More Holiday Movies

Holiday Engagement (2011)

Hillary (Bonnie Somerville- a former model and singer) is a 30-ish journo in LA w/ a V busy/successful lawyer fiance, Jason.  One day, Jason says that he MAY have to move to Pittsburgh for a promotion; Hillary is surprised/disappointed (b/c everyone she knows is in California). Jason decides to break up w/ her, saying she’s NOT supportive of his career; Hillary is shocked/saddened. She told her fam, incl. her mom (played by veteran comedian Shelley Long) that she was bringing her fiance over during Thanksgiving weekend. Hillary’s bold/opinionated BFF decides to put up an ad on an online dating site (though Hillary is hesitant). There are MANY replies to Hillary’s video ad the next morning, incl. one from an actor, David (Jordan Bridges, son of Beau and grandson of Lloyd). David is NOT a total stranger; Hillary and Sophie had interviewed him for their magazine before. David really needs some work, so he can pretend to be Jason (after all, he’s an actor)! 

This is the (rare) holiday movie, while NOT quite believable, has two good actors (in the leads) w/ plenty of chemistry! Too bad they didn’t give Long any comedic stuff to do; she’s known for that. There are points where the film drags a bit, BUT it’s got some good/touching scenes also. In one of the best scenes, Somerville (who has a beautiful voice) and Bridges (who plays the piano) sing a duet of a X-mas song. It turns out that Hillary’s fam, incl. her 2 younger sisters, don’t have the picture-perfect lives they pretend to lead. While David is NOT rich/successful, he cleans up V nice, loves Hillary’s writing, and is a caring man. What will happen after the real Jason has a change of heart and shows up at Hillary’s parents’ house? This one is worth a watch IMO (check it out on Netflix); it has some quirky dialogue and cute moments.

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Kate (Jen Lilley) is a lawyer from Boston who recently broke up w/ a bf (who she wasn’t ever in love w/ anyway). Her boss has ONLY 3 wks get a haunted inn appraised and sold. The kind BUT uncooperative manager claims a spirit living there will NOT approve. With Kate’s possible promotion resting on her success, she checks in (over the holidays) and attempts to deal w/ the ghost, Daniel (Thomas Beaudoin), who was murdered 95 yrs ago. 

This is a well-made (scenery, costumes, sound effects, and acting) holiday film shot in Massachusetts at a historical inn. It has a mystery element, along w/ the romance, which sets it apart from many other films. I thought the flashback scenes were done V well. The actors are pretty good; they portray their characters quite naturally IMO. I’d recommend it to those who liked The Christmas Carol. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and or the famous ’80s film- Ghost. It’s now on Netflix, along w/ MANY other titles. 

Santa’s Boots (2018)

Holly (Megan Hilty), an independent-minded executive living in Seattle, returns home for Thanksgiving and Christmas to Noblesville (a real small town V close to where my lil bro grew up for MANY yrs in central IN). When a young employee gets sick, Holly goes to work as Santa’s elf at her family’s store, Montell’s, where she meets a young Santa, Nick, w/ whom she has great chemistry. The store, which is in trouble, sees a sharp rise in profits over Black Friday (thanks to the teamwork of Holly and Nick, who kids and parents enjoy visiting). Holly doesn’t reveal that she’s the boss’ daughter and Nick doesn’t reveal his last name. When Nick (whose regular job is working on his family’s tree farm) disappears, in a Cinderella story reversal, Holly searches for him w/ the ONLY clue he left behind- his black work boots.

I thought this movie (which premiered last night on Lifetime) has some real-world elements; my friends (who I watched it w/) also agreed. Both Holly and Nick are wondering what to do w/ their futures as they near their 35th birthdays. Holly’s BFF Elle is played by a South Asian actress; it’s NOT unusual to see a few desis as supporting characters or background actors in (Canadian) movies. Days of Our Lives viewers will be happy to see Roark Critchlow (Dr. Mike), who plays Holly’s kind/supportive dad. Holly’s grandmother, a woman who keeps it real, provides some humor. R

NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour (podcast): ‘Tis the Season We Talk Hallmark Movies

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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.  

