Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Movie Reviews Archive

Monday

20

January 2020

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Quezon’s Game Makes a Mess out of an Inspiring Story

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Manuel Quezon was the rare kind of politician, hellbent on pursuing what he believed was right against overwhelming opposition. As the second president of the Philippines, Quezon was tasked with leading a government in turmoil as World War II approached. Recognizing the threat that the Jewish people faced from Hitler, he attempted to relocate tens of thousands of refugees to the Philippines at a time when too many politicians did nothing.

The film Quezon’s Game centers around the president’s efforts to save as many Jewish refugees as possible. The true story beyond Quezon is a compelling one that deserves to be told. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t do it justice.

The lead acting is the film’s strongest asset. Raymond Bagatsing brings nuance to Quezon, a believable politician. As his wife Aurora, Rachel Alejandro represents the film’s emotional core, drawing out the best in her husband. The scenes between the two supply most of the film’s best moments.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the film’s supporting cast. Lines are awkward delivered from actors who often look lost in the scenes. Often, the cast seem to deliver their expressions well after speaking, a disconnect that could be forgiven in a community theatre production, but hardly from a feature film.

The script is absolutely atrocious. Heaps of exposition are dumped on the audience all at once. For a film based on a true story, the characters often talk as if they possess a retrospective knowledge of the events they’re supposed to be portraying in real time. There’s very little flow to this film.

While it’s hard to put too much blame on the film’s understandably small budget, director Matthew Rosen has a way of exacerbating this situation. Many of the scenes are shot in buildings with impressive architecture, but the cameras remain zoomed in on the actors, preventing the audience from examining the interesting sets. This dynamic continues for practically the whole film. The lighting also carries the feel of a soap opera, dim and dreary.

With a runtime of over two hours, Quezon’s Game is simply too long for its own good. There’s a lot of scenes that don’t really add anything to the narrative, and there’s too many of people sitting around a table having the same conversations. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the film had a good script or decent actors, but Rosen has a knack for drawing attention to his film’s shortcomings.

Quezon’s Game is an inspiring story with strong lead performances undermined by a weak script, a mediocre supporting cast, and a bloated runtime. The film is a real shame considering its powerful narrative. Manuel Quezon is a very inspiring figure. His legacy deserves a much better film.

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Saturday

11

January 2020

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1917 Is a Masterpiece of Filmmaking

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The confines of runtimes restrict film in many ways, requiring a director to operate with laser focus into their character’s lives. Two hours depicting an event hardly seems like enough time to capture its essence in full, yet somehow plenty of movies manage to deliver in this regard. 1917 presents its narrative as one single continuous take, a bold approach for director Sam Mendes. The result is a breathtaking experience that captures the brutal emotions that war forces upon young people.

The film follows two young lance corporals, Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) as they journey to deliver a message to a battalion planning to attack German forces in France who are believed to be in retreat. The limits in technology during World War One forced the intelligence to be delivered by hand, through unclear conditions, as aerial intelligence could only reveal so much. The fate of 1,600 British troops, including Blake’s brother, rests in the hands of two young men.

The cinematography works wonders on the narrative, revealing much about the two lead characters as they trudge through hazardous battlefields. Confronted by their own humanity, neither man seems like much of a hardened warrior, individuals merely responding to the circumstances put in front of them. Blake and Schofield repeatedly reveal themselves to be fundamentally decent human beings, doing a job that no one would ever want bestowed upon themselves.

Mendes uses the one-shot approach to fully display the horrors of war through the quiet moments. 1917 is a masterpiece of filmmaking. By presenting the narrative in real-time, Mendes allows the audience to experience the mission fully alongside the protagonists. From the trenches to the destroyed villages to the battlefields ripe with decaying soldiers, you follow them through the heart of war. It’s a deeply unnerving experience.

The pacing works extremely well. There’s plenty of quiet moments, but the suspense never lets up. Character development is a tricky proposition for a one-shot film, but Mendes ensures that there’s plenty of growth along the journey.

The film also utilizes some high-profile actors in a way that keeps the spotlight on the two leads. Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch both play high ranked commanders, delivering strong supporting performances that work well within the confines of the one-shot approach. MacKay and Charles-Chapman are hardly A-list stars, but their low-key profiles serve as a good reminder that war might be waged by elites, but fought by common men.

1917 presents a singular take on World War One, the kind of film that manages to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. What’s perhaps most impressive about that notion is the fact that it’s not a particularly action-heavy film, especially for a war narrative. It’s a deeply moving piece of art best enjoyed on the big screen. Few films manage to convey such emotion with such ease. 1917 likely won’t spark an influx of one-shot narratives, but Mendes makes a strong case for the method.

