Earth to Echo (2014) Movie Review

Earth to Echo

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford
Director: Dave Green
Release Date: 2 July 2014
Language: English
Length: 91 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: DVD
My Rating

Synopsis:

“ When a construction project begins in their neighborhood, four friends (Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt) start receiving bizarre encoded text messages on their cell phones. Setting out to find the origin of the texts, the group stumbles on an astonishing answer. ” — Netflix.com

Review:

I was disappointed with this movie.  I thought the previews looked like fun and was expecting an action-packed sci-fi adventure only to find a amateurish, unfulfilling mess.  Echo is a cute little alien who ends up Earth to Echo Movie Posterstranded on Earth and needs help repairing his ship to go home.  He communicates through our cell phone technology.  For some reason, he targets three friends (Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig) in a neighborhood that has been taken over by eminent domain to make room for a government project.  I was expecting the movie to take off from there and be a rip-roaring Goonies-like adventure with an alien thrown in or maybe an intense alien thriller with child stars like Super 8, but I felt like I was watching someone’s home movie instead.  The camera was really shaky.  I know that it was supposed to make us feel like we were part of the action, but I still think it is an unprofessional choice for a major motion picture.  If you are a brand new filmmaker and making your first movie, maybe I will give it to you, but Earth to Echo was released by Disney and I am used to a higher quality product.

The CGI on Echo was good, when he was shown, which was infrequent.  The child actors did a fine job, but I hated the ending and felt like the whole movie was pointless.  Ella Wahlestedt is thrown in the mix as a the token hot girl whom one of the boys like and this opened up the action to some more mature content than I was expecting.  The kids are hanging out in bars and the action took us to some teen parties with drinking and making out.  I was a bit surprised as I thought that the movie was targeted to preteens as a sci-fi action thriller just for their age group.  It would have been a stronger film if they focused on the group being split up, but getting together to help Echo, which someone changed their situation.

I watched this movie at home with my sister, her husband and their five children.  While I did not care for the movie and would have returned it Earth to Echo Skylinemostly unwatched, the rest of the group was much more interested and watched the whole movie without interruption.  The children, in particular, seemed riveted on the movie so maybe I am being too harsh.  This might be a case of the movie really hitting its target demographic as my nieces and nephews are 12, 11, 10, 9 and 4 and they seemed to enjoy the whole movie.  If you have children at home, they may enjoy this movie, but I feel that there are many better movies out there to watch with your children.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of drinking, smoking, and underage partying with teenagers drinking and making out.  The kids break a lot of laws to help Echo, lie to their parents and are running around at night to try to get Echo’s ship repaired.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Filed under Children & Family Movies, Disney, Science Fiction Movies

Death in Paradise: Season 1 (2011) Review

Death in Paradise: Season 1

TV Review by Debbie Winkler

Watch Season 1 Full Episodes on YouTube!

Series: Death in Paradise Season 1, Episodes 1 – 8
Starring: Ben Miller, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Don Warrington
Director: Various
Release Date: 2011
Language: English
Length: 466 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

“Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Richard Poole (Ben Miller) is sent to the Caribbean island of Sainte Marie to solve a fellow policeman’s (Hugo Speer) murder.  Having done so, he finds himself seconded to the local police force as the dead man’s replacement.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I fell in love with the Death in Paradise series from the first episode!  I love a good crime drama series and this one not only has some great crimes, but it is funny, which is an increasingly rare combination.  In Season 1, Ben Miller stars as Detective Inspector Richard Poole.  He is Death in Paradisea brilliant detective, but very exacting and not very well liked.  In fact, his office throws a party to celebrate his absence when he is transferred to the Caribbean.  Poole hates the Caribbean.  He insists on wearing his British suits complete with tie and formal lace-up shoes.  This leaves him sweating in the heat, refusing to walk on the sand and trying to avoid the laid-back hobbies of the Islanders at all costs.  Poole can’t stand seafood, has no love for the French, who colonized the island generations ago, and is frustrated by his inability to find a proper cup of tea.  So, of course, the gorgeous Caribbean island of Sainte Marie holds no appeal for him.  I found it very entertaining to see Poole try to adapt to his new surroundings.  Everything that tourists know and love about beach life is available to Poole, but he doesn’t enjoy any of it!

The supporting cast here in Season 1 ably supports Ben Miller and his character.  Sara Martins plays Detective Sergeant Camille Bordey.  She is a beautiful female officer with French roots who never understands Poole.  Camille is bright and a little bitter that she is constantly passed over for promotions based on her sex.  There is a hint of romance that Death in Paradise Crewdevelops between Poole and Camille, but I am not sure that it will ever come to anything as these two have nothing in common outside of their jobs.  Danny John-Jules plays Officer Dwayne Meyers.  He is an experienced policeman who likes to have a good time.  Dwayne knows all of the bad guys on the island and is a fount of information about local music and religion.  Officer Fidel Best (Gary Carr) is the newbie.  He is eager and willing to prove that he has what it takes to be a great policeman.  I was charmed by Gary Carr’s portrayal of a young person starting out in a tough profession.  He tries so hard to impress Poole and to become a great investigator.  These four form the core of the first season and really worked well together in a full believable, organic unit.

