Holiday Movie Reviews: The Holiday Calendar

Turns out writing snarky blog reviews of holiday movies is much easier than focusing on my dissertation today (well, every day but today in particular). So what follows are my thoughts on another Netflix original film The Holiday Calendar. 

Also turns out I left this draft (literally just that paragraph) sitting here for 7 months.

So here is my very late and probably poorly recalled review of The Holiday Calendar.

What I remember is the leads were very cute and had pretty good chemistry. This cookie cutter plot followed the “He was right under her nose all along” path with the childhood best friend overlooked, for most of the movie, in favor of the tall, white, serendipitously appearing doctor who is quite handsome in a handsome way not a cute way like the friend. Anyway, the main character whose name long left my memory thinks her Grandpa’s calendar is magically setting her up with said handsome white doctor man. This bit of plotting really worked for me because I love cheesy movies (and cheese). I’m sure most people would disagree but that’s their problem. Other plot points include her photography job at the mall for Santa being unfulfilling, her childhood best friend helping her out at said job, and her losing said job because she lost some photos of the mayor (I think?). Note on gender politics the mayor (I think?) is played by a woman so that’s pretty progressive for this small-town Netflix Christmas movie.

But that’s about all I have for you, in terms of insightful and incisive commentary, dear readers. I liked it. I might even watch it again this coming Christmas season (it’ll be here sooner than you know it!). Until next time!

Holiday Movie Reviews: The Princess Switch

Because I like writing for fun sometimes, I am rededicating this blog, for now, to reviewing the holiday movies I have watched and will watch over the coming month, months, and year. And for the sake of continuity, I want to start with the first movie I watched this month which was The Princess Switch.

The Princess Switch, a Netflix original, stars Vanessa Hudgens and a bunch of other people who are only there to give Vanessa Hudgens the real star-making vehicle she has deserved since her, I presume, debut in High School Musical. According to her IMDB page, since then, she’s starred in critically acclaimed Neutrogena commercials and a few music videos for a music career, that presumably, never took off. So thankfully, finally, someone gave her a chance to show off her acting chops and boy does she. Playing, of course, both the soon-to-be Princess, Lady Margaret, and the norm-core Chicago girl, Stacy De Novo, who owns a bakery, Vanessa Hudgens, previously Vanessa Anne Hudgens, gives the performance, no two performances, of a Lifetime. The two girls Parent Trap it up for plot reasons and we get Vanessa Hudgens as Stacy De Novo as Lady Margaret and vice versa. 

Underlying this switch is an upcoming wedding and a baking contest which hits all the notes of the current zeitgeist and holiday movies in general and contains the events of the movie to two days. Turns out, a lot can happen in two days as both characters fall in love with the man they aren’t supposed to. Stacy (as Lady Margaret) falls in love with Edward, the tall, cute royal who is also a little clueless while Lady Margaret (as Stacy) falls in love with Kevin, the erstwhile solidly friendzoned “sous” chef of Stacy. There is the ever-present precocious child, Kevin’s daughter from a previous relationship, who quickly puts the pieces together. On the other side, we get meddling royal relatives sneaking about to figure out why Lady Margaret is acting so strangely all of  a sudden. To call this movie formulaic would be an understatement but the formula works, at least on me it did in this case. The performances are clearly heartfelt and, I think, self-aware. No one is trying to win an Academy Award here; in fact, I think they’re aware of the genre and even attempting to nod at that in their performances. I might be giving her and them too much credit, but Vanessa Hudgens body language, in particular, is VERY expressive without being distracting. She finds a middle ground between the typical overacting of these movies and the increasingly “stoic” nature of “real acting”. 

Other things this movie does well include the snow covered shots of small towns and palaces. Sometimes these shots can come off as, well, cold, but the directors imbue a warmth even into the cold that sets this film apart from other holiday romance films. The baking challenge is, obviously no-stakes, but still sort of fun to watch for the typical sabotage and intrigue that occurs in that setting. The movie also nods to Netflix previous holiday movies when Lady Margaret (as Stacy) and Kevin cozy up to watch a movie together. They pick The Christmas Inheritance (or The Christmas Prince, I cant remember) which is a fun bit of meta-marketing that will work for some, me, and not for others. All in all, this film was a hoot and a half. I don’t expect that any of the holiday movies I watch will revolutionize film-making, or really even that very specific genre, but I do expect them to be fun and build a world I can sink into for ~90 minutes of hedonistic joy. 

