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Your guide to The Netflix Christmas Universe

Need a new cinematic universe to binge-watch? Well, here’s the Netflix Christmas movie franchise

Are you a fan of cinematic universes? Do you like cheesy Christmas movies? If you answered yes to both, then hold on to your Christmas-themed sweaters, Netflix fans because the media giant has a gift for you!

With Netflix continuing to grow their original films and series on their platform, another section of the repertoire is growing as well, specifically, their holiday films. But, there’s a twist. Get this – apparently the platforms Christmas film are connected to one another. 

Through TV cameos within the movies to mentions of the fictional “Aldovia,” these films have been confirmed to exist within the same universe. Crazy stuff.

Source: Netflix

Netflix announced this universe of connections at the beginning of December 2019 in a Twitter thread. So, the universe is not as secretive as you may think, but most Netflix fans may not have noticed this before. 

Source: Netflix

This concept of an interconnected cinematic universe first began when holiday film concepts began to be created for the 2018 season. The idea of connecting the worlds together came from MPCA Executive Vice President, Amanda Phillips Atkins, according to the Twitter thread on the official Netflix account.

Now, a select number of Netflix Christmas movies are now forever connected to each other. Let’s see how exactly everything is interwoven.

To start, Netflix began fleshing out the idea of the universe by including subtle on-screen cameos from other movies. 

In the 2018 film, “The Holiday Calendar,” the creative team needed to include a movie being played within the movie which resulted in the 2017 movie, “The Christmas Inheritance,” to have an on-screen cameo. “The Christmas Inheritance” also shows up on a TV in the 2018 film, “The Princess Switch” which also featured a cameo from 2017’s “A Christmas Prince.” The 2019 film, “Holiday in the Wild” also gets a cameo in the 2019 movie, “The Knight Before Christmas.”

As time went on, the production staff began to include more obvious references to other films in newer releases. 

In “The Knight Before Christmas,” a character tells her daughter, “Your grandma and grandpa picked this up on their trip to Aldovia.” This line implies that the kingdom featured in “A Christmas Prince” is a real place in the movie’s world. Then, in 2019’s “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby,” a map shows that Aldovia’s nearby neighboring countries include Belgravia, the country from “The Princess Switch.”

In the 2020 sequel, “The Princess Switch: Switched Again,”  the world is once again connected by including the characters Amber, Prince Richard, and their daughter, Princess Elleri, from the Christmas Prince franchise. 

Source: Netflix

While this is all probably really confusing for you, Netflix has a handy graphic that walks you through the connection and cameo details. 

Whether you decide to watch one or all of the films that are in the Netflix Christmas universe, you are sure to enjoy the little easter eggs along the way.

Bring Holiday Cheer into your apartment this year

A lot of things have been canceled this year, movie releases, Coachella, ACL, Harry Styles’ tour, vacations, weddings, Ellen DeGeneres, but you cannot cancel Christmas. Although it may be difficult to feel the holiday joy without the normal gatherings and celebrations, there is no reason to not bring the cheer into your apartment (especially if you have barely left since the start of 2020). We all deserve some joy after the year we have endured. Here are a few ways to bring Santa’s spirit into your apartment this December without breaking the bank.

Want the cozy feeling of a warm fireplace? A quick youtube search can solve all your problems. Yule log videos are one of the best things to come out of the internet. Scroll through Youtube and you will find countless versions of a warm fireplace, some feature music, decor, sleeping puppies, anything you may need is provided. Play the video on your laptop or TV and the mood is instantly set. Here is a link to a few of my favorites:

Now that you have a warm (fake) fireplace, you must pair it with a cozy cup of holiday cheer. Another quick way to feel the winter vibes is to drink a cup of hot chocolate. Make a cup at home with cheap chocolate packets, marshmallows and whipped cream or stop by a local coffee shop. Feeling extra spirited, throw in some peppermint flavoring or maybe a candy cane.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Holiday decor will bring your apartment to the next level. Take a trip to the dollar store or browse Target’s dollar bins to find cheap decorations. Look out for tinsel or garland that you can hang around door frames or in empty wall space. Any felt character cut-outs are usually common and make great fridge magnets or coasters. My top target finds this year were a small Charlie Brown Christmas tree ($3) and a small wreath ($7). 

To satisfy all the senses, we can’t forget about holiday smells. Winter candles can be found almost anywhere and are reasonably priced. Pick any scent that fills you with the nostalgia of childhood holiday celebrations. My favorite candle of the season is Trader Joe’s cedar balsam candle ($3). Wood wick candles give off the sound of a crackling fire and add to the ambiance. If you want a more natural holiday scent, bake cookies. Nothing screams Christmas time more than the smell of freshly baked cookies. 

Another low budget decor option is to create a Christmas wall collage. Look through Pinterest for winter and holiday-themed images that fit the aesthetic goal. Print out the pictures on printer paper or order the pictures to be printed at Walgreens, they always run promotions on photos. Then arrange the pictures in a cluster on your wall or bulletin board.

If there is no room for a Christmas tree in your apartment here is a DIY from Hallstrom Home on how to make a small tabletop tree to add to your coffee table or kitchen counter. For this project you will need:

  • Glue (Mod Podge or hot glue will probably work best)
  • Styrofoam craft cone
  • Crochet yarn

This may be the simplest project you will ever do. First, use the craft cone as a base and apply the glue over the cone. It might be easiest to apply the glue in sections as you go if it is quick drying. Then, starting from the bottom wrap the warn around the cone and cut at the top. Add on twinkle lights or pom pom ornaments to spice it up! 

Don’t let covid crash your holidays. With just a few items it is easy to transform your apartment into a winter wonderland. Pop on your favorite cheesy Netflix Christmas movie or the Charlie Brown Christmas album and you are guaranteed to feel the holiday joy.

Disney+ a Year Later — Is It Worth It?

We all waited in anticipation on Nov 11, 2019. As the next day would be the launch of the highly anticipated new streaming service from Hollywood’s biggest studio — Disney+.

I remember vibrating with excitement as I typed in my information to create my account. It reminded me of the excitement of buying tickets to see “Avengers: Endgame,” without the anxiety of seats selling out. To commemorate the event, I made Iron Man my profile picture. But now, it’s been over a year. The excitement has worn off, the hype has gone down, so it’s time to reflect and ask ourselves. Was it worth it?

In short, yes. However, it did take a while for audiences to reap the benefits.

Disney’s pride and joy is their catalog, and it’s the main force driving audiences to their app. All the Pixar classics, throwbacks to Disney Channel favorites and Earth’s mightiest heroes. It’s safe to say you can never run out of things to watch.

That is, if you’re not looking for a new original series. In that department, it’s safe to say that Disney is lacking.

Now we all know about their crown jewel, “The Mandalorian,” the western inspired Star Wars series has been the top dog of Disney+ since it’s premiere last year. There’s also “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” That’s about it in terms of their major new original series.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” barely counts considering it was originally made by Cartoon Network, but was canceled when Disney bought Lucasfilms. Unreleased episodes were put onto Netflix as a new season. Then Disney finally decided to revive the show for its final season to draw fans to the app.

Two new series and a new season isn’t too bad. When Netflix first started they only had a few original series, “House of Cards” being the most notable. Amazon Prime Video has a few gems too, “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “The Boys.”

Is Disney only having three new series really that bad? No, but only one of them has expanded to general audiences – “The Mandalorian.” The other two are for more niche audiences or teenagers and young adults. 

In this day and age, new original series are they key to getting audiences to subscribe to a streaming service. One would think Disney would have plans to roll out more original series to compete with  Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

But, Disney could afford to not launch without a vast collection of new content.

They say nostalgia sells, and Disney has nostalgia on lock. 

Many signed up so they could rewatch shows like “Kim Possible,” “That’s So Raven,” and “Hannah Montana.” (Enormous joy ran through me when I heard the “Wizards of Waverly Place” theme song after all these years.)

This was a chance to return to the shows that made our childhood, to be a kid again. For so long we’ve searched for websites that had the entire series or begged Netflix to add the show, but now we have it all in one place. Although I’m still waiting for “American Dragon: Jake Long” to be added.

Millennials aren’t the only ones who benefit. Parents now have a plethora of Disney & Pixar classics to distract the little ones for a few hours.

With the acquisition of 20th Century, audiences can watch icons such as “The Simpsons,” and holiday favorites like “Home Alone.”

The list goes on and on, and not to mention the celebrity collaborations with Beyoncé and Taylor Swift on their projects “Black is King,” and “Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions,” respectively.

Clearly, Disney should not worry that they don’t have enough for audiences to watch. 

If audiences are craving for new content, they do not have to wait much longer.

When President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, announced the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s phase four lineup, there were several limited series planned for Disney+.

After delays due to COVID-19, the first one up is “WandaVision” premiering on January 15 2021. Coming afterwards will be “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “Loki,” “She-Hulk”, and “Ms. Marvel,” all of which are scheduled to complete or begin filming in 2021. 

Image courtesy of Marvel

The MCU shows will be a game changer for Disney+, attracting general audiences who love the films and Marvel fans who don’t want to miss a thing.

Signing up for Disney+ on Nov 12 2019 meant waiting a while before we got to the good stuff, but now it’s all about to pay off.

Featured image courtesy of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

“All Together Now” Review

They sleep in the back of a school bus in a dark parking lot, work for every single dollar, and they are homeless. Yet, Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho) and her mother, Becky (Justina Machado) never seem to lose hope. Every night before falling asleep, the mother-daughter duo gets comfortable on the scrappy bus seats with old blankets and pillows to read Emily Dickinson’s poem “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.”

Amber reads, “I’ve heard it in the chilliest land / And on the strangest sea;”

Her mother continues, “Yet, never in extremity / It asked a crumb of me,” finishing the poem.

“All Together Now,” tells the story of a sedulous and optimistic high school senior with gifted musical talent despite the huge secret of her living situation. The Netflix teen drama is directed and co-written by Brett Haley, known for his films “The Hero,” “Hearts Beat Loud,” and “All the Bright Places,” based on the novel Sorta Like A Rockstar by Matthew Quick.

Despite the film’s emotional roller coaster ride to not tackle tragedies and hardships completely on your own because it will only cause more pain, the plot moves too fast to soak up these moments.

The film marks Auli’i Cravalho’s live-action film debut. Before “All Together Now,” Cravalho voiced the title character in Disney’s 2016 animated musical feature film “Moana” and starred in the NBC musical drama series “Rise” (2018) before a quick cancellation due to low ratings. Like her previous works, the film takes the opportunity to showcase the actress’s voice in an original song titled “Feels Like Home,” echoing the main character’s struggles with this line:

“Take me, I’m ready

Go slow, but go steady

To a place that we can call our home

I wanna know what feels like home”

Amber is the type of character you cannot put inside a box. She spends her evenings teaching English as a second language (ESL) classes to older migrant women, who adore her singing voice. After collecting her hard-earned money, she bikes to the donut shop with her tiny emotional chihuahua named Bobby in her backpack to work late hours.

In the mornings, she helps around the local retirement home, where she has created a special bond with a resident named Joan (Carol Burnett). In between it all, she keeps track of every dollar in a notebook before she hides her bike in a bush and walks through the dark parking lot to sleep and wait for her mother to arrive.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix

It is refreshing to see a friend group consist of neuroatypical people and people of color, creating a diverse and inclusive cast. For instance, one of Amber’s best friends named Ricky (Anthony Jacques) is on the autism spectrum played by an actor on the autism spectrum. Another friend named Chad (Gerald Isaac Waters) uses a wheelchair in the film and real life.

The film embraces a variety of characters by respecting the actors that play them; never once treating one character’s disability as a challenge that needs to be overcome by a non-disabled character. It is also lovely to see the main characters, Amber and Ty (Rhenzy Feliz), as people of color playing characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds yet still able to relate and confide in each other.

However, when it comes to Amber relying on her friends after a domino effect of bad things starts happening, she becomes stubborn and develops resentment toward needing help. After Becky’s employer discovers she has been sleeping on the bus, she is fired and decides to move in with her abusive ex-boyfriend named Oliver. In a heated moment of refusal, Amber runs away and sleeps on a bench for the night; leading to her backpack being stolen and a terrified Bobby. The scene comes off as predictable; the cherry on top for running away.

