Christmastime 2016 on The Viewer’s Commentary

December 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Christmas Vacation - The Griswolds

Well, 2016 certainly was… a year. And now it’s almost over! And so is November, a month in which I totally intended to do far more here, but which ultimately ended up being mostly a month for taking a break.

No worries, however. Before the assured nightmare that will likely be 2017 begins, we have just a bit more time left on our hand to be festive and merry and all that junk, ’cause it’s Christmastime, and that means it’s time to get watching Christmas movies!

As with many of the big holidays this year, I have no real big plans for this month, ’cause it’s 2016 and… whatever, right? Heck, I’m writing this after imbibing a fair bit of wine after having made some delicious, spontaneously made spaghetti with shrimp and chardonnay sauce as a sort of break from the still considerable amount of Thanksgiving leftovers I still have, so it’s not like I’m caring too much about planning and such.

Joyeux Noel - Christmas Carol

I really don’t have much else to say on the matter, as a result. I solicited a few film suggestions from friends this year, and so I’m likely to touch upon some familiar stuff I have yet to cover in the last six Christmas seasons I’ve been writing. Geez… next thing you know, I’ll be doing my 2016 in review, huh? Man, this year has gone by quickly. I can’t tell if that’s God being merciful or just the sad reality of having now turned 30.

Never mind, though, right? It’s Christmas, and it’s time to be merry, dammit! And so, what follows will be a series of season appropriate reviews, with the likely exception of one film: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which may not be Christmas-themed, but is pretty much unavoidable, given Disney’s calendar and my fandom. (I’ve already pre-ordered 2 sets of tickets: one for IMAX 3D and another to get the Alamo Drafthouse-exclusive pint glass.) But, before I write my first review of the season, let’s look back on the movies I reviewed from Christmas seasons past and reflect upon how innocent a time it was, back before we knew what was lying ahead for us?

Arthur ChristmasYeah, let’s just be happy for a time…


 

Arthur Christmas

Bad Santa (Director’s Cut)

Batman Returns

The Bishop’s Wife

A Christmas Carol (Disney, 2009) Part 1, Part 2

A Christmas Story

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Die Hard

Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights

Happy ChristmasElf

The Family Stone

Four Christmases

Happy Christmas

Home Alone

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Home Alone 3

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)

It’s a Wonderful Life

Jingle All the Way

It's a Wonderful LifeJoyeux Noël

Krampus

Love Actually

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas

Meet Me in St. Louis

The Muppet Christmas Carol Part 1, Part 2

The Nativity Story

New Year’s Eve

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Polar Express

Polar ExpressRare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Santa Clause

Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas

Scrooged * Part 1, Part 2

Tokyo Godfathers

White Christmas

 

 

REVIEW – The Iron Giant

November 16, 2016 Leave a comment
The Iron Giant.jpgDirected by: Brad Bird
Produced by: Allison Abbate, Des McAnuff
Screenplay by: Tim McCanlies
Story by: Brad Bird
Edited by: Darren T. Holmes
Cinematography by: Steven Wilzbach
Music by: Michael Kamen
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Vin Diesel, James Gammon, M. Emmet Walsh, Cloris Leachman
Based on the novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
Year: 1999

 

Disney may have reigned at the box office in the 1990s, but by the end of the decade, the quality of their non-Pixar-produced films was undoubtedly beginning to slip, and so it’s no real wonder that other studios – particularly DreamWorks – were taking notice and trying to take a bite out of their share of the box office. Despite having the backing of a major studio behind it, however, Warner Bros. Animation struggled to find its footing with theatrical releases during this era. Space Jam, the studio’s first in-house feature film production, was a considerable success, but it relied upon familiar Looney Tunes characters and Michael Jordan (and an already existing and popular advertising campaign for shoes that already merged the two brands) to basically have the film market itself. Later films wouldn’t be able to use that crutch, however, and anemic advertising strategies for films like Quest for Camelot, Osmosis Jones, and even Looney Tunes: Back in Action – which no longer had the brand popularity and the basketball star to rely upon – did little to drum up ticket sales, and none of the films achieved the critical acclaim to even make them legit cult classics. There was, of course, one film released in between all this, however, that, despite the botched advertising (some of which, for some reason, used Scorpion’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane”) and underperformance, did manage to eventually make a name for itself not just as a cult classic, but as truly one of the most underappreciated animated film classics. Read more…