The first season of Death in Paradise features a lot of gorgeous Sainte Marie scenery and plenty of tidbits about the local culture and island life.  There are 8 episodes in this season and they are each about 1 hour-long (about 56 – 57 minutes each).  Each episode is fully encapsulated Death in Paradise Two Leadsand can be watched as a standalone unit, which is a refreshing change in a crime drama series.  All of the mysteries are varied and unexpected.  I rarely was able to guess who the murderer was, which was wonderful!  I was delighted to learn about everything from voodoo, destination weddings, the local music scene, smuggling, real estate scams, tropical fever, and more!  It was nice to have a touch of the exotic added to the crimes and I liked learning about the less-attractive side of paradise.  My favorite was the third episode where the group is investigating the death of a voodoo priestess who daughter disappeared 15 years earlier.  It was wonderful to see Poole put together the pieces to solve an unsolvable crime!

If you enjoy crime dramas, you will be sure to enjoy Death in Paradise.  It is definitely lighter fare and Poole reminded me quite a bit of Monk, but in a good way.  Poole always manages to solve the crimes by putting together seemingly insignificant details that everyone else overlooks.  My favorite part about the series is that Poole finally finds a place where he is accepted and belongs, even though he doesn’t realize it.  Poole is fully accepted by the Sainte Marie team and they not only respect his process, but are fascinated by it.  The cinematography is gorgeous and the mysteries are interesting.  Death in Paradise is another great series put out by BBC.

Content:

This series contains murders in every episode.  The victims’ bodies are shown briefly.  The police discuss forensic details, methods, means and motives for murder, etc. in regards to each crime.  The characters drink and hang out in a local bar.  Other characters have extramarital affairs, illegitimate children, smuggle people/drugs/diamonds/weapons, participate in crimes such as murder for hire, money laundering, blackmail, etc.  Nothing is too salacious or inappropriate for younger viewers.  The series is relatively clean in comparison to other crime dramas.  There is no bad language.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 Opening Ceremony is Absolutely Enchanting!

Sochi Opening Ceremony 1I finally watched the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and found it absolutely enchanting.  The Russians really stepped up the opening ceremony for the winter games.  I thought that nothing could compare to the Chinese opening ceremony from a few years back and, in some ways, I was right.  However, Sochi was able to create their own unique, memorable experience that was just as mind-blowing and impressive in its own way as the Chinese opening ceremony was.

Sochi Opening Ceremony 2

The music was gorgeous, lush and evocative – it completely swept me away!  The performers were earnest, well-rehearsed and performed very well.  The technology of the stadium was the special piece, however.  I loved the scrolling map on the floor of the stadium when the athletes were entering.  I was enthralled by the three-dimensional scenery with oceans, forests, factories, and more so fantastically portrayed.  The Sochi Olympic Committee really stepped up their game with the Opening Ceremony and it was a sight to see!

Sochi Opening Ceremony 3

I personally found the Sochi portrayal of Russian history from the ancient peoples to the modern-day to be fascinating.  That is not to say that it is accurate, as I am sure there is some artistic license involved and, of course, differences in political opinion.  I appreciated that the Russians were able to incorporate their many fine achievements throughout the performance and storytelling.  In light of our political differences, it is easy to forget that the Russians excel at dance, music, writing and many other artistic pursuits that are celebrated the world over.  The Sochi Opening Ceremony reminded me of all that Russia has offered to us over the last decades and softened the memory of the Cold War a little bit.

Sochi Opening Ceremony 4

I appreciated the brief speeches that the Sochi Olympic President and the IOC president offered.  I particularly appreciated the reminder that the Olympics are about the athletes, not politics or differences between countries.  I hated that NBC started their Opening Ceremony coverage with some lame comment about how, if we lived in a perfect world, we would not have to talk about politics during the Olympic games, but that we don’t live in a perfect world so we do have to talk about it.  Uh, no, we don’t.  Let Putin put on a spectacle and show off his country to the world.  Let the Russians dream of a better future rather than dwell on what they have lost.  Let the Olympics remind us that we are all the same, striving to do our best and fighting to achieve the impossible.  Let us remember that the Olympics were created to let the world forget, for a short time, that there are any differences between us.

APTOPIX Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

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Filed under Olympics, Sochi Olympics 2014 (Winter)

NBCOlympics.com Website Overpromises and Underwhelms

Screenshot of NBCOlympics Website for Full Replay

It’s been a rocky start to the Sochi Olympics.  I am not talking about the inability to flush toilet paper, the euthanized dogs and cats or even the poor quality of the hotels.  No, I am talking about the bitter disappointment I feel in regards to NBCOlympics.com.  When I initially read about NBC’s declaration that they would be stream every event live on their website, I was thrilled.  Finally, I can watch random sports in their entirety without a TV producer deciding what was exciting and what wasn’t.  Unfortunately, reality has proven to be far less than I was expecting.

On the first day of the Olympics, February 6, I eagerly logged onto NBCOlympics.com first thing in the morning, logged in with my Time Warner Cable information and looked for live streaming of the Women’s Mogul Qualifications.  All I could find was a single video about Hannah Kearney, which included her gold medal run from 2010.  Um, I don’t care.  I want to see the Sochi qualifications.  Okay, maybe NBC is having some trouble with their website.  Perhaps the live streaming isn’t working and I can watch videos of events that have already completed.  I immediately clicked on the Snowboarding link on the top of the website and looked for a video on the Men’s Snowboarding Slopestyle Qualifications, which took place at 10 am in Sochi.  All they had were some pictures and a video of Shaun White explaining what the new Slopestyle event was less than mellow.  I clicked on the other events on their menus at the top of the screen and came up with past medal totals, clips on what athletes do in their spare time and more, but nothing in regards to the actual events that took place on February 6 before I woke up halfway around the world.

After a few frustrating minutes attempting to navigate the NBC Olympics website, I exited to Google and tried to search for NBC Olympics Live Extra.  I was immediately to taken to a video of the Men’s USA vs. Canada gold medal hockey game – in its entirety – from 2010.  I clicked on Watch Video on the menu on the top of the screen and was taken to – gasp! – a video that promised me that I could watch the full replay of the Alpine Skiing: Men’s Downhill Training 1.  I quickly clicked on play and waited impatiently through the commercial only to end up watching a clip about Ted Ligety cooking in his kitchen.  WHAT?!  Don’t get me wrong, I like Ted Ligety.  He seems like a nice guy and he is the Olympic flag bearer, but I want to watch an actual Olympic event!  I exited out of the cooking video and clicked randomly on everything I could on the website, results, schedule, individual sports and the enticing Watch Video menu.  Finally, I was able to come up with a Live Stream of the Ice Skating Team Event featuring the pairs competition (I missed the men’s portion and could not go back and watch it from the beginning).  Don’t ask me how I found this as I am confident that I could not replicate my success.

Once I finally located a video, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some knowledgeable commentators come on and offer some insights as to what exactly the new team event is and how well the skaters were doing in the pairs event.  Commercial breaks were inserted randomly and distractingly in the middle of comments, replays and, most frustratingly, during the results.  Most commercial breaks were brief and only involved 1 or 2 ads, but NBC went all out during the warm ups and re-icing and played solid 5+ minutes of ads.  Fortunately, I located a mute button handily displayed on the bottom of the video and clicked that whenever I saw an ad come on.

Fast forward to February 7 and my second attempt on NBCOlympics.com.  I happily watched the Full Replay of the Alpine Skiing: Men’s Downhill Training 1 and the Full Replay of the Team Figure Skating including the Men and the Pairs by using the Top Highlights and Replays menu on the left of the screen.  Unfortunately, I was unable to determine if there was anything to watch live on the Schedule as the screen featuring the schedule is all messed up and keeps showing me February 8 regardless of which date I click on.

So far, I am underwhelmed with NBC’s online presence.  I don’t know if it was the fact that I set my expectations too high or if I misunderstood their press release, but I am not satisfied.  I find NBCOlympics.com difficult to navigate, frustratingly light on videos of actual events, and a huge memory/space/bandwidth sucker.  Be careful if you leave this website open as it will refresh itself constantly without any intervention on your part.  Accept the fact that you will have to watch a commercial before you can see the length of the video or even know if you selected the correct video.  Be prepared to wait for videos to buffer and for commercials to come up randomly without any timing rhyme or reason. If you are fortunate enough to find an event that you can stream live, make sure you go to the bathroom before it begins as there is no way to pause the action.

nbc sochi 2014 logo

Bottom Line – It is 2014 and I know that we can do better.  NBCOlympics.com may look pretty, but all of its bells and whistles can’t disguise the facts that the videos of the actual Olympics events are nowhere to be found.  The pretty pictures and pop up ads ensure that you will have delays in loading the page, some spacing issues with menus compressing and disappearing off the screen, buffering delays, stop script messages, crash notifications and other random error message I am unfamiliar with.  Everyone is spending their time complaining about the Sochi amenities, but I would give just about anything to be there to actually get to SEE the events when they happen!

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Filed under Olympics, Sochi Olympics 2014 (Winter)

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002) Movie Review

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: A Peanuts Movie
Starring: Wesley Singerman, Serena Berman, Corey Padnos, Megan Taylor Harvey, Chrystopher Ryan Johnson
Director: Larry Leichliter
Release Date: 8 December 2002
Language: English
Length: 18 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

The Peanuts gang is ready to celebrate Christmastime again in this new holiday special.  Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) tries to persuade Schroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Johnson)  to go ice skating.  Snoopy gathers money for charity while dressed as Santa Claus.  Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) doesn’t know what he wants for Christmas and struggles to write a letter to Santa Claus.  Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) decides to make everyone a gift this year.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) attempts to make a Christmas card for the cute little red-haired girl in his class.  Join your favorite Peanuts characters as they prepare for Christmas.

Review:

This Christmas special was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I enjoyed it, but it was very abrupt and quite brief.  It clocks in at app. 17 minutes (you can watch the whole video above!) so it couldn’t even be broadcast on TV as a half-hour Linus Writes a Letter to Santaspecial unless they padded it with a lot of commercials!  They had some really funny ideas to present in the cartoon, but they were all so short!  Instead of trying to come up with some longer plot lines to thread through the smaller vignettes, they just kind of lump them all together and jump from character to character and idea to idea without any link between them.  It felt like I was watching all of Charles Schultz’s Christmas comic strips in an animated form.  Each thought could have been rather easily adapted to a Sunday comic strip format, which works great in a newspaper, but is not quite as entertaining in a cartoon.

