Thursday, January 27, 2022

Review: “8-Bit Christmas” and “A Boy Called Christmas”

What makes a Christmas movie great? Something religious, something touching, something “Die Hard” with a lot of violence and death? Two new entrants to the holiday derby shoot for the title (albeit without extreme violence) and one turns out to be a contender. is this the new myth of Santa Claus … or the tale of 80s kids trying to win in the video game system?

Mesmerizingly tangled “A Boy Called Christmas” Contains many traditional ingredients: Miracle of the Season soundtrack, storybook sets, senior statist storyteller (Maggie Smith), cute family, B to B + visuals. His messages are as mixed as Aunt Frida’s eggnog, which makes adults flinch when they drink before talking nonsense.

Once upon a time there is a boy named Nicholas (Henry Lofull), what, Finland? And his handsome, kind lumberjack dad (Michiel Huisman). Mom is naturally dead. People are depressed in an impoverished kingdom. A bit of sly humor in the film could have been used more, the king (Jim Broadbent) tells his subjects that he knows something is missing. Sloppy peasants say, “Health care system?” “Living wage?” “Fair governance system?”

It turns out that this is “hope”, according to the king, and able-bodied villagers go to look for it. Kristen Wiig is portrayed as an evil aunt who is going through bouts of gruesome child abuse, while the boy and his mouse (voiced by Stephen Merchant, I know which cast) embark on a typical hero’s journey through the woods in search of something to save his home. He finds a city of elves, where Toby Jones and Sally Hawkins prove that there are other big names in the cast, and that only sincere belief in something will allow you to see it.

Oh, you guessed it, this is actually Santa’s origin story; there will be deer, a red hat and many gifts. Sounds cool, but some pretty nasty things happen, which makes the audience ask the crumpled question “What?” face, especially when one character dies rather than jumping to safety.

The messages in the movie are a set of “What’s in?” … One of his attempts at aphorisms – “The only thing that is simple and clear is the truth” – is objectively false (complex truths require subtle, complex thinking). It’s aimed directly at children, but there are comments on fear-stirring and isolationist politicians who warn against talking to outsiders at the risk of losing “our home, our culture.” However, the solution to the problem of urban ailment is toys, and the kidnappers of the film and the offenders of children receive retribution for chocolate, and their children – gifts. It doesn’t seem right.

It can be assumed that all of this can be read as “Christmas is the opium of the masses.” In the end, the dirty townspeople are not getting “living wages” or “fair governance”, but colorful trinkets … and they all seem to live happily ever after. It’s beautifully built, though (thanks to Gary Williamson’s design team).

“8-bit Christmas” it’s a nostalgic journey through the Illinois suburban streets of the late 1980s. The “8-bit” in the title is the state-of-the-art Nintendo Home Entertainment System, the grand prize vying for a team of fifth-graders in storytelling. The film is filled with realistic detail (the Bears’ Super Bowl fixed-point timing, and dad scoffs at his son’s complaint about the cold: “It’s not even below zero here!”) And elicits laughter from the infamous baseball card and Dewey decimal system. He even deserved a heartbreaking ending. In short, this is an unexpected contender for the best Christmas movie of the past few years.

In the production, Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris, witty as always) amuses his daughter Annie (Sophia Reed-Ganzert, just in time) while they wait for the rest of the family at Jake’s home. Annie is upset that her dad won’t give her a phone for Christmas; Jake sets her down behind a still working Nintendo console from his youth and tells the epic story of how he got it. From there, it’s mostly young Jake (Winslow Fegley) and his friends’ many plans to attain the Holy Grail in Metroid and Donkey Kong.

This is a very well done film. Director Michael Dawes eludes little gimmicks like introducing one of the dastardly kids by holding him up to a tall window as if he’s in the path of a trolley. Music Supervisor Madonna Wade-Reed’s tip: 80s songs that emphasize bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye, from just the right Loverboy intro to Animotion’s “Obsession” as a recurring theme. Kevin Jakubowski’s screenplay, based on his novel, reinforces these details with dialogues such as an annoying rich kid barking at guests, “Don’t touch the wall – that’s French!” and a boy challenged to be true, protesting that he knows something is true because “a sixth grader told me!” Tricks amuse: children are thrown like ragdolls by an unnecessarily large classmate.

Many supporting players have standout moments: how Jake’s sister Bellaluna Reznik benefits from her brother’s torture; Mom (June Diane Raphael) laughs at the slightest judgmental reaction to her father’s unfortunate metaphor (Steve Zan). Richie Delia’s casting doesn’t miss even the smallest cameos.

But how does that add to a great Christmas movie when it’s essentially a nostalgic movie about a robbery involving children with a materialistic purpose? It works because the characters, relationships, and desires seem so immediate that we get involved in them. Quest seems important when the stakes are really no higher than a TV stand. Then, when it comes true or not, we are open to communicating the meaning of the season, deep love for family. This is exactly the moral that could be abandoned if the trip was not so difficult. And the ending is really touching.

That’s it – one film about traditional Christmas magic and another about earthy, like bicycles with cards on the spokes. Choose your spice.

‘A boy named Christmas’

Rating: PG for hazard, action and thematic elements
Duration: 1 hour 46 minutes
Plays: On Netflix November 24

8-bit Christmas

Rating: PG for crude humor and light violence, vocabulary and obscene references.
Duration: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Plays: On HBO Max November 24

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