Tag Archives: christmas

Yuletide Yarns: Nate’s Top Ten Christmas Films

Tis the season to check out Christmas in cinema! There’s a whole ton of festive films out there revolving around this time of year, ten of which I’ve picked out here as my cherished favourites! Oh and keep one thing in mind: A Christmas movie is a subjective thing and each individual is allowed to have whatever the hell they want in their Yuletide canon without a bunch of blockheads screaming “That’s not a Christmas movie” to the winds. Home Alone is a Christmas movie to many and perhaps to some The Mummy or Top Gun are also Christmas movies too for whatever personal reason or memory they hold dear. Anything you damn well please can be your “Christmas movie” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Got it? Good! Enjoy my list 😉

10. John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

An underrated one, to say the least. Pulpy, nihilistic and packed with ironically nasty energy substituting for holiday cheer, I love this ultra violent heist/revenge flick to bits. Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and an off-the-chain Gary Sinise are various degenerate characters involved in a casino robbery and the ensuing aftermath, murder, betrayal and tough talk. They’re all having a blast and there’s great supporting work from Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes, James Frain, a scene stealing Clarence Williams III plus the late great Fennis Farina.

9. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

A Christmas slasher yay!! This predates John Carpenter’s Halloween as the original genre prototype and is just such a fun, spooky old stalker flick with healthy doses of camp, plenty of creaky atmospheric portent and one of the freakiest villains the genre has to offer based on his voice alone. It’s Christmas break for a house of sorority girls in small town Ontario, which should mean rest, relaxation and good times. A deeply disturbed prank calling serial killer has other ideas though, tormenting them with perverse phone-calls and eventually outright hunting them through the drafty halls of the manor. Starring the beautiful, classy Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Margot Kidder and Nick Mancuso as the killer’s terrifying phone voice, this is a holiday classic for me, it practically fills up your living room with atmosphere when you put it on.

8. Joe Dante’s Gremlins

This is one of those ones that kind of works at Halloween too because it’s so gooey and horror-centric, but the quaint small town Christmas vibe is so pleasant and wonderful, right from the joyous opening titles set to Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas.’ One young man’s Christmas present goes haywire when cryptozoological Mogwai Gizmo and his clan get right out of control and cause a bigger holiday riot than Boxing Day at the mall. It’s like a Christmas party gone ballistic in the best, most mischievous ways and the fun lies in seeing these little green monsters terrorize, blow off steam and run around town destroying everything in their wake.

7. Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

I know what you’re thinking, but I actually prefer this rambunctious sequel over the iconic first Die Hard film. Switching up the action from a skyscraper to hectic, bustling and heavily snowed in LAX on Christmas Eve is just such a cozier, more festive setting, not to mention ripe for so much action, villainy and comedic bits. Way more characters, tons of cool cameos, a blinding snowstorm to create atmosphere and so many gorgeous explosions.

6. Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express

What a majestic film. People rip on this for being way too elaborate and hectic when compared to the simple, direct timbre of its source children’s book, but I love how far they took it. It’s a thrillingly cinematic, highly immersive rollercoaster ride to the North Pole packed with Carols, stunning motion capture animation, Tom Hanks in like four different roles *including* Santa, breathtaking swoops over northern landscapes and a genuine sense of wonder.

5. Ted Demme’s The Ref

Christmas ain’t always a loving, cherished time of year as you’ll see in this acidic, cynical and jet black comedy of family dysfunction, misanthropy and petty crime. Denis Leary is one pissed off cat burglar who hides out from the law with a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis who are basically the most unhappily married, hateful pair of grinches you could find in white suburbia. It’s a brilliantly satirical sendup of Christmas in the Midwest with terrific, off the wall performances from the three leads, a wicked sharp script and hilarious supporting work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, BD Wong and Raymond J. Barry.

4. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Christmas goes Gothic in my favourite of the initial four Burton/Schumacher Batman films. This is a seriously gorgeous gem of a film with Keaton at his moody best as Batman, Danny Devito creeping’ it up tons as the freaky weirdo Penguin, Christopher Walken embodying corporate evil like no other and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most absolutely sexy, dangerous, funny and commanding take on Catwoman ever. The film takes place over the holiday season in a Gotham highly reminiscent of bustling New York, all austere wintry edifices and decked out super malls.

3. Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

A double edged sword that works wonders as both Christmas and Halloween film, this is just a classic, iconic festive singalong with the OG beautiful Burton/Selick stop-motion animation and a wonderful host of vocal/singing performances from Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman.

2. Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Another counterintuitive one, this is an icy, sardonic black crime comedy about a mob lawyer (John Cusack), his untrustworthy associate (Billy Bob Thornton), a slinky stripper (Connie Nielsen) and a big city gangster (Randy Quaid). They’re all neck deep in an underworld embezzlement scheme on Christmas Eve, out to kill, deceive, screw over and get rich by the time midnight rolls around. I love this film, it’s a Yuletide noir with healthy doses of deadpan comedy, a mournful rumination on what it means to be a family member around this time of year and how morality plays into a life of crime. Plus positively everyone steals the show including the lovable Oliver Platt as Cusack’s drunken buddy.

1. Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol

The number of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols film adaptations is near infinity but for me this one tops them all. Dazzling motion capture animation gives larger than life vitality to the classic story of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Victorian London. Jim Carrey outdoes himself playing the old dude and *all three* spectres while the cast is filled with beloved performers like Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Fionnula Flanagan, Cary Elwes and the late great Bob Hoskins in multiple roles. Zemeckis’s sure hand with this dynamic style of animation gives the film an impressive aura of sweeping visual movement and immersion, the performances capturing the essence of each actor in various modes while the colour, carols and rousing action make this the best produced version of this story I’ve ever seen, I watch it once a year without fail.

-Nate Hill

Where are the clowns? by Kent Hill

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It is that time of the year when we look to feel magical. The Christmas spirit lifts us up out of the murk that we have been grinding through all year long and . . . in the midst of a silent night; we find a moment of peace. Refreshing it is then, to have stumbled across a film so innocent. Whose message is born out of childlike innocence and hope – that the world which we inhabit has not killed all of the wonder, the mystery and the joy?

Into this scene comes a peculiar yet dynamic messenger. A herald from the heart of the child in us all that delivers a message so hauntingly simple, we would be fools not to take heed.  This visitor is a Clown – whether he is real, or merely a delightful apparition I leave to your perception – with a notion we often abandon in times of peril. The Clown speaks to us, in the tongues of men and angels. And he tells us to just, “Believe.”

This is a fascinatingly splendid, energetically wholesome and heart-warming sweet surrender entitled:THE BOY, THE DOG, AND THE CLOWN.

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The core of this film is the creative duo of father Nick Lyon (director) and son Adrien Lyon (The Boy). Nick’s cousin, Gabe Dell Jr., who trained as a performer with Cirque du Soleil, plays the role of The Clown. And the family canine, Foxy Lyon, plays the demanding role of The Dog. The film has its origins as a project for Adrien’s fifth-grade student film festival. Originally entitled The Sad Clown, they all realized the short film had some sort of mystical allure, and Nick decided to expand the story by writing a feature-length screenplay to incorporate the footage already “in the can.” Nick soon recognized that the latter part of the script was going to be complicated to shoot and expensive (it took place at a clown competition in Las Vegas). He also realized that by filming only on weekends, Adrien was destined to outgrow his role if they didn’t pick up the pace.   Nick knew that a retool was in order and sent the script to veteran screenwriter and friend, Ron Peer, who saw this as the opportunity to create something different, something special, an indie family film featuring … a clown!

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“I had never quite read anything like it,” says Peer. “There was just something charming about it. Watching the footage already shot, I was immediately entranced by Gabe Dell’s emotional performance as The Clown. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.” Nick and Ron’s new goal was to rewrite the screenplay so that it could be shot in two weeks during the upcoming summer. Ron and his wife Mitzi Lynton also acted as producers and crew of the film. The final two-thirds of the movie was shot in Big Bear, California, with a micro crew, including Nick’s eldest son, Parker Lyon, and close-friend and cameraman Rick Mayelian.

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In a world where evil clowns dominate the theatrical landscape, Nick and Ron were deliberately cutting across the grain by creating a family film that focused on the “good clown,”  harkening back to Shakespeare’s classic “Fool” and the performers of commedia del’arte. “Dell’s clown character stems more from the European tradition rather than the red-haired Bozo character seen at American circuses and children’s parties,” says Peer. “It’s a shame that the evil clown stereotype has become so prevalent that a word for fear of clowns has emerged in our lexicon: coulrophobia.”

