Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movies of the Week

Hello and ho, ho, ho! I’m back this week with another instalment of Christmas Movies of the Week.  We’re getting closer and closer to Christmas, and my movie watching consumption certainly hasn’t dropped. There are far too many movies to review, and so little time, so today I bring you only the best of the best, by which I mean the ones that I remember well enough to write about, and which I either need to encourage you to check out or urge you to avoid at all costs.

If you missed previous instalments, you can find them here, here, and here.

Journey Back to Christmas: I was super excited for this one because, in my mind, Candace Cameron Bure is usually a pretty good sign that a holiday movie will be of reasonable quality. That was before a magical time-travel-inducing Christmas comet came into the picture. Candace is transported into the future, where everyone assumes she’s some sort of holiday grifter set to take advantage of their community instead of, you know, someone suffering from some sort of mental health issue. A cop takes her into his home but–surprise twist–they don’t really fall in love (a Hallmark Christmas movie first!!), because her heart belongs to her husband, who’s still back in the 1940s. Will the magical Christmas comet take her back in time again or will she be stuck in the future? I’ll spare you having to watch it: she gets back to the 40s. Skip this one. Candace Cameron Bure or not, it gets one tree.

The Magic Stocking: A young girl is gifted an old stocking at a holiday craft fair, which turns out to be magical. Every day the stocking falls off the mantle and some sort of meaningful gift appears inside it. Naturally, no one except the young girl actually believes its magic at first, but soon they’re all sold on this stocking’s power to bring back Christmas magic and heal broken hearts.  This one’s not as bad as it sounds, but trust me that my bar has been lowered substantially with the number of movies I’ve watched this year. I most appreciated that this featured some Christmas magic and not just a love story (although, to be fair, the love story is still there too).

A Christmas to Remember: A Martha Stewart-ish food television icon loses her memory in a car accident and finds a new small-town home, her long-lost Christmas spirit and love while recovering from her amnesia. Bonus points for falling in love with the man who almost ran her over after her accident.  Aside from all the implausible plot details, there was something about this one that took it from one Christmas tree to two. Perhaps that something was the half bottle of wine I drank while watching it…

Hope at Christmas: The one followed the made-for-television Christmas formula to the T.  There was a move from the big city to the small town, gingerbread houses, misunderstandings between potential new loves, and a rapid romance that developed over (I think) five days. It was the stuff that TV holiday movies are made of, chock full of major implausibilities, like buying a book store on a whim or  reading a whole book without noticing that the guy you’re sort of dating is the author on the book jacket. Sigh. Really the enjoyment in this one was its ridiculousness and predictability.

Not a great week in movies, as you can see, but I’m still optimistic that I’ll get another three-tree status movie before the season’s done.

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Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movie of the Week, Netflix Edition

We are firmly into December, my friends, and that means I can safely resume Christmas Movies of the Week without appearing to be a little fanatical in my Christmas enthusiasm (which I am). Never fear, despite not posting since this post and this post, I assure you I’ve been sticking to a steady diet of all the best and worst holiday movies on television.

Every once in a while, though, we take a break from the made-for-television variety and upgrade ourselves to Netflix. Last week, we checked out one of Netflix’s new seasonal additions: The Christmas Chronicles.  In a way, it was great because it reminded me that Christmas movies actually exist, compared to the made-for-television variety which are essentially just love stories that take place around the holidays. But in another way, it was awful, because it raised the bar on our holiday film watching to a level that no TV movie can ever seem to reach.

I have to admit, through the first 10 minutes or so I had my doubts about this one. The whole kids-with-attitudes thing really interferes with my sense of holiday magic, and the older brother was a little too obnoxious for my liking.  But then the holiday magic entered the picture and I was won over by (in no particular order):

1. Kurt Russell as a rough-and-tumble-but-still-big-hearted Santa: He’s not all ho-ho-ho (in fact, he claims that’s a myth–much like Santa being fat), but he still remembers all the kids’ names and brings enough warmth to make him ultra Santa-esque. Plus watching him get the whole jail house rocking to Santa Claus is Back in Town was worth watching the entire movie to see.

2. Adorable elves: I’m not usually one for animated creatures, but the elves were freaking adorable. And one of them carried a chain saw, which is pretty fantastic.

3. Winston from New Girl as a Santa-believing cop: I never loved Winston on New Girl. He was just…okay. But I loved him in this movie. He was one of the first to believe Santa. Granted, he saw the reindeer take flight and it would be pretty hard not to believe after seeing that, but still.

