How Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri uses character arcs to tell an effective story (Quick Reviews)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri uses character arcs to tell an effective story in a way I haven’t seen in a while. I enthusiastically recommend you check this movie out!
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I saw Murder on the Orient Express with five people. Three of us would admit to at least fighting to keep our eyes open if not completely falling asleep. Not exactly a wringing endorsement!
PLEASE subscribe to the NEW YouTube channel! Subscribing to the show on YouTube helps get the episodes placed higher in YouTube search results and therefore helps more people find out the show exists. It’s a great way to support the show and it’s FREE! If you’re logged into any Google account (Gmail, YouTube, whatnot) you’re good to go. Thanks again!
A star-studded event from the Hallmark Channel in the guise of The Christmas Train is essentially Murder on the Orient Express, but with more romance and petty theft instead of MURDER. Who stole the pen? And the sunglasses? And who wants Father of the Bride (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) to bang her ex (Dermot Mulroney) and why? All these questions will be answered (says in non-committal voice, “In a satisfying way…”), but then, if you’ve seen Murder on the Orient Express, you already know the answer.
You have to wonder how this movie came to exist. Although really, simple logic suggests that all you have to do is look at what’s playing at your local theater and what a coincidence! There is a new version of Murder on the Orient Express playing right now! Where do the folks at the Hallmark Channel come up with their ideas?
But the plot thickens. It turns out, The Christmas Train is a novel that the Hallmark Channel must have purchased the rights to and then adapted into a film. What a sorry state of affairs.
Now that we got that out-of-the-way, is The Christmas Train any good? Well, it’s just kind of par for the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie course. In an unusual move, you can see that most of the budget went to the cast and the sets/locations, but definitely not to digital effects. (There are some really ugly shots of the train stuck in the snow.) I get the impression that they wanted to keep up the illusion so that Dermot Mulroney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Danny Glover and Joan Cusack wouldn’t leave the set thinking the movie was a cheap piece of crap they shouldn’t promote. It’s not till you actually watch the movie that the seams start to show.
Speaking of high-priced talent (again, on the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie scale) Dermot Mulroney, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Danny Glover and Joan Cusack aren’t exactly phoning it in, and Mulroney and Kimberly Williams-Paisley have a lot more to do, so… what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t watch this movie just because you’re a fan of these actors. This isn’t exactly a performance piece.
When it comes down to it, The Christmas Train is an adaptation of a novel that is really just a Christmas fan-fiction version of Murder on the Orient Express. What else is there to say?
Oh, I don’t especially recommend it, but it will neither ruin nor improve your life.
The cast doesn’t have much to work with, but man, the performances are usually the saving grace in these Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, but not this time. There’s the aforementioned Danica McKellar and Christine Lee, who brings terrible dialogue to life, and Deidre Hall, all who are doing their best, but David Haydn-Jones and Colleen Winton are DOG SHIT. No one ever said being in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie was easy.
There’s a saying in Hollywood: never work with animals or children. Enter Cooper: the worst character ever. The dad and grandmother are poorly written, but Cooper makes me want to get a vasectomy. It’s like watching a campaign to sterilize the HUMAN RACE.
Then there’s the writing. We already know that originally is not allowed in Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, so all that’s left is character design. All the characters (except Christina) aren’t great, but man, Kurt, Nana and Cooper are an awful trifecta, but Victoria varies in degrees of suckatude. Why, you may ask? The lazy writing, the bizarre delivery, and of course, the director who said after one take, “We got it. Moving on.”
Then there’s the Christmas display the movie’s plot revolves around: it’s TERRIFYING! The children and their incessant waving, the ballerina, the snowman, the Santa, the train conductor! So scary!!! It’s like something out of The Shining.
The question isn’t whether or not My Christmas Dream is a good or bad movie, but is it so bad that it comes back around and becomes good again. Hmm…
In my opinion, no, it is not so bad it’s good. There aren’t enough wacky elements to support the idea that this movie’s awfulness turns into fun. My Christmas Dream is for hardcore Christmas movie completists only.
What follows is a lesson in tone. Delicious cheese is what awaits you if you watch Christmas in Evergreen with Ashley Williams.
Is it cheesy? Sure. That’s par for the Hallmark Channel, but the movie frames itself that way with the opening voice over and plot points. From the second it starts, it’s clear that this movie is not trying to engage you in a serious/dramatic way, but with an almost fantasy like atmosphere. This opening sets expectations to a realistic level.
Of course, that’s not to say that the movie is not without problems.
