Magical Christmas Ornaments, Review By Case Wright


ENTER TV-HALLMARKCHRISTMAS-DRINKINGGAME RA

Happy New Year! Sorry that I was MIA for just about all of the holiday season.  I owe my editor – Lisa an apology for that. There was travel, family, and a hint of drama, but these are all just excuses and excuses are all the same.  I’m hoping to make up for it with this review today!

I love Hallmark Movies! I enjoy watching them with my girls, and playing Hallmark Christmas Bingo – See Below.  Magical Christmas Ornaments is a Hallmark Christmas Movie, but it’s so much more because it unknowingly scratches at mental illness.  During the entire viewing, unlike other Hallmarks, I was kinda unnerved by the heroine – Marie played by Jessica Lowndes.  Instead of the heroine coming across as growing into her own, she seemed more and more untethered.  It was as if Hallmark and Lifetime wrote a creepy christmas movie.  I kept thinking more and more: this should be on Lifetime because it could easily turn left into madness.  Then, I searched IMDB and Jessica Lowndes has been in not one, not two, but three Lifetime MOWs: A Father’s Nightmare, A Mother’s Nightmare, A Deadly Adoption, and Maybe, Parenting is Not For Us?! (Coming Soon).  In fact, A Deadly Adoption was reviewed by my Editor- Lisa:   Lisa’s Awesome Review Here!

Magical Christmas Ornaments does have some of the tropes, but never full-on.  My youngest did win the bingo (far left column down), but the hatred of christmas was never that adamant, the jerk boyfriend wasn’t that jerky, and she wasn’t particularly work-obsessed.

The plot was straight-forward: Marie (Jessica Lowndes) didn’t like Christmas, and was nursing a broken heart.  Nate (Brandon Penny) played the traditional in love with christmas next door neighbor love interest.  Marie’s parents want to reignite her love christmas by sending her ornaments to put on a tree she never purchased.  Nate supplies the tree and she begins hanging them, but then she starts to believe that ornaments are influencing the events in her life.

I’m all for implied supernatural tropes especially in Christmas movies, if it’s understood that we are in an implied supernatural story, and Hallmark does that a lot with a real or implied Santas.  However, in this story, the magical ornament plot device trends creepy because no one else is on the same page as the protagonist, and the rest of the story is deeply rooted in reality.  Also, Jessica Lowdnes’ Lifetime facial expressions and over the top reactions give it a manic feel.  She seems to get angrier and angrier as the ornaments seem to portend the future.  Marie puts significance of each ornament predicting where her career and love life will turn.  When Marie tells the other characters that she thinks the ornaments are in fact magical, the delivery is so earnest that it comes across as Lifetime MOW delusional and the other characters kinda react that way to her too.  At one point, she even screams at her love interest, which is way atypical of a Hallmark film and it’s not even over a typical misunderstanding trope that’s often used in a Hallmark Christmas films, but more from pure jealous rage.

Yes, the characters do find love, but when she’s scorned, there is a pall that falls over this film like icy gooseflesh.  I highly recommend this film for the Lifetime movie qualities and if they changed the musical score to a typical Lifetime MOW, it would be a nailbiter!

Happy New Year!

The Christmas Chronicles (Dir: Clay Kaytis), Review by Case Wright


Netflix is known for taking risks and “The Christmas Chronicles” is no exception. There are six felonies in this film: 2 Grand Theft Autos, a kidnapping, money laundering, attempted murder, and whatever they did to that partridge in the pear tree.  Yet, it worked! I will admit that I am of the Y-Generation and Kurt Russell remains forever cool in my book, but this movie had some good story writing, great acting from veterans like Kurt Russell and Stevie Van Zandt, but great performances by up and comers Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) and Darby Camp (Big Little Lies) as well.

Clay Kaytis had his directorial debut with this film.  He is famous for being an animator for a panoply of films that you have taken your daughters to see: Frozen, Tangled, and Mulan…etc.  Clay was a pretty good choice considering the amount of animation that is in this film.  Honestly, it was a family movie that would have been a HUGE box office draw.

The film begins with a series of home movies featuring a classic nuclear family enjoying Christmas over the years…until 2017.  We learn that the father was a fireman who lost his life saving a family, leaving his family grieving and without the spirit of Christmas.  The mom is now taking extra shifts as a nurse, the daughter is REALLY into Santa, and the son is now a no-kidding degenerate car thief.  There are enough dark scenes in this film to classify it as Film Noir.

