Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Trading Places (1983)

John Landis is a great director. Well, he WAS. It's been a while since we saw him working at his prime, but Trading Places is one of his best movies. In fact, if Landis hadn't also given us a classic werewolf flick and The Blues Brothers then this could well have been his crowning achievement.

The story is quite simple. Two rich old men (the Duke brothers, played by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) make a bet over the effects of nature vs. nurture. To test their theory, they take their shining employee Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and ruin his life. Louis loses his job, his fiance, his money and most of his self-respect in a series of humiliating trials all set up by the Dukes. At the same time, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is plucked from his hustling, hand-to-mouth lifestyle and offered almost everything that Louis had. The two have traded places, hence the title of the movie. Will Billy Ray become a success, or will he abuse his position to make even more money for himself? And will Louis turn to crime as misfortune piles upon misfortune?

Although it runs for almost 2 hours, with editing never being a strong point for Landis, this zips along at a cracking pace, with quality gags written into every scene, some subtle and some front and centre. This is partly thanks to the script, by Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris, but equally thanks to the performances from everyone involved.

Murphy is at his best, the early '80s was arguably the peak of his career, and he delivers almost every line with confidence and sass. Aykroyd just about avoids making you hate him during the opening scenes of the movie, although it's a close call, and it gets easier to enjoy his company as things unravel for him at greater and greater speed. Ameche and Bellamy are delightfully horrid schemers, playing brilliantly off one another from start to finish. Denholm Elliott also does well as the butler who starts off attending to Aykroyd and is then told to take care of Murphy instead, and Jamie Lee Curtis set many hearts a-flutter as Ophelia, the "hooker with a heart" who takes pity on Aykroyd and tries to help him out of his current jam. Paul Gleason is as good as he always is, James Belushi monkeys around in the third act, Kristin Holby is the fiance ashamed of Aykroyd's downward mobility, and there are a couple of cameos worth keeping your eyes peeled for (as usual with a John Landis movie).

For getting the best out of his cast, and treating the material so well, Landis has to be credited with doing a good job here. He certainly had a knack, at one point, of getting great scripts into the hands of the right people for the roles, which does half of his work for him, in my book. There's nothing spectacular here on the technical side, but it's all smooth and well put together. Most importantly, it's all constructed perfectly around the performances and the gags.

If you haven't yet seen this movie then I implore you to get to it as soon as you can. It's an enduring comedy that hasn't lost any of its power in the past few decades. And it then provides you with an extra laugh whenever you get around to watching Coming To America.


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Catch A Christmas Star (2013)

Although it's admittedly a very cheap movie, Catch A Christmas Star tries to do the best it can with limited resources. And its main resource is the lovely Shannon Elizabeth, which was enough to keep me happy for most of the runtime.

Elizabeth plays a pop star, Nikki Crandon, who is about to head back to her home town for a big Christmas concert and a major push for her latest album. As she arrives in town, one young girl (Julia Lalonde) finds out that her widowed father (Steve Byers) used to date Nikki. In fact, he may still hold a candle for her. The girl heads off, with little brother (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf) in tow, to make something happen. She just doesn't really know how to do it.

Directed by John Bradshaw, and written by Rickie Castaneda, I have to say that this is better than some of their other collaborations. There are a number of fairly painless songs throughout the soundtrack, the characters are all enjoyable enough, and the main romantic hurdle - seeing what can happen under the glare of the media spotlight - is a fun one that hasn't been overused, in my experience anyway.

The leads help immensely. Elizabeth is always watchable, Byers is nice enough for the main potential romance to be believable, Lalonde and Breitkopf are both good, with the former shining extra bright in a couple of scenes that allow her to show some solid acting chops, and Christopher Jacot is fairly amusing as Carmine, assistant to Elizabeth's character, and also a friend when she needs one most.

What really doesn't help is the fact that the film incorporates moments that should have been left to the imagination. A major pop star making a TV appearance at a major event? Feel free to just play some audio and show the reactions of other characters instead of placing Elizabeth and some other unfortunate actress in front of some inferior green screen work. A major pop star performing a major concert? Again, perhaps audio work would be best, or to just skip over that moment entirely, instead of showing some stock crowd footage before cutting to . . . . . . . . . . . . . a shot that shows us the backs of about a dozen people, at most, pretending to be part of a huge crowd event. It just doesn't work. Even focusing on shots that JUST show Elizabeth singing away doesn't help. Viewers will watch the scene and keep thinking that this is a big-budget moment created for about $10.

I guess you could take off a point or two if you don't like Shannon Elizabeth as much as I do, which is a lot, but you may be pleasantly surprised to find that there are enough other nice touches here, outwith the budgetary constraints, to make this worth a watch. I'm not going to stake my reputation on it though. Mainly because it's too big a gamble, but also because I have NO reputation worth staking.


Can't find this on shiny disc just now, but here are some other festive flicks to consider -

Monday, 29 December 2014

Christmas In Wonderland (2007)

A light-hearted family movie that squanders a half-decent cast, Christmas In Wonderland is enjoyable enough. It just could have been much better.

Patrick Swayze is a father to three children, and he's not looking forward to Christmas. The family have just relocated, only for his job to fall through. Trying to hide this fact from the kids, dad takes them all to the local mall (which is quite spectacular) and asks the eldest boy to look after his two younger siblings. The eldest obviously makes a break for it as soon as possible, which leaves the two younger children free to find a bag of counterfeit cash that they immediately begin spending, much to the chagrin of the two thieves (Chris Kattan and Preston Lacy) who lost it, and the cop (Tim Curry) trying to crack the case.

The script here is as weak as you'd expect it to be. Writers Wanda Birdsong Shope, James Orr (who also directed the movie) and Jim Cruickshank mix the usual seasonal magic with a plot that crosses Blank Cheque and Unaccompanied Minors, forgetting to include any fun factor that made both of those movies slightly more enjoyable. There are some amusing moments of randomness, including one actor (Matthew Walker) popping up in a variety of guises, but those don't make up for the many weaker moments.

With his director's hat on, Orr does what's needed of him, and nothing more. His best decisions seem to have been made while casting the film, and it's a shame that he gives no consideration to things like pacing, predictability, or even potential tension. Viewers won't ever feel that the children here are in any danger, which makes it harder to keep caring about individual moments leading up to the final reel.

