Christmas 2018 Double Feature: Super Monsters and the Wish Star (2018) & A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

Changing the pace a little with the Christmas marathon, its time to jump into some shorter children movie features. Its a perfect pairing to do double features with so I’ve chosen Super Monsters and the Wish Star and A StoryBots Christmas. I’ve never actually seen any of the actual Netflix series so I’m unfamiliar with the characters here but I still decided to give it a chance.  These are both individual Christmas specials.

Let’s check it out!

Super Monsters and the Wish Star (2018)

super monsters and the wish star

Director: Jacob Joice

Voice Cast: Elyse Maloway, Vincent Tong, Erin Mathews, Andrea Libman, Alessandro Juliani, Nicole Anthony, Diana Kaarina, Ian James Corlett, Britt McKillip, Kathleen Barr, Gigi Saul Guerrero

Christmas wishes come true for Lobo, whose favorite cousin arrives for a surprise visit, and for Glorb, who wishes he could be everywhere at once. – IMDB

Super Monsters at a first glance is a pretty cute series. Simply from the character designs itself, its very colorful and covers a cutesy version of different classic monsters from Count Dracula or werewolves to Frankenstein just for an example of a few. Its a little darker in the background of the characters they choose for the kids but somehow with the cute designs, it works. Plus, it adds this magical element to it. I’ve never been a huge fan of recent kid series mostly it is in how they talk but I think it has to do with the fact that I’m in my 30s now and while a lot of shows I watched when I was a kid still appeal to me like Arthur and Magic School Bus and such, a lot of the enjoyment is the nostalgia which I obviously don’t have for these new series.

Super Monsters and the Wish Star does work as  a Christmas special. There are a lot of Christmas elements from the decorating to different Christmas traditions between the characters and sharing a little message about being decisive and making choices but also being helpful to others. Its also very musical which is a winning  point for me. I thought the songs themselves were quite catchy. It doesn’t take a lot for me to enjoy something like this especially in a less than 30 minute dose. Plus, there is this transformation element of them changing to monster form at night and the transformation screen reminded me so much of Digimon, which is a show that I desperately want to rewatch. I’m not sure I’d go and sit through the Netflix series but this Christmas special was enjoyable that I did end up watching it once and putting in the background a second time afterwards as I was doing something else.

A StoryBots Christmas (2017)

A storybots Christmas

Director: Jeff Gill & Evan Spiridellis

Voice Cast: Judy Greer, Erin Fitzgerald, Fred Tatsciore, Jeff Gill, Gregg Spiridellis, Evan Spiridellis, Edward Asner, Jim Meskimen

When Bo mistakenly thinks that her friends don’t like her gifts, she heads to the North Pole to ask Santa for help making better presents. She learns along the way that Christmas is about far more than just the toys. – IMDB

StoryBots is a mix of real characters like Santa Claus (Edward Asner)and New York City and then there’s this sort of puppet animation when we see the elf and then the rest of show is pretty much animation. It is very reminiscent of child shows and the idea behind it is pretty good. The StoryBots design is fairly colorful and appeal to watch however, there is this odd way that they talk and humor that I’m not sure I’m completely appealed to. However, the message behind this one is pretty good. Its a lot about the meaning behind gifts on Christmas and the spirit of giving and what makes the best present. There is some silly parts like polar bears struggling over opening a soda bottle. It has a nice message about friends and being with the ones you love during Christmas.

Its an okay Christmas special and its pretty short running at around 25 minutes or so. Its a quick and fun time and there are lots of Christmas elements here especially as they go to New York City which is very much decorated. There is this fun humor behind it in some moments especially in the city that works in bits. It has its moments for sure. I don’t really have much to say about this one. Its pretty enjoyable and for a quick Christmas special to occupy the kids, it could be fun enough. Especially with the ending Christmas song that wraps the story which is a fun little bit that really warmed my heart and had me tapping my feet.

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Double Feature: Star Trek: Beyond (2016) & Baby Driver (2017)

double feature

We are nearing the end of the year which means I’m going to try to get a lot of these backlogged movies reviewed. While I did write a review over on Weibo for Baby Driver already, I haven’t done one here and I’m not going to lie that Star Trek Beyond was a few months ago so its starting to get a little blurry.

Star Trek: Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim

The crew of the USS Enterprise explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy, who puts them, and everything the Federation stands for, to the test. –IMDB

After the last Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness (review), I had my reservations about this one. For one, the first and the second had this conflict in tone and humor. There was this narrative that worked but the villains felt underused or not quite as effective. Thinking back now, it felt like a fairly unsatisfying and forgettable movie experience save for some of the returning cast who had roles which were quite fun to watch. Star Trek Beyond however takes a different approach. It may have to do with the fact that Simon Pegg doesn’t only appear in the film but also does the writing for this one. It also helps that Justin Lin, a director that I like a lot in the Fast and Furious franchise takes the helms of this sequel. A lot of the factors makes this one such a fun and entertaining movie experience that reminds me a lot of the fun I had in the first Star Trek film.

