Month: July 2018

The Swan Princess Christmas (2012)

The original Swan Princess movie barely mustered a thumbs up rating on my Netflix, thanks mostly to its set of snappy showtunes. The Swan Princess Christmas, however, gets a hard thumbs down, several if that were possible. I would be more forgiving if it clocked in at 45 minutes, but at an hour and a half, this full length feature drains all the princess and Christmas spirit out of me.

Rothbart, the evil sorcerer killed in the first movie, is back with a vengeance, even if he doesn’t have a body to go with. He has it out for Derek, sorcerer slayer and prince hero to Odette, the erstwhile swan. The royal couple are blissfully in love and spending their first Christmas together, but all will not be merry if Rothbart gets his way. As he tells his hench-cat, the only thing more powerful than the dark arts is Christmas, so he’s going to destroy the happy holiday and…presumably get his body back?

The end game is not clear, and neither is the magic. Rothbart’s visible spirit is kept in a chest in the cellar where, it turns out, royalty also keep their Christmas decorations. Somehow his voice can still follow around Number 9, his cat, instructing the feline on the finer details of mischief-making. Only Derek can open the chest and unleash Rothbart’s spirit because dem’s the rules. Homeboy tries to make up for his mistake by rigging wind chime traps because wind chimes are like garlic and silver bullets to dead sorcerers.

While all this is brewing, folks are getting hyped about the holidays. Since Christmas Day is not celebration enough, this nameless kingdom also gets Ornament Day, essentially a glorified tree lighting ceremony. Queen Umberta is super wound up though; she’s whatever the Christmas version of a bridezilla is, and Rothbart does his best to exploit her fondness for tinsel and micromanagement.

For a movie called Swan Princess Christmas, you’d expect a little more Swan Princess for your buck. Odette supports her man, but it really seems to be Derek’s show this time around. He gets to sneak around the castle and do important stuff that will directly lead to the downfall of Rothbart while Odette gets to choreograph a song and dance number for the Christmas variety show. I mean, at least let her snowboard with her husband.

Once again the music saves the day, or at least it tries really hard to do so. Certainly the music is the best part of the movie. The songs have a teen pop quality about them, but I mean this in a complimentary Britney-Christina kind of way. The animation doesn’t serve the songs well though. The set design is done with minimal imagination, and the characters, or rather their hair, always look one step behind.

“Season of Love” (not to be confused with “Seasons of Love”:

“Season of Love” by Anna Graceman:

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”:

“Christmas is the Reason”:

Released: 2012
Prod: Jared F. Brown, Richard Rich
Dir: Richard Rich
Writer: Yuri Lowenthal
Cast: Laura Bailey, Summer Eguchi, Yuri Lowenthal, Michaelangelo, Jennifer Miller, Joseph Medrano, Sean Wright, David Lodge, Catherine Lavine, James Arrington
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Advertisements

A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale (2015)

I’m going to put aside the fact that I’m questioning my life choices right now and just accept that I’m watching A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale at three o’clock on a Monday morning in the middle of July. The film is terrible. So is the title. The script reads like a reject from a fanfiction club. The movie is a love song to dogs and dog parks with only an occasional nod to Christmas, and I like exactly one of those things.

I also tend to dismiss offhand anything that is part of UP network’s Christmas lineup. UP, the channel that specializes in wholesome family programming, makes the Hallmark Channel look like Masterpiece Theatre (yes, even you, Hats Off to Christmas). ADCT has some redeeming qualities, but it is comically, relentlessly optimistic. Before the opening credits begin, Luce (Lexi Giovagnoli), our chief dogwalker, leaps out of bed with eyes wide open. She’s the kind of girl who sleeps with her makeup on so that she can get a jump start on life, at least she does if it’s five days before Christmas. Dean (Jonathan Bennett), a dog lover and a college student practicing his veterinary skills on the sly, also remains suspiciously upbeat even after he finds out that his dog park clinic will be bulldozed to make way for a luxury spa.

