Author Archives: blakemp

What makes a Christmas movie?

The movie that launched a thousand arguments.

Over the last few years, as the Die Hard debate reached peak internet meme status, there seems to have been some degree of confusion as to what constitutes a Christmas movie. “Well if Die Hard is a Christmas movie,” says some joyless homunculus, “then so does Lethal Weapon! So does Gremlins! So does Batman Returns!”

To which I reply, “Yeah, okay.”

To my way of thinking, there are three qualifications for being a Christmas story, and any film which matches at least TWO of them can rightly be called a Christmas movie. These qualifications are:

  1. The film must primarily be set during the Christmas season. The vast majority of great Christmas movies have their climax on Christmas Eve, but any time in the stretch from post-Thanksgiving until New Year’s qualifies. The key word here is “primarily.” A film that has only one scene at the holidays, such as Toy Story or several Harry Potter movies, does not meet this qualification, no matter what the Freeform network tries to tell you. The classic It’s a Wonderful Life sneaks in because, although large parts of the movie are non-Christmas flashbacks, the framing sequence and the entirety of the film’s action take place on Christmas Eve. In a fantasy setting where Christmas would not logically exist, I will accept as substitute their local equivalent, such as Hogswatch (Hogfather) or Life Day (The Star Wars Holiday Special). 
If we don’t see Santa, does it still count?
  1. The film must include traditional Christmas figures in a prominent role. These figures include but are not limited to Jesus (remember him?), Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, and Krampus. The figure does not necessarily have to be the protagonist to qualify, but they must feature in a large way. In Ernest Saves Christmas Santa is a supporting character, whereas in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street he never appears on screen, but as the story is about Big Bird’s quest to discover how Santa enters a home with no chimney, it still meets this requirement. Interestingly, this qualification can be applied to a film retroactively, if it becomes beloved as a holiday classic. Upon their original release neither the Grinch nor Jack Skellington would have been considered “traditional” Christmas characters, but nobody would dispute their status today. 
Yep. It counts.
  1. A film must feature one of the traditional Christmas themes, such as love, hope, generosity, faith, redemption, family, or fear. Yes, fear. What, did you think that line in the song about “scary ghost stories” is just a throwaway? Before Halloween grew into the holiday it is today, scary stories were a Christmas tradition. It is no coincidence that the most re-told Christmas story of all time is about four ghosts trying to scare a miser straight. This is also the reason horror movies such as Silent Night, Deadly Night are acceptable as Christmas films. (If you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t like horror movies, there’s no requirement that you watch them.)

So there’s our litmus test. Pick a movie and ask yourself if it fits at least two of these qualifications. If it does, it’s a Christmas movie. Some examples:

  • A Christmas Story.  About a family at Christmastime with a main character hoping for a special gift from Santa. Meets all three qualifications.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life. As mentioned before, it sneaks in on #1, and as a tale of redemption, meets #3.
  • Any traditional retelling of A Christmas Carol meets all three qualifications. It takes place on Christmas Eve, it’s the story of Scrooge’s redemption, and the story is so universally known that Scrooge and the ghosts all count as traditional characters, even if interpretations of them vary significantly. Most non-traditional versions, such as Scrooged or A Flintstones Christmas Carol also qualify.
  • Home Alone. Set at Christmas, with its major character arc being the redemption of a family (focusing on a child and his mother) with a strained relationship. Try not to think too hard about the fact that they had to re-learn the same dang lesson the next year.
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Meets #1 and 2. I will not venture to make an argument that this film has anything that counts as a “theme.”
  • The Sound of Music. While inarguably a classic film, the only qualification it meets is #3, so sorry, it’s not a Christmas movie. Please remove “My Favorite Things” from your holiday playlist immediately. 
It’s got a guy in a red suit that can fly around the world…
  • Shazam! Set at Christmastime (the climax, in fact, takes place at an actual Christmas fair), with a surprisingly strong message about the family you choose rather than the family you’re born with. It’s a dark horse candidate, but I say this superhero film counts as a Christmas movie. 
  • Die Hard. The argument that started it all, but honestly, I don’t even know why there’s a question. Set at Christmas, and features the redemption of John McClane as well as the film’s true hero, Sgt. Al Powell. Set up your gingerbread  Nakatomi Tower, it counts.
  • Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. The film is expressly set five days before Christmas and features Santa Claus, as well as other holiday figures such as the Ice Cream Bunny, Thumbelina, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry… Finn? Look, this movie is a brain-torturing mess and watching it should never be attempted without the assistance of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, but it still technically qualifies.
  • Miracle on 34th Street. Goes from Thanksgiving until Christmas, it’s all about faith and family, and it stars Santa Claus. Boom, boom, boom, done.
It’s surprising how close this one is.
  • Holiday Inn. This 1942 classic almost doesn’t make it. While it is undeniably a love story, it time skips to several holidays over the course of the year. I say it meets standard #1 because it both begins and ends at Christmastime. It also gets bonus points for giving us the classic song “White Christmas,” 12 years before the movie was kinda-sorta remade with that title in a version that is more clearly a Yuletide film.
  • Any Hallmark/Lifetime/Netflix movie about a no-nonsense businesswoman who finds love with a small town boy and his adorable dog and/or child at the holidays qualifies. Go ahead and cue ’em up.
  • Avatar. This meets none of the qualifications. That was stupid, why did you ask?

So there you have it, your litmus test for Christmas movies. You’ll notice this test says nothing about the quality of any such movie (I’m lookin’ at you, Ice Cream Bunny), just whether it has enough Christmas flavor to count in your yuletide marathon. Hope this was helpful!

Feedback? Thoughts? I would love to hear from you on my Facebook Page!

What I Watched In… May 2018

Armstrong

Favorite of the Month: Armstrong (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Rear Window (1998), D
  2. Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), D-
  3. THX 1138 (1971), C+
  4. Have Rocket — Will Travel (1959), C-
  5. X-Men (2000), B-
  6. Megamind (2010), B+
  7. The Mask (1994), B-
  8. Spider-Man 2 (2004), B+
  9. Wall-E (2008), A
  10. Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter (1972), D+
  11. Superman II (1980), A-
  12. X2: X-Men United (2003), B+
  13. Peelers (2016), D+
  14. Spider-Man 3 (2007), C-
  15. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010), D+
  16. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), A
  17. Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel (2013), B+
  18. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), D
  19. Armstrong (2016), B+
  20. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), B-
  21. Superman III (1983), C+

What I Watched In… April 2018

Avengers-Infinity War

Favorite of the Month: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Sing (2016), B+
  2. Star Kid (1997), B-
  3. The Phantom (1996), C+
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A+
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), A-
  6. Gen 13 (2000), C-
  7. JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014), B-
  8. Superman: the Last Son of Krypton (1996), B+
  9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), B+
  10. Ant-Man (2015), B+
  11. Captain America: Civil War (2016), A+
  12. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005), D-
  13. Ready Player One (2018), A
  14. Doctor Strange (2016), B+
  15. Dinosaurus! (1960), C-
  16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), A-
  17. Some Like it Hot (1959), A-
  18. Forbidden Planet (1956), B+
  19. The Spirit (2008), F
  20. The Pumaman (1980), D; MST3K Riff, A-
  21. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), B
  22. Superman (1978), A+
  23. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), A-
  24. Comic Book Super Heroes Unmasked (2003), B
  25. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), A
  26. Short Circuit (1986), B
  27. Compliance (2012), B+
  28. Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  29. Avengers: Infinity War (2018), A
  30. Phantom Boy 92015), B+
  31. The Mark of Zorro (1940), B+

