TV Review – A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Written by Charles M. Schulz
Directed by Bill Melendez

This is my favorite of all the classic Christmas specials. It’s very in line with my own complicated feelings about the holiday, imbued with a sense of melancholy while still not lacking that charm you expect from these cartoons. What’s funny is upon its initial viewing for executives, they hated the cartoon. It was seen as too slow-paced, the music was off-putting (genuinely shocking to me), and they hated the animation. This shocked the creators as they were sure this would be a holiday classic from the start, and fears set in that it would never air again. Instead, the public fell in love with the story, drawn to the fact that this wasn’t a shallow feel-good Christmas story but deeper and talking about something more profound.

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Movie Review – The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Written by Caroline Thompson and Michael McDowell
Directed by Henry Selick

While the idea and production design were initially conceived by Tim Burton, the actual execution of The Nightmare Before Christmas was done by a bevy of other talented creators. However, the film is associated with Burton, and many mistake him as the director. We love and remember the picture for Danny Elfman’s music, Henry Selick’s direction, and the fantastic script by Thompson and McDowell. Thompson co-wrote Edward Scissorhands, and McDowell also penned the screenplay for Beetlejuice, so they brought all those elements to the table. The result is a gorgeous macabre take on the Christmas spirit that endures because it stands out from the crowd but reminds us of childhood favorites.

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Movie Review – A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983)
Written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark
Directed by Bob Clark

A Christmas Story is a great little holiday comedy about childhood but also one of the most disgustingly overhyped pieces of Americana in recent years. The TBS 24-hour marathon of the film definitely didn’t help things and has honestly led to the oversaturation of the picture. It’s a look back at the Depression Era Midwest and dramatizes Jean Shepherd’s memories of his childhood. The film is done in a series of vignettes that make it easy to consume by casual viewers or kids whose attention spans might wan after too long. But it definitely doesn’t deserve as much licensed merchandise or a Broadway musical based on the picture.

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Movie Review – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Written by John Hughes
Directed by Jeremiah Chechik

This might be my favorite Christmas movie of all time, but it might not. I have watched Christmas Vacation probably over two dozen times, and while I was a child and teenager, I loved the film, my views have become more complicated as an adult. I still think it is hilariously funny, a perfect ending to John Hughes’s tenure on the series. They tried to keep squeezing gold out of the series in later films, which were embarrassingly terrible. I’ve noticed in recent viewings that Christmas Vacation is a total mess, not sure if it wants to be sentimental or cynical about the holiday.

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Movie Review – Home Alone

Home Alone (1990)
Written by John Hughes
Directed by Chris Columbus

Home Alone came about when John Hughes was making a checklist for an upcoming family trip and thought for a moment what would happen if he forgot his kids, who weren’t on that list. After making some notes about what antics the child could get into, he realized that a good source of conflict and fear for a child would-be robbers. Some unwanted intruders coming into the safety of a child’s home would be a pretty harrowing thing, and thus Home Alone was born. Director Chris Columbus came on board and did a quick rewrite, weaving in the emotional beats that unite Kevin and his neighbor. 

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Short Film Showcase Christmas Special 2019

Here is a over-sized serving of Christmas-themed short films from Disney to Wes Anderson. Enjoy!

The Snowman (1982, directed by Dianne Jackson)

This classic animated special features gorgeous animation, a wordless story, and haunting music. It’s a British favorite and one that always adds some magic to the holiday season.

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Movie Review – Pottersville

Pottersville (2017)
Written by Daniel Meyer
Directed by Seth Henrikson

pottersville

Maynard runs one of the few stores that’s not been boarded up in downtown Pottersville, a small upstate New York town. One day he decides to get off work early and surprise his wife only to find her caught in a compromising situation with a fellow member of the Furry club. Despondent, Maynard drowns his sorrows in moonshine, eventually donning a gorilla costume and running around the town. As he recovers from his hangover the following morning, the man discovers he was mistaken for a Bigfoot, and now the news is spreading across the globe. A pompous television monster hunter shows up ready to exploit this mystery, and the people of Pottersville are eager to cash in on the newfound fame. But Maynard knows the truth will eventually come out.

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Movie Review – Krampus

Krampus (2015, dir. Michael Dougherty)

krampus

In the last few years, the Krampus has become quite a popular internet meme. The Germanic creature pre-dates Christianity but was adopted into Christmas traditions as a shadow to Santa Claus. Where Santa brings good girls and boys presents, Krampus would bring a rod to beat the bad kiddies. The character has popped up in The Venture Brothers, Scooby-Doo and even been the focus of some holiday themed films, the best of which is Rare Exports. It was only a matter of time until Hollywood decided to give the monster an American feature, this one at the hands of Michael Dougherty, best known for Trick R Treat.

Max is a kid nearer the end of that period of childhood where a belief in Santa is socially acceptable. He’s penned a letter with his numerous Christmas wishes for his family and visiting relatives, but his twin cousins decide to snatch the letter and openly mock him at the dinner table. Max responds by shredding the letter and silently wishing horrible things upon them all while tossing the letter to the snowy winds. Overnight a dark storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the neighborhood freezes over. One by one the family members are taken out by deadly gingerbread men, malevolent toys, and other assorted holiday-themed horrors before Krampus himself shows up.

Krampus is a hell of a lot of fun. It hearkens back to 1980s dark classics, Gremlins chief among them. The killer gingerbread men have a laugh reminiscent of those title villains. There is also a lot of heart in this film, about family and the holidays, but never overly sentimental. People die and get wounded. There is some blood but not an overabundance of gore. I would never say the film was scary, but it was exciting, and the design of the monsters was excellent. There is a jack in the box that is one of the best holiday horrors I’ve ever seen.

The adult cast is composed of some solid actors with strong resumes: Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, and David Koechner. They play the parents perfectly, digging their heels in at the start focused only on rational explanation and finally cracking with the chaos breaches the walls of their home and cannot be ignored any longer. Tolman especially plays a character with a lot of underlying complexity. She and Koechner work as almost a counterpoint to Cousin Eddie and Catherine from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In that film the conservative, rural ideology of the characters is played for some incredibly strong laughs. Here we see the characters are not simpletons but working from a different paradigm. One of that works well and other times results in impulsive failure. Tolman has a number of scenes where her character proves her mettle and shows up her husband, who spends more of the film talking up his macho superiority than fulfilling those words.

Dougherty’s work in film has been a mixed bag. He was a co-writer on multiple Bryan Singer projects and some studio films. Trick R Treat was a breakthrough and Krampus is an awesome follow-up. He was ten years old when Gremlins was released so the perfect age to remember the feelings evoked by that film and others of its kind. Dougherty manages to do what Abrams accomplished so beautifully with The Force Awakens, the evocation of the sense of nostalgia without pandering. Krampus feels like the sort of film that would be in the cineplex alongside The Goonies and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But it also tells a fleshed out story that completes the arc of Max’s character and ends just the way a good horror film should.

Tentative Xmas Vacation Film Festival

Putting together a mini-film festival for the girlfriend and me when I go to visit. Here’s the line up so far. I always try to have an eclectic mix of movies.

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
John Carpenter’s The Thing
TimeCrimes
The King of Kong
Happiness
King of Comedy
Titus
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Alien

Suggestions?