Hallmark Review: Help For The Holidays (2012, dir. Bradford May)


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What we have here is a story about an elf at the North Pole who becomes disillusioned with her job. She feels that there must be more out there. She has lost some of the Christmas spirit because she’s always making toys, but never really gets to see the lives she touches. Santa takes notice and decides to send her on a mission. There is a family who runs a Christmas store. They too have begun to loose the Christmas spirit. They are so tied up with the business that they are neglecting their children and look forward to Christmas being over. Santa sends her in to be a nanny for the kids and help them rediscover the Christmas spirit. She helps them to see that they are missing experiencing Christmas themselves by spending it with their children. She also helps them to see the lives they touch through their business that helps other people to celebrate Christmas. In the process, discovering the importance of her work at the North Pole. However, she also meets the uncle of the family who also tries to help people during Christmas, but in a little different way. The uncle and the family are a little on the outs, but she helps to bridge the gap so they can reconnect. She also falls in love with him even though that was against the rules. But since Santa isn’t a bad guy, he of course gives her the choice to become human. Although her passion for the work she does at the North Pole has been rekindled, she decides to become human. She can continue to help people have a Merry Christmas with the uncle whom she has fallen for. In the end, we see the newly extended family under the tree at Christmas as Santa looks on from the North Pole. The end.

Well, that’s not quite how it goes. That would’ve been nice. Instead, add more cliched writing and demonizing of the parents to that story, with less of the Christmas spirit stuff.

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This is our elf Christine played by Summer Glau. She is not really disillusioned with her work, but kind of feeling cabin fever for lack of a better term. We get a brief scene to make sure we know the kids of the family aren’t happy, the parents have systematized “traditions”, and that their uncle disapproves. Then Santa sends her on her mission under the name of Christine Prancer.

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Of course she gets hired immediately which is good. Unrealistic, but it would have felt like the movie stalling by not keeping things moving along. She encounters the parents issues with Christmas because as the mother puts it, they are “kneecap deep in it”. Understandable, but this won’t ultimately lead to any kind of discovery about taking some pride and enjoyment in what they are doing during Christmas to help people celebrate. They will just say they are going to cut back at work, have some of the employees do some of it, and spend more time with kids. The employee part certainly came as a surprise since everything leading up to that made me think the two parents ran the entire operation themselves.

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Then we find out about the origin of the store. It was a family thing they used to do that ultimately expanded into a business. Again, this movie doesn’t do anything with this. They just have them cut back on work hours and spend more time with the kids.

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Now the film starts to hit its stride so to speak. She starts to warm up to the uncle who certainly has the Christmas spirit. She starts to clash with the parents. Sometimes because she does sort of overstep her boundaries such as when she and the uncle decorate the home tree which the mother clearly wants to hold onto as a family thing. She feels that her trust has been violated, which it has. They also sneak in a line that hints that they only decorate the tree because they own a Christmas store, but they really don’t do anything with that. And of course she becomes good friends with the children. It ends the way I said, but not with a Christmas spirit thing really going on. Basically, the parents just reconnect with their kids at Christmas time.

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It’s all nice and everything, but it’s not really a Christmas story. October Kiss is almost the same thing and takes place at Halloween. There’s really not much of a Christmas spirit rediscovery here. It’s a nanny brings a family together and finds love at the same time story that happens to take place with Christmas characters during the Christmas season. Nothing really wrong with that, but it is cliched and falls back on the old demonize the parents who work thing. The story afforded them the opportunity to bring the Christmas spirit into the story and instead of demonize, help the parents to step back and reevaluate the work they do in a new and more meaningful light.

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The acting is fine all around, but I particularly liked Steve Larkin as Santa.

Nothing bad here, but it is nothing special when it could have been. It feels like a missed opportunity.

An Arresting Start For “The Sheriff Of Babylon”


Trash Film Guru

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Tom King makes me a little nervous.

It’s nothing to do with the guy’s personality, mind you — he could be the life of the party for all I know, or a humble and gracious gentleman, or a devoted family man, or all three. I’ve never met him, so I couldn’t tell you. But the idea of Tom King, well — that’s what makes me a trifle apprehensive, I guess.

