Thursday, January 07, 2021

Holiday Movie Reviews

Christmas was a rare occasion this year when I relinquished host/cooking detail to my friends, who set Willis and I in front of the TV to watch three Christmas movies in a row. Today’s post is my review of those films, beginning with one I can’t believe I had never watched all the way through before this:

 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

I LOVE the first/original “Vacation” movie; did not care for “European Vacation,” so my expectations for this one were not very high. Naturally, the two kids had been re-cast once again (apparently in this franchise, the two kids never age). Interesting to see Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Juliette Lewis as the Griswold kids before they made it big. Neither one of them could hold a candle to the original duo (Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron).

William Lewis, a favorite of mine from “Prizzi’s Honor,” plays Clark’s chain-smoking Uncle. He was  a highlight of the film for me, as was veteran actress Mae Questel (best known as the voice for cartoon characters Betty Boop and Olive Oyl back in the 1930’s) in her final film role as Aunt Bethany. Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn were back as Ellen’s (Beverly D’Angelo) cousins. Few play white trash better than Randy.

On a scale of 1-10, I’d give the film a 6. Fun to watch, but not as clever as the original; just more of the same, repackaged for the Christmas holiday and dumbed down to boot.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

Since I hadn’t seen the original “Bad Moms” film, I had no idea what to expect with this one. With Mila Kunis as the lead, I knew it had to be at least half decent. This one definitely exceeded the expectations. The three moms (Mila, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) get visits from their mothers over the holidays. Each mother-daughter relationship has its own problems.

Amy (Mila) and her mom, Ruth (Christine Baranski) have different views of how the holiday (and life) should be played out. Ruth wants every tradition in the book done to the hilt, no matter if anybody else wants them and regardless of the cost or blood, sweat, and tears involved to pull them off. Ruth was also overly critical of her daughter, endlessly pointing out her faults.

Carla (Hahn) and her mother, Isis (Susan Sarandon) have a very different relationship. Isis only shows up when she needs money; it's apparent that she was not a good mother during the formative years, and that Isis has been burned many times over the years getting sucked into her mother’s scams. Kiki (Kristen Bell) and her mother, Sandy (Cheryl Hines) have the most uncomfortable relationship; Sandy can’t bear to be away from her daughter, and wants them to be 24/7 besties, going so far as to buy the house next door.

This was probably my favorite of the three films I watched that day; while it has its preachy and stupid moments, it is more often that not spot-on about the struggles of navigating unhealthy parental relationships...through humor, of course!

Office Christmas Party (2016) was the final film I watched before dinner was served, and by far the least favorite of mine. Starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, I found it extremely uneven, going back and forth from juvenile to extremely dark to preachy to...well, it was just all over the bleeping board. I had no idea how this one was going to end up. Briefly...Clay (T.J. Miller) was the spoiled kid and Carol (Aniston) the neglected one who has had to be the responsible sibling for their late father’s company.

Can Clay save the company from layoffs, a cancellation of the annual Christmas party, and the cutting of bonuses? I found myself not caring, and the journey wasn’t all that riveting.

There were some decent performances: Kate McKinnon as Mary, the head of human resources shines, as does Jillian Bell as psycho pimp Trina (I found myself looking forward to her scenes).

It would have taken a lot of rewriting to make this one any good. My advice: skip it.

Next year, I think I’ll go back to “A Christmas Story;” it never fails to entertain.

See more classic movie and television photos at my main website.


orbitalpunk said...

Christmas Vacation only gets a 6? I think its one of the best Christmas movies out there, second to A Christmas Story. My traditional annual list of Christmas movies is The Nativity Story, Elf, then Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve and A Christmas Story on Christmas day.

Stu29573 said...

We watched several Christmas movies this year (which is actually kid of unusual). I saw two certified clunkers. The first was Santa Claus: The Movie (1985) with Dudley Moore. Convoluted plot that I couldn't care about no matter how much I tried, wooden acting, terrible effects; the movie had it all! With the cast it had, it should have been great. I ended up wanting my money back (and I watched it for free).
The second was Mixed Nuts (1994). A remake of a French film, it also had a fantastic cast, but being dark just to be dark doesn't sit well with me, and if you're also not funny to boot- well, I turned it off because I was so bored.
Earnest Saves Christmas was literally more entertaining than either of these films, and it was downright stupid.
Like you, I'll stick with A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and maybe a little Elf and The Santa Clause thrown in for good measure.

Daveland said...

The 6 rating for “Christmas Vacation” was as a movie in general, regardless of it being a Christmas theme. Comparing it to the original, it falls far below that one.

Fifthrider said...

The best part about Santa Claus: The Movie was John Lithgow as the evil toymaker. He chewed up the screen every time he was on, even if his character was 2-dimensional.

Your assessment of 6 on Christmas Vacation is very fair. I think it's fondly remembered by many so it gets elevated higher, but when you actually watch it with a critical eye it probably earns a 6.

I have yet to see that Mel Gibson movie where he's Santa. The way this year's gone, it feels applicable.

Stu29573 said...

I love Lithgow (his performance in Buckeroo Banzai is legendary), but I felt even his talents couldn't save this clunker.

DBenson said...

Some films I count as holiday fare:

-- "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang": From the age of big honking musicals, usually released for Christmas. Huge and silly, it's the James Bond producers taking a shot at a Disney-style film since their Ian Fleming titles included one children's book. It's got Dick Van Dyke and the Sherman brothers (music and lyrics) from "Mary Poppins"; the production designer, Goldfinger and Q from the Bond films; Roald Dahl as one of the screenwriters; Benny Hill playing it straight; and the kind of outsized sets and effects that have been replaced by CGI. Over the years my appreciation of this one has increased. It's not a great film, but a fun one.

-- "The Pirates of Penzance": The movie version of the Broadway production with Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline, and Angela Lansbury. Cheery, expertly hammy take on Gilbert and Sullivan, shot on proudly artificial indoor sets. It has the nostalgic buzz of those "musical spectaculars" the networks used to do, but on a more lavish scale.

-- "When Comedy Was King": A 1950s valentine to silent comedy, and a reliable holiday filler for local stations for decades. There's a restored edition with commentary tracing the career of Robert Youngson, and his impact on a generation of silent film preservationists and scholars. All those DVDs of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and the rest are at least partly due to Youngson.

-- Disney's "Babes in Toyland": Not a good movie, but so saturated in baby boomer Disney-ness it takes viewers of a certain age right back to the early 60s. The toy soldiers who still march in the Disneyland holiday parade began here.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Two Christmas oldies, that I enjoy, star Barbara Stanwyck: "Christmas in Connecticut" and "Remember the Night."

Two non-traditional-Christmas movies that put me in the Christmas mood, due to their beautiful Christmas scenes, are "You've Got Mail" and "While You Were Sleeping."

Daveland said...

DBenson - I need to get Chitty out again and watch it! I also remember watching “Pirates of Penzance” on TV over and over again as a kid. I need to revisit that one as well. I also remember Kristy McNichol's version of that show with Christopher Atkins. I am sure that one hasn't aged as well!

Sue - I added “Christmas in Connecticut” to my Amazon cart!