The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Specials

Christmas TV specials, limited series and movies are bigger than ever these days from now until the New Year, you’ll be able to find some festive yule-tide programming every night of the week. From the traditional viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, the different versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to baking shows and live music specials, we’ve got them all listed on the new Christmas TV Specials page. (Since not all of the networks list their specials early, this list will be updated throughout the coming weeks, so check back often for new additions!)

Chris Evan Proves He Can Do More Than Just Punch Bad Guys in ‘Gifted.’

Review of the movie "Gifted."
McKenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)


If you were extremely smart with an IQ that had the potential of literally changing the world, would you feel that you had a responsibility to act upon it? That is one of the questions raised in Marc Webb’s Gifted starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans. As a Christian, if I felt that God had giving me a calling to do one thing or another, I would (like to say) say “yes,” but in Gifted, the answer is a lot more muddy and the concept weighed down heavily on me while watching the film.

Review of the movie "Gifted."
Jenny Slate as Teacher Bonnie.
Gifted takes place in a small coastal town in Florida where Frank (Evans) works on boats. He is the guardian of his seven-year-old niece, Mary (McKenna Grace). Mary’s mother (Frank’s sister) committed suicide when Mary was very young, so Frank is pretty much the only family that she knows. She calls him by his first name, which seems odd, but given the circumstances of this relationship (that gets explained as the movie goes on) it makes sense for this type of relationship. They live in a small house and are good friends with Roberta (Octavia Spencer) who is their landlady and Mary’s best friend. The story begins on the first day of public school. She whines asking why she can’t be home-schooled by Frank, but he wants her to live life like a normal kid. Almost immediately at school, we realize that Mary is anything but normal. Her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) picks up on this too and tells Frank that she thinks his niece is “gifted,” something he just brushes aside and then later scolds Mary for “showing off.”

Review of the movie "Gifted."
Octavia Spencer, McKenna Grace and Chris Evans.
It doesn’t take long for the school to recognize Mary’s brilliance and Frank’s mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) shows up unannounced. Up until now, Evelyn has shown no interest in her granddaughter and Mary doesn’t even know who she is. She is the one pushing for Mary to leave her normal, yet imperfect life, behind and use her brain skills for the greater good. Frank argues that his sister wanted Mary to live a normal life. Not surprisingly, the two butt heads on what is best for Mary and soon they find themselves in court to battle it out.

There is much to like about Gifted. The acting is good (Grace is exceptional) and there is a strong message about the importance of family as well as how damaging a dysfunctional family can affect a child. However, the story itself is a little too unrealistic as some situations presented feel too forced or unbelievable and there are plenty of cinematic clichés too. For instance, there is the obligatory “I’m so depressed that I better to the bar to get drunk” scene, Bonnie becomes more than just Mary’s teacher and becomes a love interest for Frank and the Mary herself is tasked with some of the film’s stronger swear words. While some may find this funny, it really just falls flat. It also tends to make Mary’s character look like a brat, which is the opposite effect the story is asking for.

Review of the movie "Gifted."
Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) and Mary
It appears that main conflict of Gifted is discussing which life would be best for Mary, but the film is so one-sided that if fails to make a good argument for the other side. Evelyn is a wealthy Bostonian who comes across as a Cruella de Vil character, but not as nasty. Despite the fact she has virtually no connection to Mary up until the current circumstances, she does possess some nurturing instincts. Mary even says that she likes her because she looks like her mom. But Evelyn’s (or should it have been Evilyn?) true colors do show up and you can understand why she and Frank are estranged.

The other part of the story that doesn’t seem to work is the relationship between Bonnie and Frank. The film tries to make a love connection there, but it just doesn’t work. It would have been better to have given Spencer more to do with the story instead. Still, the acting is good enough to get you choked up a bit here and there.

A favorite scene of mine is when Mary asks Frank about God and Jesus. He admits that he doesn’t know for sure if God exists, but as for Jesus he says, “Love that guy. Do what he says.”

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