Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: "Get Santa" (2014)

Director: Christopher Smith
Year: 2014
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

After Santa crashes his sleigh and loses his reindeer, he is arrested trying to steal his reindeer back from the local animal shelter. Now, it is up to an ex-con and his son to save Christmas by breaking Santa out of prison.

Well, it looks like Christmas needs to be saved once again. Whether it be Scott Calvin, Buddy the Elf, or Ernest P. Worrell, Christmas sure needs a lot of saving. This time, it is up to an ex-con named Steve and his son, played by Rafe Spall and Kit Conner. "Get Santa" is written and directed by Christopher Smith, who is more known for directing R-rated horrors and dramas than family films. When Santa, played by Jim Broadbent, crashes his sleigh and loses his reindeer, he goes to get help from Steve because Steve saw him once as a child. Random. Steve blows him off at first, but after Santa winds up in prison trying to steal his impounded deer back from an animal shelter, Steve finally decides to help after his son insists on it. So, what else is there to do? They must break Santa out of prison. You would think that Santa would have had an opportunity to post bail, but we guess that wouldn't be much of a movie now would it?

"Get Santa" is an entirely formulaic family Christmas comedy. It is a very disposable holiday film that has just a bit a silliness and not much else. It will be quickly forgotten by all who watch it. Some of the jokes in this film do work well within the context of the story, mainly those involving dry and witty one-liners and a few situational moments. The rest of the humor consists of the typical toilet humor that will appeal to the children in the crowd such as reindeer who communicate through farts and Santa fighting off the police by shooting a machine gun that shoots reindeer poop at them. "Get Santa" also seems to borrow a couple jokes from a few of the more well known Christmas comedies. The film has a good cast and the acting is serviceable. Unfortunately, the story doesn't really make a whole heck of a lot of sense and the narrative seems a bit all over the place. The pacing certainly drags at some points, and though this movie isn't very long, it could have certainly been shorter by cutting out a bit of filler (maybe five or six less farting reindeer jokes?). In the end, there are many better holiday films out there, and you may be better off re-watching one of those instead of subjecting yourself to a low-level family flick like "Get Santa."

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Movie Review: "Prancer" (1989)

Director: John D. Hancock
Year: 1989
Rating: G
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

A little girl finds an injured reindeer that she believes to be Prancer, a member of Santa's sleigh team. She nurses it back to health and unintentionally revives the Christmas spirit in her entire town.

Christmas is all about love, believing in the impossible, and approaching the holidays with the heart of a child. These are also the themes of John D. Hancock's film "Prancer." It is written by Greg Taylor, who has spent a good chunk of his career writing Christmas movies, films like "The Christmas Box," "The Christmas Wish," and "Santa and Pete," among others. The film stars Rebecca Harrell Tickell as Jessica, a young girl who really, truly believes in Christmas and in Santa Claus. She finds an injured reindeer she believes to be the actual Prancer from Santa's sleigh team. She takes it home to her family's farm to nurse it back to health, unbeknownst to her father John, played by Sam Elliot, who is having a few issues of his own as he struggles to keep their farm afloat. When Jessica's secret gets out, it reignites the spirit of Christmas in her entire small town.

"Prancer" is a film that focuses on the innocence of a child and their faith in Christmas that inspires others. It is a cute family drama that ventures into schmaltzy territory on several occasions. Rebecca Harrell Tickell is adorable enough, though some of the things that are supposed to make her cute and endearing get a little grating and annoying over time, at least to us. Sam Elliott plays a stereotypical Sam Elliott-style role: a gruff cowboy type who doesn't take kindly to emotion because he needs to work to keep his mind off of the tragedy in his life. And speaking of tragedy, what's up with dead parents during Christmas movies? It's so the opposite of everything that's good and Christmasy. But we get it, family and togetherness and appreciation and all that jazz. As these characters go through the story, they are each changed in some way and learn valuable life lessons about love, family, togetherness, and most importantly, the spirit of the season.

