Friday, December 19, 2014

Unconventional Christmas Movies: The Honorable Mentions

When it came time to narrow down the picks for 5 Unconventional Christmas Movies (click to read), there were inevitably a handful of films that didn’t quite make the list, some for being too sorrowful (i.e. “Frozen River”) and others for not featuring quite enough Christmas (i.e. “Catch Me If You Can”). Below are 7 movies that came close to making the list and why they deserve to be seen.

Honorable Mentions: Director David Cronenberg’s gritty Euro crime thriller “Eastern Promises” takes place during the yuletide season and follows a nurse’s (Naomi Watts) search for the maternal family members of an orphaned baby. Viggo Mortensen was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the tatted-up cleaner to a Russian mob family. The violence might have been its most buzzed about aspect upon its release but it’s the gentle romance between Watts’ valiant nurse and Mortensen’s intimidating mobster that really steals the show. 

To this point, Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear have not found better buddy chemistry than what they managed to strike up together in “The Matador”, a terrific dark comedy that’s second half takes place during Christmas. For another comedy there is the Nicolas Cage starrer “Trapped in Paradise”, which finds a trio of brothers (Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey) pulling off the easiest robbery of their criminal careers in Paradise, PA, only to be foiled by the Christmastime kindness of its citizens.

If you're looking for a more valiant Christmas movie, "Batman Returns" and "Iron Man 3" (another movie from Shane Black) both put a superhero spin on the Holidays.

Writer/Director Courtney Hunt’s searing debut drama, “Frozen River”, centers on a single mom (Melissa Leo) driven to drastic measures as she desperately tries to provide for her family, days before Christmas. Featuring tour de force performances from Melissa Leo, Misty Upham and Charlie McDermott; the film’s stark portrayal of its character’s hard scrabble existence is as inescapably haunting as it is genuinely poignant.

While not a straight-up Christmas movie, Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can” features quite a few memorable scenes set during the season. One of those notable sequences is a sad scene that plays out amidst Nat King Cole’s classic “Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”. There might not be many uplifting Christmas moments to be found in this one however, the majority of the movie carries itself on a lighthearted breeze.

CliffsNotes Version: In all, there are 7 honorable mentions; 1 crime thriller (“Eastern Promises”), 2 comedies (“The Matador”, “Trapped in Paradise”), 2 superhero movies ("Batman Returns", “Iron Man 3”), 1 dark drama (“Frozen River) and 1 biographical dramedy (“Catch Me If You Can”).

Want more Eclectic Christmas picks? Check out the articles below...
A List of 5 Unconventional Christmas Movies
12 Christmas TV-Movies Worth Watching
12 Eclectic Christmas Movies Filled with Holiday Spirit

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A List of 5 Unconventional Christmas Movies

#1 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang | Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer star in this dazzling pulp neo-noir set during a Christmas in Los Angeles. Downey Jr. is in top form as Harry Lockhart, a thief pretending to be an actor, who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery alongside a private eye (Kilmer) and aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan). Shane Black’s sleek direction and sharp screenplay perfectly compliment the fast-talking confidence and alluring screen persona of Downey Jr, while also bringing something remarkable out of Val Kilmer, who delivers a career best performance as Gay Perry. Setting this movie apart is the magnificent buddy chemistry Kilmer and Downey Jr. forge as two very different characters who emphatically synchronize in their collaboration. If you’re looking for a cool Christmas movie, this is just the ticket.

#2 Die Hard | One of the most iconic action films of the 80’s stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, an NYPD officer fighting on Christmas Eve to save his wife and other hostages from the clutches of a terrorist (Alan Rickman). There have been a total of five “Die Hard” movies and the original still remains the best of the bunch. It is also one of the best actioners of all time and that’s because it features all of the key ingredients; a smart aleck hero, a deliciously deranged villain and a likable damsel in distress. The original's most defining attribute is the exceptional villainy produced by Alan Rickman’s marvelous performance. John McTiernan’s riveting direction never makes the story feel claustrophobic and a crucial performance from “Family Matters” star Reginald VelJohnson perfectly rounds out an outstandingly entertaining thriller.