Swayze is just fine in his role, although he spends a lot of time on the sidelines while the film focuses on the adventures of the kids. Cameron Bright is suitably stubborn and moody as the older son, Matthew Knight is personable enough as the middle sibling, and both Amy and Zoe Schlagel work together to portray the youngest of the three, a little girl who still believes in Santa and Christmas magic and happy endings being a rule rather than an exception. Preston Lacy may have been someone who made me laugh as part of the Jackass crew, but he's annoying here from the very first moment that he opens his mouth. Kattan does a bit better, despite having to share almost all of his scenes with Lacy. And Carmen Electra has fun as the third criminal, the one who expects to sit back and let the two men do all the work for her to reap the rewards. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the performance from Tim Curry, but he decides to try out an accent that just doesn't ever sound right, subsequently undercutting the amusement that his character could have provided.

Kids will, obviously, enjoy this a bit more, and it's not irredeemably bad. It's just not that good, especially when considering how much it has in common with those other movies I already mentioned: decent child actors, one or two big (well . . . . . big-ish) names, incompetent crooks, a montage moment, and even some love in the air for the older lad. The addition of some Christmas magic should have been enough to make this a superior family film. Sadly, it's not.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Happy Ero Christmas (2003)

AKA Happy Naked Christmas.

I'll start this review with a disclaimer. This is a movie that I've been able to find out very little about. None of the credits were translated on the print that I viewed, and the little information I have here was gleaned from some time spent scouring the internet (not always the most reliable source of information - which is something easy to forget).

Happy Ero Christmas is a South Korean movie that stars Cha Tae-hyun as a police officer who falls in love with a young woman (Kim Seon-a) who works in a local bowling alley. Unfortunately, the young woman has also caught the eye of a local gangster (Park Yeong-gyu), a criminal that Tae-hyun is intent on arresting after a childhood incident that has stayed with him throughout his entire life. In fact, it was the reason that he became a police officer. There are also sub-plots about a young man who thinks he just wants to experience sex until he starts to realise that there's something more, and a young woman trying to win a "Miss Spa" competition.

Directed by Lee Geon-dong, who also co-wrote the screenplay, this is a strange film for the way it takes material that could have easily been very dark, and violent, and generally keeps things light enough for teenagers to enjoy. It's a 15-cert that could have easily been an 18, to use the standard classifications here in the UK. Many may hate this approach, but I found it pleasantly surprising, albeit jarring during the scenes in which things turned more serious. Sadly, there's no real style to the film, nothing tying it together. Some scenes have good visuals, some don't, and the same can be said of the audio. This leaves it feeling like a sloppy mix of ill-suited ingredients.

Tae-Hyun is good enough in his role, Yeong-gyu also does well as the stern, calm gangster that we've seen in many other movies, and Seon-a is nice enough to be the romantic lead, I guess. She starts off a bit aloof, but soon shows some warmth once she meets our hero. There are other people onscreen too, and all of them do well enough, but the focus is never too far away from the central love triangle.

Although I quite enjoyed this movie, it's hard to think of anyone else I would recommend it too. It's not quirky and bright enough for those who like ridiculous comedies. It's not violent or disturbing enough for those who like that kind of fare. And it's not good enough in any other way to make it a film that you should prioritise on your viewing list. There's a chance that some people will simply enjoy it as I did, although there's an equal chance that I'm on my own with this one. Such is the ignorant bliss of the easily pleased.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Three Dogateers (2014)

Don't judge me. I don't mind watching movies aimed at kids. In fact, most of the time they're absolutely on my wavelength, which supports the many times that my wife has accused me of immaturity. The fact that I respond to that accusation by blowing raspberries may further support the idea, but that's beside the point. Anyway, I had another reason for watching The Three Dogateers. Actor Bill Oberst Jr, a hard-working thespian who I always try to support in everything that he does (although, admittedly, he does so much that I struggle to keep up half the time).

Unfortunately, I didn't like this film.

The story concerns three dogs, of course. They've been left home alone when their master (Dean Cain) has to rush off to meet a client. He wants to get there, make his pitch, and get home as quickly as possible, allowing himself time to get everything ready for the Christmas dinner that his partner will be expecting when she walks back through the door. Anyway, while he's away, a couple of robbers break in and help themselves to the tree and gifts. The three dogs (small, white and cute - not exactly the best guard dogs) decide to track the thieves, which results in them eventually being stranded in the middle of nowhere. Who can help them get home in time for Christmas? Perhaps a Santa Claus (Richard Riehle), but only if they can avoid the clutches of a master dogcatcher named Barney Gloatt (Oberst Jr), a man who only needs to catch three more dogs to break a world record.

My Spidey-sense started tingling when I saw how many hats Jesse Baget was wearing on this movie. Not that I dislike Baget. I wasn't even aware of him before this movie, although checking out his filmography has reminded me of a couple of titles that I've been meaning to see at some point. He wrote, directed and co-produced the movie. He also provides two of the main dog voices, with Danielle Judovits providing the third.

That tingling got stronger when the dogs started "talking". I expected them to talk, of course, but I didn't expect the FX work to appear quite so cheap and ill-fitting. You could say that I was naive there, and the film can only work within the budget it has, but I would counter by suggesting that Baget could have gotten around this problem by either a) simply allowing the dogs to be voicing thoughts that only other dogs could hear or b) simply shooting less scenes that put all focus on a dog with CGI mouth movements stuck in front of its face.

The acting style is broad, no doubt about that, and no crime in it either. This is aime squarely at kids. Movements and quirks are exaggerated, with most of the adults appearing onscreen shown to be stumbling, bumbling figures obviously needing help from, or to be outsmarted by, the three dogs. Cain only has a few scenes, and he's over the top in all of them, while Riehle basically comes in for the final third of the movie and has the easier job of playing a mall Santa. Oberst Jr. has the biggest role, and he has fun being a cartoonish villain. My biggest problem with his performance was the accent, which seemed to start off as Eastern European and then switch, at some point, to French. The man usually isn't so inconsistent, which leaves me to wonder whether or not writer-director-producer-dogateer Baget started the movie with one idea and then decided to change things as he went along.

Younger children should be reasonably amused by this, but only if you catch them at just the right time. There are some amusing verbal gags, a few ill-timed farts, and a sequence in which the dogs make good their getaway by driving a car (never mind the physical impossibility of it all - it's teamwork, dammit). And the dogs are cute.

Everyone else should probably give this one a miss.


Watch it instantly here -

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Friday, 26 December 2014

Go (1999)

Directed by Doug Liman, and written by John August, Go is often described to people as a teen version of Pulp Fiction. Seriously, you'll find that phrase in almost every major review of the movie, so I decided not to buck the trend here. It's got drugs, some violence, plenty of dark humour, a great soundtrack, and a few main events shown from the viewpoints of different characters, which all means that the comparison point is a good one, even if Pulp Fiction is itself hugely influenced by a multitude of movies to have come before it.

Anyway, let me try to describe the various escapades. First of all, we get Ronna (Sarah Polley) looking to make some quick money as she faces eviction over the Christmas holiday season. She seizes her chance when a couple of guys (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) come into her work looking for her colleague, Simon (Desmond Askew). Simon often sells drugs so when these two potential customers start to enquire about any other potential supply avenues, Ronna decides to arrange a sale. She then has to buy product from dealer Todd Gaines (Timothy Olyphant), which puts her at serious risk if anything goes wrong during the proposed exchange. Things go wrong. Meanwhile, Simon is having a blast in Las Vegas with his friends (Taye Diggs, Breckin Meyer and James Duval). Vegas is such a glorious place to be, as long as nothing goes wrong. Things go wrong. There's more to discover here, but part of the joy of the film is finding out how the tales are interconnected and just what changes when seen from a different viewpoint.

Liman and August do a fantastic job here, keeping the energy levels up without the film every feeling hyperactive, and peppering conversations with great lines and references without it feeling overly-stylised. They also take a number of standard situations that we've seen done many times before and manage to give each one a twist, often weaving confidently between the sublie and the ridiculous. All of this would be impossible if it wasn't for the fantastic ensemble cast, taking the material and elevating every bit of it.

Polley, Wolf, Mohr, Askew and Diggs have rarely been better, and Olyphant is as great as he always is. Then we have William Fichtner as a slightly strange lawman, Jane Krakowski as his equally strange wife, Nathan Bexton as a pill-popper who hallucinates about conversations with cats and dancing with strangers to the Macarena, and even Katie Holmes does okay in her role. There's even a small, fun role for Melissa McCarthy that's worth looking out for.

There's one character I have yet to mention, and that is the soundtrack. Jam-packed with cracking tunes, Go has one of the best soundtracks of the 1990s. It's one that I listen to a lot, and it's also one that perfectly complements the visual style of the film. From the opening Columbia Pictures logo to the closing credits, this is another film that proves just how important the perfect song choice can be.

It's worth noting that what I find fun and cool could just as easily be viewed as tiresome and annoying by someone else. This is a film I used to recommend heartily to everyone until I started to realise that not everyone was won over by it in the same way as I was. I still heartily recommend it, but now do so with the standard, usually unspoken, proviso: No film is for everyone.


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)

There are many ways in which the differences between American comedy and British comedy can be categorised. The two styles have moments when they grow closer, and even intertwine, but it's often the case that they can be given the following stereotype labels: American comedy is brash and loud, often wanting to make things larger than life (literally when you look at the many overweight people who have tickled the collective U.S. funnybone), while British comedy is full of wit, irony, and a more subtle approach. Of course, it's possible to pick prime examples from either side of the pond that absolutely contradict these generalisations, and it's possible to pick examples that adhere to them perfectly. You can't tar everything with the same brush, BUT there's certainly a tendency for either territory to aim for the respective favoured style, as it's commonly (mis)perceived.

And I've said all of that just to set the scene for Ernest Saves Christmas. You see, Ernest is a comic creation who certainly goes for the loud and brash approach. Brought to life by Jim Varney, he's a well-intentioned fool, often yapping on to whoever happens to be in earshot while he causes havoc around him.

In this particular adventure, Ernest ends up with Santa (Douglas Seale) in the back of his cab. He also picks up a young girl (Harmony, played by Noelle Parker) who is trying to live on the streets with only her wits to help her. After some confusion over money, Santa ends up on his way without having paid his taxi fare, Ernest is fired from his job, and it turns out that in the back of the cab there sits . . . . . . . a fancy red sack. It takes a while for Ernest and Harmony to put two and two together, which gives Santa time to get himself in trouble as he contacts the man (Oliver Clark) he wants to be his replacement.

A lot of your reaction to Ernest Saves Christmas will depend on how you react to the main character. I wasn't entirely won over. Varney is fun, he can certainly move between dim-witted slowness to manic, nervous energy with ease, but I soon found the constant chatter and occasional impressions to be a little grating. Mind you, when he transforms himself on a couple of different occasions then I admit that I found myself smiling a bit more, having as much fun as Varney seemed to be having during his moments of "freedom" from the central character.

Director John R. Cherry III keeps things ticking over nicely, if unspectacularly, and the script (by B. Kline and Ed Turner) throws in everything that you'd expect, and want, from such a film. Santa being treated like a confused old man is a common trope, elves coming along to help is another, and nobody should be surprised by the attempts at heart-warming moments in the third act. But few other movies, if any, show the problems that can be caused by flying reindeer stuck in customs. This, and the other genuinely amusing moments sprinkled throughout, make the film worth a watch.

Oh, I should really mention the rest of the cast. Seale is a decent Santa, which is important, Parker is likable enough, even when she strays from the path that everyone wants her to take, and Clark is solid. Robert Lesser is great as Marty, an agent looking after Clark's character, and Gailard Sartain and Bill Byrge are both a lot of fun as the two men who find themselves with a surprisingly light-footed herd of reindeer. Billie Bird also has a small role, and is as delightful as always.

I'm sure that most kids will enjoy this, and it's also far from the worst of oh-so-many Christmas movies that you could choose from. I just didn't love it.


MERRY CHRISTMAS. You know how you can show your appreciation for bloggers? If you share and share then every additional reader helps. Connect through Google or Blogger or any way you can, and rest easy in the knowledge that you've made little ol' me a very happy man.

And if you're wondering what to do with some of those Amazon vouchers that Santa may have brought you . . . . . . . you could also buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

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As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

One Starry Christmas (2014)

I just don't understand it. I'm easily pleased, I'm often about as easily pleased as you can get, and yet there are still movies that come along that get my rage rising from almost the very first scene, despite having the resources available to do better. The worst thing for a movie to do is be dull, but it's also terrible when a film feels lazy, and gives the sense that viewers aren't being treated with anything other than disdain. As is the case with One Starry Christmas.

Sarah Carter plays Holly Jensen, a young woman (and astronomer, hence the title) who heads back to visit her folks for Christmas, also hoping to surprise her potential fiance (Paul Popowich). She ends up sitting on a bus alongside a genuine cowboy type (Damon Runyan), which proves fortunate when the bus breaks down and Mr. Gentleman Cowboy helps her out. To repay the favour, she ends up inviting him for a bite to eat with her folks, who then end up inviting him to Christmas dinner, insisting that he also brings along his brother. The potential fiance isn't too happy about this, but that's okay because he's a bit of a douchebag anyway. Sort of. Well, the movie needs to paint him that way to lead everyone to a predictable final act.

