10 Must Watch Christmas Movies for December

By Brandon Matzke and Nevin Hooper

It’s December! You know what that means… CHRISTMAS!!! I absolutely adore this holiday, and celebrate it proudly every year. Maybe too much. But I still love it. So, here’s a list of my (and Nevin’s) 10 favorite Christmas movies. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s perfectly fine. And these aren’t all good movies; I just did a search for Christmas films, and these are the ones I got. And I’m counting legitimate Christmas films, not the ones that just take place around the holidays (like Batman Returns or Love Actually). And, I’m listing these from least best to best. And I needed some help, so I brought fellow film critic Nevin Hooper into this (like how I did with our Halloween special). Now, let’s get this party started!

10. Elf (2003)

Review by Brandon Matzke

I’m not much of a Will Ferrell fan. I’ve only seen two of his movies that I’ve enjoyed. One of them was Talledega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (which is a guilty pleasure), and the other is 2003’s Elf. It’s so rare that a film this bizarre manages to become such a classic. Elf follows Buddy (Will Ferrell in an amusingly cheery role): a human who was raised by elves (as in, Santa’s elves). One day, he discovers he is not actually an elf and that he’s a human. He journeys across the magical land of New York City to meet his dad and his human family. Turns out his dad is on the dreaded naughty list, and it’s up to him to redeem his dad. It’s a very weird film, but one that manages to always make me smile around this time of year.

9. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Review by Brandon Matzke

A modern holiday classic, Arthur Christmas, follows Arthur, the youngest son of the master spy known as Santa Claus. As in, the “ho ho ho” Santa. During one fateful Christmas, Arthur discovers a toy Santa forgot to deliver, and it’s up to him, an elf who mastered the art of wrapping, and a retired former Santa (it’s a job title in this world) to find the rightful owner of this gift and unite toy and child. This film really surprised me; it seemed really cheesy, and at times, it was, but for every cheesy moment there was a heartwarming and/or fun moment. The visuals are very appealing, the humor is surprisingly good, and the film just makes me feel like a kid again. I just recommend it.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Review by Brandon Matzke

I honestly didn’t know if I could include this one, considering it’s extremely small runtime of 30 minutes. But, it does have a touching message about the real meaning of Christmas along with the signature Peanuts charm. And Charles Schultz’s animation has this strange quality that just adds to this film, even beating the recent Peanuts Movie (which is still a good movie by the way). If you’re feeling a little down around the holidays, this was a film made just for you.

7. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Review by Brandon Matzke

Honestly, this is more of a Halloween film. But it has Christmas right in the title! I’ve already discussed this film, so I’ll just use some quotes from my original review: “For one, I find it to be beautifully unique. I mean, it’s not everyday you see a movie where individual holidays have their own worlds. But it also has great animation, some brilliant music by the talented Danny Elfman, and a sweet and simple plot based on a poem written by Tim Burton. So, before you rant about seeing Jack Skellington at every Hot Topic (I mean, what is it with this film and Hot Topic?!), give the film a shot. You might be humming “This is Halloween” before you know it. 11/10.”- Top 5 Halloween Movies article.

6. Gremlins (1984)

Review by Brandon Matzke

Gremlins is a horror fan’s Christmas film. This film managed to earn the 1984 Saturn award for Best Horror film, beating out darker, grittier films like A Nightmare on Elm Street. And for good reason, too! This film is the reason why PG-13 exists; it pushed the boundaries so much that it (and the second Indiana Jones film) made a new rating. That’s not the only reason why this film works; it’s a brilliant dark comedy, blending horror and comedy seamlessly. The screenplay by Chris Columbus is weird and original, and also hilarious and scary. But without a doubt, the best part of this film is… the gremlins. Holy cow, these buggers are so much fun, whether they’re watching Snow White and singing along with it, or violently destroying the small town of Kingston Falls, they’re a blast to watch. Is this for everyone? No. But for the right audience, it’s a blast.

