Monday, December 30, 2019

'Tis the Season - Noelle (2019)

Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: Noelle (2019)
Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: G
Production/Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures, Disney+, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Walt Disney Television
Director: Marc Lawrence
Writer: Marc Lawrence
Actors: Anna Kendrick, Shirley MacLaine, Bill Hader, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Julie Hagerty, Billy Eichner, Maceo Smedley, Diana Maria Riva

Blurb from IMDb: Santa's daughter must take over the family business when her father retires and her brother, who is supposed to inherit the Santa role, gets cold feet.

Selina’s Point of View:
After I reviewed Holiday in the Wild (2019), on December 20th, we went on our holiday break. Before the break I was full of Christmas cheer and looking forward to every moment of that vacation. It was going to be the first Christmas that my daughter was going to be awake for. The first holiday season in our new home. Hanukkah and Christmas merged and there were a ton of plans with family and friends. My birthday was the day after the festivities, and there were decent plans in place for that. I had everything to look forward to.

Now, December has always been notoriously bad for me, but this turned out to be the worst holiday/birthday season of my life. Every ounce of cheer was drained out of me. The only reason the tree isn’t down yet is because I don’t have the energy to take it down. Between pulling it together for various functions, my husband, and my daughter, I don’t have much energy left for anything right now at all.

Needless to say, returning to work with one last Christmas movie was not my idea of a good time. I could really go for a horror or mindless action, actually.

Still, at one point I had been looking forward to Noelle, so I sat down – shut up – and turned it on.

I was barely watching it at first. I was expecting it to be a very Elf (2003) kind of film, and it looked like it was pretty much going to be just that.

As the movie played on, though, it began to grab me enough that I rewound it so I could actually pay attention. I’m glad I did, because I really loved it.

I can’t say it fully re-implanted the seasonal magic I lost, but for its one hour and forty-minute run time it had me smiling. Believe me, that itself was a feat.

Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods, Table 19, A Simple Favor) remains one of those actors that I can just follow anywhere and be absolutely fine with the finished product. She embodied the adorably joyful titular character. Bill Hader (It Chapter Two, Toy Story 4, Barry) definitely brought his much more subdued character, Nick, to life as well.

The story was cute. It did have a lot of similarities to Elf, but it had some extra nuances to it that took it in a bit of a different direction.

It’s just a good, solid, original Christmas movie. There’s no romance, either, which makes it something that could appeal to a larger group of people.

I could definitely see myself watching this film during the holidays in the future. Especially if I need a little boost.

Cat’s Point of View:
It’s not often that a movie delivers exactly what you hope, and need it to be, while also wrapped up in a Rated G package. Noelle was the perfect film to cap off what’s been a real roller-coaster of a holiday season for my household.

Let me tell you… if you are in need of carpal tunnel surgery in both wrists, I would advise against doing both at the same time if you can avoid it. Just because you CAN doesn’t always mean you SHOULD, after all. When all is said and done, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to accomplish just that – and that endoscopic surgical advancements allow for such. It just quickly puts into perspective how much is taken for granted in day-to-day life in regards to hand usage. Shopping, cooking, carrying things, wrapping presents, holiday deco, and even just getting up from a seated position became quite the adventure this past week. I’m finding typing is a bit less of a daunting task than I was afraid it would be at this point, however. I digress…

The trailers for Noelle promised a jolly movie with an interesting twist on the Santa mythos and an entirely plausible ‘what if’ scenario. Of course, the fact that Anna Kendrick was featured as the lead was another bonus factor in the production’s favor. I can’t think of anything she’s been involved in that I haven’t liked. (Even silly hotel commercials.) They hit the jackpot when they signed her on for this role.

Honestly, the primary cast were all quite the treat. I think Shirley MacLaine’s (Bewitched, Elsa & Fred, The Last Word) Elf Polly was my second favorite character.

While remaining firmly a family-friendly movie, Noelle manages to touch on a wide range of topics for families in different scenarios and struggles as well as the figurative and literal journey of self-discovery for the titular role.

I absolutely adored the North Pole vernacular that’s sprinkled throughout the dialogue of its native characters. Everything flowed so smoothly and didn’t feel hokey, even when characters were quoting Christmas carols and making exasperated exclamations milder than ‘shut the front door.’