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“I hope that audiences really respond to our little movie,” Nick adds. “I would love to direct a sequel. But at the speedy rate that Adrien seems to be growing, I may be shooting with his son.” THE BOY, THE DOG, AND THE CLOWN is reminiscent of the charming European films of the 1960’s, and has been compared to the French classic The Red Balloon.

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The film premiered at Dances with Films festival in June of 2019 and won the Audience Award. THE BOY, THE DOG, AND THE CLOWN has also received family certification from the Dove Foundation. Gabe Dell Jr. gives a performance I couldn’t believe. The man is a magician with a screen presence that was so engaging. The film that revolves around him brings to mind some of the luminously enchanting films I came across during my childhood like Vojtech Jasny’s The Great Land of Small.

This movie is pure joy . . . a perfect holiday gift . . . find it now . . .

Believe…

B Movie Glory: Christmas Rush

I love a good low budget Die Hard clone, especially when it stars Eric Roberts and Dean Cain, B Grade poster kids for decades and lovin’ it. Christmas Rush is as scrappy as they come, a cop flick with Cain as the disgraced detective stripped of his badge on Christmas Eve. Roberts is Jimmy Scalzetti, reformed jewel thief who has come out of hiding for one last mall heist to pay for his dying kid’s operation. Cain happens to be be picking up his wife (Erika Eleniak) at the very same mall and… you can guess where it goes. The pair of them actually have decent hero/villain chemistry and charisma, Roberts makes for an engaging antagonist and always has fun, too. It’s a lazy throwaway piece at heart though, an exercise in background noise on 2am cable. There’s something fairly festive about seeing Dean and Eric chase each other around the mall in little go karts though, and almost serves as a silly deconstruction of the action/hostage shtick if it weren’t so brainless. Also titled blandly as ‘Breakaway’ on North American DVD, it’s much better with its original festive title. Christmas Rush indeed.

-Nate Hill

Office Christmas Party

There’s something about a bitchy Jennifer Aniston telling an eight year old girl to fuck off in an airport lounge that puts me in the Christmas spirit. She also fake calls Santa on her cell and tells him to put her on the naughty list. Such is the stuff of Office Christmas Party, one of those improv heavy, uber raunchy, disposable comedies with a disposable title and a whole host of ‘flavour of the month’ standup talent that despite itself, actually turns out pretty great. Aniston and TJ Miller play rival siblings who squabble over the corporate syndicate they’ve inherited, he wants to have an epic, balls out holiday fiesta and she won’t have any of it. The party does happen, complete with hookers, blow shot through a snow machine, rampant destruction of corporate property, ice sculpture penises and more. And.. that’s the plot, but what more could you ask for in a flick called Office Christmas Party. Jason Bateman plays yet another beta dude who sort of hovers on the cusp of being an alpha, he could probably do the shtick in his sleep by now but is charming enough. Mad Max’s Abby Lee is a persnickety escort, Jillian Bell her pimp with major anger issues, Randall Park another office drone with a kinky fetish, while Olivia Munn and Rob Cordry run about as well. Courtney B. Vance doesn’t so much run as dangerously swing on a Christmas light Tarzan rope when he’s given a Santa sized dose of blow by accident, and Kate McKinnon plays hilariously against type as the prudish HR manager. The film doesn’t have much to say other than ‘lets gets fucked up into oblivion’ (who can argue that this time of year), plus a vague underdog subplot that’s lobbed in and a few notes about taking a stand to save the company from going under, a prospect that Aniston’s cunty pessimist readily embraces. Most of it is just wanton debauchery though, which is what these comedies do best. I enjoyed Fortune Feimster as an Uber driver with some trouble reading social cues, McKinnon scaring the shit out of Vance with by singing a German nursery rhyme out of nowhere and other funny bits. It has that distinctly self aware vibe that R rated comedies often do these days, following the genre pioneering trickle down effect of Seth Rogen and others, which can work or can run amok and feel straight up dumb sometimes. Here it’s a loosely plotted throwaway flick about a party anyways, so it works great and the film is highly enjoyable.