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Monday

23

December 2019

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A Hidden Life Is Peak Malick

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For a director who once took a twenty year hiatus in-between films, Terrence Malick has been quite productive throughout the 2010s. The Tree of Life remains a strong contender for best film of the new millennium, a powerful meditative commentary on the nature of humanity. His last three fictional narratives have fallen a bit flat in their unstructured delivery, though there’s plenty of novelty value in seeing A-list actors try and tackle Malick’s inscrutable form.

A Hidden Life represents a return to (relative) structure for Malick, utilizing an actual script for the first time in years. The film follows Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer, as he grapples with his refusal to swear an oath to Hitler throughout World War II. The real-life Jägerstätter was beatified by the Catholic Church as a martyr, the kind of quiet hero perfect for Malick’s transcendental approach.

Franz makes for a unique protagonist in the crowded field World War II narratives. His actions did not directly save any lives, a conscientious-objector who simply refused to pledge loyalty to a cause he knew was wrong. The specific value of his heroism is a powerful point of discussion in the film, as many in his village urge him to consider what will happen to his family as a result of his actions. His wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner) is shunned by the village, though she herself wonders why her husband must carry this burden that so many others have relinquished.

Malick is in peak form, using the beautiful mountain landscapes as backdrops for his meditations. For all the chaos of war, A Hidden Life stakes out a quiet plain to contemplate the nature of morality. Malick occasionally uses archival footage of Hitler to underscore the unspoken terror of his fascism and the many people who followed in his wake.

Diehl and Pachner both put forth powerful performances in the lead roles. Given Malick’s love of voiceovers, the actors are often left to communicate their scenes with sheer expression. Diehl manages to portray’s Franz’ martyrdom in real-time, a man at peace with the inevitable outcome of his actions. Pachner allows Franziska to air her frustration without turning her husband into the villain some may believe him to be.

The precise question of why Franz decided to resist is a subject that A Hidden Life largely keeps at arm’s length. The audience spends three hours listening to Franz’s thoughts, but he only dances around the nature of answers. For some, this approach represent a poor return on one’s investment, but the execution gives plenty of food for thought long after the credits stop rolling.

A Hidden Life is the perfect vessel for Malick to explore the nature of morality with a keen sense of focus absent from his past few films. Longtime fans will appreciate the narrative’s stronger continuity while retaining the many serene contemplative moments that define his work. The film is probably a solid hour longer than it needed to be, but few other than Malick can get away with that. The film is a masterpiece well-suited for the quiet resistance of its subject.

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Monday

23

December 2019

1

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Mystify: Michael Hutchence Gives INXS Fans a Front Row Seat to a Tragic Story

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Michael Hutchence had a certain kind of energy that made him an exceptional performer. INXS is a band full of talented musicians, but one’s eyes can’t help but return to Hutchence’s dynamic presence whenever a clip of the group plays. His life tragically ended in 1997 when he committed suicide at the age of 37.

Mystify: Michael Hutchence aims to shed light on the singer’s troubled life. By only using archival footage throughout the narrative, director Richard Lowenstein keeps the focus on Michael while voice-overs from friends and family serve as the guiding force for the film. The end-result is quite satisfying, allowing for Hutchence to represent himself in a way that would otherwise be impossible.

The archival footage is spectacular, showcasing Michael at very intimate moments in his life. Fans looking to learn more about what he was really like are treated to numerous scenes of him on vacation or merely at home enjoying himself among friends. The scope of the footage fits well with the narrative, covering his happy days and well as the darker moments where it becomes clear that his health was deteriorating.

The film largely splits its attention between Michael’s time in INXS and his romantic relationships, an approach that may prove divisive for longtime fans. His bandmates only appear sporadically at the beginning and the end. There’s a bit of obvious tension between Andrew Farriss and Michael that isn’t really fully explored, particularly centered around the song “Disappear.”

To some extent, it makes sense that Michael’s time in the band doesn’t take up the bulk of the narrative. Mystify presents itself as a film about him, not them as a collective. The participation of several of Michael’s former lovers provides an intimate perspective that few documentaries can capture, but there’s a peculiar dynamic in place through the narrative. The film presents a deeply intimate perspective while also feeling that it’s holding back.

