Tag Archives: Christmas movies

Secret Santa

Dear Santa

by Rachel Willis

Director Dana Nachman’s feature documentary, Dear Santa, is delightful.

Highlighting the 100-year-old United States Postal Service program, Operation Santa, the film captures the spirit of the season as ‘adopter elves’ make Christmas special for children and families across the United States.

When children post their letters to Santa every year, USPS makes those letters – hundreds of thousands of them – available to the public to ‘adopt.’ This is a chance for individuals, families, schools, and non-profit organizations to read through the letters, select one (or several), and do what they can to fulfill the wishes of the children penning them.

Starting three weeks from Christmas and working forward to the big day, we see how the letters move through the system – starting with the children writing them, to their delivery to the postal service, then on to the adopter elves. Two locations in the US – Chicago and New York – allow the adopters to physically read through the letters, while the rest are available online for those around the country who want to participate.

Nachman (Pick of the Litter) interviews several ‘elves’ in the postal service who work with Santa to read, sort, and deliver the letters received every year. She also follows several adopter elves who help Santa distribute gifts to ‘nice’ children across the country. Then, there are the children themselves, so eager to have their deepest wants and desires met by Santa. One child is particularly keen on receiving a moose for Christmas.

Interspersed throughout is a highlight reel of kids of all ages talking about Santa, who he is, what he does, where he lives, and it’s charming to watch the children explain what makes Santa so special.

This is a family-oriented treat, with the filmmakers and ‘elves’ doing their best to keep the Santa myth alive for any believers. However, older kids who might be starting to question whether the man with the bag is ‘real’, might see through the illusion. Some of those interviewed are more convincing than others when it comes to their work with Santa.

The film is an ode to the United States Postal Service, the hard work they do each year to make Operation Santa a success, as well as to the adopters who make it possible for children to have the merriest of Christmases.

If you’re feeling Grinchy this Christmas, Dear Santa might be just what you need to remember what makes the season so special.

Goodness and Lightsabers

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special

by George Wolf

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the comedy stylings of…Emperor Palpatine!

If you’re not applauding now, you will be…you will be…as the wrinkly-faced baddie becomes the surprise standout of The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, a fast moving and often hilarious brick by brick homage to the entire franchise.

With narration from Master Yoda himself, the special is set around the festivities for “Life Day.” Rey and Finn have plans to attend the big celebration at Chewie’s place, but Rey is distracted.

She’s been trying to mentor Finn as a Jedi, but things aren’t going smoothly. Why can’t she train him?

Rey thinks the answers can be found with the Key to Galaxy’s Past, a tool that will let her travel across space and time and observe the training methods of previous Jedi masters. So with a promise to get back to Chewie’s as soon as possible, Rey and BB-8 take off to drop in on plenty of LEGO-fied moments from Star Wars history and gain a better understanding of the Force.

Once the time-hopping starts, director Ken Cunningham and writer David Shayne (both LEGO film veterans) unleash a barrage of wink-wink fun, highlighted by those priceless barbs from Palpatine.

This Emperor quickly becomes Darth Not-So-Serious, and no one – not Kylo Ren (“Put a shirt on!”) or anyone else (“Less talky-talky, more fighty-fighty!”) – is safe. The true power of the Dark Side? Mockery.

Featuring a smattering of voices from the original cast (Billy Dee Williams, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels), the film threads our love of Star Wars through the spirit of some classic Christmas specials past for an irresistible family treat.

And with more lockdowns looming this Holiday season, it’s 44-minutes of smiles tailor made for repeated helpings.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special debuts Nov. 17th on Disney+

Sinter

Klaus

by Hope Madden

Be honest, when you saw the list of Oscar nominated animated films, did you wonder whether Klaus was somehow the international title for Frozen 2?

I have excellent news! It is not. Instead, it’s a clever, not-too-sentimental Hatfields v McCoys take on the legend of Santa Claus.

Co-directors Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez develop the story of a coddled would-be mailman named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman, perfect). His Postmaster General father tires of Jesper’s spoiled ways and sends him on a make-or-break assignment to the nether reaches of the north, Smeerensburg.

All Jesper has to do is collect and deliver 6000 parcels this year and he can go back to his warm, self-indulgent, cushy little home.

Naturally, there are obstacles. There’s a decades-long feud, for one. It’s so bad the school teacher has turned her school house into a fish market (parents won’t send their kids anywhere they might have to fraternize with the other clan). And then there’s that creepy, disproportionately large, old woodsman.

At times, the twisty tale threatens to collapse under its own weight, but it does not. Instead, it takes risks you don’t often see in family films and those risks mainly pay off. For a Christmas film, the movie manages to mainly avoid schmaltz. It offers clever explanations as to how many of the Santa Claus myths are born, affects just enough of a sense of wonder, and entertains from start to finish.

The vocal talent certainly helps. Flanking Schwartzman are the always welcome JK Simmons as the big guy himself, as well as Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack and Norm MacDonald as a smarmy boatman.

The animation itself is beautiful, but not especially showy. The images won’t disappoint, but they won’t make your jaw drop, either. Instead, Klaus relies on the perfect blend of sentimentality and wit to delight children and entertain their parents.

The Weed of Christmas Present

The Night Before

by Hope Madden

It was fun spending the apocalypse with Seth Rogen and his friends, so why not Christmas?

The Night Before gives you that chance. Isaac (Rogen) and BFF Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent Christmas Eve with Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) every year since his parents died. They have the same routine, hit the same spots, seek the same elusive party. But the tradition’s getting a little pathetic as the trio heads into their mid-thirties, so this is their last holiday hurrah.

It’s a lame set-up about embracing adulthood without abandoning your true friends, but there’s magical Christmas weed and a slew of hilarious cameos, so maybe things will work out OK?

JGL is reliably likeable, Rogen is – well, you know what you get with him. Mackie is no comic genius and his performance feels a bit too broad. But the secret here is in the supporting players.

Jillian Bell is characteristically hilarious, as is Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, but the way Michael Shannon walks away with scenes is tantamount to larceny. He doesn’t do a lot of comedy (unless you count that sorority girl’s letter online), but his deadpan performance is easily the highlight of the film.

It’s hard to tell whether the film is too silly or not silly enough. It has its laughs, raunchy though they are, but the adventure feels simultaneously slapped together and formulaic.

Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) and his team of writers (including Evan Goldberg, natch) dip a toe in schmaltz rather than investing at all in actual character development, preferring to string together episodes of goofball fun.

The zany misadventures aren’t enough to carry the film, and lacking depth of character creates a “holiday spirit” climax that is tough to care about.

Verdict-2-5-Stars