The family is trying to live as best they can and the daughter Kate is trying to reconnect with the memory of her late father by watching old home movies.  In one of the films, she sees a mystery arm delivering a package.  She convinces her brother that it could be Santa in the film and they decide to set a trap for him…..and IT WORKS!!! Not only do they catch Santa on film, they stow away onto his sleigh and cause Santa to crash.  He loses his sleigh, reindeer, bag of toys, and his magic hat.  The main ticking clock for the film is that Santa needs to get his presents delivered before christmas is up or christmas spirit will tick down to zero and it will be like the Hills Have Eyes or something.  The rest of the film is spent helping Santa retrieve these lost items and busting Santa out of jail to prevent the After Times.

And yes, Santa ends up in jail, charged with multiple felonies, and does a pretty amazing blues number with the E Street Band.  Yes, the E Street Band.  I know that a lot of this movie is starting to sound like a Christmas fever dream, but it works and my 7 and 9 year old girls were riveted and didn’t hurt each other for the duration of the film.  Thank you, Clay Kaytis…THANK YOU!

I would recommend this film and for you to subscribe to Netflix.  Otherwise, how will you understand half of my reviews?!!!!!

Merry Christmas!

 

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 E10, The Witching Hour, (Dir. Rob Seidenglanz) Review


STAW

Happy Halloween!!! I want to take a moment to thank Lisa. She is a great editor and writer.  She has given me so much support. It was a creative bucket list item review a show with her.  Thank you.

This is the final episode of the season and has the tone and feel of the nadir.  This episode is extremely polished and feels a lot like a well-done network season finale.  The shots are well framed, there is good creepy vibe, and we develop a visceral sense of every character’s inner struggle with each shot.  This is the work of a deliberate pro: Rob Seidenglanz.  It’s actually difficult to see a brilliant show that he hasn’t worked on.  My favorite shot is where Sabrina’s friends finally ask her if she is a witch.  The camera work makes you feel for Sabrina as she is confronted with her true self and she feels unmoored.

Once she’s confronted, it brings us to the question: how free is our will?  I have talked about evil A LOT in my reviews.  I have met evil men who committed terrible acts who will NEVER see justice and I know why they did what they did (see previous reviews and retweet them).  Why is Sabrina so close to the edge?  The same reason the men I met did what they did: she thinks she knows better and because she can.  When I deal with sanctimonious people on social media, I get nervous because they have the arrogance, but I don’t know if they really have the means.  Luckily, most are just lonely and online.  The scary combination that should keep everyone up at night is what these totally self-certain people will do if they feel justified.  You can imagine them shrugging off the collateral damage that they cause in their decisions for expediency.

Back to the review, Sabrina is faced with the oncoming of the resurrected witches who will destroy the town with the help of a headless horseman or some such.  Who is summoning all these demons? Ms Wardwell!!! It all looks terrible for the town.  Sabrina and the fam decide to protect the town, but Ms Wardwell manages to isolate Sabrina.  Once she’s alone, Sabrina’s convinced without a lot of struggle that she alone can solve everything! This plays to Sabrina’s vanity so perfectly that she signs Satan’s book and kicks a lot of ass, but at the cost of her soul.  That is where the corruption concludes.  We see Sabrina walking with with the sisters and she gives a lusty wink to Nick.

Side note: Aunt Z steals a baby and Ms Wardwell is Adam’s first wife Lilith.

SIDE SIDE NOTE IN RE LILITH: If you’re going through a divorce or know someone who is take solace because even the original Adam got divorced. Eve was Adam’s second wife after Lilith refused to subordinate herself to him and split.  Therefore, we are ALL children of divorce.

This show had so many complex characters…and Harvey.  I guess not everyone is supposed to be interesting.  Shipka brought this character to life with so many flaws, but with so much courage.  I like that Sabrina was flawed and corruptible.  It made it a human story.  The show gave a lot of opportunities to some new director and that is great in and of itself.

Happy Halloween!

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 Ep 9: The Returned Man, Review (Dir Craig Macneill)


STAW

Happy Devil’s Eve.  I will be doing the last episode on Halloween- Bwahahaha!

