“Last Christmas” mini movie review

Just the Christmas gift we needed this holiday season! Don’t be so quick to judge a holiday movie by its trailer. Much like we so often judge a book by its cover or a streaming movie based upon its thumbnail image, the same can be said for Christmas movies that look like they belong on Hallmark channel but somehow got a theatrical distribution. Paul Feig’s Last Christmas, written by Emma Thompson, is a heartwarming Christmas movie that is surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. If you’re a fan of his work, like I am (except for the Ghostbusters that doesn’t exist), you are familiar with his innate ability to take what looks like one movie, but then deliver something entirely different but completely brilliant in the execution that subverts expectations. Take Spy or last year’s A Simple Favor for examples. If you haven’t seen either, do yourself a favor and watch them! I absolutely adore how this movie takes what could simply be another paint-by-the-numbers romantic dramedy but provides audiences with a memorable movie built upon a simple plot and complex characters that audiences are sure to connect with. Kate played by Emilia Clarke (aka Mother of Dragons) is simply a treasure! And her costar Henry Golding, who plays Tom, is one part moral-compass and one part love interest. 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.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. 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 or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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SeaWorld Christmas Celebration 2017

Where the Christmas season meets the sea! You don’t want to miss a single moment of this spectacular holiday seasonal event. From meeting Rudolph and friends to watching fantastic shows, there is something for everyone at Christmas Celebration. SeaWorld is your place in Orlando to experience the sights, sounds, and memories of Christmases from years gone by. Be sure to plan to arrive at the park by 3 o’clock in the afternoon because you will want to get to all the events–and the shows FILL UP early. With so much to do, you will benefit from downloading the SeaWorld app because you can easily keep up with the various showtimes. While the shows are the biggest draw at Christmas Celebration, don’t forget to checkout the coasters. Coasters in the dark! Since SeaWorld typically closes before or just at nightfall during most of the year, this is a perfect opportunity to ride your favorite coasters in the dark with little to no wait.

Before setting out into the park, I chose to dine at Shark’s Underwater Grill. Shark’s is a restaurant that I typically dine at when at SeaWorld because the food is delicious and the service is great. And since I am usually a party of one, I often get a table quickly. In fact, when I walked up to the host stand, they told me that they could accommodate me within 5-10mins. Well, nearly 30mins went by before they asked me if I had been called yet. Obviously, I had not been called. Turns out, they forgot about me. I could have checked with them earlier, but given I was a walkup, I thought that they were simply running behind. Once they discovered the unintentional mistake, they worked diligently to get me sat. As soon as I was sitting and placed my drink order, the manager on duty came over to me to apologize for being overlooked. My server told him that I was in a hurry because the seating delay was going to cause me to be late to the Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas show. In an effort to recover me as a valued guest, the manager expedited my meal and arranged for VIP seats at the show! My server was quite attentive to my every need and successfully turned a negative start to an exemplary finish. That is the kind of service you get at Shark’s, it is a wonderful dining experience every time.

It’s a good thing I had a VIP seat because the Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas show was packed, and I arrived 2mins to showtime. The hosts at the show were already expecting me and showed me to my seat in an expeditious manner. Largely unchanged, this show is pretty much the same as it was last year, but it is still such a fun show and will have you laughing the whole time. One of my favorite parts of the show is actually the pre-show when the audience all joins together to sing familiar Christmas songs and carols. Although it is a show geared towards the younger members of the audience, there are jokes and references for us adults to chuckle as well.

By far, THE most popular show at Christmas Celebration is O Wonderous Night. This returning show tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of the animals that were in the stable. As this show is also largely unchanged, here is my review from last year: Not your typical nativity story, O Wonderous Night centers around the animals located in the stable where Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus more than two thousand years ago. We get to hear the nativity story from the perspective of the animals who each played a special part in that wonderous night. If you plan to watch that show, you need to know that it is important to queue up at least an hour before showtime. It consistently fills up prior to curtain.

Winter Wonderland on Ice returns this year! Instead of opening with the Straight No Chaser-like pre-show, a violinist plays beautiful music as you wait for the show to begin. Much like the Christmas ice show at Busch Gardens, this show features many talented figure skaters in beautifully choreographed skating numbers to your favorite Christmas songs. To be honest, I still prefer the Busch Gardens show, but those skaters are at the park year-round so they can put more time into the show design. That being said, with SeaWorld placing the show on the water’s edge, the exquisite Sea of Trees can be seen behind the ice stage. Since the show is outdoors, SeaWorld is able to integrate some lite pyrotechnics in the show!

The Christmas Village at Port of Entry is always a treat! With special acapella groups, the Christmas village train set, and of course, you can meet Rudolph and Friends! This is the area where you can also enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, craft beer, and cookies! Located near the Christmas Village is Santa’s Base Camp where you can meet the big man himself. With many places to sit down and relax, this is a great place to slow down and take in the smells and songs that make this “the most wonderful time of the year.”

While there are many amazing shows at SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, the most spectacularly amazing show that you do not want to miss–even if to miss the crowd in the parking lot–is Shamu’s Christmas Miracles! Watching the daytime One Ocean show is incredible to behold, but nothing compares to the Christmas overlay the show receives each year. that captures your imagination! Much like with the other shows, the pre-show features special instrumentalists and sing-alongs. This year, there is a phenomenal saxophone player who is simply delightful and packs a powerful punch. In addition to the instrumentalist, there is a time for a Christmas carol sing-along. I just love singing familiar Christmas songs along with more than a thousand other park guests. SeaWorld pulls out all the stops at this nighttime spectacular as the iconic orcas put on a phenomenal show to close out the night.

Don’t miss SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration going on now through December 31st. And yes, it is included with your daytime park admission!

Busch Gardens Tampa Presents Christmas Town 2017

Join Busch Gardens in the merriment of the holiday season by visiting Christmas Town going on now through New Years Eve on select nights! Now in its sixth season, Christmas Town is your theme park event for a good ol’ fashioned celebration, complete with multiple live shows, a singalong train, Santa Claus, Rudolph & Friends, and coasters in the dark! From the traditional to the contemporary, there is a way for everyone to celebrate the joyous holiday season at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. One of the elements that sets Busch Gardens apart from its Central Florida counterparts is the number of shows, live entertainment, and special character meet-and-greets during the event. Christmas Town is bursting with holly, jolly, holiday cheer around ever corner and under every present. Even if you find yourself attending as a solo guest (as I did), you will thoroughly enjoy your time and find plenty to do all over the park. Christmas Town is my pick for most “Christmassy” theme park event this holiday season.

With so much to do, you definitely want to download the Busch Gardens app for showtimes and attraction locations. If you don’t want to download the app, grab a map for sure. With all there is going on, you may be wondering if there is a way to get it all in? And with many of the offerings starting early in the afternoon, there is sufficient time to experience all the shows and meet the characters during Christmas Town. If your goal is to ride the coasters AND attend all the seasonal offerings, then you may want to plan on spending two nights at Busch Gardens. The park truly transforms itself in to a veritable winter wonderland (minus the snow). Nicely appointed decorations are adorning nearly every corner of the park. Familiar Christmas carols and holiday hits continually accompany your stroll down the lighted pathways.

My first stop on my merry way through Christmas Town was the show Christmas from the Heart. This show, featuring live vocals and band, is a heartwarming experience that includes many traditional Christmas hymns to provide audiences with an uplifting, inspirational show. From melodic ballads to upbeat gospel tunes, this show will likely have you clapping your hands and singing along. The show is largely unchanged from last year, but there are new costumes and lighting design. The theatre in the round design of the Stanleyville Theatre enables all guests to have an excellent view of the stage during the performance.

After rejoicing with classic Christmas carols, I had about an hour until the next show I wanted to attend, so that gave me sufficient time to book my trip to the North Pole to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus! I absolutely adore visiting the Santa House at Christmas Town because it is warm and cozy on the inside, and Coca-Cola (the sponsor) gives it the most magical decor that practically looks like it leaped right out of a classic Coca-Cola ad from when it essentially invented the Santa that we know today. While you may think that visiting Santa when you’re in the park by yourself would be–let’s face it–kind of weird, I can tell you that the attraction hosts, Mrs. Claus, and elves still provided me with a magical experience. I mean, how often as an adult do you get a private audience with Santa??? Instead of feeling like the odd one out, Santa’s house made me feel right at home and I got to talk with them a little more than a typical guest because I had good ol’ Saint Nick all to myself. It’s no surprise that Santa wished me a merry Christmas, but I can tell that this Santa was extremely genuine in his wishes to me.

