December 2019 Quickie Film Reviews

December was a month for indulging myself. Just over a third of my entertainment choices this month were re-watches, mostly of my favorite Christmas films. And still, I didn’t get to see all the holiday films I wanted to.

I also spoiled myself by going to the theater four times this month. I can’t remember the last time there were that many new releases I actually wanted to see. In fact, I think these four may account for a third of my total new release viewings for the whole year.

  • 30 Films/Series Total
  • 12 Christmas movies (including While You Were Sleeping)
  • 11 Re-watches
  • 6 New Classics
  • 5 TV Series
  • 4 Theater Releases
  • 1 Documentary

Biggest Disappointment: Stand Up and Cheer – Shirley Temple’s brief presence was not enough to save this one.

Favorite Discovery: Virgin River & Little Women  –  Both of these surprised me in a great way.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – This was one of the few films which my grandparents owned, yet I can’t remember if I ever saw it. John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart make a great onscreen partnership. They depict the duality of law and order. The cinematography is so crisp and precise that it makes this stage set movie a pleasure to watch. Not to mention, the story itself is interesting and one which leaves the viewer with a lot to think about.

Shakespeare and Hathaway (2018) – I’m only a few episodes into this series, but so far, I appreciate its’ charm. I don’t  think I’ve ever seen a show set in Stratford-Upon-Avon which is too bad, because I love the historical buildings and winding alley ways. I also appreciate the many nods to the great playwright himself, from the title, to the setting to direct quotations of lines from his plays. I thought the lead actress looked familiar and it turns out she played Mr. Thornton’s sister in North and South. This one definitely has potential, but I’ll have to give this one a few more watches before I decide if it’s really good or just average.

The Crown Season 3 – Honestly, this season has been a bit of a disappointment to me. The casting, production values and performances are still great, but I found most of the episodes rather dreary and depressing. This season could be aptly named The Burden of the Crown. Jason Watkins’ portrayal as the Labour Party’s prime minister Harold Wilson is a highlight.

Doctor Blake Mysteries Season 5 – Another great season of this wonderful Australian period drama. Sadly, it is the last with Craig McLachlan as the Doctor.  I love seeing the more natural interactions between the doctor and his housekeeper fiance Jean as well as the relationship between Charlie and determined reporter Rose. I think the relationships on this show are one of its’ strengths, including the ones the men share as co-workers and friends. Overall, this series is one of my personal favorites and I’m ready to start watching it again from the beginning.

Holiday Affair (1949) – Over the years, this classic flick starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh has become one that has really grown on me. Although I don’t quite buy the “love at first sight” between the two, I think the characterization and story is simple and sweet. I also appreciate how the film does not villainize Leigh’s movie boyfriend or create a lot of drama in the love triangle. Not to mention, I think the kid who plays Leigh’s son Timmy is the cutest, but also a natural portrayal of a normal child

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 3 – I’ve finally figured out what I like so much about this series. It reminds me of all the best things about classic films; the rapid, witty dialogue, the classic vibrant costume and the unabashed nostalgia for New York City. I wasn’t crazy about Suzie’s story line nor did I enjoy the larger presence of Joel’s parents this season. They are annoying. Also, the character arc for Midge’s father Abe was a bit farfetched, but he and Rose continue to grow on me as characters. And of course, I continue to  love the continued push and pull between Midge and Joel.

Knives Out (2019) – The visual asthetics of the opening scene captured my interest at once. And I have to say the cinematography is my favorite thing about this feature film.  I guessed at the true villain pretty early into the film. Overall, I expected a higher level of suspense, but the film reveals each characters’ perspectives of events early on. So, the major tension comes from wondering when the detective will finally figure out who the culprit is. Daniel Craig kept me off-kilter with his Southern drawl as the private detective. I also thought Chris Evans did a fantastic job as the spoiled grandson.

My Cousin Rachel (1952) – I’ve put off watching this highly rated adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, despite its’ high ratings. Richard Burton was surprisingly believable as the gullible young heir who falls for the woman he believes caused his uncle’s death. The best part of this picture is the complete ambiguity of Rachel’s character. This part is perfectly portrayed by Olivia de Havilland with a mixture of guilelessness and depth of soul.

Miss Pinkerton (1932) – The only reason to watch this film is for the presence of Joan Blondell. She stars as a nurse who helps police detective George Brent solve a murder within a wealthy family. The dialogue and most of the performances are stilted. And the movie feels longer than its’ brief 70 minute run time, but Blondell is a breath of fresh air.

Same Time, Next Christmas (2019) – Everyone seems to be getting into the holiday movie market these days. This one aired on ABC and starred Lea Michelle, and Charles Michael Davis. I like the uniqueness of the Hawaiian holiday setting and the story of two soul mates who grow up spending their Christmases together, whose terrible timing when it comes to love keeps theme apart. Sadly, Lea’s performance felt false somehow. This was a decent attempt at a holiday film, but not a standout.

Christmas in Mississippi (2017) – I like this Lifetime holiday movie for its’ Southern location and its’ cast. Wes Brown is a Hallmark channel veteran, and this is one of his most natural and charming performances.

Virgin River (2019) – This Netflix series is adapted from novels written by Robyn Carr. It’s a familiar story, a woman running from her past, winds up in a small town working for a curmudgeonly doctor. The town is full of interesting characters that don’t always see eye to eye, but pull together like family when necessary. But its’ the way this is all portrayed that makes it compelling. If this is indicative of some of the Netflix’ new series offerings, I’m excited.

The Making of a Legend: Gone With the Wind (1988) – I will probably watch this again, because I don’t feel like I paid close enough attention the first time around. There was a lot of regurgitated information that I already knew about one of the most popular films ever made. However, I found the various screen tests included fascinating as a point of comparison against the final casting choices. There were also some very interesting technical details about art direction and such that greatly contributed to the film, but that I had never known of.

Stand Up and Cheer (1934) – If you ever wondered why Shirley Temple became a star, this picture is a prime example. It was her first credited film and one in which she only appears in briefly. But she easily outshines her co-stars with her charm. Her few scenes are the only interesting part of this otherwise boring movie which has little plot other than as an entertainment showcase. I like Warner Baxter and Madge Evans, but they are wasted here. Not to mention, this film features one of the most racist and insulting stereotypes of an African American that I’ve ever seen.

Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955) – A visually stunning film which uses color to great advantage in the settings and costumes. It’s also probably my favorite performance by Jennifer Jones, an actress I’ve struggled to appreciate. It definitely favors the melodrama which gets a bit old after a while.

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) – The recent remake of Jumanji was a surprise hit and for good reason. Re-imagining it as a comedy adventure was a brilliant move and the chemistry of the cast put it over the top. This sequel continues on in the same vein. I loved the addition of Awquafina to the cast. However, as much as I love Danny Glover and Danny DeVito, I felt their story line dragged down the film a bit. The danger this time around comes more from humans than nature.

Little Women (1949) – I had a memory of hating this version of Alcott’s story. But I do love Margaret O’Brien, so I thought it was time for another go at this one. I liked it much better than I remembered! O’Brien, as usual, steals every scene. I still think Elizabeth Taylor looks silly as a blonde, but she does inhabit the character of Amy so well. June Allyson as Jo wasn’t nearly as annoying as I thought, although she still isn’t my favorite casting for the literary tomboy. I had forgotten this was filmed in color and it’s gorgeous and homey feeling. I’m very glad I re-visited this one.

The Holiday (2006) – This is a personal favorite that I watch every year for Christmas. It never fails to delight me or make me cry in certain scenes. And I appreciate how it ties the new to the old by honoring classic cinema. Here are a few reasons why I love this one so much.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) – This was a bit different than I was expecting. Instead of focusing on the life of Fred Rogers, it shows his influence and impact on the bitter journalist he befriends. Tom Hanks gives a good performance, although it did feel like it was a performance and not an inhabitation of the beloved Mr. Rogers. But it was Matthew Rhys as journalist Lloyd Vogel who really stirred up my interest and emotions as he battles to forgive the father who abandoned him.

The Christmas Candle (2013)– Based on a Max Lucado book, this one never fails to inspire me and tug my heart strings. Plus, it has the quintessential English village life charm. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the broody Hans Matheson.