The film finds its footing toward the end as it explores the nature of a traumatic brain injury that robbed Hutchence of his ability to smell and taste. The footage of him after the injury exists in stark contrast to earlier, happier days. For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of precisely what happened to make him take his own life, Mystify peels back the unsettling curtain.

Mystify is a puzzling film, one that is quite powerful at times and rather boring at others. The decision to solely use archival footage perhaps set fairly rigid terms for the narrative, dictating the confines of where it could go. After awhile, the many accounts from his lovers start to get a bit tedious, especially in the absence of his bandmates.

As a documentary, Mystify is one intended for hardcore fans of INXS. It’s not a particularly accessible narrative for casual listeners. There remains the sense that the film didn’t live up to its full potential, dragging its feet at times with a runtime that was probably twenty minutes too long.

Despite its flaws, the documentary is a must-watch for anyone looking to learn more about Michael Hutchence. His story is heartbreaking. Mystify works best when it uses his own words to capture a life that sadly ended too soon.

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Sunday

22

December 2019

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Sinks in Familiar Territory

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There’s a line in The Last Jedi where Kylo Ren is practically addressing the entire Star Wars fandom. The suggestion to, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to,” is good advice for a franchise perpetually in love with its own lore. The sequel trilogy was designed to introduce new characters into the mix, even as the films themselves often looked like remakes of earlier, better material.

The return of J.J. Abrams to the director’s chair suggested a change in course from Rian Johnson’s mandate in The Last Jedi to let go of that which came before. The Rise of Skywalker is a film all about the past. From the many cameos to the mirroring of earlier narratives, it’s hard to even discuss the film on its own merits, for it doesn’t really have any. The Rise of Skywalker is more like a greatest hits compilation than an actual movie.

Rey, Finn, and Poe were all introduced as characters with the potential to carry the franchise to fresh worlds and new adventures. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all have obvious chemistry, characters brought together by a shared desire to belong to something greater than themselves. There could have been a point in time where a great trilogy could have been crafted all about these characters, and their adorable spherical droid companion BB-8.

The sequel trilogy always struggled to juggle its many pieces. There are the old characters, the new characters, the older plot, and the minor deviations the new narratives take to differentiate themselves just enough to justify their existence. The Rise of Skywalker can’t plot its own course because Abrams never allows it to stray too far from familiar territory. It’s hard to tell your own story when you have to squeeze in so much of earlier Star Wars lore as well.

The film does handle Carrie Fisher’s death quite well, making the most of mere minutes of footage left over from the previous two entries. It would be quite difficult to wrap up the “Skywalker saga” without Princess Leia. Abrams honors Fisher’s legacy in a way that feels vital to the narrative.

The same holds true for most of the other legacy characters. After being mostly sidelined for the past two films, C-3PO and R2-D2 each get multiple moments to shine. Anthony Daniels gets plenty to work with as everyone’s favorite mildly annoying golden protocol droid. Billy Dee Williams brought plenty of his signature charisma to Lando Calrissian, absent from the films since Return of the Jedi. Even Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, who took over from Peter Mayhew who died earlier this year) gets a meatier plotline than previous entries.

Star Wars means a lot of different things to its large fandom. There are those who appreciated Rian Johnson’s efforts to plot a new course for The Last Jedi and there are those who loathe what the film did to Luke Skywalker. Plenty of people enjoyed Abrams’ The Force Awakens, which often felt like a straight remake of A New Hope.

The Rise of Skywalker understandably carries the most appeal to fans who want a nice heavy helping of nostalgia to go with their space battles and laser sword fights. The biggest problem with this entire approach is that it robs the new characters of any chance to stand on their own feet. Rey may be the hero, but this isn’t really her movie. It’s not Luke’s either, or Leia’s or Han’s, or any other possible person the film may try and make you remember. It’s the past’s movie, your childhood memories brought back to life for the sake of another ticket sold.

Star Wars used to make its audiences’ collective jaws drop, with stunning technological feats. George Lucas may have no skill for dialogue, but the man knew how to take people to places they’d never been before. As a child I was blown away by the sheer sight of R2-D2 on the bridge of the Tantive IV in the very first film.

The Rise of Skywalker lacks any of that wonder and awe. It doesn’t make an earnest effort to try to impress anyone. Rather, a half-hearted attempt is made to reignite the audience’s faded memories of better times with better movies. Lightning may never strike the same spot twice, but force lightning seems to only know one tired story. We’ve seen this all before.