Ashley Williams character remarks, “I’ve got an idea,” far too often. It’s lazy writing; so many times the plot has a simple resolution staring all of the characters in the face, but only Ashley Williams has an idea that will save the day!
There’s no surprises nor any new ground covered in Christmas in Evergreen. Shake the globe, make a wish and watch the plot conveniences unfold. Williams is charming, but this movie is just another inoffensive content filler on the Hallmark Channel.
A competently executed Christmas themed retake on Peggy Sue Got Married called A Family for Christmas has almost everything you need for a good movie.
But, you know, it’s the same old problems for the Hallmark Channel: rehashed old plot points (from better movies) and dialogue that bounces between mediocre and awful.
The predictable nature of A Family for Christmas is its undoing. There’s no way to tell this story in a compelling way. The dog helps (A LOT), but it’s just not enough. It’s not completely unwatchable, but there are far better Christmas movies than A Family for Christmas.
In the tradition of Moonlight and Mistletoe comes Christmas Festival of Ice (man, that title just rolls right off the tongue). It’s yet another Christmas movie where they have to raise money to save the thing. This time, “the thing” is just one feature of a Christmas Festival: an ice sculpting contest. (You know, traditional Christmas ice sculpting! The Christmas tradition that has swept the nation… in places that aren’t always hot or ravaged by climate change.) Anyway, it’s going to be one of those.
So what’s the plot? New law school graduate Emma (Taylor Cole) goes to work at her mom’s law office (the impeccably dressed Wendy Crewson of The Santa Clause series and Air Force One) and discovers that the annual ice sculpting contest has been cancelled (although the Christmas Festival is still happening). Emma isn’t having that, so she goes on a crusade to raise the $20,000 it’ll cost to put on the ice sculpting festival.
Let’s put the breaks on. We can extrapolate that a graduate of law school is at least twenty-four years old. Emma says she’s been sculpting in the contest with her dad since she was little, so let’s say that she’s participated for the last twenty years on some level or another. Without adjusting for inflation, we can then assume that this little town has spent $400,000 on ice sculpting contests over the decades.
Wow. If that much money was spent per year in the one horse town I grew up in on anything other than high school football, there’d be blood in the streets. I just can’t fathom it. And how much does the rest of the Christmas festival cost? And try to look in the background at the other booths – they are indecipherable.
Also, no one seems to give a shit. If people really care about a thing or a business sees an opportunity, raising $20,000 shouldn’t be that tough. Finding twenty companies to give a grand each in the general area (which doesn’t seem economically depressed) shouldn’t be that hard. You get a donation, you let them put up a “Presented By” banner at the festival and done deal. This isn’t that complicated…
Except that again, no one gives a shit and Emma raises less than half of the money by the deadline only to be saved at the last minute by an anonymous donor. It would have been a lot more reasonable to have her save the entire festival and not just one facet of it, but I guess that ruins the anonymous donor reveal at the end of the flick, which is a long way to go for a concept that doesn’t exist until the last quarter of the movie.
And I haven’t even mentioned the camera work and editing – it’s not good. Most of the time, it’s fine, but every once in a while, there’ll be something ugly, poorly timed and just downright bad. They also had a hard time filming the ice sculptures… sometimes it worked, but most of the time, you can’t tell what they’re supposed to be due to lighting, focus, camera placement, etc.
I will spare you the tale of Emma’s love interest. Damon Runyan (Star Trek Discovery) was punished for his sins, let’s say that.
Which brings me to the movie’s total lack of interest in ice sculptures. The more important they become to the plot, the less you see of them. It’s baffling. Even the prize winning masterpiece at the end… I couldn’t tell you what it was.
I have no idea. And “ice sculpture” is in the title of the movie.
No one working on Christmas Festival of Ice gave a shit and you won’t either. It’s predictable, boring and often nonsensical. Taylor Cole is charming, but that’s not enough to save this one.
The Hallmark Channel presents Christmas in the Air, because you’ve got a call your movie something.
A busy toy making single dad (there’s always a single parent with cute kids because someone is always dead in these movies and this time, it’s this guy’s wife) decides to hire a professional organizer (despite the fact that her business card contains virtually no information at all) to help him find a balance between work and his kids. She’ll help him succeed in business and make time for what really matters while he shows her that there’s more to life than organizing despite the fact that there is virtually no evidence that she is a cold, rigid person who never takes time for fun.
Oh, I think I just figured out that this movie is called Christmas in the Air because the future of the company is based on a Santa sled drone. (Because no one has developed drone toys yet.) And let’s totally ignore the cutting edge hologram technology that is only used to perform excerpts from The Nutcracker. Yeah… that. But don’t forget the totally impossible board game drawers that are literally magic – not to mention that it topped with a giant tablet that can only do 10 things, none of which are practical uses for a tablet.
Sure, the relationship between the brothers is underdeveloped and the romance between the two leads is forced, but there are worse Hallmark movies. It’s not completely devoid of human emotion, which is always a good thing. It never goes beyond the superficial surface, but Christmas in the Air is totally watchable on the made-for-tv Christmas movies scale.
Jodie Sweeten stars in Finding Santa, where she has to find [plot device] to save the [plot device] and the only one who can save us is Ben…. (Played by Eric Winter… I did NOT make that up.) Oh, but Ben doesn’t seem to like Christmas!
So not only is the plot hilariously predictable, it’s also kind of insane. I understand that when you’re getting close to Christmas, booking an experienced Santa Claus is difficult, but the idea that the only person who can fill the big fat red suit is a 35-year-old skinny writer who’s Dad runs a Santa school doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And then we get into this old chestnut:
Yeah, the only thing more tired than “will they or won’t they” is the ol’ Pride and Prejudice rip off. When the lead in a Hallmark movie has instant conflict with a member of the opposite sex, you immediately know exactly how the movie is going to end. This creates a terrible predicament for the film makers because only one question is left to answer:
Will they get to the inevitable kiss in an interesting way?
All such hope is MISBEGOTTEN.
That’s this movie’s problem – the plot is ridiculous, you know how it’s going to end, but to watch the characters fight to delay the inevitable is beyond frustrating. That’s what makes a movie like Finding Santa so annoying – the frustration factor. When no one has a reasonable argument to create or sustain conflict, it makes the viewing experience beyond annoying.
And that’s what Finding Santa is – a frustrating experience from beginning to end. Jodie Sweeten and Eric Winter are charming enough, but the screenplay is soooooo lazy. You can only have the same argument so many times before it becomes nails on a chalkboard. If one were to take a shot every time Ben says, “I have to get back to Boston,” they’d be drunk halfway through the movie and dead by the time it was over.
So should you add Finding Santa to your DVR? Probably not. It’s not the masochist free for all that is A December Bride, but it’s close.
Can you handle the power of Candace Cameron Bure? Can you handle it when there’s twice the Bure? Let me just tell you THAT YOU CANNOT.
That’s right, DJ Tanner goes full Parent Trap/Prince and the Pauper on Christmas in Switched for Christmas. And… it’s not terrible.
I know, right? The premise is ridiculous. Two adults with careers (teacher, real estate development… I guess?) who are identical twins switch places. At work. As in, they’re doing each other’s jobs. Sure, the switching sister doesn’t actually teach children, but she does go to meetings with the boss…
Just so I’m being clear: if you have an identical twin, DON’T SWITCH PLACES. This is a terrible idea.
And yet, the movie isn’t that bad. It has, dare I say, good pacing, decent performances, the dialogue didn’t make me throw up in my mouth (it’s not perfect), uhm… I dunno. I’ve seen worse Christmas movies. On the Hallmark Channel. Starring Full House cast members.
There’s not a single surprise in this movie EXCEPT that they didn’t cheap out on the twin effect. Most of them are simple (locked off camera with garbage mat, shot-reverse-shot with a double), but there are a few shots that really impressed me.
I WAS IMPRESSED BY SOMETHING IN A HALLMARK MOVIE.
I guess that’s the bar – when you’ve just seen Hallmark Channel’s Finding Santa, any movie that has decent pace and just a little bit of density within the plot and the characters makes all the difference. We all know where these movies are going, it’s nice to have something that’s not completely frustrating to look at along the way.
So do I recommend Switched for Christmas? Not especially, but it’s not particuarly torturous. For the Hallmark Channel, that’s a fete.
“Look, I have to pick my kids up. Let’s just combine You’ve Got Mail-“
“You mean Shop Around the Corner?”
“No, I definitely mean You’ve Got Mail. Anyway, let’s just merge that with that advertising plot we use all the time and call it a day.”
And they did.
With Love, Christmas is a buy the numbers romcom with neither surprises more laughs. It’s the bland, take no chances, earn no praise, offend no viewer approach I’ve come to expect from the Hallmark Channel. “Churn ’em out, add them to the rotation, repeat.” It’s the company motto.
But, the movie does have a snow machine, not terrible CGI snow… Which is just another confirmation that the priority is to make a movie with slick production values and absolutely no emphasis on telling an interesting story. With Love, Christmas is cookie cutter Yuletide romance at its worst.
I did like their commercial idea, though. It would have been better if it tied into the plot.