Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 2)

The original goal was to wrap things up here by Christmas Eve, but that’s just not going to happen. C’est la vie. Best laid plans, etc. & so forth. I’m fine with that for a couple of reasons. First, the holiday season isn’t over until after the New Year, and if you really want to kick it old school the Twelve Days of Christmas don’t end until January 5. Secondly, I always kind of hate that Christmas night feeling when all the hoopla, hubbub, rigmarole, & hullabaloo of the past several weeks is just all the sudden over. The gifts have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten, families have returned to their own homes, radio stations stop playing carols, & these Christmas movies we love that have been a constant presence for the last month (or two) disappear as TV stations return to their normal programming. So why not extend that Christmas spirit just a little longer?? If you haven’t had time to check out Part 1 of the Sweet 16 please take a few moments to do so, and when you’re done come back here for semi-final action in the Mistletoe and Candy Cane divisions.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation             vs.              Elf

I like to laugh. As far as movies (and television) go I have always preferred comedy to drama, action, & horror. So when my love of laughter is combined with an obvious passion for Christmas…well, that’s very cool. Christmas Vacation is the third in a series of movies starring Chevy Chase as the affable patriarch of the Griswold clan of Chicago. In this film they don’t actually go on vacation…instead they invite extended family into their home for a holiday season where everything goes hysterically wrong. But it’s not Clark Griswold who’s the real star of the movie. That honor goes to Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, a dimwitted country bumpkin who we first met in the original Vacation in 1983. Eddie, his wife Catherine, & two of their kids pop in on the Griswolds for a surprise visit, and in the process take Christmas Vacation to a whole new level of hilarity. Most of the best moments either belong to Cousin Eddie or involve others (mainly Clark) reacting to him. 2003’s Elf is a classic fish-out-of-water story, with much of the humor derived from Buddy the Elf trying to figure out how to interact with regular humans and being a bit overwhelmed by New York City. Elves are usually secondary characters in Christmas films, but Will Ferrell as Buddy carries Elf. I’m no expert on all the ways that a director shapes & defines a movie, but I will make an educated assumption that Jon Favreau deserves much of the credit for a flawless tone that almost feels a little retro. Even if a person doesn’t particularly enjoy Ferrell’s vibe in other films I can’t imagine many really disliking Elf.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. It’s amazing how well Christmas Vacation has aged nearly three decades after its theatrical release. The humor has stood the test of time, although it’s more entertainment comfort food nowadays than laugh-out-loud amusement. That’s what happens when the masses have watched a movie dozens of times and can quote almost every scene verbatim. Elf is heading down the same path (perhaps it’s there already), but Christmas Vacation has been around longer and has a stronger pedigree.

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer                        vs.              Scrooge (1951)

Santa Claus is pretty cool all by himself, but over the years little bits & flourishes have been added to the legend, in the process creating a richly layered mythos right up there with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, George Lucas’ Star Wars Galaxy, & CS Lewis’ Narnia. In 1823 Clement Clark Moore, in his poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, made reference to eight reindeer…Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, & Blitzen. It wasn’t until a century later that an ad campaign from Montgomery Ward added a ninth reindeer to the group, and after a song, TV special, & countless other appearances in every form of media Rudolph really has become the most famous reindeer of all. The 1964 stop motion animated television special truly is a classic and is still aired annually more than a half century after it premiered. That’s some kind of staying power. 1951’s A Christmas Carol adaptation…simply called Scrooge…is celebrated by many as the best of the numerous versions of Dickens’ story. Its tone is appropriately dark, and Alastair Sim’s performance stands out as one of the greatest interpretations of Ebenezer Scrooge on film. He has a…unique…face, and uses it quite effectively in conveying the old miser’s evolution throughout the story. Of all the Carol movies, this is considered by most to be the standard that all others should be judged against.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph. Here is the issue one runs into with the various A Christmas Carol movies: there’s just so many of them, and none strictly follow the book. They all add, subtract, & alter small details and/or significant plot points. Scrooge adds a character named Mr. Jorkins, a nefarious businessman largely responsible for leading Ebenezer down a greedy path, and creates a subplot in which Scrooge’s father resented him because his wife (Ebenezer’s mother) died in childbirth, and then Scrooge comes to bear a grudge toward his nephew because the boy’s mother (Scrooge’s sister) died the same way. I understand creative license and the idea of “fleshing out” a story, but I just don’t think it’s necessary when it comes to A Christmas Carol. And it’s not only major narratives…it’s small details. For example, in the book Scrooge’s fiancé is named Belle, but in this film she is called Alice. Why?? Why change something like that?? It’s completely pointless. Conversely, Rudolph actually makes direct references to the original story & song. The “film” fleshes out those things, but in a good way. We have fancier technology now than they did in the 60’s, but there’s just something about that quirky old animation that still provides the warm fuzzies. The music is fun, the characters are great, & the story is timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)               vs.              The Ref

A movie about the commercialization of Christmas is par for the course in the 21st century, but seventy years ago I assume it was rather edgy. Add to that a cynical single mother and a Santa Claus who ends up in a courtroom to prove his identity & defend his sanity, and all the sudden what we look at as a nostalgic trip down memory lane becomes something much more interesting. Speaking of edgy & cynical, The Ref has a lot to say about life. Listen to the dialogue. Really pay attention when watching The Ref. Yes, it is funny. The cast is perfect and the situation is amusing & silly. But what appealed to me the first time I ever watched it and why I’m still fond of it over two decades later is the writing. Compare The Ref to something like Christmas with the Kranks, and it’s like putting a Picasso on the wall next to a toddler’s finger painting. It may be a little too acerbic for the masses, especially at Christmastime when everyone expects their cockles to be warmed, which might explain why it’s never quite achieved the level of popularity that dictates heavy rotation on TV throughout November & December…and that’s a shame.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. As much as I love The Ref I have to be truthful in my assessment. It is the offensive lineman of Christmas movies. It’ll never receive the glory or adoration of the crowd. It will never be part of Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas or be shown on TCM or AMC. The Ref can only be seen down in the trenches, and if one wants to recognize its greatness & appreciate its humor you’ll have to purposely seek it out. But I promise that if you make that effort it will be worth the time. Conversely, Miracle is on the Mount Rushmore of Christmas movies. Everyone has seen it, and everyone loves it. It may not be on television daily each December, but it’s on just enough that we continue to admire it with little risk of backlash or fatigue. Natalie Wood gets all the attention, not only because everybody digs precocious children, but also due to her fame as an adult and…sadly…in part because of her untimely demise and the mystery surrounding it. However, I really enjoy John Payne as the eager & sincere attorney Mr. Gailey, Maureen O’Hara as the jaded single mother Mrs. Walker, & Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, a role for which he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

 

 

 

Home Alone                vs.              How the Grinch Stole Christmas        

MacCaulay Culkin got noticed for his role in Uncle Buck, became a pop culture sensation after Home Alone, and eventually flamed out like so many child actors do when they can’t bank on their cuteness any longer. But unlike so many other child stars he gets an annual opportunity to go back in time for a few weeks every holiday season and become that mischievous little boy that everyone roots for. A tip of the cap also to Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern, because The Wet Bandits provide hilarious adversaries for that small boy. Many have overanalyzed the cartoonish violence near the film’s climax, and in the hypersensitive bubble that we now reside in some are critical of it, but I’ll always fondly recall my then grade school aged nephew & I laughing so hard we were crying when he stayed with me once and we ate pizza & watched Home Alone. The Grinch is mostly a vehicle for Dr. Seuss’ curious turns of phrase (what exactly are tar-tinkers & sloo-slunkers?), and I’m sure fifty years ago landing Boris Karloff to narrate the story was a huge coup. However, when one really pays attention what you’ll discover, more than catchy music or clever rhymes, is a tale of profound significance, and how often can one say that about a thirty minute children’s cartoon??

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. I love Home Alone, but let’s be honest…it doesn’t age particularly well or hold up to thoughtful ponderation. I’m not a fan of paralysis by analysis, but the entire premise of Home Alone is amusingly far-fetched and there are little plot holes here & there. The biggest issue though is that less than three decades later it just could not happen. Post-9/11 there is zero chance the family could get thru an airport that rapidly, and the kid would have a laptop and/or smartphone with internet access & a social media presence that’d allow Mom & Dad to check on him before they ever got off the plane. I am well aware that I am picking nits here, but I’m also absolutely right. Conversely, The Grinch doesn’t take place within the confines of the real world, and that allows it to be eternal. I am not a fan of the live action Jim Carrey movie, but it is my understanding that 2018 will bring a computer animated film adaptation featuring the vocal talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, and I am open to giving that a whirl.

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 1)

As with 80’s Movie Mania, when looking at these wonderful (for the most part) holiday films & specials I have taken into consideration a few important factors:

*Re-Watchability –       Is it on television a lot during the holidays?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch??

*Relevance            –        Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated?? How “Christmasy” is it??

*Quotability          –        Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.

*Cultural Impact  –        Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release?? This is a given for some holiday films, but not all of them.

*Pleasure              –        Do I enjoy watching this movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??

 

I’ve broken down the third round of Merry Movie Mayhem…The Sweet 16…into two parts. Today we’ll see semifinal action in the North Pole and Eggnog divisions.

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life           vs.              Frosty the Snowman

IAWL is a 1947 feature film about a depressed man being shown by a guardian angel how his life has positively impacted those around him. Frosty is a 1969 animated television special based on a song that had become popular two decades earlier and tells the story of a snowman who comes to life with the help of a magician’s hat. IAWL was nominated for a half dozen Academy Awards but was only a modest box office success. It became a beloved holiday classic in the 1970s & 80s when local TV stations across America utilized the film’s public domain status to fill their schedules throughout the Christmas season. Frosty has aired on television annually for nearly a half century.

 

The Verdict:       IAWL. Frosty the Snowman is awesome. The song is catchy, the animation is solid, and the characters are fun. But It’s A Wonderful Life has the incomparable combination of director Frank Capra & leading man Jimmy Stewart. The premise of an angel showing a person what the world would’ve been like without them has been ceaselessly borrowed, copied, & parodied throughout pop culture for decades. Some may have railed against its plentiful repeated airings once upon a time, but that backlash seems to have diminished.

