A Very Jewish Christmas – December 2023 Film Reviews
Written by mccormacke1 on January 19, 2024
A Very Jewish Christmas; Or how I learned to stop worrying and watch four movies in one day
By J.F. Tannen —
To be Jewish is to accept a very tragic truth very early on in life: December 25th is one of the happiest, most fun days of the year- and you are unable to join in the festivities. It’s sad, but it’s a reality.
It’s really hard to not be jealous, considering the 50,000 different Christmas specials playing on TV, the advertisements plastered on any marketable surface, and the whole world being decked out with pine trees and lights making Christmas fairly inescapable to the average person. I think as a kid I was more spiteful than I am now, though I still revere the Grinch as a Jewish icon among the likes of Moses and Fran Drescher, and I am frankly disappointed he is indoctrinated into the cult of capitalism. To be frank, I’ve grown numb to it all.
On Christmas pasts, I’ve indulged in many a Jewish activities: Being bored, going skiing on an empty mountain, and staring at a wall waiting for the world to reopen on January 2nd. Essentially treating it like a vacation day without anything to really do… Not this year though. Why define myself in relation to something I can’t have? Why waste a day of my life when I can use this time to do something truly meaningful? This year, I did something I have never done before: see four films in a movie theater in one day (A quadruple feature, if you will).
The game plan was this: I arrive at the theater at 12:30 p.m., I buy my tickets, get my popcorn, and prepare for my first film: a 12:45 p.m. showing of Ferrari. This would be followed by a 3:45 p.m. ticket for The Iron Claw, a 6:15 p.m. viewing of The Boy and the Heron, and ending the night with Poor Things at 9:30 p.m.
It was a difficult challenge. However, the odds were in my favor.
The theater I went to, The Claridge in Downtown Montclair, had recently installed new, comfortable seats, and their popcorn and soda got unlimited refills. The world wanted me to succeed in my quest though it did not make it easy. Amongst a host other biological quirks, I have inherited a particularly weak bladder from my father, the sworn enemy of a large movie theater Sprite. Along with that, I wasn’t sure if I actually had the stamina to do this. What if I got bored? What if I got restless? What if the movies were terrible? These questions plagued my mind as I attempted to sleep on Christmas Eve.
I woke up at 11 a.m., I took a shower, brushed my teeth, put on a comfy sweater and a pair of chinos that have turned soft with age. I was ready to take on the world. I called an Uber and was picked up by Antonio, a kindly man in his 60s who recounted his days of watching indie film and theater in New York as a young man. I told him about my desire to be a filmmaker and he said he’d remember my name and made me promise to save him a ticket when I made it big. He said he would join me in my quest but sadly had to work. I was no longer doing this for just myself, I was doing this for Antonio.
I arrive at the theater and greet the cashiers working at the front desk. They both looked about my age and I told them about what I was attempting to do that day. They heard my selection and my order and did what they could to make it happen. We discussed each film and they told me what they could without spoiling it. I walked to concessions having earned their respect.
I picked up my first of many buckets of popcorn and large Sprite and made my way to what I believe was theater three for Ferrari. Practically empty, I was still joined by a number of elderly people; a very good sign for the quality of my first film.
From this moment on, I am going to transition between first-hand accounts mixed with individual movie reviews. Why am I making this so confusing? Because this is my article, that’s why.
12:45 p.m. showing of Ferrari
There’s a reason Michael Mann is called Michael Mann (not just because he was named that) and that is because he is the freaking Man(n). Ferrari is truly fantastic in its simplicity. It’s a very easy to follow story: Enzo Ferrari tries to keep his company afloat and win races while also trying to manage his loveless marriage and a second family. That’s really it. While any other director could have delivered a film that was lukewarm, Michael Mann is no other director.
The drama hits hard and you are sucked into the world Ferrari. You see what makes Enzo tick and he becomes less like an automotive CEO but more of an obsessive artist, pushing himself and his team to the absolute limit in hopes of reaching perfection. His whole world is cars. It’s what keeps his marriage together. It’s what he uses to connect with his secret son. When he goes to church, the priest compares the car manufacturers to a modern day Jesus Christ. Racing is his world, and the audience feels the weight of it on their shoulders.