The Returned Man – directed by Craig Macneill is all about the failure! Since both Episode 8 & 9 were directed well, I’d like to get into their differing styles just a bit. Maggie Kiley built suspense with camera moves and slowing ratcheting up tension like a Hitchcock thriller or The Shining. Craig Macneill’s work feels more like an Italian horror film that relies on music, gore, and lighting to convey confusion, horror, and fear.

This episode is the reckoning of Sabrina’s necromancy.  She did raise Tommy, but he came back….different.  Tommy doesn’t speak, eat, or catch footballs normally.  What he does do is be very still and yet menacing.  Also, Sabrina’s clever plot to cheat death and have the witch return from death after 10 minutes isn’t really working out.  The sister is coughing up gravel.  All and all everything is going horribly horribly wrong.  When Sabrina returns the necromancy book to Ms. Wardwell, she feigns surprise that Sabrina went on the necromancy path.  This cements the sole culpability for Sabrina.

Why isn’t Tommy eating?  When the dead miners are delivered to the Spellman house, we learn that there is a good reason Tommy isn’t hungry; he was chowing down on the corpses of the other miners.  Yes, Tommy is a ….. ZOMBIE!!!! This is cut really well with a scene with Tommy attacking their POS dad.

Sabrina realizes that Tommy came back without a soul and that his soul is in limbo.  She thinks she can just waltz into limbo and get it. No muss no fuss.  Well, nope.  The Spellmans are now all aware of Sabrina’s shenanigans and think she is beyond reckless because she is.  No one wants to help Sabrina go into limbo except…..Ms Wardwell.

The limbo scene is excellent.  It reminds me of Phantasm or The Beyond. We pierce the veil and it’s filled with confusion and a terror called a Soul Eater!!! Sabrina meets her mother in Limbo, but she can’t recognize Sabrina.  This reminded me of The Beyond because if you make it to Hell in that film, you go blind from the revelation. Then, she does find Tommy, but as she is about finish Tommy’s rescue, the soul eater devours him.

Ms. Wardwell is conveniently near Sabrina for this scene and all others that can compromise Sabrina.  Wardwell convinces Sabrina that Harvey must know the truth. Sabrina agrees and we see Harvey’s love for Sabrina shatter.  He doesn’t seem angry as much as he is disgusted by being completely overruled in any of the decisions that affected him directly.  This causes them to break up, which isolates Sabrina completely from the human world.

I enjoyed how the characters were allowed to be diminished.  Sabrina failed in every way possible and lost everything.  This allows her to be prepped for a full corruption.  See you on Halloween!!!

*SPOILERS* Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 E8: The Burial, Review (Dir Maggie Kiley)


STAW

Happy Devil’s Eve!!! I would like to take a moment to tell Jason Blum to hire this Director A LOT!!! From Jumpstreet, she throws us off and builds suspense with her camera angles and moves.  We’re right there with the characters in the thick of suspense in the first seconds!  It almost has a found footage feel to it.  THAT TAKES SKILL! JASON, HIRE HER! A LOT!!! SHE’LL DO A GREAT JOB AND MAKE YOU LOTS OF MONEY!

Back to the review!

Maggie Kiley understood the theme of the episode immediately: Corruption.  Mostly, she uses close-in one-shots and two-shots, drawing us into these conversations where all of our characters are being slowly cozened into full darkness.

We quickly learn that Harvey’s brother Tommy is trapped in the mine and presumed dead. The drunkard father moves ahead with funeral plans right away to get insurance money.  All of these characters are under stress, which is when the easy corrupt always seems to present itself.  We learn from Hilda that their ground brings people back from the dead and in no way should give Sabrina any ideas to commit necromancy.

Furthering the theme of corruption, as the funeral is held, Sabrina violates Harvey’s will for the third time in the season.  She has used her power to make him forget, make him safe, and make him strong.  As pressure mounts, she continues to become more and more comfortable in overriding Harvey’s will.  The series is amazingly complex in that none of the characters end the season with clean hands.  They all are slowly corrupted in some way.  It brings home the slow pernicious temptation that humankind always faces in times of a crisis: To do right thing or the easy thing.  In this show, everytime Sabrina overrides Harvey’s will, we bear witness to it sending her going further down the path of darkness, giving up more and more of her humanity and bringing her closer to Satan.

And who is there at every turn to nudge Sabrina down the easy path of darkness: Mary Wardwell.  She never tells Sabrina: Raise Tommy From the Dead!!!  No, that’s not how temptation works.  She presents the means and opportunity, allowing Sabrina see this viable opportunity to make things all better.  Mary does it over coffee.  It’s innocuous, but the option is presented.

