Christmas Challenge Film #7: The Princess Switch (2018, Directed by Mike Rohl) English 5

For my seventh film on my quest to watch 25 Christmas movies before Christmas day, I watched The Princess Switch. It’s also the third Netflix original movie I’ve watched during this challenge; A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance being the first two. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish which of the three is superior. They are all par for the course. Sweet, competent, bright, warm, reliable, fairy tale, happy endings, family-friendly entertainment. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. Apparently there is a sizable audience for these films, since they keep making them. A Christmas Prince even has a sequel Netflix just released. I’ll probably watch it before my challenge is through. But back to The Princess Switch. It feels very much like a direct descendant of A Christmas Prince. A nice, pretty girl, not royalty, has a whirlwind romance with a Prince of a made-up country over Christmas. In fact, there’s a scene in this film of the main characters watching A Christmas Prince.

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Vanessa Hudgens plays Margaret, a talented baker, who struggles to do anything spontaneous. After an awkward meeting with an ex-boyfriend, she caves in, and takes her best friend, Kevin’s advice: a holiday trip to Belgravia where a prestigious bakery competition is held. Margaret goes with Kevin and his daughter, Olivia, but, once there, in what is, of course, a picturesque location, she gets separated from them, and meets Duchess of Montenaro, Stacy DeNovo. I’m never going to stop asking why the people from made-up countries always have British accents, because, once again here, they do. The Duchess, also played by Hudgens, is apprehensive about her upcoming arranged marriage to the Prince, whom she’s met a handful of times. She’d prefer to be an average woman. The Parent Trap or The Prisoner of Zenda are invoked. Margaret and Stacey switch places, fall in love with their respective leading men, and a small dilemma forms, then quickly gets sorted out. It’s that kind of movie, which we already knew going in, and are likely fine with. This is a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment that will appeal to its audience. No Christmas classic, but fine Christmas time-waster.

I decided to leave Vanessa Hudgens’ “British” accent alone, then changed my mind.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Christmas Challenge Film #6: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017, Directed by Bharat Nalluri) English 6

I intended to watch The Man Who Invented Christmas in theaters all last winter during its initial release in theaters, but missed it. My interest was only middling at the time, but it received strong reviews and I was confident that it would be a fine film. The subject is compelling. Set some years after the early success of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (played by Dan Stevens), hasn’t had a hit book in years. Many are quick to remind him of this, including William Makepeace Thackeray, humorously portrayed in this film as snide and gloating at every opportunity. Dickens’ run of flops hasn’t stopped him from spending, or rather, his family from spending, and now he’s at the point of desperately needing a successful book, but what should he write about? With Christmas approaching, Dickens has an idea for the basis of what would become his greatest hit: A Christmas Carol. The Man Who Invented Christmas follows his struggles in writing the novella and getting it published, while dealing with his peddler father returning for the season and the stress from the immense pressure he’s under. This Christmas film covers a lot of ground, and does so admirably. Flashbacks show Dickens separated from his family and sent to the workhouses. We also get an entertaining glimpse at what Dickens’ writing process might look like. As he works, he interacts with his prospective characters, mainly Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer).

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Unsurprisingly, this is a warm, well-acted affair; a good story, well told. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s an engaging bit of fantasy. While showing how Dickens and his novel impacted Christmas convincingly,  I’m less sure about The Man Who Invented Christmas’ own status as a Christmas classic. Will we be watching it ten years down the line? Could it be some family’s Christmas tradition? Perhaps. I wouldn’t write it off. It’s a good movie. I just don’t think it’s a great one.

(6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



Up (2009, Directed by Pete Docter) English 6

Voices of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson, Delory Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Jordan Nagai

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(6-Good Film)

Affecting. Colorful. Creative.

Films featuring elderly protagonists are few and far between, and animated films featuring elderly protagonists are pretty much non-existant, outside of Pixar’s 2009 offering, Up (Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle was a young woman cursed with an old woman’s body). Up is a combination of a lot of unique, inspired ideas- a house flying across the world, balloons holding it up, a dog that can talk, a boy ranger sidekick-but at its heart, the best aspect of the film, is a regretful widower fulfilling a promise he made to his wife. The opening sequence covers our hero, Carl, and his wife, Ellie, all the way from their first meeting as precocious children to their final moments together as she dies in a hospital. It’s an incredibly moving scene, but unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t at the same level. Carl and Russell’s adventure are vivid and beautiful, but aren’t as interesting as the opening act. Their exploits in Paradise Falls drag a bit.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Apartment (1960, Directed by Billy Wilder) English 10

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David lewis

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Perfect. Moving. Consummate.