4. Actual Christmas magic: As far as I’m concerned, too many holiday movies these days just take place around Christmas, but fail to capture what makes the holidays magical.  That’s all fine and well every once in a while, but sometimes you want to dive deep into true holiday magic–the kind where Christmas is on the line, and it takes some sleight of hand by Santa Claus to get things on the right track.  This movie has holiday spirit in spades, and you will find yourself rooting hard for Christmas to be saved even if you think of yourself as a Grinch.

5. A cameo by Oliver Hudson: Because, in my opinion, when it comes to Oliver Hudson, a cameo is still enough to make the movie.

So without giving away the plot details (aka the holiday magic), let me just say that you need to watch this movie, particularly if you’ve yet to find yourself in the holiday spirit. I promise you it will up your Christmas enthusiasm by at least ten percent.

Mid-Week Tangent: our 2018 TV addiction

It seems every year there is some sort of new show that captures our attention and for which we develop a love that borders on obsession. I think last year it was Ozark, and probably Stranger Things and the OA the year before. I mean, we’re clearly not original in our TV addictions, but what is life if you don’t watch all the same things as all the other people?

At any rate, I’m prolonging the embarrassing reveal, which is that this year, at the ripe ages of 39, which feels far too old to become enthralled with what is essentially a televised talent competition, we have become hopelessly addicted to The Voice. We look forward to it every week. We devote two entire nights to watching it. We’ve even shut ourselves into a hotel room just to make sure we caught the episodes while we were out of town. That’s commitment. And frightening.

What is it about The Voice? I could say it’s Kelly Clarkson, who I love for reasons I don’t even fully understand. But that’s only a part of it. I could say it’s because the singers, for the most part, all seem legitimately talented right from the audition stages, unlike the show’s predecessors like American Idol. But that’s only a part of it too. The show just has a quality about it that drew us in right from the first time we decided to give it a go, based on my partner’s parents’ recommendation no less (if you don’t take your television viewing tips from 70 year-olds, you are not living).

You cannot underestimate the lure of this enigmatic magical quality. It allows us to put up with the fact that we hear each singer’s back story every. single. episode as though there are other viewers out there that lack our commitment to watching weekly.  It allows us to put up with Adam Levine and his wretched track pant outfits. In fact, against our better judgment, we’ve started to actually like Adam Levine. I know, it’s beyond perplexing.

Before The Voice, if you had asked me whether I would ever care about a singing competition, I would have laughed in your face, and yet here I am, steadfastly caring about each week’s outcome. We fiercely stand for our favourites, and against our least favourites.  I exhale with genuine relief when America votes to keep my favourites, and I’ve developed such a dislike for some singers that I yell at my television when America doesn’t kick them to their rightful place on the curb. I haven’t had such strong reactions since the first seasons of So You Think You Can Dance (may it rest in peace). We have, it seems, unnatural attachments to strangers, and we are fully okay with it.

Judge if you will, but then I challenge you to give it a try next season. At first you’ll just sort of be lulled in by some good singers and Kelly Clarkson’s charm, but I promise you within an episode or two (or three at most) you’ll be hit by the sledgehammer that is The Voice’s undefinable and magnetic quality. You just wait.

Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movies of the Week

We are now squarely in mid-November and I have a lengthy list of new holiday movie synopses and reviews to share with you. If you want to check out last week’s edition, you can here.  Lest you think all I do is watch holiday movies, I assure you they are super short (most are actually only 80 minutes of movie) and require minimal thought or attention). Enough justification! Onward we go!

Before diving into the movies we actually did watch, I have a movie graveyard, which doesn’t sound festive, but it’s where all the really, really bad made-for-television holiday movies go to die…as they should…because they are awful…and we couldn’t get more than 15 minutes into them. This week’s graveyard additions were: A Snow-Capped Christmas (so bad I can’t even remember what it was about); Enchanted Christmas (anything but enchanting); Cookie Cutter Christmas (colossally bad acting); A Dream of Christmas (worst fake fall off a stool ever).

Christmas Getaway
The Premise: A writer is double-booked in a small-town cabin with a man and his daughter. Though she tries to leave them be, so many plot devices (roads shut, bridges out, alternators shot) keep her from leaving them to their Christmas. But don’t worry, because love blooms between them in a span of four days.
The Verdict:  One thing that is abundantly clear in these movies is that love takes but days to develop between two people who start off as adversaries.  The challenges with Christmas Getaway were three-fold: 1) bad acting 2) really, really fake looking snow man props and 3) I think they got engaged at the end of the movie…after a few days…with a strange Norwegian almond in the oatmeal tradition.