REVIEW – The Evil Dead

October 31, 2016 Leave a comment
The Evil DeadDirected by: Sam Raimi
Produced by: Robert Tapert
Written by: Sam Raimi
Edited by: Edna Ruth Paul
Cinematography by: Tim Philo
Music by: Joseph LoDuca
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Hal Delrich (Richard DeManincor), Betsy Baker, Sarah York (Theresa Tilly)
Based on the short film Within the Woods by Sam Raimi
Year: 1981

 

“Cult classic.” That’s the best way to describe something like The Evil Dead, a low budget horror flick that’s just this side of camp, to the point that you’re not entirely certain whether it’s intentional or not. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, for instance, is obviously trying to be campy. The original version of The Last House on the Left? Not so much, but it’s got quite a bit of camp value, despite (or, more likely, because of) its disturbing subject matter. The Evil Dead has all the hallmarks of camp, and yet, because it’s so earnest, it’s also easy to believe that director Sam Raimi was, in fact, trying to make a genuinely terrifying horror film that just kind of got away from him. If you know anything about the strenuous shoot, for example, you can see where the earnestness comes in. Most of the crew was confined to the remote Tennessee cabin location for several weeks, and Raimi purposely mistreated his actors to get them into the proper mood for a horror film, for example. There’s a very good chance that The Evil Dead was, in fact, meant to be a scary horror film that instead came together in the editing as the ambiguously humorous production that it ended up being – something that its sequels and spin-off series embraced more wholeheartedly. Read more…

REVIEW – Unfriended

October 27, 2016 Leave a comment
UnfriendedDirected by: Leo Gabriadze
Produced by: Timur Bekmambetov, Nelson Greaves
Written by: Nelson Greaves
Edited by: Parker Laramie, Andrew Wesman
Cinematography by: Adam Sidman
Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossaman
Year: 2015

 

Previews for this movie had me thinking this was going to probably be one of the worst movies of 2015. Screaming teenage characters, the gimmick of having the movie confined to a single MacBook screen for the entire film in an insane twist on the “found footage” genre, a guy forcing his hand into a blender by some unseen force that was apparently getting revenge for being “unfriended”… Just… every time I saw this movie being advertised, I couldn’t help but mentally wretch at the thought of seeing it. Audiences in the theatre even seemed to agree – there was always laughter accompanying the viewing. And then… a funny thing actually happened when it finally came out. Much like how I had hilariously low expectations for the schmaltzy, gimmicky-looking, Nicholas Sparks-esque The Fault in Our Stars, this sure-to-be-awful teen horror flick with the computer screen gimmick ended up getting some solid reviews from critics – not nearly as good as The Fault in Our Stars, mind you, but horror is an acquired taste genre, so you’ve gotta grade these things on a curve sometimes. However, just like with the other movie, I had to see what the fuss was about. Read more…

REVIEW – Darkroom (2013)

October 22, 2016 Leave a comment
Darkroom (2013)Directed by: Britt Napier
Produced by: Britt Napier, Ron Stein
Written by: Michaelbrent Collings
Edited by: David Leonard, Jim Mol
Cinematography by: Frederic Fasano
Music by: Anthony Lledo
Starring: Kaylee DeFer, Elisabeth Röhm, Christian Campbell, Tobias Segal, Geneva Carr, Britne Oldford, Natalie Knepp
Year: 2013

 

