THE PALE BLUE EYE period mystery review

The unsettling atmosphere will transport, while the macabre mystery intrigues. Scott Cooper’s The Pale Blue Eye is both a period murder-mystery drama and serves as an imaginative origin story for Edgar Allan Poe. With skeletons in every character’s closet, the enigma of a mystery will beckon audiences to solve the mystery along with Christian Bale’s character. Based on the novel by the same name, the film adaptation is in the same vein as The Cursed from earlier this year and Antlers from last year. Both of which are among my favorites of the last two years. So, if you liked either of those films, you will mostly likely enjoy this one as well. In addition to the aforementioned, the film also reminds me a little of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999). Unlike the film’s to which I have likened this one, The Pale Blue Eye is heavier on mystery than it is horror. While Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poems have been the inspiration for hundreds of films, and his writing itself, foundational in the development of the American Horror Film (expressionism+surrealism+Freud+Poe), this is one of few films that feature Poe himself–or rather–a fictionalized version of the towering literary figure. What I appreciate about this imaginative origin story is showing a different side to Poe–a side that is actually funny and quirky. Because this is a mystery, I am unable to discuss details as that could spoil important plot points. But it’s important to note that this film’s mise-en-scene strikes a balance between one that is concerned with atmosphere and proper plotting. So often, films that are heavy on atmosphere are lacking in the story-structure department, but not this one. Despite the runtime of 2-hours, no scene ever lingers too long. If you enjoy period murder-mysteries, then you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this film. The Pale Blue Eye hits cinemas on December 23rd and Netflix on January 6th.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

BABYLON (2022) film review

Whoa, that’s a lot of movie. Damien Chazelle’s decadent film of bombastic proportions is simultaneously mesmerizing and repulsive, coherent and incoherent, thoughtful and thoughtless. Suffice it to say, it’s interesting to behold. This overstuffed fever dream collage of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood is trying to tell so many stories, that it winds up not telling any of them effectively enough. There are competing A-stories (outside/action plots), each vying for to be the story about which the audience empathizes with the most. To dramatize these ideas, Chazelle assembles a mise-en-scene that’s ostensibly a combination of Singin’ in the Rain, Boogie Nights, Sunset Boulevard, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with a little Caligula and Wolf of Wall Street thrown in to provocative proportions. Ultimately, what we have here is more of an exercise in montage–the assembly of a motion picture–more so than we have a clearly defined narrative. Undoubtedly, this will become a film that is shown in film studies classes in the future, and will be used for close reading discussions, much like I show Boogie Nights in my American Cinema class. There is a prolific amount of imagery to analyze, as the film follows four different Hollywood stories that all intersect one another. Just for whom was the film created? Certainly not general audiences. It is likely going to be most appreciated by Chazelle himself and with some critics and scholars (tho, not this scholar nor the majority of the critics with whom I screened this film).

Decadence, depravity, and outrageous excess lead to the rise and fall of several ambitious dreamers in 1920s Hollywood.

One thing is clear, Chazelle’s intention was to craft a boisterous love letter to the allure and power of cinema whilst negatively critiquing the Hollywood system that creates and destroys careers on a whim. Furthermore, the film seeks to provide thoughtful commentary (just how thoughtful? that is for you to decide) on the superficial, fleeting nature of fame and celebrity. Where the film excels is in the both the performative dimension and Chazelle’s direction. Unfortunately, Chazelle’s screenplay is all over the place.

While audiences may not remember the four individual story threads that make up the outside/action plot, audiences will definitely remember the prologue and final scene. Chazelle certainly captures the unbridled decadence that is probably not unlike the level of debauchery that ran rampant after the great movie people migration from Europe (mostly Germany and France) and eastern U.S. (avoiding Edison’s motion picture patent policing) after the first World War. It was certainly the wild west with a seemingly unending source of money (coupled with massive debt). To borrow from Outback’s former slogan no rules, just right, that describes the atmosphere of the greater Los Angeles area. No order, only chaos. Which is not unlike this film–lots of chaotic images and plot points.

The prologue to Babylon is truly a spectacle that words simply cannot capture accurately. That’s not to say that all of the creative decisions were plot or character-driven–I’ve said it before–that even provocative imagery can be used to further the plot or character; and therefore, that which would otherwise be evaluated as gratuitous, is actually purposeful. However, much of what goes on in the opening scenes is simply gratuitous for the sake of shocking the audience–for an extended period of runtime. I am reminded of the opening to Boogie Nights, and how at first glance it may seem gratuitous, but actually the opening scene is needed for plot and character development. It’s not so much shocking as it is crafted for a strategic purpose.

While elements of the prologue are justifiable, in the relationship to plot and character, there are many moments that are no more than prolific debauchery simply because Chazelle could. Now, what I did find most interesting–and to the point that I greatly appreciate the prologue–is that much of the deplorable chaos is underscored by the score from Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis in the Babylon scene with MechaMaria. Something Chazelle wove into the scene for the film scholars in the crowd.

Jumping to the end of the film, there is a–what amounts to a–clip show featuring iconic films from the 100+ years of cinema history we have. I get it, Chazelle is communicating to audiences that being part of filmmaking means that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, something that will live on decades and (by extension) centuries after you pass away. It’s this artform that will continually be rediscovered and influence people and cultures (good, bad, or indifferent). While it’s clearly designed to be an emotionally moving moment in the film, as indicated by the tears in the character in that scene, it comes off as lazy, derivative montage that does little more than remind the audience of better films for the rather long sequence of imagery. Instead of being a deeply, moving scene, it’s rather vapid.

The four competing A-stories depict four different (but not too dissimilar in substance) Hollywood stories. (1) an A-list star that feels the pain as he watches his star fade with changing times (2) An up and comer that is thrust into the spotlight for a brief time, just to continue to fall due to tragic flaws and a talent that simply didn’t transition to talkies (3) an immensely talented individual subject to the prejudices of the general public and Hollywood executives and (4) and an animal wrangler turned studio executive by being in the right place at the right time, but even that level of fame and success is not invincible to human error and poor judgment. Any one of these stories would have made for a great A-story, with others falling in line thereafter. But each one of them feels like it’s vying for the main outside/action story. This is where Chazelle should have worked with a screenwriter that could have taken his concepts and ideas, and fashioned them into a much better structured and plotted narrative.

Perhaps it’s a film ahead of its time, or perhaps, it truly is the Heavens Gate of 2022. Maybe it will see success on down the road like Boogie Nights and Showgirls has, but only time will tell. Presently, it’s a wild, bloated film that lacks basic storytelling.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER movie review

AKA The Way of Woker. James Cameron’s highly anticipated followup to Avatar (2009) is an ambitious world-building visual effects extravaganza that is a predictable, poorly paced and plotted movie, which is plagued by many problematic elements in both substance and form. Moreover, it’s a 3-hour movie that feels like a 3-hour movie, for which no amount of impressive visual displays can compensate. Often times, a filmmaker’s ideology can be interpreted through a critical analysis (or close reading), but the blatantly anti-west (or pro applied postmodernism) sentiment is right there on the surface of this troublesome movie. Suffice it to say, all the themes can be summarized as the destruction of modernity, which is manifested in various motifs. From beginning to end, Cameron’s Avatar: the Way of Water is anti-military (literally uses Marines “semper fi”), anti-western medicine, and propagates postcolonial theory (which I write about in my review of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever). It’s one thing to critique or question a societal observation; it’s another to actively work to completely deconstruct and shame entire groups of people and cultures. Cinema is a powerful tool because film is a reflection of life and can help us better understand the human experience; however, Cameron’s latest movie is a reflection of his disdain for the west (by extension, modernity), and wielded more like an offensive weapon than clever storytelling tool. The themes, reeking of applied postmodernism, aren’t the only problematic issues plaguing this 3-hour epic, but the story structure itself suffers from poor pacing and a proliferation of subplots that fail to work together to craft a compelling narrative.

Jake Sully and Ney’tiri have formed a family and are doing everything to stay together. However, they must leave their home and explore the regions of Pandora. When an ancient threat resurfaces, Jake must fight a difficult war against the humans.

