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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, or: Hark the Herald Androids Sing

It’s December with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, and you can bet we’re keeping things festive on the Blog Collab. Don’t worry–this week’s pick features no fetus angels, alternate timelines, or public outings of multiple LGBTQ folks. However, you’d better be prepared for plenty of song and dance, flying robots, and a colorful steampunk aesthetic this time around.

The Film:

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The Premise:

Years after betrayal from his apprentice and the tragic death of his wife, a curmudgeonly inventor struggles to connect with his granddaughter as he works on creating a toy that could save his career and family.

The Ramble:

In the present day (which feels close to the early 20th century except steampunk), young siblings have a disagreement about whether the dancing figures that seem to appear in the fireplace are real…or if Christmas magic is well and truly dead. Their knowing grandmother is fully prepared to entertain the children with a special story, The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle. And perhaps the story will contain its own lessons about Christmas magic along the way.

Beside a Christmas tree, an elderly woman sits in an armchair, holding a book. On either side of her sits a child looking on with anticipation.

As the story goes, Jeronicus Jangle (disappointingly, no one in this film was actually christened with the name Jingle Jangle) was a genius inventor who oversaw the most wonderful toy shop around. Along with his wife Joanne and daughter Jessica, Jeronicus created rather steampunk inventions. His latest is a matador-inspired doll that comes to life and happens to be the most stereotypical caricature of a Spaniard…so it’s no surprise that its name is Don Juan Diego. Now a sentient being, Don Juan has an extremely existential crisis when he discovers the toymaker’s plan is to mass-produce millions of his clones. I also have a lot of questions about this, honestly.

A mean wearing goggles in a gadget-filled workshop unveils his latest toy invention as a woman and girl look on excitedly.

Quite cunningly, Don Juan catches onto the resentment of apprentice Gustafson and uses the situation to his advantage, manipulating the young man to take off with all of Jangle’s plans that really should have been copyrighted by now. Shortly after the betrayal, Jangle falls into despair when his wife dies. Stalled as an inventor and neglectful as a father, Jangle ends up all alone and with no inspiration for new ideas. He vows to never create another invention again.

A man dressed elegantly looks angrily at a toy, a figure dressed in a blue matador costume that is moving on its own.

Decades later, Gustafson has set up an even more successful shop, getting away with his theft for…reasons. Though Don Juan is the toy, it becomes pretty obvious he’s the one pulling the strings in this operation. However, the team has now gone through every blueprint in Jangle’s massive book of plans, and they struggle to come up with original ideas that will work.

Meanwhile, Jangle operates a pawnbroker’s shop with the help of his chipper young assistant Edison. Postal worker Ms. Johnston seems to be one of the few folks around who actually likes Jangle, encouraging him to smile (and pay her some attention). But Jangle is focused completely on inventing, as he’s been given a deadline by the bank to come up with a product or face massive debt. Why is money suddenly a sufficient incentive for Jangle to dig out the inventor’s toolkit? Again…reasons.

Around this time, Jangle’s granddaughter Journey decides it’s past time that she met her legendary grandfather. Still embittered after his experience with Gustafson, Jangle requires Journey to sign a legally binding agreement before she can even stay with him.

A man walks along a 19th century street in winter, reading a book. A girl walks next to him.

It’s not long before Journey meets Edison, and the two uncover a long-forgotten invention of Jangle’s, an ominous-sounding robot named the Buddy 3000. The two children managed to bring the robot (which can fly!) to life because they believe in it enough. A cynic might roll their eyes just a little bit here.

Unsurprisingly, Jangle is a bit more reluctant to believe in Christmas magic. He’s rather more annoyed that Journey and Edison have disrupted his workspace, and he doesn’t believe for a second that the robot is actually working as intended.

It’s not long before Gustafson discovers the nature of Jangle’s latest creation and steals it for himself. After Journey and Edison learn of the theft, they are determined to reclaim Buddy and save the future of Jangle’s shop. But can they succeed in their quest without shenanigans? Probably not.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Look, I enjoyed this for around 90 minutes, but our film clocks in at nearly 2 hours (excluding the delightfully animated end credits, which add at least 10 minutes to the film’s runtime). There are repeated moments towards the film’s conclusion when I expected the credits to roll…only to realize we STILL had anywhere from 30 to 15 minutes remaining. I question how readily a young child would sit down for 2 HOURS and follow the somewhat convoluted plot.

I will grant that the film has a lot going for it, and is the most enjoyable recent Christmas film I can think of (I also liked last year’s animated film Klaus a lot). The cast is incredible, from Forest Whitaker to Anika Noni Rose, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and newcomer Madalen Mills.

The film also looks great–the costumes are wonderfully colorful, and the sets and elaborate choreography reflect the sort of Dickens steampunk on Broadway aesthetic you start to expect after only a few minutes of viewing. Forest Whitaker as Jangle in particular has the coziest looking coat/robe that I would buy immediately should the Jingle Jangle fashion line take off. The songs aren’t super memorable, but the scenes make them come alive in a way that’s absorbing enough so that you may only occasionally think about the number of feats that would be next to impossible in the world of mid-pandemic film production.

I will say that there’s too much going on for the story to really feel like a progression, which disappoints me a bit. There’s not necessarily a feeling that Jangle grows as a person; he’s just suddenly no longer a jerk.

And I got needlessly distracted (as I do) by (1) Don Juan Diego’s portrayal as a complete stereotype and (2) the ethical implications of not only cloning a sentient being, but more or less murdering it. Overthinking this? Most likely. However, I think the arc of Don Juan Diego is increasingly dark and Frankenstein-ian the more you think about it. You’re heading into thoroughly gray area when creating lifeforms and then expecting them to do your bidding.

That being said, I did overall find this film sweet, charming, and full of Christmas cheer.

Would my festive blog wife bring this film to life with her belief or scrap the blueprints before it could be built? Read her review to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Knight Before Christmas, or: Orange You Glad It’s December?

It’s Christmas time on the Collab, so prepare yourself for picturesque snowy scenes, story lines so sweet they’ll give you a cavity, and one or two sarcastic quips. Make that a lot of sarcasm, especially when so many of our Netflix offerings for Christmas are…quite different from our usual fare.

The Film:

The Knight Before Christmas

The Premise:

A medieval knight is sent forward in time to present day Ohio, where he meets an unlucky in love teacher.

The Ramble:

Merry Olde England, 1334. Not that this matters–what’s important is that you know our opening scene is medieval AF complete with chain mail and full tankards of ale all around. The Christmas celebrations here revolve around hunting, though the hunt will be short-lived for knight Sir Cole with probably a dozen middle names and a surname I forget. When he encounters an old crone in the woods, Cole is thrown forward in time with a prophecy regarding his destiny: the knight has until the end of Christmas Day to figure things out or he never will. Which, all things considered, is pretty shitty as all of this is supposedly a reward for his kindness.

a man in chainmail armor stands in front of a Christmas light display

In the present (in a made up town in Ohio), high school teacher, devoted aunt and sister, and all-around goody two-shoes Brooke is soaking in all of the Christmas spirit yet feels there’s something missing. Could it be she’s missing her deceased parents? Still nursing a broken heart after ditching her cheating ex-boyfriend? Clearly yes, but obviously the biggest problem here is that she’s given up on the idea of true love.

a woman stands in a classroom, facing a teenager

This changes when, on a snowy evening, Brooke hits a stranger with her car–none other than Sir Cole, her literal knight in shining armor. Believing Cole is sweet but the victim of temporary amnesia, Brooke invites him to stay in her guest house. However, when Brooke’s guest goes hunting for skunks and lights a bonfire in the front lawn, it becomes clear that Cole is more than just slightly quirky in a charming sort of way. Cole manages to redeem himself with those most beautiful words in the English language: “What say you and I binge watch together?”

As one might expect, Christmas activities abound, providing ample opportunity for Brooke and Cole to get to know each other while having virtually zero chemistry. Cole gets involved with the charity event Brooke is hosting because of course she fucking is. But even after an unnecessary subplot in which Cole saves Brooke’s niece from falling into a frozen lake, he is no closer to discovering his quest of destiny or even getting some onscreen action. At least he gets 50 cents and an orange as a Christmas present from Brooke (there is a reason for this as explained in the film, but for fuck’s sake–anyone who tried this with me would get an orange chucked at their head).

a man and woman walk through a Christmas-themed park, linking arms

With the deadline to make Cole’s dreams come true rapidly approaching, our knight in shining armor seems destined to return to his own time. But surely he’s coming back for those fancy armor gloves he left behind? Oh, right–and true love?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

I hated everyone in this film even as this makes me question the person I’ve become. Admittedly this film was a bit of a roller coaster, as I enjoyed the first few minutes and the fun premise. However, I started watching the clock before we were even halfway through this adventure, which wastes a cute setup to cross off all of the made-for-TV Christmas movie cliches.

I found the message about charity insufferable and honestly rather gross. One of the characters in need of support throughout the film is a single dad who works about 200 hours a week yet still finds the time to give back by volunteering. Brooke decides she will use the charity evening to appreciate this dude’s hard work and straight up gives him a huge chunk of the money raised. This is supposed to be heartwarming, but to me came across as incredibly condescending and embarrassing. Honestly, this kind of public gesture feels more about seeking praise than actually helping people in need. And I don’t even know where to begin with the idea of charity being essentially synonymous with giving money.

As a lover of period dramas, I recognize the hypocrisy in this statement, but I found romanticizing the medieval period an odd choice. Seriously, Cole’s hygiene would have been so much worse than depicted, and he would have been virtually incomprehensible–and, most likely, wildly inappropriate. And I’ve seen my share of technical challenges on Bake Off; medieval baking was disgusting, and there’s no way Cole would’ve managed to make anything remotely appetizing by our standards during his Christmas baking session.