 

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Saturday

14

December 2019

0

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The Muppet Christmas Carol Is the Definitive Christmas Classic

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The Christmas genre is based on a rather brilliant model. While seasonal films rarely top the yearly box office charts, the seasonal nature of their narratives presents far more staying power in the long run. Holiday favorites are often revisited on an annual basis. Even the lesser works receive far more attention than they would otherwise, filling out the ranks of lineups such as those on Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is a film born out of great tragedy. The first feature released by the studio after the death of its founder Jim Henson, as well as longtime puppeteer Richard Hunt, few could have predicted what might have come out of this new Muppet world. Directed by Brian Henson, the adaptation of Charles Dickens’ seminal holiday classic closely embraced its source material, particularly the haunting nature of one Ebenezer Scrooge.

As the perpetual humbug, Michael Caine puts forth one of the most powerful performances of his career. His presence as the straight-faced Ebenezer supplies a steady hand through the Muppet mania. The film thoroughly exists both in Dickens’ bleak London and the Muppets’ zanier reality.

This dynamic is best illustrated in one of the film’s opening numbers, “Scrooge.” Sung by the Muppet characters, Paul Williams’ harrowing lyrics aim their sights more at the adults watching than the children the film appears more suited for. A child can process the lines, “When a cold wind blows, it chills you, chills you to the bone. But there’s nothing in nature that freezes your heart like years of being alone.” Only an adult can see Caine’s Scrooge for the lonely shell of a man he’s presented as, hardened by greed and tragedy.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is an emotional roller coaster. Gonzo supplies levity throughout the film as Charles Dickens, taking on narration duties with the help of Rizzo the Rat, who acts mostly as a kind of Greek chorus present for comic relief. As with most Muppet films, the core ensemble fills out most of the roles. Kermit is a natural fit as the everyman Bob Cratchit, eager to see the good in a world that’s done him nothing but wrong.

In choosing to keep the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future original characters, the film allows itself to sink a bit deeper into Dickens lore. Scrooge is never independent of the Muppets, but there’s a great power in the execution of their relationship. The story presents many opportunities for laughs, but it never has to work very hard for them. The Muppets pulled off an completely serious adaptation of A Christmas Carol while still retaining plenty of humor.

In many ways, it’s easy to imagine Dickens himself being pleased with the way the film blended Muppets into his work. Scrooge is a difficult protagonist, an early take on what we’ve later grown to call “anti-heroes.” By having Gonzo and Rizzo around for the ride, the film lets Scrooge exist as the insufferable miser, without letting him drag out the mood.

Crucial to the staying power of the narrative is the inclusion of the song “When Love is Gone,” which was absent from the theatrical cut due to Disney objecting to the song’s complex themes. It’s not a song that necessarily belongs in a children’s movie, but The Muppet Christmas Carol isn’t really designed to serve one audience. The song reminds older viewers of the importance of cultivating one’s relationships. Love cannot sustain itself on tomorrow, as Ebenezer spends most of the moving learning.

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the definitive holiday classic, a triumph of comedy and tragedy with something to offer audiences of all ages. Simply perfect. Thoroughly committed to inhabiting the world that Dickens created, the Muppets put forth a valiant effort in the wake of their own loss. Many Christmas movies get watched each year that likely don’t deserve an annual viewing. The Muppet Christmas Carol is one that should not be missed each and every December.

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Thursday

12

December 2019

0

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Rabid Is an Disappointing, Boring Remake

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Given the popularity of services like Instagram, it makes plenty of sense that a remake of David Cronenberg’s Rabid would pop up in today’s climate. Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska seemed well poised to tackle such a film, with their background in horror that’s often uncomfortable to watch. Unfortunately, the updated Rabid is too much of a mess to pack a punch.

Rabid spends its first few scenes building the audience’s relationship with its protagonist Rose (Laura Vandervoort), a fairly sympathetic lead. Rose is portrayed as a downtrodden girl seemingly unable to find love, which doesn’t exactly translate through Vandervoort’s portrayal of the character. A failed setup attempt by her best friend Chelsea (Hanneke Talbot) leads to unfortunate motor scooter incident that leaves her disfigured. A visit to an experimental surgery clinic sets the horror in motion.

Vandervoort does her best with the character, though it’s hard to care about Rose beyond the first few scenes. Past that, the film seems totally uninterested in investing in her development, at which point she’s mostly used simply as a force driving the plot. There’s a few scenes where she doesn’t appear at all that feel weirdly out of place.

Rabid is way too long for a film that rarely seems like it knows where its plot is headed. As a horror movie, the audience can certainly guess, but there’s the bigger question of whether anyone should care. Rose becomes less and less effective of a protagonist as time moves on. The film slow walks the horror to such a degree that it falls flat by the time the narrative finally starts moving.

