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Added by PvtCaboose91 on 30 Nov 2021 03:30
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Christmastime Viewings: 2021

Well, hey, look who it is. It's your friendly neighborhood Pvt Caboose, and I'm doing another of these Christmastime lists because...why the hell not? Let's watch some festive flicks and celebrate the end of 2021.
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First Viewing


Plot: In 1980s Chicago, a ten-year-old sets out on a quest to get the Christmas gift of his generation - the latest and greatest video game system, a Nintendo.

I can't say I expected too much from 8-Bit Christmas, and it was only the presence of Neil Patrick Harris which attracted me to the trailer thumbnail on YouTube. Thus, I started this year's festive season (in the early hours of December 1st) with this new release title, and it's legitimately the best studio Christmas movie I've seen for some time. Heartfelt and frequently funny, not to mention family-friendly without being pandering or saccharine, this is a nostalgic-filled festive treat that also manages to capture the time and place of the 1980s with seemingly little effort. It's culturally relevant, too, as the story is put into motion because a young girl is desperate for her own mobile phone. The messages and themes are relevant, and it's not strictly a Christmas movie in this sense. It's also unexpectedly poignant as the movie reaches the finishing line, and I got a slight tear in my eye. I won't say I'll be watching this every year, but it won't be forgotten and I'll happily add the Blu-ray to my shelf.

First Viewing


Plot: At an inn which is open only on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer.

So this...wasn't much of a Christmas movie; the majority of the movie takes place on other holidays, though a couple of iconic scenes take place on Christmas so I guess we can technically count it. However, this one didn't impress me as much as I had anticipated, given its status as a perennial holiday favourite. Oh, sure, there's plenty of lovely singing and dancing (this film introduced "White Christmas" to the world) as to be expected from Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, but I found the story to be a bit muddy, and the dialogue doesn't sparkle as much as other comedies from this era. It didn't exactly grab me and the musical sequences aren't exactly showstoppers, but there's still some charm here to prevent it from feeling like a total loss. I'm kinda happy I didn't blind buy this on Blu-ray as I had planned, as I can't see myself watching this flick again anytime soon.

First Viewing


Plot: A college student faces an impossible journey when he is left stranded in the desert, thousands of miles from home, with no money and only a few days left until Christmas.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is a bog-standard Disney Christmas movie, for better or worse, and it was made using the same filmmaking sensibilities that permeated road trip comedies in the 1990s and early 2000s. You know the type - implausible happenings, lenient/gullible police, the protagonist diffusing all types of situations, and so on. At the very least, however, this is a short and sharp 85-minute movie and it's neither offensive nor boring. Rather, it's a pleasant enough factory-made Christmas comedy that has its charms and its moments. It's also interesting from a historical perspective to see a teenage Jessica Biel in one of the lead roles. I laughed a few times and enjoyed myself enough to make this a worthwhile Disney+ watch in the lead-up to Christmas.

First Viewing


Plot: In December 1914, an unofficial Christmas truce on the Western Front allows soldiers from opposing sides of the First World War to gain insight into each other's way of life.

My first "alternative" Christmas film this season, and easily the best one so far, Joyeux Noël has been on my to-watch list for several years, since 2008/2009 when I first started actively seeking out Christmas movies each December. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. This is a powerful, compelling anti-war movie with a strong message, supported by excellent performances and top-notch production values. The camaraderie between the characters is palpable once the ceasefire sets in, and it's easy to become invested in the story, hoping that nothing bad happens to these opposing sides. The ceasefire sequences are wonderful, and the film thankfully doesn't overplay these moments. Joyeux Noël is not cheery, upbeat festive viewing, but it is an excellent war movie that immortalises the 1914 Christmas ceasefire on-screen. I'm looking forward to watching it again.

First Viewing


Plot: While out on parole, Dennis reluctantly takes a job selling Christmas trees with his old buddy Rene in order to make enough money to buy his estranged daughter the piano she's always wanted.

