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-

(468)

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-

(397)

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-

(346)

 

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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(10-Masterpiece)

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-

(227)

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-

(202)

Christmas Challenge Film #9: Elf (2003, Directed by Jon Favreau) English 9

Some films reveal their greatness on impact, others over time. When Elf was released back in 2003, it was a big hit, well-reviewed by critics, and I certainly enjoyed it. I had no idea, however, that I would be watching it every year, for fifteen years straight. Naturally, I included it in my, now, time-crunched quest to watch 25 Christmas movies before the big day. Elf comes in at number 9. Oy vey! I have a long ways to go, and very little time left. I still believe in myself. I can do it.

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Elf was SNL alum, Will Ferrell’s first great star vehicle. He plays Buddy, an orphan human, adopted as a baby and raised by Papa Elf (inspired casting in Bob Newhart), growing up among Santa’s little helpers in the North Pole. As he becomes older, he finds it hard to fit in, and, eventually Papa Elf tells him the truth: he’s a human. His mother is dead, but his father’s alive, and lives in New York. Buddy sets out from the North Pole, and heads to New York to meet his dad, whom he learns made Santa’s naughty list and is working as a children’s book publisher. The film then becomes a holly jolly fish-out-of-water tale. Buddy, with his intense cheer, comes across to New Yorkers, as delusional. The first part of Buddy’s arrival in New York contain the film’s best scenes. Buddy’s able to find his dad (played by James Caan) in his big office, but thrown out almost immediately. Buddy begins a job working in a department store under the purview of the unfortunately named Wanda (played hilariously by Faizon Love). There he meets pretty coworker, Jovie (Deschanel), before he’s ultimately able to reconnect with his father. I especially love this section of Elf.

Elf endures as a classic because it’s funny, and it’s a sincere Christmas movie. The casting is perfect for every role; from Will Ferrell to Peter Dinklage to Faizon Love and Newhart whom I already mentioned. I look forward to watching it again next Christmas.

(9-Great Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(194)

Christmas Challenge Film #8: The Christmas Chronicles (2018, Directed by Clay Kaytis) English 6

Filmmaker Chris Columbus is a slave to sentimentality and not much concerned with the visual aspect of  filmmaking. Despite his limitations, he’s responsible for some fantastic films: Gremlins, Adventures in Babysitting, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland,  Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potters. His newest film, which he produces, is The Christmas Chronicles, written by Matt Lieberman, directed by Clay Kaytis. It’s a solid production, and very likely the best Christmas movie made exclusively for Netflix yet. I’ve worked my way through the streaming service’s catalog of Christmas films, and they are all decent, good-spirited adventures, but the Christmas Chronicles is the only one with any sense of broader appeal. The fun for all ages slogan is mostly true here.

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The Christmas Chronicles begins with memories of the good times the Pierce family have shared during past Christmas seasons. As we catch up to the present, we see that the father, Doug (Oliver Hudson), has died (in the line of duty as a fireman), and the rest of the family is struggling to adjust: the mom, Claire (Kimberly Williams-Paisley),  works full-time as a nurse, and hardly has time to spend with her kids, 10-year-old daughter, Kate, is constantly getting in fights with her older brother, Teddy, who’s become a delinquent since his father’s death. It’s not an altogether original premise, but still proves effective. When Kate catches Teddy stealing a car with a group of his new criminal friends on camera (she’s an avid filmer), she blackmails him into helping her get an image of Santa Claus on tape, to prove he’s real, as Christmas Eve approaches. They wind up causing Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) a heap of trouble, and to atone, they work to help him get Christmas back on track so that he can deliver each present on time.

The real attraction is the headliner, Kurt Russell, and he makes for a wonderful Santa Claus. He’s boisterous, rowdy, fun, and versatile enough to move between comedy and some of the later dramatic moments with ease. I’d love to see him return to this role for another adventure. The children’s story is standard in many ways, but it’s mostly an excuse to get to the film’s more creative ideas: Kurt Russell’s take on the character and the elves.

Netflix has yet to put out a masterpiece (though I haven’t seen Roma yet), and The Christmas Chronicles isn’t one, but it is an entertaining holiday film for the family. There’s a cameo at the end of the film, that is entirely predictable, but very much welcome.

 (6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(189)