Film Review: A Christmas Story (1983)

Release Date: November 18th, 1983
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Based on: In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
Music by: Carl Zittrer, Paul Zaza
Cast: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward, Jean Shepherd (voice)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll shoot your eye out!” – everyone in the movie that isn’t Ralphie

This is one of those reviews where my opinion is in contrast to the majority.

I’m just not fond of this movie. It’s not a bad motion picture but I certainly don’t have the spot in my heart for it like the millions of people that feel the urge to sit down and watch this for 24 hours straight every Christmas. Full disclosure, my whole family does that and I’m usually off in the corner staring at my phone.

But that being said, I have seen this movie more than any other because it just plays and plays on my family’s television through our annual Christmas Eve party, Christmas morning and during gift giving time. I mean, it’s just a staple. We actually barely pay attention to it at this point except for the younger ones. But everyone in my family still deems its existence in our lives to be necessary.

Give me ScroogedDie HardDie Hard 2Gremlins, Krampus or hell, this director’s other Christmas classic, Black Christmas. Okay, maybe these film selections aren’t safe for child eyes but I’m not the one having kids. And if I did, they’d see Gremlins at the same age I did: five years-old.

Anyway, this is a cute film but nothing about it is exceptional or worthy of the strange acclaim that it has now. I only consider it a classic because it’s just labeled that and for some reason, it resonates with so many people. But I also think that’s just people succumbing to the power of nostalgia. Plus, I don’t get the nostalgia bug for it because even though it came out when I was a kid, it was a bomb in the theater and only gained traction later on television. The kids that found the film were younger than me and I was probably making out with girls by that time. Eventually, I just saw it on TV. And then it was on all the damn time.

It’s a fair picture. There’s nothing great or off putting about it. It just sort of exists to me. It has a few funny moments but the comedy isn’t superb, by any means. Honestly, the movie is kind of slow and a bit drab. It has a few scenes that have become iconic but overall, watching more than ten minutes at a time, bores me to tears.

But I get that I’m the oddball, here. I just feel like there are so many holiday films better than this one. This feels dated, incredibly overplayed and probably needs to be replaced as the big Christmas marathon movie.

I’d have no problem with Home Alone being on 24/7 on December 25th.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other mediocre Christmas “classics”.

Film Review: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Also known as: Could This Be Christmas? (script title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1996 (Mall of America premiere)
Directed by: Brian Levant
Written by: Randy Kornfield
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Jake Lloyd, Curtis Armstrong, Robert Conrad, Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll, Mickey Rooney, Paul Wight, Mo Collins

1492 Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 89 Minutes, 94 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“We get one day a year to prove we’re not screw-ups, and what do we do? We screw it up.” – Myron Larabee

I never saw this movie in its entirety until Christmas Day, 2018.

When it came out in 1996, I thought it looked terrible. I was also a senior in high school and going out with girls was more important than watching bad movies with Arnie, Sinbad and young Anakin Skywalker crying over a lame toy.

Since I have exhausted so many Christmas classics, I figured that I’d give this a chance. Besides, I actually love Arnie, Sinbad and the great Phil Hartman. Plus, this also has small roles for Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds), Martin Mull, Jim Belushi, Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court), Mickey Rooney, Robert Conrad, Mo Collins and “The Big Show” Paul Wight.

So if I’m being honest, which I always am, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this stupid movie. It’s a lot of fun, there isn’t a dull moment and the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad is really good. I actually just wish that they would’ve shared more scenes together.

The rest of the cast also did well and the rivalry between Arnold and Phil Hartman was entertaining. Man, Hartman was great as a neighbor creeper moving in on Arnold’s wife but in all seriously, was he insane? Arnie’s the f’n Terminator!

The only big problem with the movie is that it all falls apart in the finale. I was on board and digging everything up until the parade where Arnold and Sinbad are dressed up like a superhero and a supervillain and Arnold actually has a functioning jetpack. I know that this is a dumb, mindless movie but watching Arnold fly around downtown without proper jetpack training, moving in a way that isn’t possible by physics, made it so that I couldn’t suspend disbelief any longer. It was total cringe and destroyed the fun movie that this was before that shoddy action sequence kicked off.

Ignoring that atrocious ending, I probably would have given this about a 7.25. Seriously, I enjoyed it that much for 90 percent of the movie.

Still, I’d watch this again but probably not for several years once I’ve run through a few dozen other holiday films.