 

 

 

The Polar Express              vs.              Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Motion capture technology is the process of recording the movement of objects or people. It is used most often in video games, but there have been a number of films that used it in part, or in the case of The Polar Express for the entire film. It is certainly a quantum leap from the animation past generations have experienced. However, while I don’t want to push the technical aspects aside…especially since I am truly fascinated by the beauty of motion capture…the most important thing to me is the plot. On its surface The Polar Express is a tale about believing or not believing in Santa Claus, which is a perfectly lovely Christmas story. Childhood. Wonder. Imagination. A hero’s journey. All are wonderful themes. But look a little deeper. Can it be viewed as an allegory?? Does The North Pole represent Heaven?? Is Santa a stand-in for God?? Is The Conductor a Christ-like figure whom children must rely on to deliver them to The Promised Land?? Is The Hobo a Holy Spirit that guides & directs those who are lost?? Interpretation is an individual choice, but I certainly believe that the movie could be viewed thru this prism. I’ve always felt that Santa Claus doesn’t have to be an enemy of Jesus Christ, that parents can use the story of Santa to teach children about Jesus. I realize that many disagree with that perspective, and I respect those opinions, but it’s an interesting idea to ponder. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is ostensibly more straightforward…a simple buddy comedy set at Thanksgiving. But then again is it?? It also has deeper themes. Friendship. Love. Loss. Family. Self-respect. Priorities. This movie has layers folks!! Yes it gets a little mawkish in the last few minutes, but what exactly is wrong with that?? Steve Martin & the late, great John Candy are known as comedic actors, but in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles they showed that if given the chance they had the kind of dramatic chops that made Tom Hanks a multi-Oscar winner. Despite all the memorable films he wrote & directed John Hughes has always been underappreciated, and this is one of his best films.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I adore The Polar Express. In the past decade it has established itself as a certified holiday classic. We’ll still be watching it every December a half century from now, and someday its cutting edge technology will seem quaint & nostalgic like we view animation from the mid-20th century nowadays. But Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has been around longer and is just as entertaining today as it was twenty years ago. It may not have turkey, parades, or football, but it as much quintessential Thanksgiving as any of those things.

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story               vs.                        The Muppet Christmas Carol

Jean Shepherd was a somewhat well-known radio personality back in the 1960’s & 70’s when listening to a guy talk on the radio for hours was a popular entertainment option. His shows weren’t about sports or politics or current events. Shepherd told stories…spinned yarns…spoke monologues…conveyed anecdotes…articulated poetic commentary about life. He allegedly had no script, and many of his stories were about his childhood in pre-WWII Indiana. Those stories eventually evolved into several books like In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, & A Fistful of Fig Newtons. A potpourri of those tales were eventually turned into the 1983 film A Christmas Story, which wasn’t a huge box office success but has since become a holiday tradition, mostly because of an annual 24 hour marathon on television from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm on Christmas Night. While 90s kids have grown up with A Christmas Story as an integrated part of their childhood, children in the 70s grew up with The Muppets. They may seem kind of corny in today’s computer generated world, but when I was a kid they were cool & they were everywhere, including a variety show on television for a few years. They eventually made it to the big screen and there have been numerous feature films & TV movies. The Muppet Christmas Carol premiered in 1992 with modest box office success and tepid critical reviews. However, like many other Christmas movies none of that stuff has mattered in the long run, as fans are still enjoying the film 25 years later. The Muppets have always had human performers interacting with the furry creatures, and in this movie Michael Caine gives…to the surprise of many…one of his best performances as Ebenezer Scrooge. The plot is more faithful to the source material than one might expect, but also adds some of its own unique touches.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. This is a very difficult decision. I LOVE The Muppet Christmas Carol. It is well written, funny, & full of the kind of holiday magic that defines the best Christmas movies. However, the cultural impact of A Christmas Story is undeniable. It has struck a chord with the masses, in large part because everyone can identify with Ralphie Parker as he navigates the ebb & flow of childhood, and because all of us can remember wanting Santa Claus to bring us that one special gift really really really badly.

 

 

 

White Christmas                           vs.                        A Charlie Brown Christmas

White Christmas is well-known as the best-selling song of all time, and the song itself was introduced to the masses in the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film Holiday Inn. Twelve years later the eponymous film was produced, with Danny Kaye filling in for Astaire in what isn’t really a sequel or a remake, but a creation that shares artistic DNA with Holiday Inn. The film is visually striking, and there are several memorable musical numbers. Charles Schulz created the Peanuts comic strip in 1950, and it eventually became a marketing juggernaut with fingerprints on every facet of media, advertising, merchandise, movies, & books. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first animated Peanuts television special, and a half century later is still aired annually.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Two strikes go against White Christmas. First of all, other than its title and a musical number at the very end it really doesn’t have all that much to do with Christmas. I don’t mean that to sound harsh because I can’t express strongly enough how much I adore the movie, but at its heart it is a romantic comedy/musical that would be almost as enchanting if it were set in February…it’s just that the Christmas angle makes it that much more exceptional. Secondly, there is a subplot where one of the female leads becomes upset at the Crosby character because she thinks he is exploiting the unfortunate plight of General Waverly. He’s really not…except that he still kind of is. Crosby isn’t making any money off the Christmas Eve bash he’s planning at The General’s country inn, but he does go on national television and sing a sad song that pretty much makes the old guy seem like a pathetic has-been that is in desperate need of charity. That song & that plot point has always bothered me. Conversely, A Charlie Brown Christmas is all about Christmas, weaving in ideas about commercialism and struggling to find the Christmas spirit, while directly addressing…unlike most Christmas movies…what Christmas is actually all about. The tone is perfect, the music is sublime, and the cultural impact is unquestionable.

 

The 2017 Sammy Claus Wish List

Merry Christmas Manoverse. It’s been a different kind of holiday season thus far. That’s not great, but it’s not bad either. The past few weeks have been low key & uneventful, yet somewhat busy-ish. I don’t like vegging out at home feeling useless too much, yet I don’t enjoy running around like a chicken with my head cut off either, so striking a balance is a nice goal. I’m not shopping as much as I usually do this time of year, for various reasons. I wish, as I’m sure many do, that I could go back to the days of childhood….or atleast to when my nephews were children…and feel the excitement that kids experience at Christmas. Instead I have more of a sense of wistful nostalgia, fondly recalling family, friends, & events that are gone and aren’t coming back. That doesn’t mean there isn’t joy or the expectation of good memories in the future, just that the equilibrium has shifted in another direction. I still get a kick out of watching holiday films, listening to Christmas music, and participating in seasonal activities at church, work, & with other groups I’m involved with, and since the weather isn’t too bad here in West Virginia I might actually set aside some time in the coming days to cruise a few of the local neighborhoods and take photos of the more impressive lights & decorations. At any rate, allow me to refresh your memory about how this Sammy Claus thing works. We’ve been doing it for eight years now and, much to my surprise, some of the presents wished for are actually granted on occasion. The mantle of Sammy Claus wields no special power. That magic belongs to The Jolly Old Elf up north. I am merely an emissary asking for certain gifts to be bestowed to a variety of entities, some of which have been quite naughty and some of whom have been very good this year. Admittedly our list usually skews toward the former rather than the latter. All I can hope for is that ol’ Kris Kringle himself is a fan of this site and agrees with my suggestions. For all who stop by and read the things that are published here, whether it be sporadically or on a regular basis, I wish you tranquility, health, love, & success during this Christmas season and for a new year on the horizon. As you are in the midst of the hustle & bustle these next several days…whether you embrace it or get caught up in it reluctantly…please do not brush aside what Christmas is about and the real reason we should celebrate, that being the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, who would eventually die for our sins so that we may have the opportunity of salvation & eternal life. God bless us…everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Jimmy Kimmel & Jimmy Fallon

A harsh & rapid fall off the high horse. We know what to expect from Colbert. Conan became irrelevant several years ago. Seth Myers is a Letterman wannabe and terrible at it. Corden has never been more than a blip on the radar. It was supposed to be up to Fallon & Kimmel to carry late night television for the next couple of decades. But instead they both decided to go political, to take a big ol’ dump on half of their viewing audience. Sammy Claus stopped watching months ago, and logic dictates others likely did as well. The only solution is a fresh start.

 

 

Potheads

Discretion & moderation. It seems like we may be on the verge of full blown legalization of marijuana, with opinions all over the map on the issue. Let’s just hope that folks are smart & careful. Health is wealth people.

 

 

Pope Francis

Bible study. Sammy Claus isn’t Catholic and doesn’t put much stock in the whole Pope thing anyway, but for such an important religious figure the current Pope sure seems a lot more like a sociopolitical pundit than a man of God.

 

 

Huntington, WV

Rejuvenation & hope. Once upon a time Sammy Claus spent his college years in this biggish small southern West Virginia town bordering Ohio & Kentucky. The drug epidemic that plagues our nation these days seems especially proliferate in Huntington, with shootings & arrests almost daily. It used to be a great town, and at its heart it still is for the most part. But things have got to change quickly & significantly.

 

 

Brad’s Wife Nanette

A great new job. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, allow Sammy Claus to get you up to speed. Nanette Reid was an employee of 11 years at an Indiana Cracker Barrel before she was terminated. Nanette’s husband Brad wanted to know why his wife had been fired, so he made an inquiry on the restaurant’s corporate Facebook page…and things took off from there. #JusticeforBradsWife went viral and lives on. Here’s hoping that Brad & Nanette can rebound from the unfortunate circumstance and have a prosperous New Year.

 

 

President Donald Trump

Improved public speaking skills & a keener social media filter. A President who bypasses traditional media outlets and reaches out directly on Twitter is a new concept that everyone is still trying to wrap our minds around. However, President Trump oftentimes doesn’t do himself any favors with his tweets, an issue compounded by the fact that he’s not the most polished public speaker. Any good that his Administration may be doing for the economy or anything else is too often eclipsed by the fact that he’s not exactly the best messenger.

 

 

The NBA

A renewed focus on playing basketball. Sammy Claus has never been as big of a basketball fan as he is a football & baseball fan, but this year he hasn’t watched a single second of NBA action. Why?? More social justice propagandizing. Some of the league’s biggest personalities…Lebron James, Stephen Curry, coaches Gregg Popovich & Steve Kerr…strayed away from their athletic mission to go on unnecessary sociopolitical rants that…much like late night TV comedians…alienate a huge chunk of the fanbase. Do they have a right to their opinions?? Of course. Would it be smarter to keep their yapper shut and concentrate on their jobs?? Absolutely.

 

 

Accused Sexual Harassers

Humility & respect for others. No one…male or female…should ever feel awkward in the workplace or be forced to do anything with which they are uncomfortable to keep their job or advance their career. A laundry list of powerful & well-known people have been accused of inappropriate conduct in the past few months. Matt Lauer. Harvey Weinstein. Congressman John Conyers. Mario Batali. Danny Masterson. Garrison Keillor. Charlie Rose. Senator Al Franken. Louis CK. Kevin Spacey. Most suffered swift & harsh consequences after being convicted in the court of public opinion. Will they learn from their mistakes and be better people in the future?? Can they overcome the situation and get back what they’ve lost?? Is it even proper that they have an opportunity for redemption?? Those are unanswered questions than only time will resolve.

 

 

Alleged Sexual Harassment Victims

Courage & integrity. On the flip side of the inappropriate conduct equation are the alleged victims. Every case is different, and in some instances the aggressors have admitted to the transgressions. They know they were wrong and are just going to take their lumps & swallow the bitter pill of reaping what they’ve sown. However, there are still many questions and reasons to doubt the validity of some of the claims. For example, why does it take an alleged victim several years to come forward?? Sammy Claus grew up with & has been surrounded by women who not only would have immediately reported such perverse behavior, but likely would have kicked a guy in the cahonas for…as Grandma Claus used to say…”getting fresh”. For a “victim” to all the sudden…after 3 or 5 or 10 or 20 years…start making accusations out of the blue somehow feels a little…off. Also, in many of these cases it has become apparent that a good amount of people knew all about the disturbing behavior being exhibited by the alleged creep, yet no one said anything?? That too seems odd. It calls into question how bad the behavior really was. If entire groups of people just shrugged it off for years then perhaps it wasn’t a big deal and mountains are now being made of mole hills. We need to know exactly how “inappropriate conduct” is being defined. Certainly societal norms evolve over time, but are these men losing their livelihood over what used to be called flirting?? Are mere words enough to implode a human being’s entire life now?? Or do these allegations involve seriously hideous…possibly criminal…activities?? And what about the ethical responsibility of an employer?? If “everyone knew” but no one did anything about it until throwing the hammer down became the cool thing to do, then doesn’t that make the company somewhat guilty?? In some of these situations people lost their jobs seemingly overnight. No investigation. No suspension. Just here one day & gone the next. That doesn’t feel right either. “Blaming the victim” is commonly thought to be improper, but when people’s careers & reputations are at stake it is just as wrong to automatically take someone’s word without a thorough examination of the facts. It’s too late for those that have already been caught up in the massive takedown, but maybe we ought to have a conversation about how to fairly proceed in the future.

 

 

The Mainstream Media

Sodium pentothal. It is undeniable that the news media has had a leftist bias pretty much its entire existence. However, it used to be fairly subtle. Not anymore. As a matter of fact, most television & print news outlets in America are almost pure propaganda now, the kind that has existed in places like Russia & The Middle East for decades. They don’t even try to hide their agenda anymore, and it’s pathetic.

 

 

Danica Patrick

Marriage, motherhood, & domestic bliss. Lost in the shuffle amidst the hype of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s premature retirement from NASCAR was Patrick’s announcement that she plans on racing in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and then moving on to the next phase of her life. Her career on the track has never quite lived up to the marketing machine that she became, but she’s easy on the eyes and someone that most fans couldn’t help rooting for. No matter how much the PC crowd tries to push “equality” and the idea that anything a man can do a woman can do atleast equally as well (and vice versa), the fact is that men & women are different entities with unique strengths & weaknesses. Danica Patrick’s career was never going to be long or legendary for a variety for reasons, but she can walk away with immense pride in what she accomplished and look forward to a happy life beyond race car driving.

 

 

Hollywood

A renewed focus on telling great stories & entertaining the masses. Speaking of propaganda, Hollywood is simply the “entertainment” wing of the same insidious machine that promotes deviance, hatred, & a victim mentality. A psychologist could probably explain whether the chicken or the egg comes first. Is there something about fame & fortune that causes people to go completely off the rails?? Or are ignorant, vile, mentally ill people more inclined to end up in the entertainment industry?? Whatever it is, those of a certain age can easily recall when going to the movies, listening to music, or watching television was engaging, intellectually stimulating, inspiring, and a perfectly valid way to spend downtime & discretionary income. Sadly now it’s mostly about pushing an agenda, endorsing sociopolitical talking points, & indoctrinating an unsuspecting audience.

 

 

The Supreme Court

2 or 3 more retirements. Justice Gorsuch is a nice replacement for the late Antonin Scalia, but there’s still work to be done. President Trump might get a second term in 2020…but then again he may not. In whatever time he has remaining in office it would be fantastic if Trump could make sure The Court leans in the right direction for a couple of decades, and to do that we need to see people like 84 year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg & 79 year old Stephen Breyer step away from the job. Who wants 80 year olds making such important & impactful decisions anyway??

 

 

IPhone X Buyers

Insurance & a cushioned carrying case. A $1000 phone made of glass that contains intrusive facial recognition technology?? No thanks.

 

 

The New York Yankees

A mundane season. The revered Bronx Bombers are at it again, flaunting their deep coffers and using grander-than-most resources in an attempt to buy another championship. It’s certainly not an illegal or unethical strategy. Indeed it is well within the rules of MLB. But the majority of sports fans tend to cheer for an underdog…the little engine that could. There’s nothing inspiring about a team who is simply able to outspend everyone else, especially one who already has more than twice as many World Series trophies as any other club. It is much more gratifying to watch an organization build & progress organically. The Yankees make it too easy for the masses to hope they crash & burn.

 

 

Civil War Statues

Continued existence. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. No one is saying slavery was okay. However, these monuments were erected for a reason. Attempts to sanitize history in a misguided fit of political correctness are foolish.

 

 

 

 

Per established custom I shall end with the traditional quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

 

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 2)

I happen to have a job that is oftentimes quietly tedious, and during the long late night hours I occasionally have an opportunity to watch a little television. There isn’t a whole lot on at 3am, but now & then I run across an old movie or two during the night that’s worth my time. Streaming is great. Setting the DVR is a very nice & simple option. Planning ahead is a smart way to go thru life on many levels. However, there is something to be said for spontaneity and small yet pleasant surprises, one of which is channel surfing and stumbling upon an awesome movie, especially if it’s just starting. Awhile back I was at work on a typically slow night and just happened to run across the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally, which I hadn’t seen in ages. Because I am easily entertained I was absolutely giddy with delight, and that kind of pleasure is what I seek in a good Christmas movie this time of year. Jim Carrey’s The Grinch doesn’t make me feel like that. Neither does The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins, Christmas in Connecticut, or Ernest Saves Christmas, which is why none of them are included in this competition. At any rate, when you see the decisions I make here that is a significant part of the criteria. What kind of film makes me instantly stop flipping thru the channels and watch?? What movies are so soothing, inspirational, funny, engaging, or enchanting that one is as excited to see it now as we were last year or five years ago?? Regrettably Hollywood doesn’t seem to produce very many stories like that anymore, but great Christmas movies belong to an extraordinary & exclusive club, and once they’re in they are in it for life, which is why we watch many of them year after year after year, over & over for decades. Today we conclude Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem with the Candy Cane Division. If you need to get caught up with previous second round action that is easily done here, here, & here. Happy Holidays y’all!!

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Quotes

For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle. – Kris Kringle

Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to. – Fred Gailey

Maybe he’s only a little crazy like painters or composers or some of those men in Washington. – Mr. Shellhammer

There’s a lot of bad ‘ism floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. – Alfred the Janitor

Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind…and that’s what’s been changing. – Kris Kringle

 

Factoids

Unbeknownst to most parade watchers, Edmund Gwenn played Santa Claus in the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade held November 28, 1946. He fulfilled the duties of most parade Santas, including addressing the crowd from the marquee of Macy’s after the parade was over.

The movie received a ‘B’ rating for being “morally objectionable” from the Legion of Decency because Maureen O’Hara played a divorcée.

According to the number of toothpicks on the table next to the telephone, Mrs. Shellhammer has apparently drank 9 martinis by the time she’s on the phone with Mrs. Walker.

Despite the fact that the film is set during Christmas the studio insisted that it be released in May because more people went to the movies during the summer. It was promoted while keeping the fact that it was a Christmas movie a secret.

The rivalry between department stores Macy’s and Gimbels depicted in the film was very real. The two stores were just blocks from each other in New York and major competitors for the same business.

The Post Office Department was a Cabinet-level department of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government from 1829 until 1971.

In the 1970s Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner were approached about doing a TV remake of the film with Natalie’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner as Susan. Wood turned it down because she’d been a child star herself and didn’t want her very young daughter to start acting at such an early age.

Macy’s and Gimbel’s department stores were approached by the producers for permission to have them depicted in the film. Both stores wanted to see the finished film first before they gave approval. If either store had refused, the film would have had to been extensively edited and reshot to eliminate the references. Fortunately at the test viewing, both businesses were pleased with the film and gave their permission.

 

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Scrooge (1970)

Quotes

There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. – The Ghost of Christmas Present

Comfort comes from other sources, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is given by other ministers than I to other kinds of men than you. – Marley’s Ghost

You don’t understand. He had the power to make us happy or unhappy, to make our work a pleasure or a burden. It’s nothing to do with money! – Ebenezer Scrooge

If I can wish a Merry Christmas to him, who is beyond dispute the most obnoxious and parsimonious of all living creatures, then I know in my heart that I am truly a man of goodwill. – Fred

How shall I ever understand this world? There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and yet, there is nothing it condemns with such severity as the pursuit of wealth. – Ebenezer Scrooge

Your activities in life were so pleasing to Lucifer that he has appointed you to be his personal clerk. A singular honor. You will be to him, so to speak, what Bob Cratchit was to you. – Marley’s Ghost

 

Factoids

While shooting the movie Sir Alec Guinness suffered a double-hernia that required surgery to repair.

It took more than three hours each day to apply the old-age Scrooge makeup to Albert Finney, who was only 33 years old at the time.

In the film, after he falls into his future grave, there’s a scene where Scrooge goes to Hell. He speaks with Marley again, and then receives his chain. The giant chain is wrapped around him and starts choking him, and then he awakens in his own bedroom. The chain has been replaced by his bedclothes. This whole Hell sequence is often omitted when the movie is shown on TV. The cut takes Scrooge from when he falls into the grave to when he awakens in his room. The chain isn’t there, but the bedclothes are wrapped around him and he’s having trouble breathing, just like when he was in Hell.

This version differs from the book in that Scrooge’s fiancée, Isabel, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. In the book, she is not related to them, and is named Belle.

Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Present that it is 1860, but the book that the movie is based on was actually set in the year 1843.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. A Santa Claus story versus an adaptation of A Christmas Carol pretty much sums up the Christmas movie season, right?? This version of Carol is rather unique as a live action musical. My friend The Owl really likes this movie and sold me on it several years ago. I can be a little…rigid…in my preconceived notions of the way things ought to be, but sometimes one has to expand horizons and open up to new ideas. Carol is a story that lends itself well to being a musical, and the performance by Albert Finney as the titular miser is remarkable. How can one not dig a song like I Hate People?? However, Miracle not only spans the entire Thanksgiving to Christmas season, but it’s a Santa story that was decades ahead of its time, with themes like single parenthood, commercialism, frivolous lawsuits, the wonder of childhood, and belief in dreams. That’s a lot of stuff packed into one movie!!

 

 

 

Home Alone

Quotes

I hope that I never see any of you jerks again! – Kevin McCallister

I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass. – Buzz McCallister

All kids. No parents. Probably a fancy orphanage. – Wet Bandit Harry

You can be too old for a lot of things, but you’re never too old to be afraid. – Old Man Marley

This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I’m living alone. – Kevin McCallister

I did leave one at a funeral parlor once. It was awful. The wife was distraught and we left the little tyke there in the funeral parlor all day. All day. You know, we went back at night and apparently he had been alone all day with the corpse. He was okay though. After two…three…weeks he came around and started talking again – Gus Polinski

He’s a kid. Kids are stupid. – Wet Bandit Marv

 

Factoids

The picture Kevin finds of Buzz’s girlfriend was a picture of a boy made up to look like a girl because Director Chris Columbus thought it would be too cruel to make fun of a girl like that. The boy that was used in the photo was the Art Director’s son.

During rehearsal for the scene where Harry attempts to bite off Kevin’s finger, Joe Pesci actually bit Macaulay Culkin, leaving a small scar.

Chris Columbus had originally been hired by John Hughes to direct National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but after meeting with Chevy Chase it became clear to Columbus that the two of them would not get along so he asked Hughes if there were any other projects he could work on instead. Home Alone was one of the options presented to him.

The concept for Home Alone originated during filming of a scene in Uncle Buck in which Macaulay Culkin plays a character who interrogates a would-be sitter through the letter opening in the front door.

Robert De Niro turned down the role of Harry.

There is an urban legend that Elvis Presley makes a cameo in Home Alone. Many of those who believe that Elvis is still alive maintain that the heavily bearded man standing in the background of the scene where Mrs. McCallister is shouting at the desk clerk is Elvis.

Angels With Filthy Souls, the movie that Kevin watches on video tape is not a real film. It is a play on an actual 1938 movie called Angels with Dirty Faces starring James Cagney.

 

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The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

 

Quotes

Don’t mess with me, Santa. I’m pre-El Nino. – Mother Nature

Seeing isn’t believing…believing is seeing, – Charlie Calvin

Santa was always there for you. And I will be, as long as you continue to believe in me. I know I’m asking you to leave everything at home, but I can guarantee you that this is worth it. This place is all about magic and love and wonder. And occasionally a thin-crust pizza and a movie and a long winter night. – Scott Calvin

 

Factoids

Carol Newman is very similar to Jessica from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Like Jessica, she works at a school, is given a doll by Santa, and even shares the same hairstyle and blue eyes.

Lucy was played by Liliana Mumy, the daughter of Bill Mumy from the 1960s TV show Lost In Space.

Peter Boyle portrays Father Time in this film and previously played Scott Calvin’s boss in the original Santa Clause.

 

The Verdict:       Home Alone. Both of these movies are part of trilogies (kind of). The difference is that Home Alone is an original, while The Mrs. Clause is a sequel, which is not only rare with Christmas movies but, as we all know, doesn’t usually work out in general. I like The Mrs. Clause…seemingly more than many others. I hate the misguided politically correctness that apparently dissuades television from airing it with the other two Santa Clause movies. However, it probably did get made a few years too late, and really…the competition is just so formidable. It has been said that the plot of Home Alone doesn’t really have much to do with Christmas, and that case may have justification, but I am thankful that it’s been a holiday tradition for nearly three decades. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it.

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Quotes

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. The Grinch hated Christmas…the whole Christmas season. Don’t ask why…no one quite knows the reason. – Narrator

He puzzled & puzzed till his puzzler was sore, then The Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. “Maybe Christmas”, he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Narrator

 

Factoids

Chuck Jones, a lifelong lover of Rudyard Kipling, was inspired to cast Boris Karloff as The Grinch after hearing a recording of Karloff reading Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. Dr. Seuss was unsure about casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make The Grinch too scary.

Thurl Ravenscroft received no screen credit for his singing, an oversight Dr. Seuss attempted to rectify by sending letters to every major columnist in America identifying Ravenscroft as the singer on You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

 

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Scrooged

Quotes

I’m not crazy. It’s Christmas Eve! It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, smile a little easier, cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be! It’s a miracle because it happens every Christmas Eve. And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it. I know what I’m talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people that don’t have enough to eat, and there are people that are cold. You can go out and say ‘hello’ to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say, ‘here.’ You can make them a sandwich, and say ‘Oh, by the way, here!’ I get it now! And if you give then it can happen…the miracle can happen to you. It’s not just the poor and the hungry, it’s everybody that’s gotta have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you! If you believe in this pure thing the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow! You won’t be one of these bastards who says, ‘Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud.’ It’s not! It can happen every day! You’ve just got to want that feeling! And if you like it and you want it, you’ll get greedy for it. You’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you! I believe in it now. I believe it’s gonna happen to me now. I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling, better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’m ready. Have a Merry Christmas everybody. – Frank Cross

 

Factoids

All of Bill Murray’s brothers…John, Joel, & Brian Doyle-Murray…make appearances.

The leader of the street musicians insulted by Bill Murray is Paul Shaffer. The others are Miles Davis, David Sanborn and Larry Carlton.

The Ghost of Christmas Past’s cab belongs to the Belle Cab Company. Belle is the name of Scrooge’s first love in the Charles Dickens novella.

Preston tells Frank that in America there are 27 million cats & 48 million dogs and says that IBC needs to start gearing programming towards them. 25 years later there are several dog and cat specific channels on Roku that supply dedicated pet programming based on scientific studies of what interests them.

This was Bill Murray’s first starring role since Ghostbusters. He had been living in Paris and had seriously considered giving up acting altogether.

Movie critic Roger Ebert called Scrooged the worst film adaptation of A Christmas Carol he had ever seen.

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. It’s pretty simple for me. I didn’t catch on to Scrooged until many years after it was released in 1988. It’s really only become a traditional part of my holiday viewing in the past few years. I was late to the party and that’s my fault. Conversely, like millions of others I’ve been watching The Grinch my entire life. The “true reason for the season” is sadly missing from most Christmas movies, but I decided long ago that I could deal with that because I know who I am and what I believe…I don’t need validation from Hollywood. Therefore, when the more spiritual elements of Christmas are actually alluded to in a film it stands out. The Grinch doesn’t address the topic directly, but it’s there if you pay attention and I appreciate that.

 

 

 

The Ref

Quotes

“How can we both be in the marriage and I’m miserable and you’re content?”…”Luck?” – Caroline & Lloyd Chasseur

You and my wife have a lot in common. You both think you have some right to life working out the way you want it to, and when it doesn’t, you get to act the way you want. The only trouble with that is someone has to be responsible. I’d love to run around and take classes and play with my inner-self! I’d love the freedom to be some pissed-off criminal with no responsibilities, except I don’t have the time! But you don’t see me with a gun. And you don’t see me sleeping with someone else. You think my life turned out the way I wanted because I live in this house? You think every morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say ‘Gee, I’m glad I’m me and not some 19-year-old billionaire rockstar with the body of an athlete and a 24-hour erection! No I don’t! – Lloyd Chasseur

You know what I’m going to get you for Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices you can climb on up and nail yourself to it. – Lloyd Chasseur

What is the matter with you? I thought Mothers were sweet and nice a-a-and Patient. I know loan sharks who are more forgiving than you. Your husband ain’t dead, lady. He’s hiding. – Gus

 

Factoids

Gus only fires his gun once in the entire film, at the smoke detector to stop it from beeping.

The original ending had Gus being caught by the cops to show the son that a life of crime leads nowhere. However, after screening the movie to a test audience and receiving negative comments about the ending, director Ted Demme changed it. He now admits he regrets changing it.

 

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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Quotes

I like Christmas! I LOVE Christmas! – Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s me! Your Uncle Scrooge! Smile makes a difference, doesn’t it? – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but had to back out due to illness.

Although Marley’s Ghost did appear, the phantoms wailing outside Scrooge’s window were not shown. Scrooge’s fiancée, who eventually leaves him because of his miserly ways, was completely dropped from the film, as were the two starving children “Want” and “Ignorance”, who hid within the folds of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. Also gone were the thieves who ransack Scrooge’s belongings after he “dies” in the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come segment.

The film was shown on local television stations in the United States throughout the 1960s & 70s, and was a staple of Chicago’s WGN. It ran in syndication throughout the United States from the 1960s thru 1990s on local stations.