-Nate Hill

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years as the first slasher film, they both take place on a festive holiday night where a shadowy killer stalks people in quiet suburbia and they *both* open with an eerie POV tracking shot, and while Halloween is the more polished and notorious film, Black Christmas is definitely my favourite. Halloween opened up suburbia wide and had the boogeyman roam free in daylight while this one keeps it tight, dark and constrained to the shadows, attics and resoundingly atmospheric hallways of a giant Tudor mansion where a group of sorority sisters are celebrating Christmas. Extremely obscene phone calls herald the arrival of Billy, possibly the scariest slasher villain ever thanks to the hair raising voices on the other end of the line, provided by Canadian acting legend Nick Mancuso in one of his first gigs. Billy more or less kills like your average, well adjusted horror villain, but he vocalizes like a disturbed demon straight out of hell and it contributes to the freaky atmosphere so much. Olivia Hussey makes an absolutely gorgeous beauty of a scream queen as the proverbial ‘final girl’ Jess, her melodramatic, theatrical approach to the role only makes me love her more and gives the character flourish. Margot Kidder is hysterical in a lengthy cameo as another sorority sister with a huge potty mouth who seriously gets her Christmas drank on, as does curmudgeonly house mother Marian Waldman, who has an extended solo traipse through the dimly lit house that’s a fine example of physical comedy and inspired improv. Legendary John Saxon, who also headlined yet another iconic horror franchise, plays the intrepid police captain who tries to trace the calls and capture Billy, he always provides tough guy charisma. There is just so much to enjoy about this film; the quiet, ambient Yuletide stillness of the mansion in which you just know that even though no creature is stirring, not even a mouse, Billy is in there somewhere waiting and chuckling maniacally to himself, which makes my skin crawl to this day. The nervous score by Carl Zittrer includes objects like forks and combs tied to string instruments, giving them a warped, spooky timbre. The production design, or maybe it was simply a lucky find with the house as it was, is so beautifully mid 70’s and filled with colour, decorations, garish wallpaper, strange artwork and knick knacks, it feels lived in and authentic, as does the easy breezy camaraderie between the sorority sisters and the police banter, all part of a believable atmosphere. The lighting, or partial lack thereof, is something to behold, every few metres holds an army of shadows and murky artifices for Billy to hide in, and the camera drinks it all in slowly for maximum effect. I could go on all day about how much I love this film and what it means to me, but you get the idea. It’s everything a slasher should be and more: funny, morbidly scary, terminally weird at times, visually audacious, sexy, bizarre, festive and packed with atmosphere. Another interesting thing is that although this gathered the steam of a cult classic like other famous horror films, it never generated any sequels which makes it feel kind of special in the genre, like a sacred mile marker. Having said that, there is a remake out there that is absolute fucking festering garbage, it’s worth zero interest and only stands as en example of what not to do in service of a bona fide, enduring classic like this.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Silent Night

Santa is an axe wielding mass murderer! In Silent Night he is anyway, a slick, excessively gory remake of an obscure 80’s slasher called Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I’ve still yet to see. This new version is a heavy handed, knowingly silly affair, as a small town Sheriff’s department races to find a heinous killer who dresses like the red guy and has been wantonly slaughtering townsfolk all morning. A timid deputy (Sin City’s Jaime King) is the front runner to head him off at the pass, joined by the cantankerous, mouthy Sheriff, played by a hammy Malcolm McDowell with attitude to spare. The murders are so over the top it seems like the filmmakers wanted to outdo each and every slasher film out there, an impossible task, but they throw Paint at the wall furiously anyway. Electrocution by Christmas lights, high powered flamethrower, a souped up stun gun used to skewer an annoying 14 year old chick, but my favourite has to be the naked stripper fed through a giant wood chipper in a scene that would have Fargo covering it’s eyes. That’s the kind of flick it is, sleazed out to the max, tongue firmly in it’s cheek and never too serious. Problem is, a few of the actors (I’m looking at you,

priest dude) take it way too far into camp territory and ruin whole sequences with their wannabe satirical blathering. McDowell gets the tone right though, and is a right treat as the world’s most sarcastic lawman. Donal Logue also fares well as a bad tempered grinch of a mall Santa who eventually tangles with the murderer in a fiery police station set piece. Maybe I was just tired, but when the origin of the killer is finally revealed, which I waited for the whole time, it seemed like kind of a confusing letdown, a bit less of a surprise than it should have been. Worth it for the kills and a couple entertaining performances, but ultimately not much.

-Nate Hill

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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There are more than a few sleazy stocking stuffers out there for those who prefer to take their holiday-themed cinema with a dash or two of unadulterated dementia, but few are as distinctive and genuinely unnerving as Lewis Jackson’s CHRISTMAS EVIL aka YOU BETTER WATCH OUT. Often (understandably) mistaken for a slasher pic and perhaps even better known for being championed by John Waters as the infamous trash connoisseur’s favorite Christmas movie, one might innocently stumble upon this gem and be pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be equally perceptive and perverted rather than simply the latter.