Overstuffed with one-dimensional characters devoid of character arcs, Cameron appears to be more concerned with his ideology than creating thoughtful characters. Heroes that are projected as nearly flawless and invincible seldom connect with audiences because it is often our flaws, failings, and lessons-learned that connect us to one another. When villains fail to display any likable qualities, the villain fails to connect with audiences, thus erasing any possible entertainment value. More specifically, central and opposition characters should share similar goals; however, what makes villains and heroes different is HOW they express their methodologies to reach the goal(s). The most interesting characters of opposition are those with human dimension and characteristics that can be appreciated; likewise, the most interesting central characters are those with flaws and weaknesses that make them relatable. Our heroes are flawless and our villians utterly detestable. That is NOT a good character mix or balance.

Moreover, the film’s characters demonstrate a gross representation problem. Nearly all the human characters are white men–not one person of color and only one prominent female character. In a day and age in which reasonable, fair representation in media is important (again, as film is a reflection of life, it should look like real life), Cameron ignores fairness in representation. While some may find this to be a coincidence, it is not. Every diegetic element of the mise-en-scene montaged into a film is intentional. Because of the clear manifestation of postcolonial theory, this can be read as Cameron’s method for perpetuating the sentiment that white people (particularly men) are toxic by nature. Before you say I am extreme in this interpretation, in a recent interview, Cameron stated, “testosterone is a toxin that must be worked out of the system.” Not only is this a shameful statement, it’s grossly inaccurate. Neither testosterone nor estrogen are problems that need solved. Both are biology, plain and simple. Each respectively amoral.

Cameron’s anti-military sentiment is the most provocative of all his themes concerning the complete destruction of modernity (the goal of applied postmodernism). Where he crosses the line, is referencing the para-military presence as Marines, and evoking the rallying cry of semper fi. Undoubtedly, this is not going to sit well with the U.S. military and general public (nor should it). Ostensibly painting one’s country/military in a negative, inaccurate light is inexcusable. Again, it’s one thing to critique, it’s another to actively shame and attack. If he wanted to use a para-military force, he would have been better off crafting this one to be FORMER military that have been privatized for exploratory and extraction purposes. Sell swords as Game of Thrones would put it. Even that may have painted the military in a negative light, but it wouldn’t have been so blatant and aimed at a particular branch of the U.S. armed forces.

With all the themes, symbols, and motifs Cameron includes in the movie, the plotting is insufficient to support such a mess of ideas and stories. Perhaps he should revisit the screenwriting tenants of writing lean or starting a scene as close to the end as possible, and ending it as soon as possible. These tenants of screenwriting help to prevent a bloated, fatty screenplay. As it stands, the storytelling in Avatar: the Way of Water is clunky and forced. Often times the reason for something happening is simply because the plot needed it. This makes for a predictable story, one that is devoid of anything remotely constructive, fun, or inspirational.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many references to Flight of Passage in the World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Many of the creatures from the flagship attraction and surrounding area are found within this movie. I rather enjoyed identifying elements that were lifted from the hugely popular and impressive attraction. If you do see this movie and have been to Pandora, then look to see if you can find some of the land and sea creatures from the attraction.

At the end of the day, this movie is a reminder that spectacular visual effects does not a great movie make.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

EMPIRE OF LIGHT film review

Underwhelming. Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light tries to be too many things, and winds up being none of them sufficiently enough. Furthermore, it’s a story out of time that would have played better had it come out 30-40 years ago. Moreover, it’s poorly paced, and Olivia Coleman’s Oscar-reaching performance is simply not enough to save this film that so desperately desires your affection. Is it a story about the challenges of a mixed race couple in the 1980s? Is it a story about the love and healing nature of cinema? Is it a story commenting on and challenging ageism in romance? Or, is it a story about trauma and mental illness? It’s all of those subjects–and–none of those. None of them effectively enough, anyway.

A romance develops in a beautiful old cinema on the south coast of England in the 1980s.

In an age in which mixed-race couples are increasingly common, movies about the healing power of cinema have been done–and much better (ie Cinema Paradiso), and films about mental illness are common, the story that needed to be the central focus was the one on ageism in dating. And yet, that subplot takes the furthest backseat to the others. Empire of Light never lands on any one outside/action story paired with an inside/emotional story. Neither does Coleman’s character effectively go though a growth arc–she is largely the same at the end of the movie as she is at the beginning–save the healing power of cinema (which isn’t her chief struggle).

