So, Christmas is here in a few days, not to mention the start of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
If you dread this time of year, it’s time to face the music. It might get a little awkward. But be strong, you can make it. If you need to, sneak away for a lil’ smoke break outside, then come back and dazzle folks with trippy stories about Santa Claus.
If you’re not up for that, lock yourself in a room for five minutes and enjoy some adults-only alone time. Whatever it takes to chill out for a bit.
But, most of all, just look on the bright side. Even if you hate the holidays you’re bound to either get at least one decent gift, or at the very least, some socks, which as you get older, you realize are actually a practical gift. Because who wants to waste time or money buying their own socks?
Some might say that being happy with getting socks for Christmas is a sure sign you’re getting old. But getting old also means you’re a veteran at surviving the holidays, so take that experience and saunter through the Yuletide chaos. If worse comes to worse, watch a few movies. That always makes things better.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)
Starring: Paul Reubens
Director: Wayne Orr, Paul Reubens
Summary: A classic (and hip) TV holiday program for all ages.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse will go down in history as one of television’s most creative children’s shows, lovingly crafted to its very last tiny detail. Everywhere you look there’s some sort of magical thing happening. In Pee-wee’s elaborate world, the furniture comes alive, the secret word of the day brings cheer, and everyone is welcome.
That last part can’t be emphasized enough. Multicultural diversity was always prominent on the landmark Sesame Street series, but Pee-wee’s show was ahead of its time in terms of being gender-friendly on top of being racially inclusive. There’s a scene in the Christmas special where Pee-wee opens the door to a room in his house where shirtless male workers toil away all day. There’s most definitely a gay vibe going on, but it’s treated as another normal part of Mr. Herman’s universe.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special thrives thanks to the eclectic guest list that includes Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, Magic Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Little Richard, Grace Jones, Charo, k.d. lang, and the late Zsa Zsa Gabor and Joan Rivers, amongst other distinguished people. The cameos all come and go in the blink of an eye, but will still stick in your mind, especially when the celebs aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves and go in 100 percent on the joke. And we can’t forget some of the regular characters who show up, like Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne), King of Cartoons (William Marshall), and Jambi (John Paragon), as well as puppets Randy, Globey, Chairy, and more.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse had the right amount of kitsch, a great sense of history (the way it pays tribute to ’50s idols Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, but also pokes fun at them, is nicely balanced), and consistently provided gentle lessons for children. Not only that, it’s perfect for legal age stoners, too.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Summary: Superheroes must choose sides when political pressure is put on their organization.
When a superhero movie is bad, comic book fans will guarantee you hear about their disappointment from here to the North Pole and back. When a superhero flick is good, fanboys and girls will praise it to the high heavens, having you believe it’s the most incredible movie of all time. So, considering the fact that Captain America: Civil War, which comes to Netflix on Christmas Day, has gotten tons of rave reviews, the logical conclusion might be that it’s a bit overrated.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. As much as ridiculously-budgeted blockbusters get criticized (usually for being all style and no substance), it can be a vastly satisfying and thrilling experience when a movie that was designed to be a mega box office hit gets it right. And that’s exactly what Captain America: Civil War does.
Chances are you probably saw the movie in theaters and will want to see it again. But, in case you haven’t peeped it yet, just know that this is a continuing story, so you should probably have already seen the previous Captain America and Avengers movies to fully enjoy this one. Even if you don’t, the only plot point that’s going to matter when it’s all said and done is that you get to see good guy superheroes go head to head against each other. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but damn if it’s not a bunch of fun.
We can sit here all day talking about how good the pacing is action-wise, how the stunt work is as impressive as the CGI, and how every character is given just the right amount of screen time, but what it really comes down to is the exciting battles and the appearances of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a teenage Spider-Man (Tom Holland). (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is awesome too.)
Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, and with so much going on, the threat of sensory overload is possible, so you might end up forgetting to eat your popcorn. But it will also probably make some adults feel like kids again.
Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, David Johansen, Carol Kane
Director: Richard Donner
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
Summary: A callous TV exec is visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve.
It’s hard to determine where Scrooged stands amongst other memorable holiday films. It seems to have divided audiences since its release. For some, it’s a loud, wonderful re-invention of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with just the right amount of cynicism that’s worth re-watching on a yearly basis. For others, it’s a flat-out obnoxious farce with dated jokes that fly over the heads of younger audiences.
Whether you like the movie or not is mostly dependent on Bill Murray’s zany performance, which is turned up to 11 from start to finish. Murray puts it all on the line, fully committed to being a total douche who always seems to be yelling rather than talking. He’s quite entertaining, although it’s understandable that some people might not appreciate his tendency to go over-the-top. (Bobcat Goldthwait also delivers big-time, but his poor sap character is nearly overshadowed by Murray’s commanding presence.)
While it’s nowhere near the crassness of Bad Santa, PG-13 Scrooged does offer up some bawdy humor mixed in with a few scares and cool special effects, like when the Ghost of Christmas Future opens its robe to reveal a hellish sight. It also has a few curse words sure to delight kids without corrupting their brains.
Scrooged is very much aware of the time it was made, an era when corporate greed was celebrated out in the open, guilt-free. Some of what Murray’s merciless television executive, Frank Cross, embodies—the cold-blooded calculations, the willingness to push past common decency—is still evident today with the way networks use fear tactics to control ratings. And while some might complain that the ending is corny, it plays into what consumers demand from their holiday entertainment: a happy ending no matter what the cost.
A Christmas Horror Story (2015)
Starring: George Buza, Zoé De Grand Maison, Adrian Holmes, Jeff Clarke
Director: Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban
Summary: Scary Xmas lore for you and yours.
We’ve come a long way since the ’80s. It used to be that only pimply-faced teenagers with subscriptions to Fangoria magazine looked forward to watching VHS copies of gory fare like Black Christmas, Christmas Evil, and Silent Night, Deadly Night on their holiday break. Nowadays, more folks feel comfortable eschewing traditional (read: sappy) Christmas entertainment for bloody, grisly alternatives like this recommendation.
A Christmas Horror Story is actually several stories in one. We cut in between three teenage friends who get locked in their school over winter break then realize they’re not alone; a family that cuts down a tree in the forest, unaware that the act comes with dire consequences; and another family that must survive an encounter with a nasty mythological creature come to life. There’s also a running bit about Santa Claus facing off against demon elves. The film is bookended by a marvelous William Shatner. The veteran thespian is sometimes derided for his overacting, but here he really shines as a radio disc jockey, playing the part with terrific timing.
Is this movie some kind of Christmas miracle? No. It has its share of run-of-the-mill moments. But it won’t make you feel crappy like not getting that one gift you truly wanted this year. It’s the type of movie that you catch with friends and family (if they’re cool) while enjoying some spiked eggnog. It’s good enough for a few scares and laughs even if you’re not always paying full attention because you’re half-drunkenly mad that your annoying relatives from out of town are still around for a few more days.
Starring: Devon Terrell, Anya Taylor-Joy, Jason Mitchell, Avi Nash
Director: Vikram Gandhi
Summary: A young Barack Obama moves to NYC to attend college in the early ’80s.
It would be great not to have to get into this, but for the record, this biographical dramatization of Barack Obama decades before he became president has predictably been downgraded by citizens with overt political agendas. Many of these Internet trolls are the same ones who demanded that Mr. Obama share his birth certificate with the world, but were cool with Trump not revealing his tax returns and violating the Constitution. They’re the same people who…well, you know who the hell they are. One of them might even be you.
Whatever reason you have for not liking the 44th POTUS—and, yeah, he wasn't perfect—it’s still hard to take people who claim he was the worst president of all time serious, especially when a lot of those same people voted for the clown who will surely take that title by a landslide when he enters office in January. And it’s beyond comprehension how anyone could ever think that Obama was worse than Bush II, who left the economy in the toilet. The truth is Obama was a good president, overall, considering what he’s been up against.
But anyways, this has been a long way of saying: Don’t believe the hype. Barry is a worthwhile watch. Ironically, the film doesn’t focus on his political life. In fact, there’s a scene where he says he doesn’t think much of the political process, even though he’s clearly already politically-minded. Rather, this is an intimate look at him dealing with personal issues about his absent father and coming to terms with his own mixed background. It’s also interested in showing him just being young. We see him going to house parties, meeting women, and shooting hoops uptown. But we also witness him embracing black culture, being harassed by campus security, and trying to figure out the racial dynamics of having a white girlfriend (Taylor-Joy, of The Witch). Be sure to keep an eye out for the scenes involving the confrontational Black Hebrew Israelites. They’re gold.
Terrell’s tremendous interpretation of a young Obama is reason enough to tune in. He nails the future politician’s speech pattern without overdoing it. So, put your political bias aside and give this one a chance.