"Prancer" has a few goofy moments that fit into the family film formula, but it also deals with a few more mature themes as well. The pacing of the movie can be a bit slow and it definitely drags and gets repetitive in a couple of places. It also has some little gags that are charming and made us chuckle. In the end, there is enough Christmas jolly to go around, and "Prancer" can leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy. Any movie that will put you in the proper state of mind at Christmastime is worth a watch during the yuletide season.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 67%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Movie Review: "The Shape of Water" (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes

A mute woman working on the custodial staff of a secret government facility falls in love with a fish-man that is imprisoned there. When she discovers he is in danger of being killed, she risks everything to help him escape.

There are a lot of romance movies out there, but there very few are told with the grace, beauty, and imagination seen in director Guillermo del Toro's latest film "The Shape of Water." It stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works as a cleaning lady at a secure government facility. One day, a curious looking creature, played by Doug Jones, is brought to the facility where it is imprisoned and regularly tortured by security officer Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon. Elisa befriends this creature, and over a short period of time, they bond with one another over music and eggs. She even begins to fall in love with it. When Elisa discovers this amphibian-man is to be dissected, she makes a plan to free it with the help of her best friend Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. She also gets some surprise help from her co-worker Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, and a scientist named Dr. Hoffstetler, played by Michael Stuhlbarg.

"The Shape of Water" is the most gorgeous film of 2017. We don't mean this simply from a visual standpoint, but also in the way the story is written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. The art direction is fantastic, capturing almost an ethereal version of the 1960's with a color palette that ignites the senses and transports us to this world created by del Toro. The makeup work on Doug Jones is brilliant, and the creature design of the amphibian-man is nothing short of incredible. Jones gives an amazing performance as the amphibian-man, and though he looks like something straight out of a Universal monster movie, we quickly empathize with him and feel connected to him. Sally Hawkins gives her second award-worthy performance in less than a year as Elisa. She is able to convey so much emotion without even speaking. Through the use of expressions and body language, she tells stories and speaks of her isolation, her sadness, her longing, and her want and need to be accepted. Michael Shannon plays a sinister, alarmingly splendid villain. Seriously, he's scary good here. Michael Stuhlbarg never gives a bad performance and more people should know his name. His character has secrets to hide and is forced to choose between what he has been tasked to do and his undying love of science.

This story is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the Cold War and during the Civil Rights movement. People of color and people of different sexual orientations are treated as less than human by those around them in several instances. We see the treatment of the amphibian-man parallelled with the stories of characters like Giles and Zelda, and we come to comprehend him as more than just an animal or an asset. As these disenfranchised individuals come together in the name of love, we see those who have been marginalized rise up and become the heroes of the story, all while we explore our own ideas of what it truly means to be human.

We were drawn into this slightly twisted adult fairytale from the opening credits. We remained absolutely enthralled and utterly moved by each and every second of "The Shape of Water." It is enchanting, touching, and even horrific at times, yet it is all balanced into a perfectly lovely piece of cinema. Every moment of this film, from its intricate and odd score to its poignant fable, will delight all your senses. Guillermo del Toro has done an exquisite job directing this modern day fantasy romance and reminds us time and time again why he is our favorite director.


My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~94%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Movie Review: "I'll Be Home for Christmas" (1998)

Director: Arlene Sanford
Year: 1998
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

A student named Jake is attending the Palisades Academy in California. He has promised his dad he'll come home to New York for Christmas for the first time since his mother passed away. In exchange for coming home, his father promises to give him his old classic Porche if he makes it back by 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve. When Jake gets left in the middle of nowhere without a ride, this task becomes seemingly impossible.

Sometimes, late at night, usually after a half-dozen margaritas, one's mind may drift to thinking about life's big questions. Does God exist? Is there life on Mars? Whatever happened to one-time child actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas and why didn't he ever go on to bigger and better things? Then, one evening, you find yourself searching for stuff to watch on Hulu and stumble across a movie like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and it all becomes very clear. You realize, even without a half-dozen margaritas, that JTT really wasn't a very good actor and that having a baby face and a voice that matched it is probably why his career didn't have any longevity.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is directed by Arlene Sandford, who is best known for directing "A Very Brady Sequel," as well as a bunch of television shows. The film stars the aforementioned Jonathan Taylor Thomas who plays Jake, a student attending the Palisades Academy in California, far, far away from his hometown in New York. He hasn't been back for Christmas since his mother passed a few years earlier. His father wants to see him, but Jake doesn't think he can make it home... that is until his dad promises to give him his classic Porche if he makes it home for Christmas Eve dinner by 6pm. Unfortunately, after upsetting a group of football players, Jake gets dumped in the middle of the desert in a Santa costume with no ride and no way to get home. Joining JTT is Jessica Beil as his girlfriend Allie, Adam LaVorgna as his rival Eddie, and Gary Cole as his father.