This film stands as another example of a director with an idea(s) that should have worked with a screenwriter, because any screenwriter with his/her weight in salt would’ve cautioned Mendes against the plethora of subplots and inner-needs. A closer look at this film suggests that Mendes desired to create this generation’s Cinema Paradiso, but the movie simply doesn’t deliver on that theme or subplot. Like with all the other themes and motifs, the narrative feels desperately forced. I’ll leave you with this: where the film does excel.

Empire of Light ‘shines’ best through the brilliant eye of director of photography Roger Deakins. It’s because of his incredible talent that the film looks as gorgeous as it does. Furthermore, the setting and production design shine brilliantly. I wish that the outside/action story included the renovation of the older auditoriums and ballroom. Would’ve made for a fantastic manifestation of one of the inside/emotional stories.

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Ryan’s 12 Movies of Christmas

Christmastime is here again! And you may be wondering what to watch all month long. That is, unless you’re planning to watch Hallmark Channel or Freeform all month. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t follow the small town girl versus big city guy but falls for the small town heartthrob, then checkout this curation of titles! Some of my favorites are traditional Christmas movies, whilst others are more unconventional. But they all have one thing in common, the story, plot, and/or characters are significantly affected by Christmas.

With so many movies to watch at Christmastime, it’s hard to narrow down any list, much less down to 10! So, I thought I would go with 12 because of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Fun fact: Technically, the 12 Days of Christmas marks the time between Christ’s birth and the symbolic arrival of the magi (which, interestingly, wasn’t for about two years after the birth). The 12 Days of Christmas concludes with Three Kings Day in January. But I digress.

Here are my 12 Movies of Christmas (in no particular order)!

Batman Returns

Batman Returns, a Christmas movie? Why yes! Prologue to credits, the movie takes place at Christmas and we are reminded of it being Christmas throughout the movie. From the lighting of the Gotham City Christmas tree to the Bruce Wayne’s final line, “…peace on earth, good will towards men–and women,” Christmas is everywhere in this film! And who can forget the romantic exchange between Catwoman and Batman, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it. But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” No Christmas is complete without Tim Burton’s arthouse film masquerading around as superhero movie!

I regard this movie as the most Batman movie ever! Even though the title character is only on screen for about 15-minutes. While Keaton’s Batman is the definitive, in my opinion, we don’t love this movie simply because of that, we love it because of the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer’s tour de force performance as Catwoman! And with good reason, she’s Incredibly sexy, seductive, slightly psycho, playful, and conniving. Pfeiffer’s seductive Catwoman is juxtaposed against Danny DeVito’s monstrous Penguin, and throw in the self-centered and ruthless Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, and you have a brilliant cast bringing to life.

Die Hard

Every year, the debate over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie inspires many discourses on social media, and I am here to set the record straight. Indeed, Die Hard IS a Christmas movie. For many of the same reasons Batman Returns is a Christmas movie. The whole reason the plot of Die Hard exists is because of the office Christmas party! In fact, John McClane reminds us, “got invited to the office Christmas party by mistake. Who knew?” Moreover, it takes place on Christmas Eve. Not Thanksgiving nor the Fourth of July. It could have been set any week of the year, but wasn’t; it takes place at Christmas. And the soundtrack is full of Christmas songs.

This really is Bruce Willis’ most inconic role! He redefined what it meant to be an action hero! The fact he was an everyman made him more relatable than others and provided him with the platform to deliver the funny as well as the action. Moreover, we have one of the best villains of all time in the late Allen Rickman’s Hans Grüber. While he is incredibly ruthless, he is also highly entertaining. And it’s the balance between violent action and laughter that makes Die Hard a great film, and a fantastic Christmas movie.

A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart and Disney 2009 versions)

Charles Dickens’ titular Christmas ghost story was adapted early on in the days of cinema. In fact, there are silent movie adaptations dating back to 1901. And for good reason: it’s timeless! It has been adapted for big and small screens, radio, and stage more times than any other literary work. And because of that, everyone has his or her favorite versions of Scrooge’s powerful redemption story.