It’s been said that Anna Kendrick has really wanted to be a part of a truly family-friendly holiday movie that could become part of annual festive traditions. I’d have to say that Christmas wish became reality. I know that I’m looking forward to watching this one again next year and then some. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 53%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 59%
Metascore – 48/100
Metacritic User Score – 4.7/10
IMDB Score – 6.3/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating 4.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating5/5
Movie Trailer:

Friday, December 20, 2019

'Tis the Season - Holiday in the Wild (2019)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Holiday in the Wild (2019)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: TV-PG
Production/Distribution: Advantage Entertainment, Netflix
Director: Ernie Barbarash
Writer: Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky
Actors: Kristin Davis, Rob Lowe, Fezile Mpela, John Owen Lowe, Colin Moss, Keeno Lee Hector, Thandi Puren, Waldemar Schultz, Hayley Owen, Lynita Crofford, Kgahliso Solomon, Tapiwa Musvosvi, Renate Stuurman, Faniswa Yisa, Chanelys Garcia Nyapisi

Blurb from IMDb: Jilted by her husband on the eve of embarking on an African safari, a woman travels to the continent alone where she meets an elephant conservationist.

Selina’s Point of View:
This was exactly the kind of movie I needed to watch today. As much as I love Christmas movies, they all seem to run together at some point during December. I give the majority of them the benefit of the doubt, though. My thought has been that you can’t really do much different when you’re working with the same themes over and over. There’s bound to be overlap.

I’m not saying there wasn’t any of that overlap in this film, just a hell of a lot less than usual.

Holiday in the Wild, first of all, takes place mostly in Africa. That means there’s only a few scenes involving snow and none of them revolve around it. That setting, alone, changes things up so much. Instantly, I felt like I was getting a break from the typical Christmas movie.

Add on to that the plot. You will find no Santa in this film. No shopping for gifts or materialism. The main characters will not fall in love after only three days. There’s no love triangle and there’s minimal family drama, even though it seems like there’ll be more in the very beginning. Some of the movie doesn’t even take part during the holidays, though I can still confidently call it a holiday film.

This movie embraces all the ideas that make me enjoy Christmas flicks. There’s the importance of loved ones, the feeling of miracles and joy in the air, internal betterment for the main character, charity, and love. Not just romantic love, either. There’s love for other living creatures/family, sure, but it also focuses heavily on love for oneself. I think that’s a lesson some of us will be trying to learn for the rest of our lives: how to love ourselves.

I found Holiday in the Wild to be so much more realistic than most holiday films. Time passes. People change – but not overnight. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, really.

The actors were amazing in their parts. Kristin Davis (Sex and the City, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, The Knight Before Christmas), Rob Lowe (The Knight Before Christmas, Super Troopers 2, The Grinder), and Fezile Mpela (While You Weren’t Looking, A Million Colours, Shadow) were perfect choices for their characters. There was not a flawed moment between them. By the end, they had me absolutely verklempt.

I’d be remiss to not discuss the social commentary aspect of the film. But I don’t have much to say about it. Elephant poachers are some of the scum of the Earth and if you have a chance to donate to a sanctuary or help save one of those majestic, hunted, creatures, you should. That’s all I have to say about that. The movie didn’t come off preachy, and it raised awareness. Nothing else needs to be said.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 43%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 49%
Metascore – 49/100
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.1/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer:

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

'Tis the Season - The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Length: 92 minutes
Rating:  TV-PG
Production/Distribution: Netflix, Motion Picture Corporation of America, ABC Medical Service
Director: Monika Mitchell          
Writer: Cara J. Russell
Actors: Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Whitehouse, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Isabelle Franca, Ella Kenion, Jean-Michel Le Gal, Arnold Pinnock, Scott Ryan Yamamura, Harry Jarvis

Blurb from IMDb:  A medieval English knight is magically transported to the present day where he falls for a high school science teacher who is disillusioned by love.

Cat’s Point of View:
This is such a busy time of year. Sometimes it just seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done – especially when it’s less than a week away from Christmas.