#3 The Long Kiss Goodnight | Director Renny Harlin’s follow up to the box office disaster “Cutthroat Island”, delivers a merriment of action packed pleasure and a fantastically kick-ass female lead. Geena Davis plays an amnesiac mom working as a schoolteacher in a small town, who is confronted with her deadly past when her daughter is abducted by armed assailants. Starting to regain her memory, she teams up with a determined private investigator (Samuel L. Jackson) and the two set off on a mission to bring her daughter home and settle the score with her former employers. “Long Kiss” is a fun action adventure that is further propelled by Davis and Jackson’s seamless teamwork as a screen duo. As with the aforementioned “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, Shane Black’s script offers a clever spin on Christmas and mysterious intrigue. 

#4 Just Friends | Ryan Reynolds stars as a successful Hollywood music producer, who is forced to return to his hometown for Christmas. Having left home years earlier, after a humiliating ordeal that included the rejection of his dream girl/best friend in high school, he’s undergone a major makeover both physically and personality wise. Now an outgoing cad, the once nerdy Chris (Ryan Reynolds) returns determined to win the affection of his beloved Jamie (a wonderfully cast Amy Smart). “Just Friends” is a relatable tale that wears its heart on its sleeve, embracing rom-com canon with a clever enough variance to feel unique. Reynolds’ comedic turn powers the movie with an affable charm that is irresistibly infectious. While a stand out soundtrack featuring the guilty pleasure classic “I Swear” from All-For-One puts a sweetly nostalgic, sonic punctuation mark on the satisfying comedy.

#5 Edward Scissorhands | It isn’t until the climax of Tim Burton’s crown jewel that Christmas comes into play and when it does, it is in an especially pivotal way. The film’s memorable yuletide denouement is a haunting conclusion to one of cinema’s most off-the-wall and heartfelt stories. A whimsical saga with a gothic touch, it conveys a bevy of morals, from acceptance and compassion to the meaning of family. “Edward Scissorhands” is a brilliantly peculiar piece of movie magic that captivates with an enduring sentimentality. The film that would bolster the rising star of Johnny Depp, “Scissorhands” saw Depp break teen idol protocol as a character physically disguised and emotionally distinguished. A modern classic that includes meaningful values, this contemporary fairytale is what an unconventional Christmas movie is all about.

Want more Eclectic Christmas picks? Check out the articles below...
A List of 5 Unconventional Christmas Movies: The Honorable Mentions
12 Christmas TV-Movies Worth Watching
12 Eclectic Christmas Movies Filled with Holiday Spirit

Eclectic Pop News: My Final Episode on "The Dr. Bones Show" segment Bloggers Corner

Dear Readers, the time has come for me to announce the end of my tenure on The Dr. Bones Show segment “Bloggers Corner”. My last show will be this coming Friday (12/19/2014). The past year has been a beyond fulfilling experience and I would like to thank Dr. Bones for giving me the chance to be a part of his podcast. I had never even so much as called into a radio station before starting his show, so for him to give me this opportunity was remarkably generous. I am truly grateful for his leap of faith and patience as I attempted to learn the ropes of podcasting. I have greatly enjoyed all of the more than 100 episodes we’ve done and feel fortunate to have been a part of them.

A giant thank you all of the people who’ve listened to “Bloggers Corner” over the past year and promoted the show on social media. Your support has meant more than words can express and I am deeply appreciative that you took the time out of your day to listen.

The reason for my departure is simply, time. Having grown an increasingly precious commodity, Eclectic Pop and other writing endeavors, need as much of it as possible. That's not to say I wouldn't be willing to occasionally guest on a podcast if there were an invitation.

I’ll always cherish the time I had on “Bloggers Corner” and look back on it with great fondness. I hope you will tune in for the farewell show. I’m certain it will be an episode to remember and I’d love to share it with all of you. Best wishes to my successor, may they enjoy themselves as much as I did.

