Last Christmas

You probably know Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, but her role in Last Christmas is more reminiscent of her character Lou Clark in Me Before You, a sappy but engaging 2016 chick flick that seems custom made for the Hallmark channel.
Here we have Clarke playing Kate, a somewhat self-sabotaging Christmas shop elf who keeps bumping into the mysterious Tom Webster, a strangely genteel suitor played by Henry Golding. We know Golding from Crazy Rich Asians as the puzzlingly English/Malaysian charmer who seems not quite Asian and not really British, but of course he is both. Also from CRA is Michelle Yeoh, Kate’s boss and “other dragon mother” who relishes the chance to play a comedic role instead of her usual hard-as-nails Asian matriarch persona.
A movie with a soundtrack entirely based on the music of George Michael was off-putting (for me). The title song has always annoyed me with its pronunciation of “Gave” the way “Have” is spoken. “Last Christmas, I gaaav you my heart.” When the song became a staple of Christmas channel holiday rotations it guaranteed I’d immediately be fiddling with the controls on my car’s stereo. But the number of covers by current artists speaks to its general popularity as a song, and also as a tribute to the talent and complexity of the late Michael.
But unlike other films that have stories scripted around a set of songs, this one nicely fits Michael’s tunes into the plot. The story is adeptly augmented by the soundtrack, not dominated by it.
And Emilia Clarke, with her highly expressive eyebrows, has managed to do the unthinkable. She has dethroned Zooey Deschanel from her long-held status as most adorable female movie elf, based on positivity, charisma and dominance within the script.
Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson wrote the script for Last Christmas. She plays Kate’s Yugoslavian mother, and saved the best comic line in the film for herself. Yes, this is a comedy, but it is also a Christmas story and a love story, filled with joy and it ultimately serves as a surprisingly powerful tearjerker. The film also exposes the ugliness of anti-immigration bigotry through the eyes of its victims. So, there’s a lot more going on in this seemingly simple film than the trailer might indicate.
The words from the Wham hit, Last Christmas take on special significance along Kate’s journey through diverse and Bohemian sections of London. You will be reminded of these words during several poignant scenes. Personally, I may just keep my hands off of the radio next time the song begins to play.
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I'll give it to someone special
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance
But you still catch my eye
Tell me, baby
Do you recognize me?
Well, it's been a year
It doesn't surprise me.
Last Christmas is a great way to kick off your holiday season. Just brace yourself for having that song stuck in your head for a while.
Last Christmas (2019) runs 1 hour 43 minutes and is rated pg-13.
Should I see this movie?  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I’m going to strongly recommend that you see this surprisingly engaging movie. I’m also going to recommend that you bring some Kleenex.
Is it possible that Fred Rogers has been gone for sixteen years already? And how can his show be a childhood touchstone for so many generations of viewers? Perhaps because the show’s lengthy national run between 1968 and 2001 overlaps so many early learning years among those of us who grew up watching network television. A short gap between 1976 and 1979 was addressed in the film as a period during which Fred, “ran out of things to talk about.” The first “last” show aired on February 20, 1976. On a personal note, this was the day before my mother died, and I never needed Mister Rogers more than I did then.
Fred’s own growing young sons eventually gave him plenty more to talk about, and the show resumed for another long stretch, surpassing Captain Kangaroo as the longest running children’s television program. It took Sesame Street to raise the bar further.
The surprise I mentioned earlier regarding this film was the less-than-strictly-biographical nature of the script. Sure, it was about Fred and his show, but they merely provide a wrapper for the story within, that of the relationship with his true-life friend, journalist Tom Junod. He becomes Lloyd Vogel in the film, interviewing Rogers for a short 1998 Esquire piece that becomes much longer as their friendship deepens. Try as he might, Vogel cannot peel the pretense of Fred from his “character” and is unable to separate the two for the purpose of an expose. Vogel’s wife warns, “Don’t ruin my childhood, Lloyd!” 
Eventually Rogers begins speaking through his puppets, at which point Lloyd somewhat angrily says, “Put the puppets down Fred!” Vogel is played with cynical intensity by Matthew Rhys who is currently filming a made for TV Perry Mason reboot.
Filmed in the original Neighborhood studio, cameras can now sweep through the meticulously rebuilt miniature streets with a clarity and consistency that helps our journey along. A fun use of deliberately clumsy props is employed between scenes, jetting Vogel from Pittsburgh to New York on a little wooden airplane that dangles precariously from a string on take off and landing. Here we enjoy a camera zoom out from Mister Roger’s house in the neighborhood, up and over a hill, panning to a distant shot of pre 911 Manhattan, illuminated at night and dissolving slowly into reality.
I expected a standard biopic of the Fred Rogers story. Tom Hanks was the draw for me. And in the standard opening segment, Fred changing into slippers and a sweater, I half expected a Saturday Night Live sketch to ensue. At first, Hanks seems to be channeling the wisdom of Forrest Gump, but after a while you believe you’re watching the real Mister Rogers, the utterly non-judgmental Presbyterian Minister who just wanted people to feel good about themselves, a man who, “didn’t want to eat anything that had a mother.”
We are treated to behind-the-scenes views of Rogers voicing his simple puppets, approving each take of his beloved show, and riding the subway home, serenaded by a chorus of loving fans singing his theme song. At this point there was a soft sing-along in our theater by viewers caught up in the moment. Like I said, Kleenex.
Director Marielle Heller, uses the same color-rich and up-close style as her 2018 Can You Ever Forgive Me? and delivers the most powerful cinematic minute of the year, literally a silent countdown in real time during an “exercise” that Rogers likes to use. Patrons in the restaurant in the scene, and those in the theater in which we sat, seemingly stopped breathing as Hanks looks directly into the camera. You won’t believe how long a minute can be.
If you’d like to visit the Land of Make Believe one more time, see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. All of your old friends are here: King Friday the thirteenth, Daniel Tiger, Trolley, Mister McFeely and Lady Aberlin. Be warned, there are some mildly adult themes and scenes that might not be appropriate for your own very young children and grandchildren. For the original feel, treat them to some old shows which are certain to be available online.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019 ) runs 1 hour, 48 minutes and is rated PG.
Should I see this movie? 

No Time to Die

We saw the long-awaited James Bond film recently. And not surprisingly, I began this review with the wrong title, not that it matters. The f...