5. A Christmas Story (1983)

Review by Nevin Hooper

A cult classic. I am so surprised that Brandon has not seen this film yet, especially since it plays all day long every Christmas day. But, either way, I am reviewing it. All Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants for Christmas is a “Red Rider air rifle.” After the constant excuse from everyone around him “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” Ralphie is still determined to have that rifle for Christmas, while still suffering through the random misadventures of his family and friends. This film is gut-bustingly hilarious. There are so many memorable lines and scenes, with the parents (especially from the father) and famous scenes including the scene where a kid gets his tongue stuck on a telephone pole and the teacher has to pull him off. But, Ralphie’s exotic visions about his yearning of the rifle is hilarious and totally make some of the greatest scenes of the film. This is a necessary watch around Christmas, and I highly recommend it.

4. Home Alone (1990)

Review by Brandon Matzke

I have very pleasant memories of this film: it was the first film I really begged to own (and I got a VHS of it for Christmas one year, which I still own), it was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and I always thought that Marv looked like my first grade teacher. I honestly don’t know why. But there was something I always watched this movie for: not the message of the importance of family, or watching an immature kid turn into a young adult; it was the VIOLENCE. For a film with a PG rating, this is a very violent film. Yeah, it’s played for laughs, but having a nail go through a guy’s foot?! That’s something that the guy from Saw would consider inhumane! But it’s so fun to watch that I honestly stopped caring about how violent it was. But I have to go back to this film: the score by John Williams makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the directing is actually pretty good for a “kid comedy”, and Macaulay Culkin as Kevin Mccallister has so much wit and charm that I honestly started rooting for this kid, even after watching his violent torture traps dismember the poor burglars who decided to rob his house. This is a family film with an edge, and earns my seal of approval. But seriously, those traps could kill someone!

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Review by Brandon Matzke

I usually can’t stand Chevy Chase. I don’t think he’s that funny, I usually find him annoying, but this one little film is the sole objection. This is a very unconventional film for the holidays: it’s about family, sure, but it also has a truly evil squirrel hiding in a Christmas tree, Chevy Chase nearly blinding his stuck-up neighbors with his magical Christmas light magic, and everything a comedy needs to be a classic. It’s basically an examination of a christmas gone wrong; the tree is too big to even fit in the house, the family hates each other, etc., but it’s always played for laughs. And let me tell you; those laughs are well earned. And Chevy Chase, while having his absolutely hysterical moments, also manages to play a convincing everyman with a chaotic life. This is not only one of my favorite Christmas films, but also one of my favorite comedies. And it’s one that I highly recommend.

2. Die Hard (1988) (TV version)

Review by Brandon Matzke

Most of the films on this list are cheerful and happy. They make you feel warm inside, and get you in that perfect holiday mood. And then there’s Die Hard. Is this the most Christmas-y film ever made? No. This film and Christmas share as much in common as a paperclip and a beaver. But this is a great film to watch around this time of year. Taking place on Christmas Eve, Die Hard follows John McClane (Bruce Willis in an excellent role), a divorced man visiting his ex wife at a christmas party in the iconic Nakatomi tower. When things seem at their calmest, a break-in occurs, and it’s up to John McClane to stop a group of terrorists (lead by Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman in his most charismatic villain performance) from killing everyone in the building. This is a very well made action movie, and has some absolutely thrilling scenes. Bruce Willis gives a very likeable performance, and is so much fun to watch thanks to with his now-iconic one-liners and everyman charm. The characters are very memorable, and the film is a ton of fun to watch. I highly recommend it for action movie fans.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Review by Nevin Hooper

On its first initial release this film was not praised at all. But, over the years, it has gained a reputation by being one of the most influential Christmas films of all time. Starring James Stewart in one of his best roles, he plays the suicidal George Bailey who wishes that he was never born. Then an angel by the name of Clarence (Henry Travers) comes to show him that the world needs him and what the world would be like if he was never born. Not only is this a great Christmas movie, but this is a great film in general. The film has amazing acting and a phenomenal screenplay that deals with themes about one’s place in life and the importance of family and friends. The direction is also very exceptional and is helped by the excellent black and white cinematography. The story of this movie is just so phenomenal, it is original, imaginative, hopeful, sad, humorous, and very deep in themes that are important to us and the people around us. It’s a Wonderful Life is a great watch around Christmas and I very much hope you can watch it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Top 5 Martin Scorsese films

by Brandon Matzke and Nevin Hooper

Last Friday, Martin Scorsese turned 75. For 58 years, this masterful director has been gracing us with masterpiece after masterpiece. And to celebrate, we’re looking at his 5 best films. But, I haven’t seen that many of his films. Thankfully, I know someone who has: Nevin Hooper! Together we’re covering his best films. Just keep in mind there’s some we haven’t seen (Silence, The Wolf of Wall Street), and even if we did see those, we couldn’t exactly talk about them on the school blog. Now, let’s get into Marty’s best, starting with an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention:

Hugo: Based on the bestselling children’s novel, Hugo is without a doubt Scorsese’s most family friendly film. It has a sense of wonder and whimsy within every frame, and has a great performance by Ben Kingsley. The reason why it’s not on the list is because I honestly could not care about some of the characters in this film. Some of them just felt like straight up cartoon characters! But other than that, Hugo is a film that’s fun for the whole family, and is definitely a better film to introduce the family to Scorsese than, say, The Wolf of Wall Street.

5. Casino (1995)

by Nevin Hooper

TV version

Although not as good as the other films on this list, and I also felt that this film copied off Goodfellas (1990) a little too much, this is still extremely entertaining. “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) will do anything to keep his casino in Las Vegas running, available to anyone, and impossible to win. The film follows his hysteria that comes from him trying to keep up with everything happening in his personal life, competition with Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), a Mafia crime boss, and others around him. The film contains Scorsese’s masterful direction, great performances from all, especially De Niro, and a great soundtrack, mood, and pacing. Like I said, not Martin Scorsese’s best, but one that you should definitely check out.

4. Taxi Driver (1976)

by Nevin Hooper

TV version

Taxi Driver was Martin Scorsese’s most controversial film at the time of it’s release in 1976, but over the years has gained a reputation as one of cinema’s greatest films of all time. Troubled taxi cab driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is disgusted by the city of New York in which he lives. He believes everyone around him is scum and dirt on the streets and plans to end that, or “clean it up” as he says. His decision is to turn against society by trying to get back into it by trying to fall in love, assassinate a presidential candidate, and save a young girl from an abusive life. This film has an excellent performance from De Niro, an excellent performance from a 12-year-old Jodie Foster, phenomenal cinematography, and a jazzy music score, giving the film an almost noirish feel. It is a very thought provoking film to watch, and has many deep themes about our society and what it can do to us. It is worth the watch because, duh, it’s Scorsese. Everything Scorsese directs is fantastic, and this film is no exception.

3. The Departed (2006)

by Brandon Matzke

TV version

Personally, this is my favorite Scorsese flick. A remake of the Chinese film series Internal Affairs, The Departed is a film that manages to be a masterpiece of crime cinema without even trying. This film is gritty and brutal, yet manages to have an utterly irresistible charm. The writing is truly amazing (especially for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character), the cast is so filled with talent that it manages to leak through the screen (the biggest show-stealer for me is Jack Nicholson, who seriously brings his all into this film), the directing is phenomenal, the emotion is surprisingly real, I could just talk about this movie for hours on end. It’s just a film that needs to be seen to believe.

2. Raging Bull (1980)

by Nevin Hooper

TV version

Also based on a true story, Raging Bull follows the rise and fall of fame for boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro, who gives one of the best performances I have ever seen) from his complications with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and brother Joey (Joe Pesci) to him losing his hold as Heavyweight Champion to other younger and more experienced boxers. This film is phenomenal with it’s excellent acting, astonishing black and white cinematography, smooth and seamless direction from Scorsese, and amazing screenplay. The whole atmosphere of this film is amazing. The whole film is phenomenal and is one of my favorite films of all time. Not Scorsese’s best, but really close.

1. Goodfellas (1990)

by Nevin Hooper

TV version

Not only is this a perfect film about life in the Mafia, but this is a perfect film in general. I highly recommend seeing this film (although maybe you should watch the TV version first). It tells the true story of Henry Hill who joins in the Mafia as a teenager and follows his rise in power to an adult, where he is then played by the exotic Ray Liotta. But, you can’t talk about this movie without taking note of his two friends, Jimmy “the Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci, in a fantastic performance that won him the only Oscar for the film for Best Supporting Actor). The relationship between these three is extraordinary to watch. This whole film could just be these guys talking to each other and I would be fine, because their performances and screenplay are absolutely phenomenal. Although, Scorsese’s direction is fantastic, with long takes and lots of movement in the camera, his whole directorial style is something I very much admire. I love this movie, and I do believe that it is Martin Scorsese’s best film.

Mr. Blevins: More than the AV teacher

by Taylor Cowdin

The Audio-Visual program started 20 years ago. From that day on, many students from many different “cliques” have been affected by the class in a positive way. These impacts include being able to step outside your comfort zone, make new friends, and discover yourself through the art of filmmaking and editing.

In an interview with the man himself, Mr. Blevins, he discussed how this class has changed him as a person and teacher.

Because so much of the class requires one-on-one help with projects, I think AV has taught me that the relationships with students and others is the most important part of high school learning,” Mr. Blevins said. IMG_8902.jpg

Also agreeing with that statement is student Tori Francis.

“Being in the class has taught me to never be afraid to step out of my comfort zone and ask for help,” Francis said. “It really is so convenient being able to have such an open-minded teacher.”

Taking this class also means having to be able to handle all of the joking and laughs shared with everyone. Blevins has a goal each day to have at least one funny moment, or more, in each class.

“I try to make sure there is at least one funny moment every day,” Mr. Blevins said. “So I can’t pull one out from my memory as the funniest.”

Junior Jimmy Anglim recalled a moment when they all pulled a prank on a teacher observer.

“Mr. Lancto came in to observe Mr. B and so all of us students were told to slightly sneeze anytime we heard the word “fill.” It was funny because that day in class we watched a Youtube video about how to fill the spacing of a green screen with lights. It was the funniest day ever.”

Mr. Blevins has changed education and Grandville High School for the better. And that’s something students, staff, teachers, and administration agrees with.

30th Anniversary Review of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

by Nevin Hooper

TV version

Hello, once again, fans of classic cinema, and today, since it is nearing Thanksgiving, I thought, why not review one of the best Thanksgiving films of all time, John Hughes’ Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Since the film is nearing its thirtieth anniversary, it felt necessary to review it.

If you are new to my film reviews, I have a grading system that goes like this: I grade films on a scale of 0/10 (films that are so horrible that they should have never been made), to an 11/10 (films that are so fantastic, so amazing, that you just can’t give the average 10/10 grade). Now, onto the review!

Workaholic Neal Page (Steve Martin, in one of his best performances) is desperate to get home to his family for Thanksgiving, but his plane to Chicago gets rerouted to Kansas because of a monstrous snow storm. He meets up with the extremely talkative Del Griffith (John Candy, in another lovable performance, rest in peace), who offers to find a way to get him to Chicago in time to see his family, so they have to overcome their numerous problems with each other to get Neal back home.

John Hughes has always been a favorite director/screenwriter of mine. With some of my favorite films of his being The Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), I immediately raced to see this film and loved it. Hughes uses his brilliant writing skills to create a hilarious, yet at times extremely heartfelt, atmosphere with excellent dialogue and chemistry between Martin and Candy who give some of the best scenes in the entire movie.

Another thing that I appreciated was the music in the film. Some may like it, some may not, but I thought the music in the film was great for the mood and tone of the story. The only very minor negative that I see with this film, that doesn’t even affect my grade as it just bothered me a little bit, are a few times in the film where they have an argument and they threaten to separate, but then they stay together. Since this happened multiple times, I was like “Just stop arguing and make up your mind! Leave or stay, it’s your choice!” But, that is only very minor for me, so I still have to give this film an 11/10. It is a great film to watch around Thanksgiving.

So, have any of you guys seen this film? If so, what did you think of it, because, as you can tell, I loved this movie. Not my favorite Hughes film, but still pretty good. Tell me what you think in the comments, or what is your favorite film to watch around Thanksgiving. I will be back soon writing more reviews!

Black Friday Soon to be Forgotten?

by Lizzy Pena

Black Friday. Otherwise known as the craziest shopping day of the entire year. It’s the day right after Thanksgiving that everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn for. What makes waking up an hour after you go to bed so worth it? The deals.

Stores all around the U.S give out insane deals to try to get people to come into their stores.

“I’ve gone in the past because I wanted to experience the craziness,” freshman Jane Durham said. “Everyone always made it seem like the lines would be out the building and the people would be unusually insane. Yeah they were right.”  

Recently there has been news of Black Friday slowing down and eventually dying out.

When asked how she felt about this, freshman Chloe Beatty said it wouldn’t affect her much.IMG_1943

“I do most of my shopping online anyways, and so do my parents,” Beatty said. “But a lot of other people will probably miss it.”

Senior Taelor Peaks works at the Kohls in the Rivertown mall and said “I couldn’t imagine not having a mile long line out the door on Black Friday.”

Most stores would probably notice the difference, too. Black Friday is the kick off of the holiday season, so the loss of the holiday shopping would be very noticeable. 30% of annual earnings are made between Black Friday and Christmas.

Store employees can tell you crazy stories about Black Friday shoppers.

Jaela Divers, a junior at GHS and an employee at Justice, recalled a time she was working Black Friday, and two teenage girls ripped a shirt in half trying to grab it from one another.

“They looked like nice girls,” Divers said. “I never would have expected they could tear a pretty thick sweater right down the middle.”

There are numerous stories of how crazy people get on :lack Friday.

Junior Becca Larson explained a time when her grandma “Had to literally use me as a human shield since I was only twelve, she thought people would be a little less violent towards me!”

Black Friday will always be remembered whether it stays or goes. It’s kind of an unspoken holiday, but will it be replaced by Cyber Monday? This year’s lines will give us a look into the future.  

Review- Justice League

by Brandon Matzke

Well, this film exceeded my expectations. But then again my expectations were extremely low, ever since last year’s Batman V. Superman. Look, despite my disliking of almost every DC movie since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, I am a DC fan. And a Marvel fan. I have a foot in both worlds. So, I’ll try not to make this a biased review. Now, let’s look at Justice League.

Positives:
For one, this is an entertaining film. Much more so than the borefest that was Batman V. Superman. The action feels energetic (especially with Ezra Miller’s Flash) and it’s more abundant (which was exactly what this DCEU needed). Speaking of Ezra Miller, let’s discuss his take on the Flash; I could tell he genuinely enjoyed making this film. He was charming, fun, and just felt good to watch. Now, onto the negatives..

Negatives:
Zach Snyder’s directing. Look, I feel bad about “bashing” this man since his family crisis, but I genuinely do not like his style of directing. I honestly think he’s one of the worst directors working today. He gives every frame so much unnecessary bleakness, makes everything too dark, or just makes everyone in his films a whiny little jerk. Thankfully, his influence decreased drastically compared to Batman V. Superman, but when it shows, it shows. Everyone except for Ezra Miller (who really does look like he’s having a good time) looks bored out of their minds, especially Ben Affleck as Batman.

