One Wacky Ride

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday returns to the basics of the franchise. Pee-wee Herman hasn’t been relevant since Pee-wee’s Playhouse ended in 1990. Paul Reubens continued to find work, but inappropriate 1991 & 2002 controversies kept the innocent character away even longer. In the meantime, Reubens planned a comeback with 2 distinctly different scripts. Can’t say I was expecting a new movie as late as 2016, but I wasn’t too grown up to enjoy it. Reubens partnered with Judd Apatow, Netflix, and a first time director who understood how Pee-wee could work in the modern age.

Starting with partial de-aging and makeup to make Reubens youthful again. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is basically Pee-wee’s Big Adventure right down to the cross country road trip. Pee-wee once again enjoys his colorful playhouse and friendly town residents. This time his problem is needing to take a holiday. The plot is just as bizarre as before with actor Joe Manganiello being the one who pushes Pee-wee to leave. Some read it as gay subtext, but I don’t think of it that way.

Everything revolves around Pee-wee desperately trying to go to New York in order to attend Manganiello’s birthday party. If that wasn’t weird enough, the movie opens with Pee-wee saying goodbye to an alien. Like Big Adventure, Big Holiday is filled with colorful characters that Pee-wee encounters on the road. There’s a trio of sexy criminals, a chipper salesman at a snake farm, a farmer and his love starved daughters, giant hairdressers, a lady with a flying car, a crazy mountain man, and the Amish. Pee-wee is a little rusty, but he can still bring the laughs. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a welcomed return to childish things.

Pee-Wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee on the open road

Preceded by: Big Top Pee-wee

Death Bed

Gerald’s Game is the successful result of a Stephen King novel once thought unfilmable. Although published in 1992, it took until 2017 for Netflix to figure out this intense story of survival. Director Mike Flanagan already made the similar horror movie Hush as something of a warm up. Both movies take place in one secluded location where a woman fights to overcome a desperate situation. Gerald’s Game has a particularly terrifying concept that only Stephen King could come up with.

Jessie is the wife of wealthy older man Gerald Burlingame. To rekindle their failing marriage, Gerald takes Jessie to an isolated lake house where he plans a kinky “game” that results in her being handcuffed to a bed. When he goes too far, Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack that leaves her with no way of escape. It was unfilmable since the entire movie now hinges on one performance. Fortunately Carla Gugino delivers what I think is the best performance of her career. Like all horrifying survival stories, the situation goes from bad to worse.

Since the door was left open, a hungry stray dog wanders in and ends up doing something disgusting. When dehydration sinks in, she has to find a way to get the water left on the shelf behind her. Bruce Greenwood is just as effective as Gerald when Jessie begins to hallucinate him taunting her. Triggering a disturbing memory with her father during a solar eclipse that she has to come to terms with. Even that isn’t the worst of it when another dark figure shows up. Much like 127 Hours, the circumstances of Jessie’s escape are extremely difficult to watch. Gerald’s Game is gut-wrenching horror that hits close to home.

Gerald's Game

Jessie cuffed to a bed

He’s an Angry Elf

The Christmas Chronicles 2 proved to be just as joyous as the original Netflix offering. I think I still prefer the unpredictable nature of The Christmas Chronicles, but the more fantasy filled sequel does the trick too. Rather than focus on the gimmick of a rugged Kurt Russell Santa stuck in the real world, we see what things are like in the North Pole. Goldie Hawn’s Mrs. Claus cameo is expanded into a featured role with way more attention given to the computer animated elves.

The Christmas Chronicles 2 follows a pre-teen Kate frustrated with her mom’s new boyfriend. She ends up teleported to the North Pole along with her potential step-brother Jack. While hunting a giant Yule cat, Santa brings the children into the shielded Santa’s Workshop. It’s a magical place with some modern inventions designed by Mrs. Claus. While I didn’t care for some cringy jokes, I couldn’t deny the real life love shared by Russell & Hawn. We even learn some backstory on Santa’s days as St. Nick. Including how he met the elves and received the “Star of Bethlehem” that powers the North Pole. Christian references like that are a nice touch.

