Santa Claus (Le père Noël)


Even Santa Claus has to do laundry once in awhile.

(2014) Family (Under the Milky Way) Tahar Rahim, Victor Cabal, Annelise Hesme, Michael Abiteboul, Philippe Rebbot, Amélie Glenn, Jean-François Cayrey, Djibril Gueye, Naoufel Aliju, Satya Dusaugey, Charlie Dupont, Lou Ballon, Charles Albiol, Steve Tran, Mathieu Lourdel, Yamina Meghraoul, Jérôme Benilouz, Laurence Pollet-Villard, Pierre Core, Dominique Baconnet. Directed by Alexandre Coffre

 

Our heroes don’t always hold up to close scrutiny. Look closely enough and you’ll find faults as egregious as, well, our own. It never occurs to us that those we admire the most are just as fallible, just as flawed as us. And let us not forget, to the average six-year-old there is no bigger hero than Santa Claus.

Young Antoine (Cabal) is just that age and still a believer in Father Christmas. He reads his list of Christmas wishes, certain that Santa can hear them. When his mother (Hesme) urges him to get to bed on Christmas Eve or Santa won’t arrive, he follows her instructions – but going to bed as every child and most parents know is very different than going to sleep.

Antoine hears a clatter out on the balcony of his family’s Paris high-rise apartment building and arises to see just what is the matter. On the balcony he sees such a sight as he never believed he would see; Santa Claus in full red suit and beard. But this Santa (Rahim) isn’t there to deliver presents; he’s there to rob the occupants of the apartment. He manages to convince the wide-eyed tyke that Santa’s sleigh is broken and requires gold to run again – so with no time to return to the North Pole to retrieve some, he needs to take what he can find so that the presents can be delivered around the world by sunrise.

The thief’s glib lie backfires on him when Antoine decides he’s going to stick to Santa like glue. Antoine believes he’ll be rewarded by night’s end with a ride in Santa’s sleigh. Unfortunately, “Santa” is being chased by some real bad men who he owes a lot of money to (hence the need for gold) as well as the cops who have been getting reports of a thieving Santa all night long. As the crazy Christmas Eve moves into Christmas morning, man and boy form a special bond. They may be able to provide the things the other needs – if they both don’t end up in jail.

In case you wondered if lowbrow family films were exclusively the province of American filmmakers, here is the proof they exist in France as well. This French-Belgian co-production has all the family film clichés that it feels like you’ve seen it all before unless you’re Antoine’s age. When they say the plot almost writes itself, well, here’s a case where it probably do – the baseball team’s worth of writers notwithstanding.

Rahim is certainly charming and while any Americans who are familiar with the actor likely know his work in A Prophet, in a much different role he shows he has the star power to carry a film on his own. Unfortunately, Cabal is given a role that has been written as if all six year olds are absolute morons. I know that six-year-olds are trusting sorts but there are things here that Antoine takes on faith that even a four year old might say “Hey now, that just doesn’t make any sense!!!”

Seeing Paris at night during the Christmas season is a joy in and of itself, and the music by Klaus Badelt is truly complimentary to what’s going on in the film. Unfortunately these things aren’t enough to rescue a film that is ultimately one giant cliché written by a committee of folks who think that being a kid with little experience means being foolish and accepting of the laziest plot devices. Your kid deserves a better movie than this, particularly if he/she has the gumption to read subtitles o top of everything else.

REASONS TO GO: The music is nice and the night scenes of Paris during the holidays are magical.
REASONS TO STAY: Cabal is massively annoying and the character dumbed down.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and child peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are nine writers credited to the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/1/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Santa Clause
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dark Fortune

The Night Before


Kickin' it, old school.

Kickin’ it, old school.

(2015) Holiday Comedy (Columbia) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Heléne Yorke, Ilana Glazer, Aaron Hill, Tracy Morgan, Darrie Lawrence, Nathan Fielder, James Franco, Miley Cyrus, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Baron Davis, Jason Jones, Jason Mantzoukas, Randall Park, Mindy Kaling, Lorraine Toussaint, Theodora Woolley. Directed by Jonathan Levine

The Holly and the Quill

Christmas traditions, established when we are young, can sometimes last a lifetime but some of those traditions, particularly of the sort that most wouldn’t consider Christmas-y have a tendency to die out as we mature. When we reach a time in our lives in which we’re making a turning point into adulthood, traditions of all sorts change.

That seems to be happening for a trio of friends who have gone out every Christmas Eve ever since the funeral of Ethan’s (Gordon-Levitt) parents in 2001 when they died in a tragic car accident. His good friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie) took Ethan out partying that night to get his mind off his grief, and it became a tradition of sorts; going to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, hanging out in their favorite karaoke bar (and doing a killer rendition of ”Christmas in Hollis”) and searching for the legendary Nutcracka Ball, the Holy Grail of Christmas parties in New York.

Being that this is a Seth Rogen movie, there are also copious amounts of drugs, supplied in this case by Isaac’s wife Betsy (Bell), a good Catholic girl who is days away from giving birth and wants to reward her husband for having been “her rock” throughout the pregnancy by allowing him to have a good time with his buddies, no questions asked.

All three of the boys are on the cusp of becoming men as they hit their thirties; Isaac about to be a dad, Chris – now a pro football player – having the best season of his career although it is suspiciously late in said career….well, that leaves Ethan who is still struggling with adulthood. His failure to commit has cost him his longtime girlfriend Diana (Caplan) whom he runs into at the karaoke bar, partying with her friend Sarah (Kaling). While serving canapés dressed as an elf at a hoity toity Manhattan party, he runs across tickets to the Ball – and knowing that this is their last hurrah, the three intend to send their traditions out with a big bang.

There are celebrity cameos galore, including Rogen’s bromance buddy James Franco, playing himself (and Sarah’s date) sending dick pics to Sarah which Isaac gets to see since the two accidentally switched phones; Michael Shannon plays Mr. Green, a mysterious drug dealer who might be a whole lot more than he seems; former Daily Show regular Jason Jones also shows up as a semi-inebriated Santa who appears at a particularly low point in the evening for Ethan.

The movie is surprisingly heartwarming, and while allusion to Christmas tales like A Christmas Carol and Die Hard abound, this is definitely a Rogen movie (his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg is one of the four writers on the project) although to be fair, Isaac is more of a supporting character to Ethan who is the focus here.

The chemistry between the three leads is solid and you can believe their friendship is strong. Levine wisely uses the comedy to serve the story rather than the other way around which most comedies these days seem to do; there are some genuinely funny moments as the night becomes more and more surreal (it’s also nice to hear Tracy Morgan narrating and make a late onscreen appearance). Of course, being a Seth Rogen movie (as we’ve mentioned) the drug humor tends to go a little bit over-the-top and those who think Cheech and Chong are vulgar are likely to find this one so as well.

The good news is that the performances here are solid and the likeability of Gordon-Levitt gives the movie a whole lot of cred since the characters on the surface aren’t terribly likable. Hanging out with the immature can make for a trying cinematic experience but fortunately the fact that all three of the actors here are so genuinely likable and charismatic saves the movie from being a drudge and actually elevates it into maybe not Christmas classic status, but certainly a movie that might generate some holiday traditions of its own.

REASONS TO GO: Really, really funny. Some nice performances by Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Shannon.
REASONS TO STAY: Overdoes the drug humor.
FAMILY VALUES: A ton of drug humor, lots of profanity, some graphic nudity and a good deal of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and director Levine all worked together in the film 50/50.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Santa Popo


Santa PopoFor Nicholas

In a small town in Florida lived a little dog named Penelope. She was a delightful little thing, barely ten pounds and small enough to hold in the crook of your arm with no trouble. She lived with a family in which there were no small children but she was very loved and cared for. She was an affectionate sort, given to cuddling whenever possible, kissing her owners often and giving them hours of delight with her antics.

Not far away lived a little boy named Nicholas and he was two years old, a wonderful age to be indeed. His mommy and daddy were friends with the owners of Penelope and they saw each other often. Nicholas’ mommy even worked with Penelope’s mommy. The two families went to the park with Nicholas from time to time, or to the movies or sometimes they’d just spend an evening playing board games.

Nicholas was one of those little boys who had a smile that couldn’t be resisted. Once you saw it, your whole body would turn warm and fuzzy and that smile would penetrate straight into your heart until you were smiling yourself. Then, you’d pass that smile to others that you encountered, each smile going from heart to heart until this little Florida town was one of the happiest places on Earth.

Everyone loved Penelope but particularly Nicholas who called her by her nickname which was Popo (Penelope was a little too hard for young Nicholas to get his mouth around just yet). His smile would get even brighter and bigger whenever he went to visit Popo or she came to visit him. They would chase each other around everywhere and Nicholas would laugh and laugh and laugh. Penelope, who also had a wonderful doggie smile, would laugh too in her own doggie way. No matter how bad a day the adults were having, the sight of Nicholas and Popo together never failed to make them feel better.

That year, Christmas was a little colder than usual – for Florida, that is which is to say not very cold at all compared to everywhere else. Penelope’s mommy had been sick for some time, which made things hard on Penelope’s daddy who to begin with had health problems of his own and also on Nicholas’ mommy who was new to her job and was now having to learn her way around without her friend to guide her as much. Penelope, sensing how sick her mommy was, spent a lot of time curled up in her lap as her mommy watched television or played on her tablet. Penelope’s presence made her mommy feel better which was a good thing, but it did mean that Penelope didn’t get to spend as much time with her friend Nicholas.