The script is a disaster. Some of that could be forgiven, such as listening to the doctors awkwardly talk about the flaws in American healthcare or Rose’s inconsistent relationship with Chelsea, who’s revealed to be her foster sister even though their relationship barely seems familial. The dialogue is just too clunky to get beyond.

The production values are a mixed bag as well. The sets are well-crafted, but too many scenes are poorly lit, often contrasting with the actor’s makeup. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that these characters are supposed to work in fashion, showing up to work with so much foundation that it looks like they let a young child play dress up. The dynamic is distracting, making you wonder how this film got made.

Rabid is a regrettable bore, drawn out to the point that it forces unnecessary attention on the film’s many shortcomings. Somewhere underneath all the mess might have been a passable remake of a great film. This movie was just a disaster.

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Wednesday

11

December 2019

6

COMMENTS

No Safe Spaces Is a Repetitive Waste of Time

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Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla have millions of supporters. Carolla’s podcast set a Guinness World Record in 2011 as the most downloaded podcast ever. Prager’s company PragerU has created videos that have been viewed more than two billion times. These men have two of the largest platforms in the world.

Watching No Safe Spaces, you’d think both men were reduced to conducting underground meetings in the dead of night, under constant siege from a world trying to silence them. The documentary is largely centered around discourse on college campuses, often populated by students who find their work odious, tiresome, and/or hateful. Using colorful footage of campus protests, the film attempts to paint the image that the First Amendment is about to crumble at the hands of those they deem “snowflakes.”

Throughout the film, Prager repeatedly denies being a homophobe. A simple Google search would suggest otherwise. Prager was a huge proponent of the preposterous theory that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy, incest, and child brides, none of which have seen any uptick in popularity since gay marriage was legalized in 2015. Prager also made the bizarre claim that the “T” in LGBT “does not represent transsexuals,” something that would certainly be news to me as a transsexual. For a man who seems to place such a high premium on the notion of truth, it appears he has some soul-searching to do.

For a film that repeatedly stresses the importance of free speech, No Safe Spaces never really makes clear why listening to Dennis Prager adds any value to one’s life. The narrative makes clear that not letting him speak has negative ramifications, including his incessant complaining about being silenced, but there does exist an alternative. One can simply not listen to him. The longer the film drags on, the more appealing that options becomes.

Regrettably, many protests against speakers such as Ben Shapiro have led to violence or the destruction of private property. This should not happen for any speaker, bigoted or otherwise. No Safe Spaces focuses its attention entirely on the most extreme of these examples, in the process forgetting that protest itself is a practice protected by the Constitution.

To its detriment, the film opts not to engage with people who have listened to what Prager has to say and decided that they don’t find it particularly valuable. His commentary often falls into the reactionary, tone-policing nature common on talk radio. It is not unreasonable for a person to not want him to come to their university because they’re embarrassed at the thought of having him there. That notion is hardly un-American.

The film includes obligatory conservative comparisons to Stalin, Hitler, socialism, etc. Oddly enough, the film itself its critical of undercover footage of a girl who herself is being compared to Hitler for showing a Jordan Peterson video to a classroom. Free speech aside, apparently only one side gets to compare the other to Hitler.

Free speech is a pillar of American life. Despite the fear-mongering in No Safe Spaces, that is never going to change. If a few college campuses don’t want people like Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla around, so be it. The film makes a pretty good case for why students wouldn’t want to waste an evening listening to them anyway.

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Tuesday

10

December 2019

0

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Christmas Under the Stars Wastes Its Runtime on Bizarre Subplots

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Part of the beauty of Hallmark Christmas movies is their ability to commit to truly absurd premises. The idea of a man recently laid off from his job in high finance being rescued from his aimless midday wandering to work in a Christmas tree lot seems rather preposterous, but Christmas Under the Stars turns that concept into an entire film. As a narrative it almost works.

Nick (Jesse Metcalfe) has a dream life, on the verge of making junior partner at his investment banking firm. That is, until he’s used as the scapegoat for an error made with their biggest client. Fired just before Christmas, Nick avoids his successful father and mopes around. Thankfully, Clem (Clarke Peters) is able to quickly, almost miraculously, identify the root of Nick’s sadness and offers him a job helping out at the Christmas tree lot that he’s run for the past thirty years.

