back at work, Nicky apologizes to Bill for lying. His response is that he’s not so much mad that she kept the truth from him, but that he wishes she’d given him a chance, and not assumed he would equate cheating in a relationship with a mother desperately trying to take care of her child. Ouch, Bill. Ouch.

Meanwhile, the big boss Mr. Cartwright is pissed that Fiona fired Nicky, so he fires her. Nicky tells him about Harry helping her, but — SHOCKING — he’s never heard of the guy. She finally puts two and two together, and soon discovers that Becky was way ahead of her the whole time. She recognized her mom in the Santa outfit when she went to the store (thank god; only a true idiot wouldn’t know their own mother just because of a fake beard) and had a secret talk about it with Harry. She knew he was an angel all along. So she may be a bad reader, but she ain’t dumb. (Oh and she’s also been getting extra reading lessons from her teacher at recess as a Christmas gift to her mom. HEARTWARMING.) Mr. Cartwright offers Nicky Fiona’s old job as Head of Special Events, and all seems right with the world.

Except she hasn’t gotten her man yet!!!

Luckily, Peg has gone above and beyond in her Santa’s Helper duties once again. She convinces Bill to give Nicky another chance, and he stops by Nicky’s place that night, having come to his senses about how awesome a lady Santa is. (You know you guys are gonna have some fun with that suit, come on.) They kiss, everyone gathers by the tree, and Wallace Shawn creeps outside the window, admiring his handiwork.

This silly but well-done movie was a much-needed tonic after the last dreadful movie featuring an angel. (Sidenote, is Christmas the only time angels can help people? Are they on vacay the other eleven months of the year? I don’t think there are this many angels running around when it’s Valentine’s time on Hallmark.) And bonus fun fact! The screenwriter, Margaret Oberman, was one of the few women writers on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, and she also co-wrote Troop Beverly Hills! TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, people! Bow down, bow down.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/10 films
*female lead gets fired: 3/10
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/10
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/10
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/10
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 4/10
*dead parents: 5/10

A low bar for the definition of “miracle.”

The plots of many wonderful films essentially serve as answers to a what-if question. What if a misanthropic weatherman was forced to live a single day over and over again? What if dinosaurs could be brought back from extinction and observed by humans? What if our toys had lives of their own?

A question no one should have ever asked themselves is this: what if the love child of Jerry Lewis and Forrest Gump had to fake being a professor in order to stalk a student into fixing everything wrong with her life? BY CHRISTMAS?!?!?!

Such is the world created in Debbie Macomber’s Mr. Miracle, in which Rob Morrow plays “Harry Mills,” the alter ego of an angel on his first assignment, looking to get his wings. Yes, this is the second Hallmark film of the season using the angel’s-big-assignment premise, although I will not be so forgiving of this one as I was of the oddly sweet Angels & Ornaments. Though I haven’t been mentioning the directors of these productions, I now see that this was a grave mistake. Carl Bessai, if that is your real name: did you really look at what Rob Morrow was doing and sign off on that? Are you daft, sir? Or maybe despondent about the state of your career, such that you simply shrugged and said “Okay, what does it matter anyway, let’s break early for lunch”? There has to be an explanation other than thinking that was good. There has to be.

Alright. Okay. So. Harry the dim-witted but big-gesturing angel sets out to believably walk around in the world as if he’s ever seen a cup or a chair before, teach an English class at a local community college, and help Addie, a dyslexic young woman dealing with her father’s death, who has already dropped out of college once, learn to love herself enough in order to start putting her life back together and follow her dream of working in medicine like her father did. He has an older, wiser angel named Celeste to help him; she has very pretty red hair and I wonder why the movie can’t be about her. There is also an angel who is a dog, named Tommy. Tommy’s owner never seems to wonder where Tommy is when he’s off meeting with Harry and Celeste.

The angels’ plan has several elements:

*have Harry’s class read A Christmas Carol, so that Addie can start thinking about how someone’s past needn’t dictate their future;
*remind Addie how much she loves helping people by manipulating her into caring for her hated neighbor after said neighbor is in a ski accident (whether the angels actually cause that accident remains unclear);
*have Harry move into a house on Addie’s block and hang around a lot like a jolly creeper until Christmas magic happens.

Let me get to the one thing that makes this movie watchable, and that is the hated neighbor, Erich. Erich was Addie’s classmate all through childhood and high school, and he embodies every hot boy-next-door from every TV show in the ’90s. His hair flows in blond waves that would make Zack Morris’s toes curl with envy. He calls her “Adelaide,” which she hates, but we know that means he likes her. He has a witchy girlfriend who went to high school with them, but he’s so ready to grow up and move on. If only a girl like Addie could see him as the adult he’s grown into instead of the shallow popular kid he used to be…

Just take a look at Erich's waves.

