Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Post-Christmas Short Review Triple Feature: 2017 Edition

In 2012, it was Les Misérables and Django Unchained. In 2013, it was The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle. In 2014, it was Into the Woods and The Imitation Game. In 2015, there was The Hateful Eight and The Big Short. And last year, 2016, we had Fences and La La Land. Yes, folks, it is that time of year again as I recently embarked on my annual Post-Christmas double feature run with my good friend and fellow film critic Matthew Goudreau of The Young Folks. This is something that we’ve been doing for the past few years now as a way of seeing some of the year’s biggest award contenders. As such, as I’ve done every year, I’ll be doing a quick pair of short reviews for these two films instead of two standard reviews so that I can have more time to start preparing for my annual ‘Top 12 Favorite Films of the Year’ list. But for these past few years, what originally began as a ‘Double Feature’ post soon turned into a ‘Triple Feature’ post because Matt and I often do this around the time of New Year’s Eve. And almost every year on that day, my family and I have a tradition of going to see a film as a nice way of closing out the year. Thus, today on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’m officially kicking off my 2018 slate of posts* (not counting the second half of my ‘Worst of 2017’ list that was published a few days ago) by delving into the last three new releases that I saw in 2017, beginning with the two films that Matt and I saw on the day before New Year’s Eve.

THE SHAPE OF WATER


First up, we have the latest film from director Guillermo Del Toro. Over the past few years, Del Toro has made quite a name for himself in the film industry particularly thanks to his work in the fantasy genre. This includes the likes of the original Hellboy from 2004, its 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which ended up winning three Oscars at that year’s ceremony. And now Del Toro returns to the fantasy genre with another big awards contender, The Shape of Water, which tells the story of a mute woman named Elisa who forms a special bond with a humanoid-looking amphibious creature that’s being held captive at the government facility that she works at. In the process, however, she and the creature find themselves pursued by the vicious colonel who had captured the creature in the first place. All in all, the film is a charming fantasy flick that features some excellent cinematography and visual effects. This is especially worth noting considering the fact that this film was made on a modest budget of under $20 million. The film is also bolstered by a collection of strong performances from its ensemble cast. Sally Hawkins is incredibly charismatic as the mute Elisa while Michael Shannon is delightfully sinister as the main antagonist, Colonel Strickland. Richard Jenkins is also a major standout as Elisa’s closeted artist neighbor Giles as is Michael Stuhlbarg as a Russian scientist who, like Elisa, is more sympathetic to the creature in comparison to Strickland. And, of course, there’s Del Toro regular Doug Jones once again doing a phenomenal job under heavy makeup as the incredibly sympathetic ‘Asset’. With all this in mind, Guillermo Del Toro has very much hit it out of the park with this visually beautiful tale of a Beauty and her Beast.

Rating: 4.5/5

ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD


This is a film that has certainly attracted quite a lot of media attention these past few months. As many of you know, director Ridley Scott’s newest film, which delves into the true story of the infamous kidnapping of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s grandson John Paul Getty III, originally starred Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty. That all changed, however, when Spacey became just the latest figure in the film industry to be hit with the ‘Weinstein effect’ and be accused of several incidents of sexual assault. Thus, in what was easily one of the most unprecedented moves ever seen in the entire industry, Scott straight-up recast the role and reshot major sequences of the film just one month prior to its release. And so, Christopher Plummer now stars in the role of J. Paul Getty; though, really, this change doesn’t have that much of an effect over the final film (aside from it being a different spin on the character) as Getty’s role in the film is minor at best. Still, Plummer does do an excellent job in the role of the cold and distant billionaire. Equally terrific in the film is Michelle Williams as Gail Harris, Getty’s former daughter-in-law who becomes extremely devoted to the process of finding her kidnapped son. These strong performances are easily the best part of the film, and for the most part, they make up for its biggest shortcoming, its sluggish pacing. Simply put, there are several instances where you can feel the brunt of the film’s near two and a half hour runtime, especially during the second act. That’s not to say, though, that the film doesn’t have its moments; and of course, at the end of the day, Ridley Scott deserves a heck of a lot of credit for managing to completely rework a sizable chunk of the film in such a short amount of time. While it’s by no means the best film that he’s ever done, All the Money in the World is still worth checking out if mainly for the phenomenal performances from Williams and Plummer.  

Rating: 3/5

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN


And finally, we have the last new film release that I saw in 2017 on New Year’s Eve, The Greatest Showman. This lavish period musical is based on the true story of the origins of the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus… which ironically closed for good this past May due to decreasing ticket sales. Despite this, however, I was still very much looking forward to this film given the fond memories that I have of going to see the circus when I was younger. With that said, though, I should probably start this review by addressing the big elephant in the room that is this film’s portrayal of the circus’ founder, P.T. Barnum. While the film portrays Barnum as an endearing ‘nobody’ who managed to defy all odds and make a name for himself in the world of entertainment thanks to his circus, several people have pointed out that he was a far more ruthless entrepreneur than the film lets on. But while I do recognize the fact that this film isn’t exactly historically accurate, I still found it to be quite enjoyable thanks to its excellent and well-choreographed musical numbers courtesy of La La Land songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Plus, the film also boasts a terrific ensemble cast highlighted by Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, Michelle Williams (in her second major appearance in today’s post) as Barnum’s loving wife Charity, Zac Efron as a playwright who ends up becoming Barnum’s business partner, and Zendaya as one of the circus’ trapeze artists who falls in love with Efron’s character. In short, it is perfectly understandable if some may find this film’s messages of acceptance to be rather phony given the context of the true story that it’s based on. Still, if you’re just looking for a charming and original feel-good musical, then I have the feeling that you’ll enjoy The Greatest Showman regardless of how much it stretches the truth.


Rating: 5/5!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Top 10 WORST Films of 2017: Part 2 (#5-1)

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s annual End of the Year list in which I count down my picks for the Top 10 Worst Films of 2017. This is the second half of a two-part series and today I’ll be delving into my Top 5 worst from this past year in film. If you want to see picks #10-6, click here to be directed over to Part 1. But for now, it’s time to get back to the list…

As I said back in Part 1, I found a lot of the films that ended up on this year’s list to be more ‘disappointing’ than ‘anger-inducing’. This very much applies to my Number 5 pick given all of the big names that were involved with it.

5. THE CIRCLE


This was a film that had quite the cast and crew attached to it. With big names like Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and Bill Paxton (in his final film appearance following his passing this past February) in the cast and indie sensation James Ponsoldt behind the camera, there was some genuine potential for The Circle to be a solid film inspired by the ongoing controversy of internet privacy. Sadly, the film just ends up being a lackluster thriller that feels like a severely truncated adaptation of its source material. Now, granted, like I said in my original review for this film, I haven’t read Dave Eggers’ original novel upon which this film is based; however, I have read through its plot synopsis. In the process, I noticed that the film leaves out some big moments from the novel. One of these involves the character Annie (Karen Gillan), the best friend of the main protagonist, Mae. While Annie is the one who helps Mae land a job at the big tech magnate ‘The Circle’, she begins to become jealous of Mae when she starts to become more popular within the company’s ranks. Thus, she decides to volunteer to test out one of the company’s new products known as PastPerfect, which tracks their users’ family history, as a way of improving her standing within the company. However, this ends up bringing some of her family’s disturbing history to light, which stresses her out so much that she ends up in a catatonic state. By contrast, her fate in the film is a lot less grim, as she just decides to leave the company when the stress of all of the traveling that she has to do for work becomes too much for her to bear. Still, the way in which this all plays out in the novel definitely would’ve helped in giving the film adaptation a bit more edge to it.

The other big change from the novel mainly stems from how it all ends. Mae ends up meeting one of the Circle’s original founders, Ty (John Boyega, who is SEVERELY underused in this film), who warns her about some of the company’s darker practices. In the film, this ultimately concludes with the two of them publicly exposing all of this and ruining the reputations of Circle CEO’s Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks who, to be perfectly frank, is quite miscast in the role of the supposed ‘villain’) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt, who’s also arguably quite miscast). In the novel, however, it’s a different story; Mae ends up siding with Eamon and Tom when Ty comes to her with this information. In other words, the main character of the story arguably ends up going down quite the sinister path by embracing the idea of a fully transparent world regardless of the consequences that would inevitably come from it. This doesn’t happen in the film, which ultimately leads to what is probably its biggest shortcoming; at the end of the day, the overall stakes in this film are quite unclear. Even when Mae and Ty one-up Eamon and Tom at the end of it all, you really don’t get the sense of what all of this was meant to accomplish because it seems like nothing really changes. In short, this film ultimately lacks a lot of its source material’s edge, as it seems as if these changes were made primarily to make it more appealing to audiences. And while I’m not necessarily ‘against’ this decision, it certainly hurt the film from a narrative perspective while also limiting its stacked ensemble cast due to the weakened material.

This next film was my #1 worst of the year for quite a few months. But while it did manage to avoid ‘that’ spot by year’s end, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be giving it a free pass.

4. BAYWATCH


Despite its high placement on this list, I will openly admit that I still think that it’s a bummer that this film turned out the way that it did. I still remember how, prior to its release, it was being built up as the big comedy of the summer thanks to one heck of a major marketing blitz. And with big names like Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron in the cast, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for one thing, this film had one of the worst ‘hit-miss’ ratios of any comedy that I’ve ever seen, with almost all of its jokes proving to be massive duds.  Like CHiPS, this film attempts to take the premise of an old TV series and give it a hard-R raunchy vibe that’s very much in line with modern R-rated comedies. In the process, though, it just makes the whole film a bit too mean-spirited and also rather sexist. And for the record, when I say ‘sexist’, I don’t primarily mean in regards to how this film is based on a show that was heavily known for showing off sexy female lifeguards. Instead, the biggest reason why this film proves to quite sexist is that, aside from main leads Johnson and Efron, none of the film’s female leads get any sort of good material to work with. This includes Alexandria Daddario as Summer Quinn, Kelly Rohrbach as C.J. Parker (AKA Pamela Anderson’s character from the original series), and Priyanka Chopra as the main antagonist Victoria Leeds. Bottom line, it’s arguably quite unbelievable that this film managed to screw up this much, but alas, here we are. Like I said in my original review for the film, I have never watched the original Baywatch TV series before, and while this film won’t completely turn me off from ever checking it out in the future, it’s safe to say that it certainly isn’t a good representation of its source material.

Well, I guess you can say that it’s only fitting that we’d eventually get to a horror film; they do often appear on this list, after all. And in this instance, we have the latest entry in a franchise that had seemed dead for more than a decade.

3. RINGS


Now this is a film that has been in development for quite a long time as the latest installment of a horror franchise from the early 2000’s. It all began in 2002 when director Gore Verbinski, one year prior to starting the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, helmed an Americanized remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ring. This tale of a cursed videotape that kills those who watch it after seven days was one of the most critically acclaimed horror films of its time, and for the most part, the American remake fared just as well with critics and audiences. While I personally didn’t find it to be that ‘scary’, it did benefit from having an effectively creepy atmosphere along with a strong lead performance from Naomi Watts as reporter Rachel Keller, the main protagonist. Three years later, the remake got a sequel, The Ring Two. However, even though it was helmed by Hideo Nakata, director of the original Ring, it was a fairly mediocre sequel that suffered heavily from its bland script. This brings us back to this year’s Rings which, as noted earlier, had basically been in development hell for several years. For such a long time, it was unclear if it was ever going to get made or if Naomi Watts would return to reprise her role as Rachel; heck, at one point, there was apparently plans to have it be filmed in 3-D. Ultimately, though, Watts did not return for this film, which takes place more than a decade after the events of the previous films. And yet, even after all that time… this film is heavily dated.

For one thing, even though the film is set in modern times, it still relies heavily on the franchise’s original concept of a cursed videotape… even though VHS has been an obsolete format for quite a few years at this point. Oh sure, they do implement a few modern twists into this idea by the end, namely when the infamous ‘Ring’ video gets uploaded online and goes viral, but for the most part, the plot feels just as obsolete as that original cursed videotape. As for the rest of the film, it’s just your basic horror film with wooden characters, bland direction, and so on and so forth. Heck, it even goes as far as to blatantly copy a story concept from the 2016 horror-thriller Don’t Breathe. For those who don’t remember, that film revolved around a trio of thieves who attempted to rob a blind man’s house only to discover that the blind man was more than capable of dealing with them. And what do we have in this film? Why we have a blind man who knows how to defend himself against intruders. Yes, part of the plot involves the main characters visiting a blind priest played by Vincent D’Onofrio. This priest is eventually revealed to be the man who had raped the mother of the series’ main antagonist, Samara, thereby resulting in her birth. There’s even a sequence set in the priest’s house that’s in the dark; you seriously can’t get any more obvious than that. And that really sums up Rings in a nutshell; for a film that took such a long time to get made, it clearly shows in the final product that it’s incredibly behind in the times when it comes to its franchise’s place in the horror genre.

Oh boy… we’re back to this franchise…

2. FIFTY SHADES DARKER


Yes, 2017 saw the latest installment of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise AKA the series that initially began as Twilight fan-fiction. While author E.L. James’ highly controversial erotic romance series has not been well-received by most critics, it has done quite well commercially. Case in point, while the series’ first film adaptation was touted by many as one of the worst films of 2015, it grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide. As many of you will no doubt recall, that film ultimately landed at the #6 spot in my ‘Worst of 2015’ list. But as for its sequel, it ends up at a much higher spot because even with a change in director, with James Foley (director of the 1992 cult classic Glengarry Glen Ross) now at the helm, it does not improve upon its equally terrible predecessor. It’s the same stuff that we saw before; awful dialogue, stilted acting, and watered-down sex scenes that don’t reach the ridiculous lengths of what was described in the books (Disclaimer: Still haven’t read them and still don’t ever plan to). But this film, especially, highlights what is easily one of the worst aspects of this entire series; the general indecisiveness of its main characters, namely female lead Anastasia Steele. At the end of the first film, Ana decided to break things off with her ‘boyfriend’ Christian Grey when she found that she was unable to deal with being his BDSM submissive. However, in this film, she ends up getting back together with him despite the fact that Christian is still a douchebag stalker who is clearly wrong for her. And yet, the film ends with him proposing to her, setting up the stage for this series’ finale (thankfully…), Fifty Shades Freed. It’ll be hitting theaters next month and, suffice it to say, will probably end up appearing on my ‘Worst of 2018’ list.

Well, we started off this list on a controversial note with Justice League, so it’s only fitting that we end it with an equally controversial #1 pick. Now I know what some of you may be thinking… why would my pick for the worst film of 2017 possibly be controversial? Usually, most people would agree with me in saying that the film in question was one of the worst of the year, right? Well… not in this instance; this film actually did do fairly well with critics. But as for me… well, I’m on the side that gave this film the rare ‘F’ rating on CinemaScore.

1. MOTHER!


Yes, Darren Aronofsky’s latest polarizing directorial effort is my pick for the worst film of 2017. In fact… this was one of the worst films that I’ve ever seen, period. As I said a few months back, this was one of the most excruciating experiences that I’ve ever had as a film critic in terms of both having to sit through this god-awful mess of a film and then having to write about it. Now, before any of those out there who did like this film tries to get on my case about this, let me make one thing perfectly clear. This is not a situation where ‘I didn’t understand what was going on’ because I did. I knew that this film was intended to be a biblical allegory utilizing some of the most famous figures from the Bible and implementing them into a modern context. Jennifer Lawrence’s character is Mother Nature, Javier Bardem’s character is God, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris represent Adam and Eve, and their two sons played by real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson are Cain and Abel. However, the only reason why I knew that is because I accidentally stumbled across information that explains who Bardem was meant to be portraying just prior to seeing the film. With that in mind, if you’re going into this film completely blind (which is something that I know quite a few film fans are trying to do nowadays in these spoiler-heavy times), it’s quite possible that you won’t even know what the heck is happening in it. And even if you do know what’s supposed to be going on in this film, there are still quite a lot of things in it that make no frigging sense. Like at one point, Bardem’s character’s publisher (Kristen Wiig) starts executing a bunch of random strangers during a get-together. Why? It’s never explained. And trust me when I say that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a film that is, to reference a common military slang term, truly FUBAR.

I will say this, though; to the film’s credit, everyone in the cast does a solid job in their respective roles. If anything, they do succeed in conveying the traits of the biblical figures that they’re meant to represent. However, this is ultimately all for naught in this pretentious mess of a film that features some truly obnoxious cinematography and editing. In short, it’s because of films like this that I usually don’t watch a lot of art-house films. Granted, that’s not to say that I would dismiss the genre completely because of this film (just look at my ‘Best of 2016’ list when I ranked Swiss Army Man at #8). And again, I do recognize why others would like a film like this. But if you ask me, this film is a terrible representative for its genre, as it is way too extreme in its overall execution to the point where it also comes off as being quite sexist. Jennifer Lawrence did state, after all, that the film’s plot was basically about the ‘raping of Mother Nature’; suffice it to say, she was right about that. Now for the record, I’m saying all of this while being fully aware of the fact that this has very much become one of those films where those who liked it are being quite critical towards those who didn’t like it. This is, after all, an original film that took some risks and yet was generally ignored by theatergoers. Well, to that I’ll say the same thing that I said about The Emoji Movie back in Part 1… this is not the film to get that worked up over. If anything, it proves that just because a film is ‘original’ or ‘independently made’, that doesn’t automatically make it good.


And those are my Top 10 Worst Films of 2017. Like I always say, it’s great to get this list out of the way first so that you don’t have to think about the year’s biggest stinkers any further. Thanks for following along and feel free to sound off in the comments below with your own picks for the Worst Films of 2017. Also, be sure to stay tuned for my next big end-of-the-year list in which I’ll be counting down my favorite films from this past year. You can all expect that series of posts sometime in the next few weeks.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top 10 WORST Films of 2017: Part 1 (#10-6)

Well, folks, we’re nearing the end of 2017, and in the world of film, that means one thing. Yes, the time has come to look back upon the past year and list both our favorite and least favorite films from 2017. But while most critics have already posted their Top 10 Best Films of the Year lists (some of whom even did it before they saw a certain film set in a galaxy far, far away… the nerve…), I do things a little differently here on Rhode Island Movie Corner. You see, most critics tend to release their ‘Best of the Year’ lists first before their ‘Worst of the Year’ lists. As such, the ‘Worst of’ lists always end up attracting more attention. Why? Well, that’s because here on the internet, people love to hear others rag on films a lot more than when they praise them. But as for me, I do my ‘Worst of the Year’ list first simply because I like to end the year on a good note instead of a bad one. With that in mind, don’t expect a lot of anger in these next two posts because, to be perfectly frank, I rarely get that angry at bad films nowadays. To be clear, however, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be going soft on any of the films that I’m about to discuss. And so, without further ado, the time has come for me to list my picks for the Top 10 WORST films of 2017. This is the first half of a two-part series, and today I’ll be listing films #10-6. Also, it’s worth noting that while these two posts may contain some major spoilers from the following films, I won’t be posting any Spoiler Warnings because, simply put, these aren’t films that I can recommend in any capacity.

Before we get started, however, I have one Dishonorable Mention

DISHONORABLE MENTION – CHiPS


CHiPS was a buddy cop TV series that aired on NBC from 1977 to 1983. Running for a span of 139 episodes over the course of 6 seasons (plus a made-for-television film in 1998, CHiPS ‘99), the show followed the adventures of Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and Francis Llewellyn Poncherello AKA Ponch (Erik Estrada), a pair of officers who worked for the California Highway Patrol. This year, the classic series was revitalized for the big-screen by writer/director Dax Shepard, who also starred in the film as Baker alongside Michael Pena as Ponch. And at the very least, the two of them do have solid chemistry when it comes to their comedic banter… it’s a shame, then, that the film boasts a rather mediocre hit-miss ratio when it comes to its humor. Granted, I don’t think that it’s as bad as another film from this year that was based off a retro TV series (which, SPOILERS, will be appearing later on in this list), but that doesn’t mean that it’s that good either. To his credit, Shepard isn’t a bad director when it comes to action sequences, as this film does boast some decent car chases; he is a noted car enthusiast after all. However, it’s clear that he’s much better off working with other writers because as is, the film is just a mediocre adaptation of an old TV series that tries a bit too hard to be a raunchy R-rated comedy. Now, for the record, I’ve never watched the original series before, but I’m pretty sure that its humor was far tamer by comparison. And on that note, believe me when I say that I’ve seen quite a lot of fans of the show be quite furious about this film due to all of the changes that it made to its source material. Heck, even my uncle was one of those people.

And now it’s time to move on to the main list… and boy, are we starting things off on a controversial note with the worst superhero film that came out of what has otherwise been one of the genre’s greatest years.

10. JUSTICE LEAGUE


I say that this is a controversial stance because, obviously, this film does have its loyal fans. But I’m sorry DCEU fans, there’s no mincing words here… they seriously dropped the ball on this one. With that said, however, let me assure you, folks, that this wasn’t like the time when I was quite hesitant about Batman v. Superman a few years prior to its release when it started to add in more characters to try and build things up to where we are now. Despite the general skepticism that was surrounding it due to the critical disdain directed towards the series’ past installments, I was genuinely rooting for this film to succeed. When I was walking out of the theater, my initial rating for this film was somewhere around 3.5/5. Sadly, though, as I was writing my review, I slowly started to realize that this rating was beginning to drop rapidly. And thus, here we are now with Justice League, hands down one of the most disappointing superhero films to come out in recent memory. The main reason why is simple… it is basically the DC equivalent of Fan4stic. Now, for the record, don’t misconstrue this as me saying that it’s as bad as Fan4stic because it really isn’t. I mean, let’s be honest folks, 99.9% of all superhero films released since 2008 are better than Fan4stic. With that said, though, both films are clearly the result of a studio trying to salvage a reportedly ‘unwatchable’ first cut of their big blockbuster release only to make things even worse because of all the boneheaded alterations that they made.

As many of you know, this was primarily the result of when director Zack Snyder was forced to step away from the film’s post-production cycle back in May after his daughter Autumn committed suicide. Thus, Joss Whedon (who, of course, is no stranger to the genre having written and directed the first two Avengers films) was brought in to supervise reshoots. However, despite numerous claims from the studio that Whedon was making a dedicated effort to match Snyder’s original directorial vision, you can clearly tell what parts of the film were handled by Whedon. This results in some severely awkward tonal shifts that try to balance humor with the more serious aspects of the plot. And while I do appreciate the effort that was made to make the film more light-hearted compared to Snyder’s previous DCEU films, most of the humor in this film is, for lack of a better word… awful. Simply put, it just isn’t as well-handled as it is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (and yes, I’m saying this while being fully aware of the fact that quite a lot of people have been highly critical of the MCU films for their humor). Really, if you ask me, the only two great things to come out of this film are A.) That all of the main leads do solid jobs in their respective roles while working quite well off each other and B.) Henry Cavill was finally allowed to ‘act’ like Superman even with all the shoddy CG work that was done to hide the mustache that he had grown prior to reshoots. Aside from them, however, none of the DCEU’s major supporting characters (e.g. Amy Adams’ Lois Lane and Connie Nielsen’s Queen Hippolyta) get any decent material to work with and the main villain Steppenwolf is one of the weakest villains in the history of the genre.

To be clear, though, this is not primarily Whedon’s fault. At the moment, DCEU fanboys are currently burning Whedon an effigy for all of the changes that he made to the film; and yet, may I remind you that Whedon was forced to do all of this in less than half a year! Seriously, DCEU fanboys, you try and rework a major tent-pole release in that timeframe… ain’t that easy. And, of course, it wasn’t Zack Snyder’s fault because he was waylaid by a devastating personal tragedy. In short, it was Warner Bros. who screwed up with this one by rushing it so that it could be released this year. Clearly, they should’ve pushed it back to 2018 once Snyder had to leave; and yeah, I’m well-aware that 2018 is already heavily packed when it comes to the superhero genre. Marvel’s got the next Avengers as well as Black Panther and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Fox has sequels to both X-Men and Deadpool along with The New Mutants, Sony has its Spider-Man spinoff Venom (plus an animated Spider-Man film), and DC will have Aquaman’s solo film. But even with that in mind… it still would’ve frigging helped. I mean, say what you will about Batman v Superman but when that film had to be pushed back from its original 2015 release date, it got pushed back! And as for Snyder… well, I’d hate to say it but I think that the time has come for him to step down from directing DCEU films. I’m not saying this out of spite, for the record; it’s just that, at this point, it’s clear that he’s not being given the respect from the studio that he deserves. He had to take out a whole half-hour of footage from Batman v. Superman because ‘he didn’t have James Cameron-level clout’, resulting in the film’s inferior theatrical cut, and now we have this whole debacle. And unlike BvS, it seems highly doubtful that we’ll ever see a version of this film that was more in line with Snyder’s original vision.

And if that wasn’t enough, this film is just further proof of how the DC Extended Universe’s hardcore fans make up one of the most toxic fan-bases in all of pop culture. Many of you are no doubt aware of their past incidents, namely when they tried to shut down Rotten Tomatoes after Suicide Squad was savaged by critics; needless to say, their antics have only continued since this film was released. They’ve basically become the successors to Christopher Nolan’s hardcore fans. In other words, they are completely unwavering when it comes to viewing the DCEU films as perfect masterpieces (even when they’re clearly not) while vehemently disagreeing with anyone who doesn’t think highly of these films. Now, granted, I know that I’m certainly one to talk given how big of a fan I am of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, at the risk of starting another fanboy war… there is a reason why Marvel Studios hasn’t hit this kind of low point yet with their film output. While they are under the Disney banner, Disney has never interfered with their film productions in the way that Warner Bros. did with Justice League. And even though there are new MCU films every year, none of them ever feel rushed. Whereas this film came out just one year after BvS, the first DCEU film to officially start establishing its franchise’s interconnectivity, the MCU didn’t get into The Avengers until five years into its run. And after that, there has always been a three-year gap between Avengers films. Most importantly, though, is the fact that while I will openly admit that I often give glowing reviews to MCU films, that doesn’t mean that I view them all as masterpieces. Still, it really is saying something when the first two-minute trailer for Avengers: Infinity War is far superior to this two-hour mess of a film.

We have another fairly disappointing release at the Number 9 spot. It’s a film that just couldn’t live up to its potential despite the involvement of one of my favorite filmmakers.

9. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT


The Belko Experiment is the brainchild of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who wrote and produced it. Obviously, he didn’t direct it given his commitment to Marvel so instead, it was directed by Greg McLean. And really… this probably would’ve worked a lot better if Gunn had directed it. Under McLean’s direction, the film ends up feeling rather generic, which is a shame because it did have an interesting premise. The plot revolves around the employees of the titular Belko Industries, who find themselves trapped within their office building by a mysterious figure who demands that they kill several of their employees or else run the risk of being randomly executed by the explosives contained within the tracking devices that they’ve been implanted with. This could’ve led to an entertaining Battle Royale/Hunger Games-ish squabble in which the employees begin to turn on one another in order to survive; not to mention all the fun ways in which they could’ve used their office supplies to kill each other. However, this premise ends up being somewhat squandered as most of the deaths in this film occur by way of those in charge of the ‘experiment’ detonating the implants. And while the film’s ensemble cast is quite stacked with the likes of John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker, and Sean Gunn (the film’s biggest standout as the building’s pot-smoking cafeteria worker Marty), the large amount of characters in this film get little to no character development. Granted, you could say that this isn’t really something that you need in a film like this, but that also means that you don’t care about any of these characters in the slightest. And thus, while The Belko Experiment is by no means the worst film of this year, like Justice League it could’ve been a heck of a lot better given all of the talent that was involved.

At Number 8, we have the next installment of a series that has previously appeared on this site’s annual ‘Worst of’ list.

8. THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE


In January 2014, an animated film titled The Nut Job was released in theaters. Developed in part by a Korean animation company and based off a 2005 short titled Surly Squirrel made by its director, former Disney/Pixar animator Peter Lepeniotis, it revolved around a squirrel named Surly who tries to raid a nut store in order to find him and his friends enough food to last through the winter. For an animated film released in January, The Nut Job did decently at the box-office; however, that didn’t translate to the film’s critical reception as it was straight-up savaged by most critics. And to be perfectly frank… they weren’t wrong in that regard. I mean, at its worst, it was just a mediocre animated film with a bland and often mean-spirited narrative, an odd fascination for nut-based innuendos, and repeated uses of the song ‘Gangnam Style’ (remember that viral video from 2012?). Ultimately, though, the one thing that truly killed the film was that it featured one of the most unlikable protagonists ever seen in an animated film. Despite being voiced by the talented Will Arnett, Surly the Squirrel was an inconsiderate jerk who always cared more about himself than his friends and family. Because of this terrible character, the film proved to be quite the chore to sit through, hence why it ended up taking the #6 spot in the ‘Worst of the Year’ list that I did for that year. And yet, like I said before, it did do well enough at the box-office to give its distributors enough confidence to fast-track a sequel in the form of this year’s The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.

Now, surprisingly, this film proved to be a lot more tolerable compared to its predecessor. While I wouldn’t say that the film fully succeeds at it, the character of Surly isn’t as unlikable as he was in the first film. With that said, though, all of the film’s characters are still flat and one-note, and that’s even after the film’s truly random attempt at trying to have an emotional moment by delving into the origins of Surly’s friendship with his mute rat sidekick Buddy. As for the plot, it’s a lot more streamlined than it was in the first film... meaning that this film is incredibly predictable as it sees Surly and company trying to save their home from a greedy mayor who plans to turn it into an amusement park. And yes, despite the finale being set within an amusement park that proceeds to get completely destroyed by the end of it, The Nut Job 2 ends up being one of the most forgettable animated films in recent memory. Technically, it’s better than the first film due to it not being as mean-spirited, but obviously, that isn’t saying much. Really, the only good thing that I can say about this film is the fact that, at the very least, Will Arnett could fall back on his role as LEGO Batman in far superior animated films that came out during the same years as these Nut Job films. Back in 2014, we were treated to The LEGO Movie just one month after the release of the original Nut Job. And as for this year’s sequel, we already got The LEGO Batman Movie back in February. So… there’s that, at least…

The word ‘disappointing’ is going to be a key descriptor when it comes to a lot of the films that will be appearing on this list. That includes my Number 7 pick, which was arguably the most disappointing release of the summer…

7. THE MUMMY


When it comes to Universal’s Mummy films, most of my generation is primarily familiar with the trilogy of films starring Brendan Fraser that ran from 1999 to 2008. Sure, they were mostly just mindless action-adventure re-imaginings of old-school horror films from the 30’s but at the very least, they were still decently entertaining popcorn flicks (The first two, at least; the third… not so much…). But now we cut to 2017, where Universal is ready to revitalize their most famous horror franchises. How so, you ask? Why by going the Marvel route and creating its own Cinematic Universe. And while I know that some may have groaned at the fact that another attempt at a Marvel-esque Cinematic Universe was being made, it at least made sense to attempt to base it on the Universal Monsters franchises given how Universal has technically been doing this for years. Just look at films like 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and 1944’s House of Frankenstein; as weird as it may sound, the Universal Monsters were basically the original Cinematic Universe. And while I personally don’t have a lot of experience with the original Universal Monsters franchises, the fact that this new Mummy film would be starring one of the film industry’s top action stars, Tom Cruise, under the direction of Alex Kurtzman, co-writer of the 2009 Star Trek reboot, at least made me interested in seeing how it would turn out. However, if there’s one thing that a Tom Cruise Mummy film shouldn’t be, that would be ‘boring’… sadly, that is exactly what this film is. Overall, it attempts to be a mix between the more atmospheric horror narrative of the original 1932 Mummy film starring Boris Karloff and the more action-oriented escapades of the 1999 remake and its sequels. But while Kurtzman does do a decent job with the action sequences, the film drags for the most part due to its sluggish pacing.

And when it comes to the film’s efforts to establish its own cinematic universe (designated as the ‘Dark Universe’), that just ends up bringing along even more problems. Somehow, the film makes so much of an effort to establish this new cinematic universe and yet makes little to no progress in actually doing so, and in the process, this ends up taking greater precedence over the main plot. In other words, this film is a ‘Dark Universe’ film first and a Mummy film second. Because of this, none of the film’s characters get any sort of decent character development and the main antagonist, Princess Ahmanet, ends up being a mediocre threat, effectively stranding a cast that includes the likes of Cruise, Russell Crowe (the most engaging member of the cast as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), and Sofia Boutella (Ahmanet) with subpar material. By comparison, the first MCU film, Iron Man, was more focused on establishing its titular main character, and it didn’t really get into anything regarding the franchise’s future until the ‘I’m here to talk about the Avengers Initiative’ post-credits scene. This is one of the primary reasons why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to flourish in the way that it did unlike other recent attempts at a Cinematic Universe; it established its characters first before putting them all together in a single film (looking at you, DCEU). And because this new reboot of The Mummy fails to follow Iron Man’s example, it was unable to kick off its prospective franchise on a good note.

