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"The Homecoming" (1971)
Starring: Patricia Neal, Richard Thomas, Ellen Corby
This wholesome family Christmas movie was the predecessor to the well-known TV series "The Waltons", which was based on the life of Earl Hamner, Jr. who grew up in the mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression.
The story in this movie centers around the large family full of seven children, two grandparents, and the mother all anticipating the father, John Walton, coming home for Christmas. Since this is set during the Great Depression, money and ease of travel are both sparse - especially during the blustery and icy winters up in the mountains. John has a job in a town fifty miles away, and his standard trip back home entails a combination of taking two different buses and hitchhiking. As it gets later and later on Christmas Eve, and John still has not come home, the family begins to worry, but still perseveres with faith and love in the spirit of Christmas.
There is never a dull moment during the movie as members of the family partake in delightful Christmas Eve activities while awaiting the father's return - including decorating the family Christmas tree (where there is some rowdy name-calling amongst the children), singing and drinking "The Recipe" with the eccentric old Baldwin sisters, and attending a Christmas Eve service at a small church.
"The Homecoming" has always been among my favorite movies to watch during the holiday season. It's full of joy, laughter, and just enough heartwarming drama to remind us all of what is truly important in life - especially at Christmas. While the Walton family doesn't have much in the way of monetary possessions, they are overflowing with love and good values.
I give "The Homecoming" 10 out of 10 for never failing to make me laugh and warm my heart every Christmas.
Starring: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt
This was a movie I was slightly apprehensive about watching because the synopsis didn’t give much detail. Upon finally watching it, I saw that there really wasn’t much detail to give - in a good way.
The movie takes place in the year 2031 on a specially-engineered train that was designed to house the survivors of the human race after the Earth became too cold to sustain life, due to human-induced complications that caused a chain-reaction to the weather patterns. The train circles the globe once per year, over and over and on the train are classes of humans as they would exist in the world (sort of).
The back section of the train is home to the lowest class of passengers, who are mistreated by the front-end passengers and the man who designed the train (who resides in the engine room). The back section plans a revolution where they devise a plan to fight their way to the front of the train.
There isn’t much of a story plot besides this, but I feel that it is splendidly written and doesn’t really need much more of a story behind it. The real wonder of the movie is the train, itself. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.
Though the entire movie is set inside this, what turns out to be a, magnificent train - it succeeds in revealing surprise after surprise as the main character from the back section leads the fight through each car of the train. The fights and battles are anything but ordinary and the world that exists inside the walls of this train is wondrous and extraordinary.
The ending was unexpected and could leave you feeling somewhat disappointed, depending on what you take from it. But, all in all, I enjoyed being drawn into the world of this movie - my favorite character being Mason. She’s a middle-aged quirky “villain” with bifocal glasses, who actually makes you laugh more than she makes you angry. She, alone, raised the bar of this movie for me from “Eh…” to “Oh my God, YES!”
Though “Snowpiercer” isn’t a movie I would purchase and/or watch repeatedly, I’d say it is definitely worth seeing at least once. 7 out of 10.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne
I was in the mood for an alien movie, so I rented “Knowing”, starring Nicolas Cage, based on a recommendation. I can’t say that it was even close to what I would call an “alien movie”, nor did it satisfy my thirst for such a flick. However, it was a very enjoyable movie despite this particular short-coming (which could have just boiled down to a misconception).
The beginning of the movie certainly captured my interest, as it opens in a classroom in 1959, where students are contributing drawings to a time capsule which the school plans to seal in the ground for fifty years. While the rest of the children are busy drawing pictures of what they think the world will look like in fifty years, a strange and quiet girl in the back row of the classroom is hurriedly scrawling rows and rows of numbers on her drawing paper - but the teacher pulls it away from her just before the girl can finish the numbers.
The movie then fast-forwards fifty years to Nicolas Cage and his son, when the time capsule is about to be dug up by the school - his son being the recipient of the strange page of numbers. The events that follow are too fantastic to comprehend and will have the audience cheering on Cage to uncover the clues and answers to it all, up to the unbelievable and climactic ending.
Without giving away too much, I will say that “Knowing” most definitely does not classify as an “alien” movie, but rather a mild sci-fi thriller that focuses on individual psychic connections with higher beings who know all destructive events of the future of Earth.
I began watching this movie with the anticipation of extraterrestrial involvement, but was pleasantly let astray onto a completely different path that was equally, if not more, gripping and entertaining. There were one or two predictable moments, but as for the rest of the events: you really don’t see them coming.
The female lead is a relevant and important role to the movie and storyline, however, prepare to be thoroughly annoyed by her hard-headedness, contradictory nature, and general flimsy personality. She was my only issue, and it was a mild issue, at that.
Nicolas Cage does a wonderful job, as usual, in his given role - as well as the young actor who plays his son. The two have a great dynamic in the movie and even have one of those cute special quirks to signify their love for each other.
Over-all, I give “Knowing” a 9 out of 10. It isn’t really one of those movies that you can comfortably watch again and again - however, for first-time viewers, it’s a journey you won’t want to miss.
"The Canterville Ghost" (1996)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Neve Campbell, Joan Sims
One of my favorite childhood movies is a perhaps lesser-known Hallmark movie starring Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell, called “The Canterville Ghost”. This enchanting family movie brings Oscar Wilde’s haunting tale to life and provides soul-candy for anyone with even a little imagination.
Neve Campbell stars as the 16-year-old Virginia who reluctantly moves with her family from Indiana, USA to an old manor called Canterville Hall in the English countryside. The local legend, unbeknownst to the American family at first, is that the manor and grounds are haunted by the late Simon de Canterville (played by Patrick Stewart) who died there 400 years ago.
Once living there, the family begins to encounter spooky happenings in the house, and due to Virginia’s resistance to living in England away from her home and friends, her father (a skeptic of ghost stories) thinks that she is causing trouble just to try to get the family to move back home. Upon learning that Canterville Hall has a curse that keeps the ghost of Simon de Canterville haunting the grounds, Virginia sets out to befriend the ghost and break the curse.
As with most Hallmark movies, “The Canterville Ghost” touches the hearts and tear ducts of its audience, while also providing a few spine-tingling moments along the way. This movie is a nice one to cuddle up and watch with any loved one, or even to enjoy by yourself with a bowl of popcorn on a dark night.
I’ve been watching this movie for years, and the cinematography and feel of it still transports me to a different realm of possibilities and wonder every time I watch it. Patrick Stewart gives an excellent delivery of a brooding ghost with a heavy heart, but also with a sweet sense of humor and love.
As far as family and spooky movies alike go, I give “The Canterville Ghost” a 10 out of 10.