Switched for Christmas
The Premise: Candace Cameron Bure switches places with…Candace Cameron Bure to slough off each other’s Christmas responsibilities. In the process, they create some awkwardness by falling in love with men who think they’re the other sister.
The Verdict: I don’t believe there’s many people out there who would find Candace Cameron Bure unlikeable. In fact, she’s quite quintessentially likeable, which is the real problem here, because I feel guilty for saying the movie is pretty bad (which it is). If you do choose to watch it, pay particular attention to one of the love interests, whose eyes bore the soullessness of, well, a murderer. Yikes! Look out Candace Cameron Bure!

Snowed Inn Christmas 
The Premise: Two journalists are dispatched to Aspen, Colorado to write Christmas stories for an online magazine, but become stranded in Santa Claus, Indiana. The old adage of ‘opposites attract’ is proven true when they are set up by none other than Mister and Missus Claus themselves!
The Verdict: This movie features several things that I loved: 1) A Clapper  2) a Kelly Kapowski reference 3) a town called Santa Claus Indiana that actually exists (!!!) 4) a small handful of legitimate LOLs and 5) a realistic looking Santa Claus. These things helped me get past the fact that flights into Aspen were grounded for days because of snow, which seems implausible in a town that’s accustomed to high volumes of snow. Who needs to get all critical when Mr. and Mrs. Claus are playing match-maker in small-town Indiana? No one.

Christmas in Evergreen
The Premise: A man and his daughter get stranded on their way to Florida, and seek refuge in a small, Christmas-themed town called Evergreen. There, they find a magic snowglobe that grants them their wishes…and they find the magic of love (well, the dad does, at least) and Christmas.
The Verdict: This movie features the smallest amount of snow that has ever cancelled flights out of Vermont, and two travellers who apparently had, like, five extra days of cushion time to get to Florida before they’d miss their cruise. But the snowglobe wishes were endearing, as was the actress who played the daughter. And maybe it was just that we’d shut off three movies in a row before watching this, but it was…okay.

A Christmas Melody
The Premise: A mom and her daughter move back to the mom’s home town after her business in LA fails. She vies to get her daughter into the school’s christmas concert, combatting mean PTA moms and simultaneously falling in love with the music teacher.
The Verdict: Hold the phone. This was directed AND produced by Mariah Carey?!?! Well count me on board! Mariah Carey plays a perfectly passive-aggressive mean PTA mom (shocker), who is also an overbearing stage mom, but she is no match for Lacey Chabert of Party of Five fame. Her kindness doesn’t just win over the music teacher, but even wins over Mariah Carey. That’s impressive. Let’s be honest, this movie was totally terrible, but I cannot give it any less than two stars because MARIAH CAREY.

Christmas Under Wraps
The Premise: Candace Cameron Bure plays a doctor who put all her eggs in one fellowship basket. When she doesn’t get her prize fellowship she’s forced to take a job in a tiny town in Alaska, where she not only find the Christmas spirit but also, you guessed it, love.
The Verdict: Oh Candace Cameron Bure, you’ve done it again. You’ve made me give more trees than I should to what is essentially a horrible movie.  I mean, who even tries to wear heels in Alaska? No one. There is also an elf who runs by with such creepy speed and mystery that it’s reminiscent of a holiday Chucky, and a Santa who bears no resemblance to Santa and also sounds way too similar to that really mean head elf in the claymation classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. This is a full-on mess of a movie, but I still have to give it two trees.

The Sweetest Christmas
The Premise: An unemployed pastry chef sees no other way to seek pastry chef redemption than by winning the American Gingerbread Contest being held on Christmas Eve and in small town America, both of which just seem so unlikely. But it’s okay, because it reunites her with an old flame, and she learns that love is just as important as gingerbread…or something to that effect.
The Verdict: All you need to know about this movie is that it features one of the best lines I have ever heard in a made for television holiday film: “I have to tell him how I feel in the best way I know how: with gingerbread.” For that alone, this movie gets two trees.

The Christmas List
The Premise: A woman finds an old list of Christmas traditions she wanted to experience as a child and is determined to make it happen. She signs herself and her boyfriend up for small town Christmas magic, only he doesn’t show up until Christmas Eve, by which time she’s already fallen in love with someone else who doesn’t treat her like garbage.
The Verdict: Words cannot describe how much I hated this character’s original boyfriend. Imagine my excitement when I quickly realized that she was going to fall in love with someone else! This was also the movie in which we noticed that at least three of the movies we’ve watched recently were filmed on the same tiny set made to look like an iconic Christmas village. This means both that a) Hallmark is really milking some serious set efficiencies and b) we are watching too many Hallmark Christmas movies.