The conflict comes from a naughty elf turned human named Belsnickel seeking revenge on Santa. This is the second power hungry character Julian Dennison has played. The Christmas Chronicles 2 is full of peril and even more unique Christmas themed ideas. Like Mrs. Claus baking sweet versions of healthy food or having magic Christmas cookies. Plus Santa time travels and sings another hip musical number with Darlene Love. With just as much heart as before, The Christmas Chronicles 2 is another Christmas hit from director Chris Columbus.

The Christmas Chronicles 2

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus in the North Pole

Preceded by: The Christmas Chronicles

Letters for Santa

Klaus is the most surprising retelling of Santa Claus’ origin I’ve ever seen. It’s no secret that computer animation has left traditional animation all but extinct on the big screen. The goal of Spanish Disney alum Sergio Pablos was to bridge the gap between 2D & 3D. So he formed SPA Animation Studios. After years of development, the hand drawn look with computerized texturing ended up looking more beautiful than anything I’ve seen in the medium before. Of course no studio wanted to take the risk. Until Netflix came around to save it.

Klaus is honestly the film that should’ve won Best Animated Feature. I don’t call many new Christmas movies instant classics, so I was surprised by how much I loved it. Klaus does indeed offer an alternate version of Santa Claus’ origin, but this is actually Jesper’s story. He’s a spoiled rich kid whose postmaster father gives him a serious reality check. Forcing him to deliver letters as a postman for the unhappiest place in the North called Smeerensburg. Everyone fights because of feuding families and kids don’t go to school since the embittered teacher Alva sells fish.

The answer to Jesper’s letter problem comes in the form of burly woodsman Klaus. As Santa’s go, he’s a man of few words, but J. K. Simmons brings warmth to the recluse. Many clever Santa explanations are given. Whether it’s kids sending letters for toys, how he got his sleigh, used reindeer, or got his red coat from Sami people acting as elves. The explanation for why he makes toys is unexpectedly heartbreaking. It only strengthens the bond between the postman, toymaker, schoolteacher, the town, and kids everywhere on Christmas day. Klaus is a heartwarming modern Christmas tradition in the making.

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Klaus rides with Jesper

I Don’t Know My Name

Stargirl is just what Disney+ needed. Not to be confused with the Stargirl TV series from DC. That also happens to be released in 2020 starring a blonde teenage girl named Stargirl. The movie is based on a popular 2000 YA novel. An adaptation was in talks for years, but I swear the title role was made for America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal. Both are precocious young ladies with a talent for playing the ukulele. Along with not knowing her name.

VanderWaal is a natural in her first acting role. Covering many peppy pop songs. Although it’s really Graham Verchere as Leo whose perspective we follow. He was once different with his obsession for porcupine neckties, but High School has forced him to be like everyone else. Until new girl Stargirl Caraway helps him to stand out. She’s quirky, flowery, and different, but everyone in school embraces her. So she becomes the schools unofficial good luck charm playing her ukulele at all the games. She fits the manic pixie dream girl description in more ways than one.

The young love relationship that Leo & Stargirl have is just too cute. So it’s unfortunate when all of her genuinely good deeds begin catching up with her and she faces an identity crisis. She’s so too good to be true that many people question whether she really existed. The one thing I know for sure is that Stargirl really speaks to me. The cinematography is so good that I sometimes forgot I was watching a Disney teen movie. Stargirl may be different, but that’s a beautiful thing.

stargirl

Stargirl plays for everyone

The Kringle Kids

Noelle is a jolly invitation into the exciting new landscape of Disney+. It’s not enough that the streaming service includes just about every Disney property ever made, there’s original stuff on it as well. So as soon as it launched my brother and I binged everything new first. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, The Mandalorian, Lady and the Tramp, and Noelle. The latter being the only true original of the bunch.

Noelle is the latest Christmas offering from Disney. It’s about the Santa Claus that we all know and love passing his title on to a successor (that old chestnut). Only this time Santa has a son and daughter named Nick and Noelle Kringle. With their father’s passing, an unenthusiastic Nick becomes next in line. Leaving his extra cheerful sister Noelle to see that he fulfills his duty. Until he runs away, with her trying to get him back in time for Christmas Eve. Noelle is not even close to being an annual Christmas classic. Even with the infectious Christmas spirit of Anna Kendrick.