Beautiful Boy (NOW PLAYING) starring Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Maura Tierney, & Amy Ryan

Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years. -Film Synopsis

The title of this film (and the book) comes from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”. David Sheff, a successful freelance writer, interviewed John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980. This emotional, sensitive, and timely film (opioid addiction is a VERY serious/common issue today) is a BIT more from the viewpoint of the father, Dave (Carell), than his teen son, Nic (Chalamet- now 22 y.o.) I would’ve liked to see more of the mom, Vicki (Ryan); there are a few nice scenes w/ the stepmom, Karen (Tierney). Nic’s parents divorced when he was quite young; every Summer, he traveled from San Francisco to LA to spend time w/ Vicki. (We don’t know what her career is, BUT are lead to believe that she’s quite busy and also successful.)

As Nic got into his high school years, he became more withdrawn (spending a LOT of time alone, writing and drawing). Dave didn’t realize that his son was ALSO getting into hard drugs; he assumed that it was only marijuana that Nic was experimenting w/ (like MANY teens/college students). There was something missing w/in Nic which he couldn’t explain; drugs filled that void. Dave thought that he and Nic were closer than most fathers and sons. When Nic runs away from a rehab facility (for the second time), Dave sets out to learn exactly what kind of damage could be happening to his child. (Timothy Hutton has a cameo as an M.D. who specializes in addiction.) There are some fine, nuanced performances here, esp. from Carell (aging quite well/stretching his dramatic muscles) and Chalamet (who lost 25 lbs. for his role). There is more to this story, so check it out yourself! 

The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience a week ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society! 

Brief Encounter (1945)

What to say re: this film? It’s simply magical (even when you view it for the second time)! I saw it again (on TCM) last week; it’s also available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. The lead actors (who are in their early to mid-30s) are Brits who actually look like regular people. An upper-middle class housewife, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), meets doctor, Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), at a train station cafe when he helps remove a piece of dirt from her eye. Laura doesn’t think much of it, but then they keep running into each other in town. They talk, share lunch (and laughs), and go to movies (matinees) on Thursday afternoons. They (and the audience) realize that this relationship can’t go anywhere; they’re both married w/ two young kids. In fact, Laura’s husband (Fred) is depicted as a nice man; Alec’s two sons and wife are unseen (though she is described as “small, dark, and delicate”). Laura and Alec soon fall in love- neither can deny their feelings! 

I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. -Laura (in voiceover) re: falling in love w/ Alec

It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly. So very easy, and so very degrading. -Laura (in voiceover) re: lying to Fred for the first time

Unlike most movies of the ’40s, we hear Laura’s perspective (in voiceover), getting us into the mind of a woman. David Lean (who went on to direct some epic films) decided to shoot this like a film noir. Laura and Alec are sometimes partly obscured by shadow. Perhaps this is done to show the danger in their pairing? Music is an element used very effectively as well; it adds to the drama in pivotal moments. 

Though this film is emotional, it doesn’t come off as showy or cloying (which is an achievement in itself). When Alec and Laura share their first kiss, the camera (perhaps respectfully?) pulls back to give them space. Fitting w/ the morals (and maybe also censors), their relationship is unconsummated. Brief Encounter has inspired many films (and spoofs) over the years. Check it out if haven’t before- you won’t regret it!  

[1] Johnson’s soulful eyes and capacity for displaying emotion is brilliantly used here… 

[2] Lean uses only a few sets and locations. It’s as if Laura and Alec are caged in by their surroundings and their emotions and can never escape…

[4] The story wonderfully explores the idea that sometimes it is easier to feel close and understood by someone you meet by chance as opposed to those who are close to us. People may not like the truism, but it’s human nature. 

-Excerpts from IMDB comments