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of “Batfleck” as fans have called him. I do know Ben Affleck can be a great actor (just watch Argo, Good Will Hunting, or Gone Girl for evidence), but he felt like he was the exact opposite of what Batman should be. He never came off as intimidating, or charming, or smart; he just felt bored.

And the writing: I like Joss Whedon, but I felt like the script was almost identical to The Avengers at times. Like, shot-for-shot identical.

And the CGI? For the weird insect things, it looked fine. But CGI Batfleck gliding through the air? Ha ha, no. What this film should’ve been was an event. Marvel nailed this “Cinematic Universe” thing perfectly: build up characters, hype up their crossovers, and make the big crossover feel like it’s own thing. This film barely builds up it’s characters (trying to make Aquaman cool, I guess), it barely feels well-deserved at this point in it’s “universe”, and it just felt like it was supposed to build up other films in this franchise!

Overall:
I don’t have much hope for this DCEU. I only decided to see it for three reasons. One, I liked this year’s Wonder Woman. I hoped DC learned from their mistakes. Two, I told a lot of people in the school I’d be seeing it. And three, because the little boy in me always wanted to see a Justice League movie. And now that I’ve seen it, I’ll say this: it wasn’t worth the wait. I give Justice League a 5/10; it’s not downright awful, but it had so much potential to be better. On the bright side, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, Christmas draws nearer every day, and I plan on seeing Coco for my next review.

Is Fantasy Football a problem?

by Mitchell Karcher

Every Sunday, around 33 million are frantically looking at their fantasy lineup in hopes that their fantasy team will produce a win for them. Whether they are involved in a league concerning money, or just simply love the competition, it is fair to assume that fantasy football is one of the most addicting games out there.

For those who don’t know what fantasy football is, essentially around ten people in a league draft players from the NFL to play for their fantasy team. In turn, every yard, completion, and a touchdown that player gains, gives their team a certain amount of points, which adds together with the rest of the players on the team.

Though many criticize the game for taking the team aspect and interest out of the game, the $70 billion dollars made yearly off fantasy leagues would argue otherwise. Obviously, a lot of people are playing this game, which generates $11 billion towards the NFL. It’s a great business, however, the real question is whether or not this game is good for NFL players?

GHS Miles Balley, JV football player, had an interesting take on if the game is actually good for the player.

“This year I had the first round pick in my fantasy football league. Having knowledge of the players, I went after and got David Johnson. Unfortunately, the first game of the season he broke his wrist, ending his season along with my hopes of winning my fantasy football league,” Balley said. “My immediate reaction was anger towards him until I came to my senses and realized he’s just a normal guy who got hurt in a football game. So in relation to is it good for players, I would have to say it can’t be great if people are getting mad at NFL players for losing their fantasy season for them. It just doesn’t seem like a healthy fan relationship.”

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Interesting enough it seems as though many NFL players have this same opinion. Being the ones that are risking their physical health, many of the players feel that it is unfair to judge a player based on what he can do for their fantasy team. In response to being asked what he thinks about fantasy football, Richard Sherman, cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks gave his honest opinion.

According to The Seattle Times, he said, “You are thinking oh man, he’s messing up my fantasy team, but they don’t care how it affects your fantasy team, because they are real players, and this is real life.”

However, not everyone had the same opinion that Miles and Richard had on the subject.  Aiden Herrema, JV cornerback, made a counter to the previous comments.

“When I used to watch football when I didn’t play fantasy, I knew pretty much the players on the Lions and the superstars of the league, but after I started playing I would honestly say I more than doubled my knowledge of players playing in the league, people I never knew existed all of a sudden popped up on my roster, and I started to acknowledge more players.”

There really seems to be two trains of thought on this matter as other students  essentially said the same exact thing. People have very little knowledge of the players before they start playing fantasy.

In a fast-paced constantly changing world, people feel the need to be in control. Fantasy football allows average people to feel that they have some sort of control in the football world, but whether this helps the NFL player’s reputation or damages it is still up for consideration.