Now, as much fun as us adults and theme park fans have with Christmas Town, I imagine that the kids who get to visit the shows, lighting displays, and characters have an even more phenomenal time because to them everything is truly filled with Christmas magic. And to give you the inside scoop on experiencing Santa, Rudolph, and Elmo’s Christmas Wish is a good friend of mine who is the mother of two young children, one of whom is visiting Christmas Town for her very first time. Here is Britt Campbell (Tampa, FL):

“Busch Gardens Christmas Town once again created an incredible holiday experience this year. As a mother of a three-and-a-half-year-old and an eleven-month-old, I got to experience this year’s attractions with a fresh sense of wonder. Early in the evening, Elmo’s Christmas Wish brought joy to my entire family as we sang and clapped along to the fifteen-minute show full of holiday cheer for all ages. At Santa’s House, a pager (like you’d receive at a restaurant) allowed us to wander around and enjoy Santa’s Village until we were called to a very short line. Santa’s House was magnificent, filled with glowing decor and happy elves. Mrs. Claus entertained us as we waited our turn. Then the most picturesque and perfect Santa Claus I’ve ever met patiently listened to my son’s wishes and took pictures with all of us, but not without sending us on our merry way with cookies in hand. The second annual Rudolph experience also includes pagers this year, making the wait much more pleasant. It allowed my kids to go on rides in Pantopia until we were asked to join the line. Sam the Snowman replaced Yukon this year and was joined by Bumble, Rudolph and Clarice. My family and I enjoyed meeting and taking pictures with each character, and we even got to see Rudolph and Clarice dancing together and bringing the Christmas spirit to life. Although we didn’t see everything there was to see on opening night, we will absolutely be back to experience the rest of the magic of Christmas Town [later on this season]!” Thanks for the contribution Britt, Merry Christmas!

After my visit with Santa, I made my way over to Pantopia to the Dragon Fire Grill to watch Christmas Celebration. This is an incredibly fun show filled with comical characters, heartwarming duets, and the jazzy Christmas songs that you can’t help but dance to. Santa makes several appearances and even makes special time with the kids in the audience. I especially enjoyed the Santa Baby number, and the singers costume was killer! Gracing the stage is a beautiful set design that creates the most festive atmosphere. I always have so much fun at this show! And I am sure you will too, so make time to watch Christmas Celebration!

Following Christmas Celebration, I had to dash across the North Pole and back to the front of the park for my absolute favorite show at Christmas Town. You do not want to miss Christmas On Ice playing at the Moroccan Palace Theatre (home to the former Turn It Up ice show). Nothing says Christmas like a beautifully choreographed mesmerizing figure skating show. Having met the cast during the run of Turn It Up, I can say for a fact that they absolutely love putting on a magical show for audiences at Busch Gardens and the full complement of cast and technical crew look forward to every single show, especially the limited time holiday spectacular! Although the song numbers are largely the same as last year, the set is greatly enhanced by the LED video wall that was installed for Turn It Up. It provides the perfect backdrop for every number that the cast performs during the show. Experience Christmas magic, memories, and more at Christmas On Ice “the COOLEST show on ice.”

An attraction that I love to experience at every Christmas Town is the Singalong Train! It’s so much fun to board the decked out holiday train with hundreds of other park guests and sing familiar Christmas carols while riding through the Serengeti Safari. I grew up Christmas caroling with my family, so this is the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic and allow the holiday cheer to completely fill me as I spread holiday goodness around the park with the other guests. Not having been to every theme park holiday celebration in the U.S., I cannot say whether or not this is unique to Busch Gardens or not, but if it isn’t the only one, it certainly is one of few parks that offers a railway caroling experience! From Jingle Bells to Walking in a Winter Wonderland, you’ll get to sing many of your favorites.

In addition to the live shows, there are two choreographed lights shows that you will want to see. One is a giant Christmas tree in Jungala and the other is the Crown Colony House, home to the Serengeti Overlook restaurant. Both attractions dance throughout the evening so you can easily catch the brief shows. You’ll find clips from these and the other shows in our video!

If you are planing a trip to the theme parks of Central Florida, you definitely want to make time to spend a day at Busch Gardens for Christmas Town. Of all the parks in the area, it certainly has the most events and limited time engagements going on. Nearly every area of the park is busting with lights Whether you’re young or simply young at heart, there is something for everyone.