Monday, December 09, 2019

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

... Who’s the kludgiest of them all?

I went into “A Snow White Christmas” with a little hope. As I’ve said before, I like a little magic in my cheese. A fairy tale woven into a Christmas romance seemed like a nice way to achieve that. Would it be an allegorical retelling like the TV series “Once Upon a Time?” Or something delightful and bright like the shamefully underappreciated ‘80s sitcom “The Charmings?”

Uh-uh. This had all the subtlety and deftness of the Gloucester Cheese Roll. (Do check out the video at the link; it’s like a metastasized Monty Python pratfall.)

We open on a montage of a domestic-yet-festive-looking young woman (Michelle Randolph playing Blanca Snow, because of course) making up various Christmas confections. Enter a sweet old lady (Rose Weaver) and a blandly handsome young man (Liam McNeill). Immediately we’re informed that (a) Blanca’s father is dead, (b) he owned the candy shop in which she’s working, (c) the old lady (whose name is Mrs. Woods) is her godmother and a former employee of her father, (d) the young man is working for the lady and (e) his grandmother went to school with Mrs. Woods. His name, shockingly, is Hunter. All this in less than two minutes. Oh, and did I mention that Blanca’s specialty is candy apples? Yeah, all the subtlety of a falling boulder.

Enter the Wicked Stepmother (for of course we must have one). Victoria Snow is what you would get if you took a villainess from one of those 1980s prime-time soaps and pushed her under a steamroller. Her every syllable drips pampered evil.

Even worse is her toady Zane (at last, a name that isn’t a fairy tale reference). That’s about the only thing about him that isn’t fairy-like, though. He prances and minces and swishes so unctuously that I expected to see a lavender-tinted trail of slime behind him. He seems to take on a warped version of the role of Magic Mirror, flattering and abetting Victoria something nauseating.

Apparently, Blanca’s 25th birthday is Christmas and at that time she and Victoria split her father’s inheritance between them. Victoria is meant for better things than being a mere confectioner, of course, and schemes to steal Blanca’s half so she can sell the works and (presumably) spend her days sunning her scales on rocks and eating passing flies. To this end she has Zane fake up legal documents (“Notary school is so boring!” he languidly laments) showing that Blanca has signed her half away. Oh, and there’s another handsome young man ham-fistedly named Lucas Prince (Colt Prattes, which isn't much better) whose role is a little vague. He takes Blanca on one date and decides that the two of them are in love because “we look good together.”  At one point he tells her “You’re the only woman I ever felt was up to my standards.” Way to melt a girl’s heart.

To get Blanca away, she has a hypnotist cast a spell (because isn’t that what a professional would call it?) to take away most of Blanca’s memory. Zane screws it up by somehow creating a loophole that true love will restore her memory. With it so far?

Blanca wakes up in a strange motel in a strange city and cringiness ensues. A musical group called the Holly Jollys is involved, with members named Doc and Hap. (Alas, they’re of normal height.)

To be honest, the acting is more or less competent in this one. That they can pull off a script like this one is a testament to their skill. Randolph in particular manages to project an unmitigated innocence that never, ever wavers, even at the end when the dialogue descends beyond cliche into the realm of something a spambot might have written. She is genuinely amazed that Victoria would tell her a fib. Also, whatever his earlier misdeeds, Hunter is adequately punished by having to wear that Christmas sweater. Check it out and wince.

Victoria: Opportunities are like sunsets. If you wait too long you miss them.
Zane: Oh, my God. that is beautiful.
Victoria; Right off the top of my head.
Lucas (on seeing Blanca for the first time): What to my wondering eyes should appear? I don’t normally say things like this, but you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.

Take a tumble down Cooper’s Hill with “A Snow White Christmas.”

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Pre-cheese lament

I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that my blog has been reduced to little more than a Christmas movie review site. I always swear I'm going to blog and get off Facebook, but the Big Blue Timesuck Monkey has attached itself pretty well to my back and my blog has suffered.

It's kind of sad to see how many old friends left off blogging years ago. A few actually shut down, but more of them just drifted away and met up on Facebook later. The big bloggers are still going, of course: the political pundits, the business bloggers, those sort. But the personal, one-writer blogs that let every Tom, Dick, and Joel sound his barbaric yawp are becoming a thing of the past. I wonder if the mid- to late 2000s will one day be regarded as the Golden Age of the Blog. Or will the Blogosphere just be a half-remembered interim step on the road to total social connectivity? Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot...

Either way, I'm not giving up completely, not as long as the TV gods keep sending us cheesy fodder for Christmas. I'm suffering through a stinkeroo now and hope to post it with a review in a day or two.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

75 years ago today, 156,000 men saved the world

I used to make a post like this every year. I wasn't sure I still could today.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

We can never repay them: the few still living, the ones now passed, and the many who never returned and sanctified those beaches with their blood. Thank you, gentlemen. Just, thank you.

