Monday, July 15, 2019

Christmas in July Quick Reviews: Coming Home for Christmas / Eve's Christmas / The Legends of Santa / The March Sisters at Christmas


You’re going to read these reviews. You’re going to wonder what Hallmark original Christmas movie hurt me when I was a child. I want to like Christmas movies, I want to love them but, so far, stinker after stinker. Just because I’m having trouble finding flicks I like I don’t begrudge the success of these films. I’m pleased they have such a loyal audience, I just wish I could find a few that I can get excited about. 

 Coming Home for Christmas (2013) 
First Viewing | Prime
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 So, my teenage son and I came up with a way to amuse ourselves during my Christmas in July marathoning. Take a Hallmark (or Lifetime or whatever ...) holiday flick and turn it into a different genre. Coming Home for Christmas became a terrifying home invasion thriller as a psychotic family will do anything to celebrate the festive season in their old family home...anything. Our version was a heck of a lot more interesting than this dull as dishwater effort that seemed to have been cast with androids. I’ve never felt the uncanny valley effect with humans before. Didn’t give a fig for a single character or their contrived conflicts. 
Also, my son has a new annoying catch phrase “You can learn a lot on Urban Dictionary these days”. 

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 Eve’s Christmas (2004) 
First Viewing | Prime
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 Were these cliches burned out back in 2004? I mean, they were definitely well trodden tropes but would it have been so grating if I hadn’t watched dozens more just like it in the interim. Bad romance, bad boyfriend, bad capitalism, frustrated career woman who has everything except happiness. Add a dash of magical Christmas time travel and the chance to right past mistakes and I’m already asleep. 
Nice to see Cheryl Ladd though. (And yes, I owned her album too and it was waaay better than Kristy McNichol’s
***
 The Legends of Santa (2008 or 2012) 
First Viewing | Prime

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 Santacentric documentary narrated by Sir Richard Attenborough (Kris Kringle in 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street remake). A decent overview of the Santa traditions of many nations but probably not suitable for youngsters still immersed in the magic of our favorite jolly gift giver. 
Oh, the different years are according to IMDb and Amazon. From past experience I’d favor IMDb and 2008. 
***
 The March Sisters at Christmas (2012)
First Viewing | Can't even remember at this point

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 From the director of Sexting in Suburbia comes this surprisingly faithful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The scripts authenticity rings truest during the Thanksgiving dinner scene where one sister admits to being slightly put out “that my sisters a slut who posted naked pictures”. Classic literature treated with the respect it deserves to be sure.
Plus Christmas! 

 The Legends of Santa wins the night, but after watching the other three I think I’m the loser.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Christmas in July Quick Reviews: Santa's Christmas Crash / A Christmas Snow / Catch a Christmas Star / Miracles Still Happen

Santa's Christmas Crash
First Viewing | Vidmark
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Another slightly off animated offering from France though not nearly as creepy as Santa's Christmas Snooze 
Santa's sleigh crashes in the dessert and the local children, who know nothing of Christmas, help to replace the damaged toys destined for American children.  I assume it was French children in the original but that doesn't make it any less awkward. Oh, and a flying camel (and a camel bone xylophone). 
At first I thought this might be a remake of the classic Santa and he Ice Cream Bunny - Santa stranded in the sand, relying on local kids to save him, but alas it was not to be. Pixar take note, the rights are probably still available!

***

A Christmas Snow (2010)
First (and only) Viewing | Amazon Prime
Excruciating faith based holiday drama. 
***
Catch a Christmas Star (2013)
First Viewing | DVR
Me: "This next one can't possibly be as bad as "A Christmas Snow
John Bradshaw, director of Specimen starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar and The Undertakers Wedding : "Hold my Eggnog"
And Catch a Christmas Star was born.

***

Miracles Still Happen (1974)
First Viewing | DVD
IMDB
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Miracles Still Happen is a story of miraculous faith that takes place at Christmas, but it's definitely not a "Christmas" movie. Susan Penhaligon stars , in this harrowing true story, as a teenage girl who is the sole survivor of an air crash in the Amazon. Her struggle to survive is extraordinary - sadly the film itself doesn't live up to its' subject.

That does it for this group... hopefully the next round will be a bit jollier.

The Naughty: A Christmas Snow beats out Catch a Christmas Star by little red nose.

The Nice: Santa's Christmas Crash by default, though Miracles Still Happen has its' moments, they're just not Christmassy ones.


Christmas in July Quick Reviews: Mitzi Gaynor / Celebrity Holiday Homes / Family / Guess Who's Coming For Christmas


The Mitzi Gaynor Christmas Show (1967) 
Repeat Viewing | GetTV DVR
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The Mitzi Gaynor Christmas Show, actually the 1967 festive episode of the The Kraft Music Hall, is everything good about old school Christmas variety specials. Great music, fun dance numbers, and cute skits. Mitzi is joined by guests Cyril Ritchard, Tony Tanner and Ed McMahon.
I wish I could buy this digitally or get it on disc because it’s one of my favorite holiday specials and the GetTV recording on my DVR is woefully out of sync. Even so it’s a holiday staple in the Kringle household. If it airs again this year definitely check it out.  

*** 
 Celebrity Holiday Homes (2012)
First Viewing | Pluto Christmas in July
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***
 Cheryl Burke, Bebe Winans & Twisted Sister's Dee Snider get their a holiday decor makeover from winner of HGTV's Design Star competition series. Pretty good for the genre but not something I'll ever need to revisit.

***

Family:  'Tis the Season (Season 5 Episode 2)
Repeat Viewing | MeTV DVR

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A near perfect mix of standard domestic drama and Christmas stunting, 'Tis the Season packs a number of parallel story lines, all them organically holiday related. 
(...and yes I had a crush on Kristy McNichol, just like every other guy my age I knew. Heck, I even bought the album she put out with her brother - you should have seen the face of the record store clerk when I brought up John Cale's "Paris 1919", The Jam's "In the City" and Kristy and Jimmy McNichol's eponymous masterpiece. What can I say, the heart wanted what the heart wanted. That said, the heart is fickle and while John and The Jam are still faves it took a google search for me to recall the songs Kristy and frère put to vinyl.


***

Guess Who's Coming For Christmas? (1990)
First Time Viewing | Youtube



Here's a real treat that I only just got a chance to see thanks to a heads up from the reigning Queen of Christmas TV history!

Treading some familiar holiday movie tropes - tradition versus progress, optimistic dreamer, magical stranger, financial struggles - Guess Who's Coming For Christmas elevates them with a touch of sci-fi and an above average cast. Richard Mulligan, Paul Dooley, Barbara Barrie, and Beau Bridges - no offense to today's Hallmark regulars but a cast like this, a cast of actual actors embodying unique characters, is why older TV movies have a place in my heart  and the assembly line romances of today seem so corporate, cynical and disposable.
***


The Naughty: Nothing naughty this time.

The Nice: Mitzi, Mitzi, Mitzi. Plus Family and GWCfC make for fine viewing.







Saturday, July 13, 2019

Christmas in July Quick Reviews: Night Before Christmas (1961) / Franklin's Magic Christmas / Courage the Cowardly Dog / Super Mario World

The Night Before Christmas (1961)
First Time Viewing | Youtube
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from Wikipedia
"This eccentric and fantastical fairy tale takes place near the village of Dikanka on the night before Christmas. Amid carol singing, drunken revelry, and amorous hijinks, the blacksmith Vakula persuades the Devil to fly him to Sankt-Petersburg, where he hopes to obtain a pair of the Empress's heels which might win him Oksana's love."

Visually stunning folkloric fantasy  from one of my favorite Russian directors. Aleksandr Rous helmed a series of often brilliant children's films from the late thirties into the seventies. Quite a few years ago I went through a Mosfilm / Soviet fantastic cinema collecting phase where I picked up a number of Rous's classic films but I somehow missed out on this gem. 
Of the three adaptation of Gogol's story this is the one I could absolutely see re-watching during the holiday season. Not because it's particularly Christmassy - it's still the same old story of a witch, a moon stealing devil and a pair of fancy shoes - but because the wintry aesthetic and magical elements would fit right in during the festive season. 
So, still not a "Christmas" film but a great film to watch around Christmas, or anytime of the year.



Franklin's Magic Christmas
Repeat Viewing | Amazon Prime Video

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Watching this Franklin Christmas special for the first time in over a decade I experienced, as i do more and more often these days, a sort of secondary nostalgia. I'm sure there's a word for it  - nostalgia not for my childhood but my beloved offspring's childhoods. Nostalgia for those years before teenage angst and an ever emptier nest. My kids wren't even big Franklin fans but we defiantly watched this together back in the day at least a couple of times. 
As an adult without little ones (we haven't reached grandparent status yet) the most interesting thing about Franklin's Magic Christmas was Eric Peterson (Corner Gas) voicing Franklin's grandfather.


***

Courage the Cowardly Dog : The Snowman Cometh
First time viewing | Boomerang


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No sense of early parenthood nostalgia here, my kids never really cared for Courage the Cowardly Dog. Also, we've ventured into the conflation of Christmas and winter. I do this a lot. To make it worse The Snowman Cometh isn't even a winter episode, it's a arctic episode. But hey, Snowman! Evil Sean Connery snowman bent on avenging climate change by melting humans! Merry Christmas! 
Solid episode if your a fan of the show and there is a little bit of Christmas adjacent content so I don't feel guilty including it here.




Super Mario World - The Night Before Cave Christmas
First time viewing | Starz

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Back to my kid's favorites from back in the day. I'm sure they watched this loads of times (they devoured anything Nintendo related) but I think this is my first time. I wonder if they'll look back at shows like this with the same fondness as my generation does  Charlie Brown, Rudolph and The Grinch. I hope I brought them up better than that....I hope. 
Anyway, this isn't great, or even good, at least from an adult perspective but I didn't actively hate it.

End of Night Roundup:

The Naughty: Super Mario World.

The Nice: The not very Christmassy, but still wonderful, Night Before Christmas.







Friday, July 12, 2019

Christmas in July Quick Reviews: Doctor Who Yule Log / Santa's Christmas Snooze / Night Before Christmas 1913 / A Dogwalker's Christmas Tale



Festive Thirteenth Doctor Yule Log (2018)
First time Viewing | BBC America Youtube
Youtube



While searching for an online copy of the 2017 Doctor Who Yule Log I came across last years' edition. Same basic idea, though the quality has been raised a notch.

Santa's Christmas Snooze (Santa and the Magician) (1995)
First Time Viewing | Streaming Vidmark
"He's not dead... he's sleeping like a baby!"

Dubbed version of a French cartoon featuring a village of woodland creatures, a grumpy, egomaniac bear magician, his bat companion and, of course, Santa Claus. When the bat informs the bear that Santa is most popular person in the village the bear resorts first to black magic and then to poisoning in order to sideline Santa.

Nothing special and scenes of a comatose Santa may not go over too well with younger viewers.




The Night Before Christmas (1913)
First Time Viewing | YouTube
Youtube



Based on the same Gogol story as the animation I reviewed the other day and even less Christmassy. Still worth watching as an very early example of fantasy film making. 

If you check out the version linked to and embedded above be warned that it features an atrocious soundtrack that only detracts from the film. Mute abd replace with just about anything else.

A Dogwalker's Christmas Tale
First Time Viewing | Netflix
IMDB

"I am not the target audience, I am not the target audience..."
I have a feeling this is going to be my new mantra as I embark on this perilous journey through the lands of made for TV Christmas movies.

A Dogwalker's Christmas Tale drops loads of the sort of tired cliche's that fans seem to embrace and the script isn't nearly sharp enough to make up for the laziness. And, while it was competently filmed and the acting wasn't a disgrace, I just couldn't make it all the way through.
End of night results
The Naughty: I though it was going to be sleeping beauty Santa but the banal dog walkers beat out the creepy cartoon by a wide margin.

The Nice: I can't really recommend anything I watched today as above average holiday fare.