In order to put together our Advent Calendar of Christmas Movies I have watched many movies from several decades. I have made lists, debated over said lists (that's a nice word for argued right?), made new lists and argued...I mean debated some more. The point is, it wasn't an easy task whittling down the list to the final 25 - well 27 but who's counting? In order to do it I've had to watch some challenging movies, and by challenging I don't mean intellectually. It's a miracle I made it through some of them. Two such gems of varying quality are 'The Night Before' and 'A Merry Christmas Miracle' A.K.A. 'A Merry Friggin' Christmas'.
The Night Before reunites the team that brought us 50/50. In December 2001, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents in a car accident. Every Christmas Eve since then his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have taken him out partying so he's not alone on Christmas. But with Isaac's wife pregnant and Chris becoming a famous football player they have decided to end the tradition with one last epic night.
Despite being funny in places and managing to evoke a sense of Christmas spirit through themes of friendship and loyalty it boils down to another generic Seth Rogen comedy - drink, drugs, partying and all the usual hijinks. It's not quite on a level with The Interview but it's not far off. There are definitely some fun moments, like a very high Isaac talking to the statues in a Nativity scene followed by puking in a church during midnight mass, mumbling "oh Jesus, fuck me" before running out yelling "WE DID NOT KILL JESUS" whilst pointing at a crucifix. Some scenes may even tug on the old heart strings, like watching three friends emulate the movie 'Big' by playing a song on a giant piano.
The problem with this movie is it's a few funny moments strung together with scenes that are either boring or way too stupid, like the scene involving the Christmas hating thief. I don't care what time of year it is, I don't want to hear her try and justify being a dick to everybody! Also between this and Pain and Gain, the world has seen Anthony Mackie using steroids way too many times. By far the best thing about this movie is Michael Shannon and his performance as Mr Green, the friendly neighbourhood drug dealer who has weed for all occasions and the three Spirits of Christmas. The Night Before may not be worthy of our Advent Calendar, but it is an easy movie to watch making it a good choice to have on whilst wrapping presents or putting up the Christmas tree.
Which brings us to our next movie. A movie so bad it makes those Christmas movies that Channel 5 broadcast all day, everyday throughout December look good. A Merry Christmas Miracle, or A Merry Friggin' Christmas depending on where you live. This is one of three movies featuring Robin Williams released after his death. Boyd Mitchler (Joel McHale) and his family have to spend Christmas with Boyd's estranged family. But when it's discovered that all of his son's presents have been left at home, Boyd and his Dad, Mitch (Robin Williams) have just eight hours to retrieve the presents and get back in time to save Christmas. That's the type of description you'd find on the back of the DVD anyway.
Basically, Mitch was a mean, drunken arsehole, his wife Donna (Candice Bergen) was unable to protect the children from. This has resulted in three messed up children: Nelson (Clark Duke) who joined the Army, suffered brain damage after falling off the back of a Humvee during Basic Training and is now for some reason raising his ex-girlfriend's baby which she had with another man. Shauna (Wendi McLendon-Covey), a mother of two who's in a seemingly unhealthy relationship with the father of her children who's not only a complete idiot but also a convicted sex offender. And then there's Boyd himself, he moved to Chicago and got a good job in finance (which he hates) and works so hard to make his family's lives perfect he hardly sees them. I know what you're thinking: isn't this supposed to be a comedy?
Now this movie was marketed as a comedy. It was directed by Tristram Shapeero, a man responsible for directing a lot of comedy in the UK and the US, but this just isn't funny! The movie comes across more like a drama, and not a very good one at that. I am a big fan of Robin Williams, both as an actor and a comedian. After his death, I was looking forward to seeing this movie, seeing one of the great titans of comedy delight us one more time. Unfortunately I was disappointed. I thought Mitch would be funny at some level, the type of comedic yet serious character that Williams played so well over the years, but he's just a bastard. And it takes the entire movie for him to realise he's a bastard. Williams' 2006 movie Man of the Year was not as funny as advertised, but at least Williams himself was still funny! The same cannot be said of this movie.
Once the road trip begins the rest of the family are given a second rate story that is neither enjoyable or necessary. They put together a fairly decent cast that are just wasted. All the children bar Boyd's son are either annoying, disgusting or both. I thought children in Christmas movies were supposed to be loveable and endearing! Think back to any Christmas you've ever seen, can you think of any children that aren't? Come to think of it, A Merry Christmas Miracle doesn't even feel that Christmasy. I was hoping for one last hoorah from the late, great Robin Williams, unfortunately I didn't get it.
When giving a negative review, my intention is not necessarily to convince you to not see the movie. We all have different tastes, my reviews are my humble opinion. In the case of 'The Night Before', I would say give it a shot. It has some funny moments and is an easy watch. But I can't say this about 'A Merry Christmas Miracle', in fact I would actively discourage you from watching it, especially if you're a fan of Robin Williams. You're better off watching one of his other movies and remembering him in his heyday.
There's just a hint of what didn't make it into the Advent Calendar. To view our Advent Calendar of Christmas Movies click here.
What did you think of 'The Night Before' and 'A Merry Christmas Miracle'? Let us know by leaving a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter.