The Night Before – 30th December

This is a film for the more mature audience but it isn’t filled with insulting language or terrible swearing, just the odd narcotic. A Christmas film with a different tone to the classic family comedy or child’s fantasy, The Night Before celebrates the city that never sleeps at its busiest time of the year. Childhood friends, Ethan, Chris and Isaac all spend their Christmas Eve on an epic night out around the Big Apple looking for the best Christmas party. This film is one with a mission but has lots of obstacles in the way.

It is like the quest from ancient mythology updated for the modern age where three middle-aged men seek out the ultimate fun before they get too old. They spend every Christmas Eve together since Ethan’s parents passed away. Every year, they try and find the best party out there, the Nutcracker Ball. In this film there is phone switching, a public proposal endorsed by Miley Cyrus and the night of a lifetime. It is one that doesn’t sound as great in words but is hilarious to watch.

I found this film a fun take on the Christmas film and modern-day adventure. It has a great cast with the three main actors, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt making a believable trio. Other stars on the cast include: Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Mindy Kaling, Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan and James Franco playing himself. Overall I give this film 4/5.

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Klaus – 29th December

This Netflix animation was not at all what I expected. From the tagline, I expected a cute Disney-esque film featuring a postman. What I got was a sad yet violent tale about how Christmas was created. A pompous heir to the Royal Postal Academy is sent to the remote island of Smeerensburg to set up a post office. The townspeople have been at war with each other for years and the children don’t go to school. Jesper has to stamp 6000 letters in a year to back to his life of luxury. He figures out that a kindly woodsman will make a gift for a child if they write him a letter. He befriends Klaus and uses the kids to get his letter count up. He learns of why Klaus has so many toys in his barn, a sad moment and learns to become a better person.

The animation style was really unique and a fresh take on the cutesy Christmas film. I didn’t expect it to go in the direction it did, but was pleasantly surprised. Suitable for all ages and a lovely Christmas tale that isn’t all about the big day. A starry voice cast: Joan Cusack, Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons and Jason Schwartzman. 4/5.

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The Knight Before Christmas – 28th December

I was excited for this film because the medieval knight is Sir Cole of Norwich in England which happens to be my hometown. Despite the very inaccurate portrayal of Norwich, I enjoyed this film and thought it was less soppy than other films on the Countdown. Vanessa Hudgens has returned for another Netflix Christmas film after her role in the Princess Switch.

The basic premise is that Sir Cole has to fulfill a quest as a knight in 13th Century Norwich. After encountering a sorceress, she transports him to present-day Ohio where he meets Brooke. She’s a science teacher, this doesn’t play into the story very much apart from one student who she bumps into multiple times. Cole and Brooke become closer as Brooke helps Cole to become accustomed to the modern world. He is desperate to complete his quest and return home for his brother’s knighting ceremony.

Cole becomes close with Brooke and her family – her sister and niece. Her parents both passed away a while before the film. There is one scene where they binge Netflix and scenes from Holiday in the Wild (a 2019 film I reviewed earlier) and The Holiday Calendar are briefly shown on the TV. There’s also a reference to the Christmas Prince, a film I have also reviewed this year, with one of the tree decorations.

I thought this film was very cute and had the right mix of family fun, goofiness and fantasy. Josh Whitehouse who played Sir Cole did a good job of pretending to be from a different time. I always wonder how actors pretend that they don’t know what basic things are like cars or television as it seems impossible to not be aware of these things at least subliminally.

Overall I give this film 3.5/5. Romantic and a little cheesy, just the right thing if you’re clinging on to the magic of Christmas while waiting for New Years Eve.

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Surviving Christmas – 27th December

The last couple of films in my Countdown to Christmas have not been very good so I hoped that this would be at least enjoyable. It wasn’t the best film or even in my top five but certainly better than Bad Santa 2 and Scrooged.

A rich, lonely businessman goes to visit his childhood home to try and get rid of his feelings of loneliness around the holiday season. He meets the family now residing there and on a whim makes them an offer. He will pay them £250,000 if he can be part of their family for Christmas. At first, the family are shocked at this stranger’s offer but agree to do it for the money.

They must commit and pretend that Drew (Ben Affleck) is their son and brother. When the older sister, Alicia (Christina Applegate) comes home, she finds the situation very odd and wants Drew to leave. She is convinced when she is told her parents find it fun. It is never revealed whether she knows about the money. Everything is going as smoothly as it can after Drew then hires a local community actor to play ‘Doo-Dah’ the grandfather. His girlfriend, Missy who had gone to spend the holidays with her parents then invites herself and her parents around for Christmas.