While it is refreshing to see such an innocent G rated Christmas flick, it’s still nothing I haven’t seen many times before. Some of its interpretations are a bit unimaginative too. Like the elves looking like full grown people with pointy ears. Obviously you can see the ending coming from a mile away. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, since there’s like a hundred different interpretations of Santa. Noelle is just good cheer in an average package. Merry Christmas Eve!

Noelle

Noelle Kringle

Anymore Bright Ideas?

Bright is the Netflix original movie that initially peaked my interest. Despite the easy access of the streaming service, most of their original movies just don’t interest me. Bright was one of the earliest examples of a Netflix original having a high budget and A list stars. It wound up being just as bad, if not worse than Suicide Squad. Since it was David Ayer’s next project and also starring Will Smith. The concept seemed interesting, but the director wasn’t much of an encouragement.

Bright is a fantasy film filled with elves, fairies, orcs, and magic. It also happens to take place in modern day L.A. Featuring a human police officer partnered up with the first orc officer. The main conflict involves elves searching for a deadly magic wand that the two officers and a friendly she-elf have to protect. Unsurprisingly, a combination of the buddy cop and high fantasy genre just doesn’t work.

Despite 2,000 years of shared history, the presence of fantasy creatures has barely affected our history at all. They try to make it into some kind of race relations movie, but awful dialogue and unlikeable characters couldn’t make it work. It doesn’t help that David Ayer’s tryhard edginess is always present. With constant swearing, gore, a brief trip to a strip club, and everyone (even orcs) dressing gangsta. The only good thing about Bright is that I didn’t have to go to a theater to see it.

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Officer Daryl Ward (human) fights crime with Officer Nick Jakoby (orc)

Blindfolded

Bird Box is currently the most viewed original movie on Netflix. I normally don’t have much interest in Netflix original films, but Bird Box is practically unavoidable. It immediately blew up on the internet within days of its release. Spawning memes for several key moments from the movie. Specifically the image of Sandra Bullock blindfolded with her children. When I saw the trailer, my first thought was A Quiet Place with sight instead of sound. After actually seeing Bird Box, it’s much closer to The Happening (only better). Bird Box takes place at two separate points in time. One sees Sandra Bullock’s character Malorie attempting to take a Boy and Girl down a river while blindfolded. Why are they blindfolded? That’s all explained 5 years prior. When Malorie was pregnant, the world suddenly drifted into chaos due to an unseen force. I won’t say what it is (or what the title means), but let’s just say if you see it you die. Malorie, along with a group of survives played by several familiar actors, must try to survive in a world where being blindfolded is the only way to survive.ย Bird Boxย is pretty good, if just a little overhyped. Although it’s perfectly chilling enough to be released in theaters. Bird Box success is all thanks to the quick access of Netflix. So unless your unsubscribed, watch Bird Box as soon as you can.

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Malorie paddles her children through the rapids

Naughty or Nice

The Christmas Chronicles is a budding Christmas classic. It also happens to be the first Netflix original movie that I saw. I watched it as soon as it dropped on Thanksgiving and was pleasantly surprised. Lately it seems like there aren’t enough good Christmas movies being made. The Christmas Chronicles is full of Christmas spirit in a very unexpected way. I was mostly drawn in by the idea of Kurt Russell playing Santa Claus.

The Christmas Chronicles begins with the traditional set up of a family enjoying Christmas every year. Until an unfortunate turn of events leaves the family without their father. Making the season even tougher for them to get through. The older Teddy acts out and his younger sister Kate still believes in Santa. When their mom has to work on Christmas Eve, Teddy agrees to help his sister Kate catch Santa. Things take a sudden tonal shift as soon as Santa shows up. Russell’s Santa is a major scene stealer who’s thinner, has rugged good looks, and doesn’t say “Ho, ho, ho.”

The Christmas Chronicles is a lot like Adventures in Babysitting. They end up lost in Chicago with a crashed sleigh, loose reindeer, and a missing sack full of toys. Santa even gets arrested, but a hip musical number does the trick. Another tonal shift comes when we finally see the elves. Which are small, fuzzy, computer animated, and only speak Elvish. Mrs. Claus even shows up at the end played by Russell’s partner Goldie Hawn. It’s a harrowing night, but all is well when Christmas is restored. The Christmas Chronicles is a refreshingly joyous Christmas hit with plenty of charm. Happy New Year everyone!

Christmas Chronicles

Santa gets the job done

Followed by: The Christmas Chronicles 2