As promised, this week I will cover Candy Cane Lane and It’s a Wonderful Knife, but I also had time for Christmas As Usual. I want to wish Waynedale a very happy holiday season, and I hope for a great year of movies (and life) in 2024.
In Candy Cane Lane on Amazon, the Carver family—Chris (Eddie Murphy), Carol (Tracee Ellis Ross), Joy (Genneya Walton), Nick (Thaddeus J. Mixson), and Holly (Madison Thomas)—take part in their street’s holiday decorating contest each year. Chris’s desire to win overtakes the festive spirit after he gets laid off and finds out that the top prize is $100,000 this year. A naughty elf, Pepper (Jillian Bell), sells him some magical decorations with a lot of risky fine print, sending the whole family on a literal wild goose chase.
The writing for Candy Cane Lane grounds the story and characters in relatable conflicts between parents and children and the unfortunate reality of end-of-the-year layoffs. As the action picks up, the narrative quickly falls into chaos with so many wacky moving parts. Fortunately, great casting holds the film together. Eddie Murphy and Tracee Ellis Ross are both exceptional, but they also work well as a comedy duo. As Pepper, Jillian Bell provides a funny villain who mixes evil with zaniness well.
Because Candy Cane Lane is so hectic, it is a good candidate for annual screenings, as I am sure there are funny details I missed the first time. The attention to costumes, props, and sets creates a festive spectacle as a backdrop for a funny, heartwarming adventure story. Of course, because Eddie Murphy stars, the humor also has a bit of a bite, making Candy Cane Lane one of the best, most balanced new holiday movies this year.
Christmas-themed horror films have a long tradition, including Black Christmas, Gremlins, and, depending on who you ask, Home Alone. I love scary Christmas stories, but I also watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year, sometimes over protests from my family. Obviously, I had to watch the new Christmas horror movie riffing on that classic film.
On Shudder, It’s a Wonderful Knife takes place in the sleepy town of Angel Falls, where creepy Henry Waters (Justin Long) tries to buy out all the local businesses. When he cannot get his way, he turns to murder, but a teenager, Winnie (Jane Widdop), stops him, seemingly saving the day. When the rest of the town, including her father (Joel McHale) and beloved brother (Aiden Howard) are all too happy to gloss over the traumatic events of the previous year, Winnie wishes she had never been born. Through the magic of the aurora (what?), she gets to see what that would look like. Winnie teams up with her aunt, Gale Prescott (Katharine Isabelle)—nice Scream reference—and town misfit Bernie (Jess McLeod) to set things right again.
The setup takes so long that for a minute I thought the story was going to put Henry Waters in the classic George Baily role, making an especially dark twist to the story. Instead, It’s a Wonderful Knife meanders through close-enough plot points to It’s a Wonderful Life. I would have respected the project much more if it had refrained from making explicit references to the classic film, relying on the audience to put it together. Instead, the writing undermines the meta fun of the idea by commenting on the connection between the two films, but also not striking enough of a balance between following the original plot and going in a new direction.
The George Bailey character works so well partially because he has lived enough to become the “warped, frustrated young man”. Putting that character in the body of a teenage girl demanded more creativity than the screenplay tapped into.
It seems writer Michael Kennedy tried to subtly shift focus from the impact of an individual life to the value of individuals in community with each other, but this theme is not given space to develop in a movie that moves so quickly from point to point. Similarly, the acting is pretty shallow. Justin Long’s spray tan and intense veneers do most of his work, and as the villain, his bad acting undermines the production. It’s a Wonderful Knife certainly pales in comparison to It’s a Wonderful Life, but as a holiday horror movie, it is still a lot of fun.
Finally, on Netflix, Christmas as Usual (Så var det jul igjen) is a Norwegian film that remakes Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but at Christmas, as Thea (Ida Ursin-Holm) takes her Indian fiance, Jashan (Kanan Gill), home to Norway for the holidays and plenty of casual racism ensues.
Because we were more used to discussions about race in an American context, the pairing of Norway and India in this quirky Christmas film made for some interesting twists on a remake, and my husband and I alternated between laughing and yelling at the TV. For a holiday remake, Christmas as Usual is cringe-worthy, entertaining, and thought-provoking, with that added dash of holiday corniness.
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