Meanwhile, Drew and Alicia have bonded after a wild toboggan ride and the family as a whole have become closer due to Drew’s presence. I liked this film. It was a good All-American family film although with a dubious plot but great acting from Catherine O’Hara, James Gandolfini and Jennifer Morrison. Overall I give this film 3/5.

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Bad Santa 2 – 26th December

I have seen the first film of this franchise so have been anticipating the second one for quite a while. I was very disappointed and could not sit through the film after 15 minutes. It is rated 18 for a reason. There was so much swearing, bad language, racism, insults towards many different minorities that I couldn’t watch more. I was annoyed as the writers should know that people don’t want to watch something that is degrading to just about every group included in the film.

Billy Bob Thornton is usually an enjoyable watch, from his work on Goliath and recent film, A Million Little Pieces but even he couldn’t save this abomination. Overall 0.5/5 if that. The premise was interesting, using a Santa outfit to cover a robbery but robbing from a charity is a step too far. I would not recommend this film to anyone and will not be watching it again.

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Scrooged – 25th December

Scrooged is a film from the 1980s that I do not think has aged very well. There was a lot of unnecessary violence in this twist of the classic Dickens tale and a lot of female gaze. I finished the film but wasn’t impressed. Watching this a few years ago, I enjoyed it but as a more mature viewer I saw the many things wrong with it. I only recognised two names, Bill Murray and Carol Kane. The basic premise is that a narcissistic, selfish business man, president of a TV channel is shown his own failures with three ghosts whilst scheduling a live performance of Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

Frank Cross is visited by three ghosts: Christmas Past, Present and Future. They each show him where he has been failing, including firing a man on Christmas Eve for little reason and leaving the love of his life. The film itself is very dated with plenty of prejudice in the work place and Frank’s own views. The way he regarded women was an aspect I didn’t like, at one point kissing a stranger, one of the dancers, just because there was mistletoe above them.

When the disgruntled employee who was fired ends up on the streets after his wife left him and took their daughter, he comes back to the office with a shotgun to kill Frank. In this scene, there was a lot of shouting and screeching by both characters. Americans do love slapstick and gun violence in films but this was a stretch too far. I feel that this film is Bill Murray at his worse. His manic persona was quite off-putting and hard to sympathise with. When he is redeemed at the end, I did not reconcile with the character.

Overall, 3/5. A good premise but ultimately not executed well and it has not aged appropriately. Would not watch again.

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Arthur Christmas – 24th December

Even though Arthur Christmas is marketed towards children, I would say it’s a film able to be enjoyed by all ages. It answers a question that has puzzled kids and adults alike about Christmas: How does Santa deliver presents to all the children in just one night? In this version of the Father Christmas tale, Santa no longer delivers the presents himself but has a crack team of elves and his son, Steve leading the military planned operation. They use a massive sleigh-shaped aircraft that can travel at light speed and deliver hundreds of presents at once. Father Christmas is about to pass the mantel on to one of his sons.

Arthur Christmas is nothing like his brother and works in the letter writing department, answering the wishes of children of what they hope to find under the tree on the big day. In the film, Steve and the elves finish making their deliveries. It all goes very well and the family sit down for Christmas about 4 am. Then an elf finds a present in the factory that hasn’t been delivered and she along with Arthur Christmas, Grandsanta and the descendants of the famous eight reindeer head off to Trelew, England to help make little Gwen’s Christmas.

They run into countless troubles; losing reindeer, being mistaken for aliens and causing an international military incident. The film shows that every single child does matter and that Christmas is truly a magical time of year.

I think this film is thoroughly entertaining along with a few adult jokes and enough real life aspects that to make it believable. There’s a great voice cast with James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robbie Coltrane and Joan Cusack. A modern day classic that I love to watch every year. Overall 5/5.

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Christmas with the Coopers – 23rd December

A modern day classic of a big family trying to get through Christmas Day. Each group has their own little story going on and they all converge for the family Christmas. Some great actors in this film make it a real favourite of mine. I think of it as sort of a Love Actually story but all the characters are related and have group scenes towards the end.

Each generation has their own story, there’s Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman), the head of the family who are in a rut and thinking of separating. They also pick up Aunt Fishy from her retirement home for the Christmas Eve meal. She suffers with memory loss and is played by the delightful June Squibb (The Proposal).

Sam and Charlotte’s children are Hank and Eleanor. Hank (Ed Helms) and his wife (Alex Borstein) have separated and he has the children for Christmas. They are played by Timothée Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins and Blake Baumgartner. The kids all have their own adventures too. Charlie (Chalamet) is keen on a girl but has difficulties talking to her. His brother wants to find the perfect gift. Their sister, Madison spends the day with her grandparents and has trouble controlling her bladder.

Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) meanwhile doesn’t enjoy spending time with her family and is headed back via the airport when she connects with Joe (Jake Lacy), an army officer. They spend the day bonding at the airport and she brings him home as her boyfriend to impress her family.

There’s also Aunt Emma (Marisa Tomei) is looking for presents for her family and is arrested for shoplifting and taken downtown by Officer Williams (Anthony Mackie). She gets him to open up during their ride.

The last pairing is Bucky (Alan Arkin), Charlotte’s father goes to the same diner every day and bonds with Ruby (Amanda Seyfried), a waitress. When she decides to leave to pursue her dreams, he invites her to family Christmas.

I enjoy this film very much and will be watching it for years to come. I think the chemistry between all the characters really makes you believe they are a real family. The film has plenty of hilarious moments and some real family love. The story is completed by Rags, the dog voiced by Steve Martin who narrates the story and gives the viewer insight into the lives and thoughts of the characters. Overall I give this film 5/5.

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The Christmas Chronicles – 22nd December

This Netflix Original has similar traits as another film on my list: Get Santa as Father Christmas spends some time in jail but it is a very different film. Well, as different as a Christmas film about Santa can get.

In this one, Kate is trying to catch Santa on videotape after watching back some old home footage and seeing a glimpse of something. Her older brother, Teddy reluctantly helps. On Christmas Eve with their mum working and their father having passed away the year before, the kids are left up to their own devices to try and see Santa. After Kate manages to follow him out to his sleigh and hide aboard, a crazy adventure begins after Santa crashes the sleigh.

In this film, Santa is played by Kurt Russell, giving more of a cool dad rock and roll vibe than the usual sweet old man. After the sleigh crashes, Santa uses a cool street racing car to get around. Kate makes her way to the North Pole to get help from the elves. Kate and Teddy help Santa deliver the rest of the presents as he lost his magical hat in the crash.

I really enjoyed this film and will be watching it again this year. Just enough of a Christmas caper with non-believers and elves and actual grown-up fun. One way that Santa tries to prove his identity is by recounting what gifts people asked for at Christmas in their childhood.

Overall, 5/5. I have not got any faults with this film and it is great for children and adults.

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Die Hard – 21st December

I watched this film recently on the big screen at my local cinema, The Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford. I hadn’t seen the film before and seeing it at the cinema for the first time was a really exciting experience. I have heard a lot about it and the subsequent sequels from other popular culture such as FRIENDS and Brooklyn 99. I thought that the film was really good and definitely lived up to the hype it has gathered in the last 30 years. I went in thinking that the film was about an LA cop taking down some bad guys and saving some hostages but the actual film is so much better.

The basic premise is that John McClane, a cop in the NYPD goes to Los Angeles to visit his wife. She moved there with their young children for her career and McClane wanted to stay in New York to finish catching criminals. After 6 months apart, McClane goes to her office Christmas party to surprise her. He discovers that she goes by her maiden name and he makes friends with his limo driver, Argyle. After a tense reunion in the bathroom where McClane has taken off his shirt and shoes, his wife Holly rejoins the party.

Then all hell breaks loose as German terrorists storm the building and take everyone hostage. McClane was not spotted and managed to escape the 30th floor. The phone lines have been cut and exits are covered so all he can do is try to rescue the hostages. He is barefoot, in a vest (tank top) and has only his gun to fend them off. The Nakatomi Plaza is the setting for the film and as the building is not yet finished, there are plenty of materials to use and spaces to hide out in.

It takes a long time for McClane to actually get the authorities’ attention but once he does, the police and FBI descend and try to work out how to rescue everyone. The film is filled with daredevil stunts, explosions, family connections and Alan Rickman as a German terrorist.

I really enjoyed the film including all the little twists such as Holly placing a photo of her and John face down so that later the terrorists don’t realise the connection and the fact that she is known by her maiden name. In fact they do not figure out McClane’s identity until the reporter for the local news put their kids on TV to say goodbye to their parents. I wouldn’t say it was particularly Christmassy but as it is set around Christmas, it has turned into a classic for the festive season.

This film was definitely a patriotic, root for the American Hero type of film with people of a different nationality as the enemy but despite this there was a lot of diversity for the 1980s. There were good and bad white people, good and bad Asian people and and good and bad black people. A real balance that I did not expect from this film.

I thought the acting was excellent. I did not recognise Alan Rickman at all as I mostly know him from his later work in Harry Potter and Love Actually. I was surprised to see Bruce Willis with hair as I also know him from later work such as Red, The Whole Nine Yards and Moonrise Kingdom. I thought he was a great action hero and I am now interested to see how he does in the other Die Hard films.

Overall I give this film 4.5/5. I would watch it again but definitely not one for young people as it is rated 18 due to the violence.

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