We love Christmas movies, but in our effort to find all of the good ones, we have certainly come across plenty of bad ones. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" definitely falls into the latter category because it is simply a bad Christmas movie. There are many holiday films that aren't great but still manage to be charming enough with likable enough characters that make for a schmaltzy, festive viewing. This, however, is a movie about a selfish, unlikable little shit of a main character who is meant to learn a lesson and have a real character arc, but never comes about one naturally. He remains his old selfish self until the contrived script needs him to learn whatever lesson he is supposed to learn. Most of the comedy here just doesn't land and consists mainly of pratfalls and dog farts. Maybe the stuff discussed in this movie was more humorous and relevant in the 1990's, but in 2017, nah dawg. Though there is an occasional double-entendre that does work, these moments are a bit surprising to be found in a PG-rated kids movie (though the 90's were certainly more lenient time). As we mentioned, the acting is really bad but not from just Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Nobody gives a good performance. Everyone's acting feels stiff and forced. Nothing at all feels natural in the slightest. Maybe we should cut them a break because it was early in their careers.

Many kids who grew up in the 1990's will love "I'll Be Home for Christmas," but we thought it was a waste of time. It's one of those movies that are better off forgotten unless you have some misplaced nostalgia because of your crush on teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It's a little bit cheesy, but it has terrible writing, terrible acting, and an unearned ending.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 3/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 23%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Movie Review: "Django Unchained" (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

A German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz buys and frees a slave named Django, who he takes on as a partner in exchange for pointing out the identities two lucrative bounties.

"Django Unchained" is a pre-Civil War western written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who is known for his films "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglorious Basterds." It stars Jamie Foxx as the titular Django, who begins the movie as a slave, but is bought and freed by a German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schutz, played by Christoph Waltz. Dr. King Schultz is looking for two bounties of whom Django knows the identities, and in exchange for pointing them out, Schultz gives Django his freedom, makes him his partner, and agrees to help him free his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from slavery. Broomhilda is owned by 'Monsieur' Calvin J. Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a wealthy plantation owner who is obsessed with French culture and regularly puts on 'Mandingo Fights' for sport.

Quentin Tarantino brings his unique, character-driven vision to the western genre in "Django Unchained." He dabbled in this genre a little bit making "Kill Bill," but here, he goes all out. First off, Robert Richardson's cinematography in the film is stunning and amazing. The shots are expertly crafted and can be brutally breathtaking. There are some scenes that are downright violent, but at the same time, they are artfully crafted as the deep red color of blood is juxtaposed against white cotton, and white horses, and white walls. It's oddly gorgeous. And what would a Tarantino film be without his sharply engaging dialogue? And who better to deliver it than Christoph Waltz? Both times Tarantino has employed Waltz, it has produced an Oscar-winning performance. He is absolutely brilliant as Dr. King Schultz. Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson present two characters at the opposite end of the spectrum for those held in slavery pre-Civil war. Foxx's Django is a freed slave ready to stick it to the man acting as a beacon of hope for what is possible. He starts out as a timid man, but as King Schultz trains him in his bounty hunting ways, his inner menace comes out in full, brutal force. Jackson's Stephen is a vocal and vociferous personality and gains a small amount of power by endearing himself to his owners and aiding in the oppression of his fellow slaves. Two glorious and different performances that juxtapose one another nicely. Another actor here giving an amazing performance is Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an utterly despicable character but does so exceedingly well. He has some of the most memorable scenes in the film, even though he's only in the latter portion of the film.

Cunning, brutal, perverse, and darkly humorous, "Django Unchained" is an intense, bloody, engaging movie with stunning cinematography. It is one of Tarantino's best films.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Movie Review: "Christmas Evil" (1980)

Director: Lewis Jackson
Year: 1980
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

A mentally unstable toy maker dresses up like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and decides to reward the good and punish those on the naughty list.

