My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three Christmas movies.
THE HOLDOVERS (2023)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Alexander Payne is in top form again with THE HOLDOVERS, not his best or most poignant piece (ABOUT SCHMIDT) but up there with some of his strongest work such as NEBRASKA.
This Christmas-set tale (I would go so far as to call it a true Christmas movie) is refreshingly peaceful. It unfolds at an easy going pace, revealing its characters in no hurry. I also admire that its a movie about the kind of quiet strength, subtle moral courage that effect our decisions in life.
The three leads are all strong, Giamatti in particular who embodies this guy all the way down to his distinctive walk but does so without being showy or obvious in his performance. My only gripes about the film are a few moments of forced comedy and the narrative’s insistence that Dominic Sessa’s character is a “pain in the ass” when that’s never really proven to be true.
Otherwise, this is a solid picture and one of the best of the year.
Watched on Amazon.
A MERRY FRIGGIN’ CHRISTMAS (2014)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
This very indie-feeling Christmas comedy is far from great but it’s surprisingly charming and captures in a hyperbolic way some truths about family and relationship issues.
Also, there are only so many Robin Williams performance and most of them are a treat, even in bad movies. I personally enjoy the late-career mean, darker Williams that began in DEATH TO SMOOCHY and continued masterfully in WORLD’S GREATEST DAD. He’s in that mode here as a bitter, foul-mouthed father who has become estranged from one of his sons in a very dysfunctional (but actually semi-realistic) family. The rest of the cast are fine but can’t quite keep up with a comedic heavy hitter like Williams except for a drunk homeless Santa character who steals every scene he’s in.
It’s no holiday classic but it certainly is a Christmas movie worth watching, especially if you’re in the mood for something with a dark comedic touch.
Watched on Tubi.
MIXED NUTS (1994)
Rating: 0.5 out of 5 Stars
For a long time now, I’ve seen MIXED NUTS pop up on various streaming services and always wondered, “Why do I never hear anything about this Steve Martin Christmas-comedy from his heyday?” I was sure it had to be a holiday gem. Nope.
Nora Ephron’s MIXED NUTS is a tasteless, humorless movie. It falls so flat that it’s a wonderment to watch, trying to figure out just where everything went wrong. From the loud characters who are neither likable nor believable to the jokes that can’t even conger an embarrassed chuckle to the totally misunderstanding of what makes a dark comedy, this movie is a textbook of what not to do as a filmmaker. I must track down the original French film that Ephron foolishly decided to remake and see if it has any value.
The film served one key purpose for me: providing a new definition for what makes a film one of the worst ever made. It’s silly in my opinion to give any low budget production that ranking. However, what constitutes one of the worst films ever made in my book is a project with all the talent and money it needed to come out at least alright but instead turned into a piece of crap. In this case, a director/writer coming off a big hit and able to work with a super skilled cast from Martin to Madeline Kahn to Liev Schrieber to a young Adam Sandler delivers the worst Christmas movie I’ve ever seen and yes, by my new defintion, one of the worst films ever made.
Watched on Tubi.