Mid-Week Tangent: Worst of the Holiday Movies

On Monday, I wrote about made-for-TV  holiday films that are so bad they’re good.  You know the movies, the ones that you just can’t stop watching even though you spend at least half your time wondering why you’re watching it.  Well, today I have another treat for you. Today I cross the line into the land of the legitimately bad Christmas movie. Thanks to our aggressive viewing schedule, we’ve seen some doozies this year.  I could go on forever about the crap that we’ve sat through, but for your sake I’ll narrow it down to my top three.  Without further adieu, here goes nothing!

3. Four Christmases: I’m constantly amazed at just how bad a movie can be even when it stars a bunch of A-list actors. To be fair, Vince Vaughn can annoy me at the best of times, but I can usually rely on Reese Witherspoon not to drive me nuts.  Not so this time around.  Start to finish virtually all the characters annoyed me. Who are these people with insane families? Do families who constantly look for ways to shame and embarrass each other actually exist? Am I just sheltered and blessed with a relatively normal family life? No matter the answer to any of these questions, this movie is a steaming pile of crap.

2. A Christmas Story 2: Did you know this movie existed? I didn’t. Apparently it went straight to DVD and for good reason. Why must casting agents cast the most annoyingly precocious children in roles? They are not cute nor funny.  I’m sure Randy in A Christmas Story 2 was meant to be precocious, but he just came as off as a jerk.  He could not hold a candle to the original Christmas Story’s Randy who makes that whole movie with his whiny “I can’t put my arms down” and hiding under the kitchen sink because “daddy’s going to kill Ralphie”. That’s genius.  I guess his sequel counterpart didn’t stand a chance with that kind of greatness preceding him. And don’t even get me started on Daniel Stern as the father. No. Just no. What ultimately impressed me most about this film was that they somehow turned our dingy, Vancouver train station into a holiday magic filled department store. Like seriously, how did a low budget film like this manage to shut down a functioning rail terminal for filming?

1. A Christmas Tail : Two strangers decide to share custody of one cute dog and romance ensues. Yup, you read that right. if you’ve ever wondered if you can watch an entire bad movie just because of a cute yellow lab, this movie proves that the answer is yes.  Other than the fact that the protagonist had what is essentially my dream job–creating ice cream flavours–this film made no sense. The dog ends up in a shelter three times and is immediately adopted out to new people each time. I’m no animal shelter expert but I’m fairly confident that’s not how it works. The movie’s also full of so many everyday villains that it made me wonder what’s happened in the writer’s life to make him or her see humans in such a negative light. I mean, what kind of person would tell his girlfriend the dog had run away when in reality he’d dropped the dog off at the animal shelter just because he didn’t like the way it looked at him while they ate dinner? That’s true evil. The quick review on this one is simple: really bad acting, really really bad writing, and a storyline that has virtually nothing to do with Christmas are saved by a really adorable dog.

There you have it, the worst of the worst…for now. Because you know full well I can’t stop myself from watching even more festively awful flicks…

Mid-Week Tangent: over-analyzing Wheel of Fortune

Have you ever discovered that you have a completely useless skill set for everyday life? I have. I am outstanding at hangman. I see words quickly. My mind can fill the space between letters at the speed of light.  How did I discover this? I am embarrassed to admit it’s because I’ve been watching Wheel of Fortune, regularly and (gasp!) on purpose. I am good at it. Like, I am really, really good at it.  And that’s despite the fact that they barely show the damn puzzle screen to at-home viewers. I mean, seriously Wheel of Fortune, can you just implement a screen in screen so I don’t have to wait for minutes on end while you pan over to Pat Sajak making awkward small talk with contestants? Is that too much to ask?  If you think my rage is in jest, I assure you it is not. I take this seriously.

I’m convinced that I would walk away a wealthy lady if I were to compete on Wheel of Fortune. Actually, let me make a correction: I would walk away a wealthy lady IF, and this is a big if, I could keep my largely uncontrollable facial responses in check during any and all of the following:  a) Pat Sajak’s inane jokes and slightly lascivious manner with female guests b) the wheel’s wrath (i.e. its tendency to stop on ‘bankrupt’ just as you’re getting greedy by wanting one more spin) and c) not getting my way.

I actually believe that one’s ability to successfully garner a spot on this game show is only partly based on her word wizardry. The bigger part, I’m sure, is the ability to be a good sport, to clap when the person next to you solves the puzzle that you essentially solved for them if only you hadn’t gotten greedy and decided to take one more spin.  I watch contestants closely…mostly because I’m forced to when they pan away from the puzzle board to here about Jean’s three brilliant children and supportive husband. Ugh. Seriously. Okay, moving on. As I was saying, I watch the contestants.  They smile when they hit bankrupt. They say “way to go” when someone else solves the puzzle. They look like they’re about to say “aw shucks” when they call out a letter that isn’t there.

Are they robots? Are they simpletons? There is money on the line here, people! I would be a seething ball of rage when Jean from Wisconsin solves the puzzle after I spent minutes carefully filling in all the critical letters. I am rarely the bigger person in any situation, but when money’s on the line I’m certain I would lose it. I’d drop an F bomb, serve some serious stink eye, throw near temper tantrums, and I sure as hell wouldn’t clap for my fellow contestants. This is why I’d never get onto the show in the first place, and why I will also never win 80 grand for thirty minutes of hard work despite my knack for solving puzzles.

It is a bitter pill to swallow, realizing that you have a skill whose only chance to earn you cash is on a game show for which you lack the other required skills. Maybe one day I will find my inner zen and you’ll see me up there dazzling even Pat, rarely impressed after 30 years of hosting the Wheel, and winning every cash and trip prize in view.  You just better hope that I don’t win a Ford Focus on the final puzzle, because even the zen version of me can’t handle that kind of slap in the face.

Trail Tuesdays: I watched an outdoor survival movie and I’m never hiking again

Recently I wrote about watching too many murder mysteries. Well, in an effort to diversify my viewing habits, I unwittingly surfaced an even scarier breed of entertainment: outdoor survival movies.  It shouldn’t be surprising for me. After all, watching 127 Hours and Into the Wild weren’t just cautionary tales for me, they were horror stories pure and simple. As it turns out, as much as I am afraid of murderers and rapists like the vast majority of the population, my biggest fear is actually dying alone in nature. It may seem irrational, but given how much time I used to spend in the great outdoors, it is actually far more statistically probable than my being murdered.

This weekend, we watched a little-known Canadian movie called Backcountry. Years ago I watched a really bad made-for-tv horror movie about an insane predatory bear in the woods, so bad in fact that even a thorough Google search didn’t surface its name, and I expected Backcountry to be similarly kitschy, unrealistic and full of over-the-top bad special effects.  Well, Backcountry was kitschy for sure, but it was also more terrifying than I expected. Long story short, a couple gets hopelessly lost in the Northern Ontario wilderness and then gets attacked by a really unusually pissed off black bear. I’ll spare you the spoilers but suffice it to say that there were many, many a scene that I actually couldn’t watch because it was too graphically awful and horrifying. And when someone wasn’t in the midst of a vicious bear attack, I was experiencing deeply unsettling discomfort at the thought of being so very lost in such a vast wilderness.

Perhaps the fear of being lost in nature comes naturally to me, care of many of my own near-getting-lost experiences, one of which actually occurred in Ontario’s wilderness. That was the near-getting-lost event that sticks with me the most because in the depths of Ontario’s forests there are no directional markers. Out West, I would be more likely to identify mountain ranges that would give me a sense of direction and, because the West is so mountainous, it always feels at least a relatively safe bet to just walk downhill. In Ontario, however, there are no peaks and valleys and I can personally attest to the fact that every “viewpoint” from escarpments in the forest looks identical, to the point that even within a two hour hike I convinced myself that my brother and I were walking in an endless circle, destined to die from hypothermia on an unseasonably cold day in October.

Alas, we clearly survived, but that experience has stuck with me.  What made Backcountry even more terrifying was the added element of bear attack. I can think of nothing worse than being near death from a bear attack and also having no idea if you are heading towards safety or further into danger. To say watching this film was a bad way to spend a Saturday night is an understatement. Not only was I left emotionally scarred, albeit temporarily, but it also made me solemnly vow that:

  • I will never hike in Ontario again. Ever. Apparently, bears be crazy out there.
  • I will never go deep into any nature by myself again.*
  • I am done with outdoor survival films as a genre. My naturally anxious self does not need reminders of human vulnerability to the elements…and sadistic wildlife.
*I reserve the right to revoke this second statement at such time that the shock value from watching this film wears off, which is not quite yet, but hopefully soon.