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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Christmas Movies: The Ref

The RefImage via WikipediaThe last 20 years have brought more adult-oriented Christmas movies to the theaters than ever before. The Ref is part of that wave and is one of the better ones, in my humble opinion.

How could a movie go wrong with a cast like this: Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play a warring couple, Glynis Johns is Spacey's character's witch of a mother, Christine Baranski is his nasty sister and Denis Leary is their Christmas Eve captor. When all these people get together under the umbrella of a great script, the results are hilarious. I especially liked the way the underbelly of the story -- the disastrous relationship between the unhappy couple held captive by a criminal -- is played against a picture-perfect New England Christmas tableau. In the end, no one is who he or she seems.

Be forewarned, however, if you don't like Denis Leary's
brand of comedy, you probably won't like this movie. But if you can take his high energy/anger level, I think you'll enjoy the fresh perspective The Ref brings to the genre.

Here are two scenes from The Ref (foul language alert)

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Christmas Movies: A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first Peanuts television special.Image via WikipediaA perennial Christmas favorite

Although not a movie per se, the A Charlie Brown Christmas special qualifies to be on this blog just on the basis of its popularity. Anyone who grew up from the 1960s on has probably seen this -- many times. If you have, you know it's almost impossible to get that song out of your head. You know the one I mean!

In addition to a catchy song, A Charlie Brown Christmas also delivers a sweet message of love and brotherhood that's so appropriate at Christmas-time (and any time, for that matter). That's the reason it won Emmy and Peabody awards and is one television show that parents don't mind their kids seeing year after year.

Here are two video excerpts from the classic special:

Linus explains the meaning of Christmas.

Here's that song you won' be able to get out of your head. (You can thank me later.)

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Friday, May 16, 2008

For the Love of Christmas Movies

It's a Wonderful LifeImage via WikipediaI love Christmas. And since I also love movies, it follows that I love Christmas movies! Most of them are unrealistic and corny but the same could be said about how some people celebrate Christmas. It's probably best not to pull on that thread, though, lest our world unravel.

If you love the holiday as I do, you forgive the sillier parts of it in favor of the warmth and sense of camaraderie that is ushered in on Thanksgiving weekend. Never mind that the joy and let's-all-love-each-otherness then goes down for a nearly year-long nap on New Year's morning. At least we have that love for a while. Even better that it recurs every year on a planet-wide basis.

But if you're a fan of Christmas movies, you don't have to wait until the days get shorter to enjoy the holiday. No one says you can't close the blinds to keep out summer's heat, get a tall glass of iced tea and watch It's a Wonderful Life in July. If, like me, that's your brand of fun; stay tuned to this blog for reviews of some great and not so great Christmas movies.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Sister Blog

Our sister blog, Rita's Romantic Movies, has been taken down by Blogger in error.

By their own admission, Blogger sometimes mistakenly marks some blogs as spam in an effort to stop the legions of blogs that truly are spam. This is understandable. The problem, though, is that even when you appeal, it takes weeks to have a ruling made and the blog restored. So, we don't know when Rita will return. But we hope you'll visit her when she does!