Plus, the cast keeps things pretty engaging for the most part and the reindeer fight was the stuff of legend.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Schwarzenegger comedies: Kindergarten CopTwins and I guess Junior but no one should suffer through that one.

Film Review: Beware, My Lovely (1952)

Also known as: Attention, mon amour (Belgium), Day Without End (script title), The Man, The Ragged Edge, One False Move (working titles)
Release Date: August 29th, 1952
Directed by: Harry Horner
Written by: Mel Dinelli
Based on: The Man by Mel Dinelli
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Taylor Holmes

The Filmakers, RKO Radio Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Well, aren’t you the bundle of nerves! Listen, you. I don’t see many men around polishing floors. It’s a woman’s job. Who do you think you are? Seems to me there’s better ways for a man to make a living.” – Ruth Williams

Beware, My Lovely isn’t really a Christmas movie but it does take place around Christmas and was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley the day before Christmas Eve.

It’s a short and very confined film-noir starring two noir heavyweights: Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan.

The story is pretty simple. Ryan plays a man that is dealing from a form of multiple personality disorder. He killed his former boss but doesn’t even remember that. He starts to work for Ida Lupino’s character and lives in her home. Another tenant leaves the house for a short trip and Ryan and Lupino are left alone in this confined space. Ryan starts to slip into his darker personality and holds Lupino hostage within her own home. The majority of the film is Ryan and Lupino playing off of each other and really, this is the strongest element of the film.

This movie works because the performances from Lupino and Ryan are damn good. The chemistry is perfect between the two and even though you want Lupino to escape, you also kind of hope that she can help Ryan, despite his despicable actions throughout the story.

One thing that may rub some viewers the wrong way, is that the ending is very abrupt and there is no definitive resolution. You can assume what will happen next but it is left somewhat open ended.

The direction was decent, the cinematography was fairly average and the score wasn’t very strong but none of that seemed to matter once the film was completely focused on Lupino and Ryan and their tense situation.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other noir pictures featuring Ida Lupino or Robert Ryan.

Comic Review: Mars Attacks the Holidays

Published: October 31st, 2012
Written by: various
Art by: various
Based on: Mars Attacks! by Topps

IDW Publishing, 49 Pages

Review:

I’ve had this in my collection for a few years but it got buried and I didn’t find it until recently, so I finally gave it a read. Plus, it was the right time of year.

Sadly though, this was pretty lackluster.

It’s an anthology of four short stories crammed into just 49 pages. Each story has a different creative team on writing and art duties and there isn’t a consistency between the styles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but the first story had the worst art and really got this thing off to a poor start.

It isn’t just a Christmas themed book, which I initially thought. Each story covers a different holiday: Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yes, you read that right… Veterans Day.

The Thanksgiving chapter was the only one I really enjoyed because it was kind of clever and had a sequence where Thanksgiving Day Parade floats basically came alive to fight off the Martian invaders. It’s hokey and goofy but so is the Mars Attacks property. It works for the story and I thought it was definitely the highlight of this anthology.

The other three stories didn’t do much for me but they weren’t a waste of time as this trade paperback was really short and luckily, wasn’t too expensive when I bought it.

I really like Mars Attacks but the comics can be hit or miss. This was mostly a miss but I certainly don’t have buyer’s remorse over it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Mars Attacks comic book releases.

Comic Review: Winter Soldier: Winter Kills – One-Shot

Published: December 27th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Lee Weeks

Marvel Comics, 39 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything from Marvel’s Civil War era but I though that I’d give this one-shot a chance, as I must have missed it back then. Plus, I like Winter Soldier and I like one-shots.

This takes place while the original Civil War was going on. It focuses on Winter Soldier trying to adjust to life after having been a brainwashed killer for so long. It also takes place on the first Christmas after he was freed from mind control while calling back to his last Christmas before everything went really bad for him, back in World War II with Captain America and Toro by his side.

This is short and sweet but it hit the mark for me.

You get to see the camaraderie between Bucky, Cap, Toro and Namor during the war and how important those relationships were. Then Bucky, now as the Winter Solider, is alone on Christmas, goes on a mission for Nick Fury and gets tied up in a fracas with Hydra, The Patriot, The Vision and the female Hawkeye, Kate Bishop.

Even though heroes find themselves on different sides of the Civil War divide, they come together out of respect for who Winter Soldier was and because it’s Christmas.

This isn’t as mushy as it sounds though. There is a lot of solid action and a good gritty tone while also critiquing what Christmas and America have become in the decades since Bucky was just a soldier in the 1940s.

