Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas

Elf BMC PromoThere are a couple of things about the legacy of Elf that have surprised me in the long run. The first is that it has now been a long run; the original film was released in 2003, and I had initially dismissed it as a flash in the pan. The second is that it has a legacy; while I found it more fun than I expected, even after seeing how good it really was, I never would have pegged it for a film that would have had a spin-off of any sort.

And yet, here we are. 2014 is proving to be a bit of a banner year in terms of the number of new Christmas specials. Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas is a singing stop-motion re-telling of Buddy the Elf’s story, directed by Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, part of the Robot Chicken crew. Unfortunately, although the animation is a charming throwback to the old Rankin-Bass days, the story loses something in transition. Continue reading

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How Murray Saved Christmas

How Murray Saved Christmas PosterPart of me is glad just to see that How Murray Saved Christmas even exists, just because it means another new Christmas special made this year. For a long time, it seemed like there weren’t any being made at all, so any indication that networks are starting to get back into it is welcome. Of course, one possible reason for the apparent drop off may be because of how hard it is to create a new special that will go on to become a classic. While “Murray” isn’t bad, it’s also probably not going to buck that trend. But then, it has a strongly subversive side to it, so its creators may not have had that entirely in mind anyway. Continue reading

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Toy Story That Time Forgot

Toy Story Time Forgot PosterToy Story is the film that brought Pixar to the attention of most people, and it’s Toy Story that the studio keeps going back to time and again. There have been three films released so far, each receiving a fair amount of critical and popular acclaim, and there is discussion of a fourth being in the works. This news was received with a bit of controversy, as many feel that the trilogy as it stands is complete and could potentially be tarnished by a fourth. (I personally have seen only the first film, due to bad luck catching Pixar films, so I can’t say one way or another). But people generally have no problem with the numerous little short films that have been put out under the Toy Story franchise, and in the past couple years Pixar has brought two holiday-ish offerings to television featuring everybody’s favorite toys. Last year’s Toy Story of Terror was released shortly before Halloween, and this year December was kicked off with Toy Story That Time Forgot, set a few days after Christmas.

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the main stars of the franchise, reprise their roles as Woody and Buzz, but their parts are relatively small in this TV special. Instead, the focus is on Trixie (Kristen Schaal), the triceratops toy that Bonnie continually plays with in every role except as a dinosaur. The toys are brought wtih Bonnie on a play date where they meet her friend Mason’s latest acquisitions: a large assortment of anthropoid dinosaur action figures, led by Reptillus Maximus (voiced by Kevin McKidd). The figures are imaginatively designed, and reminiscent of action figures from the 1980s onward. Trixie’s excited to meet some more dinosaurs, and all seems to be going well until it becomes clear that these wild action figures have no idea that they’re toys…. The reused plot element is given a gentle lampshading with Buzz remarking on how incredible it is.

It’s hard to imagine Pixar failing to deliver an entertaining show here, and while this isn’t a special I would consider a must-see every Christmas, it’s pretty good. It’s Toy Story, so you know it’s going to be bright and colorful and just an overall treat to look at. It has a fair amount of humor in it and just enough excitement to keep it interesting. It’ll easily hold any child’s attention, and it’s unlikely adults will tire of it (at least, not the first few times through).

Rating: 4 Gifts

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Fitzwilly

Fitzwilly PosterDelbert Mann’s Fitzwilly is a film that came to my attention last year, as one of those seasonal films that doesn’t have any obvious Christmas references in the title. The Dick Van Dyke comedy sounded like a fun film, but I didn’t manage to catch it then, and almost didn’t this year; its sole airing, as far as I can tell, was quite late at night on TCM. Still, I made a point of staying up to watch it, and I’m glad I did. It’s a very funny film, and Van Dyke gets a lot of laughs out of his character’s chutzpah in his scheming.

Van Dyke plays Claude Fitzwilliam, “Fitzwilly” to his friends, the butler of the esteemed society lady Miss Victoria Woodworth (Edith Evans). Miss Woodworth comes from old money, and is a stern but big-hearted old lady, who fancies herself one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. The only problem with that is, unbeknownst to her, her father’s fortune ran out the moment she inherited it… Continue reading

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Love Affair (1939)

Love Affair poster1939 Best Picture Nominee

Some titles tell you just about all you need to know about the film’s subject. Nobody is going to mistake Love Affair for a western, or a fantasy film. It wears its heart on its sleeve as an unabashed romantic comedy. Remade a few times, including by director Leo McCarey himself as An Affair to Remember, the 1939 version starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer is still held in high regard. What’s interesting is that it holds up fairly well almost in spite of the fairly thin character writing. Continue reading

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Sex Tape

Sex Tape PosterI would never say that Sex Tape lacks competent people working on it. I’m not personally familiar with director Jake Kasdan’s prior work, but I know his Orange County has a cult following and apparently his 2011 film Bad Teacher did well enough that a sequel has been given the green light. Cameron Diaz has been in a number of successful comedies, as has co-star Jason Segel. Putting the Bad Teacher team back together probably seemed like a safe bet from the studio’s perspective. No, this isn’t a case where a film was made by a group of people who were incompetent. It’s just a film where a group of people made a film that completely failed to reflect their competence. There is nary a laugh to be had in this comedy, nor any shred of narrative sense. Continue reading

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Gangster Squad

GangsterSquadGangster Squad is one of those films that seems to have had a rough go of things right as it was set to make its debut. Real-life concerns led the studio to delay the film, cutting a scene in which a theatre is shot up by gangsters. That scene had been in the trailer, so the trailer itself — which of course is the film’s main advertising — was pulled. A few new scenes were filmed, and a new trailer released, but the end result was that a film which had originally been slated for early September — the tail end of summer, still decent blockbuster season — ended up unceremoniously dumped in January, a month notorious for releases that studios have little faith in. Critics have come to have low expectations for January releases (creating a vicious circle if ever there was one), and audiences don’t attend as strongly; whether that’s due to lowered expectations or just the general unpleasantness of leaving the house in January is up for debate, but my money is on the latter.

Its pre-release troubles and delayed release resulted in a poor box office take. It only profited through the worldwide box office, and then not by a large amount. But while it would be easy to look at it and make assumptions on its quality, it’s not truly a bad film. Continue reading

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