Remember the Night (1940) – I’m a huge Barbara Stanwyck fan and she is absolutely luminous in this quieter Christmas tale. Fred MacMurray is hit or miss with me, but he is great as the principled prosecutor who bails Stanwyck’s thief out of jail and then takes her home for the holiday. There is a perfect mix of humor, sincerity and drama that grows on me more and more each time I see this one.

Meet John Doe (1941) – I know some people deride Frank Capra’s films for their sentimentality, but I really appreciate his sincerity and ability to look for the best in mankind in his films even while highlighting the depths of corruption that we are capable of.  This particular picture feels very modern as it tackles political and media manipulation of the common man. The last ten minutes are particularly powerful both in their spiritual and political statements. Once again, Barbara Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance along side Gary Cooper as the everyman she first exploits and then comes to believe in.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) – I discovered this holiday comedy a few years ago and have always wondered why it’s not better known. It’s chock full of character actors including Charles Ruggles and Victor Moore as the millionaire and the hobo who takes over his house. It’s sweet and funny while also relaying a message about what really matters in life. Hint: it’s not the accumulation of wealth.

While You Were Sleeping (1995)– This is my favorite Sandra Bullock film. She is so endearing as a lonely young woman looking to belong. Bill Pullman is just as sweet as the brother of the man who she is pretending to be engaged to. But it’s the cast of character actors who make up Pullman’s family which really put this one over the top in Christmas spirit and warm fuzzies.

Never Say Goodbye (1946)- I still enjoy this Christmas rom-com classic as much as I did the first time I watched and reviewed it. Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker are both too beautiful for words and have great comedic timing and rapport.

Little Women (2019) – I was a bit nervous about what a new director’s perspective might do to this beloved classic. But overall I was very pleased. I loved that we get to see more of Meg and Amy’s stories, particularly their relationships with Mr. Brook and Laurie.  This is the first time I felt Amy was more than a one dimensional character and a spoiled brat. Saoirse Ronan did a great job as Jo. I did feel that the casting for Laurie left a bit to be desired. Though this one didn’t have the same warm charm as the 1994 version, it felt more real and true to life.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – This is a newer holiday favorite of mine which I’ve written about before. I love the twist in its’ perspective of The Christmas Carol.

A Gift Wrapped Christmas (2015) – This is one of my favorite Lifetime Christmas movies. That is almost 100% thanks to Meredith Hagner and her adorability factor as a personal shopper who brightens up the lives of a widower and his son. I also have a soft spot for the relationship she has with her onscreen sister played by Beverly Mitchell.

The Chaperone (2018) -Elizabeth McGovern, everyone’s favorite TV countess Lady Grantham, gives a remarkably different and subtle performance as the titular character of this film. It’s a quiet story about a woman searching for identity and coming to terms with her past that is very well-done. The cinematography and costuming transported me straight to the 1920’s. I also appreciated the peripheral perspective it gives of famous silent film star Louise Brooks as a young woman yet to hit stardom.

The Three Musketeers (1948) – I put off watching this one for a long time, because I didn’t think I would like it. I was right. Or perhaps my pre-determined judgment influenced my experience. Aside from Lana Turner (who I will love forever and ever amen) and Vincent Price as the film’s baddies, I thought the casting was terrible. The worst was Gene Kelly as the young D’Artagnan. The costumes were equally atrocious (except for Lana’s gowns). The stage sets were obvious and distracting.  I found the whole film too cheesy for me. Although, it seems the majority of reviews on IMDb, disagree with me.

What were some of the films you watched in December? What did you watch at the theater?

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2 Replies to “December 2019 Quickie Film Reviews”

  1. I really wanted to see “Knives Out” in theaters, but missed it. LOVED “Virgin River” though. I binged it with my mom like crazy and am thrilled there’s a S2 as usually those I like don’t return. I confess, I didn’t LOVE “Little Women” in the way so many do. I admire the change, but feel like those of us who love the romance of the story were REALLY let down. The way its filmed leaves a LOT to be desired. I did appreciate Amy’s story though! The 90s version is still my favorite. 😉

    YAY for so many shared favorites! Love ‘Doctor Blake,’ “While You Were Sleeping” and “The Holiday,” which I FINALLY re-watched at the end of the year. SO. GOOD.

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