“The Family Stone” is a Personal Christmas Favorite

Thomas Bezucha’s “The Family Stone” is that movie that takes from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and in many ways feels like a tribute to that very film. It’s still about acceptance and coming to terms with growing up, in the end. Except rather than the central theme being acceptance of race, the subtext revolves around a liberal brood accepting a conservative opposite as one of their own. It’s a rich, touching, sometimes painful look at the highs and lows of family, challenging our own perceptions, and dealing with an impending loss. The question that lingers in “The Family Stone” is not whether the matriarch of their very tight knit middle class brood can survive breast cancer, but whether the family can survive losing her.

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Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie (2017)

Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!” was one of the banner animated series from the heyday of the 1990’s. It was a subtle, sweet, and often funny coming of age show with a lot of heart and some brilliantly memorable moments that evoked pure emotion from its audience. Despite ending in 2004, Nickelodeon gave the series a final send off in 2002 with a flimsy and absolutely wretched big screen film that did nothing to close the world we’d come to love. Most of all, it did nothing for the story arc of main character Arnold, who spent a majority of the series under the care of his elderly eccentric grandparents.

Mid-way through the series, we learned that Arnold’s parents were explorers who spent their days traveling, and the last they ever saw of him was before they left for one last adventure to help a village suffering from a mysterious illness.

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Rock-a-Doodle (1991) [Blu-Ray]

The long out of print “Rock-a-Doodle” from animation master Don Bluth has finally stormed its way on to HD thanks to Olive Films, and it’s a blast to the past for me. I fondly remember seeing a lot of the ads for “Rock-a-Doodle” as well as coming across TV spots and ads in comic books. Sadly, the actual cinematic experience was a bust, even for an eight year old moi. It was a dull, awful movie then, and it’s a pretty dull and awful movie, now. I doubt even the best of nineties nostalgia geeks can find a gem in this mess of a movie. I spent a good number of years putting “Rock-a-Doodle” in the back burner of my memory, and I realize it was for good reason.

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Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special (1977)

It’s Halloween and Daffy Duck’s Nephew encounters Witch Hazel while trick or treating. Terrified he runs away screaming and insisting to Daffy that he saw a witch. Determined to prove him wrong he takes him to her house. Meanwhile Bugs turns up in the same costume Daffy’s nephew is wearing and has his own adventure with Witch Hazel. As always with these Looney Tunes “movies,” they’re really just bare boned one page premises serving as frames for craftily edited montages that count as big movies. If you hadn’t seen these Looney Tunes shorts a million times like yours truly, you’d never really be able to tell much a difference.

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Michael Jackson’s Halloween (2017)

Although I absolutely love “Thriller,” I’ve never been one to associate Michael Jackson with Halloween, but apparently someone does. “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” isn’t just an animated special for the whole family, but it’s classic Michael Jackson. It has his music, it inspires individuality, and it further emphasizes Michael Jackson as something of a mythical figure that centered his life on defending children against sinister forces lurking in the shadows. Suffice to say “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” is a weird animated special, but it’s an oddly entertaining one that will work if you’re a Jackson buff.

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The Halloween Tree (1993)

Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree” is easily one of the greatest Halloween movies ever made. It’s not just a movie about the holiday, but it’s a celebration of what the holiday stands for. For years Halloween has been incorrectly identified as a holiday that celebrates Satanism and evil, when in reality, Halloween is about observing death and celebrating life. Even the famous colors black and orange represent the ideas of death and life. The fantastic adventure we witness in “The Halloween Tree” is absolutely compelling while also helping to destroy the stigmas that often come with the ancient holiday. Mostly though, Bradbury’s story is about how we should learn to accept that there is a certain beauty in the concept of death as well as the concept of life.

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A Witches’ Ball (2017)

At best I’d say that “A Witches’ Ball” is a serviceable movie. It’s exactly the kind of movie you’d find at Walmart one day that you’d probably buy for your daughter in hopes of distracting her with a fantasy while you’re preparing for dinner or something. It’s mediocre and hits about all the right beats for a movie heavily aimed toward small girls. Director Justin G. Dyck is a man whose entire filmography revolves around filming cheaply made, holiday oriented, family films and “A Witches’ Ball” s right up his alley.

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The Monster Squad (1987)

Fred Dekker’s “The Monster Squad” is the assembly of many eighties tropes, even conjuring up the aesthetic of a novel series one might have found tucked beside “The Hardy Boys,” and “Babysitters Club.” It’s Amblin, Spielberg, Universal and everything else we loved about the eighties, and while it can in many ways be considered a take off on “The Goonies,” it watches so much better over time. Even better is the script by Shane Black allows for interesting and complex preteen heroes, all of whom have their spotlight, as well as their own personal struggles. Like Spielberg, Black introduces a potentially broken home with main hero Sean, while this extraordinary situation allows his family to re-unite for the fate of him and his little sister.

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