All of the main characters have an opportunity to participate in several brief sequences.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) pops up quite frequently, but he is not really the star in this special.  He is mainly the foil for other characters as they need his help with other activities.  Charlie Brown is Snoopy as Santa Clausembarrassed to walk Snoopy (voice by Bill Melendez) to the corner where he plays Santa Claus to gather funds for charity.  He also wants to know why Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) cannot agree to be nice to him all year long when Lucy approaches him to say that one of her holiday resolutions is to treat him more kindly.  Lucy seems to be the star here and she and her brothers, Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) and Rerun (voice by Timmy Deters), appear in most of the cartoon.  In the beginning, Lucy ignores Snoopy, a wonderful ice skater, to try to persuade Shroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Lucy Watching Snoopy SkateJohnson) to partner her in the skating show, but Shroeder is a hockey player and refuses to join her.  Rerun asks Snoopy (thinking he is Santa Claus) why Santa didn’t bring him everything on the list the previous year, only be scared off by Snoopy.  Linus tries several times to write a letter to Santa Claus – including giving Santa permission to skip their house! – until he finally gives up and just tells Santa to bring him a surprise.  Linus then tries to send a Christmas card to a girl that he likes in his class who sits behind him, but the little girl changes her name every day and he doesn’t know who to address it to!

Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) provides some of the funniest sequences as she is young enough to not really understand everything that is going on.  She decides to make paper airplanes for everyone as a Christmas gift this year.  Sally then proceeds to write a letter to Samantha Claus and, rather than correcting Sally's Treeher, Charlie Brown just lets her go on believing what she wants to believe.  It is the other children at school who set her straight!  Sally also tries to get a Christmas tree for her family, but she doesn’t know how to cut down a tree.  She decides that she will just stare at a tree until it falls down and then bring it home.  However, the owners of the tree do not quite agree that the tree belongs to Sally.  This was one of the longer stories and it was quite entertaining.  I feel that the writers of this Christmas special could have done a bit more to extend any and/or all of these subplots into a 2 – 5 minute sequence instead of a 30 seconds – 1 minute sequence.  It just felt like all of the stories were so rushed!  I didn’t even have a chance to do more than smile in reaction before the next story was up on the screen!

This Christmas special will appeal to little children most of all as I am sure that they will appreciate the brevity.  The Peanuts gang is also given a face-lift and the colors are brighter with a slightly different style of animation than the Charlie's Christmas Cardoriginal Peanuts specials.  The characters are all still recognizable, however, and the vocal talents are similar enough to the originals that none of the new voices jumped out at me in a negative way.  Even though this is not my favorite Peanuts special, there is still a great deal to enjoy.  This special is so short and moves so rapidly that there is always time to squeeze it into my holiday viewing, which is a definite plus.  If you are a fan of the Peanuts gang or looking for a fun cartoon to share with some little kids around the holidays, this is a nice little filler.

Content:

This cartoon features some mild violence and rather stunning verbal put downs.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Christmas

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008) Movie Review

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Henry Winkler, Brooke Burns, Warren Christie, Connor Christopher Levins, Woody Jeffreys
Director: Michael Scott
Release Date: 13 December 2008
Language: English
Length: 88 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Retired policeman, Ralph (Henry Winkler), is on his way to his niece’s house for Christmas when he makes friends with a stranger, Morgan (Warren Christie), at the airport.  Morgan has no place to go for Christmas and is ready to sleep on the airport floor while he waits for a flight to Colorado and his new job, but Ralph has other ideas.  He persuades his niece, Jennifer (Brooke Burns), to let Morgan stay with them for a few days.  Jennifer isn’t happy about it, but she desperately needs help cooking her first Christmas turkey and Morgan is a chef so she lets Ralph talk her into it.  Morgan isn’t in Jennifer’s home for long before he realizes that she doesn’t seem to have much of a Christmas spirit.  Morgan, Ralph and Brian (Connor Christopher Levins), Jennifer’s son, band together to make this Christmas one that Jennifer will never forget.

Review:

I always enjoy watching the Hallmark Christmas movies during the holidays, but Henry Winklermost of them are just average.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better ones.  I tuned in to watch it because Henry Winkler is the movie.  It was so fun to see him in a movie again!  Henry Winkler  plays Uncle Ralph and is a real character.  He is a retired policeman, so he is tough, but he definitely has a soft, squishy center.  Honestly, Ralph’s character seemed to be a grown-up Fonz from Happy Days, which is probably why I liked him so much!  I also appreciated that Henry Winkler was not afraid to act silly and have fun with his role.  No sense in resting on your dignity at an old age, I say!

The main plot deals with the romance developing between Morgan (Warren Christie) and Jennifer (Brooke Burns), who are polar opposites.  Morgan is a free spirit who has worked all over the world and has no permanent address.  He loves the Christmas season and quizzes Jennifer down on why she doesn’t enjoy Jennifer and Morganthe holiday as much.  Jennifer is a hardworking single mom who doesn’t have time for Christmas.  She sees no point in opening Christmas cards when the person’s name is on the outside of the envelope, has been sending Christmas cards to people she can’t remember for years and has the only undecorated house on the block.  Jennifer is seriously involved with a jeweler, Richard (Woody Jeffreys), but, of course, we all know that Jennifer and Morgan will end up together somehow.  Before the movie starts, you know how it will begin and it doesn’t take long before you know how it will end, but that doesn’t mean you know what happens in between.  It was a lot of fun to see these two characters interact and argue.  Jennifer creatively manages to locate the hot Hanging the LightsChristmas toy for the season for her son, Brian, but it is Morgan’s quick-thinking that enables them to actually get the toy in time for Christmas.  My particular favorite was the Christmas decorating.  Jennifer’s next-door neighbor is extremely upset that Jennifer’s house is the only one that is not decorated on the block.  Morgan gets drafted to hang the lights and very carefully inserts a single red bulb into the strand of white lights to drive the woman crazy – love it!

Morgan makes several good points about the holidays in this movie and it reminded me of how much I love the Christmas season.  I look forward to December for weeks and then, when Christmastime is upon me, it is so stressful that I can’t wait for it to be over.  This is such a horrible attitude to have and the Most Wonderful Time of the Yearwriters of this movie totally called me on it!  Watching this movie reminded me of all of the crazy things that I do not enjoy about the holiday like the pressure to decorate because your neighbors are, the huge feast that we force ourselves to make for guests we don’t even like, the eternal debate between real and fake Christmas trees, sending countless Christmas cards to people who don’t remember you and don’t care, and spending countless hours shopping for the perfect gift.  What I loved about the movie was Morgan and Ralph’s handling of the stress and pressure of the holidays.  Yes you can look at it as a huge list of things to do, but there are so many wonderful things that happen around Christmastime that it is totally worth it and this movie reminded me of that.  There are ways to have fun while performing all of these chores and Brian’s character, played by an adorable Connor Christopher Levins, helped me remember why it is all worth it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is one of the better made-for-TV movies made in recent years and I am confident that your family will enjoy watching it Most Wonderful Time of the Year 2together.  There are plenty of little laughs and funny sequences for the younger children to get a giggle in, a handsome hero and beautiful girl who fall in love for the teens and a little bit of everything for the adults.  The DVD is very inexpensive for this movie, but I recommend catching it on TV around Christmastime so that it is something special to look forward to.  If you need a bit of a boost to feel the Christmas spirit and are looking for something new and different, this movie will be sure to fit the bill.

Content:

This movie contains a scene with partial nudity, but the actress is completely wrapped up in a towel so nothing is really shown.  There are some verbal arguments and disagreements, but nothing violent.  There is some drinking of alcohol and very mild swearing.  Recommended for viewers ages 5 and up.

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Filed under Christmas, Romance Movies, Romantic Comedy Movies

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Movie Review

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Rankin Bass Christmas Classic
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Release Date: 10 December 1974
Language: English
Length: 51 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Santa (voice by Mickey Rooney) wakes up one morning and decides he is too old, too tired and too sore to deliver Christmas presents this year.  Even his doctor assures him that no one will miss him if he doesn’t go out on his yearly sleigh ride to deliver presents.  But Mrs. Claus (voice by Shirley Booth) knows that the children around the world will miss Santa!  So she sends two elves (voice by Bob McFadden & Bradley Bolke) on a baby reindeer to find some holiday spirit.  Will Mrs. Claus and the elves be able to save Christmas?

Review:

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials to watch.  I look forward to seeing it every year around the holiday season and never tire of watching it.  I believe Sick Santa Clausthat these old Rankin-Bass Productions are the best Christmas shows to watch for children young and old.  This special has the old-fashioned stop-motion animation and it is the animation style that I equate with the best Christmas specials.  They make the motion look pretty dang good for claymation figurines!  It is a little jerky, but I think that it only adds to the charm.

The vocal talents are top-notch.  Mickey Rooney spoiled every other holiday special for me as it is just not the same to hear a Santa speaking that does not 00302291have his voice.  I am not very familiar with the woman who plays Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).  She narrates and sings in the special and has the perfect voice for Mrs. Claus – old, but spritely and a little mischievous.  The other characters were chosen for their memorable, unique sound.  Jingle (Bob McFadden) & Jangle (Bradley Bolke) are very distinct and I feel like their voices added to the charm and character of the film.  And who can forget Heat Miser (George S. Irving) & Snow Miser (Dick Shawn)?!  They are simply perfectly cast, as are all the speaking parts in this film.  Even the children’s voices add that special touch of charm and distinctive sound.