Penélope Cruz gives a truly fantastic performance as Laura Ferrari, a woman who is sick of her husband’s shenanigans, and Adam Driver gives a career best performance as Enzo Ferrari himself. He would win an Oscar if Oppenheimer hadn’t come out the same year.
I need to talk about the cinematography of this film. This film truly has some of the best car and racing cinematography I have ever seen. You feel the speed and weight of these cars as they move. It was awe inspiring to see someone so competent in their craft. My only regret with this film is having to take a pit stop halfway through.
9/10, One Bucket of Popcorn and One Large Sprite finished.
I walked out the theater dazzled and made my way to the concession stand to restock. I had a little time and someone waiting outside the theater for the Iron Claw struck up some conversation with me until the theater was done being cleaned. I sat down with my topped off snacks and prepared for my next film.
3:45 p.m. Showing of The Iron Claw
When I arrived at the theater that day, I was taken aback when the cashier told me that The Iron Claw was one of the saddest films they have ever seen. After all, how tragic can Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White put in two of the stupidest wigs I’ve ever seen playing WWE wrestlers actually be?
The answer is extremely tragic, guys.
I echo those cashier’s sentiment of this being one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen. It focuses on the Von Erich Family, unknown to me but considered one of the greatest families in professional wrestling. Efron plays Kevin, the oldest surviving Von Erich son, as he navigates the world of professional wrestling with his three brothers. Held down by “a family curse” (or, rather, a toxically masculine father), we see tragedy after tragedy occur to the family. I would say the amount of tragedy would be excessive if the story wasn’t based on real events. In fact, the real life story of the family seems even more tragic. Efron gives a fantastic performance, as does White.
My only complaint is that the pacing seemed a little off, with the tragedy of the story hitting the audience like a brick in the second half of the film. Also, like Ferrari, I sadly had to visit the little boys room halfway through.
8/10, second bucket of Popcorn finished and second Large Sprite drank.
At this point, I was feeling truly fantastic. I didn’t expect to have the stamina that I did but somehow, even at about 6 p.m., I could run a marathon.
6:15 p.m. Screening of The Boy and The Heron
In Romanticism philosophy, there is a concept known as ‘The Divine,’ which according to the first page of Google search results, refers to when “Nature was transfigured into a living force and held together as a unity by the breath of the divine spirit. It was infused with a comprehensive symbolism resting on its profound moral and emotional connection with human subjectivity. Coleridge referred to nature as the ‘language of God.’”
The Boy and the Heron may be the closest I’ve ever been to The Divine in my life.
Within the first five minutes, I was brought to the point of tears not by the story, but rather the sheer beauty and craftsmanship of this film. Films like this aren’t made anymore. I wasn’t even sure they could be made anymore. It’s meditative, surreal, meandering, and a true triumph of the animation. In fact, The Boy and the Heron is to the medium of animation what the Sistine Chapel is to the medium of painting: the finest work of a master at the top of his craft.
I regret having to use the bathroom halfway through this film.
10/10. See this film immediately…
Third Sprite Finished and Half a bucket of Popcorn eaten.
At this point, I was three for three in terms of quality in regards to my marathon. Everything I had seen as of yet had dazzled and energized me. In fact, none of these films seemed to put me out of the mood of wanting to watch even more films, if that makes sense.
For example, over the summer, when I saw “Barbenheimer,” as I’m sure many of you readers at home did, Oppenheimerleft me shell shocked (ain’t I hilarious?), which in turn left me feeling a little out of sync seeing Barbie (also since it’s an unsuccessful critique on ‘adult issues’ dumbed down to appeal to children while still being aimed at adults for some strange reason, and produced by a competent director who is in full sellout mode). But, my opinions on the mediocrity of Barbie aside, I was worried the same would happen to me this evening. But it had not.
