Christmas 2018 Double Feature: Dreamworks Home For the Holidays (2017) & Trolls Holiday (2017)

Its Christmas day so I shifted things around to keep it light and fun. After some thought, the best is to put together another double feature of animated shorts. This time, it is two Dreamworks holiday specials, one for Home and the other for Trolls. Both of which I have not seen the films so watching their holidays special is going to be a completely new experience to dive into each of these worlds.

Let’s check it out!

Dreamworks Home: For the Holidays (2017)

Dreamworks Home For the Holidays

Director: Blake Lemons

Voice Cast: Rachel Crow, Mark Whitten, Ron Funches, Matt Jones, Atticus Shaffer, Ana Ortiz, Nolan North, Ben Schwartz, Kelly Clarkson

Oh takes it upon himself to introduce Christmas joy to his fellow Boovs. Unfortunately, his well-meaning mission nearly destroys the city. – IMDB

While I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Home For the  Holidays, there is something here that definitely didn’t quite hit the mark and that might have to do with the animation or the character design or even just the type of humor it chooses to have. I’m not sure its something that I’d go and watch the TV series for or the movie for.

The idea of Home is cute to say the least and the characters I see can work for the young children audience. For me though, I can’t say that it worked quite as much. It also has the idea that it reminded me a lot of Lilo and Stitch in a lesser way and I hold Lilo and Stitch very close to my heart. Home for the Holidays is a fun 45 minutes though. It has some nice tunes and songs to keep it lively. There is a strong Christmas holidays all throughout and even has parts for Kelly Clarkson and Ben Schwartz, both that I like quite a bit.

Some good and some bad but in terms of holiday cheer, this one does have quite a bit. As a family thing, it does seem like maybe it might be more for the kids than the parents. But then, I’m not a parent yet, so maybe I’m wrong.

Trolls Holiday (2017)

Trolls Holiday Special

Director: Joel Crawford

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, James Corden, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, Walt Dohrn, Kevin Michael Richardson

When the Queen of the Trolls, Poppy, finds out that the Bergens do not have holidays, she enlists help from her friends, Branch and the Snack Pack, to help her bring holidays to the Bergens. – IMDB

22 minutes of fun Trolls time. I’m going to be honest here that other than playing with actual Trolls toys in the 90s when I was a kid, I have never watched the movie before. I’ve heard the song from the movie sung by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick but other than that, I have no idea how it all goes. Suffice to say, this one seemed and was absolutely colorful and fun.

I’m a big fan of Anna Kendrick, whether its her acting and her singing. I think she’s so dynamic as an actress so I have full confidence in her capability. And my first experience with it here definitely proves that its a pretty fun time and a lot of it has to do with all the quality singing that goes into each scene. Its abundant but that is what highlights the talents of both Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake because it is their fortes. Of course, I can’t get past this one without talking about Bridget, voiced by Zooey Deschanel who I happen to love also. Trolls Holiday had all the cards on its side for me to absolutely enjoy and I did with all my heart. It was light, happy, colorful and fun. There’s a positive message about friendship and communication and listening.

While Trolls Holiday isn’t exactly a Christmas movie mostly because Poppy goes to her best friend, Bridget to pitch one of their many holidays to hopefully make them happier, it is still a happy experience because of how silly all the Trolls holidays are and how they present it.

This Dreamworks Christmas double feature is done!
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

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Christmas 2018: Christmas Wedding Planner (2017)

Christmas Wedding Planner (2017)

Christmas Wedding Planner

Director: Justin G. Dyck

Cast: Jocelyn Hudon, Stephen Huszar, Kelly Rutherford, Rebecca Dalton, Eric Hicks, Joey Fatone

Wedding Planner, Kelsey Wilson, is about to have her big break: planning her beloved cousin’s lavish and exclusive wedding. Everything is going smoothly until Connor McClane, a devilishly handsome private investigator, shows up and turns Kelsey’s world upside-down.  – IMDB

The good streak of holiday films plummets with Christmas Wedding Planner. It falls into the incredibly predictable movie even more than any other ones I’ve seen. There’s really awkward chemistry and lacking of romance also. I’m not exactly sure where to start. It did a few redeeming points and moments so it wasn’t something I hated just something I probably wouldn’t want to watch again.

Christmas Wedding Planner

Most of these holiday romance movies are already quite predictable and that is a given. It usually doesn’t bother me too much because the formula it has works when it pairs up a charming pair, a few funny and heartwarming moment and things still feel fun to watch because of this natural chemistry or whatever supporting cast and shenanigans and situation that it is in. Christmas Wedding Planner is missing a few of those elements. It feels a bit disjointed because the story does jump around fairly fast but then if it was longer, it probably wouldn’t have changed much for this story. It is really where it falls flat because it is about as generic as generic can get. On top of that, the cast itself didn’t really seem to be feeling it. Kelsey (Jocelyn Hudon) and Connor (Stephen Huszar) on paper did have dialogue that normally would be relatively okay but then some of the dialogue felt like it was so rehearsed that it didn’t feel natural anymore. That is where my problem with this works because they both look great together and when they aren’t talking and just looking at each other, you can feel the chemistry a tad but then the script kicks in and it just knocks it all down.

The saving grace here though, despite the script is Kelly Rutherford as Aunt Olivia. Kelly Rutherford has this elegance and charm that radiates through her role and it works with the role she is playing as the controlling and disapproving aunt and somewhat seems to have a change in her role towards Kelsey at the end. The other is Joey Fatone who is really just a supporting role as George, Connor’s brother but somehow it was fun to watch him do his little bit.

Overall, there isn’t much to say about Christmas Wedding Planner. I don’t have a whole lot that I liked about it. In terms of holiday, this is about a holiday wedding so there was a whole lot of that going on. The wedding dress and outfits are pretty nice. However, it was the script and the lack of chemistry between the romance interest in a good few moments that pulled it down for me.

Double Feature: Central Intelligence (2016) & Rampage (2018)

What better way to start the week than with a Dwayne The Rock Johnson double feature, right? That is really all I have to say. Today’s pairing is one that happened to work out so I deliberately delayed Central Intelligence to pair with Rampage which I rented a few weeks ago.

Lets check it out!

Central Intelligence (2016)

central intelligence

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Smith, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul

After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage. –IMDB

Jumping into comedies is a scary thing because you never know what type of humor is going to be on the other side. Baywatch (review) is a fine example of how humor didn’t work but the action did. Central Intelligence reminded me a little of Get Smart. There is a lot of over the top humor and somehow a part of me enjoyed it because Kevin Smith and Dwayne Johnson paired up and reminded me of the good old days in Hong Kong cinema when Stephen Chow and Andy Lau did God of Trickery (one of my fave films ever). Before long, I did buy into the humor and the random action and how great Dwayne Johnson’s character is and how scared and random reactions Kevin Smith had.

On top of all that, you get some great cameos with Jason Bateman and Aaron Paul which is pretty cool as well. Plus, there is this secondary story of how high school affects the present with a message about bullying and a positive message about standing up for who you are and all that good stuff. Its an action comedy and it remembers that all the time which makes it pretty well-paced with some exciting moments.

Rampage (2018)

rampage

Director: Brad Peyton

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Malin Akerman, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello

When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago. – IMDB

Rampage was on my anticipated list (I think) but my cinema track record this year is not too good so its all down to rentals to catch up. While Rampage didn’t get really good ratings, this sort of film is always up my alley. Big creatures, check. Dwayne Johnson in action, check. Video game adaptation, check. I went into this with the only expectation to have fun and let me tell you, I had some really pleasant surprises. It isn’t a masterpiece but there are some key things that I found here which I liked a lot and for those points, this one was entertaining.

Lets start with the elements I like, all the things I wanted delivered worked out really well. Three big creatures were done so well with the effects and graphics especially with Joe’s facial expression. Dwayne Johnson is also so charismatic in films and this one is no exception. There are some odd forced parts however, overall he wasn’t the issue. As a video game adaptation, it has the reputation to be a guilty pleasure and this one does fit into that category but then I do argue that most of The Rock’s films fall in that mindless entertainment category and it works for that purpose especially as I love not having to think too much during a film and just have fun.

Now, some good and some bad follows that part. I loved Malin Akerman as the villain here. She was quite impressive especially since the last thing I remember her in was 27 Dresses. I’m sure I’ve seen her in other things but I don’t remember right now. She did a fine job here. Now, I’m a little lukewarm on Jake Lacy, someone I thought did a fine job in Miss Sloane albeit a fairly smaller role. Here, he bordered a little on the annoying part. Talking about short roles though, Joe Manganiello has a cameo here and it comes and ends so quickly but his presence is always appreciated. My fave part though, has to be Jeffrey Dean Morgan and his role. Same goes for Naomie Harris who is an admirable actress that I really like in a lot of the roles she’s done. The cast here gave a lot of life to Rampage along with its creatures. Everything else was something of a generic sort of set-up but it managed to keep me interested and entertained so its a fun time overall.

That’s it for this Double Feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

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: 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.

Blood in the Snow Festival: The Whistler (Short, 2018)

The Whistler (2018)

The Whistler

Director (and writer): Jennifer Nicole Stang

Cast: Karis Cameron, Baya Ipatowicz, Nelson Leis, Alison Wandzura, John Emmet Tracy

Lindsey is forced to babysit her sister, Becky, one night, when, after innocently falling asleep, wakes up to find her sister gone. Someone has taken Becky and could be after her as well. – Blood in the Snow Festival

The Whistler is a short film that definitely feels very polished from the acting to the setting to the screenplay itself. While it only runs 11 minutes, the short film takes on quite a few memorable bits. One of the fun parts is its playful mentions of various iconic horror movies, for example a clever mention of Crystal Lake. The other one is having The Whistler start as a fairy tale or lore of sorts and build it from there, making us wonder on not only whether it is real or not but also how it ends.

As the movie brings in those elements of the fairy tale becoming a reality, the pieces fall into place and it all comes down to Lindsey who witnesses it all. The atmosphere and the music and sound effects here play a big part in making it all bring in a lot of the sinister feeling. Adding in some of the effects like how the eyes change and whatnot in the film that work just well enough for its purpose. At the same time, there keeps a creepy feeling that keeps us on the edge. At the same time, the cast of young actresses here do a great job in each of their roles.

There is still a sense of The Whistler being an indie film. However, whether we are talking about the acting and the cast or the story and the execution and all the effects, there is a lot to love here. It builds a nice atmosphere and its a fun little movie to watch. There is a nice twist of whether this is a fairy tale or the reality and the ending also brings in a bit of a question which can be interpreted from what was talked about previously in the film. Some of the bits here are slightly predictable but the sum of its parts definitely makes this one a short that I’d recommend.

The Whistler was a part of the Bloody Bits Showcase Part 2 at the Blood in the Snow Festival 2018.