Winter Kills is an enjoyable read and helps to build up Winter Soldier as a character. This also came out just before he took over as Captain America for awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Marvel’s Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War and the Ed Brubaker run on Captain America.

TV Review: A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

Original Run: December 4th, 2015
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Bill Murray, Michael Cera, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Dimitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Shaffer, Julie White, Phoenix

American Zoetrope, Departed Productions, Jax Media, South Beach Productions, Netflix, 1 Episodes, 56 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Who doesn’t love Bill Murray? And who doesn’t love Christmas? Well, terrorists… probably.

I was really excited when Netflix dropped the first trailer for A Very Murray Christmas. It looked interesting enough and featured a comedic legend that might as well be a god, as far as I am concerned. It also featured a slew of other talented people and Miley Cyrus. I kid, Miley doesn’t bother me like she bothers lame people.

I had hopes that this would be great and maybe start a new annual tradition with future installments to the series each Christmas. But to be frank, I’m fine with just the one special.

It wasn’t anything great or that spectacular. Murray is in a depressed mood for much of the special and only seems to come alive for a few seconds at a time. While some scenes, like the ones with Chris Rock, played really well, most just didn’t hit their mark.

This special, like all Christmas specials, is about finding that Christmas spirit and enjoying the day and the things that you hold dear. The execution just seemed half-assed and the sequences weren’t all that interesting.

Murray didn’t look like he was enjoying himself and everything just felt thrown together.

Although it was nice seeing him onscreen with David Johansen again. He was the lead singer of the protopunk band The New York Dolls, also the pop artist Buster Poindexter and starred alongside Murray in Scrooged as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scrooged and that’s about it but Scrooged is much better and a lot less depressing.

Film Review: Tangerine (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Matthew Smith (supervisor)
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone, Clu Gulager

Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you know I don’t do downers, bitch. You know I’m an upper ho.” – Sin-Dee

I didn’t know much about Sean Baker until after I had experienced his most recent film and my favorite of 2017, The Florida Project. I read about some of his previous work and Tangerine was a film that was pretty highly regarded. I checked out the trailer and read about how it was made and I had to check it out for myself. I’m glad that I did.

For a film shot on a cell phone, it looks fantastic. Baker used three iPhone 5S smartphones to capture everything. He filmed while using an app called FiLMIC Pro, which helps to control focus, aperture and color temperature while capturing video at higher bit-rates than the iPhone’s standard. Baker also used an anamorphic adapter to capture video in a widescreen format. The smoothness of the shots were achieved by using Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee. This prevented the film from having that standard shaky-cam effect made famous by found footage movies. In post-production, Baker used Final Cut Pro for editing and Da Vinci Resolve to correct the contrast and color saturation of what he filmed.

The movie had a budget of $100,000 but due to what they saved on cameras and equipment, most of the budget went to businesses who allowed them to use their locations for the film, as well as to extras who were needed in certain scenes.

Tangerine is nearly fully populated by actors with very little to no experience and is made to feel genuine and authentic, as if you just stepped into these characters’ lives for a day. The only known actor in this film is Clu Gulager, who is in one scene as a taxicab customer.

The plot all happens in one day and on Christmas Eve. For the most part, the film focuses on Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker in Hollywood. She has just gotten out of prison and while sharing a doughnut with her best friend, another transgender sex worker named Alexandra, she learns that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her with a cisgender woman. Sin-Dee immediately loses her cool and goes off in search of this woman with just the knowledge that her name starts with “D”.

The film also showcases a day in the life of Armenian cab driver Razmik. He seems like a decent guy but as the plot unfolds, we learn that he’s into transgender prostitutes and that he also has a wife and a very small child at home. Eventually, Razmik’s story crosses over with Alexandra and eventually Sin-Dee’s story.

The last act of the film is a big crescendo where all these characters’ issues collide in the doughnut shop where it all started. This isn’t a film that’s really shooting for a positive outcome for anyone but is instead a real character study and just a small sample of these people’s lives.

Between this and The Florida Project, Sean Baker has really cemented himself as one of the best contemporary filmmakers that makes character study films. The fact that both of Baker’s films have been pretty much snubbed, in my opinion, by the Academy, except for Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project, is pretty upsetting. This film, along with The Florida Project, should have had several nominations and both movies are better than many of the films that received Best Picture of the Year nominations for 2015 and 2017.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Sean Baker’s more recent film, The Florida Project. Also goes good with Moonlight.