I felt on fire when I refilled my popcorn and soda for a final time and walked into my:
9:30 p.m. showing of Poor Things
Never before in my life have I contemplated walking out of a film. Poor Things started off as one of the most [REDACTED] up, disgusting films I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been on the internet and have seen some truly deprived things in my life, but Poor Things actually made me sick. I truly considered ending my night at about 9:45 and heading home to watch the new Doctor Who Christmas Special (don’t worry, I’ll throw in my review for that at the end). But I had a mission, dear reader, and mama didn’t raise no quitter. So, I sat through this film and took my sweet time on my scheduled mid-film bathroom break.
Let me tell you how surprised I was when I walked out of that film not only won over, but actually quite impressed- and maybe even a fan. I really didn’t see it coming. And yet, Poor Things, taking its own time and operating on its own terms, really made me come around to it.
Visually, it may be one of few films produced in the past 30 years to actually get close to the classic look of Technicolor, which was achieved through a rather neat trick involving shooting on the ‘new’ Kodak Ektachrome film stock but developing it as a negative.
What makes that so intriguing is because Ektachrome is itself not a negative film stock, it’s a color positive film. When the image is exposed onto the film and eventually developed, the initial developed reel is the same color tone as reality, while a negative film stock would be the inverse color of reality and need to be reversed to a positive. I didn’t even know you could develop a positive film stock as a negative, but somehow they did- and the film looked absolutely stunning. It had some of the most vivid blues and yellows I haven’t seen on film since Kodachrome was discontinued. I’m certainly going to try it next time I shoot Ektachrome myself.
Performance-wise, Emma Stone gives a truly… well, if I’m being frank, I’m not even sure how to describe her performance or her character without giving the film away. I will say that the Oscar buzz surrounding her is completely earned and she is who I’m putting my money on this year.
Everyone else was fantastic and the script, like Stone’s performance, was truly something. Honestly, go in blind. If you’re anything like me, you’ll hate it first and then quite enjoy it.
Quarter of a bucket of Popcorn Nibbled on and my Fourth Sprite completed.
And with that, I had completed my quest. I walked out of that theater a winner. Everyone clapped. The manager of the theater had me retire my jersey and a group of cashiers dumped a cooler of Gatorade on my head. Obama was there and he shook my hand. I was escorted by a group of decorated marines down to the sidewalk while the entire Academy of Motion Picture Sciences stood on the sides of the path and saluted me. I got in my Uber that smelled kind of like cigarettes and I went home.
I had done what I needed to do, but I ain’t done- because I still had a Doctor Who episode to watch (after recovering from having too much popcorn and soda).
BONUS: 12:30 a.m. viewing of The Church on Ruby Road
Overall, it was a fine episode. I think Ncuti Gatwa will be an interesting Doctor and Millie Gibson will be a fun companion. Honestly, I just wasn’t too dazzled with the episode. When it comes to a new Doctor’s first episode, it’s hard to beat the now classics of The Christmas Invasion or The Eleventh Hour. They are fast-paced, approachable episodes that allow a viewer to meet a new Doctor for the very first time: What’s their vibe? How do they interact with the world? What makes them tick?
With this episode, I only saw that a little bit, as it seemed more focused with its weird goblin pseudo-sci-fi premise and on the companion in a way that was too personal lore heavy and not really personality heavy.
It was fine. It just didn’t feel like a true Doctor Who episode yet. I do think the show will get better with some actual episodes in the spring but for now, I’m just sort of whelmed (real word look it up).
What is there to gather from all of this? Did I just spend 12 hours of my life seating in some comfy chairs and looking at a bright wall? Was I just fulfilling a stereotype of a lonely Jew on Christmas?
I don’t think so. Isn’t the real meaning of Christmas not what we spend our money on, but the people in our lives that we chose to celebrate and simply just be kinder to? I spent my day surrounded by nice and friendly people, whether it be my geriatric fellow audience members, the theater employees who eventually came to regret offering unlimited refills, or Antonio, who I hope finds this article and has the free time to see all of these films.
And the films, not simply commercial products but works of art, contributed to by hundreds of passionate individuals who made it their life’s work to produce something for the betterment of our society. Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? Even though I didn’t open any gifts or gather around a decorated tree, I do think my heart grew three sizes that day, though that could be from the eventual heart failure I will experience as a result of the amount of soda I drank.
With that, I wish you all a Happy Holidays and a truly Fantastic New Year.
Also Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie.