Friday, November 14, 2008

Christmas Movies: White Christmas

White Christmas album coverImage via WikipediaWhat can you say about White Christmas, the grandaddy of all Christmas movies? Although it could be argued that it's corny (even Rosemary Clooney said as much in the DVD commentary), you can't ignore that the best of the best were involved with bringing it to the screen.

With a score by Irving Berlin, the movie could have been predicted to be a hit before they even started shooting. Legend has it that Irving Berlin said to his secretary after staying up all night writing the immortal hit, "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — hell, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

Adding to the joy brought by the title song White Christmas (which was actually introduced to the public in 1942 in Holiday Inn) and other songs that were written especially for the film, were the stars how were chosen to bring the movie to life. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are perfect together as sometimes-bickering show-biz partners. The scene in the nightclub where they sing Sisters is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. For those who have seen it: Crosby laughing at the end of the number was supposed to be an outtake. But it was so funny, it was left in.

Rosemary Clooney also lent her considerable star power to the movie and Vera Ellen (reputed to be one of the best movie dancers ever) danced her heart out. All this was enhanced by amazing wardrobes for all the characters, care of famous movie costumer Edith Head.

With all that behind the scenes, it's hard not to enjoy White Christmas. It has the obligatory happy ending of holiday movies from that era, which means that after two hours of being entertained, you'll have plenty of ho-ho-ho to put in your Christmas stocking.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Christmas Movies: Die Hard

Die HardImage via WikipediaIf you like a little (or a whole lot of) action in your Christmas movies, you'll love 1988's Die Hard.

Bruce Willis, who stars as Die Hard's main character John McClane, says he "got invited to the Christmas party by mistake." And boy, are we glad he did. McClane is witty, macho and caring all at once; who wouldn't love a guy like that? And how else could we have so much fun watching 12 terrorists try to wreak havoc in a Los Angeles high-rise on Christmas Eve?

Willis kicks butt for over two hours in this suspenseful, action-packed movie that personifies Christmas for a certain generation of people who grew up watching it as part of their holiday routine. It's great fun, but I have to give the standard disclamer: don't start kids too young watching this movie. It's intense and there's plenty of language tender ears don't need to hear. But if you're older, by all means, enjoy this blood-pressure-raising ode to Christmas.

Here's the trailer for Die Hard:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christmas Movies: The Holiday

* Contains spoilers *

This 2006 Christmas movie features four very likable stars and another even more likable aging sidekick in the form of Eli Wallach.

When the characters played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz both decide they need to get away from men and their lives in general one Christmas season, they use the Internet to swap houses. Since they live six thousand miles apart, these two sophisticated women suddenly become fish out of water. Almost before they knew what happened, Diaz's character Amanda finds herself in the romantic cottage in England owned by Winslet's character Iris. And Iris took a few steps up the real estate food chain by ensconcing herself in Amanda's large Los Angeles house.

Enter Jude Law and Jack Black. Law, who plays Iris's brother Graham, stumbles upon Amanda and you can guess the romantic results of these two pretty people pairing up. Iris, on the other hand, meets Jack Black's character, Miles. Miles is otherwise engaged with another woman, but the course of love eventually runs true and these two opposites attract in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.

We've seen it all before, but as "they" say, there's nothing new under the sun. What is new in this movie is the combination of these four stars. Each one is charming in his or her own way, and together they craft a fun and believable story that will warm your heart for the holidays.

Here's the trailer for The Holiday:

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Empire Magazine Movie Reviewer's Top Five Christmas Movies

Rod Yates of Empire Magazine reveals his top-five favorite Christmas movies in this podcast with Jen of Here they are:
  1. Die Hard
  2. Trading Places
  3. The Holiday (read our review)
  4. Home Alone
  5. Bad Santa (read our review)
Do you agree?

And here are a few of Jen's favorites:
  1. Gremlins
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)
Now check out the podcast:

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Christmas Movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before ChristmasImage via WikipediaOnce in a while, a creative soul comes along who has a vision of Christmas images unlike anyone who came before. Tim Burton is one of those people. Whether you like his style or not, you have to give it to him that he's unique. I happen to like the way he expresses himself, because he somehow makes the creepy acceptable and even cozy.

That's the case with The Nightmare Before Christmas. There's a warm-fuzziness about the netherworld Burton filled with oddball animated characters. But he loves contrast too. He created his main character, Jack Skellington (who not surprisingly is a skeleton) and a colorful world of ghouls and goblins who lived for Halloween, and then plunged them into a world unfamiliar to them: Christmas. The effect is calculated and it works. The juxtaposition of ghostly and sometimes even gory characters with the sweetness of the people who live in Christmas Town could soften the heart of
even the most hardened Goth.

But sentimentality aside, one of the main reasons to watch this movie is to see the cutting edge animation. It was the first film to
be fully animated using a stop-motion technique that had previously been used just for special effects. As a result, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects -- only to lose to those darn Jurassic Park dinosaurs. No problem; awards don't mean anything in Christmas Town. The movie is just as wonderful whether Tim Burton's animators have Oscar statues on their mantels or not.

Here's the trailer for The Nightmare Before Christmas:

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Christmas Movies: Bad Santa

Bad SantaImage via Wikipedia* Contains spoilers *

When it comes to adult-oriented Christmas movies, Bad Santa has to be the king of the genre. There has never been a more foul-mouthed, nasty Christmas movie than this. And that's actually a good thing.

When children write letters to Santa, this isn't the Santa that gets their letters. Thank goodness! In the hands of lesser actors, this Santa would be a complete disaster. But the fact that Billy Bob Thornton crafted a character so completely without value as a human being actually works in Bad Santa's favor. You know in the end he has to reform just a little -- just enough to keep people who get depressed by the holidays from gun play. So his being such a reprobate allows the ending to be upbeat without the usual gee-golly-gosh sentimentality you find in Christmas movies.

When you add Tony Cox as Santa's almost-moral criminal co-hort, Bernie Mac as the corrupt department store manager and the late John Ritter as a persnickety store salesperson (his performance alone makes it worth seeing the movie), you have a cast that knows its way around comedy. Also lending a hand to up the comedy level are Lauren Tom and Lauren Graham, and Brett Kelly, the sweet and innocent child around whom the heart of this strange but wonderful Christmas movie beats.

Take a look at what a bad Santa he is (foul language alert):

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