You’re in for a holiday treat if you’ve never seen what’s often referred to as “the Drew Barrymore Babes in Toyland.” Drew (perhaps even more adorable in this than she was in E.T.) plays Lisa Piper, an eleven-year-old who spends all of her time taking care of her siblings and cooking for her family — a lady with such “grown-up” responsibilities certainly has no time for things as frivolous as toys. But “believing” in toys is going to be essential after she’s transported to Toyland during a Christmas Eve blizzard, where she stops the wedding of Mary Contrary (Jill Schoelen) to the villainous Barnaby Barnacle (Richard Mulligan); she soon teams up with Mary, her true love Jack Be Nimble (Keanu Reeves!) and Georgie Porgie (some dude named Googy Gress) to stop Barnacle from taking over Toyland, a task for which they entreat the help of the Toymaster (Pat Morita!). Okay, watching this is like being force-fed a stocking’s worth of candy canes, but how can you not love a movie where Mr. Miyagi ends up being revealed as ol’ St. Nick himself?
A sort of inverted take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday yarn and depressingly cynical even for Blackadder, A Christmas Carol follows Ebenezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), a shop proprietor who’s probably the nicest man in Victorian England; unfortunately, everyone takes advantage of his kindness and generosity, rendering him constantly broke and miserable. The Spirit of Christmas (Robbie Coltrane) shows him visions of his powerful yet cruel ancestors, men that Ebenezer comes to admire for their wit and success — when asked what would happen if he behaved more like them, the Spirit shows him a distant descendent, General Admiral Blackadder, the ruthless official of a Universe-spanning Empire. Ebenezer wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man: mean, miserly and convinced that “Bad guys have all the fun” — this sudden turn, of course, backfires on him horrendously. Every incarnation of Blackadder was trembling with existential dread behind all of the jokey-jokes, but A Christmas Carol feels more like the warning sign of an upcoming moral apocalypse than anything that had come before or after it.
The director of Back to the Future takes on a more classical time travel tale with this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novella that showcases the motion-capture performance technology that Robert Zemeckis was (somewhat unfortunately) so fascinated with throughout the first decade of the 21st century. This style of animation makes for an occasionally dazzling yet often emotionally soulless experience, turning Dickens’ amazing story into little more than a series of XBox 360 cutscenes — thankfully, Disney made Zemeckis realize that this gimmick is ultimately a creative dead end when it mercifully pulled the plug on his planned remake of Yellow Submarine. However, there are traces of a rich imagination at work peppered throughout this strange experiment, particularly in a sequence where Scrooge’s journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come involves him shrinking in size and going on a kind of frantic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids adventure on, above and below the streets of London. Some of the performances are fun, too, with Jim Carrey doing good work as not only Scrooge but all three ghosts as well (particularly the mesmerizing, ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past), and Gary Oldman‘s frightening Marley is somewhat reminiscent of his 1992 turn as Dracula (Oldman also doubles as an inexplicably dwarf-like Bob Crachit). Anyway, it was kind of fun and all, but back to good old-fashioned moviemaking with you, Mr. Zemeckis.
Okay, yeah, for all of the praise it gets for being one of the best action movies ever made (if not the best), Die Hard should also be called out on a few things as well. First of all, the entire initial premise is bogus — what company, no matter what business it might be in, would hold its office party on Christmas Eve? Does Nakatomi only hire single people without families and friends or something? And another thing‚ ah, on second thought, why gripe? It’s Christmas, and it’s Die Hard! The first (and, to date, best) cinematic adventure of New York cop John McClane has become as much a holiday classic as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story — and those movies don’t have Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, who comprise one of the most entertaining, intriguing and satisfying hero-villain team-ups in the history of the action-adventure genre. Except for a handful of aesthetic details (like Bonnie Bedelia’s extra-large ’80s hair), Die Hard has also aged remarkably well — it’s hard to believe that this is, as of this writing, a movie that’s pushing 24. Throw another log on the fire (or mag in the machine gun) and spend another Christmas with ol’ John.
A terrific premise almost completely undone by bad direction and an appallingly wretched script, Die Hard 2 finds John McClane spending Christmas Eve a year after the events of Die Hard at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport, where he takes on terrorists led by a traitorous U.S. Army colonel (William Sadler) that have seized control of the air traffic control system. There’s some good action scenes here, though Renny Harlin’s crude directing style has him focusing on every single bullet hitting flesh, every blade puncturing skin and every body crashing through glass in close-up and/or slow motion, making for an appallingly and needlessly violent film; Harlin’s work is Oscar-worthy, though, compared to the horrendous screenplay by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson, which is made even worse by worthless one-liners that were obviously added during post production (nothing worse than ADR that sounds like ADR) probably because the producers thought the movie suddenly needed to be “funnier” — the worst examples of this being McClane’s “Where’s the fu**in’ door?” as he struggles to get untangled from a parachute and a buffoonish airport cop complaining “Fu**in’ tourists — oughta be a law” (um‚ is it usually only locals that hang out at the airport, officer?). The saving grace of all this is, of course, Bruce Willis, who manages to make even this near-disaster watchable and reasonably entertaining with his effortless charisma.