To boldly go where no Scrooge has gone before! Many notable actors over the decades have played the towering literary figure, but only one is also a Starfleet captain. Sir Patrick Stewart brought Scrooge to the small screen in the 1999 TNT movie-of-the-week. More than any other, Stewart’s portrayal as Scrooge is my favorite! Not only does the performative dimension of the character benefit from Stewart’s gravitas as a Shakespearean actor, but also benefits from his years as Captain Picard, completely with all the nuance that makes him the definitive Starfleet captain.

While Stewart’s Scrooge is my favorite Scrooge, my pick for best page to screen adaptation of the narrative as a whole is Disney’s A Christmas Carol from 2009. It’s an exhilarating visual array of breathtaking motion-capture animation with a touch of the macabre!

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it is an outstanding adaptation of the literary classic. One of the principle differences between this and other adaptations is just how supercharged it is with visual effects, intense chase scenes, and flying through the streets of London. But, as Scrooge himself acknowledged, spirits can do anything–they’re spirits. Zemeckis does not hold back on the dark elements of the story. After all, how else was Scrooge going be so scared that he would make a 180º and change his miserly ways??? He was scared by his future.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

While there have been several page to screen adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ masterful literary work, there is only one that I watch annually. And that is the original 1966 version narrated by Universal Monster veteran actor Boris Karloff. Some might argue that this version isn’t a movie, because it was on TV and only about 25mins in length. But I counter that argument with the simple fact that films are not films based upon run time, but based upon the structure of the narrative and intended purpose. Perhaps How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a short film, but a film nevertheless. After A Christmas Carol, no other fictional literary work has had a greater impact upon the Christmas season than HTGSC. At different seasons of life, we can all identify with both The Grinch and the Whos. Dr. Seuss wrote HTGSC as a critique on the increasing commercialization of Christmas. Something we can certainly identify with nearly 60 years later. While the decorations are beautiful and the giving and receiving of gifts is so much fun, Dr. Seuss reminds us through The Grinch, ” Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Black Christmas (1974)

Move over Ralphie for Bob Clark’s original Christmas story. Released in 1974 and predating John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years, Clark’s Black Christmas is actually the the first modern slasher film. It is one of the most terrifying horror films that I have ever watched. And it’s not because it’s particularly violent or gory, but because of its incredibly unsettling atmosphere caused by the mysterious, vulgar phone calls and the creepy POV of the slasher entering the sorority house during the Christmas party. That bit of dramatic irony paired with the sequence of disturbing events, work together to generate nightmare-inducing thoughts and imagery in the mind of the audience. If you’re looking for another holiday horror movie to add to your list of Christmas films to watch, then you definitely want to add this one to your lineup.

Although there are scenes that take place outside of the house, the horrific events largely take place inside a house. A house–more specifically–a home–where you should be and feel safe. The invasion, the penetration of safety is a terrifying prospect for anyone who has ever walked into their home alone wondering if someone may be there. The idea that someone may be in your house sticks with you long after the movie ends. And that is the power of the unnerving horror of Black Christmas.

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night Deadly Night is a wildly uneven horror movie that jerks audiences around from the deadly serious to the highly campy. Seen as controversial when it released in 1984 to today, this is one bonkers Christmas horror movie, and one of the most unique out there. This movie takes the idea of simply plot, complex characters to all new dizzying levels. At its core, it’s about a traumatized young man going on a killing spree while dressed as Santa Claus. Not so unusual, right? But therein is where the film lulls you into a sense of expectation of that to which you may be more accustomed. After the simplistic beginning, the film goes off int he most bizarre and entertaining direction. You may ask yourself “what did I just watch,” but you won’t care because it was that much fun!

