‘Violent Night’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The only Christmas movies that have made any chatter have been from Netflix for a while now. The last one that was produced and released in theatres was Last Christmas and The Night Before; no studio has taken a gamble with a holiday film. Streaming services have had a good time producing these films; many like to cozy up with a cheesy Christmas film on a cold winter’s night. So, major studios haven’t been looking to produce a Christmas project because these films haven’t been doing well in theatres until now. Universal presents Violent Night with David Harbour as Santa Claus, as he tries to protect a young girl on his nice list from thieves who want to take money from her wealthy family. It’s a wild Christmas Eve at the Lightstone house, and only one person can save them through the magic of Christmas. Some mercenaries hold the family hostage, and the hopefulness of the Holiday season feels lost. This film makes you feel like a kid again with the power of believing in Santa. A wave of nostalgia is seen through the eyes of young Trudy (Leah Brady) as the story switches focus to what matters. 

When a wealthy, dysfunctional family comes together on Christmas Eve, there are bound to be some personalities to play with. Co-writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller took the best aspects of Home Alone, Die Hard, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to make a fun original story that will become an instant Holiday classic. Director Tommy Wikola did not hold back during the action sequences because it works with Santa’s abilities. Those fight scenes had inventive choreography that used any Holiday decoration they could find. On top of that, the jokes all landed, and every member of this cast delivered the lines effortlessly. Not only was this wickedly funny, but it was entertaining the whole way through. It was fun to see Beverly D’Angelo back on screen doing what she does best and answering everyone with a snarky remark. The one standout, apart from Harbour, was John Leguizamo as Scrooge. He came in guns blazing and delivered his lines so harshly that it was impossible not to laugh at the one-liners Casey and Miller came up with. 

Habour gives us one of the best versions of Santa Claus because he’s the most grounded and realistic. They decided to give him a backstory to explain his fighting reflexes, which worked to show that everyone has some good in them. The reason why Harbour worked so well is because of the history he already has with audiences. Being the father figure in Stranger Things has already given audiences that comfort in seeing him, which translates to him being a believable Santa. Harbour embodied jolly old Saint Nick in two ways; the grumpy man tired of delivering presents to ungrateful children and the cheery, hopeful Santa who uses his Christmas magic for some good. To mirror Santa, young Trudy pulls a page out of Kevin McAllister’s handbook and has some fun. Of course, those scenes are a bit more graphic in this film, but the anticipation of the boobytraps working made it one of the best sequences. The tag team of a young girl believing in Santa is what he needed to restore his faith in the holiday. 

Violent Night is one of the best films of the year. It is an incredibly entertaining Christmas film that will become a classic. Harbour and Leguizamo are incredible in this and have a playful banter when they encounter each other. Some cheesy lines are said by Santa and Scrooge, which adds to the wackiness. The script may seem a bit predictable, but the humour makes this so refreshing. It’s also heartfelt when the Lightstone family finally understands that money isn’t everything and that remaining hopeful for the people you love is more than enough to keep anyone going. The action scenes are the most impressive because of the objects used. It’s almost shocking to see such a lighthearted Christmas film so graphic and bloody. Every time it gets too sentimental, there’s a brutal action scene to remind audiences that it’s a fast-paced action movie. Even though it references other Holiday films, it still does something special with Santa Claus, and that’s because Harbour makes him so likeable. 

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For many years the Guardians of the Galaxy have become everyone’s extended family in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are one cohesive group that treats each other like family. That dynamic is something that The Avengers couldn’t grasp. And that’s what makes the energy for both groups so interesting. Like Thor, the Guardians, especially Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), have lost so much. This Holiday special goes back to the beginning of Quill’s galaxy quest with Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) remembers one specific moment that ruined Christmas for Quill. After Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) hear this, they go on a mission to bring Christmas to Quill on this new planet and restore his Christmas spirit. The one person that does come to mind for Drax is, of course, Kevin Bacon. Writer-director James Gunn takes Drax and Mantis on a sleigh ride to Earth in this Marvel special presentation to give Quill the ultimate gift. It is a fun way to close out phase four and still leave a little surprise for the future of the Guardians. 

Like all Gunn projects, the soundtrack is one of the most important aspects. He does handpick some of the best-hidden gems that will pull on memory for audiences. From the opening credits, the songs set the tone for the rest of the film, and they kick in at the right moment. Mantis and Drax are front and centre in this special presentation, and it was nice to see them go on the journey for Kevin Bacon. They have become a comedy duo of the Guardians family, so for them to venture out together made sense. Mantis also feels guilty because she has a secret that she shares with Quill later on. Mantis also gets a bit more reckless and physical in this presentation than in previous films, which is entertaining. For some reason, Drax’s schtick is getting old, and he’s not as funny as he used to be. The jokes aren’t landing in the same way, making for some awkward screen silence between him, Mantis, and Kevin Bacon. 