It would break his mommy’s heart when he would ask for his friend Popo and his mommy would have to say she couldn’t come over. “Popo’s house,” Nicholas would say but because Penelope’s mommy was sick they couldn’t go over. Nicholas didn’t cry because he was a brave big boy, but he would still feel sad.

Nicholas’ parents invited Penelope and her family over for Christmas, knowing that because Penelopes’s mommy and daddy really couldn’t make much of a Christmas for themselves. Nicholas was looking forward to seeing his friend again and was more excited about that than for opening presents, although he loved the shiny tinsel on the tree and the beautiful twinkling lights. He would stand and look at the tree with shining eyes, a big contented grin on his face.

It was Christmas Eve and time for Nicholas to go to bed but he was so excited! He wanted to stay up all night but his mommy wouldn’t let him. “Time to sleep,” she announced and that was that. Nicholas finally went to bed in his crib and sat in the dark of his bedroom lit by a night light (he wasn’t scared of the dark but he liked the night light) and thought about having his friend Popo come to visit him.

At last his mommy and daddy finished doing what parents do on Christmas Eve and they went to bed themselves, listening to their son’s bedroom and hearing only the sound of his breathing before drifting off to sleep themselves. All was quiet.

Nicholas was thinking so hard about his friend that he could see her sitting in his room, her brown eyes wide and friendly, her tongue lolling out of her smiling mouth, her fluffy tail like a plume wagging back and forth so fast it might fly off on its own at any moment. Nicholas was a little puzzled by the silver glow that surrounded her  and at the red Santa hat with white fur trim that she wore. To him she looked like the sweetest little elf that ever was. “Popo!” he sighed softly, seeing his friend and feeling safe and happy.

Penelope spoke. “Tonight is Christmas Eve and on this special night we dogs are allowed to speak but only to very special people.” Nicholas looked at her as if seeing a dog talk was the most natural thing in the world – why, it happened every day of course! But of course dogs don’t talk and had Nicholas’ daddy been there he would have fainted dead away but Nicholas wasn’t surprised in the least. Penelope continued, “You carry the name of Santa Claus as your own. That’s a very wonderful name to have.” Nicholas nodded and giggled. He loved his name and he especially loved hearing his mommy say it.

“It’s not common knowledge, but we dogs help Santa with his important work. There are so many children in the world, he can’t watch them all the time. He uses us dogs to keep an eye on you, to find out who’s naughty and who’s nice. Once in awhile, we find someone who has so much happiness in them that they can’t help spread it around to the world. You’re just like that Nicholas.” Nicholas clapped his hands and let out a loud giggle. In their bedroom his parents snored in their sleep, oblivious.

Penelope leaped into his crib and curled up with her friend. “You’re a very special little boy Nicholas. You have it in you to bring great joy and happiness to the whole world. It is my job and the job of every doggie in the world to take care of children like you. You have the same gift as Santa – and the world needs as many people like you in it as it can get.” Nicholas cooed, stroking Popo’s soft fur and as content as a little boy can be when hugging a beloved dog. Nicholas asked Popo “Stay?” She smiled and said “Just for tonight. I must also take care of my own family in the morning but I’ll keep you warm and safe tonight.” Nicholas hugged her tight. “Popo talk!”

Popo snuggled against him. “You can always hear me in your heart. I will speak to you there.” He began to feel sleepy and he curled up with Popo. She gave him a special Popo kiss on the forehead and whispered “Sleep well, Nicholas. You have so much ahead of you.” Nicholas fell asleep with his arms wrapped around his friend. She curled up with him and let the night flow over her.

In the morning Nicholas woke up and he was alone. “Popo!” he called out. His mother, already awake, came into his bedroom. “Merry Christmas!” she exclamed, picking her son up and giving him a huge Christmas morning hug (the best kind). Nicholas’ disappointment that his friend wasn’t there was forgotten as he hugged his mommy back with all the strength his two-year-old arms could muster. “Yes, Popo is coming to visit you today,” she smiled as she carried Nicholas into the kitchen to give him a little breakfast before they opened presents.

Later that afternoon, Penelope and her mommy and daddy came to visit and Nicholas was overjoyed to see his friend, laughing at the silly sweater her mommy and daddy had put on her. “Popo talk!” said Nicholas. Penelope gave him a sly wink and barked in the friendly way she did. Nicholas’ mom laughed. “Silly,” she said to her son, “Dogs can’t talk!” Penelope’s mommy and daddy exchanged a knowing glance. Only a select few get to hear dogs talk on Christmas eve but only the sweetest and most loving sorts can hear them the whole year round and most of them were children. As Nicholas hugged his friend Popo, he could plainly hear her say “Merry Christmas Nicholas!” He gave his friend a kiss which got an “awww” from both sets of parents and would send fresh sets of joy to be spread throughout the neighborhood, passed on by those who had felt it firsthand.

So don’t be surprised those of you parents with dogs to see your children talking to them. Just because you can’t hear it doesn’t mean they aren’t answering.