Week 51 of 2019 (12/16 – 12/22)

12/16Get Santa2014
12/17Christmas Angel2009
12/18‘Twas the Night2001
12/19Christmas Inheritance2017
12/21A Christmas Movie Christmas2019
12/22The First Silent Night2014

December 16

Day 350 of the #2019MovieChallenge! The #12DaysOfChristmasMovies continue with the 2014 British comedy Get Santa. When Santa (Jim Broadbent) gets arrested in London, it’s up to an ex-con and his son to free him and save Christmas.

This is one of the funniest Xmas movies I’ve seen since Elf. It’s something of a mashup between The Santa Clause and Ernest Saves Christmas. Steve (Rafe Spall) is released from prison after two years away. He just wants to reconnect with his son Tom (Kit Connor), which his ex-wife (Jodie Whittaker, Doctor Who) is not all that thrilled about. But after Santa crashes his new sleigh on a test flight, his reindeer are rounded up and he’s thrown in prison for attempting to free them. Tom and his father then go on a journey to help prevent the cancellation of Christmas while Santa connects with his fellow inmates.

A great story from writer/director Christopher Smith, whose prior has mostly been horror films, is elevated even further by a brilliant cast. Broadbent is a wonderful Santa, leading to a hilarious scene where he’s being taught how to survive in prison. Spall is heartwarming as Steve, a guy who has his Christmas spirit reawakened when he discovers the real Santa needs his help. His prison friend Barber (Stephen Graham, Band of Brothers) helps Santa by introducing him to Sally (Warwick Davis) and Knuckles (Nonso Anozie, Game of Thrones), who get him to put together a Christmas shindig for the prisoners and their families. Both stories create hilarity, while Steve is pursued by his parole officer (Joanna Scanlan, The Thick of It) and a couple of determined constables (Ewen Bremner, Wonder Woman; Hera Hilmar, Mortal Enginesreviewed here).

There are a ton of great scenes in this, some shot as homages to The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. If you’ve seen any of the other movies I mentioned here, you’ll appreciate this films as well. It’s a wonderful and possibly overlooked addition to my Christmas movie collection and, I hope, yours.

December 17

Day 351 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s pick for the #12DaysofChristmasMovies is 2009’s Christmas Angel. A struggling woman is hired by her neighbor to help him anonymously make the holidays better for others. All the while, a reporter is investigating.

This one’s a bit of a different quality from the other movies so far. It’s another kind of like The Christmas Tree Miracle from the other day — similar plot points, too — but it’s just a bit dull and meandering. The reporter is meant to be a love interest for the woman, but he comes off as an douchebag and that sparks no interest in their tepid love affair in the windy city of SOOO NOT CHICAGO! Anyway, the two leads have zero on-screen chemistry, and the only bright spot is the presence of screen veteran Bruce Davison as the secret Santa/neighbor.

TL;DR – You can see the entire movie if you literally just watch the trailer, as it shows the only interesting stuff… and even that’s not that interesting.

December 18

Day 352 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We continue the #12DaysofChristmasMovies with the 2001 Disney Channel original movie ‘Twas the Night. When a teenager and his ne’er-do-well uncle accidentally surprise Santa during his visit to the family home, they take it upon themselves to deliver Christmas for people.

Because it’s Disney, the kids got top billing in this fun and somewhat silly film, but the real star of this movie is Bryan Cranston as Uncle Nick, a scam artist down on his luck who comes to visit the family on Christmas Eve mainly to avoid people he owes money to. Cranston was just becoming a big name, as Malcolm in the Middle was in its second season, and he brings every bit of energy to this role as he does to every other. His is the main character arc in this, as he decides to use Santa’s sleigh to help his nephew Danny deliver Santa’s gifts… and help himself to various goodies from the rich houses he steers them to first. While they’re off doing that, Danny’s siblings revive Santa (Jefferson Mappin) and go off to track down and recover the sleigh. There are also some good supporting turns by Barclay Hope and Torri Higginson as the kids’ parents.

The film is a ridiculous delight, as it should be. It’s almost a mash-up of The Santa Clause, Uncle Buck, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It also has a somewhat similar feel to Get Santa, which we watched on Monday. If it has any major flaw, it that’s it’s clear that the writers didn’t know (or bother to learn) how computers and networking actually work. I’d also point out that this was ably directed by Nick Castle, who also directed my all-time favorite movie, 1983’s The Last Starfighter.

This movie is worth seeing this holiday season!

December 19

Day 353 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s pick for the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies is the 2017 Netflix original Christmas Inheritance. In order to prove herself worthy to take over her family’s company, a semi-spoiled heiress is sent to her father’s small hometown to deliver a Christmas letter… but completely incognito, with only $100, no credit cards… and a bus ticket! (gasp!)

I was surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did. It starts out like a generic Hallmark Channel-style experience. But once the story actually gets moving, it has a good sense of humor balanced well with good emotional weight in the right places. The romance portions were actually a distraction from the actual plot for me, which is great as they’re typically the other way around on movies like these.

There are a few flaws in this, but they’re minor. The most glaring one was this: because they couldn’t obviously shoot this in the wintertime, they decided to make a lot of fake snow out of shaving cream… and it’s really, really obvious at various points in the movie.

The performances were also good. Eliza Taylor and Jake Lacy were great together in most of their scenes, especially with the typical “meet-cute” when she first arrives in the town. And Andie MacDowell has a good supporting role as Aunt Debbie, who owns the town diner and provides some good sage advice to both leads.

I will recommend this film solely on the fact that it didn’t bore me the way most of these kinds of movies do. The acting didn’t feel stiff or forced and the story didn’t try to cram in any melodrama. Check it out!

December 20

Day 354 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We continue the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with 2004’s ensemble drama Noel, a character study of a group of New Yorkers dealing with personal crises on Christmas Eve.

Yeah, so this is not as chipper as the rest, but that’s OK. I don’t want to go into great detail because it’s really more of a movie to be experienced. Actor Chazz Palminteri steps behind the camera to direct this tale of interconnected lives of random folks in the Big Apple. (He also has a small cameo appearance in the movie).

Mom of the emotional heavy lifting in this movie is done by its main stars: Susan Sarandon as Rose, a middle-aged divorcee who busies herself with her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother; Paul Walker as Mike, a cop whose jealousy causes strife with his fiancée Nina (Penélope Cruz), who has been worried that they may not be able to live their dream of having children; and Artie (Alan Arkin), a older man who is still lacking closure over the death of his long-departed wife. Some of them interact with one another, which causes some pain, some laughs and some love, even in the face of loss. There is also a terrific supporting turn from Robin Williams as a former priest looking for a connection on this most trying of nights.

The film itself overall is all right. Palminteri is a director who knows how to capture what he wants on camera. I think the biggest flaw in the script was the remaining storyline involving Jules (Marcus Thomas), a man who goes to extremes to relive a happy Christmas memory. Thomas does a decent job as Jules, but it really feels like there’s little point to the storyline, and trimming it could have taken a good 15 minutes off the running time to tighten up the movie. But if you want a more adult look at Christmastime, you might appreciate this one.

December 21

Day 355 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We keep going on the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with 2019’s A Christmas Movie Christmas. Two sisters find themselves magically whisked to a fictional Christmas movie town and have to find their way home.

Amazingly, the universe did not implode as a result of this being made. It’s a movie very much in the vein of the endless parade of films the Hallmark Channel marches out every year. Yet, while honoring the tropes of the genre, it takes the time to poke fun at them and point out some of the genuine absurdity in them as well. I laughed quite a bit through this movie and enjoyed the utter silliness enough that I let the sheer insanity of the very end of the movie go*.

The performances worked terrifically well. Lana McKissack and Kimberly Daugherty worked well together as Eve & Lacy Bell. Eve ends up having to choose between two guys — Rock star Russell (Xmas movie veteran Randy Wayne) and small-town hero Dustin (Ryan Merriman). Meanwhile, Lacy has to fend off the overly clingy and borderline stalker-ish Paul (Brant Daugherty), a happy-go-lucky guy who runs the town’s cookie shop and has a penchant for card making. There’s even a “token adorable child” played perfectly by young Cleary Herzlinger, who I assume is closely related to the director of this film, Brian Herzlinger (himself a veteran of these kinds of films).

Overall, this is trite and silly in the best ways possible. It hit just the right balance and I think it’s one of the better choices in this Hallmark-riddled genre. Check it out!

*Seriously, the end was crazy. My headcanon played this out one of two ways: a) The blurring between fantasy and reality eventually tears the very fabric of spacetime apart; or b) The sisters have just suffered a simultaneous psychotic break and are really in adjoining padded cells in the asylum.

December 22

Day 356 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We continue the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with the 2014 PBS documentary The First Silent Night. Actor Simon Callow hosts this look at the origins of arguably the most famous Christmas carol of them all.

This was an intriguing story to watch. Callow travels to Salzburg, Austria, then to the smaller towns of Obensdorf and Arnsdorf to discover and relate the stories of the men who created this legendary song. The original words and music were written separately (by Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, respectively), then brought together to first be performed after a Christmas Eve mass in 1818. It also discusses the English version that most of us really know and how it’s different from the original German version.

It’s a nice change of pace for your Christmas viewing, so enjoy!