The special was fun for the most part, but it shied away from exploring Quill’s past with Yondu. Kraglin telling Mantis and Drax the story was convenient for the special and was just a way to give Quill Kevin Bacon. And the way that this unfolded was a bit underwhelming. The Quill we knew from before would have reacted differently to Kevin Bacon. In a way, it felt a bit out of character for him. Pratt also looks completely different as Quill. He looked defeated, uninterested, and out of it in this special. Sure, he lost Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and is still trying to process it, but it didn’t feel like Pratt was present. It feels like Quill has lost all hope in everything around him, and when Mantis tries to restore that, it falls a bit flat. A level of detachment from Quill makes this special feel a bit odd for his scenes specifically. There are great moments in this, but it felt off. There was also a different version of Groot (Vin Diesel) that they never really dive into, and it would have been fun to see him a bit more. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is the epilogue of phase four as it handles Quill’s past and how he’s currently feeling emotionally. The soundtrack made Mantis and Drax’s Earthly adventure incredibly fun for the most part. After many years of Kevin Bacon not making an appearance for Quill, this was the best way to bring him in. As much as we all love the Guardians, much like the original six, it feels like the characters have been exhausted, and it’s hard to develop them further. If this presentation shows anything, it’s that Vol. 3 is coming out at the right time to wrap up this band of misfits. The group of them have been a wonderful, crazy family for a very long, and it is time to say goodbye to these characters. Especially because Gamora was Quill’s whole heart, and without her presence, you could feel his emptiness. The holiday special will begin streaming on Disney Plus, on November 25th. 

‘Spirited’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Christmas is a time to spend with loved ones and of course, to spread cheer. In Spirited directed by Sean Anders, the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell) finds someone who is unredeemable to haunt to restore their good spirit. After many years of working with his team, he is very close to retirement and has no idea what his next move should be. One file that is brought to his attention is incredibly important to him to solve, so he takes on one final mission. This file is labelled unredeemable; his name is Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds). This film jazzes up the classic Charles Dickens story and turns it into a modernized musical with the same sentiments as the original story. Apple TV Plus has a wonderful holiday film on its hands because of the dynamic pairing of Ferrell and Reynolds. 

It’s almost hard to believe that the two of them haven’t worked together until now. Ferrell and Reynolds had wonderful chemistry and bounced off of each other incredibly well. Their line delivery, slapstick comedy and timing all worked in every single scene they were in. On the one hand, you have Reynolds playing his dry sarcastic self and Ferrell channels his inner Buddy with his whimsical zest for Christmas. Sure, they act as complete opposites for comedic purposes, but once Briggs and the Ghost of Christmas Present head back to their past, they discover they’re more alike than they think. Here, they begin to understand each other and connect on an emotional level to ground the film. There’s some Christmas magic to warm the heart, but it’s those tough, intimate moments from their past that will resonate with audiences. 

Another impressive thing was the choreography in the musical numbers. It felt so extravagant and massive, which just added to the magic of Christmas. Reynolds showed true showmanship in every single number, which was a different side of him. Any modern musical that works tap dancing into its numbers instantly has my heart. Not only is the choreography strong and incredibly sharp, but the original songs are well-written. The songs seem almost unconventional because of the lyrics that are used for Christmas, but they’re ultimately hilarious. Especially because Ferrell and Reynolds are the ones singing some wild lyrics. Movie musicals are scarce nowadays, so it was nice to see a reimagined version of a classic story adding something fresh to it. 

Spirited is a sweet Christmas film that takes the best aspects of the classic Charles Dickens story and updates it for the modern world. Now more than ever, people seem disconnected from the goodness in the world, and this film shows that love and kindness will always be important to lead a healthy life. From the musical numbers to the emotional songs and great comedic chemistry from Ferrell and Reynolds, this is a Christmas movie for the whole family to watch. There are many important lessons in this film, and it’s important to understand that we cannot change the past, but we can alter the way we interact with others presently, so our future can be filled with an abundance of positivity and love. This Christmas film reminds us what it means to be kind to our fellow neighbours and how important it is to recognize that people can be suffering in silence without even knowing. It will be streaming on Apple TV Plus Friday, November 18th.

‘Falling For Christmas’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Netflix is the one streaming service that knows how to get into the Christmas spirit. They have been able to pump out wholesome Christmas projects to make everyone feel warm inside. In Falling For Christmas, Sierra Belmont (Lindsay Lohan) is a hotel heiress who doesn’t know what to do with her life. She has always been privileged and under her dad’s watchful eye. He wants to look out for her, and he does this by creating a job at the Belmont Resort just for her. On the other hand, Jake Russell (Chord Overstreet) is trying to keep his Ski Lodge afloat to provide for his daughter. He even goes to Mr. Belmont (Jack Wagner) for a business proposal, but it doesn’t pan out. Like all Christmas films, there is a bit of magic and wishful thinking that can spark any situation. Sierra and Jake have fate bring them together in the most unlikely way. 

After a skiing accident, Sierra is left with amnesia, and she doesn’t remember anything before the accident. Jake is the one who finds her in the forest, and after bringing her to the hospital, they find out that she doesn’t have anyone looking for her. Jake naturally offers his Ski Lodge to help her until someone finds her. For Sierra to remember anything at all, she has to start doing normal things to jog her memory. This is where the humour comes in because she was privileged and never did household chores while she was growing up. So simple tasks like cooking, making the bed, and washing clothes were challenging for her. It was wonderful to see Lohan back on screen being adorable and charming while embracing the Christmas spirit. Her chemistry with Chord Overstreet did have some magic that made the Christmas atmosphere the perfect romantic setting at the Ski Lodge. 

Writers Jeff Bonnett and Ron Oliver use the magic of Christmas and the classic “bump on the head” storyline to make this a really sweet and heartfelt movie. There’s so much power in the memories we hold onto, and we don’t realize we’re making memories while being present in those moments. Our brains are incredibly interesting as they register such small, intimate moments without fail. It could be a certain smell or feeling tied to a memory we carry with us. Even after losing someone, those small moments stay with us, and it can be difficult to move on from those memories, just like Jake had to do with his wife. Whenever you meet someone special they could be in a different position entirely in their life, and once you get to know them, their position in your life can change. People can come into your life and change you in ways that you would have never expected. That’s why this film is one of the better Christmas releases on Netflix because of how much meaning went into the story. 

Falling For Christmas is a very sweet and heartfelt Christmas romance that has Lindsay Lohan back in her element. This perfect blend of tender moments from Jake and very clumsy moments from Sierra makes this a joy to watch. The holidays are always special because it brings people together. It’s about love, joy, and unity, and these Christmas films offer so much in some dark times. The film also addresses the emptiness of Influencer culture on social media as being shallow and self-absorbed. Sierra shows audiences that there is a better, more fulfilling way to live your life, and that is to be grounded in the simple things. The way that Sierra and Jake help each other realize the changes they need to make in their lives proves that there can be that one person to make your life better. If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, then this is one film to check out this weekend. 

‘Single All The Way’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We all know how tough the Holidays can be. Sometimes it is nice to be around friends and family. Or sometimes, you can feel pressured by the expectations they put on you. The new Netflix movie Single All The Way flips the typical ‘fake boyfriend’ trope and makes the matchmaking a family affair. Even though some family members pressure you about being single around the Holidays, they do mean well. And great things can happen because of their meddling. This entire cast worked so well together and their chemistry made you feel apart of the family.

There are two best friends named Nick (Michael Urie) and Peter (Philemon Chambers) who live in sunny LA. On this particular Christmas, Peter doesn’t want to go home single, again, after another failed relationship. So Peter convinces Nick to be his pretend boyfriend. We are all guilty of loving this trope, especially when it’s done well! This was the most fun I’ve had with a Holiday movie in a while. It’s also one that you can revisit every single year. Oh, and most importantly, Jennifer Coolidge steals the spotlight. No, seriously, her part as the fairy godmother in the Christmas pageant is top tier Coolidge.

Peter comes from such a big, loving family, who just want to see him happy. He has this extraordinary life in Los Angeles but misses the wholesome family feeling in New Hampshire. It breaks his heart knowing that his nephews are growing up so fast and he doesn’t have enough time with them. There is nothing like the Holidays to make you feel grateful for having your family and friends around you. That is exactly what Single All The Way offers audiences. They show this love through meddling in Peter’s fake relationship. When Peter’s mother sets him up on a blind date with a handsome ski instructor, he is whisked away into daydreaming about life in New Hampshire.

His best friend Nick, sorts through his own feelings, and worries that Peter might move away, after living together for nine years. It pulls at the heartstrings because of the relationship between Peter and Nick. The entire family sees a different connection than they do, so it makes for a very interesting love triangle over Christmas. Most importantly, the queer representation in this film was refreshing and it is a Holiday movie that was definitely needed for this community. It’s pure joy and happiness surrounding very cute gay best friends, who don’t realize what they have in front of them.