Star Trek Beyond resumes the familiar roles. Its a good thing because for those who have been following the franchise, its a nice little team that we know the personality of. There is this well-oiled machine dynamic despite the issues they encounter. Everyone delivers it very well. I completely had forgotten that John Cho was in this as well especially since I had just seen him in Searching (when I saw this movie in August or something..Searching review here). Then of course, we have Anton Yelchin that is still such a huge loss in my heart because he is so incredibly talented. However, I think what deserves a mention here are the new additions. The first is the girl on the planet they land on called Jayla, played by Sofia Boutella who has such a fantastic character design appearance wise and her weapons and Sofia Boutella does a great job. On top of that, mostly unrecognizable except for his voice is Idris Elba who plays the villain, Krall. He still feels a little underused but the presence is very much there.

Baby Driver (2017)

baby driver

Director (and writer): Edgar Wright

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Kevin Spacey

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. – IMDB

Every once in a while we get a new gimmick and it works for some and doesn’t work for others. Baby Driver utilizes the constant soundtrack in Baby’s life to  work around it. It starts off fairly fun and charming, if a little odd especially when he turns on the wipers for no reason but to match the lyrics or sounds or something. There is a charm to it all. However, Baby Driver reminds us how sometimes soundtracks are used sparingly for a reason because it accentuates a scenes. As clever as the idea itself and how the execution works in some parts, it doesn’t translate to everything. There is no doubt that the soundtrack is really good, except I would have liked to not be overloaded with music so much.

Baby Driver

As charmed as I was with the use of music and soundtracks and how that was executed well enough, the story here is fairly basic. Its actually not even very fleshed out for any of the characters. Its almost like the gimmick is the reason for the whole thing. The action sequences are done pretty good though and the bombastic characters played by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza Gonzalez and Jamie Foxx all are quite memorable. When things get dicey though, the characters are really just shells and the story is pretty much on rails following everything as expected and predicted.

Is it as awesome as it seems to be for a lot of people? For myself, I don’t really think its that well-rounded. There are aspects that stand out and as much as I like the music and cars and this one delivers two things I love, it somehow outlived its hype. Its not a bad idea and its a fun little experience but somehow it just lost its charm in the second half.

Christmas 2018 & TV Binge: Nailed It! Holiday! (Mini-series, 2018)

You can see reviews for the main seasons here:

Season 1
Season 2

Nailed It! Holiday! (2018)

nailed it holiday

Host: Nicole Byer & Jacques Torres

There are shows that talk about refined baking competitions and such but there is also a great joy in watching amateurs bake because its a learning curve and everyone has to start somewhere. Nailed It! has taken that concept and really excelled with it. Sure, Season 2 had its odd moments where it forgot what it was trying to do but overall, it still brought a lot of joy and laughter to some of the odd baking things that came out of some of these episodes. With that said, I was excited to see that Nailed It Holiday is now a thing. It keeps the same format, very much like the first one which focuses its first round on Baker’s Choice and its making smaller baking things like cookies, cake pops and cupcakes while its second round is the money maker, literally, because you can win $10,000 with  making a cake creation. This time we also see a hint of what might be potential new extension or a new direction for the show in the 7th episode as it escapes the baking realm and jumps into the DIY crafts realm. I’ll talk about that a little later as a final wrap-up discussion point.

Nailed It Holiday

Nailed It! Holiday! definitely did do exactly that. Its hilarious and a ton of fun. It themes itself around the different holidays during this winter season from a good few Christmas to simply winter themes to Hanukkah and takes us straight to a countdown to New Year’s. I’m guessing if you do watch this one or two episodes a week, you might actually reach New Year’s Eve to watch the countdown. The creations themselves are super nice. Its still very much difficulty but its always the how the choice of candidates in the competition that brings a lot of fun because of just how ridiculous some times these things turn out to be. At the same time, they add on a different special button in each one episode themed also around the holidays from unwrapping presents or untangling lights which also makes it fair because if they finish it during the 3 minutes, they can get back to their baking right away. Its a nice twist to the freeze button in the second round.

Nailed It Holiday

Nailed It has always seemed to want to divert away from its baking competition formula. And doing the DIY crafts route is a good one for sure. It might eventually also run out of topics at some point but it has its potential also. The one episode we had was definitely just a taste or maybe a market test in their own right to see how well received it is. I thought it was a fairly fun episode. I like to do DIY crafts as well so this was right up my alley. Crafts have the potential to go horribly wrong and they can also be pretty entertaining to watch as well. I would be down to see if they do a season of this especially of Nicole Byer continues to host.