We love Christmas and we really like horror movies, so it's nice when we get our hands on classic Christmas horror flicks like "Christmas Evil," aka "You Better Watch Out." The film is written and directed by Lewis Jackson, who really isn't known for much else, though he does have a little-seen horror movie called "The Transformation: A Sandwich of Nightmares," which sounds like something we needed to see yesterday. This film stars Brandon Maggart as Harry Stadling, a toy factory worker who has an odd obsession with Santa Claus. This fixation stems from an incident where he saw his mother doing a little more than kissing Santa under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. He plays out this fantasy by spying on the kids in his neighborhood, making sure to see if they are naughty or nice. When Christmas Eve rolls around this year, Harry finally dons the red suit and white beard combo and acts out his Santa Claus fantasy. He delivers presents to good and needy children and makes sure the naughty kids on his list get what's coming to them, which is sometimes an ax to the head.

When we first decided to watch "Christmas Evil," we figured it would be a cheesy Christmas horror that's so bad, it's good. It turns out, this is a psychological horror that's just plain old good if you can get past its dated exterior. Brandon Maggart does a great job as the seemingly kind-hearted Harry Stadling. He is obviously dealing with some form of psychosis stemming from his unhealthy obsession with Santa. There is a lot of tension early on as we are often unsure what Harry's going to do or how far he will go to reward and punish. We see that he is a weird guy, but we also know he has a good heart deep down which makes him a semi-relatable though crazy protagonist. Despite becoming a killer, he is a character we can root for. Does that make us psychotic? Harry has an interesting dynamic with his brother, played by Jeffery DeMunn, who feels like Harry is his responsibility. The two have a few engaging moments that lends to the movie's psychological aspects. We also love the fantastical ending, which we didn't expect.

"Christmas Evil" is a low budget horror, so don't expect any flash, pomp, or circumstance. It has a rather off-the-wall concept for a Christmas flick. It is a little slow paced, but if you give it a chance, it's totally worth your time.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~80%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Movie Review: "C.H.U.D." (1984)

Director: Douglas Cheek
Year: 1984
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

A rash of missing persons in New York City leads investigators to the discovery of subterranean mutants that have been eating humans. It turns out, the government has also been trying to cover it up.

"C.H.U.D" is a low budget 80's schlock horror film directed by Douglas Cheek. This is the only feature film he has ever directed, and after watching it, it's totally understandable why he never made another movie. It stars John Heard who plays George Cooper, a photographer working on a project photographing the homeless in New York City. The homeless of the city are the primary victims in this flick. Daniel Stern plays A.J. 'The Reverend' Sheperd who also works with the vanishing homeless through his soup kitchen. Finally, Christopher Curry plays police Captain Bosch whose wife has recently disappeared. These three individuals investigate these strange disappearances and soon discover the existence of C.H.U.D.s, or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. The further they investigate, the most it appears that the government has made every attempt to cover up their existence.

Let's rip the band-aid off quickly, shall we? "C.H.U.D." is not a good movie. There are some elements, however, that are actually decent. The creatures themselves look really good considering the movie's low budget. There are a couple moments of intense gore, especially during a scene involving a gaping wound on a man's leg. It's disgusting and cool all at the same time. The film also deals with themes of government disregard for public safety and their lack of concern for the poor, as well as rampant corporations and the fears and threats of nuclear mutation. These were all prominent social issues in the 80's, a decade dominated by commercialism, corporate expansion, and fear of nuclear power and toxic waste. Unfortunately, "C.H.U.D." doesn't build the necessary tension to explore these weighty issues and takes a while to really get going. Because of this, it winds up being very boring for most of its runtime. There are also not enough C.H.U.D.s in "C.H.U.D.," which sort of defeats the purpose of making it a horror flick. When it boils down to it, this movie is more about the men who inadvertently created the creatures and tried to cover them up with little regard for human life. Those are the real monsters rather than the C.H.U.D.s. themselves. It is just too bad the overall themes were not better explored and the story wasn't better executed. What we are left with is a poorly paced mess instead of something scary and/or insightful.

My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 23%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!