Julie (Autumn Reeser) is a passionate middle school science teacher, saddened by the loss of her father, who naturally loved Christmas more than anything. When Julie isn’t looking out for tardy honors students, she’s taking care of her son Matt (Anthony Bolognese). Her lifelong friendship with Clem, who knew her grandfather from the air force, puts her in Nick’s orbit, allowing two downtrodden souls the chance to warm each other up for the holidays.

The film deserves credit for not putting romance at the heart of the narrative. Nick and Julie don’t spend all that much time courting each other, a breath of fresh air for a genre that often works on unrealistic time tables. Trouble is, Christmas Under the Stars chooses some pretty bizarre plot points including parental medical debt and the future of a seasonal vacant lot to drive its narrative.

Clem’s love of Christmas is the fodder that fuels plenty of holiday films, but Christmas Under the Stars channels that passion in ways that are hard to relate to. A big evil real estate company wants to repurpose the lot, which presumably remains vacant for 11 months out of the year. It’s never explained what Clem does for work when he’s not selling Christmas trees. Plenty of people have fond memories of chopping down their own trees at farms, but this film asks us to invest emotional weight in the future of a concrete lot in the middle of a city.

Similarly casting capitalism as its nemesis, the film presents Julie as saddled with medical debt from her father’s death. This creates romantic problems when she learns that the firm who bought her debt obligations, currently pressing her for repayment, was once Nick’s top client. This whole dynamic is weirdly complex and totally unnecessary for a film with way too many subplots.

There are other minor quibbles with the script and production values that are somewhat to be expected. At one point, Julie states that her parents met at Clem’s lot, which makes a big deal out of its thirtieth anniversary. Trouble is, that would put Julie at about age 29, while raising an adoptive teenager. Similarly unrealistic is Julie’s immaculate full makeup, perfect in every scene, even when she’s taking her child to buy a Christmas tree.

Christmas Under the Stars has some charm. The acting is quite entertaining, with Peters, Reeser, and Metcalfe making the most of a mediocre script. The film would have been much better off centering itself on a few narratives rather than completely spread out over too many subplots. There’s a good story here about the power of the holidays to put life in perspective. Unfortunately it’s mostly buried under a load of convolution.

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Wednesday

4

December 2019

0

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Let It Snow Is a Fun Teen Christmas Movie

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The challenge facing a Christmas film like Let It Snow with an ensemble cast stems from the need to endear a bunch of characters to an audience within a ninety-minute runtime. This dynamic differs from that of its source material, a novel with significantly more opportunities to flesh out the personalities the audience is supposed to care about. Fortunately, the film proves up to the task, delivering a satisfying holiday narrative.

Let It Snow follows a few high schoolers as they spend Christmas Eve doing just about anything other than spending time with their families. Julie (Isabela Moner) struggles with her acceptance into Colombia University, feeling a need to care for her sick mother. A chance encounter with a pop star Stuart (Shameik Moore) provides the kind of clichéd drama that tends to dominate Christmas narratives.

Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is roped in to helping his childhood best friend Angie (Kiernan Shipka), better known as the Duke, court a college boy JP (Matthew Noszka), despite his obvious feelings for her. A similar dynamic is on display at the local waffle diner, where Dorie (Liv Henson) tries to court a closeted cheerleader (Anna Akana), who won’t show her the time of day in public. Dorie’s life is made complicated by her best friend Addie (Odeya Rush), who harbors unhealthy feelings toward her boyfriend. Rounding out the primary cast is Keon (Jacob Batalon), just about the only person in the country who thinks it’s a good idea to throw a party on Christmas Eve.

Let It Snow is a very silly movie with a lot of heart, nailing the holiday formula with strong production values and an impressive young cast. The characters have a lot of backstory that doesn’t always translate well to the film, but the young actors do a great job conveying their emotions. The film probably bites off more than it can chew from a plot perspective, but it juggles its many storylines well.

Perpetually present is the notion that this film represents a minute sliver of these characters’ potentials. You could almost see the plotlines of Let It Snow serving as a television series’ Christmas episode, a slice of life narrative that was undoubtedly better fleshed out in print. The themes will undoubtedly resonate with high school audiences, who aren’t always well-represented in Christmas narratives.

Plenty of holiday movies use ensemble approaches, a difficult dynamic to balance considering the audience will likely only spend 90 minutes with these characters. As with any film, there’s obviously more to these people’s stories, but most successful narratives manage to put that idea out of the audience’s minds. The characters in Let It Snow could probably make for a fun follow-up series, albeit one we’re unlikely to see.

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