This is another Christmas title I've had on my to-watch list for some time, probably since it was first released back in 2013. Paul Giamatti + Paul Rudd + Christmas + Black comedy... I mean, how can you miss? Alas, the resultant picture is relatively hit-and-miss, though I don't regret taking the time to watch this movie. I laughed here and there, the banter between Rudd and Giamatti often sparkles, and this is a relatively charming story through its sheer simplicity. Indeed, it's all about the central duo selling Christmas trees and trying their best to go straight, and it doesn't get truly interesting until the final act. I was just left feeling like I wanted more; more laughs and more black comedy. This is a sedate movie that feels like a workprint in need of more work, though I guess that's the intended style. I can't see myself watching this one again or buying it on disc, unfortunately.

First Viewing


Plot: A group of unaccompanied minors bond while snowed in at the midwestern Hoover International Airport during the holiday season and ultimately create a makeshift holiday themselves.

Unaccompanied Minors is so overtly saccharine that it'll make your teeth rot. It's painfully genetic, to the point that you can predict everything before it happens, and it's full of hoary cliches - I mean, we have unsecured air vents the kids can climb through, antagonistic adult characters that are painted in broad strokes of black and white, an unclaimed baggage room which is just a treasure trove for anybody who comes across it, and so on. I didn't find it overly funny, it lacks the poignancy and wit of something like The Breakfast Club, and it feels like exactly the type of mainstream Christmas movie that's aimed exclusively at small kids. I just wanted a bit more actual effort. And yet... I still found it somewhat charming and sufficiently enjoyable, especially as it runs a very brisk 90 minutes. It's slick and competently made with an effective cast, and I can't imagine anybody executing this script in a better way; its flaws are purely script-related. Also, it's not offensively bad or mean-spirited, so I can't bring myself to dislike it. I don't regret watching it, but I won't be watching it again.

First Viewing


Plot: On Christmas Eve, a not-for-profit crisis hotline is notified that they are being evicted and put out of business. The head of the hotline, Philip, tries to hide this information from his two employees, but the events of the day continue to grow wilder and wilder.

I simultaneously expected both less and more from this festive dark comedy, which is blessed with endless talent on both sides of the camera but was not exactly well-liked by either critics or audiences. Although it doesn't entirely deliver, I still had an enjoyable enough time watching Mixed Nuts, which carries a manic energy and delivers some pitch-black comedy, resulting in some sporadic scenes which genuinely work. The ensemble cast is terrific (including Adam Sandler in an early role) and it's intriguing to see a Christmas movie that explores the statistic about suicide rates going up at Christmastime. However, the ending feels like studio-mandated nonsense as it's extremely trite and predictable, right down to a child being born under a large Christmas tree in the street which is incredibly on the nose and doesn't feel in keeping with the darkly comedic tone. I wish that it just committed to being a black comedy and was armed an R rating, as that would've served the material and the performers better. Still, it's not bad.

First Viewing


Plot: The lives of several New Yorkers, each with their own respective problems and concerns, intersect on Christmas Eve.

We've seen this type of narrative done before on many occasions, and it's not the last time we've seen it (fuck, they've even used it for Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve). Nevertheless, Noel worked for me. It's not one of the all-time best Christmas movies, nor is it even Top 10, but the acting is sincere and the story is sweet and poignant. Indeed, some of Paul Walker's best acting to date is glimpsed here, and a late scene involving Robin Williams and Susan Sarandon triggered a little lump in my throat. Noel also dabbles in the fantastical which is a tough proposition, especially when contrasted against stories that are raw and real, but it still comes together effectively enough. However, inevitably, it's annoying when the film cuts away from one story to focus on another, less interesting story. Despite the film receiving a harsh critical reception, I enjoyed Noel and I'm glad I got to watch it as part of my line-up this year.

First Viewing


Plot: Two people search for each other years after the night they first met, fell in love and separated, convinced that one day fate would allow them to end up together.

This is another of those stealthy Christmas movies; the first act takes place at Christmastime, but the remainder of the movie unfolds at another time of year and there's not much more festive cheer to soak up. Nevertheless, I greatly enjoyed Serendipity as both a Christmas movie and as a standalone motion picture; it's fast-paced, funny, well-written and entertaining all the way through, with a superb cast who ably carry the movie. I found myself becoming invested in the story and the characters, and, although I know this is an American rom-com that will have a happy ending, I really wanted to see the leads end up together and I wasn't sure if it'll happen. It also avoids some of the hoariest rom-com cliches and it doesn't assume that the audience are idiots; instead, the dialogue is sharp and the characters aren't fools. The ending, too, is lovely without being too cloying. I could see myself watching Serendipity a few more times around Christmas.