The best part of the Rankin-Bass specials is the music.  There are 8 distinctive songs in this 41-minute special, plus 1 reprise and they are all fantastic!  The special begins and ends with “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a peppy little number that has some talky/singy action to explain what is going to happen in the special.  Mrs. Claus shines in “I Could Be Santa Claus,” where she sings about Heat Miser, Snow Miser & Mother Naturehow anyone can be Santa if their hearts are in the right place.  She is concerned that Santa won’t get up to deliver presents and is considering doing his job for him, but gives up on the idea after the elves think it’s a bad idea.  “I Believe in Santa Claus” is a beautiful, heartfelt number that I did not appreciate when I was a kid.  It is a ballad that talks about believing in Santa Claus like believing in love – as more of a feeling than a real person.  “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” is a fun, upbeat song that helps move the plot along as well as pick up the pace and make you tap your toe along.  The mayor is making fun of the fact that the elves promised them snow in Southtown, which is in Heat Miser’s territory and has never had a white Christmas.  “The Snow Miser Song” and “The Heat Miser Song” are probably the most famous songs that came out 00323473of this special.  They are such a fun addition to the show and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a smile on their face while these two stepbrothers are singing about their hatred of each other.  The last two songs are not written by Rankin & Bass, but they are some holiday classics that I never tire of hearing.  “Blue Christmas” gives the children of the world a chance to let Santa know that, while they understand him wanting to take a year off, they are going to have a sadder Christmas without him.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” was the perfect ending to this special as Santa Claus comes sailing into Southtown and all of the children cheer as they realize that Santa didn’t let them down after all.

The story is absolutely wonderful and has a positive message as well as plenty of silly moments.  By thinking about Santa Claus taking a year off, we realize that presents are not the most important part of the holiday.  In fact, when the children realize that Santa is serious, they all send Santa gifts and let him know that they understand, which I thought was really cute.  Of course, Santa saves the day in the end, but he also brings about some extra subplots that kept me Children Giving Presents to Santa Claussmiling throughout the special.  Mrs. Claus sends Jingle and Jangle, two of their dimmest elves, to find some examples of the holiday spirit, but they get into all kinds of trouble.  Their baby reindeer, Vixen, ends up in the pound, where she gets really sick, and they try to ask the mayor for help, but he doesn’t believe they are really elves.  To convince him, they have to make it snow in the southern US, where it never snows.  So Mrs. Claus, Jingle and Jangle travel to the Miser brothers and from there to Mother Nature (voice by Rhoda Mann) to make that happen.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus is trying to find the elves and the reindeer in Southtown, where he meets Ignatious Thistlewhite (voice by Colin Duffy), who is too old and too cool to believe in Santa.  Bottom line is, this special touches on one of the hot spots of Christmas: are you ever too old to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus?

If you have not seen this Christmas special, you are really missing out on a special holiday treat.  It is on TV every year on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event and is also available on DVD.  Even though it was made in the ‘70s, it is still a classic and has held its age very well.  A must see for the December Christmas holiday!

Content:

There are a few scenes of mild peril.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011) Movie Review

Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: David Arquette, Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Loren Hoskins, Madison Pettis
Director: Kelly Ward, Howy Parkins, Mickey Corcoran
Series: Jake and the Never Land Pirates Season 1, Episode 24
Release Date: 2 December 2011
Language: English
Length: 25 minutes
Movie Rating: TV-G
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

“It’s a Winter Never Land” – Hook and his pirates don’t want to go to all of the work to decorate a tree and get presents for Merry Winter Treasure Day so they steal everything from the Lost Boys.  Jake and his pals track the pirates through icy conditions, but are unable to recover all of their decorations and gifts.  Can they all remember what is really important about Winter Treasure Day?  Will the pirates learn the true meaning of Winter Treasure Day?

“Hook on Ice!” – In the spirit of the holiday, Captain Hook asks Jake and the Lost Boys to join the pirates on the hunt for the Snow Day Treasure.  Bring your slippery, slidey things (sleds, skis and more!) and get ready for adventure!  With Jake and his team helping out, can the pirates travel down the snowy slope, trick their way past the ice ogre, and save Hook (multiple times) so they can claim the treasure?

Review:

This is a popular and fun Disney Jr. show for toddlers and preschoolers.  It is a learning show and they teach counting, critical thinking skills and other lessons in a fun and interactive way.  I typically find something in the Disney shows that entertains me as an adult and I have tried to watch this show a few times, but it is solidly made for young children and does not really have anything in it for older kids or adults.  That said, it is beautifully made and my little nephews look forward to watching it every morning.  My favorite characters are the two real-Bones and Sharkeylife pirates (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) who sing all of the songs for the show.  If there is anything for adults in this series, it is these two and the funny songs they sing.  Typically the songs are at the beginning and end of the episodes, however, so there is dead space in between.  If you have little boys or girls at home, this is a great show for them to enjoy watching in the mornings before they go to school.  The main character is Jake, a little devil-may-care boy who is a lot like Peter Pan, but his crew has girls, boys and animals so everyone is covered and has someone to root for.  The adult pirates are bumblers and never seem to do anything right so it is easy for the children to defeat them all the time.  Good times for kids.