I was so very glad for this movie to offer a bit of pleasant escape after a long day. I had high expectations from the outset based on the trailer and the cast I recognized. I have to say, I was not disappointed. Not only was The Knight Before Christmas a welcome respite from the day, but it kept a smile on my face throughout.

Netflix was also sneaky and slipped a few Easter eggs into this film that reference other Netflix Original holiday movies. Okay, perhaps they weren’t on the subtle side of sneaky. The blurb that Netflix provides owns up to one of them and encourages viewers to figure it out. I caught 2 outright while watching this first time. I’m going to need to watch again to spot the others.

I certainly don’t mind watching this again. I haven’t even removed it from my list because that second viewing may very well happen before Christmas. I wasn’t able to watch with my teen this time, but I think she’d get a kick out of this film.

The rating of TV-PG does seem appropriate here, but only due to some very mild language. The word ‘douche’ gets bandied around a bit. Other than that, it’s rather a wholesome family movie. You really can’t get much more wholesome than a knight’s chivalric code, after all.

I would give The Knight Before Christmas a hearty recommendation for anyone just in the mood to smile along with a nice holiday-themed movie. (As a side note, I now have new #goals for Christmas decorations. The set pieces were absolutely gorgeous.)

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 67%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 48%
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score –  None
IMDB Score – 5.5/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5

P.S. There is an additional scene during the credits.

Movie Trailer:

Monday, December 16, 2019

'Tis the Season - A Puppy for Christmas (2016)

Streaming Service: Hulu
Movie Name/Year: A Puppy for Christmas (2016)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: TV-PG
Production/Distribution: Brain Power Studio, Nova Life
Director: Justin G. Dyck, Myles Milne
Writer: Melissa Rundle
Actors: Cindy Busby, Greyston Holt, Christopher Russell, Allison Price, Derek McGrath, Victoria Snow, Toya Alexis, Grant Roll, Nadine Roden, Tamara Almeida, Liz Gordon, Brigitte Kingsley, Michael McCrudden

Blurb from IMDb: After adopting a cute puppy, Noelle's world is turned upside down when her boyfriend breaks up with her. After accepting an invitation to spend the holidays with a co-worker, she is surrounded by the Christmas cheer of a happy family and soon sparks begin to fly.

Selina’s Point of View:
I hate to admit this, but my view of this film is at least a little colored by the fact that I was grumpy going into it. I was a little bitter because I had fallen asleep with my daughter and we were both comfy and cuddled up and I just wanted to sleep through the night, but I had to get up and watch a movie instead. I know. It’s a little stupid. I did try to keep an open mind, though.

A first, the plot wasn’t really helping me with that. A large part of the core of the main character is built around her need to write a featured article on what keeps married people together. However, the character is not married, or engaged, and is from a broken home. No real-life popular magazine would even think of assigning that subject to that person unless they were going for a different spin, such as: “What Doesn’t Work in Marriage.” In this internet age, it’s too easy to find out that the author has no first-hand experience on what she’s writing about and the magazine wouldn’t bet its credibility.

Once I got past that bullshit, though, I did kind of warm up to the story.

The acting wasn’t bad.

In a lot of movies like this there can be some seriously wooden performances, but I didn’t see that here. A couple of the characters were lacking in depth, but the actors did what they could.

In the end, it was predictable, but kind of comforting and filled with Christmas spirit. It’s not the first movie I’d choose to watch for the holiday, but it’s acceptable.

Cat’s Point of View:
What’s not to love about puppies? Okay, let’s set aside the whole mess factor pre-training. The cuteness dwarfs all other potential issues. I digress…

Made-for-TV movie aside, I began my viewing of this holiday film with a sense of optimism. When you add adorable animals, and Greyston Holt (See No Evil 2, Bitten, Batwoman), there was just no other option than to anticipate something interesting. I would settle for aesthetically pleasing if I’m being honest, but who’s counting?

I have to say that A Puppy for Christmas exceeded my expectations. Adorable was a good call, but it turned out to be pretty good, too. The cast was well chosen. There were secondary characters that just jumped from the screen and stole my affection. You could tell that everyone was comfortable with each other and had a good time during production. A glance at IMDb told me that there’s a lot of criss-crossed history between many of the primary cast members.