When Ty offers her a place to stay at his family’s vacation house, she decides to give in and ask for help on her audition for the drama program at Carnegie Mellon University, her deceased father’s alma mater. While this scene between Ty and Amber showcases the close friendship between two characters from different backgrounds able to relate to each other, it is the last sweet moment before Amber’s life takes a major turn for the worse.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix 

Amber decides to confide in Ricky’s mother, Donna (Judy Reyes) and offers her home as a safe haven. Becky shows up in frustration that her daughter refuses to stay with her, eventually deciding to let her go and drives away and leaves with these last words:

“Life is so much more complicated than you think, baby.”

The following morning Becky and Oliver are killed in a car crash while driving under the influence. While I appreciate the film not explicitly showing her mother’s death, I felt like her death was so sudden and was added only to create more problems for Amber. In one scene, they are arguing about their lack of trust. In the next scene, Amber is called out of class and told by police officers that her mother is dead.

Yet, this is not the end for Amber.

The night before her flight to Pittsburgh for her big audition, Bobby gets sick and needs expensive surgery to survive. To save her dog (basically the last thing she still has) she drops out of school and starts working full-time.

She misses her audition and drifts away from her friends. When Ty confronts her and questions her refusal to accept help, it ends in an argument and the two stop talking.

Amber becomes a stranger to herself, and it is tough to watch. She no longer sings show tunes with the ladies at ESL classes. She stops trying to make her friend Joan at the retirement home laugh with dorky jokes. She loses her active, vibrant personality that was so lovable at the beginning of the film.

In secret, her friends along with her teacher (Fred Armisen) continue to work on the annual variety show and make all the proceeds go towards Bobby’s surgery. Ty takes on the challenge of confronting Amber once again and drags her away from making donuts to attend the show.

The surprise is worth it. Her friends perform skits and dance numbers in her honor, even bringing the ladies from her ESL class to sing a song they learned from Amber.

Photo: Allyson Riggs / Netflix 

Later that night, the fundraiser receives an anonymous donation of $200,000 which is more than enough for Bobby’s surgery. Amber (finally) realizes the amount of love and support on her side. It all becomes more emotional when it is revealed that Joan was the one who made the generous donation, as she considers Amber her family.

The film ends with Amber and Ty sharing a kiss before she leaves for another audition at Carnegie Mellon. Even though it is a cliffhanger with Amber’s future still up in the air, the film delivers the message of not tackling life’s toughest challenges on your own.

When going back to the lyrics of “Feels Like Home,” Amber’s problem was not accepting help from others, but it was adjusting to the thought of needing help not as a sign of weakness but strength.

“All Together Now” is available to stream on Netflix.

Among Us: the Games of 2020

In a year like 2020, full of social distancing and health precautions, everyone is looking for a way to enjoy their time in isolation. With the help of popular gaming YouTubers and streamers, the 2018 game, Among Us, has become a smash hit in 2020.

Among Us, created by indie video game company InnerSloth, is a 2018 online multiplayer “social deduction” game that has sky-rocketed in popularity in 2020. 

The games’ rise in popularity has been accredited to the increase of gameplay from big names both within and outside of the gaming community. These names include but are not limited to YouTubers Markiplier, Pewdiepie and Jacksepticeye, as well as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.

Illustration by Serena Rodriguez

The game has risen in popularity due to the user-friendly platform as well as the widely understandable gameplay. The game is comparable to party games such as Mafia, where a number of players are attempting to get away with murdering the rest of the group.

In Among Us, a group ranging from four to 10 players are dropped into a spaceship and then designated as either a “crewmate” or an “impostor” at the beginning of each game. 

Crewmates have the job of going around the ship and completing designated tasks while attempting to figure out who the impostor is among the group. 

Impostors have the mission to kill regular crewmates without getting caught. They have to navigate the map by running after crewmates and venting to different rooms, all while faking tasks to blend in. 

As online meetings and distant interactions become the new norms, this real-time multiplayer game has become a game-changer. Although Among Us seems just like a digital version of party games Mafia and Werewolf, it has opened a new world for multiplayer online games. 

The game full of small space people has garnered such a dedicated fanbase over the course of the last few months. With endless hours of content from the game, fans have created content inspired by the online game. 

The success of the video game has been strongly influenced by the continuous stream of Among Us related content. Twitter accounts such as Among Us Struggle Tweets and No Context Among Us, fans of the game can enjoy Among Us outside of the game itself. 

Although Among Us may not remain among us (see what I did there) forever, it has made an impact in gaming and the idea of having fun while still accommodating for safety precautions such as social distancing.