I fully accept how strange and perhaps worrying it is that I’m so angry about this innocuous film. I’m sure that, at least in part, this film is a victim of the lack of clear focus for my anger in our topsy-turvy world. Either way, I gave zero fucks about the characters in this film or their ludicrous devotion to the concept of true love. Which is totally something a villain in this film would say–if there had been even a hint of conflict during the entire run time.

Is this the year I finally glow from within because my Christmas spirit is so bright?  Methinks not.

Would my lady blog wife travel across time itself for this one or throw its 50 cent Christmas gift back in its face? Find out in her review here!

Film Reviews

Good Manners, or: Werewolf-ful Christmas Time

This month is all about taking a break.  My incredibly wise blog wife at A Voluptuous Mind suggested we take a step back from the Collab and focus on getting through the holidays.  Considering I can’t even get stoked about Christmas horror this year, this is perhaps the single greatest decision of our partnership.

No surprises here–I have still been watching seasonally inappropriate films all the damn time.  So I don’t get too rusty on my film blogging, I’ll still post a couple of reviews this month.

First up is a delightful film from Brazil featuring interracial lesbian romance, designer boots, and werewolves.

The Film:

Good Manners

The Premise:

Hired as a nanny for a wealthy pregnant woman, Clara discovers secrets about the baby as well as her employer’s wild nighttime activities.

The Ramble:

Though she started a nursing program, Clara was unable to complete her training due to money woes.  Cash-strapped and behind on her rent, she is desperate to land a job working as nanny for Ana, a wealthy pregnant woman–so desperate that Clara fabricates previous experience and references.  Luckily, starting that nursing program comes in handy as she helps Ana through painful stomach pangs.

a pregnant woman lies propped up on a bed, another woman sitting next to her and smiling

Until the baby is born, Clara will take care of Ana, keeping her company as family and friends are nowhere to be found.  What happened to leave Ana so isolated?

On her birthday, Ana lets loose and tells the truth about her pregnancy–though she was engaged, the baby’s father was not her fiancé.  Scandalous! Not only is Ana’s baby the product of a one-night stand, he is the child of a werewolf father?! We’ve all been there, right?

Shortly after this revelation, Clara discovers Ana has a sleepwalking problem…and is also a werewolf.  Having fallen in love with Ana, Clara helps her even after she witnesses her murder and eat a feral cat. She breaks the news to Ana gently since all of her werewolf behavior happens as if in a trance, and the two ladies experiment with old remedies.

a woman with dilated pupils looks ahead, her mouth and chin smeared with fresh blood

With Ana’s due date rapidly approaching, she feels increasing amounts of pain.  When the baby is born in pretty much the most horrific way possible, Clara is out tracking down pine nuts to satisfy Ana’s cravings.  When she returns, Clara finds a horrific scene, complete with newborn werewolf baby Joel. Though she tries to ditch the baby by the side of the road, Clara ultimately can’t leave behind her only remaining connection to Ana.

Fastforward several years and Clara is now a nurse celebrating her adopted son’s birthday.  Joel never craves sweets and isn’t allowed to eat meat, so he seems to subsist on bread alone.  Not a shabby existence, IMHO.

a smiling woman holds hands with a boy as they walk down a street

During a full moon, Joel sleeps in the so-called “little room,” which is essentially a dungeon.  Clara tucks him in at night and chains Joel to the wall so he can’t hurt himself or anyone else.

Their usual routine is disrupted when Joel begins to question things, chafing against the literal and figurative restraints Clara places on his life.  Already angry that he’s not allowed to go to a dance, Joel is furious when he discovers Clara’s story about finding him abandoned as a baby is a lie. When he finds clues that he believes will lead him to his father, Joel and his bff decide to track him down at the mall.  Things of course go horribly wrong when the two friends are locked in the mall overnight.

two young boys in a darkened store look around nervously

After tragedy strikes, how will Clara’s friends and neighbors react as they begin to connect the dots?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s start with the criticism: this feels like 2 separate films as the tone in the Clara/Ana narrative is very different from the Clara/Joel part. I would have liked to see these stories woven together more effectively rather than watch 2 halves of the film that in some ways don’t feel related. Since this clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there’s a lot here that could have been condensed to help the story flow.

However, spoiler alert: overall this is a beautiful film that I really enjoyed. The lead, Isabél Zuaa, is incredible as Clara. Though her character is fairly quiet, she is extremely expressive in her loving but painful relationships with Ana and Joel.

The relationship between Clara and Ana, though unlikely, feels genuine. Their bittersweet story is emotional without being manipulative. It’s quite refreshing how little men matter here (we give zero fucks about Ana’s father, fiancé, or baby daddy); we are firmly planted in woman world.

Moral of the story:  I. Am. Here. For. A.  Werewolf. Film.