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)

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)