Tag Archive: Christmas movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

The first virtual reality movie?  It’s innovative and brilliant, and showed that Robert Montgomery the actor also had the talent to be a director as much a visionary as Alfred Hitchcock.  The film is his 1946 film noir Lady in the Lake, an experimental movie years ahead of its time, and much more than an adaptation of another Raymond Chandler novel featuring detective Philip Marlowe.   It’s a great story, elevated by unusual direction and a cast of actors tasked with doing something no one had quite done this way before–react and act entirely toward the audience in the place of the protagonist and the film’s point of view.

It’s about murder, and it takes place at Christmas, and the entire film from beginning to end is wrapped up in a bow like your very own Christmas present, available now to stream at Vudu, or here at Amazon on Prime Video or DVD.  If you haven’t seen it, give it a viewing this weekend and you might just see it as the next best Christmas movie of its type since Die Hard, although since it predates Die Hard by four decades you’ll want to flip that thought around.  Along with the requisite noir tropes, Lady in the Lake has visual effects and story surprises at every turn.  It’s pure cinema gold.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of your favorite Christmas movies, you probably think of Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or even Die Hard.  But maybe you don’t.  What about movies that aren’t big-budget blockbusters, that never made it to the big screen and in fact weren’t intended for a theater release?  I’ll Be Home for Christmas Movies is a look at a subset of holiday films that might be thought of as the unsung heroes of Christmas: Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.  The genre has a niche fandom, a fandom whose creations are about lost romance, conjuring a magical spirit, featuring locales of finely decked halls, strings of lights, and rafters of evergreen–and lots of happy people, at least by the end.  They also feature some favorite actors from other genres.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For years it seemed like new Christmas classics were few and far between.  It usually takes some time for a movie to gain “classic” status, and that itself is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.  Early on audiences stamped the label on Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas.  You have your A Charlie Brown Christmas, your How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a bevy of Rankin & Bass stop-motion animated shows like Frosty the Snowman.  Then more modern fare came along, like A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Elf.  Oh, and we can’t forget Die Hard.  All stamped with an anvil as “classics.”  If you want to see more movies from cinema history, check out the Turner Movie Classics book Christmas in the Movies, reviewed last year here at borg.

Putting aside the modern made for TV movies, if you’re younger, you may count as a classic something like The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks.  It’s that kind of recent film category where you can add in Netflix’s new movie–its first animated feature, Klaus Both of these movies are animated in interesting ways that will keep you entertained simply from a visual perspective, Klaus from its unique lighting and color choices and a strong Spanish comic art style (as seen in Dog Mendonça and PizzaBoy).  They also share a certain traditional storybook look, and their tales also look back to nostalgia for their ideas.  Klaus is another origin story take on Santa Claus.  Audiences have seen this many times, including in the not to be missed films Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (featuring the voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn) and in books like L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and more recently, the brilliant Santa: My Life and Times, with artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz (we reviewed it here).

Spain’s Sergio Pablos directed Klaus intentionally stepping away from modern Disney-style CGI animation to traditional hand-drawn art, so it looks more like Disney’s top technical achievement, the Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast from 1991, and less like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The story is cute, and contrasting with the traditional visual style, is the inclusion of humorous dialogue told by voice talents famously known for being snarky.  We follow a postman named Jesper, who couldn’t look or sound more like David Spade, actually voiced by Jason Schwartzman.  Jesper is a non-achiever, and his father sends him to a distant Scandinavian town to learn to be successful at his job.  The town ends up like a lawless town out of the Old West.  His job is to get people to use the mail service again.  Along the way he runs into a Hatfield-McCoy conflict, with one part voiced by Joan Cusack, and an old man with a house full of toys named Klaus, voiced by J.K. Simmons.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If Turner Classic Movies says that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then the discussion is over finally, right?

It’s that time of year again and Turner Classic Movies is back showing some of the best Christmas movies from across the decades.  This year host Ben Mankiewicz is interviewing author Jeremy Arnold before and after the screening of movies Arnold has selected to feature in his new book, TCM: Christmas in the Movies–30 Classics to Celebrate the Season.  And yes, Arnold’s list includes Die Hard.  So as the British say, “end of.”  Most readers and movie fans will likely agree with at least twenty of the selections discussed in the book, and the rest are there ready for some good discussions with friends over some egg nog this holiday season.

It’s also likely this bucket list of movies has several films that even avid movie watchers may have missed.  I set up my DVR to pick up a few in the book I hadn’t seen yet and was surprised at how superb a selection Holiday Affair is.  It stars Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Henry Morgan, plus young Gordon Gebert in what must be the best-ever performance by a child actor in a Christmas movie.  This is exactly the kind of value you get with a book like Christmas in the Movies–this movie will now be added to my own favorite Christmas movie list.  For each entry Arnold discusses the actors, plot, audience reception and the impact of the film, and why it’s a good Christmas season film for audiences today.

Along with Die Hard, which is smartly defended by Arnold, you’ll find the usual suspects like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Elf, plus some lesser known gems, like Remember the Night, the first of four films that would pair Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, plus Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten in I’ll Be Seeing You, and Humphrey Bogart in We’re No AngelsArnold picks up genre films Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even a few Westerns, including 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne.

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As the meme goes, you either think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or you’re wrong.

Although we’re not quite sure where we’d rank Die Hard along with the likes of It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins, or Trading Places, we’d agree:  Yes, Virginia, Die Hard is a Christmas movie–as much as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving movie.

Writer Doogie Horner and illustrator J.J. Harrison would also agree, and so Horner merged Die Hard into Clement Clarke Moore’s classic annual Christmas storybook, A Visit From St. Nicholas (the poem everyone knows that begins with the line ‘Twas the night before Christmas…”), and Harrison drew the pages of the story in the “Little Golden Book” style.  The result is A Die Hard Christmas–The Illustrated Holiday Classic, a cute little 32-page hardcover tome that will fit right nicely alongside the stocking of your favorite action movie fan this Christmas.

Of course it’s not really a children’s book.  What keeps it from a G rating is a few scenes showing bad and good guys getting killed with cartoonish blood spatter illustrations, and the single use of John McClane’s famous phrase from the film that Bruce Willis is best known for, beginning with “Yippie ki-yay,” etc.  So consider yourself warned.

For adults it’s a clever idea, executed with some love by Horner, who reports he has watched Die Hard 102 times so far.  Take this line, for instance: “Karl swept the ground floor, shooting every guard dead while visions of bearer bonds danced in his head.”

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The original 1947 production of Miracle on 34th Street, as holiday movies rate, is rivaled only by 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  Both delve into the magic of Christmas, Miracle with an undertaking by a man claiming to be Santa Claus to convince two skeptics of his claim by making wishes come true with the help of a lawyer and the United States post office, Wonderful Life with its hard-working dreamer at a low moment in his life having his life turned upside down by an angel who shows him how important he is to those around him, A Christmas Carol style.

In November 1986, Miracle on 34th Street became the first movie shown on television in a colorized format.  It is still broadcast each December in both black and white and colorized, and despite most colorization in film detracting from a movie, I think this is one work where colorization reveals details you might not notice otherwise.  Written and directed by George Seaton, Miracle on 34th Street has one key scene, a turning point, that is so well-directed and performed that it may be one of the best scenes, and certainly one of the most classic, ever committed to film.

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