This particular episode is as close to Christmas as you get with this series.  Disney has been trying really hard to make some of their children’s shows non-Hook on Icedenominational holiday celebrations and this one is no exception.  The “c” word (Christmas) is not mentioned, it is all about treasure days.  Now, children who celebrate Christmas will recognize the decorated Christmas tree and presents that Hook stole from the kids, but for those who celebrate another holiday, it is just a decoration in the series.  The spirit of the holidays is found in this show, however, and I think that it offers a great lesson about valuing friends and family and being a better person around the holidays.  Captain Hook in particular did a great job illustrating this point as he is never willing to share with anyone and is much more likely to steal.  In “It’s a Winter Never Land!,” Hook regrets stealing the presents and cannot It's a Winter Never Landeven enjoy his ill-gotten gains.  Instead, he gives them back and then Jake and his crew invite the pirates to celebrate with them.  In “Hook on Ice!,” Captain Hook asks Jake if they can help him find the treasure so that they can borrow all of their snow gear (snowboard, sled, etc.).  Then he shares the treasure with the kids at the end.  Even though it seems like every Christmas show talks about sharing and the value of giving, I don’t think that you can show your children too many examples of this in action, especially for little kids who focus so much on the getting around this time of year.

With bright, friendly colors and simple storylines, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is definitely a show that is welcome in my home for young children.  They speak slowly and clearly and have some fun, piratey songs that kids will 122428_0026enjoy.  The characters try to encourage the children watching to participate by doing motions and cheering/talking in appropriate places.  I always encourage the kids watching to follow along (usually by doing it myself) as I love that they are trying to make shows interactive.  This is a great choice to watch around the holidays, especially if you are looking for something without Santa in it (Peter Pan sent the gifts).

Content:

Appropriate for children of ages, recommended for ages 2 and up.

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A Christmas Carol (1994) Movie Review

A Christmas Carol (1994)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Lillian Carlson
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 1994
Language: English
Length: 49 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb80_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

A Christmas Carol, produced by Jetlag Productions in the year 1994 and released on DVD format by Goodtimes Entertainment in 2003, is based on Charles Dickens’s timeless Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol“.  This animated tale relays the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s experiences with three ghosts on Christmas Eve that transformed his life from a mean, miserly man to a man of generous spirit.

Review:

I am a huge fan of A Christmas Carol and make an effort to watch as many different versions of the story every Christmas season.  I found this one available to watch online on Hulu.com and gave it a go.  I confess that I was disappointed with this version.  I am accustomed to watching full-length movie versions of A Christmas Carol and this animated version is about half of the Three Ghosts in a Christmas Caroltime, but with almost all of the story.  Needless to say, the story is quite rushed and a lot of details and character development are left out.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is introduced at the beginning of the story and then we don’t see him again until the end, when Scrooge attends Christmas dinner there.  Scrooge does not visit Fred’s part with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Also, during the Ghost of Christmas Present segment, we are barely introduced to Tiny Tim and it does not really make sense when we are shown his grave at the end of the film.  The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Ebenezer breaking up with his long-time fiancé, Belle, but we do not meet her at Fezziwig’s party and we never even learn her name in this version.  The story is strung together with the same familiar quotes and scenes that you will enjoy in other versions of A Christmas Carol, but they are so abbreviated here that I did not find myself caring about Scrooge’s transformation at all.  There was no depth and no real emotion contained in this version.

I was a bit disappointed with the animation and vocal talents, as well.  The colors are flat and there are many dark scenes, as suits Victorian London, but there are no interesting details and shading to make it visually appealing.  Most characters and backgrounds are flat, solid colors and do not really seem alive.  I also did not enjoy the vocal Ebenezer Scroogestylings of this animated feature.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice is particularly grating.  There was just something about the way he talked that really bothered me.  Also, they wrote in a lot of whiney lines for Scrooge’s character and he sounds like a spoiled 2-year-old at times.  “I don’t want to go,” and “you can’t make me” actually feature into the dialogue, which I felt was going a bit too far.  The Ghost of Christmas Past has a deep, lovely voice, but he is this short little old guy in the cartoon and I didn’t think that the voice fit the character.  And don’t even get me started on the younger Ebenezer Scrooge!  I don’t know if they had the main vocal try to “sound younger,” but it was as high-pitched as a girl’s and did nothing to aid the scene between Scrooge and his younger sister.

There are three songs included, but they are more of a detraction than a help.  I enjoyed the first song more than the other, rather sickly sweet efforts, but it is because it was so strange that I liked it!  The singer reminded me of David Bowie in one of his earlier songs and, as this is sung during Marley’s appearances, it really didn’t fit the setting at all.  The other songs were so inconsequential as to be completely forgettable.  Unfortunately, the music did not do anything to add to the quality of this production.

I feel that the creators of this version were trying to introduce this familiar classic to a younger audience and so they purposefully kept it short and to the point, but I did not enjoy it as much.  This particular version is created with a Christmas Carol CharactersChristian background in mind, but I did not notice anything that they changed or added to make it more appealing to a Christian audience.  If you are looking for an animated version of A Christmas Carol for a younger audience, Mickey’s Christmas Carol gives a nice introduction in less than 30 minutes that is entertaining, well-animated and has lovely music.  If you have children that are a little older, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has some very funny scenes and some excellent music and still comes in at under an hour.  Both of these versions are crowd pleasers for old and young alike and tell the entire story of Scrooge’s transformation in a much more appealing way.