Both lead actors remind me of other people. I kept mistaking Giovagnoli for a perky, wide-eyed Melanie Lynskey, which is fine because I love Melanie Lynskey. This endeared me somewhat to her character, despite the fact that the Luce is a poster child for privileged rich white girl. I almost stopped the movie after a few minutes when Luce and her friends skip into a jewelry store though; they’re buying matching necklaces for some Christmas party while she has just maxed out her parents’ credit card to buy a nice watch for her boyfriend of three months. Bennett, on the other hand, is not so lucky in this department. I kept seeing pharma bro Martin Shkreli, apologies to Bennett and fans of Mean Girls.

In fairness, the plot is no worse than anything you’ve seen before on UP. There’s conflict of the existential and the romantic sort. Will the dog park meet its end? Does this mean one of the dog walkers will regain the hundred pounds she lost? Can lonely dog walker woman find true love without her canine matchmaker? Will Dean find out who Luce really works for? It all ends predictably, that is to say happily. You just have to watch a circus of amateurs tumbling around in order to get there.

ADCT lacks nuanced acting and writing, of course. I mean, the reason why dog-hating Luce is walking dogs is because she has no money and her parents are off doing some charity gig in Botswana, leaving her and her little brother alone for Christmas. She seems nonchalant about it, but this arrangement seems like a big deal and Luce probably needs to talk to someone about it. But fine, go walk them dogs.

Having forfeited an hour and a half, however, I will commend the movie for its characterization of Missy, Luce’s boss and husband of dog park killer. I expected her to be a one note ninny, and she is for most part. But she also surprises by being a decent person when called upon and by standing by Luce when the easy thing would have been to pit the two women against each other.

Released: 2015
Dir: Letia Clouston
Writer: Jake Helgren
Cast: Jonathan Bennett, Lexi Giovagnoli, Dina Meyer, Patrick Muldoon, Jennifer Joseph
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: UPtv
Reviewed: 2018

Christmas Inheritance (2017)

Last year, Netflix tried to claim the crappy Christmas movie crown from Hallmark and inexplicably seized the moment with A Christmas Prince, a movie that is identical to Crown for Christmas, A Princess for Christmas, and A Royal Christmas. Despite an utter lack of originality, it somehow won the season. In doing so, however, it pushed another Netflix Christmas movie to the back of the queue. Now that it’s summer break and a steamy 35 degrees, I thought I’d turn the holiday spirit on blast and watch Christmas Inheritance.

Well, I can see why Buzzfeed made much ado over an effervescent royal fantasy and not this drab holiday flick that uses all the clichés in the most forgettable way. The fidelity with which it follows the Hallmark formula is admirable, but like many a Hallmark movie, this one is a nicely wrapped gift with nothing of value inside. The movie will fill up your Bingo card in a flash – big city girl, small town guy, secret identity, mismatched couple, cozy but short-staffed inn, silent charity auction, mystery Santa – but that’s about all it does.

Lead Eliza Taylor is charming, sympathetic, blonde. She plays Ellen Langford, the partying heiress of a gift company. I like her from the moment she tumbles onto the screen, not giving a single damn about flashing her red panties while cartwheeling across a ballroom. Her dad gives lots of damns though, and before he hands the company over to her, he wants to make sure she really understands the spirit of the business, one he started with his best friend, Zeke, in their tiny hometown of Snow Falls. That business is Home and Hearth Gifts, a multimillion dollar company that I assume sells useless trinkets though we never find out.