The Polar Express (2004)

This big screen adaption of the children’s literary (modern) classic The Polar Express is a complete delightful! Sure to thrill and stir the hears of audiences of all ages. While it may seem like another children’s Christmas movie on the surface, there are really two films here (1) the one for children and (2) the other for adults. For children, it’s a fantastic adventure, full of excitement, splendor, and prolific Christmas cheer. For adults, the film goes much deeper. The film forces adults to reconcile adult maturity and cynicism against childhood innocence and hope. Our central character finds himself–albeit begrudgingly–on a quest for a renewed belief in the spirit of Christmas. Along the way, he meets others on a magical train to the North Pole that are seeking their own goals finding or growing in confidence, courage, and humility. We never know if the adventure is merely in the mind of our central character, or if he really did board The Polar Express, but there is plenty of heart to perhaps help you hear the silver jingle bells of Christmas again.

The Christmas List (1997)

My mom and I watch this every year together when I go home over Christmas break! We were first introduced to it on the (then) Family Channel, and caught it on TV for many years thereafter (even as the Family Channel got absorbed by other companies. Eventually it wasn’t shown anymore, so I bought it on eBay. So, if you want to watch it, you’ll need to find it on eBay or perhaps you can catch it on YouTube. But I digress.

Mimi Rogers stars as Melody Parris, a perfume sales professional at Montgomery Ward style department store. When her best friend places her Christmas list in Santa’s mailbox, Melody suddenly begins to get everything on the list, but it doesn’t always turn out how she imagined it would. The Christmas List is an incredibly uplifting Christmas movie that is sure to bring joy to all those that put in a little effort to find it. It’s especially relatable for those of us that are in our 30s and still single, perhaps even waiting for our lives to start. When we realize that the waiting for life to start, has become our life. Sure, the plot is a bit whimsical, but that’s part of what makes this a fun movie! It’s also quite funny! And not in an ironic way, genuinely hilarious at points. You don’t want to miss out on sharing in the journey as Melody discovers the spirit of Christmas and refocuses her life in a more productive direction!

Krampus

Twas truly a nightmare before Christmas! What would happen if Charles Dickens, Dr. Seuss, and the Brothers Grimm would combine their unparalleled literary social commentary and storytelling abilities for a Christmas movie? The answer is Krampus. Based on an actual legend of German origin, Krampus is the antithesis of Santa Claus. Whereas this narrative is not based solely on the legend per se, many of the insidious characters are rooted in the legend. In an unconventional way, this movie highlights what Seuss and Dickens wrote about in their timeless tales: Christmas becoming more commercialized and about selfish material gain rather than the spirit of sacrifice, giving, and relationships. Just like Scrooge was so terrified emotionally and physically by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come, that he believed in Christmas with all his heart, you may also call your behavior, this holiday season, into question as a result of coming face to face with Krampus. Directed by Michael Dougherty, of Trick r Treat fame, you don’t want to miss adding Krampus to your Christmas lineup!

Last Christmas (2019)

Paul Feig’s Last Christmas is a heartwarming Christmas movie that is surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. It stars everyone’s favorite Mother of Dragons Emilia Clark as our central character of Kate! Follow Kate on a transformational journey that explores how constantly playing the victim and blaming everyone else for your problems can lead to destructive behavior.

I appreciate the unconventional approach to Christmas movies this one takes. It doesn’t hold back on the cynicism that many people have about life or about the holiday season. The movie depicts true-to-life people that experience real struggles within the family unit and from the outside. In addition to the interpersonal relationship conflict, Kate’s family is also from the former Yugoslavia. This is an important subplot in the movie because the movie seeks to comment on the prejudice that some refugees-turned-citizens experience, especially in the midst of political turmoil. Like I said, this Christmas movie is surprisingly deep.

The most powerful Christmas story ever (other than the Nativity) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and why is that? Because it’s a story of redemption. If Scrooge can be redeemed, we can all be redeemed. Kate is our Scrooge in this story. Perhaps that is why so many people love it, it parallels A Christmas Carol in beautiful ways, yet it doesn’t–on face value–appear to be an interpretation of it. Do yourself a favor and plan to make Last Christmas part of your holiday season.

Gremlins

Can’t you hear that infectious theme music by Jerry Goldsmith now?!? Joe Dante’s Gremlins is one of the most brilliant horror comedies ever! And I say comedy because the entire movie is played for laughs! All the way down to how a young lady learns there is no Santa Claus. The campy violence and juxtaposition between Christmas imagery and horror is uncanny! Lightning in a bottle, that’s precisely what this is. It’s as if Joe Dante and Spielberg said “let’s take the idyllic, cozy suburban setting from It’s a Wonderful Life and use it as the backdrop of a creature feature! The setting and characters in it manage to simultaneously be timeless, nostalgic, and ridiculous.