Rickie Castaneda is the man responsible for this weak script, one that alternates between Christmas cliches and cowboy cliches (of course he has great manners, and of course he opts to show everyone how to line dance when the opportunity arises). Director John Bradshaw does nothing to distract from the horrible material, presenting everything in a flat, plain manner that seems to show a complete lack of imagination/interest.

Carter, Popowich and Runyan all try to do something decent, I suppose, with what they're given, but none of them make a great impression. Actually, I'm telling a small lie there because I spent a lot of the movie considering just how much time Popowich spent bemoaning the fact that he would always be "the guy who looks like Paul Rudd, but isn't Paul Rudd". Kathleen Laskey and Neil Crone do better, however, in the role of Holly's parents. Both believe in a very romantic idea of love, although the former is more open and vocal about it while the latter sometimes hides behind humour to tease more of a reaction from his wife. George Canyon gets to join Runyan in the "who can be stuck playing a more cliched cowboy?" performance stakes, and Daniel Karasik is a dot com millionaire who hosts a party that lets gentleman cowboy shine (yes, the line dancing occurs there).

Not JUST lazy and careless, One Starry Christmas also has one or two moments that will make you cringe with embarrassment. I feel sorry for everyone involved, who will all either go on to build a CV that this will be omitted from or end up stuck in permanent TV movie hell.*

*Not that all TV movies are bad. But the bad ones are . . . . . . . . . . BAD.


Not available on shiny disc at the moment, so go for this pack instead -

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Night They Saved Christmas (1984)

So there's an oil company drilling in a number of different Arctic site and one of those sites is situated far too close to Santa's village, meaning that the drilling has caused some problems and any blasting could cause permanent, major damage. It could mean the end of Christmas. Which is why one elf heads out, chats to one of the workers, and then takes his family on a trip to see Santa with their own eyes. If they can see what's at stake then maybe they can help to convince the oil company to relocate.

I wasn't sure what to expect when The Night They Saved Christmas began. After all, it was all about a small group of folk trying to interrupt a major American company drilling for oil. And one small, loyal figure effectively kidnaps the family of one important figure. Would this be a tinsel-covered predecessor to Syriana?

Of course not. Instead, this is a pleasant, old-fashioned, look at Santa Claus (played here by Art Carney) and the work that goes in to making Christmas happen. Jim Moloney and David Niven Jr. are the two main writers who have fun building this winter wonderland, throwing in a number of nice details and enjoyable explanations for the magic that we all know must be used to make Christmas happen. Director Jackie Cooper does okay, even willing to throw in some stop-motion effects to realise some of the sights on display. Yet he can't quite strike the right balance, meaning that the film moves from moments of wonderment to moments of tedium (pretty much any scene set in the world of the oil workers) to moments of cringe-inducing awfulness.

Paul Williams is the main elf, Ed, who makes everything happen, and he's okay in his role. Well, he's a bit irritating and patronising, but as he's playing an elf it feels unfair to put all of the blame on the actor without considering the notes he may have been given for the performance required. Jaclyn Smith is the mother who allows herself and her children to be taken away by this diminutive would-be-kidnapper, and she does fine. Carney is a decent Santa, June Lockhart makes a good Mrs. Claus, and Paul Le Mat and Mason Adams are both acceptable enough as the two main men in charge of the drilling, with the former also being the husband of Smith's character (making it more urgent for him to discover just where the hell his wife and kids have disappeared to).

To give credit where it's due, this tries to show the nuts and bolts, figuratively speaking, of just how a magical Christmas is created. With a bit more care, and less time spent in the world of the oil workers, this could have been a minor classic. It even feels like a warm-up for Santa Claus at times, which isn't a bad thing.

Sadly, it just doesn't do enough to lift it above the level of average. That doesn't mean that it's not worth a watch. I'd certainly recommend it ahead of many other movies that you'll see scheduled throughout December. I just can't see a viewing of it ever becoming a recurring yuletide tradition.


Monday, 22 December 2014

Dumb And Dumber To (2014)

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return to play Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne in this sequel to the 1994 comedy that showed Hollywood just how much money could be made from dumb.

As is the case in reality, the two main characters have seen 20 years go by since their last big adventure. It looks like their inactivity must come to an end, however, when Harry confesses that he needs a new kidney. That makes it the perfect time for him to track down the daughter that he has also just found out about. As Lloyd intimates, as soon as Harry bonds with his daughter then he should have a match for a potential kidney donor. And so the two head off on a road trip, one that brings up some familiar situations, including their lives being endangered as they unwittingly upset some bad people with criminal plans.

The Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) are also back in the saddle for this trip down, or at least by, memory lane, and there are one or two fun cameo appearances by people who were given small roles in the first movie. There's also a great cameo from *[redacted to stay spoiler-free]* that ends up being more fun just because of the role, as opposed to the material that anyone is working with.

The supporting players include Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle and Steve Tom as the three main people who end up needing to keep tags on our two leading idiots, Rachel Melvin is the estranged daughter who has gone off on her own journey, and Kathleen Turner is the infamous Fraida Felcher, mother to the young girl and ex-girlfriend of Harry (and also, if you recall, possibly Lloyd). But, as was the case the first time around, this is a showcase for Carrey and Daniels to let loose and channel every dumb urge they've ever had, and they do one helluva job. Slipping back into the characters comfortably enough, the interplay between the two provides more fun than any of the one-liners or the weak set-pieces.

Remember when it was hilarious to watch Jeff Daniels go through some bowel-related torture before he was due to go out with a beautiful young woman? The biggest set-piece in Dumb & Dumber was also, arguably, the grossest. But it worked. It still does. I laugh long and hard every time I watch that sequence. And I'll return to it many times before ever wanting to revisit a scene in this movie that sees a character inadvertently pleasuring a bed-ridden old woman as he searches for something hidden under some bedsheets. Remember when it was hilarious to watch that dream sequence in which Carrey turned into a kung-fu killer? Yes, the sequel also revisits that moment, and pretty much sets it up in exactly the same way. These two examples highlight the main failing here, because when the film isn't trying to top, or even repeat, the gags from the first movie it doesn't do too badly.

