Netflix Original Holiday Movies

Christmas Inheritance (2017)

This is that (rare) holiday movie that’s NOT totally unbelievable! A self-absorbed New Yorker, Ellen (Eliza Taylor), dubbed “the party heiress” (shades of a young Paris Hilton perhaps?) is sent by her CEO father, Jim (Neil Crone from Little Mosque on the Prairie), to deliver a letter in the small town where he (& his BFF) hatched their (now V successful business). Jake Lacy (who had a memorable role in Carol opposite Rooney Mara) is the innkeeper (also love interest); Andie MacDowell (lovely/sweet-voiced as ever) plays his aunt who owns/runs the local cafe. Ellen learns how to be frugal/practical, helps others less fortunate, and grows to admire the regular folks and their small town values. The actors have good chemistry together; some of the dialogue is cute and quirky. This is a low budget film (obviously), BUT NOT small on charm. 

A Christmas Prince (2017) & A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

An editor (who really wants to be a journo), Amber (Rose McIver) is sent to a (fictional) country to cover the coronation of a “bad boy” prince, Richard (Ben Lamb). The widowed queen is played by Alice Kriege (best known as The Borg Queen in the Star Trek: TNG universe). The unique element in these two films (shot in Romania) is the preteen princess, Emily (Honor Kneafsey), who is smart, spirited, yet has an incurable illness (which is handled quite well/doesn’t define her character). To get close to the story, Amber (a likable/optimistic gal) pretends to be the new American tutor for Emily.  The sequel is NOT as interesting as the first film; it deals w/ issues common to planning a wedding, as well as matters of state. I was expecting more from the set design, BUT the outfits and natural scenery were quite nice. There are a FEW twists here and there also. 

The Princess Switch (2018)

This film is one that my lil sis (a BIG fan of the rom com genre, unlike me) recommended when I visited her over Thanksgiving. In the lead is petite/adorable Vanessa Hudgens (a former teen star all grown up) who plays two roles- a baker from Chicago (Stacy) and a countess from a (fictional) European nation (Lady Margaret). Stacy runs into Margaret before an international baking contest; Margaret proposes that they switch places, so she can to live a FEW days as a “normal girl.” After that, Margaret will do her “duty” and marry Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), uniting their nations. Things get complicated when Stacy becomes interested in Edward and Margaret gets close to Stacy’s friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his 8 y.o. daughter, Olivia. This is a fun film (also shot in Romania) that will put a smile on your face; the (diverse) actors are pretty good and have a LOT of chemistry w/ each other. I was a LOT more impressed w/ the prince (acting-wise) here than in A Christmas Prince

The Holiday Calendar (2018) 

This movie has a mostly POC cast (a pleasant surprise, esp. in a Christmas movie)! A 20s photographer, Abby (Kat Graham), has a white mom and black dad, as well as a wise (black) grandpa she adores (Ron Cephas Jones from Luke Cage). Abby dreams of having her own studio/getting paid for her type of pics (NOT the boring portraits she takes at her day job). She is overjoyed when her BFF, Josh (Quincy Brown, son of P. Diddy and the recently deceased model- Kim Porter), returns to town after travel blogging all over the world. Gramps (recently widowed) gives Abby an old-fashioned Advent calendar that her grandmother wanted her to have; interesting/unexpected things start happening in Abby’s life. It’s NOT everyday (sadly) that you get to see a happy, successful, and supportive black family in the media. Abby and Josh looked and sounded like real people I’d gone to HS (& college) w/ back in my hometown (Tucson, AZ). Fans of classic films might be interested to see Ethan Peck (also a model); he’s the grandson of Gregory Peck who recently broke into acting. I hope he gets better/more interesting roles than Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, who seems to have fizzled out fast.  

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Reviews of Recently Viewed Films

Terminal Station (1953) starring Jennifer Jones & Montgomery Clift

Last week, I saw this rare little gem of a movie one afternoon (on TCM); the David O. Selznick cut is titled Indiscretion of an American Wife. Then, I decided to check out the slightly longer version from the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica(Amazon Prime); it contains a a few more (ambiguous) lines/scenes. De Sica’s films are known for romantic neo-realism. My parents (fans of Sophia Loren) really enjoyed Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963) and Marriage Italian Style (1964) which both won Oscars. 

If my art seems pessimistic, it is a consequence of my continuing optimism and its disillusion. At least I have enthusiasm. It is necessary to all professions to have enthusiasm in order to have success. -Vittorio De Sica

Why did you come with me? -Giovanni asks Mary

You didn’t look very wicked. I’m not an imaginative woman. It was you. It was Rome! And I’m a housewife from Philadelphia. -Mary replies

A married American woman, Mary Forbes (Jennifer Jones) has been involved for a month w/ a slightly younger Italian-American teacher, Giovanni Doria (Montgomery Clift), in Rome while visiting relatives. One rainy morning, Mary suddenly decides to return home to her husband and young daughter, but w/o telling anyone (aside from her nephew, played by a young Richard Beymer). She goes to the (newly built) train terminal, realizes that she is not at all sure about leaving, and agonizes over her decision. Giovanni joins her at the station, very confused and hurt, as she had just told him “I love you” the previous night.  

[1] This is such a contained, focused film, and demands so much of its two actors, every little nuance matters in a kind of exciting dramatic way. The closest thing this compares to, as two lovers or would be lovers talk in a train station, is Brief Encounter (1945), and that’s a masterpiece of acting and cinema both. Here, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones, it comes close.

[2] Jennifer Jones, beyond radiant in her prime-of-life womanhood, exudes a sensuality that both contrasts strikingly with her 1950s-prim exterior and celebrates the troubled woman within…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

There is plenty of drama behind this film! Producer Selznick (then married to Jones), wanted to have a slick romance depicted; De Sica wanted to show a ruined romance (which was fully supported by Clift). De Sica favored realism, so wasn’t interested in Hollywood-style close-ups; Selznick eventually hired cinematographer Oswald Morris to film some of these. Each day on the set, Selznick had critical letters for De Sica (who didn’t know English). The script was altered several times, as the two men had such different visions. Two scenes were written by Truman Capote, who gets screenplay credit. 

The Violent Men (1954) starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, & Edward G. Robinson

Never meet the enemy on his terms. -John says to his ranch hands

I’ll fight for the privilege of being left alone. -John explains to Lee 

A former Union Army officer, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), fully recovered from his war wounds, plans to sell his ranch to the wealthy owner of Anchor Ranch, Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) and move east w/ his fiancee, Caroline (May Wynn). However, the low price offered by Wilkison, and his hired mens’ bullying tactics, make Parrish think again. When one of his young ranch hands is murdered, he decides to stay and fight, using his battle know-how. At Anchor Ranch, Lew’s shrewd wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck), has been having an affair w/ his handsome younger brother, Cole (Brian Keith), who has a Mexican girlfriend, Elena (Lita Milan), that he supports in town. Lew and Martha’s 20-something daughter, Judith (Dianne Foster), has become distant and angry; she has suspected deception in her home.

I know what you’re thinking- whoa, there are a lot of ladies in this Western! I was watching this at my dad’s; even he noticed this fact. Well, not all of these women are well-developed. Caroline seems like she’d marry any guy to get out of her hometown. Elena loves Cole desperately, but we don’t know much about her; her sudden/violent action at the end is quite unexpected (bordering on soap opera). Judith, who’s very much a “daddy’s girl,” is intrigued by Parrish, yet also abhors the violence that ensues during the stampede. Some viewers commented that in order to get a big star like Stanwyck, the role of Martha must’ve been bulked up by the writers. Who doesn’t like Stanwyck!? But I was expecting this film to be more about Parrish. 

[1] The Fifties was the age of the adult western, themes were entering into horse operas that hadn’t been explored before. There’s enough traditional western stuff …and plenty for those who are addicted to soap operas as well.

[2] …the actors in question deserved a better story from which to work from, it is, when all is said and done, a plot that has been milked for all it’s worth, and then some. …still a very rewarding film regardless of the missed opportunities evident with the production.

I learned that this film was shot partly in Old Tucson; my dad noticed this before I did! The cinematography is well done, which is a must for a Western. The best action scene is the one between the unapologetic/violent cowboy, Matlock (one of Lew’s men), and Parrish in the saloon. Ford plays it so cool; he can handle himself w/ a gun man-to-man. This isn’t quite a hit, but worth a look.

The Candidate (1972) starring Robert Redford

…one of the many great movies about the world of politics. It holds up as well today as it did in 1972 (maybe even better). 

A sad commentary on the way things work. Very relevant. I recommend it for fans of Robert Redford or anybody interested in politics 

It’s fair to say that many Americans are fed up w/ politics these days- LOL! It’s refreshing to take a day (or even a few hours) avoiding the news, even if you’re a news junkie (like me). This film was recently shown on TCM; I’d heard much about it, but never watched it. Also, who doesn’t love Redford!? Peter Boyle plays the political expert who convinces Redford to run for Senate (Democratic side, of course). Look out for cameos from journo Mike Barnicle (currently seen on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) and Redford’s real-life pal, Natalie Wood (playing herself).   

 

 

 

What To Watch Next (OCT 2018)?

Colette (now playing in limited release) starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, & Eleanor Tomlinson

After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. -Summary from Bleecker Street 

First Man (opening OCT 12th) starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber & Ciaran Hinds

This is a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a Midwestern family man and former pilot, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Though it’s directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, there are NO songs or dances (no worries- LOL)! Critics are suggesting that you watch this in IMAX (if possible). 

Museo (now playing) starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Two 30-something slacker pals (living w/ parents in Mexico City) decide to pull an art heist. This is based on a true story- WOW! This film has been getting good buzz, and I’m a big fan of GGB.

The Hate U Give (opening OCT 19th) starring Amandla Stenberg, Common, Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Russell Hornsby

This looks to be an unique twist on the coming-of-age story (already being praised highly by critics). It was based on best-selling novel by a young black woman, Angie Thomas. A working-class black teen girl from the inner-city, Starr (attending a mostly white private school), experiences the awakening of her racial consciousness after witnessing the killing of her childhood best friend, a black boy, by a police officer.

Venom (opening OCT 5th) starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, & Jenny Slate

I learned that Venom was in Spider-Man 3, though this movie is considered to be outside the Marvel universe. Mild-mannered investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), uncovers a secret government experiment and eventually merges w/ a symbiote called Venom. I’m curious to see it mainly for Riz Ahmed (who plays villainous scientist Carlton Drake).

The Odd Couple (1968) starring Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau

[1] …the movie is a revelation. The script reveals surprising depth about love, hate, and human relationships. 

[2] …it’s a portrait of two friends helping each other through the agony of divorce. It’s also damn funny from start to finish, but it’s the kind of comedy that arises from realistic, stressful, and just plain awful situations.

[3] I remember something that Roger Ebert said in an interview with Martin Scorcese. Ebert said that “Raging Bull” was a great movie. People would protest that they didn’t want to see it, because they didn’t want to see a film about boxers. No, Ebert insisted. The subject matter of a film is not the heart of the film. Rather, it’s how well a film is made that matters. An expertly made film about boxers is better than a badly made film about a topic you may be interested in. So, no, I’m not a man; I’m not divorced. But “The Odd Couple” was so well made that I fell in love with it. I surprised myself by laughing out loud throughout the film. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Felix’s (Jack Lemmon- one of my faves) wife, Frances, has left him and he’s thinking of suicide. His friends sense his depression and one of them, Oscar (Walter Matthau), volunteers to take him in (after all, he has a HUGE apt on the UWS of Manhattan). The two of them are polar opposites- Oscar is fun-loving, extroverted, and V messy; Felix is a cautious, introverted, and an OCD-type of neat-freak. Being around Oscar cheers Felix up, but he quickly starts to irritate Oscar.

Don’t threaten me with jail, Blanche, because it’s not a threat. With my expenses and my alimony, a prisoner takes home more pay than I do. -Oscar comments to his ex-wife (over the phone)

I know him. He’s too nervous to kill himself. Wears his seat belt in a drive-in movie. -Oscar explains to his poker buddies (close friends) re: Felix

Funny, I haven’t thought of women in weeks. -Felix comments to Oscar (after Oscar proposes they set up a dinner date w/ his British neighbors- the Pidgeon sisters)I fail to see the humor. –Oscar replies

I put order in this house. For the first time in months, you’re saving money. You’re sleeping on clean sheets. You’re eating hot meals for a change and I did it. -Felix explains to Oscar

You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can’t stand little notes on my pillow. “We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.” Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar! -Oscar tells Felix (in their “break-up” scene)

I know him. He’ll kill himself just to spite me. Then his ghost will come back, following me around the apartment, haunting and cleaning, haunting and cleaning, haunting and cleaning… -Oscar laments to his friends (as they drive around looking for Felix)

This screenplay (written by Neil Simon) is full of hilarious lines; Simon also had a hit on Broadway w/ his play. Simon, who MANY consider to have a great ear for dialogue, died this past August at age 91. Felix is based on his older brother, Danny, who was also a playwright. Lemmon and Matthau (real-life friends) are perfect together! As a reviewer noted, buddy comedies are ALL about the actors and script. I’d NEVER seen this famous film before, BUT it’s a must-see! The term “odd couple” is a part of American pop culture; it’s often used to describe people who don’t seem to belong together. After this film, there were spin-offs, incl. 2 sitcoms (one of which was long-running) and even a cartoon. 

Click below to watch a NYT video tribute of Neil Simon. 

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, & Michelle Yeoh

NOTE: This post contains SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in theaters).

…to see the clash between Asian culture and Asian-American culture on the screen makes me feel like I am finally being seen and heard. – @tinidornkutsara

I’d expected it to be meaningful, fun, joyful, but I hadn’t at all expected what amounted to a lifetime of sorrow & longing, an onslaught of feelings I hadn’t even known I was suppressing. – @rokwan

No othering or tokenization. For once, I felt we were the default. Must be how white people feel most of the time. Beauty, romance, fantasies, & laughs made for us. Wow. More please! – @jessicaunlee

A triumph for representation? Maybe for Asian-Americans but certainly not for #Singapore #CrazyRichAsiansMovie -Nicholas Yong

We can love, support AND criticize something at the same time. #CrazyRichAsians is ground-breaking for representation in Hollywood. FACT.  “Asians” does not mean ALL Asians. FACT. The movie does not cover the often oppressed brown & non-Chinese people of Singapore. FACT. – @jennyyangtv

These are some tweets from young Asian-Americans that were featured in an article on the importance of Crazy Rich Asians. 25 years after The Joy Luck Club, there is a (mainstream) Hollywood rom com w/ an all-Asian cast. Fans of indies (like myself) have also noted that Better Luck Tomorrow and The Namesake (which is focused on an Indian- American family) were predominantly Asian-American. This movie (based on the book by Kevin Kwan) is a hit w/ audiences and critics; we know that NO color means more in Hollywood than green! 

I’m so Chinese. I’m an econ professor that’s lactose intolerant. -Rachel comments 

NYU Econ professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu from Fresh Off the Boat), experiences culture shock (and a LOT more) when she travels w/ her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding- a British TV presenter in his debut role) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. We can see that Nick is crazy about her; they share a love of food. Rachel discovers that Nick (who she’s been dating for 1 yr) is part of the elite of his country and heir to an empire. (In MANY Asian cultures, bringing someone to a family, or close friend’s, wedding is a huge deal.) When they reach JFK Airport, someone quickly takes their luggage, then they’re led to a spacious first class cabin on their plane. Nick’s old friends, Colin (Chris Pang) and fiancée Araminta (Sonaya Mizuno from Ex Machina), pick them up at the airport and take the couple to an outdoor food market. FYI: Food is a big part of this movie!

Let me get this straight. You both went to the same school. Yet someone came back with a degree that’s useful, and the other one came back as Asian Ellen. -Mr. Goh laments

Before Rachel meets the Youngs, she reunites w/ college roommie, Peik Lin Goh (Nora Lum, AKA Awkwafina- actress/rapper from Queens). Peik Lin sports short blond-dyed hair, dresses colorfully, and speaks like Miley Cyrus meets hip hop (as Awkawfina described it). The choice to use the black accent, or African-American vernacular (AAV), was NOT funny to everyone (as I observed from my audience- young and diverse). Peik Lin’s family lives in a huge house decorated to resemble The Palace at Versaille and Trump’s golden bathroom (LOL)! Her family includes eccentric/American-educated dad (Ken Jeong of Dr. Ken/guest star on Fresh Off the Boat).

God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children. -Astrid comments (during the dumpling making scene)

At the welcome back party for Nick, his elegant/graceful mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), meets Rachel and sizes her up quickly. She politely disapproves of her son’s choice; Eleanor considers Americans too independent. Rachel is ethnically Chinese, speaks Mandarin fluently, BUT her heart and mind are American (as her mom pointed out). Nick’s grandma (who raised him until he was sent to a British boarding school) and his favorite cousin, Astrid (British actress Gemma Young), think differently. Astrid even shares concerns re: her marriage to Rachel at Araminta’s bachelorette weekend. The other women who grew up w/ Nick, incl. his ex, shun or try to scare away Rachel, seeing her as NOT good enough. 