Harry Stadling (Brandon Maggart) saw mommy kissing Santa Claus once as a young boy and hasn’t been the same since; understandable, seeing as immediately following the incident, Harry runs up to the attic and cuts his hand on the glass from a broken snow globe. This fateful night gives way to an adulthood that could be described as unconventional at best and utterly unmanageable at worst. Harry finds it difficult to balance his public and private lives, working an often demoralizing position at a local toy factory by day and counting down the days until Christmas whenever he’s at home.

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This is soon proven to be far, far more than merely a vice for the deeply disturbed introvert. Harry seems to envision himself as Santa Claus in the flesh, and as such, he not only works hard to perfect his costume before the big night but also keeps detailed records of the good and bad kids on the block. It all gets to be more than a bit creepy real quick, and when Christmas Eve comes around, Harry has slipped out of reality and into the deepest depths of decline, completing his transformation into Saint Nick in order to spread holiday spirit far and wide. What begins as an odyssey built on good cheer soon descends into a bloodbath as Harry finds himself unable to cope with the general (adult) public’s apathy toward his favorite holiday, culminating in an intense closing act straight out of FRANKENSTEIN.

Jackson’s film is a decidedly peculiar one; imperfect, for sure, especially when indulging in the kind of grotesque theatrics that have led viewers to label it as a “slasher” film over the years. But when one considers genre trappings, it is perhaps the film’s ability to transcend them which makes it so genuinely bewildering. Above all else, this is a character study – a sad and scary one at that – and we’re trapped inside of Harry’s sick, delusional head for the entire duration. It’s so close to our waking reality (or at least up until the bat-shit insane finale), that there’s no shame in squirming when Jackson wants us to.

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Exploitation films – and even better, intimate studies of the fractured human psyche disguised as exploitation films – are undeniably at their best when supported by a great deal of talent both in front of and behind the camera, and this is where CHRISTMAS EVIL is at an advantage. The weight of Harry’s off-kilter world is one of intricate pleasures thanks to the gorgeous cinematography of Ricardo Avonovich (Murmur of the Heart, That Most Important Thing: Love, Missing), which renders the character’s madcap gift-giving and murder spree as previously internalized phantasmagoria and provides all that came before with the distinct savor of morbid normality. There’s also some clever editing on display throughout, and Jackson’s direction is both efficient and composed; only in a few brief moments do we get a glimpse of a film from a man who isn’t completely in control of his vision.

This mostly refers to the more visually horrific sequences, which include but are not limited to a toy soldier’s sword skewering a human eyeball (enough to make Lucio Fulci blush) and throat slashing by way of the golden star at the top of a Christmas tree. It could certainly be argued that these moments succeed in enhancing the film’s “weird” factor, which is already way off the charts to begin with, but in context they are not only abrupt but over-the-top in a way that would suggest they were hardly the first thing on Jackson’s mind. The conclusion to this macabre tale, in which Harry burdens his poor brother Phil (Jeffrey DeMunn) and his family while on the run from an angry mob, also feels slightly rushed. Luckily, the director’s heart is in the redemption of his dysfunctional misfit, and he finds the perfect way to cap it all off.

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While CHRISTMAS EVIL will hardly be everyone’s cup of spiked eggnog, it comes equipped with more than enough heart, humor, horror, and genuine pathos to hold its own even against the inevitable naysayers. It is a fine film with an ambitious concept, one that it does not always execute tastefully, but one that is nevertheless explored in a consistent, satisfactory manner. Maggart is so good here that you find yourself surrendering to his solitary psycho; as ugly as his actions may be, we know Harry only has the best intentions deep down, which in itself inspires quite the palatable moral dilemma. Jackson’s film may unabashedly deal heavily in steaming coal, and its exterior may at first appear to be a needlessly nasty one, but through its own unique cocktail of extremism and empathy it achieves a kind of strange humanity, one that allows it to thrive beyond the realm of mere curio. For all the talk of it being an anti-Christmas picture, it certainly does its best to keep the spirit alive in its own wacked-out way. Quite the exquisite feast of discomposure, and a terrifically twisted treat for all sorts of adventurous parties.

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