Talking Movies: Father Christmas is Back, East Side Sushi and What They Had

Spling reviews Father Christmas is Back, East Side Sushi and What They Had as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a Christmas comedy, a coming-of-age drama and a comedy drama.

Starting off with a film now on Netflix…


Four sisters reunite for the Christmas holidays in a Yorkshire mansion.

Directors: Mick Davis and Philippe Martinez

Stars: Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley

– Featuring a stellar ensemble there are certain standards, but when it comes to Christmas movies, it seems as though anything goes based on the kitschy holiday’s tendency to lean towards cheesy comedy, heartwarming drama and dysfunctional family gatherings.
– Unfortunately, this is the case for Father Christmas is Back – overreliant on its star power and unable to utilise this to its own benefit.
– While there is a reason the headline acts haven’t managed to reach the lofty heights of their most iconic performances, it becomes frustratingly clear whether contractually obligated or not receiving the final script before signing on.
– Set at a beautiful country manor and centred around an estranged father’s return, the film had great potential but falls well short in every respect.
– A cartoonish soundtrack tries to excuse some over-the-top performances, which seem much too lively for the lack of comedy going on.
– The filmmakers, who have a history of Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal films, never have full control over their big cast, even struggling to get things going with more focused scenes.
– Using flashy giftwrapping, this British production is surprisingly superficial, as satisfying as the plastic toy you get in a Christmas cracker with jokes to match.
– Father Christmas Is Back just seems like a made-to-order production through a lack of passion, inspiration, finesse or substance.
– It’s a lazy, unfunny, lacklustre comedy comprised of mostly false moments, shiny baubles and a campy attempt at a heartwarming Christmas story.

A third-rate 3 on the splingometer!


Moving on to a film on Labia Home Screen…


An immigrant single mother disenfranchised by her regular life decides to take a chance working at a Japanese restaurant.

Writer-Director: Anthony Lucero

Stars: Diana Elizabeth Torres, Yutaka Takeuchi and Rodrigo Duarte Clark

– This independent coming-of-age drama will appeal to foodies and lovers of sushi.
– Set in Los Angeles, this becomes the meeting point for two ancient cultures as identity, dignity and honour become cornerstones.
– Led by a spirited performance from Torres, this modest production benefits from its behind-the-scenes feel, allowing performances to have a natural flow.
– Oscillating between a sushi restaurant and a close-knit domestic quarters, the drama has a fly-on-the-wall perspective, tending to fill the frame with its actors.
– Thankfully, a broad ensemble and solid performances keep East Side Sushi intimate, open and warm.
– The up, close and personal deconstruction of sushi is quite eye-opening, offering a crash course for those new to sushi and an entertaining, charming and stirring tale of a woman following her dreams in the hopes of a better life for her and her family.
– The undercurrent of the American Dream, the underdog story and fighting to shatter the glass ceiling and inherent prejudices around the art of sushi, this is a spirited and at times touching film.
– While far from perfect, it’s not short on heart, leaning on some well-worn story paths and offering something fresh, compelling and meaningful.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally a film now on Showmax…


Bridget returns home at her brother’s urging to deal with her ailing mother and her father’s reluctance to let go of their life together.

Writer-Director: Elizabeth Chomko

Stars: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon and Robert Forster

– What They Had could have been a stage play, centring on a family of characters who gather in order to decide what to do about mother, whose steady decline is making it difficult to give her the full-time care she needs.
– Featuring a stellar cast with some considerable acting talent, they wrestle with complex and substantial characters, allowing for a performance showcase.
– Much like The Savages, there’s a strong undercurrent of prickly comedy in otherwise difficult circumstances.
– Shannon, Swank and Forster do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to performances, giving us insights into the family dynamics without becoming dry.
– The brash style of interpersonal relationships makes this a fairly loud family portrait.
– Frequent coarse language is accompanied by subtext and laugh out loud funny comedy in spite of the challenging circumstances.
– It’s a joy to see these actors relishing their parts and the sharp writing allows the focus to keep coming back to the performances.
– While they don’t hold back, there’s an undeniable love at the centre of it all, using flashbacks to create a nostalgic warmth contrasting a son and daughter’s attempts to capture the lightning in a bottle that was their parents’ loving relationship.
– A thoughtful commentary on today’s fast-paced world and made-to-order romance, it’s not so jaded that it loses its pure entertainment value as a wistful and wry comedy drama.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

So just to wrap up…

FATHER CHRISTMAS IS BACK… a stellar cast flounder in this half-baked, unfunny and just-a-job attempt at a heartwarming and fun Christmas comedy… A third-rate 3!

EAST SIDE SUSHI… spirited performances anchor this modest, intimate, warm and touching cross-cultural coming-of-age drama about identity… A solid 7!

WHAT THEY HAD… smart writing and sharp performances reinforce a curious commentary on modern love in this offbeat and dysfunctional family comedy drama… A solid 7!

For more movie reviews, previous Talking Movies podcasts and upcoming Bingeing with Spling watch parties visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!