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Johnny Cash Christmas to remember

I really wanted to do more cheesy movies, but the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest™ is in a transitional phase and my workload has been through the roof. So I’m going to wrap up the pre-holiday videos with one of the loveliest Christmas shows I’ve ever seen.

Growing up in the ’70s, I remember seeing these variety show specials pert’ near every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Every comedian or musician who was anybody had one. Some of them were pretty good (The Carpenters, for instance) and some of them, well, just didn’t age well. (I subjected my Lovely and Brilliant Wife to a Donny and Marie special, I forget which one, and came out unable to believe we’d ever enjoyed such dreck.) But this 1977 show from Johnny Cash is just jaw-dropping. Roy Clark, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Statler Brothers, they all joined Johnny and June just a few months after their recording buddy Elvis died. Besides the songs that made some of them famous and a few old Christmas standards, the stars all converge for high-energy renditions of the Gospel standards “This Train is Bound for Glory” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee, as well as an absolutely breathtaking performance of “Silent Night.” If you skipped the movies (and who could blame you), you still need to see this.

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cheese at Cartwright's

Okay, this one has cheese. Not in a limburger sort of way, more like a very mild Monterey jack. It would melt well over a nice spicy burrito but doesn’t carry a lot of flavor itself.

I hadn’t looked up the cast of “Christmas at Cartwright’s” before watching, so it was a bit of a jolt to see Wallace Shawn and Gabrielle Miller in roles completely opposite the ones I reviewed a couple of years ago. But they work well in their supporting roles, the one as an angel and the other as a, well, fill in the appropriate misogynistic term.

The film starts out with single mom Nicky (Alicia Witt, whom I recall playing a Hollywood minx on “The Sopranos”) who’s having trouble finding work. Even at Christmas, with every single retailer in the western world hiring temps. She’s dodging the landlady over late rent and her daughter apparently needs a reading tutor. Why Nicky can’t just help Becky herself since she has time on her hands is just one of the many things never addressed.

Finally her search brings her to Cartwright’s Department Store, where she (a) gets on the bad side of the HR person and (b) meets a store executive who happens to be single and handsome and have the right name for a husband. (It makes sense in the context.) As usual, he’s basically a cardboard cutout, filling in the Love Interest blank. She doesn’t get hired (obvs), but with the help of the store’s “Christmas Coordinator,” she manages to fake her way into being the store’s Santa Claus.

Here endeth any semblance of believability. There is no way in [eternal perdition] that her theatrically-lowered voice passes for male. And where is it written that a fake voice has to come with a fake indeterminate accent? This always happens when women try to pass themselves off vocally as men and vice versa, and nobody ever seems to notice or account for it.

The other issue in this one was that little Becky is clearly hungry for a new daddy, but her original daddy is never mentioned, not even alluded to. Unless this was a virgin birth (call the Vatican!), you’d think there would be at least some hint of his existence. Did he die? Did he run off with his secretary? Not a clue. As a father who’s been erased from a child’s life, this bothers me no little.

Outside of those things, it’s a fairly cute film, except for the ending scene at the department store which is just sick-making. I’ve seen proposals with less pomp and schmaltz.

Enjoy (or at least endure) “Christmas at Cartwright’s.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"The Christmas List": Okay cheese, bad geography

The first thing I noticed about “The Christmas List” was that the religious aspects of Christmas were unapologetically displayed, starting out with a Gospel choir singing actual carols over the opening credits. Between that and the utter cleanliness of it (no sex, not even cohabitation), I had to pause and look it up to make sure it wasn’t something from Mollywood. Nope, it was just ABC Family from 21 years ago. The times, they are a-changin’.

The story is a fairly simple one, yet I still kept getting a little lost on the details. Melody Parris (Mimi Rogers, whose name I would swear I recognized but can’t find anything I’ve seen her in), works the perfume counter at a department store in Seattle (about which more anon). Apparently she’s some sort of a super scent savant, able to identify any perfume put under her nose or name the perfect perfume for a given person based on a list of personality traits. Her life changes when she writes down all the things she’s missing in her life – a better job, a marriage (she’s been waiting for her boyfriend George to propose), money in the bank – and her friend steals it and sticks it in Santa’s mailbox. No sooner is her woeful missive deposited than she meets Danny (Bill Switzer, no apparent relation to Carl), who’s missing his dead mother at Christmas. (His performance at the perfume counter is a sniffle-fest.) One thing leads to another (which leads to Danny’s dad) and she finds herself getting all the things she asked for – sort of.