Content:

This cartoon features ghosts in chains, graveyard scenes and a ghost that looks like a skeleton.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004) Movie Review

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Bill Farmer, Shaun Fleming, Tress MacNeille
Director: Carole Holliday, Matthew O’Callaghan, Theresa Cullen
Series: sequel to Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas
Release Date: 9 November 2004
Language: English
Length: 68 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

This fun-filled holiday extravaganza features all of your favorite Disney characters in holiday cartoons created just for this collection!

“Belles on Ice” – When Minnie Mouse is introduced first on the ice-skating rink, Daisy Duck’s feelings are hurt.  Both Minnie and Daisy want to be the star of the ice-skating show, but their scene-stealing antics could end up ruining the show for everyone!

“Christmas: Impossible” – Huey, Dewey and Louie haven’t been very nice this year and they ended up on Santa’s naughty list.  Deciding it is impossible to do enough nice things to change Santa’s mind, they decide to break into Santa’s office in the North Pole and put their names on the nice list!

“Christmas Maximus” – Max is second-guessing his plan to bring his girlfriend home for Christmas.  He just knows that his dad, Goofy, will find new ways to embarrass him!

“Donald’s Gift” – Donald Duck is not feeling the Christmas spirit – especially when Daisy and the boys drag him off to the Donald Duck Trying to Get Hot Chocolatemall for Christmas shopping!  Everywhere he turns, someone is playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and it is driving Donald crazy!  All he wants to do is go home and enjoy some hot chocolate.  Can Donald find a way to show he has the Christmas spirit before it is too late?

“Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” – Mickey Mouse is upset when Pluto accidentally ruins the decorations for his Christmas party.  While Mickey goes shopping to find new party gear, Pluto runs away and ends up a pet for Santa’s reindeer!  But as wonderful as Pluto’s new home is, he just misses Mickey – and Mickey is missing Pluto just as much!  Will these two find their way back together to enjoy a Merry Christmas?

Review:

This is a great Christmas special to watch with children of all ages.  Little children will marvel at the amazing death-defying tricks that Minnie and Daisy Minnie Mouse & Daisy Duck on Iceperform on ice in “Belles on Ice.”  Teenagers will empathize with Max as Goofy does nothing but embarrass him while he is visiting for the holidays.  Parents will appreciate Donald’s struggle to find the Christmas spirit amidst all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  The entire special is created in CGI graphics and, while this is not my favorite format, the cartoons here were well-suited to the brightly colored, bubbly animation.

“Christmas: Impossible” is the longest cartoon in this collection at 20-25 minutes with “Christmas Maximus” the shortest at 5-7 minutes. I found something to enjoy in all of the segments, but I did enjoy the story and spirit of “Christmas: Impossible” the most.  It is always fun to travel to Santa’s workshop and see how the elves make all of the toys and get ready for the Christmas holiday!  In this cartoon, Huey, Dewey and Louie are definitely not playing nice Huey Dewie and Louie in Santa's Workshopand almost ruin the holiday for everyone to selfishly try to get more presents for themselves!  “Christmas Maximus” also struck a chord with me.  I can definitely remember being mortified by some of the things that my parents said or did – though they did nothing as embarrassing as what Goofy does! – and could appreciate Max’s position.  I couldn’t help but smile at the crazy things that happened to Goofy and particularly enjoyed the popcorn-popping scene in the kitchen!  This cartoon is the most similar to the classic Disney cartoons in length and layout.  There is very little dialogue, but Max is singing “Make Me Look Good” the whole time and it was a great way to present this cartoon.  If you pay close attention, you can hear how the song changes to match the way Max’s attitude changes towards his father.

“Belles on Ice” features Minnie, Daisy and the crocodiles and hippos from Disney’s Fantasia.  It seemed a little over-the-top and rather unbelievable, but I could definitely empathize with the attitude of the two divas featured here.  It is really difficult to step back and let someone else enjoy the spotlight!  “Donald’s Gift” provides a valuable lesson for all of us.  Donald Duck is one of my favorite characters and he is at his best/worst in this cartoon!  I look forward to Pluto with Santa's ReindeerChristmastime all year long and start watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music in November so by the time Christmas is actually here, I am totally over it!  Granted, it is my own fault for starting so early, but I just can’t help myself!  This cartoon makes fun of this trend by playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” everywhere Donald goes – on the radio, on the phone, at the mall, etc.  It is important to remember that, while Donald may not be feeling the Christmas spirit, that does not give him – or us – the right to spoil the holiday mood for those around us, particularly our loved ones.  “Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” has a similar message.  Pluto wrecked the decorations for Mickey’s party, but that doesn’t mean that Pluto ruined the holiday, despite what Mickey said to him.  Tensions often run high during the holidays and it is easy to overreact when something doesn’t go the way we planned, but it is important to remember how much we love our family and friends and forgive.  If Mickey had reacted differently, Pluto would not have run away and they would have been able to spend the holiday together rather than searching for each other.

There were some wonderful lessons to learn in Mickey’s Twice Upon a Disney Gang at ChristmastimeChristmas.  The best part about the lessons is that they are wrapped up in such entertaining trappings that children will not even know that they are learning!  This Christmas special is one that I look forward to seeing every year and I hope that it will become a holiday favorite in your house, too!

Content:

This movie is appropriate for viewers of all ages.

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