Throughout the episode, it’s brought up that she never asked Harvey if bringing Tommy back from the dead is what he would want. Once again, she is being tempted to substitute her will for his.  In going down the path of resurrection, Sabrina is not only substituting her will in place of Harvey’s, she is substituting her will for the very will of God himself.

Why is this working on her? Evil is attractive.  I have met people that were actually evil.  They appeared normal, but they were not.  They committed terrible acts. Why? Each time I was confronted with these men, their actions were done out of arrogance and expedience.  They knew the act work and because they knew could do it.  That’s the heart of evil: convenience and arrogance.

Ambrose is given clemency from his house arrest by Father Blackwood. With it, comes fealty.  The shot is pulled closer and closer just more actively to bear.  Then, once proposed, the shot backs off.  As if to say, I’m just here to help.

Aunt Z is corrupted as well, but hers is a lot more direct and in keeping with the show’s raging hormone.  She has a torrid affair with Father Blackwood.  It is STEAMY! Honestly, this is the most relatable bad act on the show.

Sabrina learns that the sisters were responsible for Tommy’s death. She conflates vengeance with justice.  They caused harm, so I can use them and harm them in order to correct a greater harm.  In doing this, Sabrina convinces herself to commit murder.  You could argue that it was temporary, but it was pointed out that it was still murder in order to bring Tommy back.

When you hear presumably Tommy banging on the Harvey’s door; it’s straight up terrifying.  The last shot is the hand on the doorknob- Brilliant!

I’ve written about this before how you could have a great director who can’t direct horror.  Maggie Kiley knows what she’s doing. I was riveted.  I can’t wait to see more of her art!

 

*SPOILERS* Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, S1 Ep 7: Feast of Feasts, (Dir. Viet Nguyen) Review-


STAW

Happy Horrorthon Home Stretch!!! Devil’s Eve is today.  Devil’s Eve is the day before the Great Samhain rises from the ground and goes door to door selling auto insurance at competitive rates…as the Druids taught him.

Those last reviews by Lisa were awesome as usual- Check them out, like them, and get Mia Farrow to live tweet while reading them!

Episode 7, Directed by Viet Nguyen, focuses around jealousy, betrayal, and corruption. Viet Nguyen is typically a film editor who occasionally directs.  I’m not sure if horror is where he is best suited to direct.  He usually directs action iZombie/The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow, camera shots that zero in on main characters with long still shots from below to reflect their larger than life hero or villain status.  The problem is that these long shots tend to diffuse the suspense that horror needs.  Take a look at the horror directed by Guy Norman Bee or Josh Stolberg.  The shots are at eye level with a slow push-in.  These people at your level and can get YOU.  Viet has done great work, but as I have written in other reviews Horror directing is a specialized art form where building suspense is its beating heart.

The story focus was narrowed.  Instead of an overarching drama piece where Sabrina straddles two worlds like a witchy Gilmore Girls, it’s a personal story of a father betraying his daughter with courtly intrigue.  The Feast of Feasts commemorates the bodily sacrifice to her fellow starving witches to eat her.  This story gives another piece to the backstory of the town vs the witches and how the townsfolk massacred the witches years ago.  It’s like the Taylor V Sutton feud, but with more goth makeup.

Each witch family in the coven in Hunger Games style has to send in a tribute to be “Queen”.  The Queen embodies Freya by getting massacred and eaten by the coven to celebrate Freya’s sacrifice.  The main course is chosen by lots.  Sabrina’s annoyed that her Aunt Z participates in the drawing and insists on being part of the drawing to see if Aunt Z will speak out that the ritual is barbaric.  Does it work? Not so much.  Sabrina and Prudence go head to head and Sabrina is picked to be Prudence’s servant and Prudence draws the dinner card.

The storyline meanders a bit and it focuses around courtly intrigue and headmaster ascension… yawn.  Turns out the drawing was rigged by the Headmaster’s wife who knows that Prudence is the Headmaster’s illegitimate child and threat to her kid because of a possible inheritance dispute….boring.  When I reviewed Stranger Things, there was a mediocre episode too.  Overall, this episode is not perfect, but good enough. The episode ends with Prudence’s toadies causing a mine cave-in, which sets off a very cool story arc!!!!

Cheers!!!

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, P1:E1, P1:E2, October Country and The Dark Baptism Review


STAW

Sabrina isn’t just a teenage witch; she’s the new face of postmodern feminism.  Hidden in plain sight of the funny storylines and creepily quirky characters is a hard look at society, gender identity, and self-determination.  This show is a master class in how Horror, when done properly, can make a political statement.

In our society, we have a lot of words I don’t understand: hypermasculine – is where I assume you workout too much. The Patriarchy which is mentioned by name in the show.  I guess I’m technically part of the Patriarchy, but I must have missed my meetings because I never got a single check. Maybe, I was busy with the Illuminati and the Tri-Lateral Commision guys that week and they’re all about volunteering these days; I swear you sponsor one Children’s Hospital and you lose sight of the things that matter like World Domination.

In any case, all these new weird words, which I don’t understand and probably won’t bother to learn (because I barely have enough time to find me a sitter for date nights) is FREEDOM!  As a good Libertarian, I get all groovy over Freedom! This show gives me some serious gooseflesh because Sabrina is one BAD ….shut your mouth….Just talkin’ about Sabrina.  She is one Freedom-Lovin’ Witch and I can dig it!

Many 90’s folks like myself at least saw Sabrina on tv while flipping channels.  I didn’t watch it because….well, it looked….stupid.  This story takes that show and burns it to the ground and from the ashes rises a female empowerment story that made me want to take on this Mr Patriarch fellow who must workout A LOT and punch him right in (I’m assuming) his well-defined abs!

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina was adapted for Netflix by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Supergirl, Riverdale) from the eponymous comic.  The first two episodes were directed by Lee Toland who is definitely a David Lynch fan because everything looked off, but beautiful.  Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka- Mad Men) plays the burgeoning feminist theme perfectly.

Sabrina lives with her aunts Hilda, Zelda, and her cousin Ambrose.  They are full-witches and want Sabrina to follow convention and subordinate herself to a Man (aka Satan) think of it like the 1950s, but with broomsticks. However, Sabrina is having doubts.  Her ambivalence is fueled from three facets: she’s in love with a mortal and not too bright boy named Harvey, her male peer classmates want to forcibly closet transgender students and need some ass whoopin, and lastly because she’s a FREEEEE BIRRRRRD Baby and this bird you cannot Chaaaaaaaain!

Sabrina’s aunts don’t like her rebellion or at least her Aunt Zelda doesn’t and calls in Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle) to talk some sense into the young lass. He promises that she will still have free will and can walk away from Satan if she feels like it.  Well, I can’t blame her for being interested in it now.

As Halloween and her dark baptism approaches, she starts to seek out guidance outside of her family to make her decision to marry the devil.  The devil doesn’t take this sitting on his hooves and sends his minion Mary Wardell (Michelle Gomez) to push her back onto the dark path and ward her away from the path of light by possessing one of the school’s teachers.  Ms. Wardell develops Sabrina’s confidence. She believes that if she helps Sabrina to ass whoop the boys who are harassing the LGBTQ kids at the school, she’ll be able to leave her old life behind for her new one with Satan. Sabrina gets some mean girl witches to aid her in giving the harassers a beat down, which is very gratifying in a CW kind of way.  Ms Wardell thinks that with this obstacle out of the way, Sabrina will get in line for Satan.

Halloween, Sabrina’s birthday arrives and dark baptism ceremony is at hand where she will become Satan’s Stay at Home Mom.   The ceremony is in the woods and looks sort-of like I’m guessing a furry convention, but with some books.  Sabrina must sign her name in the Beast Book and she is ALL-IN.  AHHHH, but Faustus Blackwood wants her give up all her autonomy to the Patriarch…I mean the Devil – see what they did there????  And, Sabrina’s like hooooooooold on; that’s not what you told me before.  Sabrina makes like a tree and gets out of there.

Her dark baptism passes and she remains a half witchy woman and she thinks everything is groovy.  But is it? She is called into the Principal’s office and she sits down with her principal (Bronson Pinchot).  It turns out the principal – Brandon Pinchot is NOT a Perfect Stranger- he’s the Devil and wants to take away Sabrina’s Freedom and turn her in some Stepford Stay at home mom and I’m not having it and neither is Sabrina!  Between the Devil vs Sabrina my money’s on Sabrina and I don’t think she’ll even have to fiddle for it!