First Viewing


Plot: American GIs are assigned to hold an isolated cabin in the Ardennes against a handful of Germans cut off from their main force. Combat-weary and short of rations, both sides are determined to survive.

Here we are with another Christmas war movie, though this is an extremely different experience compared to Joyeux Noël. Unlike several other titles on this list, I didn't actively seek this one out - I found it by accident while scrolling through Stan, realised it was a Christmas movie, and added it to the line-up. This is a strong anti-war film buoyed by excellent performances and convincing production values, placing us in the middle of an intense fictitious war story set at Christmastime, 1944. The pacing is a bit wonky at times, especially during the first act, but the characters are well-drawn and it's easy to become invested in them. I can't say that A Midnight Clear will have you full of festive cheer, but it is a terrific movie in its own right and I'm glad I had the opportunity to watch it.

First Viewing


Plot: On the night of Christmas Eve, an extended power outage in New York City traps six groups of people in elevators.

Ensemble Christmas movies are nothing new - hell, just scroll up and see Noel - but the gimmick of the made-for-TV Christmas Eve is that all of the vignettes are set in elevators where people are trapped inside. It's a noble effort, especially since the varied stories prevent the banality that would inevitably set in if it was focused on just one set of characters for 90 minutes, but the results are decidedly mixed. This is a paint-by-numbers television Christmas effort that walks and talks like a Hallmark movie, and the lack of visual panache in the cinematography and lighting is a genuine concern considering the cramped elevator sets. Not helping things is the really obvious green-screening during the scenes involving Patrick Stewart's character; it really detracts from the sense of reality. There are some really contrived scenes, to boot, and the director lathers on the drama and dramatic music at times. Nevertheless, Christmas Eve does have its moments and its charms - I just wish it was executed better overall. I only watched this one because it was free to watch on Amazon Prime, though I feel I should try to vet my choices more clearly in the future. Not terrible, not great, and not a festive staple by a long shot.

First Viewing


Plot: An affluent, fast-lane investment broker is given a glimpse of how the other half lives; he wakes up on Christmas Day to find that his sports car and girlfriend have been replaced with a mini-van, a wife, two kids and a dog.

A noticeably Frank Capra-inspired drama reminiscent of It's a Wonderful Life, The Family Man is a mostly effective Christmas film which is undoubtedly elevated by the presence of Nicolas Cage. It's a sweet, polished movie (Brett Ratner is not a good director, but he's surprisingly sensitive with this material) with laughs and a huge amount of charm, and the message is a worthwhile one about family meaning more than anything and you need to make sacrifices for the ones you love. I'm not quite sure I agree with the ostensible notion that ambitious, well-paying jobs should be sacrificed as I'm sure there's a happy medium between struggling working class and greedy stockbroker...but that's just my opinion. Unfortunately, the film does outstay its welcome at over two hours in length, with the second act in particular feeling flabby and uneven, in need of more momentum. Indeed, the majority of the flick takes place in the fantasy world, and we're acutely aware that Jack will eventually return to his old life. The movie also paints itself into a corner, leading to an ending that's not entirely satisfying but still feels overly Hollywood. I didn't love The Family Man, but I found it sufficiently charming for this year's festive viewing. And that's another one ticked off the list that I've been wanting to watch for over a decade.

First Viewing


Plot: After an accident that left murderer Jack Frost dead in genetic material the vengeful killer returns as a murderous snowman to exact his revenge on the man who sent him to be executed.

I needed to open a window while watching this godawful Christmas horror movie as I needed to let out that horrid stink - and what a pungent stink it was. Even despite the bad reviews, I was hoping this iteration of Jack Frost was going to be "so good it's bad," but I was shit out of luck. Badly paced and with a villain that doesn't look anything remotely like the campy design on the poster, you're better off watching one of those "kill count" compilations on YouTube as opposed to watching the entire 90 minutes of this hit-and-miss movie. The creative kill scenes are the only positive of this movie, as there's some gore and other moments which made me chuckle; as for the rest, it's just dire. There's no suspense or tension, nor did I become invested in the characters or care about their survival. And then there's the only chestnut of the characters miraculously having something on-hand that helps them defeat the villain - in this case, the hero's kid made him some terrible oatmeal with anti-freeze. Watching movies like this reminds me precisely why the suicide rates go up around Christmas.

First Viewing


Plot: A romantic comedy about a New York socialite who fakes her identity to get her book published and has to rush back to her deceased mother's farm when the publisher and her son come to visit their 'Australian' author.

Not terrible but certainly not great by any means, Christmas on the Farm is the second Australian Christmas film in as many years from the Aussie streaming service Stan. But rather than a heartfelt Christmas movie with a typically Australian sense of humour, we instead get one of the tritest set-ups imaginable: a woman needing people to pretend to be her husband and daughter. This is one of the oldest sitcom tropes in history, and it has even been done in the Aussie flick Strange Bedfellows in 2004. Thus, we get vignettes in which the fake husband is seen fooling around with his actual partner and he's forced to kiss his fake wife (and he's gay here, ha ha ha). The farm set-up feels like window dressing and doesn't take full advantage of the Australian setting - instead, we get horse riding and a cow giving birth. Oh, and a forced scene in which characters go swimming in a dirty dam at night for no reason, only to be attacked by yabbies. At least we get some culturally unique things and there are some charming scenes, but the formula is too apparent and it's not interesting enough to break away from the utterly generic nature of the screenplay. At the end of the day, Christmas on the Farm feels like just another disposable Christmas rom-com rather than something more significant.

First Viewing


Plot: A hopelessly romantic Chicago Transit Authority token collector saves a handsome stranger after he falls unconscious on the railway tracks. As he lies in a coma, she is mistaken for his fiancée - and she's too meek to say anything after being quickly accepted by his family.

Another one of those movies which is only partly set at Christmastime but still qualifies as a Christmas film all the same, While You Were Sleeping is a surprisingly effective and charming romantic comedy from director Jon Turteltaub. This is also another movie revolving around a big white lie that will eventually be revealed at the end, and there's a certain amount of rom-com formula at play here, but the execution is surprisingly successful thanks in large part to the direction and the disarming ensemble cast. Indeed, Turteltaub doesn't lather on the saccharine or emotionality, and I quickly found myself invested in the story - and this is coming from someone who doesn't normally like Sandra Bullock. I'm glad I sought this one out and gave it two hours of my time.

First Viewing


Plot: A transgender prostitute tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart.

I only watched Tangerine because it was a 99 cent rental on iTunes and it's set at Christmas, but this is easily the worst film of my Christmas film binge so far (yes, worse than the 1997 Jack Frost). From the outset, I did not find any of the characters likeable, endearing or interesting, and I immediately regretted my decision to give this movie a shot. Unfortunately, Tangerine does not improve. Shot on the streets of Los Angeles exclusively with iPhones, the sense of immediacy and realism is commendable (I keep hearing that LA is a dumpster fire shithole and now I can see why), but the movie does absolutely nothing else of interest or note. I don't doubt that people like this exist, and the movie probably faithfully portrays them, but it doesn't change the fact that I would never want to spend time in the company of people who are so studiously unlikeable. Tangerine is not interesting, compelling or exciting, nor is it incisive or enjoyable - I have no idea what it's meant to be. Additionally, it's not a Christmas movie in any sense of the word, rendering this a complete waste of time and I couldn't wait to get it off my TV screen. I'm just glad that it's not a long movie as I was already prepared to slit my wrists after 87 minutes of this garbage. I will never consider watching Tangerine again and I recommend that you steer clear.

First Viewing


Plot: Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Uncynical and sincere, The Shop Around the Corner is a charming and engaging Hollywood classic based on a 1937 Hungarian play. And it certainly feels like a play since the majority of the movie takes place in a store, there are limited other locations, and the staging is very simplistic, but this is not to denigrate the feature; on the contrary, the sharp writing and wonderful performances render this an enormously enjoyable sit. The always-reliable James Stewart is a perfect lead, and his co-star Margaret Sullavan is an ideal foil for him, resulting in some sharp bantering between the two. If you enjoy other old Hollywood classics like His Girl Friday or Arsenic and Old Lace, this one is definitely worth your time.

First Viewing


Plot: A book superstore magnate, Joe Fox, and independent book shop owner, Kathleen Kelly, fall in love through the anonymity of the internet. Neither of them knows who they're talking to online while Joe works to put Kathleen's store out of business.

I felt it was appropriate to do a double feature of The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, and I'm glad that I did. Another "sort of" Christmas film for which only one part of the movie is set at Christmas (not to mention, this is another Nora Ephron film), You've Got Mail is a disarming and entertaining 1990s romantic comedy which has firmly ingratiated itself into popular culture - and it was a pleasure to finally tick it off my list. It's a bit too long at over two hours, but I can't say that it's boring, and there aren't any scenes that feel inessential or unnecessarily prolonged. The story hooked me from the start, and Ephron's style is all over the material: it's funny, sweet, inoffensive and bursting with charm.

First Viewing


Plot: A brother and sister attempt to bring their divorced parents back together for Christmas.

Another random Christmas title that I discovered while perusing the cheap festive movie rentals on iTunes, All I Want for Christmas is a perfunctory, artificial, factory-made studio Christmas movie with little to recommend. It pays lip service to all of the usual checkboxes for such productions, and, even though the central plot is trite as hell, I guess using such a story for a Christmas movie is admittedly unique. What a shame that the resulting movie is so Disneynied and divorced from reality; I mean, while the kids enact their plan to get their parents back together, they lock their potential future stepfather in an ice cream van and aren't even punished for it. (Also, nobody can hear said stepfather yelling and banging in the back of the truck, of course.) None of the characters feel like real people and it's not overly funny or charming, though I guess it delivers the bare minimum for a family Christmas movie. I don't think anybody older than 10 will find much of value here.

First Viewing


Plot: An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him by visiting for the holidays, only to discover that she's been catfished. However, he convinces her to pretend to be his girlfriend for Christmas in exchange for the chance to meet and bond with the man she believes is her one true love.

And now, onto the Netflix Christmas catalogue. Love Hard is a slightly better-than-average made-for-TV Christmas flick; it's fluffy, disposable and completely predictable, but it admittedly has its charms. Indeed, I still laughed a couple of times, though I can't say I was yearning to see the leads get together by the end - I was surprisingly indifferent and knew that the formula was going to demand it, anyway. It looks nice, there's plenty of Christmas scenery and there's awkward comedy, making it a nice enough distraction for a lazy evening - but it's not essential viewing.

First Viewing


Plot: An imaginary world comes to life in a holiday tale of an eccentric toymaker, his adventurous granddaughter, and a magical invention that has the power to change their lives forever.

Despite the best of intentions, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey did not work for me one bit. Another wannabe Christmas classic from the folks at Netflix, this is a cloying, artificial, corny-as-hell fantasy movie that's designed specifically for children. Naturally, there's nothing wrong with children's movies per se, but Jingle Jangle lacks the sincerity and emotion to appeal to adults, not to mention it's frequently contrived and dumb. The musical element is also extremely hit-and-miss; there's no need for this story to be a musical, and the songs do absolutely nothing to enhance the plot or characters - in fact, I tuned out (pun absolutely intended) during the musical numbers and just waited for them to end. Even the score itself is overbearing and obvious, lathering on the emotion to try and trigger tears without genuinely earning it (the early death of Jeronicus's wife did not affect me at all; contrast that against the brilliance of something like Up). There's no denying that the production design and visuals are awe-inspiring (and it looks all the tastier in 4K HDR on Netflix), but the slick presentation is literally the only thing that this movie has going for it. Even Keegan-Michael Key feels utterly wasted here, as there's no opportunity for him to flex his immense comedic chops. Plus, the child actors, alas, aren't very good and got on my nerves. I have no idea why the critics were so kind to this one; it's clichéd, broad and flat, and I'm not surprised that the movie made precisely no impact. Indeed, nobody is even talking about Jingle Jangle a year after its release; it's destined to rightfully fade into obscurity. It's not offensively bad, but I didn't like it at all and have no intention of ever watching it again.

First Viewing


Plot: A food writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas.

With Netflix's meagre Christmas offerings out of the way (well, I watched as many as I believe I could stomach - a whole two), I turned my attention back to well-known Christmas flicks that I've been meaning to watch for years. Another traditional holiday classic that is still held in high esteem, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed with Christmas in Connecticut. There are no problems with the story (which was borrowed wholesale for Christmas on the Farm) or the cast, but it's just extremely dated and doesn't stand up as well as movies of a similar vintage (Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life remains a dizzying yardstick). There are laughs here and there, and the actors commit to the material, but it's only intermittently engaging and it can't shake the feeling that everything was filmed on soundstages. Not terrible, but not an immortal Christmas classic.

First Viewing


Plot: A debonair angel comes to Earth to help an Episcopalian bishop and his wife in their quest to raise money for the new church.

I've honestly felt guilty about not liking some of the traditional old Christmas movies so far this December, but I'm determined to seek out more of them. Thankfully, The Bishop's Wife did not disappoint me in the least; here's a charming, old-fashioned Christmas drama with wonderful actors (Cary Grant is one of the most charismatic actors in history, period) and an enchanting story. The movie hooked me in from the start with an intriguing introduction to Grant's angel character, Dudley, and it held my attention for the majority of the nearly two-hour running time. Due to the vintage and the nature of the narrative, I was reminded of It's a Wonderful Life to some extent, though (obviously) it doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights of that Frank Capra comedy classic. I'm looking forward to revisiting The Bishop's Wife in the future.

First Viewing


Plot: Three Devil's Island escapees hide out in the house of a kindly merchant and repay his kindness by helping him and his family out of several crises.

Another worthwhile Christmas classic that has been on my list for many years, We're No Angels is a fun and funny festive flick from Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. The central trio, even though they are escaped criminals, are instantly likeable; the casting is fantastic, with Humphrey Bogart proving himself an able comedic performer. As with The Shop Around the Corner, this film is based on a play and it does certainly feel like a play due to the limited scope, but Curtiz does enough to make the story feel cinematic. Admittedly, the pacing is not always successful during the first half, and I found myself much more engaged in the second half, but this is a minor quibble.

First Viewing


Plot: In this origin story of Father Christmas, an ordinary boy (with a loyal pet mouse and a reindeer at his side) sets out on an extraordinary adventure to find his father who is on a quest to discover the fabled village of Elfhelm.

And now for something more contemporary and recent, we have A Boy Called Christmas, which only just appeared on the iTunes Store in Australia just in time to squeeze it in before Christmas. I can't say I expected a bright and colourful Christmas fantasy movie from the director of the Poltergeist remake and the writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but the resulting flick certainly exceeded my expectations. It's not life-changing or revolutionary, and it's hard to shake the feeling that we're just seeing yet another movie with its own take on Santa Claus lore, but the "Santa Claus as a child" angle is unique enough to justify telling this story. The sumptuous visuals are a treat throughout, with lovely production design giving vivid life to this festive vision, and it's clear that plenty of money was spent on the flick as it doesn't look cheap or made-for-TV. The cherry on top is Stephen Merchant who again flexes his wonderful comedic chops to play a talking mouse - and I'm again reminded that Merchant should be in more movies. A Boy Called Christmas is aimed towards the younger demographic, but it doesn't pander to them - it's simply a family-friendly Christmas fantasy, and adults will certainly find it enjoyable. I wouldn't go as far as to call it an instant classic that I'll watch every December, but not everything needs to be at that level. A Christmas movie that's "pretty good" is just fine with me.

First Viewing


Plot: The well-off Smith family has four beautiful daughters. 17-year old Esther has fallen in love with the boy next door who has just moved in, John. The family is shocked when Mr. Smith reveals that he has been transferred to New York for work, meaning that the family will have to leave St. Louis.

The last holiday classic I have lined up for this Christmas season, Meet Me in St. Louis did not impress me much, but neither did it repulse me. It's a perfectly fine musical romance partly set at Christmastime, and it carries all of the hallmarks of old Hollywood flicks from this era: colourful cinematography, ample musical numbers, Judy Garland, etc. Unfortunately, the story failed to adequately draw me in, the second act, in particular, is short on momentum, and it's too long for such a simplistic romantic fable. However, it's nice to finally tick this one off the list.

First Viewing


Plot: Upon learning of a terminal illness, a shy woman decides to sell all her possessions and live it up at a posh Central European hotel.

A remake of the old Ealing comedy of the same name starring Alec Guinness, Last Holiday is a perfectly reasonable contemporary comedy: it's well-made, light, enjoyable, inoffensive and humorous, with a central moral message about living life to the fullest. It's also not strictly a Christmas movie; although it's set at Christmastime, the film does barely anything to tie into this (which is bizarre), and it could have been set at any time of the year. I can't say I'm a Queen Latifah fan, and she does mug for the camera from time to time, but her leading performance is mostly fine here, and it's fun to see the inimitable Giancarlo Esposito in a comedy, years before his Breaking Bad days. It's formulaic and predictable, and changes the ending of the original movie for something more upbeat and cheery. As far as these types of films go, you could do worse than Last Holiday.

First Viewing


Plot: The Martians kidnap Santa Claus because there is nobody on Mars to give their children presents.

Great Odin's raven, this is terrible. I was at least hoping for a "so bad it's good" type of B-movie (or Z-movie, as it were) that I could laugh at, but I was shit out of luck. The infamously awful Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has been on my list since I first started rounding up annual Christmas movies, and now I kinda wish that I never bothered - although now I can finally say that I sat through it, at least. Boring and incompetent, the film has precisely no fun with its hammy premise, with laughably atrocious sets and costumes that wouldn't pass muster in an old Doctor Who serial. I wanted to see Santa actually doing battle with the Martians, but we don't get that. Instead, the movie is mostly bad actors standing around on cheap sets saying forgettable dialogue. I'm surprised this hasn't been remade yet, as there are infinite possibilities around Santa doing battle with aliens. According to IMDb, a remake is in development... I guess I'll check it out.

First Viewing


Plot: Abby intends to propose to her girlfriend, Harper, while spending Christmas with Harper's family. However, Abby soon finds out that Harper's family don't know they're a couple - and don't even know that she's gay.

When I watch a Christmas movie, I expect a certain level of charm and/or humour, but mostly I expect some escapism to deliver some Christmas cheer. Happiest Season does nothing of the sort. This is not so much a movie but a piece of activism, complete with "down with the patriarchy" themes to supplement the lesbian romance at the centre of the story. It's not even bold because such a concept occupies a "safe space" in 2021 - this would've been more groundbreaking in the '80s or '90s. Therefore, it has nothing new to say. And it doesn't help that every hoary rom-com cliché comes out to play, from the gay best friend to exes coming out of the woodwork, secrets being kept from the family, etc. Happiest Season didn't make me laugh or cry, and I wasn't even invested in the story. I expected more.

First Viewing


Plot: A ride share driver's life is turned upside down after an unexpected series of misfortunes.

Not strictly a Christmas movie but still sufficiently related to be counted among this year's Christmastime viewings, Night Drive is an enthralling low-budget indie thriller with big ambitions. Produced for a paltry sum of money, it looks visually slick throughout and features a terrific cast; the Aussie-born Sophie Dalah is a particular standout as Charlotte, coming across as charming yet dangerous. Admittedly, not everything works here; a third-act sequence in which Russell (AJ Bowen) is following Charlotte's directions but is held up by police should be taut and intense (à la Collateral), but comes across as silly and theatrical. However, there are far more hits than misses with this film. Free of political grandstanding, Night Drive is a rock-solid night at the movies during December or any time of the year.

First Viewing


Plot: A counterfeiter finds the true meaning of the holidays when he hides from the cops in a suburban neighborhood and befriends some of the local children.

A Disney telemovie from the 1980s which was pulled out of the vault for Disney+ revival, The Christmas Star caught my attention due to the presence of the late, great Ed Asner. What better to honor the cherished thespian than to watch one of his movies during my December marathon? And, happily, I dug it more than anticipated. Without emerging as an all-time classic, it's a Christmas movie that hits all the right notes with adequate filmmaking confidence, and it doesn't feel as cloying or as artificial as one might expect from a Disney production. Even though it's G-rated, there's still a semblance of reality permeating the movie, and, when it dabbles in the more fantastical right at the end, it's a surprisingly effective moment. There's shades of Bad Santa here, and I even discovered some parallels to the Aussie movie A Sunburnt Christmas from last year, though The Christmas Star is inoffensive and well-suited for children. Asner steals the show here, as expected, and has the right look for Santa Claus.

First Viewing


Plot: A local celebrity and successful nightclub manager, Tony Towers is also engaged to a younger woman, Sue. Things get a little strange when he embarks upon the 3:17 train to Nottingham for a Christmas family reunion.

Well, this was extremely disappointing. A late entry to the December marathon, Last Train to Christmas caught my attention via social media as I follow some of the actors who appear in this, and the fact that it's led by Michael Sheen and Cary Elwes certainly intrigued me, but there's not much to recommend here. After an intriguing and entertaining first act which ably demonstrates the clever time-travelling gimmick, the movie seriously drags throughout its second act before closing on a whimper. I appreciate that the different time periods are portrayed via different cinematic techniques, and that's easily the most successful aspect of the movie, but it doesn't add up to much when there's so little in the way of substance. Even the age make-up is mostly disappointing, with Sheen's older self looking extremely unconvincing at times. Sheen still carries the movie, however, and there's scarcely a wrong foot trodden by the talented cast, but the storytelling really lets this thing down. It's too ambitious and doesn't do enough with the terrific concept. I'll give it points for the concept, the acting and the visual execution (and, as I said, the breezy first act held my attention), but this is otherwise a disappointing TV movie that I doubt I'll ever revisit.

First Viewing


Plot: A group of female students is stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That is until the young sorority pledges discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.

Jesus wept, this movie is fucking dreadful. It's despicable filmmaking from top to bottom; boring, incompetent, and with a script that makes Movie 43 look solid in comparison. This is a horror movie without anything in the way of horror, tension, suspense or white-knuckle terror. The attack scenes just happen, and no suspense precedes any of the kills, which amount to the laziest and most ineffective jump scares I've ever seen. I didn't give a fuck about any of the characters at any time during the movie, making me feel even more detached from the proceedings. It's also PG-13, so the kills are bloodless and there aren't even any creative moments of gore. The camera shies away from capturing anything bloody; one person slowly turns a corpse around which has a shard of glass embedded in its head, and it abruptly cuts to the reaction shot before the wound is even visible. The directing is atrocious, to the point that a random action showdown during the climax is completely unexciting and downright boring. There's no visual style or flair to this cinematic diarrhea. But the worst part of this Black Christmas is the politics. This is a piece of political activism full of wrong-headed grandstanding and propaganda, wherein all white males are portrayed as stupid pieces of shit and the only decent man is the only male of color in the ensemble. Subtle. Plus, the dialogue sounds like an ill-informed Twitter diatribe. But for a female empowerment movie, it's astonishing how many of the female victims don't fight back and just accept their fate. And then, randomly, at the end the female survivors (heh, subtle) suddenly turn into a platoon of soldiers and launch a coordinated attack. They couldn't even do the laziest cinematic shorthand of making some of these females martial artists or army reserve members, to give them some motivation. Fucking hell. I could keep going on and on about the horrendous scripting (this movie was scripted, shot and edited in 5 months), but I've wasted enough of my time already. Black Christmas is a shit smear of a movie, and it's an official insult that it's even called Black Christmas. I'd rather watch the dreadful 2006 Black Christmas on a loop for the rest of my life than ever endure this pelican shit again.

First Viewing


Plot: An orphan drummer boy who hated humanity finds his life changed forever when he meets three wise men on route to Bethlehem.

So this was... fine, I guess. I figured I should squeeze in a Rankin/Bass classic for all of my December marathons, and I needed something respectable to ensure the abominable Black Christmas wasn't going to close out the list. Sufficiently charming and tight but undeniably dated, Little Drummer Boy never really grabbed my full attention, but I did appreciate the songs. And that's about all I have to say.

Added to

7 votes
Listal 2021: Viewing/Reading/Listening Logs (44 lists)
list by lalaman
Published 5 months, 3 weeks ago



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