What I Watched In… March 2018

Thor-Ragnarok

Favorite of the Month: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), C
  2. Mute (2018), C-
  3. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  4. The Incredible Hulk (2008), B-
  5. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), B
  6. Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), F
  7. Spookers (2017), C
  8. Iron Man 2 (2010), B+
  9. Turok: Son of Stone (2008), C
  10. Thor (2011), B+
  11. Escape From L.A. (1996), C-
  12. Guardians of Oz (2015), C+
  13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), A
  14. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) B
  15. Thor: Ragnarok (2017), B+
  16. A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018), B
  17. Animal House (1978), B+
  18. The Avengers (2012), A
  19. Constantine (2005), D
  20. Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: The Flash (2018), B
  21. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  22. Lean on Me (1989), B+
  23. Iron Man 3 (2013), B+
  24. Terror Out of the Sky (1978), D-
  25. The Mad Magician (1954), C
  26. The Ritual (2018), B
  27. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), B+
  28. Thor: The Dark World (2013), C+
  29. Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), B-
  30. The Prince of Egypt (1998), A-
  31. Spider-Man (2002), B
  32. Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), B-

 

What I Watched In… February 2018

black panther poster

Favorite of the Month: Black Panther (2018)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Groundhog Day (1993), A+
  2. Ants (1977), D
  3. Night of the Living Dead (1969), A
  4. Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011), B-
  5. The Apple (1980), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  6. The Lion King (1994), A
  7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), B+
  8. The Emoji Movie (2017), F
  9. It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1983), B
  10. Black Panther (2018), A-
  11. Iron Man (2008), A
  12. Much Ado About Nothing (1993), B+
  13. A Charlie Brown Celebration (1982), A-
  14. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged (2000), A-

 

What I Watched In… January 2018

split

Favorite of the Month: Split (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), B-
  2. Fast & Furious 6 (2013), B
  3. Lethal Weapon (1987), B+
  4. Robocop (1987), B+
  5. Dr. Cyclops (1940), C
  6. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), B+
  7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996), A
  8. Hercules Unchained (1959), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  9. The Little Unicorn (2002), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  10. Samurai Cop (1991), F; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  11. Unbreakable (2000), A-
  12. Split (2017), B+
  13. The Howling (1981), C+
  14. Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), B
  15. Prom Night (1980), C
  16. All-Star Superman (2011), A+
  17. Merlin: The Return (2000), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  18. Godzilla Raids Again (1955), C
  19. Scooby-Doo and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2018), B-
  20. Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964), B+
  21. Babylon 5: The Gathering (1993), B+

What I Watched In… December 2017

Star Wars-The Last Jedi

Favorite of the Month: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. The Santa Claus Brothers (2002), D
  2. Elf-Man (2012), D
  3. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972), F; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  4. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), B+
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), A
  6. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), A
  7. Elf (2003), B
  8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), C-
  9. Home: For the Holidays (2017), B-
  10. A Carol For Another Christmas (1964), D-
  11. The Magic Snowflake (2013), B+
  12. Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas (2006), B
  13. A Christmas Story 2 (2012), D
  14. To All a Goodnight (1980), D-
  15. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), C+
  16. The Empire Strikes Back (1980), A
  17. Better Watch Out (2016), B+
  18. Santa’s Slay (2005), C
  19. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987), A
  20. Inside LEGO At Christmas (2015), B
  21. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), B+
  22. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), B
  23. The Frozen Ghost (1945), C
  24. Casper’s Haunted Christmas (2000), D+
  25. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), A
  26. Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (2016), B+
  27. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), A
  28. Christmas is Here Again (2007), B
  29. Christmas Inheritance (2017), C+
  30. Pottersville (2017), D
  31. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), B+
  32. Scrooged (1988), A-
  33. A Christmas Story Live! (2017), B+
  34. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] (2000), A-
  35. Pygmalion (1938), B
  36. Twelve Hundred Ghosts – A Christmas Carol in Supercut (2016), B+
  37. Magic Christmas Tree (1964), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  38. Home Alone (1990), B+
  39. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), A
  40. The Santa Clause (1994), B+
  41. The Santa Clause 2 (2002), B
  42. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (19920, B-
  43. Miracle on 34th Street (1947), A+
  44. White Christmas (1954), A
  45. Miracle on 34th Street (1994), C
  46. Deck the Halls (2006), D+
  47. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), C
  48. Love Actually (2003), A
  49. A Christmas Story (1983), A
  50. Die Hard (1988), A
  51. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A+
  52. Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical: Live (2017), B+
  53. The Circle (2017), D
  54. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017), B
  55. Vixen: The Movie (2017), B
  56. DC Super Hero Girls: Intergalactic Games (2017), B-
  57. LEGO DC Super Hero Girls: Brain Drain (2017), B
  58. LEGO Scooby-Doo! Blowout Beach Bash (2017), B-
  59. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), B+
  60. Mayhem (2017), A-
  61. Big Hero 6: Baymax Returns (2017), B+
  62. What Happened to Monday (2017), B+
  63. The Babysitter (2017), B+
  64. Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show (2017), A-
  65. The Mummy’s Curse (1944), C+
  66. The Invisible Woman (1940), C+

 

What I watched in… November 2017

justice-league-poster-fandango

Favorite of the Month: Justice League (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. The Deadly Mantis (1957), D-
  2. The Brides of Dracula (1960), B-
  3. Spielberg (2017), B
  4. Barracuda (1978), F
  5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), D+
  6. Blacula (1972), D
  7. Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson (2017), B+
  8. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), A+
  9. The Wizard of Oz (1939), A+
  10. Hidden Figures (2016), A-
  11. Jack Frost (1979), B-
  12. Justice League (2017), B+
  13. Matilda (1996), B+
  14. Fun in Balloon Land (1965), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  15. Home For the Holidays (1995), C
  16. The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970), B+
  17. A Christmas Story Documentary: Road Trip For Ralphie (2008), D

What I Watched in… October 2017

itttttt

Favorite of the Month: It (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Saboteur (1942), B
  2. Little Evil (2017), B+
  3. The Black Cat (1934), B
  4. WNUF Halloween Special (2013), B+
  5. Basket Case (1982), D+
  6. Child’s Play (1988), B+
  7. Child’s Play 2 (1990), B+
  8. Child’s Play 3 (1991), C+
  9. Bride of Chucky (1998), B+
  10. Seed of Chucky (2004), B-
  11. Curse of Chucky (2013), B+
  12. Cult of Chucky (2017), B
  13. Found Footage 3D (2016), B
  14. If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast (2017), B+
  15. Train to Busan (2016), A-
  16. Grabbers (2012), B
  17. Dude Bro Party Massacre III (2015), D+
  18. Friday the 13th (1980), B
  19. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), B
  20. Tarantula (1955), C
  21. A Disney Halloween (1983), A
  22. Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016), C+
  23. C.H.U.D. (1984), C
  24. The Sandlot (1993), A
  25. Mad Monster Party? (1967), B
  26. It (2017), A
  27. Michael Jackson’s Halloween (2017), D

What I Watched in… September 2017

Colossal

Favorite of the Month: Colossal (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), B+
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), B
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), B+
  4. Tom Felton Meets the Superfans (2015), B
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), B+
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), A-
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), A
  8. Monster on the Campus (1958), C-
  9. Father’s Little Dividend (1951), B+
  10. Village of the Damned (1960), B-
  11. Shaun of the Dead (2004), A
  12. Medusa Against the Son of Hercules (1963), D
  13. Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), D
  14. Colossal (2017), A-
  15. It Came From Outer Space (1953), B+
  16. Year of the Scab (2017), B+
  17. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), B+
  18. The Muppets (2011), A
  19. DuckTales: Woo-oo! (2017), A
  20. Dial M For Murder (1954), B+
  21. The Mummy (2017), C
  22. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), A
  23. Frankenstein (1931), A
  24. The Princess Bride (1987), A
  25. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), B+
  26. UHF (1989) A-
  27. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008), B-
  28. The Wolf Man (1941), B+
  29. Count Dracula (1970), B-