To make matters worse, now it seems unlikely that this franchise will even be continuing at all because of how bad this film did with critics and audiences (though, contrary to what several reports have stated, it doesn’t feel like the film was that big of a commercial flop with over $409 million grossed at the box-office). It was supposed to be followed up by a remake of Bride of Frankenstein that was going to be directed by Bill Condon. However, that film ended up getting ‘postponed’ back in October so that more time could be spent on the script, and it’s currently unclear at the moment if the film will be made at all. It’s a shame, really, because I was genuinely optimistic about its chances of redeeming the franchise. After all, Condon is certainly no stranger to the material having directed the 1998 biopic Gods and Monsters about James Whale, director of the original Bride of Frankenstein. But alas, it seems as if the ‘Dark Universe’ has ended before it even truly began. Not too long after Bride’s postponement, Kurtzman and producer Chris Morgan decided to step away from the franchise in order to move onto other projects. It’s a sad development, for sure, because like I said before, unlike a few other proposed Cinematic Universes, a Cinematic Universe featuring the Universal Monsters did have the potential to succeed given the characters’ previous crossovers with one another. Unfortunately, though, it ultimately crashed and burned thanks to the mediocre re-imagining that was this year’s The Mummy. Suffice it to say, you’re much better off with the Brendan Fraser Mummy films.

Don’t act like you didn’t see this one coming…

6. THE EMOJI MOVIE


Yeah… some of you probably guessed that this film would end up on this list. Ever since it was first announced, The Emoji Movie immediately established itself as one of the most despised films in recent memory. And before I go any further, let me answer the one question that many of you no doubt have right now… yes, they made a film based on the colorful symbols that many of us use on our phones to send text messages, emails, etc. Whereas most people lamented the arrival of this film as a sign of Hollywood truly scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to new ideas, I basically just ignored this film for the most part even after the trailers started to come out. Eventually, the film came out and it subsequently became one of the worst-reviewed films of the year. And after finally watching it for myself… well, yes, I will agree that it isn’t much to talk about. It’s basically just a knockoff of Inside Out as both films focus around characters that live inside something owned by a human; instead of the characters residing inside the person’s brain, this film focuses on the emoji’s who reside inside a young teenager’s phone. The main character Gene, a ‘Meh’ emoji who finds that he’s capable of expressing multiple emotions beyond ‘meh’, then proceeds to get into some major trouble which starts to have a negative effect on his owner’s life to the point where the world of the phone is put into jeopardy. I mean, the animation isn’t terrible… if anything, it’s colorful and there aren’t really any other options when it comes to making these emoji’s sentient beings. Plus, I can even sympathize with how the director connected with this story of an emoji who breaks from the norms of society because he himself is gay. Still, the story is woefully generic as are all of its characters.

…and that’s all that I’m going to say about this film. A very short review, wouldn’t you say? Well, that’s because I feel that this film isn’t worth getting too upset about. The same can’t be said for how the internet reacted to it, however, as this is one of the prime examples in which the film fan community got incredibly worked up over a film that honestly wasn’t worth all the hubbub. I mean, really, this film’s abysmal 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes should’ve been a clear-cut sign for most people to just ignore it. And you know what? That is exactly what I did on its opening weekend; I went to go see the film Atomic Blonde instead and, suffice it to say, it was a far better film by comparison. And that’s another thing… I swear that at times, it was almost as if the internet acted like this was the only film that was out at the time. Obviously, that wasn’t even remotely true, which then begs this question… why didn’t people just go to see other films instead? Clearly, they would’ve gotten a heck of a lot more out of films like Wonder Woman, Dunkirk, or Baby Driver (even though those films had already been out for a few weeks by the time that this came out) instead of this. And heck, despite this sole hiccup in their lineup, Sony’s film division actually had a decent 2017 thanks to the trio of hits that were Baby Driver, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Thus, that’s The Emoji Movie in a nutshell for me; the reason why it’s only at the #6 spot on this list is simple. When it comes to 2017 both in and out of the world of film… quite frankly, I’ve seen worse.  

And that’s the end of Part 1 of my Top 10 Worst Films of 2017 list. Thanks for following along and be sure to check back in the next few days for Part 2, in which I’ll be listing my picks for the Top 5 worst films from this past year. What dreaded film will land the #1 spot? Stay tuned…

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) review


In 1981, author Chris Van Allsburg published Jumanji, a fantasy picture book about a pair of siblings who come across a mysterious jungle-themed board game. What they soon learn, though, is that the various dangers that they encounter in the game end up coming to life and will not go away until the game is finished. 14 years later in 1995, Allsburg and veteran director Joe Johnston brought Jumanji to life on the big-screen, headlined by the one and only Robin Williams in the role of a man named Alan Parrish who ends up getting trapped within the game for several decades. While the film wasn’t much of a hit with critics, it did do quite well at the box-office as it grossed over $262 million worldwide. Thus, the film has very much become a staple of its time when it comes to 90’s cult classics. But now, the time has come to return to the world of the jungle via a sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. This time around, the premise shifts from Jumanji being a board game that comes to life to a video game that directly sucks its players into its world. Comedy director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher) directs this new take on a classic IP with an ensemble cast headlined by big comedic stars like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. But for many fans of the original Jumanji, they’ve been wondering if this new film will manage to live up to the legacy of its predecessor. Well, I’m pleased to report that it does do so, for the most part.

On an average school day, teenagers Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), Anthony ‘Fridge’ Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) end up in detention for various reasons. While serving out their punishment of cleaning out the school basement, the four come across a mysterious video game titled Jumanji. After selecting their avatars from the available roster of characters, they suddenly find themselves sucked into the game, where they’re transformed into the avatars that they’ve selected. The nerdy Spencer becomes the group’s muscular and charismatic leader Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) while football jock Fridge is demoted to the role of Bravestone’s weapons valet Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar (Kevin Hart). Bookworm Martha becomes the badass commando Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and pretty girl Bethany faces a severe case of culture shock when she becomes the ‘overweight, middle-aged’ male cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). The group soon learns that they each have three lives and must finish the game without losing them all in order to escape it. Thus, they embark on a perilous journey through the jungle in order to lift a powerful curse that has been placed upon the game world by Bravestone’s old associate, an explorer by the name of Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale).

The first question that a lot of people had when this film was first announced was in regards to how it would be connected to the original Jumanji. Although it was initially announced as a ‘remake’, the film is ultimately more of a sequel. While it is set several years after the original film, a connection is still established with it thanks to a major nod to Robin Williams’ character Alan Parrish. And while it is understandable if some may scoff at the idea of how the film re-imagines Jumanji as a video game, it does, at least, make sense for a modern take on this story. With that in mind, the film does manage to be a solid follow-up to its predecessor. Given that it mainly takes place within a video game, the film throws in plenty of fun gaming references; everything from the backstory-spewing cut-scenes to the NPCs (non-player characters) that always spout the same bits of dialogue over and over again. And on that note, Jumanji sports a solid hit-miss ratio when it comes to its humor. Now, granted, this is mainly after the main characters get sucked into the game, as most of the humor that occurs in the real world does admittedly fall a bit flat. But even with that in mind, along with the fact that the plot is a fairly simple one in which four teens go through a transformative experience that ends up changing their lives for the better, the film is quite consistent with its humor during the stretches of it that are set within the game world. Plus, for his first major foray into the action genre, director Jake Kasdan does a solid job with the film’s various action sequences.  

Ultimately though, the biggest highlight of this film is seeing the four main leads go out of their comfort zones to portray teenaged characters who find themselves transferred into the bodies of their in-game avatars. While both Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan have had plenty of experience when it comes to action films (in Johnson’s case, the numerous action films that he’s starred in, and in Gillan’s case, her turn as Nebula in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), the sight of them acting like shy and nerdy teenagers paves the way for plenty of great comedic moments. The same scenario applies to the other two leads as well; Kevin Hart as the football jock turned practically useless* (in terms of combat) weapons valet and Jack Black acting like a teenage girl. In short, the four leads are easily the best part of the film, as they all have great comedic timing and work incredibly well off each other. The other big name in the cast that’s worth noting is Nick Jonas in the role of the game’s fifth playable avatar, pilot Seaplane McDonough. Jonas works great alongside the other four leads in a role that, without giving anything major away, shares quite a few similarities with one of the original film’s main characters. But whereas all of the film’s main leads are solid, the same can’t exactly be said for the main villain Van Pelt. To his credit, Bobby Cannavale does bring the right amount of creep factor to the role, namely in regards to the character being possessed by a jewel that allows him to control animals. However, Van Pelt is just ‘there’ for the most part, unlike the previous film where the character of Van Pelt (played by Jonathan Hyde) had a far more substantial role in the plot.

When this film was first announced, there was quite a lot of backlash towards it (as is quite frankly the case with any major revival of an old IP nowadays) from fans of the original, especially given the fact that the initial reveal occurred just one year after the death of Robin Williams. I will admit, though, that I wasn’t too bothered by this development because, to be perfectly frank, I don’t necessarily view the original Jumanji as one of the best films of the 90’s. Don’t get me wrong, I do still like the film, but that doesn’t mean that I think that it’s a masterpiece or anything. It’s just a fun and simple fantasy adventure bolstered by the always terrific Robin Williams. This same mindset applies to the sequel as well; it’s by no means perfect but, at its core, it’s not trying to be. At the end of the day, it serves its purpose of being an entertaining action-adventure comedy that does a solid job of reworking the original concept of Jumanji in a new direction without disrespecting any of the stuff that came before it. Sure, the plot is a simple one and not every joke hits, but a lot of the film’s humor does work thanks to the excellent lead quartet of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. Simply put, these four are the main reason why this film is worth checking out. And for those who still uncertain about it, fear not because it treats the original Jumanji, along with all the work that the late Robin Williams put into it, with genuinely wholehearted reverence.


Rating: 4/5

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Songs from Rankin/Bass Specials


The Christmas season is upon us once again, and for many of us, that means one thing; watching all the great Christmas TV specials and films. From the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story to more recent releases like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and The Polar Express, there are plenty of great Christmas specials to be found around this time of the year. But when it comes to the ‘best of the best’, I’m sure many will agree with me in saying that there’s nothing better than the classic stop-motion animated specials from Rankin/Bass Productions. I’ve talked about this legendary studio several times in the past, including not one but two separate retrospective-type posts on this site about their wide array of holiday classics. Yes, I’ll admit that these specials have aged quite a bit in various ways, but around this time of the year, they’re quite timeless in my opinion; like many others, I grew up with these specials and I hope to one day share them with my own children. But today on Rhode Island Movie Corner, I’m delving into one of the most underrated aspects of these specials, their music. If you ask me, the musical numbers of Rankin/Bass specials are just as great as the specials themselves. And who do we have to thank for a lot of them? That would be composer Maury Laws, who was Rankin/Bass’ primary music director for two decades. Beginning in 1964 with the one and only Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he would go on to compose the music for almost all of these specials alongside Rankin/Bass co-founder Jules Bass. With that in mind, Mr. Laws and Mr. Bass, consider this post as a fond tribute to your finest work. 

Now I only have two major ground rules for this list. The first is quite simple; one entry per special. Because, really, if I didn’t enforce that rule, then this entire list would be dominated by songs from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The other ground rule is one that I feel will make this particular list a bit more interesting. For this list, I will not be counting any of these specials’ ‘title songs’. In other words, this includes the likes of Burl Ives’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’, Fred Astaire’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, and ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ as performed by the Vienna Boys Choir, just to name a few. The reason why I’m not including them on this list is because, let’s face it, these are easily some of the most famous Christmas songs of all-time. They’re so famous, in fact, that in some cases, the versions used in Rankin/Bass productions are arguably not even their most well-known renditions. For example, the often forgotten 1975 special The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow featured Angela Lansbury singing the tune ‘White Christmas’ which, of course, is best-known for the version of it that was sung by Bing Crosby from 1942. For this list, I wanted to honor the songs that are true Rankin/Bass originals. So, without further ado, I present to you my Top 10 favorite songs from Rankin/Bass’ beloved holiday specials.

10. CHICKEN TODAY AND FEATHERS TOMORROW (RUDOLPH AND FROSTY’S CHRISTMAS IN JULY)


We start things off with a song from Rankin/Bass’ 1979 feature-length special, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July. The film served as a crossover between the studio’s two biggest icons, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. And while I admittedly find it to be one of the weaker Rankin/Bass specials, mainly due to a gloomy second act in which the beloved reindeer is framed for a crime that he didn’t commit, it’s still worth watching for that good old-fashioned Rankin/Bass charm. A good chunk of that charm comes courtesy of the special’s best supporting character, Lilly Lorraine, voiced by the legendary actress/comedian Ethel Merman. The owner of a seaside circus, Lorraine gets many of the special’s best lines and is even the one who ends up defeating the main villain Winterbolt. How? By throwing her pistols at him, thereby destroying his staff! But I’m getting off track here… from this special, I’ll be going with the song ‘Chicken Today and Feathers Tomorrow’, and before any of you wonder about that title, it’s an old expression that explains how sometimes you have great days and sometimes you have bad days. Sure enough, this applies greatly to the context of this song, which Lorraine sings to Rudolph after the circus is set up for its next performance and Rudolph remarks that “running a circus is no easy job”. Not much more to say here other than the fact that it’s a fun song performed by an equally entertaining supporting character. And really, who better to sing a song like this than one of the most celebrated stage actresses of her time?

Runner-Up: Just barely missing out on being its special’s candidate for this list is ‘Don’t Let the Parade Pass You By’ which, as the title suggests, is sung by Lilly Lorraine during her circus’ big parade. Simply put, it’s another fun song performed by the legendary Ethel Merman, who also sung this special’s rendition of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’.


9. EVEN A MIRACLE NEEDS A HAND (TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS)


In 1974, Rankin/Bass produced a special that was based on the classic poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Instead of being a simple retelling of the poem (because let’s face it, it would only be like five minutes long if that was the case), the special focuses on a small town in New York named Junctionville that tries to get back on Santa’s good side after an angry letter written to him causes him to threaten the town with the possibility of being ignored on Christmas Eve. In order to appease St. Nick, a special musical clock tower is built by the town’s clockmaker, Joshua Trundle (voiced by Joel Grey). Unfortunately, the clock ends up malfunctioning, therefore making it seem unlikely that Santa will come to Junctionville on Christmas Eve. Despite this setback, however, Trundle assures his kids that everything will be all right with the song ‘Even a Miracle Needs a Hand’. As the title implies, Trundle explains to his kids that miracles can happen as long as they do all that they can to ensure that it will happen. In other words, this song is all about keeping the Christmas spirit alive, which I think is a nice message for this time of the year. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this song is the fact that it would later appear in, of all things, South Park. Yes, in the Season 4 episode ‘A Very Crappy Christmas’, Kyle sings this song to Stan and Kenny when they find themselves in an equally hopeless situation. There’s even a point where Joshua Trundle’s face is juxtaposed over Kyle’s face. I guess it just goes to show that while ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas may not be the most famous Rankin/Bass special ever, it still has its place in pop culture history.  


Runner-Up: The other big song from this special is ‘Give Your Heart a Try’. The song is performed by the other main character of the film, Father Mouse (George Gobel), when he tries to convince his son Albert, who is revealed to be the one who wrote Santa the bad letter (in which he claims that Santa isn’t real), to see the error of his ways. Like ‘Even a Miracle Needs a Hand’, it’s another charming melody that’s all about getting into the Christmas spirit.


