A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Directed by Bill Melendez) English 8

Voices of Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Cathy Steinberg, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Poignant. Charming. Thoughtful.

I’ve watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special countless times, but somehow I’ve never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas until this year. It’s wonderful. Charlie Brown wades through the holiday season being the young neurotic that he is, asking some big questions. Lucy convinces him to direct her Christmas play.  Eventually, he’s reminded of the true meaning of Christmas just in time to enjoy it. Iconic, endearing, and Vince Guaraldi’s music is gorgeous.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(845)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Directed by Burny Mattinson) English 8

Voices of Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Clarence Nash, Hal Smith, Will Ryan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Short. Sweet. Endearing.

Splendid version of Charles Dickens’ much-told tale, this 26 minute short special might be my favorite Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck takes his natural role in the story as Ebenezer Scrooge, a hard-hearted old businessman without any empathy or love. One night, on Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts-the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. They open his eyes and force a change of heart, causing old Scrooge to turn his life around. Short and sweet, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a fantastically animated special.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(844)

The Little Drummer Boy (1968, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass) English 7

Voices of José Ferrer, Greer Garson, June Foray, Teddy Eccles, Paul Frees

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Striking. Memorable.

One of Rankin and Bass’ Christmas classics told in their indelible stop-motion style, The Little Drummer Boy adapts the popular Christmas song of the same name and provides a little background. A young Jewish boy named Aaron lives only to play his drum. Swindled into joining a talentless traveling troupe leads Aaron ultimately to Bethlehem where he humbly plays his drum for the newborn baby Jesus. Like all of their specials, Rankin and Bass’ The Little Drummer Boy is one part creepy and two parts sweet, nostalgic, memorable, and a testament to their creativity. One of their best.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(841)

Unaccompanied Minors (2006, Directed by Paul Feig) English 4

Starring Dyllan Christopher, Tyler James Williams, Gia Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Wilmer Valderrama, Lewis Black, Rob Cordry, David Koechner, Brett Kelly, Jessica Walter, B.J Novak, Mindy Kaling, Teri Garr, Rob Riggle

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(4-Bad Film)

Unfunny. Spiritless. Aggravating.

A group of kids-Spencer, Grace, Charles, Donna, and “Beef”-are cooped up in D.C’s international airport on Christmas Eve thanks to a snowstorm. Grouchy Head of Passenger Relations, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), seems determined that they have no fun during their stay, so the children respond by running wild and “outsmarting” him at every turn. Maybe the filmmakers thought they had a bit of the Home Alone formula in hand. Neglected, resourceful child (in this case, children) versus dimwitted adults. The problem is, in Unaccompanied Minors, the children’s cleverness isn’t all that clever, the adults, though militant, aren’t necessarily even wrong, and the children are basically brats for most of the film. Unaccompanied Minors is never funny and often annoying.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(839)

A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (2019, Directed by Michelle Johnston) English 5

Starring Laura Marano, Gregg Sulkin, Isabella Gomez, Barclay Hope, Johannah Newmarch, Chanelle Peloso

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(5-Okay Film)

Fine. Formulaic. Silly.

Kat Decker (Laura Marano), an aspiring singer, lives under the oppressive roof of her step-mother and two vapid step-sisters. While working her menial job as a Christmas elf to support her family, she meets Dominic Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), wealthy, handsome, and kind. Is there any way that he could actually be interested in her? This is a romantic comedy so, of course, there is. Let’s start with the positives: the actors are fine. That’s about it for me. It’s very straightforward, underwhelming fare with bad music thrown in.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(838)

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby (2019, Directed by John Schultz) English 5

Starring Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, Honor Kneafsey, Sarah Douglas, Tahirah Sharif, Theo Devaney, Crystal Yu

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(5-Okay Film)

Retread. Predictable. Corny.

There’s no reason, as far as I can tell, that Netflix shouldn’t just keep rolling out these ultra-cheesy, predictable Christmas Prince movies every year. The Royal Baby, the third film in this watershed trilogy, brings back Queen Amber (Rose McIver) and King Richard (Ben Lamb) as they prepare for the birth of their first child and also to sign a treaty that would continue the alliance between their made-up country, Aldovia, and some other made-up country, Penglia. When someone steals the treaty before it’s signed, the king and queen go into detective mode. Enjoyable, treacly to the extreme, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby is satisfying viewing for those who like laughable, corny entertainment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(836)

Shrek the Halls (2007, Directed by Gary Trousdale) English 6

Voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Conrad Vernon, Gary Trousdale

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Unspectacular. Satisfying.

How Gary Trousdale went from directing two of the best-animated films of all-time (Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to directing this, I’ll never know, but it’s a decent Christmas special without being essential. Shrek prepares for his first Christmas spent with friends and family but when the day comes, he finds it doesn’t go as planned. There’s not a lot of meaningful action here, but the characters are still classic despite being worn out by their studio, and the story is amusing with a number of good jokes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(835)

You’ve Got Mail (1998, Directed by Nora Ephron) English 8

Starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, Heather Burns, Dave Chappelle, Dabney Coleman

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Attractive. Entertaining. Satisfying.

Joe Fox (Hanks) is a mega-rich businessman who owns a chain of bookstores. Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) runs a quaint children’s book store in Manhattan, one she took over after her mother died. When Joe opens a Fox Books just blocks away from Kathleen’s store, the two become rivals, while unknowingly falling in love with each other through online correspondence. A remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s classic The Shop Around the Corner, itself based on a play, You’ve Got Mail is a lot of things: corny, contrived, charming, and romantic most of all. It can be called inferior to The Shop Around the Corner, which it is, and still be a fantastic romantic comedy, which I believe it is, despite the soundtrack being more distracting than an asset unlike the soundtracks of some of Ephron’s previous films, notably Sleepless in Seattle. Clearly inspired by Pride and Prejudice (the book is referenced a couple of times in the movie), Joe is a bit of an arrogant jerk at times before sweeping Kathleen off of her feet in the end. Through it all, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan shine.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(823)

Holiday Affair (1949, Directed by Don Hartman) English 8

Starring Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert, Griff Barnett, Esther Dale

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Warm. Witty. Thoughtful.

Widowed mother, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), meets department store salesman, Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum), one day and the kind, charismatic guy complicates all of her carefully considered life-plans. For one thing, she’s already practically engaged, to nice, secure Carl Davis (Wendell Corey).  Holiday Affair plays out slowly, with no trumped-up action and little fuss. It’s all dialogue (witty and intelligent) and engaging characters. It’s also an attractive look at New York back in the 1940s during the Christmas season.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(822)

Holiday Rush (2019, Directed by Leslie Small) English 5

Starring Romany Malco, Sonequa Martin-Green, Darlene Love, Amarr M. Wooten, Tamala Jones

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(5-Okay Film)

Bland. Treacly. Likable.

Successful, affluent radio DJ and widower, Rashon Williams (Romany Malco), goes to work one day to find that #1) the station’s been taken over by a larger company and #2) he’s fired. Left to manage with less while dealing with his four spoiled children, Rashon hurries to come up with a long term solution with his partner, Roxy (Sonequa Martin-Green), who he may be falling in love with. There’s very little meaningful tension in this movie, which has been true of all the Netflix Christmas films. Things work out and they work out well in Holiday Netflix land. My bigger concern was that the leads already love each other as soon as the film opens so there’s not much draw there, and most of the “obstacles” that exist in Holiday Rush involve rich kids not getting a horse for Christmas. Not very compelling, but the film succeeds in the same way that all of these feather-weight Netflix Christmas movies do: by being likable rather than being interesting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(821)