C.C Baxter (Lemmon) is a pushover; a peon trying to climb the tall corporate ladder in New York City. He finds a shortcut, but, of course, it comes at a price. He lends his apartment to his philandering bosses who use his bachelor pad to meet with their mistresses. Things get out of hand though when he comes home to find his office crush, Fran (MacLaine), in his bed after a suicide attempt. She’s in a bad relationship with top boss, J.D Sheldrake (MacMurray). If this sounds dark and sordid, it is, but it’s also a deft comedy, and romance. The script is a masterpiece, and so is the film. Billy Wilder and his manic star, Lemmon, give the movie a levity that belies much of the sadness, but at its core is this intense loneliness highlighted by the 2 or 3 sequences of Lemmon, in extreme long shot, completely by himself. One particularly poignant instance of this comes early, when Baxter is locked out , sleeping on a park bench, while his boss parties in his apartment. There’s also a very moving detail in the opening scene of Baxter finishing what’s left of some wine while picking up after one of his bosses. The overwhelming jazz score kicks in around here and soon becomes a common refrain through Baxter’s story. It’s perfect. I love this film. If I made a top 5 list of movies, The Apartment would surely be on it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Unfinished Business (2015, Directed by Ken Scott) English 5

Starring Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, June Diane Raphael, James Marsden, Nick Frost

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(5-Okay Film)

Broad. Unfulfilled. Misguided.

Somewhere buried in this middling raunchy comedy lies what could have been an excellent tragicomedy. Vince Vaughn plays Dan Trunkman, a middle-aged American businessman who walks out of his dead end job to strike out on his own. Starting a company with Tim (Wilkinson), a retirement age assistant, and Mike Pancake (Franco), who seems to be mentally handicapped,  Dan reaches the point of desperation. He needs to make a big sell or he’ll have to tell his wife that he can’t afford private school for his bullied, overweight son. Much of the premise for Unfinished Business is very interesting, and Vaughn, less mannered (though I’m a fan of his comic persona), is very good here in a more serious than usual role. The broad comedy aspects don’t work and severely limit the film. The whole Mike Pancake character, for example, is beyond believability and doesn’t match the rest of the film’s tone. I also would have preferred a less triumphant, pat ending. Oh well.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Penny Serenade (1941, Directed by George Stevens) English 8

Starring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Edgar Buchanan, Beulah Bondi, Eva Lee Kuney

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Wonderful. Tearful. Sad.

Penny Serenade is a classic weeper. You can see where it’s going, you know that it’s trying to manipulate you into tears, you try to resist, but, ultimately, the film is effective. I think even more than the tragedy that you can’t help to empathize with, the cast of characters are just so wonderful, that you become emotional through the large passage of time depicted in the story. There’s married couple, Roger and Julie Adams, very much in love, but struggling to make money, and left unable to have a child. They turn to adoption, and fall in love with a little girl, Trina, who becomes their daughter. There’s Applejack (Buchanan), loyal family friend, always there for the Adams. Then there’s Miss Oliver (Bondi) working at the adoption agency, who becomes something of a fairy godmother to the Adams. I loved these characters. Full of laughter and tears, Penny Serenade is terrific.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Theodore Rex (1995, Directed by Jonathan R. Betuel) English 3

Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Juliet Landau, Richard Roundtree, Bud Cort, George Newborn (voice), Carol Kane (Voice)

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(3-Horrible Film)

Witless. Joyless. Dumb.

In a futuristic society, dinosaurs still roam the Earth. Walking, talking dinosaurs that resemble humans in their behavior, and yet, they’re treated like second-class citizens by humans who still represent the majority. After a prominent dinosaur gets murdered, a friendly T-Rex type named Theodore wants to get to the bottom of it. He partners with wild-card police detective Coltrane (Goldberg) to catch the perpetrator. Does this film sound good to you? Best case scenario, how good could a film with that plot be? Well, this is not even best case scenario. Horrendous visuals and design of characters accentuate the ridiculous plot at every turn. On top of that, there may not exist a more witless, talentless script. Instead of dialogue and banter, we get fart sounds and weird voices. It’s embarrassing that three Oscar nominated actors appear in this. My feeling is that after Jurassic Park, studios thought you could just put dinosaurs in movies, and it would sell, regardless of quality.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-