I was laughing quite often at the smallest verbal gags, and enjoyed a lot of the dumb mispronounciations and misunderstandings a lot more than any of the material that placed Riggle alongside the two leads in moments far too reminiscent of the scenes that featured Mike Starr in the first movie. Sean Anders and John Morris are the main writers this time around, but I can imagine a fair bit of improvisation took place, and the Farrely brothers may have also had their own ideas on set, so I'm not going to place the blame entirely on their shoulders. A lot of the dialogue works. Most of the scatological humour doesn't. This may not have been so obvious if it wasn't always reminding you of how much better the first movie was, from the many joke callbacks (which, to be fair, often provided an extra little chuckle), to the pacing and beats of the road trip, to the soundtrack choices (I noticed at least a couple of tunes recycled from the soundtrack of the first movie).

I hope this is wraps everything up for Lloyd and Harry now. There are laughs to be had here, but I was left ultimately disappointed. And that's coming from someone who didn't actively hate Dumb And Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.


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As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Jingle All The Way 2 (2014)

Daniel Whitney seems to have done quite well for himself in the guise of Larry The Cable Guy, a character so popular that he gets credited with the roles that Whitney performs in most of his movie appearances. Because Whitney is actually playing Larry PLAYING whichever character he's been designated in whichever movie he's been chosen for.

So the biggest problem I had with Jingle All The Way 2 was Larry, the kind of comedy character created specifically to appeal to a large section of America. Some will identify with him, some will laugh AT him, and many will laugh WITH him. Yet he's not the kind of comic creation that we appreciate here in the UK. Not to my knowledge, anyway.

But here's the rub. The biggest problem is also the biggest plus point for the movie. When not going for the laughs, there's a big, albeit misguided at times, heart beating in the chest of that big ol' American boy. And that big heart, let me tell you now, helps this movie edge slightly ahead of the film that precedes it. Despite the very basic core element being the same, a father after the latest must-have toy for his child, this film does a better job of clarifying that it's actually about parental love as opposed to materialism.

Larry plays . . . . . . . . Larry, a dad who wants to treat his daughter (Noel, played by Kennedi Clements) how she deserves to be treated at Christmas. It's especially important this year, due to the fact that Noel now has a step-dad (Victor, played by Brian Stepanek) who can afford to buy her anything she might possibly want. Well, she seems to want a talking bear toy. Larry is determined to get her one. Upon hearing of this, however, Victor is equally determined to stop Larry from achieving this goal. And so begins a frustrating time for Larry as he resorts to increasingly desperate measures in order to get his hands on something that he thinks his daughter wants more than anything else in the world.

Whitney/Larry is good enough in the main role here. Okay, his humour isn't my thing, but the sweet centre is hard not to warm to, especially in the context of a Christmas movie. Clements is equally sweet, in fact a bit sweeter, as the little girl perplexed by the actions of the adults around her. Stepanek is given the role of bad guy, and plays his part well, while Eric Breker is his right hand man, the one charged with getting those toy bears cleared from every shelf, and he's suitably stealthy and shady, for the most part. Anthony Carelli (AKA Santino Marella), Kirsten Robek and Rachel Hayward, among others, also do just fine in their roles.

The script by Stephen Mazur (and some other uncredited contributors, apparently) is a bit clumsy and uneven, with a number of the gags not really playing out as well as they could, and a finale that feels a bit rushed, but the direction from Alex Zamm, and the constant work put in by that bloody character I also class as a major problem, is enough to keep the whole thing ticking over pleasantly enough.

It doesn't quite do enough for me to call it a good movie, but this is at least decent enough entertainment for anyone who saw the first movie and is also a fan of Larry The Cable Guy.


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Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Merry Friggin' Christmas (2014)

At this moment in time, I have no idea of how many movies featuring Robin Williams are still due to be released after his untimely death. All I can say is that I hope some of the others are a damn sight better than this one, which I worry will be received positively by people who simply don't want to speak ill of the dead.

And let me clarify something before I go on. Williams is pretty great in this. He's one of three main highlights. So this isn't a review aiming to have a go at him. It's just a review critical of a movie that he happened to be involved with.

Joel McHale plays Boyd Mitchler, a man who has to return to his family home, with his wife (Lauren Graham) and kids, in order to attend the christening of his nephew on December 24th. It doesn't take long until the greetings give way to animosity and resentment. The main friction comes from Boyd and his father (Williams). Boyd's younger brother, Nelson (Clark Duke), reacts to the more volatile moments by running off to hide, while his sister, Shauna (Wendi McLendon-Covey), is fairly nonplussed by the whole situation. She's busy keeping her kids from causing too much damage and telling her father off whenever he accuses her husband (Tim Heidecker) of being a pervert (for reasons that become clear as the movie plays out). To top everything off, Boyd realises that he forgot the main presents for his youngest son. This is probably the last year that he'll believe in Santa Claus and Boyd wants it to be special, unlike his own childhood Christmas experiences. Can he make the trip back to Chicago, and THEN back to Wisconsin, in time? He's certainly going to try his hardest.

Looking at the credit listings for the main talent behind the camera on this movie, it quickly becomes clear just where the problems stem from. Director Tristram Shapeero has a fine body of work to his name, but most, if not all, of it is TV work (including one of the best TV episodes ever for Brass Eye, and many episodes of Community). This would explain why the film never really feels very cinematic. It is, to all intents and purposes, either a TV movie or a couple of episodes serving as the finale/opener of some show. Unfortunately, that means that viewers are taken along for a ride with characters you have no time, or inclination, to get to know better. Oh, they could have been memorable, they could have been people that were worth watching, if the script had been better. That's where first-timer Michael Brown comes in. Seemingly content to line up the hurdles that McHale needs to overcome in order to enjoy Christmas, Brown forgets to create characters that are interesting enough to invest in. He also forgets to create a fluid narrative that leads to a deserved finale, one ripe with the potential for redemption and change. Whatever happens to these characters before the end credits roll, it just seems unearned.

I already mentioned Williams as a highlight. The other main highlights would be Duke and Oliver Platt (as a down and out Santa). Graham, Mclendon-Covey and Candice Bergen (as the mother of the household) also do solid work, but they're given a lot less to do. Heidecker's character really didn't need to be there, which leaves him with very little to do, although all of the child actors do enough to earn their places onscreen. McHale, as much as I like him on TV, can't overcome the script. His character feels more like an irritant than the lead, most of his behaviour is either stupid or simply stubborn (aka stupid), and part of me kept hoping that yet another obstacle would come along to knock him flat on his ass. That surely wasn't the intention.

I would recommend a number of Hallmark/ABC movies over this one, and I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say that. This was really poor, and a waste of some considerable talent. Skip it, unless you're a real Robin Williams completist (and I know there are a few out there).


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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist (2012)

AKA Home Alone 5.

For anyone interested, here are my reviews of Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Home Alone 3 and Home Alone 4. You can buy them all in this handy 4-pack.

Yes, there have now been FIVE Home Alone films. Five. Let that fact sink in, bearing in mind how many fans are still clamouring for one sequel to Dredd.

Christian Martyn plays the young lad who is about to be left home alone, sort of, this time around. He plays Finn Baxter, a boy who quickly becomes convinced that the new home he has moved into is haunted. It's not. What it is, however, is home to a secret stash secreted away many years earlier by a famous bootlegger. That stash includes a painting that some robbers (Malcolm McDowell, Debi Mazar and Eddie Steeples) want to get their hands on. The robbers think that the house will be empty on the night that they plan to raid it, not knowing that the parents have gone off to a party, leaving Finn in the care of his older sister (Jodelle Ferland). And that sister has managed to get herself trapped in the very room that the robbers are most interested in gaining access to. It's up to Finn to deter them, with only household items and his own ingenuity to help.

I'm not sure if I really enjoyed this movie because it was actually a decent movie or simply because it was such a HUGE step up from the dire Home Alone 4, one of the worst viewing experiences I've had in my life (and I try never to exaggerate such things). I'm going to opt for the former option, but people should consider the latter while reading my review.

First off, this film benefits from a decent cast. McDowell, Mazar and Steeples are fairly decent names to get involved with this thing, and they all show a willingness to humiliate themselves for the sake of a few laughs. Everyone has at least one decent comedy moment, but it's Mazar who gets the worst of it, although one hairdo gag seems to make no sense (which doesn't make it any less amusing). Ferland will be recognised by horror fans who already saw her in a variety of movies, including Silent Hill, The Tall Man and The Cabin In The Woods, to name just a few of her impressive list of credits that she's already amassed. She does okay here, although everyone is orbiting around Martyn as he transforms from scared kid into defender of the home. While not overflowing with charm and charisma, and suffering slightly in a montage moment that veers into smug territory, young Martyn isn't too bad in the central role.

The booby traps are good fun, the script by Aaron Ginsburg and Wade McIntyre provides all of the information required to set up the shenanigans, and the direction from Peter Hewitt is perfectly serviceable. The biggest downside of the film is the fact that it seems to take almost an hour before we get to the fun finale. That's similar to every other film in the series, but you feel it more in the later sequels because the rest of the material just never manages to be as fresh or funny as it was the first time around, whereas watching criminals get their cartoon-inspired comeuppance is almost always good fun.

I hope that it's now time to end this franchise, although I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't watch a sixth instalment.


Friday, 19 December 2014

Elves (1989)

You could easily watch Elves and end up in a very bad mood indeed. It's incompetent, ridiculous, full of hilariously bad dialogue, and isn't helped by a lack of blood and gore. Yet, those things made me love it. I was hooked within the first couple of scenes, and then this thing just kept delivering me gift after gift. Oh yes, I realise the irony in that statement.

If I described the full plot of this movie to you then you would assume that I'd been drinking too much mulled wine. Let me just say that there's a dangerous elf on the loose, as you may have surmised already (although there's only one elf actually up to no good, despite the title). There's a man (Dan Haggerty) who gets to play detective after a very short stint as a mall Santa. And one young woman (Kirsten, played by Julie Austin) has to put up with a pervy young brother (Willy, played by Christopher Graham), a spiteful mother (Deanna Lund) and an elderly relative (Borah Silver) who seems to have last seen sanity a long, long time ago. Those are the basics. I'm serious. There's so much more to enjoy here, and I'm not going to spoil it for anyone.

Of course, judged by the usual movies standards this is complete trash. But when you weigh up the sheer amount of fun onscreen, pound for pound, this comes out way ahead of many more prestigious movies. I doubt that any of the good stuff here was intentional, but I don't care.

Writer-director Jeffrey Mandel doesn't have too many other movies to his credit, funnily enough. I'm not going to rush out to see his other work, simply because I doubt he ever bettered this particular gem. I thought that the movie had peaked early when Willy shouted at his sister: "Yeah, you've got fucking big tits and I'm going to tell everybody I saw them." I was wrong. It just got better and better from then on, with highlights including a mall Santa (NOT Haggerty, I hasten to add) obsessed with oral, a connection to some nasty Nazis, and a horrible scene that shows a cat being bagged and drowned. Animal lovers will want to avoid that moment, of course, but - bear with me here - it's actually quite amusing in how ridiculous and sudden it is. And I'm sure that no animals were harmed in the making of the movie. Most of the damage would be to the pride of those involved.

Getting to the technical side of things, the picture is often dark and murky, although it's worth noting that this is a film not given any decent treatment since its VHS release about 25 years ago. There are also inconsistencies in sound levels when conversations take place between people who have been filmed from different angles, and a selection of other, minor errors showing that Mandel didn't always have quality control at the top of his list of priorities.

Austin isn't actually that bad in her role, even when delivering lines like "Yeah, well, I had a rough day at work... Santa got murdered." Haggerty isn't great, but he's okay when compared to the wild overacting from Lund and Silver, who are both entertainingly ridiculous in every scene they have. Graham may not have much screentime, but he certainly makes an impression thanks to that opening argument with his sister that reveals his voyeuristic nature and his foul mouth. Mansell Rivers-Bland is a comical Nazi threat, and Laura Lichstein and Stacey Dye are a couple of young women who also end up endangered by the evil elf.

Don't watch Elves if you want to see something that strives for quality and a polished finish. Do watch it if you want a whole lotta fun. Two wrongs may not make a right, but in movie terms it can often take many negatives to create something positive. Which is the case here.


Buy something . . . . somewhere, but watch Elves here just now - - until it gets a DVD release.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

My 2014 Top 10

I haven't seen every 2014 release yet, and I'm spending January and February playing catch up (including some BIG names, such as the last Hobbit film and a certain bunch of warring apes), but I'm still going to offer up this selection of titles, even if only to recommend one or two films that I hope aren't forgotten as the old year dies during the birthing of the new. Please feel free to reply with your own choices, agreements, disagreements, or any comment about the year just passed. Or even the blog itself.

10. Patrick's Day. Not only did I get to see this ahead of most people, I also managed to grab Terry McMahon for this terrific interview. The film is reviewed here.

9. Set Fire To The Stars. A gorgeous film featuring some gorgeous performances. Reviewed here.

8. Housebound. One of the best horror comedies I've seen in recent years, and there have certainly been some great ones. Reviewed here.

7. The LEGO Movie. Let's say it again. Everything IS awesome. Reviewed here.

6. The Green Inferno. WHY has this not been unleashed in cinemas yet, for horror fans to lap up? It's the best cannibal movie we've had in a long time, and arguably the best film yet from Roth. Reviewed here.

5. The Guest. I was worried that this would let me down. It didn't. Movie fans who miss those glory days of rummaging around at the local video store for an action thriller gem are going to LOVE this one. Review is lined up to kick off 2015, as I couldn't think of a better way to start the new year. Meanwhile, folks can buy it here or catch it on demand NOW.

4. Guardians Of The Galaxy. 99.99999% of the entire world loved this. I was one of them. Reviewed here.

3. Under The Skin. Quite an amazing experience. Reviewed here.

2. Calvary. Not perfect, but makes up for that with the sheer power that it packs in the third act, a real punch to the gut. Reviewed here.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis. Perhaps the only movie that I saw at the cinema this year and left unable to find ANY fault with. A beautiful piece of work. Reviewed here.

GREAT films that I just saw after this deadline: The Wolf Of Wall Street, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Boyhood, Nightcrawler, and Birdman.

Honourable mentions: Paddington, Coherence, The Raid 2, That Guy Dick Miller, Chef, The Skeleton Twins, Snowpiercer, Starry Eys, 22 Jump Street, Cold In July, Hyena, The Canal, The ABCs Of Death 2, What We Do In The Shadows, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, Let's Be Cops, Zip & Zap And The Marble Gang, and many more that I'll think of as soon as this is live online.

And remember that you should really buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

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As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Switchmas (2012)

Writers Douglas Horn, Angie Louise and Sue Corcoran (who also directed) should be ashamed of themselves. Thoroughly ashamed. That's how awful this movie is. How can I best describe it? Well, the first few scenes had me thinking of any number of crappy TV shows aimed just at kids. Then there were a number of Jewish stereotypes thrown in. And then . . . . . . . . . . well, no, that's about all the film really is. A mix of crappy TV show production values and ridiculously stereotypical Jewish people. Take a drink every time someone says "oy" or something related to Judaism is used onscreen and you'll be under the table before the film is even halfway done.

Not that celebrating Judaism is necessarily a bad thing, of course. Everyone is entitled to movies aimed specifically at them. But this doesn't feel as if it's aimed at Jewish people. It feels as if someone has used "Judaism For Dummies" as the basis for a film about Christmas.

Elijah Nelson stars as Ira Finkelstein, a young Jewish boy who wants nothing more than a wonderful Christmas. A big deal, with snow and everything else that he thinks needs to be part of the big day. But that's not to be. He is, instead, being shipped off to his grandparents. They live in Florida. They also haven't seen him in a long, long time. Mikey Amato (Justin Howell) is also about to be shipped off to some relatives who live in Christmastown AKA a suburb of Washington. They also haven't seen their young visitor in some time.  The two boys meet at the airport and decide to switch, asthat will allow Ira to experience the Christmas he longs for while Miley enjoys some sunshine. Things, unsurprisingly, don't quite go according to plan.

Nelson isn't terrible. Neither is Howell. And there's a supporting cast that includes David DeLuise, Cynthia Geary, Angela DiMarco and Elliott Gould. Elliott Gould!!!!! No, the acting isn't the worst thing about this film. It's not great either, mind you, because everyone has to work with the script given to them, and that script reeks, for the most part. I think I've already covered the main reasons for the stench in the first paragraph.

In her directorial role, Corcoran seems intent on serving the writing that she helped to complete. I'll grudgingly admit that there are one or two moments that work, individual scenes that stand out thanks to being stuck amidst the horrible mess that is the rest of the film, but most of the movie proves to be a cringe-inducing, almost physically painful, experience.

If you think of yourself as the kind of person who can be VERY easy to please, or if you're even more masochistic than I am, then you may be able to endure this while throwing enough egg nog down your throat to dull the pain. And vodka. And brandy. And anything else that will eventually numb your brain.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Wind Chill (2007)

Playing out like a mix of Frozen and Dead End, Wind Chill is a decent supernatural horror movie that just lacks that certain something. Perhaps it's the thin characterisations, or perhaps it's the sensation of randomness that affects portions of the film, especially the middle third.

Emily Blunt is the girl who hitches a lift home for the Christmas break. The driver is a young man (Ashton Holmes) who, as it turns out, is really looking forward to spending some time with Miss Blunt. And who can blame him? Well, his passenger can blame him when he takes them along a back road that leads to an accident, leaving them stranded in the cold. The sub-zero temperature is bad enough, but the restless spirits that seem to congregate near their car prove to be even more problematic.

Written by Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz, this is a script that doesn't even name the two main characters. Seriously, they're called Girl and Guy. Thankfully, they seem to have spent more time on the rest of the story, and have paid particular attention to the well-crafted scares and shiver-inducing atmosphere (in terms of both spookiness and physical temperature).

Director Gregory Jacobs does well enough with the basic elements, although there are many times during which the screen feels slightly too dark. Other than that, however, the camerawork seems decent enough, the special effects work well, there's a decent score from Clint Mansell, and there's great use of the song "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree".

Blunt is someone I always tend to like onscreen, and she manages to remain likable here, despite the fact that her character doesn't start off seeming very nice at all. She's quick to complain to the driver about his car, and then spends most of her time talking to someone at the other end of her mobile phone. The script, and Blunt's performance, prevent this behaviour from becoming too annoying, at least until she has genuine reasons to complain. Holmes takes most of this mild abuse in his stride, which becomes easier to understand when his motive becomes clear. He also gives the kind of performance pitched perfectly between sweet and creepy, which allows the movie to twist and turn when things start to wade further into outright horror territory. Martin Donovan is appropriately scary as a nasty Highway Patrolman, and Ned Bellamy is onscreen, seemingly, to pad the running time out by ten minutes or so.

A few people like this more than I did. It's one that I've seen recommended to horror fans every now and again, and most respond well to it. I liked it, and I wanted to like it even more. Unfortunately, that choppy, random middle section just dragged the whole thing down by a couple of points.


Go on, you know you should really buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.
The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Northpole (2014)

Another Christmas, another failing magical system. When will Santa and his elves realise that building a business on a foundation that requires consistent levels of positivity and suspension of disbelief is no way to maintain steady growth without legitimate concerns about the stability of the entire infrastructure? The answer would seem to be never.

This time around it is up to an elf named Clementine (Bailee Madison) to come up with a plan to save Christmas. She does this by encouraging a boy named Kevin (Max Charles) to whip up some Christmas spirit in his new hometown. That's easier said than done. The town isn't even going to have a tree-lighting ceremony this year, as it's apparently too expensive and unappreciated. Kevin's mother, Chelsea (Tiffani Thiessen), is reporting on the whole situation for a local newspaper. She may end up contributing to the fading Christmas spirit, but her pessimism it balanced out by the optimism of Ryan (Kevin's teacher, played by Josh Hopkins).

Poor Bailee Madison. This is far from the worst Christmas TV-movie that I've seen, but it's a shame to see her stuck in such fare after a decent performance in Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark and a scene-stealing turn in Just Go With It. She's perfectly fine in this, all Christmas cheer and earnestness, but I hope this is just a minor diversion on her way to some meatier roles further along the line. Young Charles is likable enough as the lad struggling to fit in to his new surroundings, and then subsequently focusing on a good cause to save a Christmas tradition, and Thiessen and Hopkins are both good as the adults who view his behaviour from different perspectives. Robert Wagner and Jill St. John pop up for a minute or two, playing Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, respectively, and I'm not denying that I smiled when they appeared onscreen.

The direction from Douglas Barr may be as pedestrian as you can get, and the script from Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer isn't exactly full of magic moments, but I must admit that they managed to invest the material with a sense of fun. A sense of fun is something often forgotten about, even in the world of the Christmas-themed TV movie. You'll always get moral lessons, of course, and there will usually be snow, plenty of cocoa, and often a character given the role of Scrooge. You'll see gifts under large Christmas trees, roaring log fires, and maybe even an elf or two. Fun, however, can be a bit harder to find, which is a great shame. Especially when it should be the easiest ingredient to mix in to any festive treat.


Use links on my blog to access Amazon and then buy whatever you like - yes indeedy, that makes me pennies. Sharing any blog posts can also help. And you could buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.
The UK version can be bought here -

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As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Christmas Box (1995)

Based on a book by Richard Paul Evans, The Christmas Box is the kind of lovely movie that many people will love to watch in the winter months. Not me though. It wasn't unbearable, mainly thanks to the cast, but it was all just too cloying and manipulative and predictable. Yes, I am well aware that such things could be said of almost every Christmas movie ever made.

Richard Thomas, Annette O'Toole and Kelsey Mulrooney play a family who take a job that involves them moving in to the large home of Mrs. Parkin (Maureen O'Hara). Thomas is a hard-working father who doesn't get to spend much quality time with his family as he strives to make his business more and more successful, something that is duly noted by O'Hara. The pair don't seem to get along at all, but it eventually becomes clear that the lady of the house has an agenda, one that doesn't come from a bad place.

Ironically, this is a film that may well set your teeth on edge like the overly familiar tune emanating from a once-beloved jewellery box. The music, the lethargic camerawork, the horrible way in which it presupposes that the values it manipulates to show negatively are values always to be discarded in favour of, y'know, love and constant reassurance. The character played by Thomas is far from a monster, but you're expected to think worse of him because he's spending a bit too much time working towards a goal. Hey, balance is always better, but I'm not going to throw eggs at every person who occasionally gets it wrong (including myself).

I'm not sure if the book is so irritating, perhaps the screenplay by Greg Taylor ended up exacerbating the flaws, yet I AM sure that the final result isn't something I'll ever be returning to. Director Marcus Cole is happy enough to keep the whole thing feeling like a daytime soap-opera, although he's really hampered by the script/source material that ensures character developments are forced, rather than organically created, by the events.

Thomas and O'Toole do as well as they can with their roles, even if they're not required to show any range or depth, and young Mulrooney is a pleasant enough child actress who doesn't ever get too irritating, which is always a bonus. Yet it's O'Hara who really brings this up a notch. She's not asked to do anything special. She just seems to be the only one who comes close to having any fun (a perk of the character that she's playing).

If this movie was a Christmas card then it would be one of those dull pictures showing a roaring fire with a stocking or two hanging from the mantelpiece. No, not even that. It would be one that has a picture of baubles on the front. Those cards that you always leave until every other card has been sent out, the ones that you end up using for the people you forgot about until the very last minute. Yes, this is one of those. Well-intentioned, but still a bit rubbish and lacking any sense of fun.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas Angel (2009)

Kari Hawker plays Ashley Matthews, a young woman who doesn't seem to have too many decent prospects on her horizon while others are preparing to enjoy Christmas. But not everyone will be having a good time. In fact, some people will be doing even worse than Ashley, even if she doesn't want to think about them. It turns out that her older neighbour, Nick (Bruce Davison), does enough thinking about the less fortunate for the both of them. He's a rich man who likes to do good deeds, and he needs a helper. As Ashley processes this new information, and starts to help Nick, she also meets Will (K. C. Clyde). Will seems like a nice guy, despite the fact that he's also a journalist who may sense a great story involving Ashley and Nick.

Christmas Angel is, like so many other movies now jostling for position in the viewing schedules at this time of year, a perfectly fine slice of snow-covered schmaltz. It's pretty harmless, and also pretty hard to praise or criticise to any great degree. I liked it, in the sense that I didn't really dislike it. The fact that this tends to be my default position with any movie, a starting point that I assume any movie will either improve upon or make a bit (sometimes a lot) worse.

Hawker, Davison and Clyde all do well enough in their roles, and none of the supporting cast cause any major problems. The potential relationship between Hawker and Clyde is given the expected unsteady beginning, with the former giving the latter a hard time because . . . . . that just seems to be the way she is, but the way the characters develop throughout the movie is quite nicely handled.

Brittany Wiscombe and Scott Champion are responsible for the screenplay, and therefore responsible for that character development. They do a good job, ladling on the Christmas sugar while attempting to offset the overwhelming sweetness with little moments of acidity. They don't quite do enough, there's just no way I can say that this isn't a bit of a schmaltz-fest, but they manage to make it better than it could have been. If this had featured an Ashley Matthews who was a bit younger, and quicker to believe in Christmas "miracles", then it would have been a real slog.

Director Brian Brough doesn't really have to do much, or so it seems. The camera keeps everyone in the frame, there are many reminders that everything is taking place at Christmas, and everything is laid out simply and efficiently enough, from A to B to C.

Yet another in a long line of seasonal movies that you'll forget about as soon as the big day has come and gone, Christmas Angel is sweet and earnest and eminently disposable. I tend to repeat myself when it comes to reviewing these movies, which is something I worried about until I remembered that most of these films repeat themselves anyway.


You know how you can show your appreciation for bloggers? If you share and share then every additional reader helps. Connect through Google or Blogger or any way you can, and rest easy in the knowledge that you've made little ol' me a very happy man.

And/or you could also buy my e-book, that has almost every review I've written over the past 5 years. It's very reasonably priced for the sheer amount of content.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.