Talking about that, the reason that Nailed It works despite whatever content they have is in part all the good creative things they do and finding the right type of participants and having a good angle, like this Holiday theme mini series. But the biggest reason is Nicole Byer. She is just the heart and life of this show. While Jacques Torres is a fun match for her, the crafts episode proves that she really can have the same dynamic with another host as well. Its her personality that makes it so fun to watch. Nailed It Holiday is a really fun season and I hope that they continue with this show, whether it be in baking (which I probably would prefer as it works well) or even if they expand to crafts.

Christmas 2018: The Princess Switch (2018)

The Princess Switch (2018)

The Princess Switch

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Alexa Adeosun, Suanne Braun, Mark Fleischmann, Sara Stewart, Robin Soans

A Chicago baker (V.Hudgens) is competing in a Christmas baking competition in Belgravia. There she bumps into the prince’s fiancee. They look alike and switch for 2 days. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – IMDB

If we talk about something along the calibre of last year’s A Christmas Prince (review) for this year, I would say that I’m not sure any movie in the Hallmark by Netflix category going to beat out this one. A Princess Switch is pretty much the familiar formula of Parent Trap and It Takes Two and movies of that sort except this time, we don’t have teenagers but rather young adults or in their 30s or mid20s or something like that. You know, marriage and romance age sort of story. It has a good bit of laughs and while some parts were kind of a little eye-rolling worthy, there is this charm to Vanessa Hudgens’ interpretation of both of these characters, whether it is Margaret or as Stacy that makes it so entertaining to watch. Plus, there is no doubt that this is a holiday film in the sense that it is set during Christmas and there is an overflowing amount of Christmas activities and endearing moments about the value of Christmas. Its a heartwarming and fun effort as a whole which makes it so much fun to watch especially as a guilty pleasure.

Whenever we talk about these sort of romantic comedy style holiday films, I have to always talk about chemistry. While I maintain that a lot of the really good acting had to go to Vanessa Hudgens, she did have pretty good chemistry with both of the male leads. Both Sam Palladio and Nick Sagar are charming in their own ways that fit the type of man that they portray in this movie so it works out. At the same time, there are some pretty fun moments between  each of these pairs that seem fitting for their situation if not sometimes a tad over-exaggerated but in this genre of film, it is sometimes okay to be like that and still really emphasize the chemistry and some warm laughs with the characters.

As a side note though, I do love how the King and Queen, especially the Queen’s role here as they question the Duchess character making it feel more realistic as sometimes there is always these moments where the silliness things get looked over like everyone else is stupid. At the same time, the guard or whoever we call him ends up getting caught in figuring it out but also having these really hilarious moments of ending up in the most awkward situations like he’s a servant and not the higher ranking that he is supposed to be. Aside from the two assistants of sorts to the Duchess and the Prince who bring a lot of humor, we have the classic character who miraculously shows up everywhere as a magical element that strings together the character and the pieces. In some ways, it makes the movie on rails but it kind of pokes fun knowingly at itself that it works somehow.

Overall, I liked the Princess Switch a lot more than I expected I would. Vanessa Hudgens was on point with both her roles and the male leads were both very charming. There was a lot of heartwarming moments and fun moments and even some meaningful moments. Its really well put together for a holiday centered romantic comedy. It both had the romantic chemistry and holiday spirit in equal parts to make it feel enjoyable.

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round 12 Worst Animated Sequel

Its the final round of Year 4 of Opinion Battles! We’re wrapping up the year looking at the worst animated sequel. I always have one choice on my mind whenever we talk about this and it goes to Cars 2.

Head over to check out all the other choices and drop a vote for who you agree with.

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round

Worst Animated Sequel

With the final round we are returning to the worst of, this time in animated movies, we seem to get a lot of sequels that just don’t work, this is going to give us a chance to vent about the animated cash ins we didn’t want to see.

Next Round – This is going to be the final Opinion Battles in its current form, I would like to thank everyone for playing and voting along.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Atlantis: Milo’s Return

I wasn’t a fan of the first Atlantis, this sequel brings the character back in three separate stories as it was meant to be a pilot for a television series, which only make things worse. The mysterious are not interesting and by the end of the mini adventure we are left wondering just what was the point.

Milo –

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Christmas 2018: The Holiday Calendar (2018)

The Holiday Calendar (2018)

The Holiday Calendar

Director: Bradley Walsh

Cast: Kat Graham, Quincy Brown, Ethan Peck, Ron Cephas Jones, Genelle Williams, Ali Hassan, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll

A struggling but talented photographer inherits an antique holiday advent calendar, the contents of which seem to predict the future. Will this magical calendar lead her to love this holiday season? – IMDB

I’m going to be honest that I really only gave this one a chance because I really like Kat Graham in The Vampire Diaries. However, I wasn’t as much of a fan of her in Honey 2 so while I don’t know what The Holiday Calendar was about, I decided to take a chance anyways. I do want to say that on one side, I did work for what it was trying to deliver but if you really don’t have much tolerance for these kind of Hallmark films, then it might not be for you. I’m just going to lay it out so you don’t waste your time. I say this because The Holiday Calendar does nothing special. Everything you predict will probably happen right down to who she ends up being with in the end and even how she pieces together the “magic” calendar to the things she missed to leading her to the one. However, while being predictable isn’t particularly a good thing, there is enough fun bits here to make it enjoyable. Its heartwarming and talks about family and dreams and careers and taking chances and not just romance.

The Holiday Calendar

While the antique calendar itself has something of a spirit here in the background with a lot of presence because the film flows with what pops up in the window everyday, the movie does benefit a lot from Kat Graham who does a great job as Abby, a girl who is stuck at a day job that pays her bills but scared to live her own dreams. There’s this really fun element to her character and her friendship with Josh (Quincy Jones) has a lot of sweet moments to it also. Surprisingly, the parts that I liked the best are the ones where Abby talks to her grandfather because there is a lot of genuine and good bits to it all. The family moments and the picture moments and those bits also add to the experience.

The only thing I did feel about The Holiday Calendar is that there is this turning point moment in the middle which felt kind of awkward. It was this weird epiphany moment that kind of felt out of spot but it didn’t really last too long before things got back on track. If you like Hallmark holiday films, this one is pretty alright. Its pretty predictable but also has a nice heartwarming element and emphasizes on more than romance but also on family moments and a lot of Christmas-y moments.

Christmas 2018: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

A Christmas Prince The Royal Wedding

Director: John Schultz

Cast: Rose McIver, Ben Lamb, Alice Krige, Honor Kneafsey, Sarah Douglas, Theo Devaney, John Guerrasio, Andy Lucas, Simon Dutton, Katarina Cas

A year after helping Richard get to the throne, Amber is about to become his wife. But is she really made to be queen? – IMDB

Following last year’s A Christmas Prince (review), its been a year for us as we watched Amber and Richard fall in love and be engaged. This time, we’re watching Amber get ready for the Royal Wedding while Richard struggles with the modernization of the country whose initiative has made the country bleed money affecting jobs and such. To be fair, the only thing Christmas-y about this one is really that its set during Christmas and they do a lot of Christmas things like getting a tree and baking and Christmas pageants and such. This story is a romantic comedy about Amber as she struggles with following protocol and getting caught up in the whirlwind of everyone but herself having a say on her own wedding and we know what’s going to happen after that. A Christmas Prince (even the first one) is those stories that are predictable romantic comedies however, it seems the second one here still has a few laughs but has lost a bit, scratch that, a lot of the chemistry and charm.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

We can start with some of the good stuff. The Christmas decor was really nice. There was an overly exaggerated toboggan ride that I could get along with since it gave a link from the first to the second movie. There was a lot of Christmas activities which also worked since I am watching this for the holidays marathon so it matched the theme. It also emphasized family and friends a lot and that was fun. Some supporting characters like Mr. Zabala (Andy Lucas) adds a nice little twist to it. Then, I really like the little sister, Princess Emily (Honor Kneafsey) who adds a good deal of sharp humor here. Amber’s time with her friends also was pretty fun since it was a lot more natural, be it out investigating in disguise or be it having her mini bachelorette party.

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

Then, everything else falls apart. Most of you who have been around here know that I’m pretty lenient on rom-coms. Last year’s A Christmas Prince was a pretty alright one in the current state of romantic comedies, well as of last year. There were some nice moments and romantic chemistry and such. But this year, it wasn’t really about that anymore. Amber and Richard were rarely on screen and when they were, it was not exactly full of chemistry. I mean, I guess the ending kind of hinted that they could do a third one if this one is a success although after this one which was rather boring to watch for the most part and pretty predictable and let’s say, a little over the top especially with the Count Simon and her best friend moment that had so much cringe. Not to mention, they really wanted to add in the twist and smoke screen thing going on with why the kingdom was bleeding money and it was just so obvious who was behind it all.

I didn’t expect much from this one in the first place but A Christmas Prince: A Royal Wedding was a big disappointment from the first one. It does tick the Christmas holiday film bit but in the romantic comedy department, it no longer is that kind of category because the chemistry was pretty much not there since the two were not really on screen together much. It was more of a wedding planning movie. I guess I wasn’t too surprised since it panned out like I expected it would. I don’t hate it or like it, I’m kind of indifferent to be honest.  Although, I’d definitely hesitate on watching another sequel if they ever do one because there was something mentioned at the end in the movie that hints at maybe visiting this property again if this one works out.