Nick’s obnoxious/hard-partying cousin, Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang of Silicon Valley), flies the men out (in helicopters) to international waters. He has a surprise for Colin- the bachelor party will be on a huge cargo ship! (One reviewer considered this to be the MOST unrealistic element of the film.) When they get on board, there are beauty pageant contestants, dancing, music, bazookas, and LOTS of booze. After some time, and hearing rude comments re: his relationship from other cousins, incl. finance bro Eddie (Ronny Chieng of The Daily Show), Nick and Colin escape, thanks to Colin’s pilot’s license). They end up on a little/secluded island where Nick shows Colin the engagement ring he has picked out for Rachel. He plans to propose soon, BUT doesn’t want to draw attention away from the wedding. Colin is happy for Nick, yet also concerned; Rachel is NOT used to this type of life. (It’s NOT everyday that you get to see handsome, shirtless Asian men talking about their feelings!)

Before the wedding, Peik Lin and another of the Young cousins- Oliver (“the rainbow sheep of the family”)- help Rachel get ready. We see the typical rom com scenes of Rachel getting a facial, picking out a formal dress, etc. Though this film is breaking new ground (w/ regard to cast and setting), it’s also traditional in MANY ways. At the church, everyone looks her way when Rachel enters wearing a chic up-do and diaphanous pale blue gown (by Marchesa). There is no room in the Young family pew (no shocker), so Rachel walks up to the front of the church and sits next to a posh older woman (who is BOTH a princess and pioneer in micro-lending). Nick notices this, pleasantly surprised, and also awed by how beautiful she looks. Though the elders don’t approve of all the greenery, the wedding ceremony is unique and gorgeous. Araminta walks down an aisle (like a ballerina) flowing w/ water wearing stockings w/ gold designs. 

At the reception, Eleanor (w/ grandma by her side), reveals that Rachel will NEVER be a part of their family- she’s a liar. She hired a PI who discovered that Rachel’s father is NOT dead, BUT living in Hong Kong! Nick wonders why Rachel lied, BUT she didn’t know anything about this. She starts crying and runs away from Nick, navigating through a maze-like path (like you’d expect in a fairy tale). At the Goh’s house, Rachel is so heartbroken that she stays in bed for days, not eating or speaking. Nick keeps calling, but Rachel doesn’t speak to him. (It’s so sweet how ALL of the Goh family tries to make her feel better.)

Finally, we see that Rachel has a visitor- her mom, Kerry (Khen Hua Tan)! She consoles her daughter and explains why she hid the truth. Her husband was abusive, so an old schoolmate helped her escape, and they fell in love. Rachel asks why they NEVER went back to see her father; her mom thought it’d be too dangerous. In the US, she started fresh w/ her baby girl; she eventually became a real estate agent. This scene is quite well-acted, well-written, and VERY touching! 

There is a Hokkien phrase ‘kaki lang’. It means: our own kind of people, and you’re not our own kind. -Eleanor explains

Because I’m not rich? Because I didn’t go to a British boarding school, or wasn’t born into a wealthy family? -Rachel asks

You’re a foreigner. American – and all Americans think about is their own happiness. -Eleanor replies

Rachel decides that it’s unfair to Nick to have to choose between her and his family (esp. his mother) in the pivotal mahjong scene. (FYI: This was not in the book, BUT added as a nod to The Joy Luck Club). The 8-bamboo tile Rachel discards to give Eleanor the winning  hand also was a winning tile for Rachel; that is why Eleanor looks shocked when Rachel turns over her hand. As some critics from Slate noted, this film’s third act is even better than its first (rare for a rom com). I think that the relationships between women, incl. their conflicts, are the best things about Crazy Rich Asians.

Yes, it is a romantic comedy – but this has such intriguing social and cultural undercurrents that it tempts even the fairly observant watcher away from taking the “Cinderella” story at its glitzy face value. While the numerous characters had to have their backstories compressed to fit into just two hours, we are given enough great dialogue, effervescent or slightly evil portrayals, and sumptuous visual clues to make the friends and family members in Singapore come alive. -Excerpt from IMDB review

As Rachel and her mom board their plane (coach this time), Nick is also there; he decided to fly home w/ her. What ensues is an (expected) cute rom com scene; Nick sidesteps several people, helps stow away luggage, and… finally pulls out a little black box to propose. Rachel is surprised when the ring he offers her is the the large emerald one worn by Eleanor! This is the feel-good ending you’d expect from such a film, yet w/ an added bonus; Rachel has won BOTH Nick’s heart and the approval of his mother. For Asians (even in today’s modern/individualistic world), this MAY be an especially poignant moment. I’ve known several South Asian American women, who live in the US, who were rejected by (potential) mother-in-laws. The reasons they were rejected ranged from height/looks to having been divorced or raised in a different religion. Their boyfriends/fiances didn’t stand up for them (unlike Nick).