Just take a look at Erich’s waves.

I’m gonna have to jump ahead here and just say that it all works out. Addie comes to terms with her father’s death, finishes her class, and decides to keep going with school, and she and Erich share a single, painfully chaste kiss. I cannot go into more detail than this because it all involves Rob Morrow mugging it up as if in an attempt to prove that he totally could have handled the lead role in I Am Sam back in the day. I love you, dear readers, but not enough to relive that.

Perhaps it is also the “Debbie Macomber” label that made this movie such a disappointment for me, as usually it can be relied upon. For example, 2009’s Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle, featuring Doris Roberts as a nanny who helps young widower James Van Der Beek deal with his six-year-old twins and his healing, maybe-ready-for-love-again heart. Now there’s a movie worth your time. Sadly, I must be more wary in the future. Thanks a lot for that lesson, Harry.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/9 films
*female lead gets fired: 2/9
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/9
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/9
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/9
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 4/9
*dead parents: 5/9

Kill Christmas

Another Christmas holiday has passed, but it’s not too late to enjoy quality Christmas films. Now’s a great time to celebrate surviving another season by watching some movies that not only feature pretty lights and Santa, but also plenty of blood and guns.

200623_169587_1_024.jpg1. Die Hard

Obviously the quintessential Christmas action movie, and one of the best action movies ever made, period. Especially recommended for a seasonal viewing because it was the first major film role for my beloved Alan Rickman.

2. Go

I’ve heard this movie pejoratively referred to as “Pulp Fiction lite” because of the way it plays with the timeline, but it’s quite good on its own terms. If you can get around the fact that Katie Holmes is in it (concentrate on the presence of Sarah Polly and Timothy Olyphant), this is a very entertaining movie involving lots of drugs, strippers, and other wholesome activities on Christmas Eve.

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

This is the best movie Shane Black’s written since Lethal Weapon, and features one of Robert Downey Jr’s most amusing performances. Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan are also fantastic and the murder mystery plotline feels fresh compared to similar stories in other movies. I’ve recommended this to a few people and gotten nothing but raves in return.

11m.jpg4. Black Christmas

The 1974 version, of course. I love a good slasher movie, and this one about sorority girls being stalked while on Christmas break is a good one. Believe it or not, the director is the same man who helmed A Christmas Story; I guess he had mixed feelings about the holiday.

5. Gremlins

Finally, of course, we have the lovely tale of the cute little Mogwai who spawns vicious creatures when you don’t follow the rules of his care to the letter, Christmas or no Christmas. This is such a classic B-movie. Loved it as a kid, still love it now.

Good riddance, Christmas, for another year.

Easy on the Christmas

Heading into the holiday weekend, it’s easy to feel a bit burned out on Christmas before it even gets here. But since so many of us will have time to kill with the family coming up, here are some suggestions for crowd-pleasing holiday appropriate movies to watch. Each of these provide the same fuzzy yuletide feeling as an old school classic like the original Miracle on 34th Street, without beating you over the head quite so much with the whole Christmas thing.

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

st-marys.jpgThe joy of this movie is in watching the great actors Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman play off of each other. She’s the nun in charge of a run-down school on the verge of being closed, he’s the pastor assigned to help her, but they don’t exactly see eye to eye. The movie’s perpetually associated with Christmas films, and though there is a scene of students putting on a holiday pageant, it’s mostly because of the overall tone. If nothing else, see it for the priceless scene involving Bergman in her nun get-up teaching a kid to box.

The Trouble with Angels (1966)

Hmm, another movie with nuns. The last feature directed by Ida Lupino (one of the first commercially successful female directors), the movie follows the two biggest troublemakers at a Catholic girls boarding school as they spend three years coming up with every possible way to drive the Mother Superior (the always fantastic Rosalind Russell) out of her freaking mind. One of the girls is played by Hayley Mills, a.k.a. Susan and Sharon from the original version of The Parent Trap. I was a huge fan of this movie as a kid and when I watched it again recently it was still very entertaining. Again, only a few scenes directly involve the Christmas holidays, but they’re key ones.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Don’t be fooled by the title on this one. They could have just as easily called it Thanksgiving in Connecticut or Easter in Connecticut, changed a line or two, thrown out the tree, and had the same movie. Barbara Stanwyck plays a Martha Stewart sort of magazine columnist whose publisher has no idea she’s a complete sham who never had the farm, husband, baby or cooking skills she brags about in the magazine. The adorable Dennis Morgan is a Navy sailor who was rescued after weeks lost at sea, and the publisher decides it would be a great publicity stunt to have him spend Christmas at that famous Connecticut farm everyone loves to read about so much. As you might imagine, hijinx ensue. It’s a cute movie with a silly plot made better by some funny performances, including Sydney Greenstreet as the pompous publisher.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

st-louis.jpgThis musical follows the adventures of the Smith family’s four daughters in 1903, as St. Louis is preparing to host the World’s Fair. Several months pass over the course of the movie and a key part focuses on Halloween, but it’s remembered for the climactic Christmas sequence because of Judy Garland’s definitive performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Holiday Inn (1942)

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire run an inn that’s only open on holidays, where they put on elaborate musical numbers to entertain the guests. This works great until they both fall for the woman who’s the star of their shows. The scene in which they sing “White Christmas” was the debut for that song. Since you get to listen to Bing sing and watch Fred dance, this movie is crazy entertaining, but beware the one very unfortunate part: a blackface number in honor of Lincoln for the President’s Day holiday. We all know it’s hard to avoid the racism in old movies, but skip this one to avoid some very non-Christmasy bad feelings. You won’t miss any crucial plot details.

We’re No Angels (1955)

no-angels.jpgEasily the weirdest movie on this list, Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov play criminals who’ve escaped from Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve and are hoping not to be noticed in a French colonial town before they can board a ship for Paris. They plan to rob a general store, but end up becoming attached to the financially-strapped family that runs the place and decide to help them instead. Of course, the only way they can come up with to do this is to kill the evil old rich uncle who owns the place. With their pet poisonous snake, Adolph. But not before they cook and serve Christmas dinner. And wash the dishes.

That’s my gift to you: six rental options to make your grandma happy. If you’re feeling ambitious, go for the Bing Crosby double feature. Grandmas love Bing, and you should too.

Two times the Billy Bob

As I said, I like Christmas movies. (Christmas itself, not so much.) And I like Billy Bob Thornton. Lately he’s been in a string of not-so-great looking movies that I will probably never watch, sure, but he was also the coach in the movie version of Friday Night Lights, and that will hold him in my heart forever. And so, in celebration of the non-sucky parts of his career, and of slightly demented Christmas movies, I present Billy Bob’s “That’s Pretty Fucked Up” Christmas Double Feature.

ice-harvest.jpgMovie number one: The Ice Harvest

According to this movie, one would think Christmas is all about hanging out in strip clubs and violating open container laws. John Cusack, a mob lawyer, and Billy Bob, some sort of low-level mobster type, have managed to steal over $2 million from their boss. How they managed it is unimportant and never really addressed. The problem is that now they’re stuck in iced-over Witchita on Christmas Eve, and someone’s figured out the money’s gone a bit before they anticipated. There’s a lot to like about this movie: the presence of John Cusack outside of an unwatchable romantic comedy or crappy horror flick, the bits of black comedy, Billy Bob going on a priceless tirade against a guy locked in a trunk. Overall there are some satisfying twists, and the whole thing clocks in at 89 minutes, which is ideal for the first movie of a double feature. Connie Nielsen is particularly not great as the femme fatale, having clearly seen Double Indemnity too many times (you are no Barbara Stanwyck, Connie), but I was entertained. These two actors play off of each other really well, and the desperate feelings that Christmas brings out in people make a good backdrop.

bad-santa.jpgMovie number two: Bad Santa

“He’s not going to say fuck stick in front of the children, is he?”

This is the full course meal after the appetizer, Billy Bob at his most glorious and most disgusting. I love love love this movie. It is so amazingly funny that if you somehow haven’t seen it yet, I am simultaneously ashamed of you and jealous, because I would love to watch it again for the first time. Billy Bob is alcoholic louse Willie Soke, who attempts to come out of his stupor once a year to be a department store Santa, just so he can crack the store safe on Christmas Eve. And maybe get some action in the Big-and-Tall ladies’ dressing room. Though the gross-out humor is most memorable, the film’s also very well-crafted. I find it impressive that a movie this crass and cynical can manage to fit in some sentiment at the end and make it work, as Billy Bob’s character actually comes to care about the dumb kid he’s been freeloading off of. The final scene isn’t exactly George Bailey finding out he’s the richest man in town, but it is nice, in its own way.

That’s Christmas spirit, Brandi style.


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Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

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