Let It Snow (2019, Directed by Luke Snellin) English 5

Starring Isabela Moner, Odeya Rush, Shameik Moore, Kiernan Shipka, Jacob Batalon, Liv Hewson, D’Arcy Carden, Joan Cusack, Mitchell Hope

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(5-Okay Film)

Tame. Melodramatic. Clichéd.

Here’s Netflix’s attempt at a Christmas film for the young adult crowd. The diversity is well-orchestrated. They’ve really covered their bases. I personally don’t see the teen house party film meshing well together with an earnest Christmas sentiment. Let It Snow tries. A handful of teenagers grapple with their love lives in a small, snowed-in town in Illinois, while Keon (Jacob Batalon) just wants to host an awesome party. Every note is dutifully done, but a good house party movie needs to be raucous in my opinion and a good Christmas movie needs to be earnest. Let It Snow is somewhere in the middle, aside from being melodramatic and clichéd.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(811)

Holiday Inn (1942, Directed by Mark Sandrich) English 8

Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale, Marjorie Reynolds, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Endearing. Sparkling. Consummate.

Glossing over a couple of benign, but still problematic scenes involving blackface, Holiday Inn is a fantastic musical.  You can’t do better than Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin together. Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a showbiz veteran who’d like a simpler life for himself and his wife-to-be, Lila, living on a farm in quiet Connecticut. Then, Lila runs off with his dance partner, Ted Hanover (Astaire), and his farm turns out to be a lot of work. Time passes and Jim gets a new idea. A themed-based hotel only open on holidays complete with complimentary music shows. Working to put it together, he gets the lovely, talented Linda Mason (Reynolds) to work for him, but Ted, already kicked to the curb by Lila, has plans to lure Linda away. Great music, dancing (Astaire’s drunk number is incredible), shimmering black-and-white photography, and impressive sets. Holiday Inn puts on an outstanding show.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(809)

The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Directed by Cara J. Russell) English 5

Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Whitehouse, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Ella Kenion, Mimi Gianopulos

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(5-Okay Film)

Modest. Pleasant. Fair.

As I’ve observed before, Netflix seems to be going after the Hallmark Channel’s audience. As a result, many of their original films in the past have bordered on made-for-television quality. With The Knight Before Christmas, the border is gone. This film has moved well beyond it. This is a made-for-television movie. It stars Vanessa Hudgens as a kindly school teacher who’s boyfriend cheated on her, preparing for Christmas in some quaint little town of Ohio. Josh Whitehouse plays Sir Cole, a 14th-century medieval knight, sent to modern times in order to fulfill a quest given to him by a sorceress. How will a 14th-century knight function in modern America? Pretty well, according to The Knight Before Christmas. It takes him all of a day to learn a good deal of modern vernacular. This is also not the kind of film to have him declared insane upon arrival and locked inside a mental hospital. Everything about The Knight Before Christmas is pleasant. The town is beautiful, the actors are all attractive and kind, even the “flirtatious girl” who might have been a rival to Hudgens quickly bows out the race for Cole’s affection gracefully and without conflict. I do think there is value in a movie that is pure sweetness. I’m sure many people are looking for a film just like this one and will be glad to find it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(808)

The Grinch (2018, Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney) 6

Voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury

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(6-Good Film)

Sweet. Appealing. Unspectacular.

Dr. Seuss’ wonderful stories have yet to translate to cinematic gold. There’ve been commercial hits, this version of The Grinch included, but none of them are great and I do think the potential is there for something exceptional. Nineteen years after Jim Carrey’s bizarre but interesting take on the green misanthrope, Benedict Cumberbatch takes over in a much sweeter, animated version. You likely know the story but in case you don’t, it features a hairy green creature, known as the Grinch, who lives life as an outcast in the jolly land of Whoville.  Christmas is the town’s favorite time of year but the Grinch hates Christmas and decides to do something about it. He pretends to be Santa Claus in order to steal everyone’s gifts and sabotage the holiday. The Jim Carrey led Grinch was pretty obnoxious and the Whos were materialistic and unlikable, although I think Carrey was a force of nature in the role. This Grinch is much more likable. It’s a pleasing, beautifully animated picture but suffers from a lack of real menace out of its title character. That’s disappointing. As a result, it’s not funny enough, his transformation not astounding enough, and this rendition of The Grinch ends up being pretty forgettable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(807)

Love Actually (2003, Directed by Richard Curtis) English 8

Starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Messy. Appealing. Wonderful.

Multiple storylines weave together on the road to Christmas ranging from dramatic (Alan Rickman is tempted by his secretary to cheat on his wife, Emma Thompson) to humorous (Hugh Grant is a charming, meek Prime Minister of Great Britain who falls for someone in his staff). Love Actually is a wonderful, unapologetic mess. It embraces its muchness and wears its emotions right on its sleeves. You can be cynical, roll your eyes at the contrivances, the “office workers” that look like supermodels or make a joke about the corniness, but I choose to enjoy the spectacle of it all. It’s a spectacle without special effects. Some of the storylines are more interesting than others, but all of the performances are good.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(806)

Klaus (2019, Directed by Sergio Pablos) English 7

Voices of Jason Schwartzman, J.K Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, Norm MacDonald

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(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Offbeat. Winning.

Young, rich, entitled Jesper (Schwartzman) is given an ultimatum: post 6,000 letters in a year or face being cut off from his inheritance. His family owns the postal business, so working as a mailman in a miserable, remote island of Smeerensburg is a real come down. Finding, on arrival, a town torn by family feuds, Jesper doesn’t see any chance of hitting that 6,000 letter-mark until meeting a mysterious toymaker named Klaus (Simmons) who gives Jesper an idea to turn things around. Fresh take on the Santa Claus myth, Klaus tells a good story and compliments it with unique, well-crafted animation. It may seem an odd complaint but it lacks what I would describe as the Christmas spirit for most of the film. For the majority of its run time, we see everything through Jesper’s jaded eyes and Christmas is seen as a commercial opportunity. It’s not until the very end that Klaus really brings it home.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(792)

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-

(778)

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-

(683)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992, Directed by Christopher Columbus) English 7

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

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(7-Very 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)