Like Die Hard and Batman Returns, this movie could have taken place any any other time of year, but Christmas was selected because there is no time of year that is more idyllic than Christmas. It really is an ingenious movie! Gizmo, the cuddly magwai, yanks at our heartstrings, all the while, fantastic suspense is building because we know the rules. And when the gremlins hatch, the idyllic town becomes a wacky, satirical, spectacle of total chaos.s! But even in the darkest moments, Dante finds a way to increase the levity so nothing is ever too dark. At its core, Gremlins is a satirical spin on materialism, but it never forgets to have fun and thrill audiences all at the same time.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra’s masterpiece is timeless! I can’t imagine a Christmas going by without watching it with my parents. What’s funny, is that this movie is considered by many to be the greatest Christmas movie of all time, but most of the movie doesn’t even take place at Christmas. It starts at Christmas and ends at Christmas (although it is the same day), but most of the narrative takes place at other times of year in George Bailey’s past.

Films concerning suicide or suicidal thoughts are not new today, but back in the 1940s, it was nearly unheard of. Much like Gremlins pits the idyllic suburban Christmas backdrop against violent (yet playful) creatures, Philip Van Doren Stern’s screenplay combined with Capra’s genius work together to juxtapose real-world, relatable feelings against the most wonderful time of the year. Capra’s film would not be the classic that it is without the outstanding cast that brings the story to life for the screen. I love how the film takes audiences on a rollercoaster through conflicts big and small. Paired with visceral mood swings the film gets to the very heart of what it means to be human–and the value every life has on this earth. While it would have been easy for the film to maintain a somber tone throughout, it is not without comedy. The end result is a supremely entertaining film that takes that which is most relatable and simple to craft a compelling narrative. No matter what one faces, “no man is alone whom has friends…”

Honorable Mentions

The Rankin-Bass Classics

No Christmas movie list would be complete with out mentioning the Rankin-Bass claymation and traditionally animated mid-20th century classics! The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty, Rudolph, Kris Kringle, they’re all here! Chances are, you make one or more of the Rankin-Bass television specials part of your Christmas every year. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is actually the longest continually airing television special in TV history! Outside of Frosty and a new others, the majority of the RB specials are claymation, which is an artform that is nearly gone, save the recent Pinocchio and 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s not simply witnessing the hand of the artist in these specials that make them–well–special, it’s the uncanny ability for each of these to transport you back to your childhood home, sitting in your PJs with hot cocoa or a bowl of popcorn, watching the television specials with your family or friends. RB’s love of the whimsical, relational, and spiritual dynamics of Christmas rings loud and clear in each of their specials.

Violent Night (late add, but had to mention!)

Highly entertaining and hilarious! Better watch out burglars, Santa’s coming to town. Universal Pictures’ Violent Night hits theatres this week. And you don’t want to miss this fantastically fun horror-adjacent Christmas action movie, which is equal parts Die Hard and Home Alone with some Krampus thrown in for good measure–and it that still has plenty of Christmas spirit! Not since Krampus have we had such unconventional Christmas movie in cinemas. Not quite unsettling enough to be a horror movie, but gorier than a typical action movie, Violent Night sits comfortably in the middle (but a little closer to action). One of the things that makes both Gremlins and Krampus work so well is that the violence is played for laughs, and audiences will find that to also be true in this movie. Even though the violence is prolific, it is schlocky and even campy, at times. Despite the creative, gory kills and pulse-pounding action sequences, Violent Night takes times to impart valuable lessons in family, hope, and even redemption. It simultaneously acknowledges how hard the holidays can be on folks that have become disillusioned with Christmas and yet manages to show the importance of never losing hope in the magic of Christmastime. Even though we may not know how it works; it’s important not to allow cynicism of this world to overpower the optimism of hope the holidays bring. With a solid screenplay, effective direction, and entertaining kills, Violent Night is an instant modern classic

Merry Christmas!!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1