So with that as the established criteria, reader, I leave you waiting for the next review. So far, I have already watched Netflix’s The Christmas Calendar and The Christmas Prince 2, Ion television’s A Prince for Christmas, and a part of both Christmas in Compton and A Christmas Reunion. I said I’d start at the beginning for continuity’s sake but I have no idea which of those I watched second so tune in next time for a surprise review of a film out of this very mixed bag. 

The Darkest Hour: or 2 Hours and 5 Minutes of White Male Tears

You win some, you lose some goes the old adage. Well, today I lost one. Specifically, I lost 3-1 for the irregularly annual Christmas Day movie choice. You see, I wanted to see Star Wars again because my mom is a devoted fan (not to mention, I enjoyed my first and so far only viewing). However, we were at a 2-2 impasse… until my sister suggested The Darkest Hour which promptly and unsurprisingly won because my sister, her boyfriend, and my mom are all history nerds.

So to The Darkest Hour we went. And boy was it a dark hour, well 2 hours and 5 minutes to be specific. If I were forced to sum up this movie in one sentence it would be “Gary Oldman masterfully mumbles and bumbles as Churchill through smoky, dimly lit rooms with other old white men.” But I’m not forced to use only one sentence, so a few more follow.

My first problem with The Darkest Hour is not entirely its fault but rather that of the arc of history. If my previous summary doesn’t clearly indicate, diversity is severely lacking in this movie. This is to be expected. However, this lack is made especially problematic when the only women in the film, the most compelling characters in my opinion, are used as tools to demonstrate the emotional depth of Churchill. This comes across most obviously in a scene with his typist, Elizabeth played charmingly by Lily James, wherein he learns her brother died retreating to Dunkirk. This scene is not about Elizabeth or the pain she may have experienced but rather is used to demonstrate that Churchill may, after all, have a heart. I would much rather have seen a movie focus on her perspective – the uncertainty of living in WWII England working for a prime minister who is somewhat of a war monger but ends up on the “right side of history”. Maybe someone else will get on making that film.

Until then, we have another Churchill movie that wants you to feel triumphant with him (count the number of times the word victory is used). However, because it’s history, and we all know the ending, tension is difficult to build. Some historical films, such as Dunkirk, which combine fiction and fact, succeed in this regard, but The Darkest Hour fails. This, in my opinion, is largely due to the mediocre writing and subsequent pacing. The movie is basically a device used to transport viewers between Churchill’s various speeches, and honestly I found myself wishing for more of them.

Other than these speeches, the moments the movie uses to drum up emotion frequently fall flat. In one such moment, I literally laughed out loud when Chamberlain, played by Ronald Pickup, announces, without emotion or context, “I have cancer.” The most egregious example of this manipulation takes place near the climax of the film, when, in a clearly fictional account, Churchill, for no apparent reason, decides to take the Underground to Westminster. The other passengers (whose names he apparently finds time to write down though it is unclear when) are taken aback at first. With some provoking though, they encourage Winston to fight until the very end and not to enter peace talks as the Conservatives in Parliament so badly desire. In this scene, we see the use of the only black person in the film and (again)  women as props to ultimately suggest Churchill is emotionally complex. We, the viewer, are to believe he is the hero of the common people both he and the film believe him to be. It clearly worked for some as the old white male stranger next to me visibly and audibly teared up at the end.

Churchill most certainly is a historical hero, of sorts, worthy of biography; however, this film fails to provide a nuanced perspective to the story. The only nuance present is in Oldman’s performance (and maybe the few scenes of his alcoholism but those are mostly played as jokes). If you like historical films, you’ll probably enjoy this just fine as my family did. However, if like me, you want to see a more critical, or at least entertaining, take on the familiar events of the past I would look elsewhere.

Review of Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighborhood

This winter break I became obsessed with YouTube for a variety of reasons. Too much time on my hands and a desire to learn about myself being possibly the primary ones. In doing so, I discovered the YouTube star and all-around talent Troye Sivan. Finding myself eager to support him in his endeavors outside of YouTube, I used a Target gift card I received for Christmas to purchase the Deluxe, Target edition of Blue Neighborhood.
Which has been in my CD player in my car ever since.
Needless to say this is a decision I do not regret.
So I thought I would review a few of the reasons as to why I have been addicted to this album for two months.
One of those reasons is simply I think it is good music. Overall, the album has a coherent sound. The songs move from one to the next seamlessly, flowing at a generally upbeat pace with soothing electronic waves overlaid. One might find this monotonous but Sivan injects enough variety, often with guest artists, to still make each song feel fresh and unique.
I could review the album song-by-song, but I’ll keep it to the highlights. A few of his songs have a tragic streak such as the poignant conclusion to the Blue Neighborhood trilogy, Talk Me Down. But others such as Bite and Wild, are fun and exhibit the artist’s youth (not to mention his song, Youth).
To me the pinnacle of the album is Heaven featuring Betty Who. The lyrics reflect a personal tension I’ve felt as a man trying to navigate the bounds of my identity as a gay Christian.
“All my time is wasted/Feeling like my heart’s mistaken, oh/So if I’m losing a piece of me/Maybe I don’t want heaven?”
And it is these lyrics and Troye’s insistence throughout the album to use the pronouns that he identifies with that I most appreciate about the album. It would be easy for a young, gay artist to minimize that part of his identity. Going back to my last post, representation is important. Seeing Troye representing a part of my identity that isn’t usually prominent in mainstream media is refreshing. It gives me confidence in myself. I feel more comfortable in my identity as a result.
I think the next post I do should be more “academic” in nature. So I will either attempt to summarize and review a piece of research or present a piece of my own research.

In Case You Didn’t Believe Me

I am obsessed with Beyoncé. I even included it in my Bio. So I decided, let’s talk about Beyoncé.

She’s a pretty popular topic right now, so I thought I would weigh in. (See her most current video.)

Starting off, the video for Formation is a piece of art. Beautifully shot and produced, the outfits and compositions belong in museums. Each moment is captured with an intensity and attention to detail that is unusual to find in mainstream culture and art these days. This video was made for a purpose, obviously. It is historical and current. It is beauty and grit. It is Beyoncé.

And the song itself is also a piece of art. It is much deeper and more complex than the usual pop song, referencing documentaries and other artists alike. Formation lingers for a while with that twanging sound providing the primary driving force. Finally, we arrive at the climax, the queen repeating the mantra “I slay”, a powerful and empowering phrase, pushing the song harder and farther.

She is pulling no punches with this release.

Which leads me to what I appreciate about Beyoncé most. She has a position of great power and influence and she is using it to its advantage. She has wealth and beauty, but she isn’t squandering these resources. She is giving back- to charity, to her community, and to the public at large.

Someday I hope to emulate that tenacity and honesty through my career as a scholar and professor. I never want to sacrifice my morals or beliefs for my job or in my life again.

I will be in a position of some influence and I want to be able to use that to support equal rights and education. And I believe I can do that through both parts of my profession- through teaching and mentorship with students but also through scholarship.

The second area, my scholarship, is what I’m trying to figure out as I’m moving forward in my PhD program. I know of a few scholars who study LGBTQ+ issues in public administration and policy (Greg Lewis at Georgia State being possibly the most prominent) and hope to contribute to this literature someday. Luckily I have resources in professors who are very interested in representation who could be able to support me in these endeavors.

It took me this long to understand how important representation is. Seeing Beyoncé’s video helped me realize that. Listening to Troye Sivan’s album Blue Neighborhood helped me realize that (which a review of might be my next post). Representation is important because even if change at an institutional level is slow (something all political scientists know) it can lead to very immediate, important, internal changes for individuals. Just seeing someone who represents me or someone who represents the ideals I believe in has made me more comfortable in myself and the beliefs I hold dear.

Noise in the Void

As far as this blog goes, I have no misconceptions that I’m not just another voice in the crowd creating noise in the void. However, recently, I’ve learned the power of putting yourself out there and taking risks. It can be really helpful for others. Additionally, it can be a powerful process personally. So that’s what I hope to do with this blog: to be a noise in the void, a slightly louder voice in the crowd, for myself and for others.