This never quite gets dark enough to be a a “monkey’s paw” (or should it be reindeer’s hoof?) but she does learn a few things, particularly what a colossal douchecanoe George is. (The least loathsome thing about him is that he calls Melody’s mom “Mother Natalie.” Gag me with a candy cane!) Danny’s father is a classic unmemorable Hallmark movie lead, whose girlfriend Faith (Marla Maples back when she was still Mrs. Trump) Danny really dislikes. We’re a little vague on why, as she never really works up to the Wicked Stepmother level, but apparently she lives far away and wants to send him to boarding school. We think.

We knew from the outset that a romance was in the offing, but it starts fast and has to be slowed down. I kind of liked the awkwardness of that; a lot less formulaic. Also, the way her career works out has flashes of the curtain scene in “Singin’ in the Rain.” If some of the plot points sew themselves up too neatly, well, what do you expect?

Now the rant: Faith wants to take Danny and his father (why can’t I remember the guy’s name?) to see her family at Christmas, in the far-off town of Bellevue, Washington, which apparently is so far back in the woods that Danny quips that he can start a tick collection. Say what?

Look, I know a lot of low-budget movies are set in Seattle because it’s so cheap to film in Vancouver, and the landscapes are similar. But seriously, ABC Family, would it kill you to look at a map? Bellevue is across a bridge from Seattle. It’s not woodsy. It’s not rural. It’s a sprawling mess of snooty malls and congested arterial roads leading to more snooty malls. It’s surrounded by Microsoft money. People, you're three hours away from the real Bellevue. Surely someone there could have noticed this.

Good lines to watch for:
“You make me do the strangest things.”
“Get out of my house or I will boil you in Christmas pudding and drive a holly stake through your heart!”
“Hasta la vista, Faithy!” (Yes, really.)

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Preparing for cheese

I really, really don't want to think that the only time I'll ever post on my blog again is for Cheesy Christmas Movies™, but 'tis getting close to the season now whether I like it or not. So in case I have any readers left, does anyone have any suggestions for movies on YouTube or the Internet Archive or other sites I can embed from? The cheesier the better. Ready, go!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snatching failure from the jaws of mediocrity

I was fortunate enough to go into “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus” with low expectations, primarily because it starred Steve Guttenberg, whose best performance, for me, was in “The Boys from Brazil,” and then only because he was killed off early before he could make it stink. I held out some hope because of the delightful Crystal Bernard.  She doesn’t disappoint at all, and he actually came off surprisingly well, all things considered.

If it weren’t for the premise and the pacing, this might have been an okay film. Not good, but okay. The premise is laughable: Santa Claus is about to retire and his son (named Nick, because of course) can’t take over without a Mrs. Claus.  (Pause while we ponder the ridiculousness of a wife being necessary to fill the shoes of a third-century Christian bishop.) Nick is sent to California with a list of prospects, but soon encounters the young widow Beth as she’s trying to shoot a Christmas commercial featuring Santa. Nick, of course, knows how Santa should be played and is soon hired as an actor.

Herein lies the biggest problem with Junior Claus. Nick instantly wins the confidence of every child he encounters, including the little actress in the commercial and Beth’s son Jake. That works for an old fat man in a red suit. For a single guy in his 40s with no known history, not so much. Now, if it were my kids, that would set off a jingle bell of alarm loud enough to wake the dead. Yet nobody, child or adult, seems to pick up on the obvious Stranger Danger vibe this guy gives off. To make things worse, he also seems to have (though it’s not explicitly stated) some psychic ability to make people feel good about him and trust him. Sort of like magical roofies.

To his credit, he doesn’t seem to have used that on Beth to win her affections. (Or did he? The more I think about it...) What he does do is teach Jake to play basketball, show up at her work with flowers, and try to get her to believe in Christmas (specifically, Santa) before he has to take up the reindeer reins on Christmas Eve. The upshot of this is that the romance doesn’t get a chance to develop; it just sort of jumps from turning point to turning point. One minute Beth is thoroughly charmed, the next she’s uncertain, and all of a sudden, she believes. There’s a particularly poignant scene at the beginning where Beth as a young girl (played by what appears to be Crystal Bernard’s daughter) loses her faith in Santa because he didn’t make her daddy come home.

Apparently there’s a sequel. I don’t know yet if I can work up the courage to watch it. We’ll see.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

I’m not sniffling, you’re sniffling!

With Cheesy Christmas Movies, I have a tendency to play “Name that Derivation.” because they are derivative; nobody expects originality. “Journey Back to Christmas” isn’t an exception to that. Where it is exceptional is that it takes tropes from “Forever Young,” “Remember the Night” (a tragically underappreciated film) and “It’s a Wonderful Life” without being obvious about it.

Hanna (Candace Cameron Bure), a nurse in a small-town hospital at the end of World War II, takes shelter from a snowstorm in a shed and emerges to find herself in the same town, 71 years later. Not unnaturally, she’s terrified and confused. Concerned passersby summon the police in the handsome-aw-shucks person of Officer Jake (Oliver Hudson). Faced with the prospect of having her forcibly committed, Jake instead convinces his superiors to let him take Hanna to the family farm until she can get her bearings. There she tries to make sense of a world in which iPads and eBay have replaced caroling and lights on the town gazebo. Her house is a health food store and the hospital where she worked is a library. From there, I expected the usual two-dimensional romance plot to play out between her and the inexplicably single Jake, and I expected wrong. Because even that many years later, Nurse Hanna is not completely forgotten.

I have to say here that I love, love, love a good time-travel or alternate history story, on the page or screen.  The other side of that coin is that every little anachronism or historical howler gets under my skin like an allergy test. I wanted, for example, to enjoy “Outlander,” but the appalling lack of understanding of 18th-century Scottish history outweighed the excellent costuming, magnificent visuals and better-than-average plotting and acting. I endured the first season and figured I’d done my duty.

There were a couple of such nits to pick in “Journey Back to Christmas,” but not as many as there would be if the film were more self-conscious about accuracy, oddly enough. The only one that bothered me at all was that both the doctor and the police chief Hanna encounters in 2016 were black. That would have been extraordinary if not impossible in 1945, yet she never even blinks. (I also thought “Central Falls” was a hokey, unrealistic town name, until I looked it up. My apologies to any Central Fallsians who happen on this blog.)

Bure gives an adorable if slightly over-perky performance here, coming across genuinely kind and generous. Hudson is competent as the sort of lovable but slightly clueless semi-beefcake that acts as woman-bait in so many innocent romance stories. But the real show-stealer is Tom Skerritt as the mysterious Tobias Cook. By the time he’s revealed, we’ve long ago figured him out, yet he still packs a punch when it’s confirmed. I actually did choke up at the final George Bailey moment.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Jumping the cheese gun

Thanksgiving isn’t a very cinegenic (is that a word?) sort of a holiday. Let’s face it, Christmas is loaded with both religious and secular imagery. It’s about love, magic, hope and salvation. Thanksgiving, by contrast, is about stuffing your face with calories and collapsing in front of a football game. That’s it.  How many major Thanksgiving movies can you name off the top of your head? “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” obviously. The criminally underrated “Dutch?” Surely. Any others? Me either. Thanksgiving isn’t romantic. It wouldn’t even be a big deal if it weren’t a month before Christmas. It’s a second-string, no-frills event. The Chicago of holidays, if you will.

But I felt like getting an early start in my (only somewhat forced) holiday cheer, and you can always count on Hallmark to dish up some schmaltz for any occasion. Sure enough, what I found is about food.

“Pumpkin Pie Wars” starts with a feud between two middle-aged BFFs who were going to start a bakery together unit one of them went into business with her father instead. For the next ten years, the women, both of whom now own bakeries, vent their grudge through an annual pumpkin pie bake-off. (Who even knew that was a thing?) One has a son, the other a daughter. We see where this is going, of course. It's Romeo and Juliet, but with less stabbing and more diabetes.

Sam Montag... er... Harper (Eric Aragon) went to a fancy chef school in London and dreams of opening a restaurant beyond his mom's humble bakery. Casey McArthy (yes, spelled like that and played by Julie Gonzalo) has a business degree from Wharton but her cooking skills would embarrass a grade-schooler. (Several fire department references make that obvious.) Nevertheless, when her mother hurts her foot and can't compete in the bake-off, Casey elbows her aside to take her place. Sam, meanwhile, makes a deal with his mother to look into the restaurant if he wins the bake-off for her.

There really should have been more lead-up to the romance. No sooner do the two agree to work together (not much of a spoiler; the movie does everything to telegraph it but run a banner across the screen) than she's falling off a ladder into his arms, he's showing her around the kitchen at noticeably close range and they're both looking longingly at each other and somehow imagining they're being discreet. By the first kiss (at the usual two-thirds mark) we've already started picking out china patterns for them.

The acting is typical Hallmark fare: a little wooden at the outset but softening up as characters begin to form. Sam's mother (played by the amazingly-named Jennifer-Juniper Angeli) is well done; Casey's (Michele Scarabelli) is such a nasty harridan I kept wanting to disembowel her with a spatula. Besides, the actress keeps forgetting to use her crutches and just sort of walks around with them stuck in her armpits. A little direction would go a long way.

I will say the resolution surprised me pleasantly. I won't give it away, but I was all geared up for an artificially tense bake-off climax when the plot turned a right-angle on me. And the recipes the characters used! Pumpkin cheesecake pie with a caramel pecan topping lined up against pumpkin silk chiffon pie with bourbon whipped cream and a ginger snap streusel crust made my pancreas hurt just thinking about it.

All in all, not great, but not bad. Satisfying in its mundaneness. Sort of like Thanksgiving.

Leave your opinion in the comments and let the holidays commence!