As always thank you for your support,
Britt (Sole Contributor to Eclectic Pop)

Update: Click here to listen to the Farewell Episode

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let's Talk About...[Spoiler Alert] Being Killed Off "Revenge"

Attention: If you do not want to know which character was killed off of this week’s episode of “Revenge”, read no further…

Let's Talk About...5 Things Concerning "Mockingjay: Part 1"

If you’ve read Eclectic Pop’s review of the latest installment in the Hunger Game series (click here to read), you probably know where this is going. Since a review can only go so far, this companion piece aims to dig deeper with 5 specific issues that encumbered “Mockingjay: Part 1”.

The Real Katniss| Katniss is broken and openly tormented, a soul that has seen grave turmoil and as a role model for survival, she’s positively fitting. As a kick-ass heroine who emits an inner strength and tough demeanor, she falls flat. She doesn’t possess the forceful will of a strong heroine. Nor does she come across as a leader. The most puzzling aspect of the movies is that characters insist she possesses the latter quality in droves. 

Why Should We Care About Prim? | After three movies, one of the underlying mysteries of the series is why, besides her being the sister of the main protagonist, we should particularly care about Prim. She hasn’t done anything worthwhile or heroic to prove worthy of all of the fuss. She doesn't even seem to grasp or demonstrate gratitude for the depth of Katniss' tremendous sacrifice on her behalf. To add insult to injury in “Mockingjay: Part 1” she risks her life and by extension Katniss’ to save her cat. Her priorities in the war zone are severely underwhelming. Where is the kid who’s grown up to fast under adult circumstances? She is childish beyond belief. As a character, Prim often appears to be a plot device and nothing more. 

What is the Prime Directive of the “Good Guys”? | For all of the talk of revolt and the need to rebel against the Capital, the “good guys” have not offered a lot of insight into how they plan to improve the living conditions of the Districts. The apparent train of thought is that anything other than the Capital is the solution. However, without the Districts being knowledgeable as to the founding principles of the new regime, their efforts can only be seen as futile. Lastly, why has there been no talk of a democratic election? Instead everyone is shown rallying to replace one dictatorship with another. 

Peeta and Katniss = No Love Story | Throughout “Mockingjay” Katniss is repeatedly told that she is in love with Peeta and this revelation is about as easy to swallow as shards of glass. Her indifference and forced affection towards him is about as lacking in passion as you can possibly get. There is no visible or viable romance. Despite her screams for his safety, there has never been a shared moment between them in the entire franchise that has ever felt slightly genuine. It’s a shame because portraying a love that’s learned, rather than the ever popular notion of a love at first sight connection would’ve been a powerful story to see play out. 

Effie, the Make-Up and the Wardrobe | As Effie reunites with her pals at District 13 headquarters she bemoans the loss of her wardrobe and beautification paraphernalia. It is hard to take the plight of a woman longing for her clown wig and make-up seriously. If she worked at Ringling Bros. it would make sense that she had lost her identity. Otherwise it breaks credulity. One of the problems facing the conceptualization of the Capital is that their wardrobe is so distractingly surreal, they appear vividly cartoonish. It’s hard to imagine that a mass populace would find looking like circus performers appealing. Further distracting from any of the reality the movies attempt to periodically inject, no one mentions to Effie that she would look better with a major make under. Hopefully the last movie will include a transformation for her that incorporates her unique style and celebrates her natural self.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

TV Rundown: Nov 30 - Dec 5 | Arrow vs. The Flash & more!

The Flash vs. Arrow | The highly anticipated crossover event between the superhero series delivered a dazzling two hours of television. Sharp and dramatically gratifying, the episodes soared with heartfelt humor, great action and terrific performances. The special event brought out the best in both shows; “Arrow” getting a much needed dose of levity and “The Flash” receiving a mild injection of solemnity. The camaraderie between the cast was exceedingly palatable, each team complimenting the other. Apart they’re good, together they were great. Diggle especially benefited from the episodes, as he was given some of the best material he’s ever had to play. Barry brought the best out of Oliver, generating more animation and warmth from the verdant crusader than we’ve seen in a long time. 

Cisco’s infectious exhuberance and boyish wonder at Arrow HQ was a beyond enjoyable sequence that “Arrow” desperately needed. It’s been a long time since anyone acted excited about the cool gadgetry and action packed world of Team Arrow. There is so much darkness on the series, that light barely creeps through in most episodes and with characters like the ones on “The Flash” aboard, the level of luminosity was the equivalent of a disco ball and Christmas tree's lights combined. The tenderness of the crossover was superbly anchored by the venerable Joe, Jesse L. Martin in a quiet performance that shined as Joe faced Barry’s personality altered fury. Martin’s changing expressions conveying how deep Barry’s brutal words had cut.

A marvelous episode that was nothing short of amazing, “The Flash” and “Arrow” need to team up more often. All of the plotlines moved forward and none of them were boring. The events of this episode will have season long consequences for both shows and it set up significant intrigue to see how it will all play out. With the series tied together, one can only hope this won’t be the last time they cross paths.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Movie Review | The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The depressing and sorrowful story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) continues in this maudlin three-quel. Picturing a bigger downer as an intro for a movie is hard to do. Within the first few minutes a character wishes everyone were dead as Katniss writhes in tears shouting at anyone who will listen about the events of the previous movie. The story picks up right after “Catching Fire” with Katniss having been moved to the rebel headquarters of District 13. Safe and reunited with her mother and Prim, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) introduces her to President Coin (Julianne Moore) and works to recruit her as the Mockingjay, better known as the face of the District 13 movement. 

The rest of the movie consists of Katniss struggling with her identity as the reluctant Mockingjay as she engages in propaganda pieces. In case there is any confusion, Katniss doesn’t want the mantle of greatness, it is simply thrust upon her. She is transparently disinterested in being a symbol of hope, justice or anything else, so how anyone would feel comforted or life affirmed with a visit from the visibly distraught Miss Everdeen is next to impossible to fathom. She lacks the inner fortitude, energy or zeal of a leader capable of sparking people to action. It’s this crucial aspect of the movie that makes the whole story fall apart. If Katniss were fighting bad guys with Kleenex she might have a shot, otherwise she’d be out of luck.

Francis Lawrence’s direction maintains a slow and steady pace that makes its abrupt conclusion all the more jilting as a result. What exactly the point is of this bridge sequel it is not apparent. There’s nothing cinematic in nature for this particular narrative and there are few developments that move the story forward. There is only defeat, hopelessness and agony for all involved. We’ve heard it all before and in other movies, it sounded much better. Where a film like “Equilibrium” succeeded in portraying a brutal totalitarian government, conveying the plight of its citizens and creating a flawed hero worth rooting for to staggering effect; “Mockingjay” fails.

As Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is stilted, exhibiting bursts of emotion that strike with blunt ambivalence and barren texture. Philip Seymour Hoffman on the other hand delivers a splendidly nuanced and assured performance that broadcasts more than the script gives him the opportunity to say. In his hands, Plutarch is a seemingly well intentioned puppet master with a dangerous edge and a silver tongue. Offering the most intriguing characterization of the entire series, Hoffman easily elevates the overall quality of the movie. Likewise, Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore turn in measured performances that are dazzlingly understated, while accented with an underlying vigor.

Of its redeeming qualities, “Mockingjay” offers a sort of rumination on celebrity and how a star can bring hope to the public. Boosting morale is one of the powers they posses, a positive aspect that comes with the strange phenomena of fame. Katniss is clearly hesitant to embrace it and while some might view that as noble, here it comes off as pretentious. It’s the least she can do for the people around her and quite frankly, it isn’t that much of a sacrifice. The only thing that would explain her unenthusiastic conduct is if she doubted what she’s fighting for is truly the right position. However, there is no indication that she does nor is there any evidence that she should. It’s all quite cagey.

With one installment left, Part 1 doesn’t incite excitement for the final chapter. Instead it draws a feeling of dread for what’s to come. Humorless and devoid of any feel good moments, Part 1 is a composite of tragedies that never lets up and spotting the light at the end of the tunnel is a strenuous endeavor. Then again the simple answer might just be, there is little light to be seen. Rating 5/10