It was easy to let myself just sink into the story and go with the flow of it. I bought enough of what they were selling that it didn’t matter that the movie was following a tried and true, and thus highly predictable, recipe.

It’s even a fun movie to share with family - generally wholesome and featuring heartwarming family interaction. I watched this one with my daughter. She was sold on the puppy but also had fun guessing how things would turn out as the story unfolded.

I wouldn’t mind watching this one again. It might not be at the top of everyone’s list, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a recommendation all the same.

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – None
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 29%
Metascore – None
Metacritic User Score – None
IMDB Score – 6.0/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating2.5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5

Movie Trailer:

Friday, December 13, 2019

'Tis the Season - Klaus (2019)

Streaming Service: Netflix
Movie Name/Year: Klaus (2019)
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: PG
Production/Distribution: The SPA Studios, Aniventure, Atresmedia Cine, Netflix, Altitude Films, TriPictures
Director: Sergio Pablos, Carlos Martínez López
Writer: Zach Lewis, Jim Mahoney, Sergio Pablos
Actors: Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, Joan Cusack, J.K. Simmons, Norm MacDonald, Will Sasso, Sergio Pablos, Mila Brener, Neda Margrethe Labba

Blurb from IMDb: A simple act of kindness always sparks another, even in a frozen, faraway place. When Smeerensburg's new postman, Jesper, befriends toymaker Klaus, their gifts melt an age-old feud and deliver a sleigh full of holiday traditions.

Selina’s Point of View:
This is it. This is the one.

Always, almost without fail, the same question comes up in December. People ask me, “what’s your favorite holiday movie?” Now, people have been asking me this since I was kid. It has nothing to do with the blog. Everyone I’m close to just knows how much I love movies.

Every year, without fail, I don’t have an answer.

I know everyone likes A Christmas Story (1983), but I actually kind of despise it. Objectively it’s a good movie, but for my tastes? No thanks. There are all the classics – like A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), etc. – but as much as I like them, I couldn’t really ever choose one as a favorite. They were all just movies I watched if they happened to be on. They weren’t movies I sought out.

Honestly? I felt kind of weird not having a favorite.

I don’t have to worry about that know. Klaus is my favorite Christmas film. This is the movie I’m going to put on every year when December starts.

Klaus gives an interesting look at the origin of Santa Claus, and it covers all the morality lessons behind the season without feeling preachy. It shows a dark and dangerous world that becomes lighter because of some good deeds. It even goes into how ANY good deed can lead to goodness, even if it didn’t originally come off as selfless.

I have absolutely no complaints about this film. I look forward to a long tradition of watching it on Christmas morning.

Cat’s Point of View:
I’ve been waiting with much anticipation for Klaus. The trailer looked great and, honestly, the only reason it didn’t make it onto my Top 20 for this month was that I simply had too many movies to choose from and only 20 slots to fill.

As an added bonus, my daughter piled in on the couch to watch this one with me. Talk about a holiday win-win.

The movie didn’t disappoint. Klaus’ story is original and tells the Santa origin story with a new spin. Not only does it give us the beginnings of the big guy in red, but also the tradition of writing him letters filled with Christmas wishes.

The story was witty and well-told so that viewers of all ages would likely enjoy it quite a bit.

I was also quite surprised and pleased to find that this animated feature broke new ground in the genre in its production. Writer and director Sergio Pablos (Despicable Me, Smallfoot, Rio) had the film animated in the traditional hand-drawn style. However, to update the style a bit he added lighting and textures using CGI. This was the first film to be created in that manner.

Did I mention that this is Pablos’ directorial debut? He has quite a few animating credits to his name for well-known movies, as well as writing credits, but this is his first full-length direction. I’d say that this is a stellar first offering, and I can’t wait to see what he might put together next.

I would definitely recommend this movie for family holiday viewing, and will likely be watching it again at my daughter’s request before this season’s over. 

Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 98%
Metascore – 63/100
Metacritic User Score – 9.3/10
IMDB Score – 8.3/10
CinemaScore – None

Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating4/5
Movie Trailer: