Holiday in the Wild (2019, Directed by Ernie Barbarash) English 5

Starring Kristen Davis, Rob Lowe, Fezile Mpela, John Owen, Colin Moss, Haley Owen, Faniswa Yisa

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(5-Okay Film)

Lowkey. Pleasant. Mediocre.

This lowkey romantic drama stars Kristin Davis as Kate Conrad, devoted mother, and socialite wife to a successful businessman, Drew, who asks for a divorce not long after their son departs for college. Left reeling, Kate travels to Zambia where she meets the handsome Derek (Lowe), a local pilot, and the two fall for each other over the course of her extended holiday as she, a former veterinarian, connects with the wildlife, specifically an elephant she helps rescue. I would say the film is way more passionate about animals and wildlife than it is about Christmas. That’s not a criticism. It’s simply that Holiday in the Wild didn’t make much of an impression on me as a Christmas film. It’s a perfectly pleasant but unspectacular hour-an-a-half. About what you would expect. I did like how low maintenance it was, eschewing the trumped-up drama of most films of its ilk.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, Directed by Sidney Lanfield, Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, Jane Darwell, William Frawley, Fred Clark

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exuberant. Endearing. Manic.

Bob Hope plays the titular character, also known as Sidney Milburn, a con artist who messes up and cons the wrong guy, mob boss Moose Moran (Clark), who gives Sidney until Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks, to pay the money back ($10,000). Sidney then connives the help of his few remaining friends to pull off his biggest scheme yet: street-corner Santas taking money from the kind-hearted. Of course, this is a Christmas film so the wicked Sidney eventually has a change of heart. The source of the classic Christmas song, “Silver Bells,” The Lemon Drop Kid is a wonderful light comedy and star-vehicle for Hope who delivers his nonstop one-liners and zany buffoonery in highly amusing fashion.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, Directed by Christopher Columbus) English 6

Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Tim Curry, Rob Schneider, Brenda Fricker, Eddie Bracken, Catherine O’Hara

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(6-Good Film)

Rehash. Funny. Memorable.

Basically a complete retread of the first Home Alone, only set in New York rather than Chicago. Kevin McCallister is once again left by his negligent family. He again lives it up by himself before realizing that he loves and misses them. He again fortifies an entire house in less than 3 hours. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern return to be terrorized by the most resourceful ten-year-old of all-time. Kevin becomes friends with a seemingly terrifying stranger (this time a bird lady played by Oscar winner-Brenda Fricker). It’s all recycling, and I have no problem with that. It’s a very entertaining formula. It warranted two films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass) English 7

Voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, Robie Lester, Paul Frees

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Imaginative. Wonderful.

The old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials were fantastic. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is perhaps the best of the bunch.  As told by the great Fred Astaire, Santa Claus/Kris Kringle’s story shows him go from adopted orphan baby to famous toy maker to Christmas saint, at large due to his refusal to stop delivering toys in a town that’s outlawed them. Plenty of catchy music, an inventive story, and classic, unforgettable claymation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Christmas Prince: Royal Wedding (2018, Directed by John Schultz) English 5

Starring Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, John Guerrasio, Richard Ashton, Honor Kneafsey

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(5-Okay Film)

Generic. Pleasant. Sweet.

It’s easy to condescend to this treacly, made-for-television romantic comedy, and I intend to, but first, let me say that it is more successful at what it’s trying to do than most films. In the first movie, Amber (McIver) was a reporter trying to get a story out of the made-up country, Aldovia’s, royal family, but instead falling for the prince (Lamb). Now, in the sequel, she’s preparing for the royal wedding, while feeling the pressure and the scrutiny that comes with her new life. Like the first one, this is a perfectly pleasant enough time, with no surprises, decent acting (the father character gets a new actor in the role which is kind of awkward), lovely locations, and a happy ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-



It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Directed by Frank Capra) English 10

Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, Ward Bond

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Classic. Immortal. Moving.

Clarence (Travers), an angel 2nd class, is given an awfully tough assignment: selfless, devoted family man, George Bailey (Stewart) of Bedford Falls, wonders if the world would be a better place if he was never born. Clarence gives George a glimpse of what that would look like. The quintessential Christmas standard, It’s a Wonderful Life is the best of Christmas movies for any lover of classic Hollywoood. James Stewart and Frank Capra were an awesome pair, and I’m not sure any one has looked more beautiful in a film than Donna Reed when she and Stewart huddle around a phone, trying to stay angry at one another. I’ve mentioned before people’s tendency to forgive overt sentimentality in older films. In fact, it’s what people love most about films like It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s life isn’t easy, or what he dreamed for himself, but in the end, he’s given the gift of seeing that he has a purpose. Aside: Like any true traditionalist, I prefer this film in black and white.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Christmas Challenge Film #11: The Santa Clause (1994, Directed by John Pasquin) English 6

Tim Allen was on top of the world in 1994. Hit television show, hit book, and hit movie; the latter being The Santa Clause, my 11th film for my Christmas film challenge. This is an intermediate film for me. It’s a Christmas movie I’ve seen numerous times, enjoy very much, but don’t love. That’s no great indictment. It’s a hopeful film with a definite sense of Christmas cheer, good spirit, and a strong message. It’s an ideal family Christmas movie.

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Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, a mildly cynical, divorced father whose son, Charlie, would rather spend Christmas eve with his mother. Despite his wish, Charlie spends Christmas eve eating at Denny’s with his Dad looking around at a bunch of other unhappy children eating with their dads, but things pick up later that night. Investigating a noise coming from the roof, Scott accidentally kills Santa Clause. Not as dark as it sounds, this necessitates that Scott become the new Santa. Charlie and he finish the Christmas presents circulation, and are told the deal by an elf named Bernard once they arrive at the North Pole. Scott can return home to put his affairs in order, but starting next year, he’s full-time Santa. Naturally, Charlie is overjoyed. Scott is less enthusiastic. In fact, he’s convinced when he awakes in his own bed the next morning that the whole episode was a dream. This explanation becomes less likely once he physically begins to transform. This is one of The Santa Clause’s best moments as Scott goes through a less scary, more humorous metamorphosis than Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The last third isn’t as much fun as it drives home the sugar and syrup.

The Santa Clause is a  fine Christmas film. It’s relatively witty, with a host of fresh ideas, and a nice message about faith and family.

(6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-