8. I NEVER KNOW WHAT GIFTS TO BUY, DO YOU? (PINOCCHIO’S CHRISTMAS)



1980’s Pinocchio’s Christmas is, understandably, one of the more obscure entries of Rankin/Bass’ filmography. Heck, it wasn’t until just a few years ago when I myself finally watched this special for the first time. Even with that in mind, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite enjoyable. In this holiday-themed spin on the classic story of the wooden puppet who strives to become a real boy, Pinocchio finds himself in yet another troubling situation when he tries to get a gift for Geppetto. And as it turns out, Geppetto is having some problems finding the right gifts himself. Thus, we have the song ‘I Never Know What Gifts to Buy, Do You?’, a ‘duet’ between Geppetto and his mirror reflection (don’t ask, it’s Rankin/Bass…) that allows the two of them to vent about the struggles of getting the perfect gifts for Christmas. And they practically cover everything in this song when it comes to gift-buying woes, from buying sweaters that will just get returned later to books that have already been read. Plus, whenever Geppetto comes up with a potentially good idea for a gift, his mirror reflection immediately shoots it down knowing that it isn’t that good of an idea. It’s a surreal sequence, for sure, but it’s easily one of the best parts of the special thanks to large part to Geppetto’s voice actor, George S. Irving. And if that name sounds familiar to you, then that’s because we’ll be getting to his other big Rankin/Bass character later on in this list.

Runner-Up: Another memorable song from this special is ‘It’s the Truth’. This song is performed by the Fox and the Cat to Pinocchio when they try to convince him that they can be trusted. As the lyrics state, they assure him that they’re telling the truth and will only be proven wrong if ‘lightning strikes them down’. Sure enough, during this sequence, the cat repeatedly gets struck by lightning whenever that lyric is sung.


 7. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY (THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY BOOK II)



While it’s not necessarily as good as its predecessor, 1976’s The Little Drummer Boy Book II is still a decent follow-up to Rankin/Bass’ classic tale of the Little Drummer Boy named Aaron. And one of the main contributing factors to its success comes in the form of its main antagonist, the greedy Roman general known as Brutus. Voiced by Zero Mostel AKA Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ comedic classic The Producers (the original one from 1967), Brutus is a delightfully over-the-top antagonist who spends most of his time yelling at his lieutenant Plato (“PLATO, YOU FOOL!!”) and forcing the people of Bethlehem to pay their taxes. This includes a bell maker named Simeon who has crafted a special set of silver bells to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. These bells end up getting taken by Brutus and his gang and, thus, the main plot of the special sees Aaron, Simeon, and the Wise King Melchior trying to get them back before they’re melted down. Whilst camped out for the night, Brutus proceeds to teach his men about the early days of commerce, when people traded items with each other in exchange for what they needed during a time when money did not exist. And thus, we have the song ‘Money, Money, Money’… admittedly, there’s not much more to say about this song other than the fact that it’s a fun, underrated villain song that’s performed excellently by Zero Mostel.

There’s no Runner-Up pick for this special, folks, as ‘Money, Money, Money’ is basically the only original Rankin/Bass song in it. There is the classic melody ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ that is performed at the end of the special, but I can’t count that here because it’d go against my ground rule of not using any ‘famous’ Christmas songs in this list.

6. WHY CAN’T THE ANIMALS SMILE? (THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY)


And now we move onto the original Drummer Boy special from 1968 which, as I alluded to in the previous entry, is easily one of Rankin/Bass’ best specials. It’s the heartwarming story of a young farm boy named Aaron who must learn to let go of his hatred for humanity after his mother and father were killed by bandits. It all begins when Aaron becomes the unwilling captive of a greedy street performer named Ben Haramed, who brings him to the city of Jerusalem to perform in his traveling caravan. However, as it soon becomes clear, the performers that he’s hired aren’t very good, thus putting Aaron in charge of saving their show. And despite Aaron’s hatred for humanity, he does manage to put on a charming performance as he uses his animal friends in a delightful little number titled ‘Why Can’t the Animals Smile?’ During this number, he proceeds to list off all sorts of animal anachronisms, from a grinning gator to a giggling gaggle of goose. Sadly, this charming moment ends on a gloomy note as Aaron starts to recognize the faces of those who killed his family in the crowd, and after he lashes out of them for ruining his life, Aaron and the caravan are forced to flee from the city. Despite this somber ending, though, this musical number was a much welcome light-hearted moment in what is generally one of the more serious Rankin/Bass specials.

Runner-Up: Another outstanding song from this special is ‘One Star in the Night’. It plays during the moment when Aaron and his animal friends notice the Christmas Star and then proceed to follow its light to the city of Bethlehem. It’s a powerful scene, for sure, and just like the special’s title song, this tune is performed phenomenally by the Vienna Boys Choir.


5. WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD WE LIVE IN (RUDOLPH’S SHINY NEW YEAR)



I must admit that it was surprisingly rather hard to pick just one song from Rankin/Bass’ 1976 special Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. Now with that said, yes this follow-up to the original Rudolph isn’t really much of a Christmas special. As the title suggests, it’s more focused on the celebration of the New Year. Despite this, though, the special still benefits from creative production design, a great cast of characters, and, of course, great songs. And as for the song that I’m featuring on this list, I’m going to go with the one performed by the narrator Father Time (voiced by legendary comedian Red Skelton) as Rudolph and friends explore the medieval island of 1023, ‘What a Wonderful World We Live In’. For those who haven’t seen this special before, the plot involves Rudolph traveling to a magical locale known as the Archipelago of Last Years to rescue the Baby New Year so that he can be returned in time for the New Year to happen. Each island in the Archipelago is run by former Baby New Years and, thus, resembles the world that they had resided in back in their day. In the case of the island of Sir 1023, a loud and proud knight voiced by Frank Gorshin (AKA the Riddler from the original Batman TV series starring Adam West), it is home to all the classic fairy tales from Cinderella to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Sure enough, these beloved stories provide this musical number with some excellent imagery; plus, Red Skelton’s got a great singing voice, which is used to full effect in this special as he also sings a few other songs in it including its rendition of ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’. In short, this and the many other great songs from this special are one of the main reasons why Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is one of my personal favorite Rankin/Bass specials.

Runner-Up: For this special, my runner-up pick goes to ‘The Moving Finger Writes’, which is sung by Father Time as he explains to Rudolph the process of how the Baby New Year grows up over the course of a year before they pass on the role to their successor. It’s a nice song that features some great imagery as we see a Baby New Year grow older with each passing month. Sadly, this song has been cut from the special’s current TV edit along with quite a few other scenes, therefore making Rudolph’s Shiny New Year one of the most truncated Rankin/Bass specials currently airing on TV.


4. THERE’S THE RUB (JACK FROST)



Rankin/Bass’ 1979 special about the titular winter sprite who yearns to become human is one of my personal favorite entries in the studio’s lineup. This is due in large part to the fact that it’s one of their funniest specials thanks to a lot of excellent dialogue. And as for the MVP of the entire special, that honor would go to its main antagonist, Kubla Kraus, the wicked Cossack king. Right from the get-go, we learn that he is the evil tyrant of the peaceful town of January Junction, forcibly taxing its residents to the point where the townsfolk have to rely on frozen coins made from icicles to use as money during the winter season. However, as we soon learn, Kraus is more of a goofy antagonist as it’s established that he has been ostracized by his fellow Cossacks. Thus, he now spends most of his time alone in his castle, where his only companions are his ventriloquist puppet Domi and his army of mechanical soldiers known as Keh-knights. And it is in this castle of his that we get the song ‘There’s the Rub’, during which Kubla Kraus reflects upon how he could’ve been a ruler wherever he went were it not for something that always prevented him from doing so (e.g. he could’ve been a Rajah, but couldn’t find any elephants to own). This accurately reflects the title of the song, which is an old proverb (similar to ‘Chicken Today and Feathers Tomorrow’ from earlier) that is meant to express this very situation. And it’s all bolstered by a terrific performance from Rankin/Bass regular Paul Frees in the role. In short, while Kubla Kraus may be more of a silly antagonist than a sinister one, he’s still one of Rankin/Bass’ most memorable villains, and this song is one of the main reasons why.

Runner-Up: Going from the main antagonist to the main protagonist, we have Jack Frost’s big solo ‘It’s Lonely Being One of a Kind’. The titular hero sings this song when he begins to express a desire to become human, having become lonely due to the fact that he’s unable to interact with humans as the winter sprite that he is.


3. WE’RE A COUPLE OF MISFITS (RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER)



And now, we finally return to the original Rankin/Bass classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Let me tell you, it was hard to pick just one song from this special because its entire soundtrack is excellent. There’s ‘Silver and Gold’, sung by Sam the Snowman after the introduction of Yukon Cornelius (“The Greatest Prospector in the North!!”), and ‘There’s Always Tomorrow’, a soothing melody sung by Rudolph’s love interest Clarice to help cheer him up after he’s ostracized by his fellow reindeer because of his glowing red nose. There’s the Elves’ jolly choral number ‘We Are Santa’s Elves’, in which the Head Elf suddenly has a different voice for some undisclosed reason, and ‘The Most Wonderful Day of the Year’, sung by the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys. But for this list, I’m going with the anthem sung by main protagonists Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Hermey the Elf, ‘We’re a Couple of Misfits’. This song is played three times in the special, with the first two instances being more somber in tone. First sung by Hermey and then by Rudolph, the song is first used to establish their outcast status in society. Instead of being one of Santa’s elves, Hermey dreams of becoming… a dentist. And in the case of Rudolph, as we all know, he’s teased because of his glowing red nose. It all culminates in the two of them meeting up and deciding to stick together as the misfits that they are, resulting in one more performance of the song. And because they’re no longer embarrassed about what makes them different from everyone else, the song now adopts a more upbeat attitude that ties in nicely to the special’s main theme of being proud of who you are regardless of what others may think.

In short, Rudolph and Hermey’s duet is easily one of the best moments in the special… it’s a shame, then, that the version that currently runs on CBS every year is an inferior and messy rendition of it (I'll be providing the link to it here for reference). You see, one year after the special originally aired in 1964, a different musical number was used instead of ‘We’re a Couple of Misfits’, ‘Fame and Fortune’. Featuring new animation (as evident from Hermey’s radically different eyebrows), this sequence was used in the television broadcast for more than three decades until 1998, when the ‘We’re a Couple of Misfits’ sequence was edited back in. However, starting in 2005, a choppier version of the musical number started being used. While it still retained the ‘We’re a Couple of Misfits’ song, the audio was spliced with the animation from ‘Fame and Fortune’ and, simply put, these visuals do not match up with the song in the slightest. In fact, the whole special suffers from some extremely choppy audio and visual editing. So, what to do about this, then? Well, while I’d hate to suggest the idea of going against the tradition of watching this timeless classic on TV, the sad truth of it all is that the best way to view Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the moment is by watching it on Blu-Ray/DVD. Because from the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like CBS is planning on making any new changes to the TV edit anytime soon.

Runner-Up: Despite what I said before about the special’s entire soundtrack being excellent, I’m only going to list one Runner-Up pick from it in order to keep things fair, and in this instance, that honor will go to ‘The Most Wonderful Day of the Year’. As noted earlier, it’s a charming little number that allows us to meet all of the unique residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, from a cowboy that rides an ostrich to a buh-buh-buh-boat that can’t stay a-a-a-afloat.


2. SNOW MISER AND HEAT MISER’S SONGS (THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS)



Ah yes, we can’t forget about this classic duo now, can we? While I will argue that there is more to Rankin/Bass’ 1974 special The Year Without a Santa Claus than just these two, there’s no denying the fact that the bickering brothers Snow and Heat Miser are hands down its greatest selling point. And, of course, that is primarily thanks to their iconic song numbers, which occur during the second act when Mrs. Claus and company try to broker a deal between the two so that Heat Miser will allow it to snow in the town of Southtown. These two songs are great show-tune style numbers that are tailored perfectly to each of their personalities while still sharing the same overall composition. In the case of Snow Miser (Dick Shawn), who’s established as having a friendly relationship with Santa Claus and his wife, his version of the song is more lively and upbeat, showcasing that while he can be quite a troublemaker sometimes, he’s not exactly a malevolent being. But as for Heat Miser (George S. Irving; told you we’d come back to him), his version of the song comes off as being a bit more sinister, especially considering that his version runs at a slower tempo. And really, his remark about how whatever he touches melts in his clutch sounds a lot darker compared to when Snow Miser remarked that things turn to snow in his clutch (which are then shown to regenerate soon after). Despite this, however, Heat Miser is still a fun, over-the-top antagonist and, of course, it’s primarily thanks to his big song and dance number. In short, who doesn’t love the Miser brothers?

P.S. And yes, these songs are still great even after Snow Miser’s song ended up appearing in Batman and Robin (Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze: “Come on, SING! Louder, come on, Sing, Sing, SING!”)

Runner-Up: To answer your first question, yes there are more songs in this special aside from Heat and Snow Miser’s songs. Just to name a select few, there’s the charming little melody ‘I Could Be Santa Claus’, sung by Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth, who also serves as the special’s narrator) as she considers the possibility of taking the place of her sick husband on Christmas Eve. There’s also ‘It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie’, sung by the Mayor of Southtown when he begins to celebrate the possibility of it snowing for the first time ever in his town. But for this Runner-Up pick, I’m going to go with ‘I Believe in Santa Claus’. This sweet tune occurs when Santa meets with a young boy named Iggy and his family. When Iggy remarks that he no longer believes in Santa, the big guy himself begins to help reaffirm the young boy’s beliefs. Iggy’s father also chimes in during the song, reflecting upon a time when he also stopped believing in Santa; that is, until one Christmas Eve night, when he saw him with his very own eyes.


1. PUT ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER (SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN’ TO TOWN)



Yeah, I know that this is a totally obvious pick, but it’s hard to deny how excellent of a song that this is from Rankin/Bass’ 1970 take on the origins of Santa Claus. As I’ve stated numerous times before, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is my personal favorite Rankin/Bass special. It’s quite arguably the one Rankin/Bass special that I’ve watched the most of ever since I was a kid. It has a great story, lovable characters, and my all-time favorite Rankin/Bass soundtrack. And, of course, it’s all headlined by arguably the most famous original Rankin/Bass tune, ‘Put One Foot in Front of the Other’. It occurs during a pivotal moment in the special when a young Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney) begins to thaw the icy heart of the sinister Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn). All throughout this special, we’ve seen glimpses of the terrifying villain, all building up to his eventual confrontation with Kris in the second act. However, when said confrontation occurs, Kris manages to turn old Winter good by giving him a toy train as a gift, resulting in the ancient wizard completely shedding his sinister appearance. But when Winter notes that it’d be difficult to ‘really’ change, Kris assures him that it can be done, thus leading into this timeless gem of a sequence. And really, this entire song and sequence have such a great arc to them, as it starts with an unsure Winter slowly but surely embracing his ‘rebirth’ before ending with him confidently marching hand in hand with Kris. You can’t get much more perfect than that, folks, and that is why ‘Put One Foot in Front of the Other’ is my all-time favorite song from the wide plethora of classic Rankin/Bass specials. Simply put, it’s a phenomenal number performed excellently by Mickey Rooney as one of the best Santa Clauses ever seen on film or TV.  

Runner-Up: Good lord, where do I start? ‘The First Toymaker to the King’, which establishes the Kringle family’s history as toymakers, its sinister counterpart ‘No More Toymakers to the King’, sung by the special’s main villain Burgermeister Meisterburger when he begins to initiate his ban on toys, and so much more. Ultimately, I decided to go with the sweet tune that is ‘My World is Beginning Today’. This is the big solo for Miss Jessica, the schoolteacher of Sombertown who ends up falling in love with Kris, resulting in their marriage and her becoming Mrs. Claus. The song occurs right after Kris, Winter, and the Kringles are captured by the Burgermeister; when Jessica fails to get them released, she realizes that the time has come to move on from her past life and to be with Kris. It’s a truly poignant and emotional song that’s performed excellently by Robie Lester, Jessica’s voice actress. However, as I’m sure many of you know, this song has been cut from the special’s current edit on ABC. Why? Well, when you watch the clip, you’ll notice that it’s one of the trippiest sequences to ever come from a Christmas special. Still, like I said before, it is a genuinely nice song, and it can still be seen on the edit of the special that airs on Freeform. However, the Freeform version does cut out a few other scenes, namely the one where Burgermeister burns a pile of toys. Thus, just like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the only way to view this special in its original, uncut format at this time is by buying it on Blu-Ray/DVD.


And those are my Top 10 Favorite original Rankin/Bass songs. Thanks for following along and be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own Rankin/Bass memories. Now, back in the intro, I noted that I wasn’t going to count Rankin/Bass’ title songs in this list given their worldwide popularity outside of the specials. Despite this, however, I still wanted to honor these classic renditions of these timeless holiday tunes. With that in mind, here’s a quick Top 5 of my favorite Rankin/Bass title song performances.









In closing, I wish you all a Happy Holidays!!