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)

Donkey Skin (1970, Directed by Jacques Demy) French 7

Starring Catherine Deneuve, Jean Marais, Delphine Seyrig, Jacques Perrin, Micheline Presle

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(7-Very Good Film)

Campy. Imaginative. Distinct.

Donkey Skin, as adapted by Jacques Demy, is a genuinely bizarre fairy tale. Based on a story by Charles Perrault (who also wrote Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty), I was unfamiliar with this one. A king (Marais) loses his wife (Deneuve) but promises just before her death to only remarry if the girl is more beautiful than her. Finding no one that qualifies for so long, the king eventually notices his daughter, the Princess (also Deneuve), has blossomed into the most beautiful girl in all the kingdom. Determined to produce a male heir, he demands his daughter’s hand in marriage. She responds by consulting a kind but mischievous witch, The Lilac Fairy (Seyrig), who has her wear the carcass of a magical donkey in order to escape a life as her father’s bride. Yes, it’s a strange tale told with relish. It’s a beautiful film to look at with Deneuve at its center in the most spectacular dresses, and like Demy’s other musicals, the soundtrack is lovely. There’s horror, beauty, humor, romance, fantastic creatures, lessons to be learned, songs to be sung. All expressed with Jacques Demy’s abundant imagination and a profusion of style, though, unlike some of Perrault’s other stories, Donkey Skin seems to lack any true depth.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(825)

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)