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-


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-


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-


Christmas Challenge Film #5: Christmas Inheritance (2017, Directed by Ernie Barbarash) English 5

So, in burgeoning media super power Netflix’s grand scheme to take over entertainment, to be all things to all people, a string of made-for-TV quality Christmas movies have cropped up, beginning last year with the apparently popular Christmas Prince, and continuing this year with The Princess Switch. Among this new line, I watched Christmas Inheritance as the 5th film in my challenge to watch 25 Christmas movies before December 25th. I’m largely behind schedule, but I wanted to watch a majority of the 25 after Thanksgiving anyways. Now I’m in the spirit and ready to build towards the day.

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Christmas Inheritance came out sometime last winter, as part of Netflix’s aforementioned¬† push for exclusive seasonal entertainment. It stars Eliza Taylor, from CW’S The 100, as Ellen Langford, kind, but spoiled, who has a reputation as a party girl. She also has a boyfriend who’s selfish and snobbish. Her father sends her on a mission to hand deliver a letter to an old friend in Snow Falls, and gives her a test to go with it. If she can deliver the letter, complete this trip with no more than $100 in spending money, and without revealing her status as heiress to a small fortune, he will hand her the reins to his company. She accepts. Once in Snow Falls, Ellen falls in love with the small town people, notably Debbie (Andie MacDowell), who runs a local diner, the pride she gets in helping others, and the handsome leading man, Jake Collins (Jake Lacy) she meets through a chance encounter.

You’ve seen this movie before, you know the ending, and all of the notes in between. It should be impossible to give “spoilers.” You know if you like this movie just by reading the plot line. Knowing full-well what’s bound to happen before it starts, does the film interest you? For many people, Christmas Inheritance will be a perfectly satisfying holiday romance. The stars are sweet, the setting idyllic, and the story comforting. I just happen to prefer a different kind of movie fantasy. The rogue hero bringing justice to the west. Barring that, I’m not above a cheesy rom-com. There certainly are some great ones I keep coming back to. Christmas Inheritance, however, is cookie-cutter and simply fine. It’s better than sitting in a dark closet doing nothing (a low-bar, but there are hundreds of films I can’t say that about). It’s better than not watching a movie. It’s okay.

(5-Okay Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Bug’s Life (1998, Directed by John Lasseter) English 8

Voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, David Hyde Pierce, Phyllis Diller, Madeline Khan, Brad Garrett, Bonnie Hunt, Roddy McDowall

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fresh. Imaginative. Light.

Often lost in the wonderful canon of Pixar films- perhaps overly simple or less unique than their best works, like, say Wall-E or Ratatouille- A Bug’s Life, the studio’s second outing, really is a fantastic animated adventure, putting a comic twist on Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. A colony of ants, every year, is exploited for food by a group of vicious grasshoppers, led by Hopper (voiced memorably by Spacey). One ant, Flik (Foley), regarded as the colony screw-up, decides to search for bigger bugs to help the colony fight back. He mistakenly recruits a failed circus troupe. Not as bright or vivid visually as it might once have been, the animation is still impressive, and the writers at Pixar are among film history’s best. A Bug’s Life is quite funny and full of endearing characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Fantastic Beasts:The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, Directed by David Yates) English 6

Starring Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Alison Sudol

Image result for the crimes of grindelwald(6-Good Film)

Entertaining. Jumbled. Strained.

Your enjoyment of the newest entry in the Harry Potter canon will depend a great deal on your love of the series. I’m a massive fan of Potter, and am willing to watch what feels like the leftover scraps from a great meal. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has very little to do with beasts. Protagonis, Newt Scamander (Redmayne), is being pushed into helping the Ministry of Magic catch fugitive dark wizard, Grindelwald (Depp). Newt prefers to stay out of such affairs. There are so many subplots and call-backs that I couldn’t keep up, and stopped trying at some point. As part 2 of a projected 5 part series, Fantastic Beasts still hasn’t proven to be compelling on its own feet, apart from its source. Author and screenwriter is still throwing monkey wrenches at the old Harry Potter plots to make this new series relevant. Redmayne has not proven to me to be an interesting actor. Scenes between him and Jude Law as Dumbledore accentuated for me how charismatic Jude Law is and how uncharismatic Redmayne is as Scamander. Then there is Depp as Grindelwald. Depp’s casting seemed to cause some doubt among fans. He gives a very good performance, and is one of the film’s highlights. In the end, for all of my negativity towards it, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an entertaining spectacle. It’s just a few rungs down from Harry Potter.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Frozen (2013, Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck) English 6

Voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Santino Fontana

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(6-Good Film)

Strong. Bright. Satisfying.

Before Tangled was released in 2010, Dinsye bigshot Ed Catmull said it would be the last Disney princess film. Tangled was a huge success, and four years later comes Frozen, with two princesses for the price of one. Anna (Bell) feels shut off from her sister Elsa (Menzel) after the death of their parents. On Elsa’s coronation day, Anna, as well as the rest of the kingdom, learn the secret she was concealing when she turns the land into a frozen tundra and runs away. Anna sets off to find her with the help of her new companions: courageous Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and the loyal snowman Olaf. Frozen was a colossal success, and it’s easy to see why. It has all the hallmarks of a Disney classic. It fails to rank for me with the cream of Disney’s crop, however, falling somewhere in the middle of the studio’s canon. Mainly, I feel there’s a huge gulf between the classic work of Alan Menken with the various brilliant songwriters on old Disney films during the Renaissance, and the soundtrack to Frozen, as popular as it is. There are plenty of catchy tunes, but they’re just not on the level of, say, The Little Mermaid, or Beauty and the Beast. The story lacks a strong villain in my eyes, and though the female empowerment elements prove a nice message, films like Mulan and The Princess and the Frog covered similar territory with more compelling endings.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-