There’s no doubt the man can write — his work on DC’s Omega Men has been stellar, and his newly-launched take on The Vision for Marvel is off to an intriguing start. I’ve never read Grayson — probably because the idea of the former Robin going undercover as a spy after his secret identity has been blown to the general public just strikes me as being absurd on its face — but folks tell me that’s a pretty good read…

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The Los Angeles Film Critics Association Goes Mad For Max But Even Madder For Spotlight!


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Boston and New York were not the only critics to vote today!  The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their picks for the best of 2015 as well!  Mad Max: Fury Road won best director but Spotlight won best picture with Fury Road as the runner-up.  In other words, the LAFCA liked Fury Road but decided to play it safe.  Let’s not forget that this is the same group of people who once named The Descendants best picture with The Tree of Life as the runner-up.

(Dear award-giving groups: Just so you know, playing it safe is really freaking boring.)

Here’s all that what won:

Best Picture
Winner: Spotlight
Runner-up: Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Director
Winner: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Roard
Runner-up: Todd Haynes, Carol

Best Actor
Winner: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Runner-up: Geza Rohrig, Son of Saul

Best Actress
Winner: Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Runner-up: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Runner-up: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Runner-up: Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Best Screenplay
Winner: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa

Best Cinematography
Winner: John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Ed Lachmann, Carol

Best Production Design
Winner: Colin Gibson, Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Judy Becker, Carol

Best Editing
Winner: Hank Corwin, The Big Short
Runner-up: Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Music Score
Winner: Carter Burwell, Anomalisa and Carol
Runner-up: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight

Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner: Son of Saul
Runner-up: The Tribe

Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film
Winner: Amy
Runner-up: The Look of Silence

Best Animation
Winner: Anomalisa
Runner-up: Inside Out

New Generation Award: Ryan Coogler for Creed

The New York Film Critics Online Grab The Spotlight


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I really don’t know much about the New York Film Critics Online but, for whatever reason, the people at  Awards Daily seem to hate them.  And that’s more than enough reason for me to like them!  Anyway, the NYFCO met today and announced their picks for the best of 2015.

And the big winner was Mad Ma…oh wait.  No, sorry.  The big winner was Spotlight.  Check out the rest of the winners below:

Best Picture: Spotlight
Best Director: Tom McCarthy – Spotlight
Best Actress: Brie Larson – Room
Best Actor: Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara – Carol
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies
Breakthrough Performance: Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer – Spotlight
Best Use of Music: Love & Mercy
Best Debut Director: Alex Garland – Ex Machina
Best Ensemble Cast: Spotlight
Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul
Best Documentary Feature: Amy
Best Animated Feature: Inside Out

Top 10 Films (in alphabetical order):

45 Years
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario

Spotlight
Steve Jobs
Trumbo

Alan Moore And Jacen Burrows Give “Go F**k Yourself” A Whole New Meaning in “Providence” #6


Trash Film Guru

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Before we delve too deeply into the events depicted in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #6, a brief item of housekeeping : in the two-fold interests of time and maintaining the attention of those who are following both this series and my admittedly sporadic reviews of it (one day I really should go back and do write-ups on issues two and three, I suppose, just for the sake of completeness), I’m going to skip over re-hashing the basics in terms of plot set-up, etc. in this and future installments simply because, who are we kidding? If you’re not “on board” with Providence already, odds are very slim indeed that you’ll be jumping on at this point, so it’s fairly safe to assume that anybody reading this right now already knows what the book is all about and anybody who’s reading it, say, a year or two down the road…

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Sci-Fi Film Review: The 10th Victim (dir by Elio Petri)


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Before The Hunger Games…

Before The Purge

There was The 10th Victim!

This Italian film from 1965 takes place in a future that is a lot like our present.  After years of war and senseless violence, the world is finally at “peace.”  Wars are avoided by allowing people to take part in the Big Hunt.  When you join the Hunt, you’re agreeing to take part in 10 rounds of competition.  For five rounds, you’re the hunter.  For the other five rounds, you’re the hunted.  Survive all 10 rounds and your reward will be money and retirement.  So far, only 15 contestants have managed to survive.

If you’re being hunted, you get a letter informing you that you are now being hunted.  The only way to win is to kill the person who has been assigned to hunt you.  Unfortunately, you’re not told who is hunting you and, if you accidentally kill someone who is not hunting you, you’ll be sent to prison for 30 years.  And, of course, the whole time you’re trying to avoid getting killed, others are being hunted around you.  World peace means that there are constant gun battles in the streets, all of which are calmly observed by a rather apathetic populace.  It’s a violent world but it’s legal violence so it doesn’t really concern anyone beyond the people that are getting killed.