Alright, so let’s get this point out of the way before I begin discussing this movie: Yes, I went to school with the star of this movie. I did not, however, know her very well, and I didn’t even have many of the same classes as her during the time she was there, and so I am in no way claiming to know intimate knowledge – and, even if I did, I wouldn’t divulge, because I am not writing for a gossip rag, and I am not a shitty person. That being said, it’s still kind of weird knowing that I very briefly crossed paths with someone in such a tiny school (43 people or so in my graduating class – she moved halfway through high school, so there’s that, too) who went on to be a recognizable actress. Not the biggest, mind you, but she had a prominent enough role in Gossip Girl for a couple seasons (I didn’t watch it, but I know I’m not the only person who watches things), and she once played Michael Rappaport’s daughter in a shortlived Fox sitcom called The War at Home, wherein she kissed Seth MacFarlane. He apparently remembered her well enough to invite her to do some voice acting on Family Guy. Heck, she was even one half of an actually crucial puzzle piece in Ted meeting the mother on How I Met Your Mother. That’s not unimpressive at all! So, yeah, there are people who will point at her and say, “I recognize her!” and so it’s still a noteworthy anecdote from my life (and anyone’s lives, really, from our class), especially considering that I once briefly played one of the gravediggers from Romeo and Juliet alongside her in our freshman year of high school for a school assignment – during which I cut my hand pretty badly on the jagged metal pipe I was using as a prop shovel. No wonder which one of us went on to act for a living and which went on to merely talk about people acting… for a hobby. Read more…

REVIEW – The Final Girls

October 15, 2016 Leave a comment
The Final GirlsDirected by: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Produced by: Michael London, Janice Williams
Written by: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Edited by: Debbie Berman
Cinematography by: Elie Smolkin
Music by: Gregory James Jenkins
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Åkerman, Adam DeVine, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Nina Dobrev, Alexander Ludwig, Angela Trimbur, Tory N. Thompson, Chloe Bridges, Daniel Norris
Year: 2015

 

It’s almost a cliché by now that horror films will inevitably mock themselves, if not outright be more mock than shock. (That was terribly trite, I know, as is mocking your own writing, but, whatever – I’m keeping it.) Thanks in large part to Scream (and, yes, to a lesser extent, fellow Wes Craven film predecessor New Nightmare), the genre, more than almost any other, has become somewhat replete with meta-commentary about horror film structure and clichés, and so it takes something pretty special to make that whole shtick interesting again. The Final Girls, with its meta-to-the-nth-degree title, is one of those special films that rises above the pack because it brings something new to the table: sincerity. Where most other films seem content to take the cerebral route, horror comedy The Final Girls takes the emotional route and presents a story with a surprising amount of heart and emotion – one that’s also, more importantly, surprisingly effective. Read more…

REVIEW – Audition (オーディション)

October 8, 2016 Leave a comment
auditionDirected by: Takashi Miike
Produced by: Satoshi Fukushima, Akemi Suyama
Screenplay by: Daisuke Tengan
Edited by: Yasushi Shimamura
Cinematography by: Hideo Yamamoto
Music by: Koji Endo
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Tetsu Sawaki, Miyuki Matsuda, Toshie Negishi, Shigeru Saiki, Ken Mitsuishi, Ren Ohsugi
Year: 1999

 

“Kiri, kiri, kiri…”

For years, this movie remained a source of almost profound morbid curiosity for me. When it was available on Netflix’s streaming service, I put it there almost immediately, and yet it sat in my queue for what seems like years (and probably was). The woman with an ominous syringe in her black-gloved hand in the artwork seemingly looked down upon me for my cowardice for being far too frightened to just hit “Play” and see what she intends to do with it. I’d heard about the film and even read some vague commentary on its premise, but I’d managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, and I never really had the full picture as a result. Most of what I’d heard surrounded the film’s sudden shift in tone and allusions to the shocking and disturbing imagery that awaited viewers who worked up the courage to follow through in their own viewing experience. Read more…

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