Saturday, December 29, 2018

Popcorn Kernels: 'Tis The Season

Some mini reviews of Christmas movies I caught in my frantic year-end roundup.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Year: 2018
Director: John Schultz
Cast: Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
Rating: TV-PG

A white lady is engaged to the prince of a fake country, but will political unrest get in the way of their impending nuptials? No, no it won't.

God bless the Motion Picture Corporation of America. The fabulously generic Hallmark-esque movies they produce for Netflix only hit the spot more and more. The original Christmas Prince was mediocre but affably dumb. But this sequel is a top to bottom nuclear blast of earnest good-bad glee, from the vacuous misunderstanding of macroeconomics to the dad who insists that putting inflatables on a Christmas tree is a time-honored American tradition.

This movie embraces crazy-go-nuts plot twists, soap opera zooms, and political intrigue over the wan romantic plot, which is honestly the best decision. The central couple here has never had particularly warm chemistry, and they're not one you root for, and it's not like this franchise's sense of romance is particularly nuanced in the first place (they also fall into the trap of having the only gay characters in the movie fall for each other the second they lock eyes, because they're the only two homosexuals who exist in the entire universe and are thus fated for each other even though one of them has up until that point only served as comic relief because he's an egomaniacal asshole who could only be toxic in an interpersonal relationship, and did I mention that I hate this trope so so much?).

I couldn't possibly do this movie any justice with a longer review, because I'd just be listing lunatic things that happen during the course of its blissfully brief run time (did I mention the heroine threatens a man's life with a bow and arrow in a scene that isn't super treated as a joke? In a Christmas movie!). It's a movie ripe with incident and not bogged down by anything resembling a researched political context, a real theme of any kind, or characters worth digging into any deeper than the layer of cake makeup that gives them all such a creamy milk-pale glow.

Rating: 5/10

Anna and the Apocalypse

Year: 2018
Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A zombie apocalypse breaks out in a small Scottish town during Christmastime, throwing a wrench into the plans of the local high schoolers. Also, it's a musical.

Anna and the Apocalypse is a zombie Christmas musical, which is something I should love. Instead, I only like it a lot. I suppose I can't complain about that, because it's a delightful romp with catchy tunes, but there are just a few quibbles that refuse to leave my mind. First and foremost is the staging of the musical numbers. The film runs out of steam very fast after a High School Musical inspired cafeteria number with full choreography and a Shaun of the Dead inspired duet between two of the leads, who are completely clueless that a zombie apocalypse is happening all around them (maybe the fact that it's constantly reminding me of other movies is a downside too, come to think of it, considering how original the concept is).

After that, every single musical sequence just asks its performers to stand in place and belt their hearts out, but watching four or five people arrange themselves like statues in a garden for a three or four minute song isn't exactly dynamic cinema. This lack of creativity extends to a lot of the zombie gore sequences too. We get a lot of basic bashing and smashing, although their choice of a sharpened candy cane as their iconic weapon was obviously a good one. They just seem to have squandered most of their budget and preparation in the first half, and the glimmering fun is buried beneath a lot of trope-filled slogging once the apocalypse fully sets in.

That said, I love me the fact that this is a peppy Scottish horror musical unafraid of setting it bubblegum pop tunes atop scenes of grim devastation, not shying away from dire consequences for the main cast, which is much more ensemble-driven than you'd expect from a movie that literally has one person's name in the title. And this cast is all up to snuff, both in the dialogue and musical sequences, though Sarah Swire (playing a queer character that I adore) is certainly the most vocally talented, belting for all she's worth like a grand diva twice her age.

Plus, in addition to its plotty songs, which are mostly fun fluff like the Glee stylings of "Hollywood Ending" and "Turning My Life Around," Anna and the Apocalypse gives us two brand new Christmas classics in the form of the sexy Santa Baby ballad "It's That Time of Year" and the saccharine but melancholic carol "Christmas Means Nothing Without You." Those are tracks that will hit my Christmas rotation with or without the rest of the movie, even though this is certainly a fun stocking stuffer I will revisit time and again throughout the years.

Rating: 7/10

Cola de Mono

Year: 2018
Director: Alberto Fuguet
Cast: Santiago Rodríguez-Costabal, Cristóbal Rodríguez-Costabal, Carmina Riego
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

On the night before Christmas in 1986, two brothers have twisted psychosexual encounters with their sublimated homosexual desires.

There was a time and place for movies about how gay desire twists men and makes them into crazy murderers. That time was the 80's, and they weren't exactly welcome then, but at least that decade had the twisted sensibility to inject them with plenty of camp and glitzy excess. 2018 is not that time though, and as much as Cola de Mono (literally translated to "monkey tail," describing a traditional South American Christmas drink as well as being a bit of a naughty pun) wants to be a Chilean Cruising, it's pretty much just nothing.

In the first act of the film, I held out hope that the pacing was slow to highlight the boredom of a hormonal young man trapped inside with his family on Christmas Eve, but alas I was giving the movie too much credit. The pace stays the exact same throughout, during the moments where it cuts between nothing happening to one brother inside and nothing happening to the other brother outside, though sometimes the shots are out of order in a way that's probably trying to be "Tarantino-esque" but just accomplishes "confusing."

When the film finally erupts into action, it's so cheaply realized and shoddily edited that it would almost have been better if it never happened at all. The only bright spot of this insufferably overlong movie (when the movie cuts to several years later instead of just ending, it's like a slap to the face) is Carmina Riego as the overworked mom. She's the mistress of a resentful dinner table, and she vamps it up into the rafters. Beyond that, don't waste your time on this one. Not that you needed me to tell you that, because you've probably never heard of this one to begin with. Oops. I went out of my way for nothing.

Rating: 2/10

The Grinch

Year: 2018
Director: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

He's a mean one, that Mr. Grinch.

Look, everybody knows we didn't need another version of the Grinch tale, especially one as toothless and plasticine as the type of story being told by Illumination Entertainment. Literally the only addition this film makes to the Grinch mythology is the fact that the Whos sing two Christmas songs with specifically religious elements ("God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Silent Night"), leading me to question if there is a Who Jesus. But beyond that, no. Nothing added, nothing gained.

Plus, they're definitely playing jazz with the original poem, adding some godawful rhyming couplets to beef out the run time, and giving Cindy Lou Who a whole bunch of aimless slapstick that doesn't drive the plot in any particular direction for about a third of the movie. And Benedict Cumberbatch is giving a nasal, wobbly performance that doesn't befit his skills at all, he should have just stepped aside and let Jim Parsons do his thing.

But with all that said, it's still, y'know, cute. There are a couple fun design elements, my favorite being the elevator fashioned from a cushy chair that the Grinch uses to navigate his mountaintop abode. And by far my favorite sequence involves a group of relentlessly cheerful carolers being perceived by the Grinch as a zombie-esque horde chasing him through the streets, an excellent bit of quasi-expressionism that is simultaneously hilarious and deeply chilling.

Look, I will never ever ever think about this movie again, but it did its job and it went home, and I can't say I'm mad at it? It just sort of exists, and it's a perfectly functional piece when it does. So that at least makes it better than The Secret Life of Pets! Thank goodness for small favors.

Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1547
Reviews In This Series
A Christmas Prince (Zamm, 2017)
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (Schultz, 2018)

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