(At one point, an announcement is heard while a hunter guns down his target: “Live dangerously but obey the law…live dangerously but obey the law…”)

Coverage of the Big Hunt is the world’s most popular television show and, as a result, legalized murder has become big business.  Companies regularly sponsor hunters and turn their kills into elaborate commercials for their products.

When we first meet Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), she is using a literal bullet bra to shoot a man dead.  Caroline is sponsored by Ming Tea and, when she is assigned to hunt Marcello Pollitti (Marcello Mastroianni), the company flies her out to Italy.  In order to make Marcello’s death as cinematic and commercial as possible, Ming Tea and Caroline decide to lure him to Rome’s Temple of Venus.  The Ming Tea dancers are flown in, a choreographer starts working on their routine, and Caroline tracks down Marcello.

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Marcello has just found out that he’s being hunted and he’s more than a little depressed.  He’s also paranoid and when Caroline first approaches him, Marcello suspects that she’s his hunter and not, as she claims, a journalist.  However, because of the legal penalty for killing a non-hunter, Marcello cannot kill Caroline until he’s sure that she wants to kill him.  Meanwhile, Caroline cannot kill Marcello until they’re at the Temple of Venus, in front of the cameras and the dancers.

And, of course, there’s also the fact that, as they get to know each other, Caroline and Marcello start to fall in love.  When Caroline observes Marcello conducting a bizarre religious ceremony (he’s the head of a cult of sun worshippers), she is so touched that she starts to cry.  Or does she?  Are her tears just a ploy to keep Marcello from suspecting that she wants to kill him?  We’re never quite sure.

If you didn’t already know that The 10th Victim was made in 1965, you would guess it after just a few minutes.  This is one of those hyperstylized works of pop art that, for many people, define 60s cinema.  How you react to the film will depend on how much tolerance you have for its nonstop style.  Speaking as someone who happens to love over-the-top pop art, I enjoyed it but I could imagine other viewers ripping out their hair at the sound of the film’s peppy theme song.

But, if you’re patient, you will eventually discover that, underneath the film’s excesses, it’s actually a rather clever satire of media, politics, culture, religion, and just about everything else that deserves to be satirized.  Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are both a lot of fun and, in the end, the whole thing works as both a surprisingly accurate prophecy of today’s world and as a time capsule of the 1960s.

Plus, I loved the bullet bra.  I need to get one of those.

It’s a dangerous world, after all.

The Boston Society Of Film Critics Honors Spotlight!


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With three major groups of critics scheduled to announce their picks for the best of 2015, today is a big day for those of us who love Awards Season.  First off, here are the picks of the Boston Society of Film Critics!  While the awards are nicely spread around, it’s not surprising that the Boston Society of Film Critics picked a Boston film for best picture.

Best Picture  – Spotlight (runner-up: Mad Max: Fury Road)

Best Actor – Paul Dano, Love & Mercy and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (TIE)

Best Actress – Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (runner-up: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn)

Best Supporting Actor – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (runner-up: Sylvester Stallone, Creed)

Best Supporting Actress – Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria (runner-up: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, Burnt, Testament of Youth)

Best Director – Todd Haynes for Carol (runner-up: Tom McCarthy for Spotlight)

Best ScreenplaySpotlight (runner-up: Carol)

Best CinematographyCarol (runner-up: The Revenant)

Best Editing – Mad Max: Fury Road (runner-up: Spotlight)

Best DocumentaryAmy (runner-up: The Look of Silence)

Best Foreign-Language Film  (awarded in memory of Jay Carr)The Look of Silence (runner-up: White God)

Best Animated FilmAnomalisa and Inside Out (TIE) (runner-up: Shaun the Sheep Movie)

Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer)Mad Max: Fury Road (runner-up: Spotlight)

Best New Filmmaker (awarded in memory of David Brudnoy) – Marielle Heller for The Diary of a Teenage Girl (runner-up: Alex Garland for Ex Machina)

Best Ensemble Cast – Spotlight (runner-up: The Big Short)

Best Original Score – Love & Mercy (runner-up: Creed)