Saturday, December 31, 2016

Movie Review: A Magic Christmas (2014)

A Magic Christmas (2014)
SP Distribution, Steven Paul Production, Magic Christmas Productions, USA, 2014.

Carter-family struggles always with money. Jack (C. Thomas Howell) and Holly (Lisa Sheridan) run a bakery. Jack wanted to be a writer but he never had time for that. Teen kids Sienna (Sadie Stahura) and Kyle (Dashiell Howell) are social media enthusiastics so the family is becoming disconnected. 
Lisa Sheridan and C. Thomas Howell
Holly and Jack
Holiday resort Farthering Pines is closing down, so Jack decides to take his family while there is still a chance to go there. Whole Christmas without Internet, isn't it fun kids?
Sadie Stahura and Dashiell Howell
Sienna & Kyle
Enthusiasm is written all over their face. 

Jack's old friend Robert Jones (Jonathan Silverman) visits the cabin with his wife Eva (Maeve Quinlan) and son Tommy (Darien Willardson). Robert is competitive and annoyingly successful in his life. They drive with snowmobiles and play Pictionary. But Jack suffers a writer's block because of his inferiority complex. But although the Joneses are rich money doesn't bring happiness. The Carters and Joneses challenge themselves to challenge: who will find the Magic Christmas tree?
 Maeve Quinlan and Jonathan Silverman
Eva & Robert
With her looks, Lisa Sheridan could be mistaken as Mary Steenburgen's daughter:
Lisa Sheridan Mary Steenburgen doppelgangers
Somehow there comes a slight feeling of Griswold-family's Vacation films, only the jokes and hijinks are replaced with drama. Family's dog Buster thinks with the voice of Burt Reynolds. It is light and harmless Christmas-entertainment, something that can be watched while waiting for Santa. The story is traditional but generally it is a nice little film with Christmas spirit.
Rating: Good

Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Jonathan Silverman, Burt Reynolds, Lisa Sheridan, Maeve Quinlan, Dashiell Howell, Sadie Stahura, Darien Willardson, Clara Susan Morey II, Bessie Thornton, Jamee Natella, Samuel Mason Paul
Director: R. Michael Givens

Friday, December 30, 2016

Movie Review: The Littlest Angel (1969)

The Littlest Angel (1969) a.k.a Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Littlest Angel 
Osterman/O'Kun Productions, USA, 1969. 

From Mill Creek's Family Holiday 20 Film Collection. 

Based on Charles Tazewell's book. He also wrote the story for Disney's "The Small One" (directed by Don Bluth), best known for Finnish from "From All of Us to All of You" a.k.a "Jiminy Cricket's Christmas" special.

Shepherd boy Michael (Johnny Whitaker) collects treasures, old junk really. When he follows a white dove he falls of a cliff an dies. He arrives in Heaven. Boss angel Gabriel (Jazz legend Cab Calloway) welcomes him and goofy angel Patience (Fred Gwynne) is assigned as his guardian angel. The Flying Mistress (Connie Stevens) gives him wings. But Michael does not want to be an angel and wants to return home. When the first Christmas is coming Michael must decide what to give to baby Christ. No gift is worthless if it comes from the heart.
Johnny Whitaker
Evelyn Russell and James Coco
Mike's parents (Evelyn Russell and James Coco)
Cab Calloway
Musical numbers are numerous but easy to listen to. In one of them Democritus (Tony Randall) has a philosophical debate that he is only having a dream and not really in Heaven. The special effects are dated (bad blue screen background effects all around) but the story is nice and has charm. Johnny Whitaker makes a good role as an energetic little boy. As it is a perkily told tale it is one of the least traumatizing films to teach kids about death (from the Christian point of view). Best of all it gives a warm Christmas feeling.
Fred Gwynne and Johnny Whitaker
Connie Stevens
The Flying Mistress
God (E.G. Marshall)
Rating: Good

Starring: Johnny Whitaker, Fred Gwynne, Cab Calloway, E.G. Marshall, John McGiver, Tony Randall, George Rose, Connie Stevens, James Coco, Evelyn Russell, Cris Alexander, George Blackwell, Mary Jo Catlett, Lu Leonard, Christine Spencer 
Director: Joe Layton

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Movie Review: The City That Forgot About Christmas

The City That Forgot About Christmas 
Lutheran Television, Screen Images, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, International Lutheran Laymen's League, USA, 1974.
The City That Forgot About Christmas

Part of Mill Creek's Family Holiday 20 Film Collection. 

Based on Mary Warren's book.

Benji is trying to wrap Christmas gift boxes but his parents are too busy to help. Waldo the dog ruins the Christmas tree, and gets thrown out. Benji gets frustrated with all the fussing. Grandpa tells a story about city where people forgot about Christmas. Everyone was rude and selfish. Carpenter Matthew and his dog Gabriel arrive to the city. He begins to help people and tells about Jesus and soon the people feel happy. But naughty Mayor and his clumsy henchmen want to ruin the Christmas party by stealing doll Jesus.
Benji and Waldo
Matthew makes the people happy
The Mayor
24 minute Christian animation tells a Christmas tale about the deeper meaning of Christmas. There are some songs and some humour too to lighten up the story. It is something that could be watched in Sunday school. Take it either as a recommendation or a warning depending on your stance on religious subjects. Benji and Waldo also appeared in other religious animations and comic books. 

Rating: Subjective.

Voice actors: Sebastian Cabot, Charles Nelson Reilly, Louis Nye, Casey Kasem, Robie Lester, Don Messick, Joan Gardner, David Kelley, Phil Morris, Dina Lynn, Gary Shapiro, Sonny Melendrez 
Production director: Leonard L. Gray

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Movie Review: Santa Claus (1959)

Santa Claus a.k.a Santa Claus vs The Devil 
Cinematográfica Calderón S.A., Mexico, 1959. 

Part of Mill Creek's Family Holiday 20 Film Collection. 

Up in the space flies castle of Santa Claus (José Elías Moreno). Santa's multicultural child labourers sing Christmas songs for ten minutes. Then the story gets going. The kids are making strange toys and meanwhile in Hell the devils practice ballet because what else. Santa's eternal enemy Lucifer the King of Hades is annoyed and he sends Pitch the Devil (José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky') to Earth to turn children evil and make Santa angry. 
José Elías Moreno
José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky'
Pitch and the three naughty boys
Three naughty boys turn into Damien-trio and throw Santa's representative with rocks. Poor girl Lupita (Lupita Quezadas) wants to have a doll. Pitch tries to urge Lupita steal a doll, but she is too good for that. Elsewhere rich boy Billy (Antonio Díaz Conde hijo) dreams about his parents as he is lonely. Meanwhile Santa and his helpers are trying to find out the good girl's name. Now Santa has spy equipment that NSA would kill for. has They also have a machine called Teletalker... OMG WHAT IS THAT?
Santa's buddy Merlin the Wizard (Armando Arriola) brews potions for Santa in his laboratory. Such as powder that makes kids sleepy (obviously Sandman also uses Merlin's services) and a flower that makes Santa invisible. Keymaker (Ángel Di Stefani) provides Santa with ultimate lockpick. Then Santa is ready to deliver the presents. Little kid Pedro (Cesáreo Quezadas 'Pulgarcito') reminds Santa that he must return before sunrise or the mechanical reindeer will turn into dust! Now that would surely ruin Christmas mood! Pitch does all kind of naughty tricks to make Santa fail. But Santa has some tricks in his sleeves too! But the three Damiens are back with a vengeance. And finally Santa gets stuck in a tree.
José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky' and Lupita Quezadas
Pitch tries to tempt Lupita
Armando Arriola
Merlin's lab
Ángel Di Stefani
Will Santa survive the evil tricks? Will Lupita get her doll? Will Billy's parents realize that their son needs love too? Does Pitch have to eat ice cream?
Reindeer service
Antonio Díaz Conde hijo
Ho, ho, ho! Now I have a cannon!
The Mexican Santa Claus folklore sure looks different, so it is a bizarre film containing weird scifi-movie elements combined with religion. It still seems to be popular in Mexico, being shown on television on Christmas. In the early 1960s it was also popular in the USA winning even film awards, so it is quite unfair to put it in the IMDB Bottom 100 list just because of the weirdness and its antiquated world views. The production values are good by standards of cheap 1950s scifi movies, so it is not Ed Wood style hilarity but entertaining in the style of Hong Kong/Japanese superhero/monster strangeness (no fights though). That is not to say that it isn't campy, wacky and often downright creepy (watch out for Santa's crazy laughter). It is a quite different Christmas movie, silly but basically traditional tale of good versus evil.

Rating: Good (as a weird Christmas movie experience)

Starring: José Elías Moreno, Cesáreo Quezadas 'Pulgarcito', José Luis Aguirre 'Trotsky', Armando Arriola, Lupita Quezadas, Antonio Díaz Conde hijo, Nora Veryán, Polo Ortín, Manuel Calvo, José Carlos Méndez, Jesús Brook, Rubén Ramírez, Queta Lavat, Ángel Di Stefani, Guillermo Bravo Sosa, Graciela Lara, Rosa María Aguilar, Keith Hetherington, K. Gordon Murray (as Ken Smith), Juan Antonio Edwards, Pablo Ferrel 
Directed: René Cardona, Ken Smith (English version)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Miracle on 34th Street (1955)

The Miracle on 34th Street (1955)
20th Century Fox Television, USA, 1955.
Miracle on 34th Street (1955)

Part of Mill Creek's Family Holiday 20 Film Collection.

Man named Kris Kringle (Thomas Mitchell) appears to Macy's and gets a job as Santa. Young girl Susan (Sandy Descher) has been told by her mother Doris (Teresa Wright) that Santa is only a myth. Kris believes himself to be real Santa Claus. Doris works in Macy's too and weirdly acting Santa makes her think that he is a looney. He is just a nice man with the white whiskers. Lawyer Fred Gaily (Macdonald Carey) who is new boyfriend of Doris believes that Kris is a good man who makes children happy. Kris has to go to a sour psychiatrist Dr. Sawyer (John Abbott) who hates Santa Claus. Eventually court has to decide if Kris is insane or is he real Santa Claus.
Macdonald Carey
Fred Gaily
Teresa Wright
Thomas Mitchell and Sandy Descher
Kris and Susan
20th Century Fox TV version of the classic 1947 movie is a nice short version (46 min) of the classic film. It was probably made to benefit from the increasing popularity of the TV-medium. It feels very condensed but it has nothing to be disliked. It has right amounts of Christmas magic, humour and good acting.
John Abbott
Dr Sawyer
Rating: Good

Starring: Macdonald Carey, Teresa Wright, Thomas Mitchell, Sandy Descher, Hans Conried, Ray Collins, Dick Foran, John Abbott, Don Beddoe, Whit Bissell, Sara Berner, Herb Vigran, Maudie Prickett, Paul Smith, Herbert Heyes, Louis Towers, Earl Robie, Benjie Bancroft, John Breen , Bud Cokes, Franklyn Farnum, James Flavin, George Ford, Stuart Hall, Wilbur Mack, Jack Mower, Paul Power, Jessie Proctor, Bob Reeves, Edward Rickard, Scott Seaton, Mabel Smaney 
Director: Robert Stevenson

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Santa and the Three Bears

Santa and the Three Bears 
Ellman Film Enterprises, Key Industries Ltd., Pirate's World, Tony Benedict Productions, USA, 1970. 

Part of Mill Creek's Family Holiday 20 Film Collection.

Mr. Ranger (Hal Smith) goes to see family of talking bears before they go to have their winter sleep. Cubs Chinook (Bobby Riha) and Nikomi (Chris Gilmore) want to play in the snow and see Mr. Ranger cutting a Christmas tree. They want to celebrate Christmas but mother bear Nana (voiced by Wilma Flintstone, Jean Vander Pyl) wants to sleep. Maybe if they meet Santa, the kids will go to sleep. Nana gets an idea that backfires. Is the Christmas spirit lost for the cubs?
Mr. Ranger
Chinook and Nikomi
Sweet-natured Christmas special has a relaxingly unhurried pace. The warmth and coziness have made this a childhood favourite for many. Tony Benedict worked for Hanna-Barbera so the style of animation is familiar and nostalgic. Mill Creek's version runs 46 minutes. Originally the film version was longer with some live-action sequences, but those versions seem to be rare.
Relaxing evening

Voice actors: Hal Smith , Jean Vander Pyl, Chris Gilmore (as Annette Ferra), Bobby Riha
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Touch (Tian mai zhuan qi)

The Touch (2002)  (Tian mai zhuan qi) 
Aruze, China Film Co-Production Corporation, Han Entertainment, Media Asia Films, Mythical Films, Pandasia Entertainment, Tianjin Film Studio, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, 2002. 
The Touch Tian mai zhuan qi

Pak Yin Fay (Michelle Yeoh) belongs to ancient Chinese acrobat family. Malicious art collector Karl (Richard Roxburgh) gets the Heart of Dun Huang that could lead to a container of magic essence that could make people immortal. Yin's ex-boyfriend and thief Eric (Ben Chaplin) steals the relic and asks Yin's help. Karl's stupid henchmen kidnap Eric and Yin goes to save him as Karl plans to make soup whose main ingredients are Eric's hands. Treating Eric's injuries rekindles Yin's feelings about him. 
Michelle Yeoh
Ben Chaplin
Meanwhile Yin's brother Tong (Brandon Chang) and his girlfriend Lily (Margaret Wang) snatch the Heart and go to search for the Dun Huang's hidden treasure. They also get kidnapped by Karl. Treasure-hunting continues and many dangerous traps wait in the temple. 
Morning exercise
Margaret Wang and Brandon Chang
Lily and Tong
The temple sequence is CGI-heavy
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" cinematographer Peter Pau turned into a director. Film starts as an action comedy in the spirit of Jackie Chan-films and turns into adventure with the closest comparisons being the "Tomb Raider" films. It is not Michelle Yeoh's best. It is fairly entertaining adventure yarn but not as original and energetic as it could be. Although the first half is good, the temple sequence is horrible.  The story lacks the energy of Yeoh's 1990s films and has too cheesy special effects and wire-fu jumping. Ben Chaplin as her side-kick / lover is adequately funny. There was also a comical henchman Bob (Dane Cook) whose potential in the story was wasted. The locations are great and Basil Poledouris' music is good. Considering all the talent and effort that was put into this film it is a disappointment. 


Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ben Chaplin, Richard Roxburgh, Sihung Lung, Brandon Chang, Margaret Wang, Dane Cook, Emmanuel Lanzi, Kenneth Tsang, Gabriel Harrison, Winston Chao, Zhenhai Kou, Chang Sheng Liu, Hua Qin, Sua Lang Rao Deng, Dawangdui, Ya Dong Duo Ji, Zhong Bian Ba Ci Ren, Zha Xi Dun Zhu, Qilong Li, Zhang Ci Ren Ba, Wang Biao, Harald Burchardt, Li Na Chen, Long Chen, Kai Cui, Jing Po Di, Hao He Dong, Bing Hong, Yiu King Lee, Gui Qin Li, Xiao Ming Li, Xing Li, Yue Qi Li, Wei Liang, Ken Liao, Yang Liu, Ling Long, Dorrise Mok, Wei Ren, Er Hua Song, Ge Song, Jiao Long Sun, Na Sun, Xiao Wei Sun, Jerald Tan, Chan Juan Wang, Don Wong, Jia Hui Wu, Pu Zha Xiao, Rong Xiao, Jackie Yeung, Shi Yao Yu, Xing Chao Yuan, Er Lei Zhang, Hao Zhang, Jin Ting Zhang, Yan Zhang, Yin Chuan Zhang, Ying Mei Zhang, Xiao Qing Zuo
Director: Peter Pau 

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