It’s December which means I start watching lots and lots of Christmas movies (as long-time readers are undoubtedly aware). I checked out Netflix’s streaming side and marked several. Unfortunately the first two were bad enough I didn’t even finish, which takes some doing.
MANDIE AND THE FORGOTTEN CHRISTMAS (2011) is third in a film series adapted from a children’s book series about a tomboyish girl’s adventures at a school for young ladies. In this one, Christmas is coming and Mandie wonders why the school has an attic stuffed with Christmas decorations but won’t use them. In fairness, it’s a kid’s movie and I’m not the target audience, but then again, there are lots of kids films I liked. Part of the problem is that they seem to assume everyone’s seen the previous movies and the Southern accents are really, really bad.
GOOD LUCK CHARLIE: It’s Christmas (2011) was a spinoff from a Disney family sitcom in which the family faces Planes, Trains and Automobiles obstacles in getting together for Christmas. Unfortunately the cast and the jokes seem cribbed from every other Disney family sitcom I’ve seen — they have the same personalities, the same jokes, the same comic beats, every single time. Compared to this one, the Disney live-action family films of the 1960s look like high art.
Hopefully better stuff next letter. Now, moving on to the good films, THE LADY IN THE VAN (2016) stars Maggie Smith as the eponymous homeless woman who winds up taking advantage of a writer’s (Alex Jennings) charity to move her mobile home into his driveway and stay. But is it really charity, he wonders, or is he just taking advantage of a potentially cool character he can turn to a story? Why doesn’t he treat his aged mother as well as this stranger? Well-performed (of course) and excellent, though unsettling in its tackling of eldercare issues. “You’re afraid she’s dead because then the story is over — and you’ll have to write it.”
WITHOUT A CLUE (1988) has a great premise, that John Watson is the real deductive genius who uses Holmes as his front man (“I was up for a position at a very conservative hospital so I credited my deductions to a friend — Sherlock Holmes.”), gets fed up with being portrayed as the dimwit sidekick, but decides to work on One Last Case before walking away. Ben Kingsley does a great job as the put-upon, brilliant Watson, but Michael Caine just doesn’t work as Holmes — he’s good at the slapstick, but he lacks Holmes’ intensity and energy, even as fake Holmes (Roger Moore was better). I’m glad I rewatched it, but I laughed a lot more the first go-round. With Peter Cook as Watson’s publisher, Lysette Anthony as a Bad Girl and Jeffrey Jones as a thick-headed Lestrade. “I’ve got it — Moriarty’s real name is Arty Morty!”
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