It’s this lack of attention to details that keeps this movie from standing out. The generic plot is simply not enough to merit an hour and a half date with my couch, a fuzzy blanket, and a mug of hot tea, or in my case, jugs and jugs of icy sweet lemon tea. Heiress Ellen zips off to Snow Falls days before Christmas under the guise of Ellie London, baker. She has to hand deliver a box of Christmas letters to Uncle Zeke because it’s a tradition and the two families haven’t figured out how to use the postal service. Zeke has conveniently disappeared, so her one day stay stretches out into two or three. This gives her time to get to know Jake (Jake Lacy), the hunky single guy who loves his small town and doesn’t like big city girls. Jake’s aunt Debbie (Andie MacDowell), well, it doesn’t matter what she does because I just love watching Andie MacDowell.

In no time at all, Ellen and Jake are getting handsy next to some ice sculptures. But wait a hot minute because Ellen’s engaged, albeit to a demanding businessman who wears ugly ties and says things like, “Tradition? What is this? Fiddler on the Roof?” He’s played by black actor Michael Xavier, and though he may not be right for Ellen, I’m giving Netflix extra points for at least surveying the cultural moment and trying to do something about it. It would have been nice if they had also done something about that boring love triangle. There is zero romantic tension, and as lovely as Taylor is, I don’t find myself caring all that much about her Snow Falls sojourn.

Released: 2017
Dir: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Dinah Eng
Cast: Eliza Taylor, Jake Lacy, Andie MacDowell, Michael Xavier, Neil Crone
Time: 104 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

Sherlock Gnomes (2018)

Here’s a pressing case for Sherlock Gnomes – why is this movie so terrible? Its predecessor, Gnomeo and Juliet, was a clever, fun-spirited retelling of a work with no shortage of creative retellings, but this movie, which tries to do the same, fails to stir up any excitement. Unlike the first gnome-y installment, it doesn’t attach itself to a familiar or beloved story, and though the characters may be well known, they are drawn from two distinct worlds that don’t have a natural meeting place. The star-crossed lovers intersect with a pair of uptight detectives but never occupy one cohesive narrative space.

Since Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) manage to make it out of their first movie alive, we’re venturing into fresh territory, and this time around they are preoccupied with post-marital troubles. Now it looks like their marriage might be the casualty. Their bickering is just a lot of petty back and forth though. If it’s supposed to be something more, we wouldn’t know. We hardly see what’s gnawing at their relationship before the story jumps to Sherlock (Johnny Depp) and Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

The two sleuths are hard at work trying to trying to catch Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou), a Kewpie-like pie mascot who’s been kidnapping a bunch of gnomes throughout the city. This Moriarty is low-key bonkers, more manic energy than deliberate murder-maker like his counterpart in Sherlock and Elementary. He seems content just causing chaos, which is appropriate since this is a family film. When Gnomeo and Juliet’s family and friends go missing, lovers and detectives join forces to get to the bottom of the mystery. At least that is what should happen. Instead, Gnomeo and Juliet, being simple gnome folk, lack serious crime fighting chops and instead just tag along while mostly Sherlock does the work.

I’m game for another attempt at literary mash-up, one that is more purposeful and that uses the diverse characters and plot points to support one another. But as this film shows, bringing together two popular literary universes (do we have to use that word now?) does not in and of itself generate a good or meaningful story. Even the set pieces are dodgy, particularly the most colorful one set in a Chinatown toy/souvenir shop. That Sherlock smugly announces clocks are unlucky gifts in Chinese culture does not make it less racist or self-aware. Also, if you wouldn’t have a white actress to wear a cocktail umbrella as a vaguely Asian disguise, and that’s a big ask, you shouldn’t have your white gnome to do the same. I’m only giving Sherlock Gnomes credit for its care in bringing the minor gnomes to life. When the mossy figures are unpacked and newly settling into their misty London backyard, you want to scoop them up and give them a good clean.

Alt Title: Gnomeo and Juliet 2: Sherlock Gnomes
Released: 2011
Prod: David Furnish, Steve Hamilton Shaw, Carolyn Soper
Dir: John Stevenson
Writer: Ben Zazove
Cast: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Demetriou, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters, Richard Wilson
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2018