The Rest of the Christmas Movie Reviews

I know you probably didn’t come to The Starving Artist for movie reviews and, well, my expertise is in literature and not movies. But I am a very opinionated movie-viewer, and I often tie movies to books as an experience. However, none of the movies below are related to books or to the writing life. They are, however, from lists that I have posted here about holiday books and movies.

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The big, must-watch Christmas movie this year is Spirited with Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds. Before I tell you that I loved this movie (oops, already did), let me brag for just one second. I totally called Sunita Mani (who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, here). I saw her in those Progressive commercials and was like, “I really like her, she can act, and I hope to see a lot more of her, hopefully not in more Progressive commercials.” And bam! Along came Save Yourselves! and then Spirited. Granted, her character in Spirited might be my least favorite in the end, but this is not her fault. It’s the plot. She’s not winning any Oscars—yet—but still, I called it.

Anyhoo. This is a musical and, as of now, it’s available on Apple TV. My husband didn’t know it was a musical and probably felt a little hoodwinked, but all four of us liked it to really liked it. It’s a comedy (musical, as I said) based very loosely on Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol but also with reference to a number of holiday classic movies. It’s hard to believe that this worked, giving Ferrell the lead in another holiday movie hoping for lasting success, but I really believe they have pulled it off. I would be quite surprised if Spirited didn’t become part of the usual Christmas classics. I’ll be watching it again next year, for sure.

It’s funny. It’s lively. It’s engaging. It’s heart-warming. It’s a tale well-told. It’s nostalgic and new at the same time. I did know the mid-point twist like ten seconds into the movie because I’m ridiculous like that, but it didn’t really matter. Made me feel conspiratorial. And it doesn’t matter when it’s a movie you could re-watch many times. I walked away singing the big numbers and wishing so bad that life was—during and after—one big flash mob. (Somebody please include me in one, some day.) Chock full of big names and cameos (and Easter eggs), this is a well-acted, ultimately light but enjoyable and even thoughtful movie. Clever.

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Oh boy. I forgot that I had seen this movie last year, which my husband and I turned it on this year while wrapping presents. We left it on because I could only vaguely recall that I didn’t like it and it was slow and dysthymic. Still slow and dysthymic. Starring the mom from Elf (Mary Steengerben) long before Elf (and making me wonder if that’s how she got the Elf gig), this movie is considered a Christmas classic. By some, at least. But it couldn’t be more toned down, more, well, depressing, except that it ends with things being magically okay. I mean, you think things are also slow and depressing and then someone gets shot, some people disappear and are presumed dead, and all the while everyone’s sort of groping around and talking real mellow and sad. The angel likes to sit in a tree and play sad, nonmelodious songs on his harmonica and interacts with the daughter of Steenbergen in ways that freak the heck out of us pedophilia/trafficking-conscious modern viewers. (Not that he does anything, but his once-acceptable behavior reads now as creepy and naive.) It’s like the idea was outsourced to France. I mean, it’s so muted that it’s practically black and white. It’s not for me. It’s not for Kevin. I’m not sure exactly who it’s for, but someone likes it enough to include it in lists of Christmas classics. It’s like It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Good Girl, but I would definitely stick to both those other two movies, the former for your holiday season.

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Another movie pulled from the list of modern, holiday classics (or sub-classics), my husband and I enjoyed this fluffy movie from 2019 starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader (less-so). It is one of those totally what you expect movies and it didn’t make me fall in love with it. Still, it would make a good, Christmas holiday movie night, especially if you haven’t yet seen it. I mean, you know what’s going to happen, sure, but there’s plenty of Christmas nostalgia and Christmas eye candy (not meaning the actors, but the sets, costumes, etc.). Disaster strikes the North Pole and someone has to save Christmas. Predictable, but light-hearted and just a little girl-power-y.

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How the heck did we end up watching this? It popped up. Probably because Dolly Parton has been trending. I have always (haha) liked Dolly Parton, anyhow, at least as a person and entertainer. (My love of her music basically begins and ends with “Jolene,” but no matter.) So we did it for Dolly. (She is some sort of Christmas angel, in the movie.) It was, like Noelle, obvious and cheesy, this one is more like a play on screen (which is where it hails from; the theater). You know, like The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. It’s not supposed to NOT feel like a staged (musical) play. Like a Hallmark movie and the concept of Scrooge (played out in like hundreds of modern, holiday movies) had a baby. Totally not amazing, but also worth it if you’re looking for a Christmas movie you haven’t yet seen. I actually would have given it much higher marks if the songwriting had been better. (All the songs fell flat and cliché.) But I laughed and I looked up who all the actors were (recognizing some B-listers). At times, corny as heck and completely confuses the concept of angels, but also kinda nice.


Okay. I didn’t watch any of these (at least on purpose and in their entirety), but I wanted to mention them. There is a thing, this year, where Discovery paired Food Network and HGTV stars with what are basically Hallmark, Christmas movies. The stars play minor roles (cause they’re not actors, I presume) behind some romance taking place in smalltown America. On the cover of these movies (at least in some iterations), the famous person stands behind and above the couple in the foreground, smiling straight at the camera and us viewers. Bobby Flay is in One Delicious Christmas, Duff Goldman in A Gingerbread Christmas, Erin and Ben Napier are in A Christmas Open House, and Hillary Farr is in Designing Christmas. If you can’t tell, the movies have something to do with these people’s actual expertise and I am a fan of the first four people listed above, but there is no way I’m going to watch these. Maybe you want to? I wouldn’t expect them to be great, but who knows?

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And finally, the Flahertys went out for a family movie night and saw this band-new Christmas movie, Violent Night. Yeah, it was violent. Really violent. Gory, actually. So why the heck did we do it? Well, I knew that my husband and son would like a Christmas action movie for a change and also because I have a thing for mash-ups (and genre benders). And, duh, it stars Hopper (David Harbour) from Stranger Things. In the previews, it looked conscious of itself, too, like it knew this was a ridiculous Christmas movie (Santa Clause as an action hero) to make but they were embracing that and doing it with a particular vengeance. Involving a kid, a Christmas Eve heist, family drama, and John Leguizamo as the quintessential bad guy with his band of Ocean’s 11-like also-bad guys (not to mention Saint Nick as a former Viking warrior), there aren’t that many post-preview surprises here except 1) the movie’s actually pretty good and 2) it’s really way too gory for most people. Especially considering that it’s a Christmas movie. I guess I was hoping that much of the violence would take place off-screen and that it would be more of a nod to violence (more in league with Die Hard), but Violent Night embraces the slasher genre within the action genre, at times so over-the top it was almost laughable (and will be for some, on purpose) if I hadn’t been squirming and covering my eyes, almost vomiting in my own mouth because, well, I value human life and find the body to be sacred. So I don’t want to recommend this movie to anyone, but the truth is that if you enjoy (or let’s say “tolerate”) that sort of thing, Violent Night is going to please because it hits so many other levels of good entertainment.


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