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Fully holiday spectrum — ‘Spencer,’ ‘8-Bit Christmas,’ more

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| December 1, 2021 1:00 AM

Another holiday season, another 9,000 new Christmas movies.

With so much to choose from, viewers can find a movie to match every mood. Case in point, these three newish titles are available now at home.

For those looking for a little prestige (and to double up on viewing this year’s major Oscar contenders), consider “Spencer,” from “Jackie” director Pablo Larrain and starring Best Actress Oscar frontrunner Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana. The movie is playing in theaters and also just became available on Premium Video on Demand (around $20).

“Spencer” could also be classified as a “feel-bad” Christmas movie, as the film takes place over the Christmas holiday at the queen’s estate during a particularly turbulent time in the marriage between Diana and Prince Charles. Larrain’s film takes a historical fiction approach to exploring Diana’a mindset and the suffocating pressure she may have felt as her marriage buckled under the public eye.

Stewart may not look and sound the part exactly, but she nails the quintessential spark of the people’s princess, exuding a beguiling warmth even as she suffers one psychological assault after another. Larrain never loses sight of the character, with the rest of the royal family only appearing in the margins of the story. It can be an intense watch at times, especially as the film infuses cinematography and sound design more common to a horror film than a standard biopic. Also, fair warning — if the cinematic flourishes in “Jackie,” which featured Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, bothered you, then “Spencer” might also rub you the wrong way.

On the more family-friendly train, the HBO Max-exclusive “8-Bit Christmas” takes the premise of “A Christmas Story” into the 1980s, focusing on young Jake (newcomer Winslow Fegley) and his quest to obtain a Nintendo Entertainment System. Neil Patrick Harris provides sharp-witted narration as the older Jake, and his parents are played in the 80s flashbacks by the comedically reliable June Diane Raphael and Steve Zahn.

“8-Bit Christmas” works in large part because of its pointed 80s observations, and the adventures of Jake and his friends will be easily relatable for anyone who grew up when video games consumed the attention of America’s youth, much to the objection of their wary parents.

Though it follows the “Christmas Story” outline almost excessively, the movie smartly avoids the obnoxious, greed-fueled tone of something like “Jingle All the Way.” “8-Bit Christmas” also earns its sentimental climax, suggesting, believably, that Christmas truly doesn’t come from a store, even when the store has something as cool as a Mario game or a Cabbage Patch doll.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without a mountain of new Hallmark-style Christmas romances. Just my personal preference: I like these movies with a certain amount of knowing-silliness, as is the case in Netflix’s “Princess Switch” series, which includes the new title, “Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star.”

The central premise across the series: Vanessa Hudgens plays multiple characters who look alike (duh) and therefore switch places in order to investigate royal intrigue in a tiny, fictional European country. In the first film, Hudgens played two parts. In the sequel, a third Hudgens added complications. As for “Princess Switch 3,” there are fo…. Wait…. No! There’s only THREE Hudgens in the third film. Why didn’t they add a FOURTH?!

Putting aside that disappointment, “Romancing the Star” at least spends the most time with Hudgens No. 3 — the blond ex-villain who vamps much more than the other two. She spouts mean one-liners in a vague-Euro-Brit that’s even more exaggerated than the rest, plus she gets the most costume changes.

Anyway, “Romancing the Star” isn’t particularly good, but it does exactly what it intends: It can just sit there in the background while you’re wrapping presents.

• • •

Tyler Wilson is a member of the International Press Academy and has been writing about movies for Inland Northwest publications since 2000, including a regular column in The Press since 2006. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.

photo

Photo courtesy of NETFLIX

Vanessa Hudgens in the "Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star."

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