Adios, 2019!

A Look Back On The Year That Was 2019

All things considered, 2019 was a pretty good year. A few personal things occurred that made me proud and a few other things happened that cranked up the ol’ anxiety. Still, it could have been worse. Let’s take a quick glimpse at the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2019.

The Good.

  • There were quite a few superhero films released this year including my personal favorite, Shazam! While Joker was also a favorite of mine, it was on an entirely different level than your standard comic book film. I’ll review it in the very near future. Other superhero based films released this year included the mediocre Captain Marvel and the somewhat long-in-the-tooth ending of the MCU’s latest phase, Avengers: Endgame. In fact, toss in the very forgettable Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Marvel had three extremely successful average films released this year. Hopefully they’ll up their game in 2020.
  • A two other films that I enjoyed this year were Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Brightburn (basically an evil version of Superman). I’ll mention a couple of other films later.
  • Stranger Things hit the world big time with its excellent third season. With Russian scientists and assassins, Starcourt Mall, missing lifeguards, and a huge climactic finale, the season quickly became my favorite.
  • Doom Patrol finished up its first season in 2019 and it quickly became the best series on DC Universe’s platform. Titans gave us their second season and introduced a few new characters as well. Swamp Thing was also released in 2019. Sadly it was shut down due to some dirty dealings with funding. Hopefully it will return.
  • I attended fewer conventions this year, but I still had a great time. I got to meet Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Amy Dumas (Lita of WWE) at Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, LA. I also presented a panel there and at CyPhaCon in Lake Charles, LA. Later in the year I went to Beaumont Comic Con in Beaumont, TX. This was their first event, and I expect bigger and better things next year.
  • I attended almost every Hurricane Pro Wrestling event this year. That company is continuing to grow and become more popular. They’ve added excellent storylines with groups such as Great Sexy Love and The New Warriors and have had a number of popular wrestlers fight in their ring like Thunder Rosa, Joey Ryan, and Priscilla Kelly.
  • I attended Calcasieu Serial Fest and the Lake Charles Film Festival again this year. Both of these events are extremely important to southwestern Louisiana, as one looks at the history of cinema and the other offers up the future by showing us independent films featuring new and up-and-coming writers, actors, and directors. I also got to meet John Davey and Michael Gray from the classic 70’s show Shazam!
  • My Thirty-One Days O’Horror proved to be very popular this year. Many of the posts in that series, which focused on classic Universal horror films, received likes and comments. I plan to do that series again next year but I haven’t decided on what films I’ll be focusing on for the month.

The Bad.

  • 2019 did have a few stinkers that I had to witness. For starters, one of my favorite bands, The Amorettes, lost two of their founding members, Heather and Hannah McKay. Hannah is currently with a new band, She Burns Red, and I’m not sure what Heather is up to these days. Founding member and vocalist/lead guitarist Gill Montgomery has kept the band alive, though, blending in new members from bands such as Tequila Mockingbyrd and Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics.
  • A number of popular film and television stars left us this year as well. Danny Aiello, Peter Mayhew, Rene Auberjonois, John Witherspoon, Denise Nickerson, Cameron Boyce, Rip Torn, Ashley Massaro, Peggy Lipton, Dick Dale, Luke Perry, King Kong Bundy, Katherine Helmond, Peter Tork, Jan-Michael Vincent, Frank Robinson, James Ingram, Carol Channing, and Mean Gene Okerlund are just a few of the many that we lost this year.

The ugly.

  • Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker did more to divide the already disgruntled fanbase with its release in December. While it definitely wasn’t a great film, I still enjoyed it. What I don’t enjoy is the way fans react not only to the film, but to the actors, J.J. Abrams, Rian Davidson, and each other. I’ve always felt that fandom has a large minority of immature adults within its ranks, and its films like TROS that bring them to the surface or the geeky pond. I might have to post about immaturity in the near future.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans Saints were robbed of a trip to the Super Bowl earlier this year thanks to a massive missed call near the end of their playoff game against the Rams.

There were plenty of other negative things out there, but I’d rather focus on the positive for just a few more minutes. To start, I got to attend KISS’ End Of The Road Tour this year with my son. It was his first concert and my third time to see my favorite band live. I also got to see Bumblebee and They Shall Not Grow Old on the big screen and I loved both of them. The Cybertronic Spree released Transformers 1986 and it sounds great. The National Wrestling Alliance was given new life with their web series, NWA Powerrr and I also got to visit the Texas Renaissance Festival once again!

To top it all off, I recently won tickets to the new Stadium Tour coming up in 2020. It will feature Def Leppard, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Poison, and Motley Crue! I’ve seen the Crue before, but this will be the first time that I will get to see the rest of the bands live. I’ll definitely post a review of the concert once it happens (July, 2020).

This year has been pretty good to me. I appreciate each and every one of you that have taken time to read my posts, comment, or like them. Here’s hoping that you will all have a great 2020!

Hurricane Pro: Glory & Pain

12/28/19, Ford Park Exhibit Hall, Beaumont, TX

My daughter and I attended the latest Hurricane Pro event, Glory & Pain, over the weekend. Of all of the HP events that I’ve attended, this was definitely one of the best ones. There were title changes, wrestler debuts, and even a good ol’ fashion slobberknocker involving members of Great Sexy Love and The New Warriors.

Things got pretty heated right away with the Pump Patrol defending their HP Tag Team belts against a young tag team new to Hurricane Pro, The Millennials. Brendan Divine and Daniel Moon entered the exhibit hall on their phones, checking their Twitter feed, posting selfies on Instagram, and updating their status across social media. They immediately drew heel heat from the crowd, setting up a big pop for Curt Matthews and Jared Wayne when they entered the arena. The duo handled the Millennials easily, but the match was extremely fun to watch. Divine and Moon fed off of the crowd as did Matthews and Wayne. When the match was over, Pump Patrol left victorious and the Millennials took time to post another selfie before leaving the arena.

Next up was Avarice and Ricardo Cage (of Make Your Own Path) versus the monster, Tama Ku. Led to the ring by the lovely Stacey Rae, Tama Ku toyed with Avarice and Ricardo Cage until he was given the command to end the fight by Stacey Rae. I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to Tama Ku’s family, and while I cheered on Avarice and Ricardo Cage, they booed me and cheered for Ku. It was a pretty great moment.

After Ku cleared the ring, the cruiserweight belt was put on the line by Jonny Flex against fan favorite, Bu Ku Dao. A new belt was was revealed to the audience, and Jonny immediately grabbed hold of it. Unluckily for him, he didn’t get to hold the new belt for very long as Bu Ku Dao ended up defeating Flex for the title. It was a shock for the fans, but everyone was glad to see Bu Ku when the strap. Flex, as always, drew major heel heat from the audience and Bu Ku babyfaced his way to victory.

Next up was the Hurricane Pro debut of Johnny O’Mara. Hailing from Shamrock, TX, O’Mara took on local favorite, Alex Lane, of Make Your Own Path. The duo squared off for a very entertaining bout. Lane won the match, but both of these guys took a beating. I look forward to seeing O’Mara return in the future.

My ugly face next to the Hurricane Pro Women’s champ, Heather Monroe.
Photo taken by my patient and lovely daughter

The next match saw another belt on the line as former Hurricane Pro Women’s champ Miranda Alize (who was recently on AEW) took on the Pink Dream, Alex Gracia, and the Killer Bae, reigning HP Women’s Champion, Heather Monroe. Early in the match it appeared as if Miranda had things under control. Monroe spent a little time outside of the ring while Miranda and Gracia battled one another. Soon enough, Monroe was back in the ring and it was touch-and-go between her and Miranda for a bit. Then, out of nowhere, Alex Gracia flew off of the top turnbuckle and took control of the match. I honestly believed that she was going to take home the gold, but Heather Monroe’s sly ring knowledge gave her the edge in the end. She retained her title and will defend it yet again on January 18th for Queens of the Ring II.

Photo taken by Ken Fontenot

The final match of the evening was a six man gauntlet match for the Hurricane Pro Heavyweight Championship. Things started off with defending champion Jordan Jensen against the man that all of Beaumont loves to hate, Ashton Jacobs. As always, Jacobs drew insane heel heat, but he was ultimately dispatched by Jordan. The third contender in the match, Sexy Steve DeMarco, was attacked by Jordan Jensen before he could even get into the ring. If you’ve been following Hurricane Pro recently, you know that Jensen and DeMarco have had a major feud going as of late. DeMarco’s entourage, Great Sexy Love, has been infiltrating HP events for a few months now, and in response, Jordan has created the New Warriors.

When the match started to go south for Sexy Steve, one of his cohorts, Loverboy Nate Andrews, flew into the ring and began assaulting Jordan Jensen. Then more members of GSL, the Great Ones, decided that they would enter the fray as well. Soon enough, Don Rodrigo and Make Your Own Path entered the ring to help Jordan. Things came to a head when almost everyone from the back came out to battle GSL.

General Manager Richard Cranium came out and stopped the match. He booted both Jordan Jensen and Sexy Steve DeMarco from the competition. This action cost Jordan his belt, and I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last of DeMarco or the rest of Great Sexy Love.

New Hurricane Pro Heavyweight Champion Ryan Davidson.
Photo taken by Ken Fontenot

With Jensen eliminated, the three remaining men in the gauntlet were guaranteed a shot at the title. Those three men were J Spade, Ruthless Ryan Davidson, and the massive Edgrin Stone. Spade and Davidson battled first. Their match was extremely fun to watch as both of them won over the crowd. Spade ultimately fell to Davidson, and the final man in the gauntlet, Stone, entered the ring. He and Davidson battled as only two heavyweights can, with strength move after strength move and even a few finesse moves. The match looked as if it could go either way but in the end, Ryan Davidson got the edge on Edgrin and was crowned the new HP Heavyweight Champ.

On January 18th at Ford Park Exhibit Hall, Hurricane Pro returns with more action. This time around it will be an all ladies affair as Queens of the Ring II will take place. I’m especially excited for this event. If it’s anything like the first QOTR event put on by Hurricane Pro, it’s going to be a must-see event.

Here is a list of announced matches so far:

  • Women’s Champion Match: Killer Bae Heather Monroe (Champion) versus Hell’s Favorite Harlot Priscilla Kelly (Challenger)
  • Simone Sherie versus Veda Scott
  • Amber Nova versus Madi Wrenkowski
  • Ivelisse versus Rok-C

Also in action will be Tesha Price and Miranda Alize. They’ve been announced to appear but have not been listed in a match yet. I have never seen Price, Sherie, Wrenkowski, or Scott in action, so it will be nice to see some new faces (at least to me) in the ring. Kelly has been in action at HP before against Rok-C, who has been stunning in the ring every time that I’ve seen her perform. Amber Nova brings her high octane brand of wrestling back to HP and for fans of Lucha Underground, Ivelisse is no stranger.

There’s no telling who else might show up for QOTR II. All I do know is that this is going to be an exciting event. Be sure to check out Hurricane Pro on Facebook and keep an eye out for my post after this event!

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow I’ll be doing an End of the Year post. I hope you return to check it out!

All images are taken from the Hurricane Pro Facebook page except where noted.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Questions?

The Force Comes Full Circle….Sort Of…

I know that I’m in the minority whenever I say that I liked Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I didn’t say that I loved it, because it was just a so-so film, but I’m definitely not one of those folks that completely hated the film for whatever reasons they have. If you didn’t like that film, good for you. I can definitely see why many people hated it.

With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, I found myself neither here nor there about the film or its success. I knew that I wanted to see it, but I wasn’t in that much of a rush to get to the theater. When I did see the film, I was left somewhat confused by what all went down and still felt as if I’d watched a pretty good movie. Not a great one, but a good one.

No Spoilers For Now!!!! That’ll Come Later In This Post!!!

The film’s plot is a tad all over the place. The Emperor has returned and has plans to once again take over the galaxy. Kylo Ren plans on maintaining control of the First Order and convincing Rey to join him as a co-ruler of the galaxy after the Emperor is eliminated from the picture. Rey has been training to become a better Jedi, but she keeps getting interrupted by the pesky connection that she has to Kylo Ren. Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and everyone else are doing their best to end the First Order, but hope is beginning to die once again.

Including the Emperor, a few other old faces return in this film. The one that has already been spoiled, Lando Calrissian, has a small but key role in the movie. There are other cameos and flashes of other characters, but I won’t get into them here. Just keep an eye out for a few faces (and voices) that you might not even remember or expect to be in the film.

Much like The Last Jedi, this film bounces all over the place. Unlike The Last Jedi, the subplots are all a cohesive and necessary piece of the puzzle despite being difficult to keep up with at times. Parts of the film show amazing flashes of brilliance under J.J. Abrams’ direction and other parts remind us that he remade Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. In fact, a lot of things that happen in this film made me think of Star Wars IV: Return of the Jedi and, to a lesser degree, bits and pieces of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Both of those films, at least in my opinion, are superior to The Rise of Skywalker.

The film spends too much time trying to tie up loose ends left in the wake of the events of The Last Jedi. It also wastes time trying to pull at the heartstrings of old fans and apologizing to them for the newest trilogy as a whole. Major liberties were taken with the Force, Sith and Jedi lore, and a few things happened that just had me scratching my head.

I will say that the film does a great job with Princess/General Leia Organa. The loss of Carrie Fisher definitely hurt this film more than anything else, and it appears as if a lot of things were rushed in order to somewhat neatly close out the saga. This made the entire film seemed rushed and a little too “lucky” with certain things that happen in the film.

Overall, though, this movie really isn’t that bad. It’s my least favorite film in the Disney trilogy but it also includes two of my favorite moments in the entire Star Wars film collection. It has extremely excellent performances from certain actors, especially Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Joonas Suatomo (Chewbacca), and Keri Russell (I won’t name her character in this portion of the review).

The music, by John Williams, was as excellent as it always has been under his guidance. The special effects were solid, but there were a couple of times where the limits of the artists were glaringly revealed.

I do recommend this film, albeit with some reservations. It has almost as many misses as it does hits, and most of the hits are of the emotional kind. I do recommend seeing the film on the big screen if space battles are your thing. There’s also a brilliant battle between Kylo Ren and some of his old pals that will remain nameless, but the big lightsaber battle that occurs in the film is like a bizarro version of the battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker on Mustafar. It ended up being a tad wet in the end, just like the rest of this film. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, either.

Spoilers Below!!!! Stop at Lando’s smile if you haven’t seen the film yet!!! You’ve been warned!!!

Spoilers ahead!!!!

For those of you still reading, thanks for checking out my post. I’m going to list some of the things that I loved and hated about the film and a few things that left me a bit confused after the film.

Things That I Loved (or really, really liked)

  • The performance of Adam Driver across all of the films in this trilogy.
  • The brilliant way that Joonas Suatomo portrayed Chewbacca. When he is told of Leia’s death, I started crying not because she was gone, but because Chewie was obviously in so much pain.
  • Keri Russell as Zorii Bliss, one of two new characters in the film that I absolutely loved.
  • Richard E. Grant as Allegiant General Pryde, the other new character that I loved. He’s the baddie that was sorely missing from this trilogy!
  • The quick cameos of Wicket (Warwick Davis) and Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson). I yelled out Wedge’s name, came out of my chair (thankfully no one was behind me), and gave two big thumbs up when he appeared on screen.
  • The battle between Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren. Sure, they were absolutely useless in the rest of the film, but they died extremely well.
  • The “death” of C-3PO. That scene hit me harder than I ever expected.
  • The sandsled vehicles on Pasaana with the trooper launchers on the back. When they appeared on the screen, I immediately wanted to be nine years old again so that I could get the toy version.

Things That I Hated (or really, really disliked)

  • The Knights of Ren were completely useless in this film.
  • The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) were entirely too overpowered.
  • The death of Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). He deserved to die at the hands of Kylo Ren in a blaze of glory.
  • The way that the Force was used to bring so many people back to life.
  • The big reveal of Rey being a Palpatine wasn’t really a surprise.
  • The way that we were sort of forced to feel bad when Snap Wexley (Greg Grunberg) dies in the final battle. J.J., we get it, Greg’s your buddy and you’re throwing him a bone. It doesn’t mean that his character is that important to anyone but you.
  • The wretched CGI on young Leia during her training session flashback with Luke. The graphics team nailed young Luke, but Leia looked like she was peeled from an animated series.
  • The multiple nods, apologies, and winks to the angry members of the fanbase that hated The Last Jedi. These felt unnecessary and only added to the rushed feel of the film. It also reduced characters like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to window dressing.

Things That Left Me A Tad Confused And Other Questions

  • Why did this film feel like a repeat of Return of the Jedi?
  • Where has Pryde been all of this time? Wouldn’t Kylo Ren have had him replace Hux sooner? It was hard to ignore that dude.
  • Where were all of those folks willing to help in the end of TROS whenever the call was sent out for assistance in TLJ?
  • How much money did Harrison Ford make for his cameo????
  • When was it ever established that the Sith could take on the spirits or souls of previous Sith? That bit sounded a tad too convenient to throw into the film. It reminded me of the “There can be only one” law from the Highlander films and television series.
  • Was it just me or was that battle between Kylo Ren and Rey on Kef Bir nothing more than a wet version of the Kenobi/Skywalker battle on Mustafar?
  • What was the point of throwing Dominic Monaghan into this film? Nothing against him personally, but couldn’t all of his lines been said by Rose instead?
  • With the Emperor apparently gone for good, who will be the next great enemy in the Star Wars saga?

That’s all, folks. I hope that you liked my review and I also hope that you leave me a few comments about this film. There are tons of other things that I want to talk about, but this post is already too long-winded to continue.

I’ll be announcing a few conventions that I’ll be attending in 2020, so if you go to any of them, be sure to hit me up about TROS or any other topic!

Focus On Christmas: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

“I Told You, George. I’m Your Guardian Angel.” – Clarence

Considered by many to be one of the best films ever made, It’s A Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and a ton of other wonderful actors. Released in 1946, the film didn’t meet expectations and floundered about until it found its audience on television. It has since become a film traditionally viewed at Christmas time.

The film centers around the life of George Bailey (Stewart), a wide-eyed dreamer that plans on leaving the sleepy little town of Bedford Falls only to end up an anchor for the community. A series of tragedies force George to give up his dreams of becoming an adventurer and he stays behind in Bedford Falls in order to keep the family business, a Building And Loan company, out of the money-grubbing hands of Mr. Potter (Barrymore). Potter is quickly buying up property in the town and forcing others out of their homes and businesses. The only person standing in his way is George.

As George battles Mr. Potter, he watches as his brother becomes a collegiate football star (George paid his brother’s way through college) and eventually a war hero. George’s friend Sammy (Frank Albertson) becomes a wealthy business owner and others in the town make their own way (some not as successful as others). George marries Mary Hatch (Reed), and the two struggle to make ends meet, all the while helping out many people in the community.

When things finally seem to start falling into place, George’s uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell), accidentally loses an $8,000 dollar deposit that will keep the bank from forcing the Building and Loan to close. In actuality, Uncle Billy accidentally hands off the money to Mr. Potter, who sees an opportunity to end the problem that is George Bailey.

Desperate, George realizes that he is worth more dead than alive and decides to commit suicide. It is at this point that Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) jumps in to stop George from killing himself. On a mission to earn his wings, Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born. The result shakes George to the core and he decides to live just a little bit longer. In the end, the town comes together to help George save the Building and Loan and the entire town itself.

Everyone talks about the performances of Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Henry Travers. That talk is justified, as they give brilliant performances in a film full of great performances. That being said, I believe that two other actors in the film deserve a little attention of their own. Bobby Anderson portrays George Bailey as a child. He gives an amazing performance, easily setting up the role for Stewart to take over in adulthood. Anderson establishes George Bailey as a selfless hero willing to risk his own life to help others.

The other actor that deserves more recognition is Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick, the local temptress with a heart that isn’t doing as well in life as her appearance would lead one to believe. Grahame dominates the few scenes that she has in the film and she ends up being one of the most likeable characters in the movie despite being somewhat of a foil to Mary Hatch in her pursuit of George Bailey. Sadly, Grahame’s career never got the recognition that it deserved and her life was cut short due to complications from breast cancer.

This film hits home with me on multiple levels. Without going into too much detail about my personal life, I’ve been in George Bailey’s shoes before. I’ve also been in the position of other characters in this film. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, especially if you’ve been in George’s position before, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself both laughing and crying during the film.

Thanks for reading my review of It’s A Wonderful Life. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my Focus On Christmas series this month, and I plan to do more Focus On features in the near future.

Focus On Christmas: Krampus (2015)

“We Know You Still Believe In The Big Fat Creeper.”

The most recent film on my Focus On Christmas series this year is 2015’s Krampus. The film is a horror/dark comedy Christmas tale loosely based on the legend and folklore surrounding Krampus, a pre-Christian Germanic being that has become a part of Christian traditions in many regions of Europe. While there are tons of variations of Krampus floating around, he’s basically a demonic goat-man that captures bad children and, depending on the region, whips them, kills them, murders them, eats them or drowns them. He does all of this just before Christmas. He is essentially Santa’s hit man.

According to the film, when Christmas spirit dies somewhere, Krampus shows up with a ton of evil elves, demonic toys, and cackling cookies, and throws all offending parties into Hell. He allows all of his wicked friends to torture, assault, and, in a few cases, eat, some of the offenders before sending them to their doom. Age is not a factor to Krampus or his entourage.

In the movie, young Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) is one of only two members of the Engel family that still believes in Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas. The other family member that believes is Omi (Krista Stadler), Max’s grandmother from the old country who not only believes in Santa, but Krampus as well. Max has an older sister named Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) who is protective of him and his innocent ways, but is slowly distancing herself from him due to her interests in her boyfriend, social media, and the life of a teen in general. Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), are also a tad distant to one another.

When family arrives to celebrate Christmas with the Engels, Max is pushed to the limits by his cousins, Stevie and Jordan (Lolo Owen and Queenie Samuel). The duo taunt him and read his note to Santa Claus aloud at the dinner table. Embarrassed and angry, Max tears up his letter and tosses it out into the night.

A blizzard sets in and the entire city appears to have lost power. Beth goes to check on her boyfriend and doesn’t return. Tom and his brother-in-law, gun-happy Howard (David Koechner), attempt to find her in the blizzard but are attacked by an unseen creature beneath the snow. They return to the Engel home and secure it as best as they can and wait for whatever might be attacking them and their neighborhood.

Howie, Jr. (Maverick Flack), is yanked up into the chimney by a gingerbread man later that evening. Omi reveals to the family that the loss of their Christmas spirit has brought Krampus to their home. She tells them of her own encounter with the demon and Krampus’ toys attack. They split the family up inside their home and start picking them off one by one. The adults battle as best as they can with evil teddy bears, a monstrous cherub, gingerbread men, a diabolical robot, and a massive jack-in-the-box that eats children.

Things come to a head when Krampus’ elves show up and pick off everyone except for Max, his parents, and his cousin, Stevie. They make a break for an abandoned snowplow but the elves and the creature in the snow finish all of them off, save Max. He soon finds himself facing off against Krampus. Can he save his family? Will Santa’s shadow drag the entire Engel family to Hell? You’ll have to watch Krampus to find out!

The film is surprisingly good. It features a very strong cast that give excellent performances. Koechner is especially good in this film, as his Allison Tolman (Emergence, Fargo), who portrays his wife. Also delivering a solid performance with minimal screentime is Conchata Ferrell (Two And A Half Men, L.A. Law, E/R). Her role is a tad limited, but she has some of the best lines in the movie.

The effects in the film are almost entirely practical. From the demonic cherub and evil teddy bear to the masks worn by Krampus and his elves, the practical effects used add to the horror elements of the story. CGI is used for the gingerbread men, Krampus’ tongue, and Krampus’ fast movements across rooftops. It’s also scattered in a few other places but it blends in very well with the practical effects in the movie.

If you haven’t watched this film yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s one of the best Christmas horror films out there, although I must admit that the competition is pretty slim. That being said, it’s still a very good film worth seeing.

Thanks for reading my post. Just a few more days until Christmas!

Focus On Christmas: One Magic Christmas (1985)

Don’t Let The Title Fool You

One Magic Christmas is one tough movie to watch. Despite having a title that conjures up visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, this 1985 G-rated Christmas film offers up unemployment, robbery, murder, holiday depression, a fatal car chase, and the threat of homelessness. Sounds really magical, right?

Well, don’t let those things deter you from seeing this film. Skillfully directed by Philip Borsos (The Grey Fox, The Mean Season) and featuring a cast of strong character actors, One Magic Christmas might be rather depressing, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. It basically gives you a worst-case scenario and turns it on its head with a little Christmas spirit.

The film focuses on the Grainger family. The father, Jack (Gary Basaraba), has recently lost his job. The family home happens to be owned by the company that Jack used to work for and he and his family now have to move out by January 1st. This puts a ton of pressure on his wife, Ginny (Mary Steenburgen), who has lost all hope not only for her family, but in Christmas as well. Cynicism has its hooks deep in her soul and she struggles to give her children, Abbie (Elisabeth Harnois) and Cal (Robbie Magwood), a reasonably decent Christmas while her husband remains the optimist in the family, believing that things will work out in the end.

When things look like they can’t get any worse, an angel named Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton) arrives on the scene to warn little Abbie Grainger that things actually will become worse, but to not be afraid. In just a matter of minutes, Ginny loses her job, Jack is murdered by a desperate man robbing a bank, and Abbie and Cal are driven off of a bridge to their sure deaths by the robber when he steals their car to escape the police.

Then something magical happens.

After these terrible events and with the threat of being homeless looming, Ginny has pretty much given up all hope. Honestly, though, who can blame her? She literally loses her husband, her kids, and her job in one chaotic moment. Her Christmas spirit is completely wiped out. Miraculously, the children are found alive and brought home to Ginny. Happy to have her kids back, Ginny is still crushed by the loss of her husband and all of the other problems that have piled up on the family over the year.

That evening, Gideon takes Abbie to meet the big man himself, Santa Claus (Jan Rubes). Abbie hoped that Gideon, being an angel, could bring her father back to life, but Gideon said that the only person powerful enough to do such a thing would be Santa. Unfortunately for Abbie, Santa can’t bring her father back, but he does give her something that he believes will restore her mother’s Christmas spirit. You’ll have to see the film to find out what happens next, but rest assured that the ending is a whole lot happier than the rest of the film.

This film is very depressing, especially if you have experienced any of the hardships or losses that the Grainger family face in the film. I actually cried a couple of times because there were things that some of the characters go through that I’ve suffered myself. The film’s cinematography adds to the highs and lows of the plot and the pacing is artistically brutal. While watching the film you want things to get better, but they only get exponentially worse. Once the movie takes you to the brink, it brings everything back to a reasonably happy ending.

Borsos does a fine job of directing the film, but his cast is what makes this film worth watching. Mary Steenburgen (Back To The Future III, Elf, The Help) carries the film as Ginny Grainger. Steenburgen was already an established actress (she won an Academy Award For Best Supporting Actress in 1980) by the time that she appeared in One Magic Christmas, but her career continued to blossom and has included multiple award-winning performances since being in that film. Harry Dean Stanton, a prolific character actor who has appeared in films such as Alien, The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke, and Pretty In Pink, is creepy at first as Gideon, but eventually warms up to the viewer as his true intentions are made known. Steenburgen might carry the film, but the weight is lifted off of her shoulders just a bit by a young Elisabeth Harnois as Abbie. Harnois would go on to appear in a string of children’s films and television shows including Adventures in Wonderland and My Date With The President’s Daughter, make supporting appearances in shows such as Highway To Heaven and Charmed, take on lead roles in successful series like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and star in a number of Christmas romance films. She was nominated for a Young Artist Award for her performance in One Magic Christmas. Also keep an eye out for Sarah Polley (The Weight of Water, Go, Splice) and Elias Koteas (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Prophecy, Shutter Island), who have bit parts in the movie but would eventually go on to become stars in their own right.

One Magic Christmas is a tough film to watch. Despite this fact, I highly recommend it. Parents with younger children might want to preview the film before letting their kids see it, as it deals with some major issues. It won’t be on the Hallmark Channel any time soon, but it’s a powerful film that shouldn’t be missed. As of this writing, I do believe that it is available on Disney+. I have it on DVD.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be reviewing Krampus (2015) later this week and plan on reviewing at least one more film this weekend before releasing my final review of the Christmas season on Christmas Eve.

Focus On Christmas: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

A Very Griswold Christmas

1989 saw the return of the doomed Griswold family to the big screen in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The prior films in the series saw the Griswold clan heading out on an American road trip (National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983) and a European adventure (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, 1985). In this outing, the family stays home for a traditional family Christmas.

Chevy Chase returns as the optimistic Griswold patriarch, Clark, and Beverly D’Angelo reprises her role as his loyal wife, Ellen. Along for the ride are there children, Audrey and Rusty (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki), the only primary cast members to be recast with each film.

Hoping to have a nice family Christmas, Clark and Ellen welcome their respective parents and other relatives into their home. They also get a surprise visit from Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid, in one of his most memorable roles) and his wife, Catherine (Miriam Flynn), both of which were featured in the first Vacation film.

The plot is fairly simple. Clark attempts to have a traditional family Christmas but in true Vacation style, everything falls to pieces. Clark gets a Christmas tree that’s too big for the family car and the family home. Clark goes overboard on Christmas lights. Clark has to bail out Eddie’s family and Eddie returns the favor when Clark’s boss, Mr. Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), shorts him on his Christmas bonus. There’s even a lovely store clerk (Nicolette Scorsese) that Clark makes a fool of himself in front of while Christmas shopping.

Basically if you enjoy the Vacation films, you’ll enjoy Christmas Vacation. It’s the most profitable film of the series featuring the original cast and also considered to be the best by critics. In my opinion, the first two films in the series are better, but as far as Christmas films go, this is pretty solid Christmas classic.

The film is the first major studio feature for both Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki. Lewis would go on to have a major cinematic career starring in films such as Cape Fear (1991), The Other Sister (1999), and Natural Born Killers (1994). Galecki’s career would explode on television. After a few years of portraying Darlene’s boyfriend David, Galecki’s character eventually became a part of the main cast of Roseanne (1988-1997). He would then have roles, primarily supporting, on television and in films for the rest of the decade and then into the early 2000’s. He also starred on Broadway in numerous roles. In 2007, he was cast in The Big Bang Theory as Leonard Hofstadter. He would remain in the role until 2019 when the wildly popular series would end its run.

Another actor in a supporting role in this film who was about to hit it big was Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester, one of Clark’s snobby neighbors who falls victim to many of his misadventures. Louis-Dreyfus was starring in Seinfeld (1989-1998) at the time of Christmas Vacation’s release, and the series was about to find its audience and become one of the most beloved comedies of all time.

Other cast members included John Randolph, Dianne Ladd, Doris Roberts, Sam McMurray, and William Hickey, all of whom have had successful careers on television and/or the big screen.

I enjoy watching Christmas Vacation at least once or twice during the holiday season. It’s not my favorite Christmas movie, but as far as some of the more modern Christmas films go, it’s one of the better ones. Check it out for a few laughs this Christmas season.

As always, thanks for reading my post. I’ll have another Christmas film review in a few days!

Focus On Christmas: Unaccompanied Minors (2006)

A Change Of Flight Plans

Despite having a surprisingly solid cast and a decent plot, Unaccompanied Minors (2006) failed to take off with film goers. I personally enjoyed the film and happen to be one of the few people that actually saw it in the theater. My daughter tagged along with me and she enjoyed it as well.

The film tells the story of five unaccompanied minors who are sent to the UM room at an airport when all of the flights are cancelled on Christmas Eve. Five of the six sneak out of the room and go on individual adventures hoping to find something to entertain them until the flights are allowed to take off again. They end up getting captured by airport security, but when they return to the UM room, the younger sister of one of the kids and all of the other minors have been sent to a local hotel until flights resume the next morning. Not wanting his little sister to wake up without a present from Santa Claus, one of the minors, Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), thinks up a plan to escape the room again and bring his sister, Katherine (Dominique Saldana), a present. One of the airport’s relations managers, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), sets out to stop the kids at all costs. One of his workers, Zach (Wilmer Valderrama), ends up trying to help the minors. Pratfalls and laughs ensue.

The film features two subplots. Katherine and Spencer’s father (Rob Corddry) sets out to pick up his kids at the airport in his biodiesel fueled car but experiences a ton of mishaps along the way. His misadventure provides a few nice laughs. The other subplot involves one of the minors, Timothy “Beef” Wellington (Brett Kelly). Beef is a tenderhearted child with an imposing figure. His family believes that he is too old to play with “dolls” and hate the fact that he keeps an Aquaman action figure in his pocket and talks to it as if it is his friend. He makes plans to find a Christmas tree for Katherine.

The plot of this film is actually based on a true story by Susan Burton on the public radio show This American Life. I don’t know how close to the actual story that this film plays, but I would assume that the writers, Mya Stark and Jacob Meszaros, took a lot of liberties with the chaos that the kids cause in the film. The story was pretty solid, but critics shredded the film to pieces.

That being said, the strength of this film lies within the performances of its cast, both main and supporting. Dyllan Christopher is likable as Spencer and he has great chemistry with Dominique Saldana as his sister. He also has some wonderful chemistry with Gia Mantegna, daughter of Joe Mantegna, who portrays Grace Conrad, a snobby rich girl that isn’t exactly as snobby as the other kids originally perceive her. Tyler James Williams portrays Charlie Goldfinch, the nerd of the bunch that provides a lot of the humor in the film. You might recognize him from Everybody Hates Chris or The Walking Dead. Quinn Shephard portrays Donna Malone, the scrappy tough kid of the bunch. She and Williams play off of one another very well in the film. Brett Kelly portrays a character that somewhat dim but extremely thoughtful of others. It’s not too much of a stretch from the character of Thurman Merman that he played in another Christmas film, Bad Santa.

Lewis Black and Wilmer Valderrama are excellent playing against one another. Black is relentless in his attempt to capture all of the kids and Valderrama takes a softer approach. Along with this pair of stars, the film also has a surprisingly large amount of cameos by actors who, at the time, were either about to make big breaks in film and television, or had established careers already. Just a few of the cameos and supporting cast included in this film that have had or currently have great careers are Mindy Kaling, David Koechner, Paget Brewster, Teri Garr, Mario Lopez, Kristen Wiig, and Rob Riggle. Also be on the lookout for comedy legends Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Mark McKinney (all from The Kids In The Hall) portraying Guards In The Hall #1, #2, and #3.

This film didn’t fare very well in cinemas. It failed to turn a profit for Warner Bros. Despite its amazing cast, a pretty good story, and direction by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, The Office, Mad Men) in one of his earliest films, the movie just couldn’t find its audience. If you haven’t watched it, perhaps take a look at over the holidays. It’s not a great film, but it is worth a look, especially if you have kids.

Thanks for reading. I’ll have another review real soon!

Focus On Christmas: Home Alone (1990)

A Perfect Storm

John Hughes, writer of iconic films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Mr. Mom, joined forces with Chris Columbus, director of hits such as the first two Harry Potter films, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire, to bring audiences across the world one of the biggest films of all time: Home Alone.

The film starred Macauley Culkin as Kevin McCallister, an eight year old boy that wishes his family away for Christmas. Through a series of unfortunate events, his wish is granted. He’s left behind by his family as they leave to celebrate the holidays in France. Two less-than-intelligent cat burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) , who’ve staked out Kevin’s neighborhood, set about looting the empty homes of Kevin’s wealthy neighbors. They soon discover that Kevin is home alone and make plans to overcome him and clean out the McCallister home.

But Kevin ain’t having that.

It what is quite possibly one of the funniest physical comedies in history, Kevin squares off against Marv and Harry. He uses BB guns, Micro Machines, tar, ice, a “classic” movie, feathers, Christmas ornaments, paint cans, an iron and more to protect his home from the duo, better known by the name, “The Wet Bandits.”

Pesci and Stern (in most scenes, their stunt doubles) fall down stairs, slam into brick walls, are set on fire, get feathered, walk on broken ornaments, get hit in the chest with crowbars, get shot in the crotch and face with a BB gun and more as Kevin protects his domain. The result is laugh-out-loud scenes supported by sequences of Kevin’s mother, Kate (Catherine O’Hara), attempting to return home to her son. Her own adventures are far less physical, but one entire sequence with John Candy (who improvised all of his lines), is just as funny in its own right.

The film has plenty of heartwarming moments as well. The eventual reunion with Kevin’s family is nice, but my favorite moment is whenever Kevin visits the local church to seek a little heavenly advice about protecting his home and getting his family back. In the church, Kevin runs into Mr. Marley (Roberts Blossom), an elderly man that lives near Kevin and who all of the local children are afraid of seeing. The pair talk about facing fears and their conversation is tied up at the end of the film when Marley reunites with his own family. It’s a very touching moment in an otherwise hilarious film.

Aside from those already mentioned, the film featured a solid cast of supporting actors such as John Heard, Angela Goethals, Gerry Bamman, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, and Billie Bird. The standout supporting cast member, in my opinion, was Devin Ratray as Buzz, Kevin’s oldest, meanest, and densest brother. Ratray’s career might not be as prolific as some of his fellow castmates, but he’s managed to appear in quite a few films and television shows including The Tick and Mosaic.

When the film was released in 1990, it quickly became one of the most popular and successful films of all time. According to the Netflix series The Movies That Made Us, the film was initially going to be produced by Warner Bros. When the budget proposal was given to Warner, however, they refused to cough up the funds and 20th Century Fox scooped it up instead. The film went on to be the third highest grossing film worldwide behind only Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial once it left theaters.

The film left an impression on audiences in the early 90’s and it continues to do so today. It has been released multiple times on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, and is available for streaming. It fired up the career of Culkin, who would go on to star in a number of films that never quite matched up to the success of Home Alone. A sequel starring most of the original cast was made in 1992. Home Alone: Lost In New York proved to be a popular film, but it failed to match even half of the first film’s gross. A third sequel, Home Alone 3, featuring a new youngster in a completely new story, failed to clear the 100 million dollar mark. Two completely forgettable made-for-television sequels were also produced.

I love this film. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I still laugh out loud every time Marv or Harry take a shot from Kevin, get hit with an iron, or get set on fire. This is a solid family film and it’s one of a very small group of Christmas movies that recommend owning.

Thanks for reading my post. Another Focus On Christmas post is coming your way this weekend!

I Can See Christmas!

It’s Almost Here!

Instead of watching twenty-five films and reviewing them for Christmas this year like I did for Halloween, I’ve decided to focus on just a few specific holiday favorites. I’m going to provide a brief review of each film and then offer up a few tidbits about the film, its cast or crew, or other interesting bits of information related to the film.

I’ll list four of the films that I plan on reviewing, but you’ll have to wait and see what the rest of them will be whenever I post them. I’ll review one film during the week (probably on Thursday), and one film on each Saturday until Christmas.

The first film that I’ll be reviewing is 1990’s Home Alone. Saturday’s film will be a surprise. Next week I’ll review 1989’s Christmas Vacation. I’ll follow that up with another surprise film over the weekend. Then I’ll review Krampus from 2015. During the week of Christmas, I’ll review 1947’s beloved classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.

Who knows? I might throw in a few other holiday classics or even take a look at a few Christmas songs or albums before the big day arrives. I hope you join me for these reviews and I also hope that you and your family have a great Christmas!

Thanks for reading. Keep your eyes peeled for my first review later this week!