 

The Verdict:       The Ref. This might be the toughest decision yet. I am tempted to declare another tie, but won’t do that again. What it boils down to for me is distinctiveness. I love almost every adaptation of A Christmas Carol and they all bring something special to the table. This version is a jovial, family friendly movie, with many of the ghoulish parts of Dickens’ story skipped over altogether. On one hand I’m not a fan of such alterations, but on the other hand there are so many Carol movies that I am more than happy to make room on the spectrum for such a whimsical interpretation. It really does exude Christmas spirit. The Ref is definitely not as…merry…but it is hilarious in a more contemporary way. It holds a special place in my heart for reasons I have written about before, and I just cannot push that aside. It doesn’t get nearly enough play on television, but with streaming it is readily available, which makes me very happy.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 2)

Less than a year ago…right after Christmas…I commented on Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas, and this year they are having the same issues. With streaming options the entire Christmas movie watching process has evolved, but for those who don’t have a streaming player and anyone of a certain age who is used to watching their holiday favorites thru mindless channel surfing Freeform’s month long “event” has become problematic. I’m not a television executive and know nothing about the ins & outs of ownership and rights fees and all that jazz. Freeform is owned by Disney so obviously they’re going to air films produced under that banner. I get it. However, as massive of an entity as that company is one would think they’d have access to a wider selection of movies. Not only do they spend too much time showing Frozen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, & the Harry Potter franchise, none of which are Christmas movies, but the Christmas movies they do show are the same few over & over. As a fan part of me doesn’t mind because I love those particular Christmas movies, but as a couch potato & semi-creative person I yearn for the powers-that-be to do better. If I were in charge of the process the event would span 4pm-midnight (approximately) every night, meaning there’d be room for four movies each evening, or maybe just a couple of feature films and then a few animated specials. And it’d be my goal to not repeat a film or special more than 3 or 4 times. Math isn’t my thing, but off the top of my head it seems like that’d mean I’d need the rights to maybe three dozen Christmas movies & specials, which shouldn’t be that much of a challenge for the folks at Disney. The 25 Days of Christmas has been a thing since the mid-90’s and has survived multiple rebrandings of the TV channel itself, but I sense weariness from fans who look forward to the holiday season and Freeform’s contribution to it. Anyway, if you need to go back and catch up on second round action in the North Pole and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to do so. When you’re up to speed come back here and enjoy Round 2 in the Mistletoe Division.

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

 Quotes

Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f^&#@ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a$$ down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a$$holes this side of the nuthouse. – Clark Griswold

Hurry up, Clark. I’m freezing my baguettes off. – Grandpa Art

You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant. – Uncle Louis

They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one. Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour. – Cousin Eddie

I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery. – Ellen Griswold

 

Factoids

The movie is based on John Hughes’ short story Christmas ’59, the second vacation story to be published in National Lampoon (the first was Vacation ’58, which was the basis for National Lampoon’s Vacation).

Mae Questel, who portrays Aunt Bethany, was the original voice of Betty Boop.

When Clark and Cousin Eddie are talking in the living room, they are drinking egg nog out of Walley World mugs. Walley World was the destination of the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The scene where the cat bites on the Christmas lights cord and gets electrocuted was nearly cut from the movie. Prior to the first test screening, the studio executives wanted the scene taken out, fearing that it might offend some viewers, but Producer Matty Simmons begged them to leave the scene in, and they eventually gave in to his request. After the first test screening, the test audience scored the cat electrocution scene as their number one favorite scene throughout the entire movie.

The house in which the Griswolds’ neighbors, Todd and Margo, live, is the same house where the Murtaugh family lived in all four Lethal Weapon movies.

 

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Trapped in Paradise

Quotes

“Alvin, if we’re going in circles, I’m going to break your neck”…”We’re not. I took four lefts, just like the map said.”…”Four lefts is a circle you idiot!” – Bill & Alvin Firpo

In the Firpo family, the man with half a brain is king. – Bill Firpo

“I’m tellin’ ya, if I had a gun on me right now I’d go in there and take over that place.”…”Bill, you wouldn’t be angry if I were to tell you there might be guns in the trunk.” – Bill & Dave Firpo

 

Factoids

Dana Carvey loosely based his character’s speaking style on a young Mickey Rourke.

Jon Lovitz claimed that the cast hated making the movie so much they took to calling it Trapped in Bullshit.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. I’m a little concerned that Vacation is heading down the old IAWL path, wherein it is on television so much each holiday season that a backlash is inevitable. But for now the masses still seem to love it, yours truly included. Trapped in Paradise is special to me for a couple of very personal reasons, but I can be objective enough to admit that it’s not a great movie.

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Quotes

Now you know how Santa uses these flying reindeer to pull his sleigh. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all? – Sam the Snowman

A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child. – King Moonracer

Someday I’d like to be a dentist. We need one up here. I’ve been studying. It’s fascinating; you’ve no idea. Molars and bicuspids and incisors. – Hermey the Elf

How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit. – Yukon Cornelius

You’d better go home with your folks. From now on, gang, we won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games! Right? – Comet

 

Factoids

When Yukon Cornelius throws his pick axe into the ground and takes it out and licks it, he’s checking neither for gold nor silver. The original concept for the special stated that Yukon was in fact searching for the elusive peppermint mine, which he found eventually.

The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a seasonal standard long before it was used in the film. It was written in 1939 & its popularity skyrocketed in 1947 with Gene Autry’s recording.

When the film was first released in 1964 the technology of using an articulated metal armature inside the figures was considered so amazing that TV Guide devoted four pages to the story. They failed to mention that the “new” technology had been pioneered 31 years before, most prominently inside the gorilla King Kong.

Yukon Cornelius’ sled dogs include a cocker spaniel, a poodle, a Saint Bernard, a collie, and a dachshund.

 

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Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Quotes

There is nothing on this earth more terrifying to me than a life doomed to poverty. – Ebenezer Scrooge

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that…as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time…the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it! – Fred

 

Factoids

In the Cratchit home, there is a portrait of the story’s author, Charles Dickens, hanging by the fireplace.

During the opening credits, as we fly through the old London city roof tops, one can see the second London Bridge. In 843 it was just 12 years old and remained in London for another 124 years before it was dismantled and sold to an American in 1967. It can now be seen spanning Bridgewater Channel in Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Scrooge falls at least eighteen times throughout the film. This may be a reference to Scrooge being humbled before his fellow man, the fact that he falls from high places, as well as low ones. His final fall is from the rail at the back of the carriage on Christmas day. This fall seems to hurt him least of all, since his heart and spirit have been “lightened” by the spirit’s visits.

Between Scrooge leaving Marley’ s corpse and Scrooge going to his counting house there is a scene where servants and cooks are preparing a banquet for the mayor of London. This is directly taken from the novel where Dickens mentions a banquet being prepared for the mayor and his subjects. The only other film adaption that shows this is the 1935 version starring Seymour Hicks.

After sending the prize turkey on to Bob Cratchit’s house, Scrooge grabs onto the back of a carriage and hangs on for a ride down the street, waving to people. Many viewers saw this as a nod to one of Robert Zemeckis’ previous works, Back to the Future. However, when asked about it in an interview, Zemeckis said that had not occurred to him but reasoned it was a subconscious image.

Scrooge’s “future tombstone” says he was born in 1786 meaning Scrooge was 57 years old in the present and 50 years old when Marley died in 1836.

Scrooge doesn’t go to Cratchit’s house on Christmas Day after the encounter with the three spirits. Scrooge visits his nephew and has Christmas dinner with him, his wife, and their friends, followed by Scrooge giving Cratchit a raise the next day at work, keeping true to the book.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph. Opinions seem divided on Disney’s version of Carol. Some people still haven’t embraced motion capture, though I think it is utilized beautifully in this movie. One can see noticeable improvements in the technology when comparing Carol to The Polar Express, which was produced just five years earlier. Some people aren’t big Jim Carrey fans. I count myself among that group, but won’t deny his talent and the fact that it is a perfect complement for this film. Some people think this version of Carol is a little too dark and…raucous. I understand that perspective but don’t have any issue with it myself. Having said all of that, Rudolph is…well, it’s Rudolph. It is the greatest achievement of the Rankin-Bass team, and has been a Christmas tradition for over a half century.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Quotes

My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts? – The Spirit of Christmas Present

A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. It is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. – Charity Collector

Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool with no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years? – Ebenezer Scrooge

As your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart. – The Spirit of Christmas Past

We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men’s hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year. You have chosen not to seek Him in your heart. Therefore, you will come with me and seek Him in the hearts of men of good will. – The Spirit of Christmas Present

 

Factoids

The song that Mr. Jorkin whistles after offering Scrooge a job is The Lincolnshire Poacher, wherein a poacher sings how much he loves unlawfully entering property and trapping game there. Poaching also refers to the practice of hiring an employee away from a competitor, which is what Jorkin is doing with Scrooge.

Although the word Scrooge means a stingy person now, in Charles Dickens’s time the word was a slang term meaning “to squeeze.”

This is the only film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that omits Scrooge’s famous line “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”.

Changes to the screenplay from the Charles Dickens novella were made, mostly in the Christmas Past sequence. Among these changes are: reversing the birth order of Scrooge and his sister, so as to add that Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him…creating a character named Mr. Jorkin, who does not appear in the book…flashbacks of several incidents in Scrooge’s past (e.g. his sister’s death, meeting Jacob Marley, taking over Fezziwig’s warehouse, & Marley’s death) which do not appear in the book.

Just after Marley dies the Ghost of Christmas Past calls Scrooge a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner”, which is how Charles Dickens describes Scrooge in the novel.

 

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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Quotes

One of the greatest traditions we have is the Thanksgiving Day football game. And the biggest, most important tradition of all is the kicking off of the football. – Lucy Van Pelt

Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving? What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school. Do you know what we have to do? We have to write an essay. – Sally Brown

What blockhead cooked all this? What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes, where’s the cranberry sauce, where’s the pumpkin pie? – Peppermint Patty

Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by “Thanksgiving”, Charlie Brown. – Marcie

 

Factoids

Peppermint Patty and Marcie are voiced by male actors.

Lee Mendelson always objected to the ending where Snoopy serves Woodstock a piece of turkey, because it made him seem like a cannibal. But it was kept in at the suggestion of Charles M. Schulz and Bill Melendez.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. Sorry Charlie…your Thanksgiving just doesn’t measure up to a couple of other Peanuts specials. I think that by the time Thanksgiving was produced in 1973 the children whose voices had been used in earlier specials had grown up so different actors were used. And though Vince Guaraldi once again composed the music it isn’t quite as enchanting as other tunes he’d done. This version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim is consistently praised as being amongst the best.

 

 

Die Hard

Quotes

They’ll spend a month sifting through the rubble and by the time they figure out what went wrong we’ll be sitting on a beach earning twenty percent. – Hans Gruber

I’m Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation. – FBI Agent Johnson

Yippee-ki-ya mother%^*@#$! – John McClane

When you steal $600 you can just disappear. When you steal 600 million they will find you…unless they think you’re already dead. – Hans Gruber

 

Factoids

The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman’s talent. It was was unrehearsed to create a greater feeling of spontaneity between the two actors.

Roger Ebert was one the few critics to give Die Hard a negative review. The main reason he did was because he hated the character Chief Dwayne Robinson. He said the character was unnecessary, useless, dumb, and prevented the movie from working.

In a street scene, a gas station sign shows the price per gallon as 74 cents.

Only a couple of the actors who played the German terrorists were actually German and only a couple more could speak broken German. The actors were cast for their menacing appearances rather than their nationality. 9 of the 12 were over 6 feet tall.

Bruce Willis was shooting Moonlighting concurrently. He would shoot the television series during the day and then come to the Fox lot in the evening to work on the film.

Near the end of the film Hans Gruber mocks John McClane by saying that the conflict wouldn’t end like an American Western with “Grace Kelly riding off into the sunset with John Wayne”. McClane corrects him and says he means Gary Cooper. The film referenced is High Noon, another action movie about a lone hero having to defeat a large group of enemies while being vastly outnumbered.

 

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Elf

Quotes

I’m the worst toymaker in the world! I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins. – Buddy the Elf

You stink. You smell like beef and cheese, you don`t smell like Santa. – Buddy the Elf

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. – Buddy the Elf

This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me. – Buddy the Elf

 

Factoids

Will Ferrell suffered from headaches throughout filming due to actually eating so much sugary food on camera.

Elf was turned into a Broadway musical that premiered in November 2010 and ran through January 2011.

The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Quotes

I’m Willy Krueger and I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments, but, but you know that, don’t you. You know that. I guess nobody here can see me or hear me except you. I didn’t bring a gift, but I guess that’s not important. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. As long as I can remember you’ve been right by my side. I’ll never forget when you walked with me right in those first few hours after I lost Martha. I’ve always been able to count on you, when I felt dark inside. You were right there, right, every time, right there. Even when I didn’t feel good about myself, I knew that you cared for me enough, and that made me feel better. I love you. You’re my closest, my finest friend. And that means that I can hold my head high, wherever I go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. – Willy Krueger

 

Factoids

James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, “I’ve got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one.” After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, “Did you get it?” “I hope so,” was the reply, “because I was crying.”

Stewart accepted the role because he believed it would promote the true meaning of Christmas. He said that Christmas “has come to be connected with Santa Claus, gifts, lights, decorations, & trees. We may be guilty of forgetting that Christmas is really the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

The scene where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir starts clapping and gives Willy Krueger a standing ovation was the actual reaction of the Choir to James Stewart’s directing. It was a total surprise and completely unscripted.

 

The Verdict:       Elf. We arrived at a Triple Threat Match due to a first round tie. As much as I love Mr. Krueger’s Christmas one cannot escape the fact that it is never aired anywhere on television and isn’t available on any streaming service. That’s a huge issue. When YouTube is my only option to watch a movie I cannot in good conscience advance it further in this competition. For those who may be wondering, please don’t let the fact that Krueger was produced by The Mormon Church prevent you from checking it out…there is no objectionable ideology presented in the story at all. It’s the end of the road for Die Hard as well. The debate about its worthiness as a Christmas movie is cheeky fun, and I will always defend my opinion. However, detractors make some valid points and there really are much more Christmasy movies out there. As with Christmas Vacation I am a bit apprehensive about overexposure of Elf (I’m looking at you specifically Freeform), but at present it is still generally considered to be lighthearted & palatable pleasure for the entire family, and how many things can one say that about these days??

Merry Movie Mayhem: Eggnog (Round 2)

Following up just a bit on the Christmas Movie Marathon I wrote about a few years ago, I must admit that such an idea doesn’t appeal to me as much now as it did back then. First of all, I work on the weekends these days, so I’d have to do my marathon during the week. That wouldn’t be a big deal I suppose, but there are other issues. I’ve felt for awhile now that my attention span has gotten shorter as I’ve gotten older. I’m just not sure that I could watch more than two movies back to back. A couple of years ago I did attend a special showing of the Back to the Future trilogy at the local movie theater, but that was a once in a lifetime event. Even in the comfort of my own home I think I’d need to do something else after a few hours. I’d probably be into a weeklong marathon where we’d watch a couple of movies each evening. That feels like it’d be more my speed nowadays. At any rate, if you need to catch up on second round action in the North Pole Division please take a few moments to do so. The rest of us are moving on to second round competition in the Eggnog Division. Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

Quotes

Life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us. – Narrator

I triple dog-dare ya! – Schwartz

Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man. – Narrator

“Fra-GEE-leh!” It must be Italian! – The Old Man

I want an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot-range model air rifle! – Ralphie Parker

We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice. – Narrator

 

Factoids

Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee, which would have doubled the budget.

The model rifle as described by Ralphie in the film is a mistake. The weapon did not have a compass or “this thing which tells time” (As Ralphie refers to the sundial). Those features were a part of another BB gun model made around the same time. No one realized this mistake until it came time to produce the gun for the film and they were informed by the Daisy Rifle Company of the error. So the gun in the film is actually a custom made hybrid.

An elaborate fantasy sequence in which Ralphie joins Flash Gordon to fight Ming the Merciless was filmed but cut from the film.

Mrs. Parker’s memory is correct. The Lone Ranger’s nephew, Dan Reid, rode a horse named Victor. He was the son of the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver.

When Scut Farkas first appears the Wolf music from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf plays in the background. The name Farkas is derived from the Hungarian word for wolf.

 

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Serendipity

Quotes

You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?”. – Dean

If we’re meant to meet again, we’ll meet again. It’s just not the right time now. – Sara

I just meant I had a really nice time. You know, maybe you should give me your phone number. Just in case. – Jonathan

 

Factoids

A gap of 12-15 years was originally intended for the time between the main characters’ first meeting & eventual reunion, and the characters were initially written to be in their early 20’s. Audiences felt that both Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack were not ‘fresh faced’ enough to pull off early twenties and that the time line had been too poorly established to tell that the characters met in the late 1980s. Eventually the film was edited and establishes a seven year gap between the initial meeting of the characters and their reunion.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. I threw Serendipity a bone in the first round, with good reason. However, at its heart it is simply a charming rom-com. There’s not a thing wrong with that, but it doesn’t come close to measuring up to the competition.

 

 

 

White Christmas

Quotes

“When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.”…” When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply.” – Phil Davis & Bob Wallace

If there was one thing I learned in the army it was to be positive, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about.  – General Tom Waverly

You shouldn’t mix fairy tales with liverwurst and buttermilk. – Betty Haynes

“How can a guy that ugly have the nerve to have sisters?”…”Very brave parents, I guess.” – Phil Davis & Bob Wallace

“We wouldn’t be any good as generals.”…”You weren’t any good as privates.” – Phil Davis & General Tom Waverly

 

Factoids

Ed Harrison was played by Johnny Grant, who did not have a long acting career but was the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, CA who officiated over unveilings of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from the early 1960s until his death in 2008.

White Christmas was intended to reunite Crosby and Fred Astaire for their third Irving Berlin musical. Crosby and Astaire had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn & Blue Skies. Astaire declined the project and Donald O’Connor was signed to replace him. Just before shooting was to begin O’Connor had to drop out due to illness and was replaced by Danny Kaye.

Percy Helton, who plays the railroad conductor, also appears in another holiday movie, playing the drunk Santa Claus at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street.

 

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A Christmas Carol (1999)

Quotes

Can you forgive a stupid old man who doesn’t want to be left out in the cold anymore? – Ebenezer Scrooge

Oh God, to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing there is too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust! – The Ghost of Christmas Present

He’ll be about as merry as a graveyard on a wet Sunday. – Mrs. Cratchit

 

Factoids

This production includes the scenes of the lighthouse, coal miners, and sailors on a ship at sea in which the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge different groups of people celebrating Christmas singing Silent Night in particular sections of the United Kingdom after departing from Bob Cratchit’s house. Almost every other film adaptation omits them.

During the 1990s, Sir Patrick Stewart wrote and starred in a one-man play based on A Christmas Carol, performing it in various places in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the play, he performed over forty different characters.

The word “humbug” describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in a scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him.

This is one of the very few adaptations to include a short scene when Scrooge is with the Spirit of Christmas Future: Bob Cratchit visiting Tiny Tim’s body lying in repose in an upper bedroom. In the book, this takes up only one paragraph.

 

The Verdict:       White Christmas. While Holiday Inn introduced the song it was this retooled rehash that really established its place in pop culture. And rather than spanning an entire year of holidays it is set solely around Christmas. I love Patrick Stewart, and his version of Carol is dandy…but the competition is just too good.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Quotes

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way what I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents, and sending Christmas cards, and decorating the trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed. – Charlie Brown

You need involvement. You need to get involved in some real Christmas project. – Lucy Van Pelt

All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share. – Sally Brown

Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know that can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest. – Linus Van Pelt

 

Factoids

Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally Brown, had not yet learned to read at the time of production, so she had to be fed her lines, often a word or syllable at a time, which explains the rather choppy delivery.

Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles Schulz out of using Biblical references. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, “If we don’t do it, who will?” As it turned out, Linus’ recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed show.

The program is the second longest-running Christmas special on U.S. network television (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered one year earlier).

Producer Lee Mendelson wrote the lyrics for Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here music, and his son Glenn & his 6th grade class classmates sang the vocals.

When they first saw the show CBS executives were horrified at the idea of an animated Christmas special with such a blatant message, strongly objected to the fact that the show had no canned laughter, and greeted Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score as an intrusion that audiences would never accept. However, upon learning about the spectacular ratings the show earned on its initial broadcast and the glowing reviews the network promptly contracted the producers for more specials.

During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites the words “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10).

 

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Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Quotes

Poor, misguided folks. They miss the whole point. Lot’s of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men. – SD Kluger

Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful, AND anyone found with a toy in his (or her) possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon. No kidding! – Burgermeister Meisterburger

Stop, in the name of the law! You brats are under arrest! – Burgermeister Meisterburger

 

Factoids

There were fewer commercials on network television when this special was made. When shown on Freeform the special is edited in order to accommodate more commercials. The songs If You Sit on My Lap Today and My World is Beginning Today are cut, as well as a scene deemed “traumatizing” for younger viewers when Burgermeister Meisterburger burns all of the toys belonging to the children of Sombertown.

A burgermeister is chairman of the executive council in many towns & cities in Germany.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Amongst the plethora of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials Town tends to be undeservedly overlooked. When I was a kid it was shown on network television (ABC I believe), but for the past couple of decades it’s been relegated to ABC Family/Freeform. It has been edited over the years as well, which is a no-no in my book. Thank God for streaming. Conversely, A Charlie Brown Christmas still airs annually on ABC. Sometimes it is even shown twice, which is awesome. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it feels like the stature of this particular special has actually grown over the years, which is rare.

 

 

 

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Quotes

“More gravy than of grave?”…”What a terrible pun. Where do you get those jokes?”…”Leave comedy to the bears, Ebenezer.” – Robert & Jacob Marley

It’s all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it. I am sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that there was among us. – Bob Cratchit

Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr. Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season. Harvest time for the money-lenders. – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Before production began, Sir Michael Caine told Brian Henson, “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role, and there are no puppets around me.” Henson replied “Yes, bang on!”.

Jacob and Robert Marley surrounded by wailing cash boxes is a nod to Bob Marley & The Wailers.

Fan, Scrooge’ s late sister, does not appear in this film. Instead she is replaced by Scrooge’ s old headmaster played by Sam the Eagle.

 

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Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Quotes

Kevin is so much stronger and braver than I am. And I know Kevin’s fine. I’m sure he is. But he’s still all by himself in a big city, and he doesn’t deserve that. He deserves to be at home, with his family, around his Christmas tree. – Kate McCallister

“What kind of idiots do you have working here?”…”The finest in New York.” – Kevin McCallister & Desk Clerk

If I had my own money, I’d go on my own vacation. Alone. Without any of you guys. And I’d have the most fun in my whole life. – Kevin McCallister

Your heart might still be broken, but it isn’t gone. If it was gone, you wouldn’t be so nice. – Kevin McCallister

“What store is going to make the most cash on Christmas Eve that nobody’s gonna think to rob?”…”Candy stores!”…”Nine year-olds rob candy stores, Marv.” – The Sticky Bandits

It’s Christmas Eve. Good deeds count extra tonight. Think of an important thing you can do for others, and go do it. Just follow the star in your heart. – Bird Lady

I’m 10 years old. TV is my life. – Kevin McCallister

 

Factoids

Entertainment Weekly had a doctor analyze what the actual effects of the injuries to Harry and Marv would be. Bricks to the face would have caused “at best, brain damage, at worst, death.”

Brat Pack alumnus Ally Sheedy has a cameo as an airport ticket agent.

The carpet was removed from The Plaza lobby for one scene so that Macaulay Culkin could slip and slide on the floor. Plaza owner Donald Trump liked it so much, he never had it refitted.

In the scene where Kevin visits various landmarks in New York City, the part where he visits the World Trade Center was removed from television broadcasts after 2001, out of respect for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Kevin’s room service bill indicates that he ordered two chocolate cakes, six chocolate mousses with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream topped with M&Ms, chocolate sprinkles, cherries, nuts, marshmallows, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, whipped cream, and bananas, six custard flans, a pastry cart, eight strawberry tarts, and thirty-six chocolate-covered strawberries.

 

The Verdict:       The Muppets. I am tempted to point out the distinctiveness of The Muppets, while Lost in New York is a sequel that essentially tells the same story as the first Home Alone, just in a different setting. But to be fair, The Muppet Christmas Carol is another adaptation of a story that’s been told numerous times. So the question that must be asked is what does each movie bring to the table that its predecessor(s) do not?? In the case of Lost in New York the answer is…not much. I don’t mean that to sound harsh because it’s still an entertaining film, but it really does follow almost the same exact template as the original only in a different location. The Muppet Christmas Carol successfully pulls off the difficult trick of remaining more faithful to the source material than one might expect while still being fresh & imaginative.

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 2)

A few years ago I wrote about an idea for a Christmas movie marathon and as we jump into Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem I thought it might be fun to revisit the idea. Since that piece was published I purchased a Roku streaming stick for my television, though I haven’t made the leap of cutting the cord from cable quite yet so I have both. Anyway, there are a few movie streaming services available (Vudu, Netflix, FandangoNow, Amazon Prime), and with a little research I discovered that one could purchase just about the entire Christmas movie marathon for about $350. At first glance that sounds awfully expensive, but when you break it down it’s actually not too bad. At $4/rental you’d have to rent about 87 movies. Considering there are about two dozen movies & TV specials involved that would mean renting each of them less than four times to get to $350. Since most are films we all watch atleast once annually that means if you purchase instead of rent the expense would be “paid off” within a minimum of four years. When one realizes that we watch many of them atleast 2 or 3 times every December the idea of purchasing really begins to make sense. And while it is true that TV channels like Freeform, AMC, TCM, USA, & others air a fair amount of holiday favorites (often multiple times), one still has to deal with commercials & edits to the films. I am not suggesting that you spend such a sizeable chunk of change in one fell swoop, but it is an idea to consider doing a little at a time as your budget allows. Think of it as a long term Christmas investment. Okay, so while you ponder that idea let’s move on to second round action in the North Pole Division.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life   

Quotes

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence Oddbody, AS2

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!!” – George Bailey

“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.” – Henry F. Potter

 

Factoids

As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised “I’m alright, I’m okay!” Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

Despite being set around Christmas, IAWL was filmed during a heat wave.

The name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps, cookies produced from 1901 until the early 1980s by National Biscuit Company, aka Nabisco.

Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie share their names with the IAWL‘s cop & cab driver, but it’s believed to be just a coincidence.

Carl Switzer, better known as Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, appears in IAWL as Freddie, the guy that becomes so annoyed about Mary ignoring him at the dance in favor of George Bailey that he opens up the swimming pool beneath the dance floor.

At one point in the film Mr. Potter’s housing project in Bedford Falls is referred to as Potter’s Field. The term Potter’s Field is often used to refer to municipal cemeteries where paupers & unidentified bodies are interred.

 

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The Lemon Drop Kid

Quotes

“You’ve still got your hourglass figure, dear, but most of the sand has settled to the bottom.” – Old Woman

 

Factoids

The movie was filmed in 1950 but not released in theaters until March 1951. When a recording of Silver Bells by Bing Crosby became a hit in December 1950 the studio called actors & crew back to re-shoot a more elaborate musical version of the song for the film’s release.

The song Silver Bells was originally called Tinkle Bells until someone pointed out that tinkle was also slang for urinate.

 

The Verdict:       IAWL. I always liked Bob Hope, and The Lemon Drop Kid really should be shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season (make it happen AMC & TCM). However, IAWL is in a league of its own. I think some of the backlash from the days when it was on TV ad nauseum every December has softened just a bit, and folks are starting to rediscover how fantastic a movie it really is.

 

 

 

The Polar Express

Quotes

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear it’s sweet sound. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe. – Hero Boy

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. – The Conductor

There’s no greater gift than friendship. – Santa Claus

One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on. – The Conductor

 

Factoids

The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first all-digital capture film.

When the Hero Boy first meets the Hobo on the roof of the train he is playing the carol Good King Wenceslas. The story of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia is that of a king braving the harsh winter to bring alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen on December 26th. His page finds he can’t go on through the harsh conditions and is directed to walk in the footprints that the king has made in the snow. The Hobo directs Hero Boy to follow behind him and ultimately helps him reach the engine before they make it to the tunnel, thus allowing him to find and help his friend. The Hobo can be viewed as a representation of the Holy Spirit that he guides those who believe in Him to safety even in perilous times.

Lonely Boy is played by Peter Scolari, who starred alongside Tom Hanks in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies.

The movie is based on the 1985 childrens’ book The Polar Express by Chris Van Alsburg, who also wrote Jumanji in 1981.

The close shots of Hero Girl’s train ticket floating in the air are a nod to the feather doing the same in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film Forrest Gump, which starred Tom Hanks.

The Ebenezer Scrooge marionette that frightens Hero Boy was used as the basis for the physical appearance of Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’s 2009 film A Christmas Carol.

 

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A Christmas Carol (1984)

Quotes

 

Perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and who it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. – The Ghost of Christmas Present

Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows, by an altered life. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me! I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! Tell me that I may sponge the writing from this stone! – Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s time you made your way in the world. I’ve arrange an apprenticeship for you. You’ll move into Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment in three days’ time. – Silas Scrooge

Make sure that a check for the entire amount is deposited with my clerk. I don’t ship until I have the cash in hand. – Ebenezer Scrooge

Tact is a quality I despise. – Ebenezer Scrooge

“Almost” carries no weight. Especially in matters of the heart. – The Ghost of Christmas Past

Spirit, what perversity is this? I’ve asked to see some emotion connected with that man’s death… and you’ve shown me only greed, malice, and apathy! Let me see some tenderness, some… depth of feeling! – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Scrooge’s nephew Fred, whose full name was never given in the book, is surnamed Hollywell. Also, his wife, whose name was never mentioned in the book, is named Janet.

Scrooge stops at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, which not only gives us a look at how ruthless he is in dealing with his colleagues but also it is where he encounters the charity collectors rather than at his office.

This is the first film version to actually show Scrooge’s father (here named Silas Scrooge), a character referred to in the book but never seen.

Scott’s Scrooge differs from most portrayals in that not only is he stocky rather than scrawny, he is portrayed as a ruthless businessman rather than an archetypal miser.

A subplot is added to explain what it was that caused Ebenezer to dedicate his life to the accumulation of money, putting the kindly youth on a path to hard-heartedness. During the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is shown that young Scrooge believed his lack of a fortune made him unworthy of Belle’s attention and that to deserve her he must be able to finance their future together.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. This is a tough one. George C. Scott’s version of Scrooge was released theatrically in Britain and aired on CBS here in America. After that it was only shown by local channels here, and not released on home video for several years due to ownership issues thru Scott’s estate. It wasn’t shown on national television in The States until American Movie Classics began airing it in 2007, over two decades after it was produced, and I still feel like it flies a bit under the pop culture radar. Conversely, The Polar Express was the tenth highest grossing film of 2004, which is impressive, and almost immediately became a holiday TV staple. I adore motion capture, and though the technology has noticeably improved in the past decade this is the film that got the ball rolling.

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles              

Quotes

I won’t quote it here, but the exchange between Neal Page and a car rental clerk is CLASSIC.

Those aren’t pillows! – Neal Page

You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill somebody!  – couple on the highway

Too long to quote here is a motel room conversation between an exasperated Neal Page and an obviously sad Del Griffith that is at the heart of the entire movie.

Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going. However, the radio still works. – Del Griffith

 

Factoids

No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent two hundred fifty cars for the rental car scene.

John Hughes was inspired to write the story after an actual flight he was on from New York to Chicago was diverted to Wichita, KS, thus taking him five days to get home.

The Marathon Car Rental scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade to the time the attendant ends the scene. In that sixty seconds The F Word is used eighteen times.

 

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The Santa Clause

Quotes

The Santa Clause: In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus in perpetuity until such time that wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design. – Bernard the Elf

Everybody likes Denny’s…it’s an American institution. – Scott Calvin

Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. – Charlie Calvin

I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions I should be a part of it. – Scott Calvin

 

Factoids

In the original film Tim Allen made a sarcastic remark which included the line “1-800-SPANK-ME.” A woman from Cleveland, OH called the supposedly-fictional number for her curious grandchildren and it turned out to be a phone sex line. In 1997, when Disney received complaints from parents whose children called the number and racked up huge phone bills, the studio take action and cut the line for future releases.

The role of Scott Calvin/Santa Claus was written with Bill Murray in mind. After reading the script and being offered the lead role, Murray declined, saying he didn’t think it suited his humor.

Television airings of this film usually edit a scene in which a doctor tells Scott to pull his shirt up for a heartbeat check and his heart beats to the tune of Jingle Bells.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. A couple of things must be considered. Obviously films about Santa Claus are a huge part of the whole Christmas movie thing, but that lack of distinctiveness can be a deficiency in a competition like this. The Santa Clause is a delightful origin story that gives one warm fuzzies, but I’m not sure how much it stands out from the crowd, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy. Conversely, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become a Thanksgiving tradition on par with turkey & pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Quotes

As any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic to the very first snow. Especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…well, something wonderful is bound to happen. – Narrator

Happy birthday! I am alive! What a neat thing to happen to a nice guy like me  – Frosty the Snowman

I must get that hat back! – Professor Hinkle

You’ve got to excuse him Sir. You see, he just came to life and he doesn’t know much about such things. – Karen

Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow, and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. Oh, it sometimes it goes away for almost a year at a time, and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again. – Santa Claus

 

Factoids

Rankin-Bass wanted to give the show the look of a Christmas card, so a greeting card & Mad magazine artist was hired to do the character and background drawings.

Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty, was a stand-up comedian known as The King of Deadpan.

 

 

 

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Holiday Inn

Quotes

“What happened to her millionaire?”…”Slight mistake there. He didn’t own millions, he owed them.”…”Poor girl. Always straying to greener pastures and finding spinach.” – Jim Hardy & Ted Hanover

He always has that look! It doesn’t mean anything emotionally. It has something to do with his liver.” – Ted Hanover

When a fellow is surprised to hear about his own wedding, brother that’s when I go to work with a clear conscience.” – Ted Hanover

 

Factoids

For the “drunk” dance Fred Astaire had two drinks of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take. The seventh & last take was used in the film.

The animated Thanksgiving sequence, in which a turkey jumps back and forth on the calendar between the third and fourth Thursday in November, is a topical reference to the “Franksgiving” controversy. In 1939 and 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’ attempted to change Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, instead of the fourth, in an effort to bolster holiday retail sales by starting the Christmas season one week early. This led to a joint resolution in Congress, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1941, officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

The firecracker dance sequence was added to the movie as a patriotic number, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place during filming.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Wow, this is a really difficult decision. At the end of the day, though credit must be given to Holiday Inn for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, I cannot overlook the fact that several holidays…Independence Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Easter, etc…are celebrated in the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July performance is incredible), but it dilutes the movie’s claim to being about Christmas (or even Thanksgiving), even though that is when it is traditionally aired on TV. Meanwhile, Frosty has been a beloved annual tradition every December for a half century.

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

Today we finish the first round of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you need to go back and catch up on the results thus far just click on the links to see what went down in the Candy Cane, Eggnog, & Mistletoe Divisions. I’m pleased with the pace we’ve set so I think we’ll take a break for a few days before moving on to Round 2. If you didn’t see your favorite holiday film in the competition don’t hesitate to leave me a comment asking “What up with that, dawg??”…or something to that effect. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Or maybe I just completely overlooked it. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

Director                                              Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

I feel like I’ve written just about everything there is to say about IAWL in the years since the inception of The Manofesto, but allow me to offer a brief refresher. The story was conceived by a Pennsylvania Civil War historian named Philip Van Doren Stern. The Greatest Gift was not accepted for publication for whatever reason, so Stern simply included it in his annual Christmas card mailings. Someone on his Christmas card list must have liked the short story, because it was subsequently published in 1944. A film producer saw the story and it eventually ended up in the hands of director Frank Capra. IAWL was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, & Best Director. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974, so due to it being in the public domain the movie became a popular late night staple during the holidays on local TV stations throughout the 70’s & 80’s until 1993 when the copyright was restored to Republic Pictures, who then licensed it to NBC in 1996. For the past two decades NBC had shown it only a couple of times every December (early in the month & again on Christmas Eve), but starting in 2016 USA Network (which is owned by NBC/Universal) added a few additional airings. Of course with streaming & other home video options none of that really matters anymore.

 

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Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

Starring                                              Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth. Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley

Director                                              Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

Personally I am more unconvinced of Love Actually’s claim to being a Christmas film than I am Die Hard, but I’m feeling generous. This is one of those movies…like New Year’s Eve, He’s Just Not That Into You, & Valentine’s Day…with a huge, very British, very talented ensemble cast involved in multiple stories that all seem to intersect by the end. There are those who love Love Actually, and maybe they are right. Perhaps I’m missing something or just being obtuse.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Wonderful Life. Believe it or not there are people that hate IAWL. Some people say “How can a movie about suicide be a heartwarming Christmas classic??”. Others remember when it used to be on TV a bazillion times every December and still hold a grudge, even though a) that hasn’t been the case for over twenty years, & b) there are other movies these days that are shown just as much as or more than IAWL used to be and those same people love those other movies. I guess folks just like what they like, and I happen to adore IAWL. If it’s not your cup o’ tea we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Love Actually is a perfectly delightful film, but not only is it severely overmatched here, it’s also a movie that I just haven’t watched often at all & can take or leave.

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

Zemeckis is back!! Actually this was his first foray into motion capture technology…and perhaps one of the earliest feature films utilizing it. The story is based on an award winning 1985 children’s book about a group of kids who ride a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays a half dozen different characters. I’m totally into motion capture and think it’s cool, but I understand that others find the animation disturbing for whatever reason. I am far beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus, but I’ll be darned if this movie doesn’t make me REALLY want to believe once again.

 

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Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

The Rotten Tomatoes score seems harsh, but I get it. With a title borrowed from the beloved Christmas carol you’d expect this movie to be a bit more uplifting, but it’s not. The story follows two neighbors who end up going to war during the holiday season when one of them decides to put up an elaborate light display that “can be seen from space”. I have to assume that the plot is inspired by those shows you see on The Travel Channel this time of year called Crazy Christmas Lights or something like that, and I think those shows & those types of gaudy displays may have been inspired by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Personally I prefer elegant & tasteful Christmas lights and can do without the rock music accompaniment, but to each their own. Anyway, in my opinion this movie isn’t as bad as the critics might indicate, if only because of the talented cast.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. I adore this movie. It is the very definition of holiday magic. Wouldn’t we all like to retain that childlike wonder that allowed us to believe in something as enchanting as Santa Claus?? Of course we would. Deck the Halls is better than a rotten 6% rating…but not much better.

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

Director                                              John Hughes           (Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go…back to Thanksgiving. However I think this is probably superior to any other Thanksgiving movie or show. It’s actually a road trip/buddy comedy that happens to be set at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge John Hughes fan. He wrote/produced/directed so many wonderful films. And the pairing of Candy & Martin?? Inspired. Brilliant. Comedy gold. I only wish they would have made more movies together. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday that is difficult to besmirch with commercialism. People don’t want gifts or candy or flowers. It’s not an excuse to party or blow things up. All that most folks want on Thanksgiving is to be at home with loved ones and enjoy a nice meal. This movie captures that desire in such a subtle & funny way that it kind of sneaks up on you.

 

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Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

A lot of the movies & shows you’re reading about here have been around for awhile…25 years, 35 years, 50 years, 75 years. This is one of the new kids on the block. It hasn’t had time to really ingratiate itself into our pop culture consciousness. It may or may not ever achieve that goal, but does merit inclusion in this exercise. Arthur is Santa’s youngest son, and he’s kind of the black sheep of the family. The North Pole is depicted as a high tech command center, Santa’s sleigh is the sort of ultramodern vehicle that NASA dreams about, & the annual Christmas Eve flight around the world is an intricate operation that’d make the U.S. military envious. The mantle of Santa Claus is passed from father to son, with the current titleholder, Malcolm, on the verge of retirement and his eldest, Steve, preparing to take the reins soon. But this particular Christmas Eve something goes awry and it’s up to Arthur, inept but resolute, to save the day. Arthur Christmas takes familiar territory and adds a futuristic spin, but instead of being cynical itself it is more of a fun commentary on Christmas cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I like Arthur Christmas well enough. It’s fresh, creative, & entertaining. But the competition is just too much. It has become almost as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, & the Macy’s Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, just one year after his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the charts. But it wasn’t until 1969 that CBS first broadcast the animated special based on the song. Nearly a half century later it is still a beloved annual tradition. While the song is a winter carol that has become tangentially associated with Christmas despite the holiday only being mentioned at the very end, saying “he waved goodbye saying ‘don’t you cry…I’ll be back on Christmas Day!’”, the special is set on Christmas Eve and features Santa Claus “resurrecting” Frosty after he’s been locked in a greenhouse by Professor Hinkle and melted.

 

 

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The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

Starring                                              Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Clare Danes

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

Dysfunctional family dramedy has become a common theme in holiday films. I really can’t relate because I’ve always gotten along with my family and look forward to visiting with them on holidays. At any rate, there are several subplots in The Family Stone, as everybody seems to have some kind of issue. They scream, they cry, they argue…but familial love wins in the end, as it should. The cast is phenomenal, from the sublime Diane Keaton & elegantly low-key Craig T. Nelson to the wittily charming Luke Wilson & radiant Rachel McAdams. The movie ends on a bit of a downer, which unfortunately impacts one’s lasting impression. The story stays with you for awhile, but not necessarily in a good way.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Come on…was there any doubt?? Look, I realize that Christmas can be very sad for many people, and Hollywood feels compelled to address that aspect. I get it…I really do. I will admit that…mostly because of the talented ensemble and nimble writing…The Family Stone has gotten its fair share of repeat views from me. However, at the end of the day I still choose for Christmas to be a joyous occasion despite the harsh realities of life. Maybe someday I’ll be the guy sitting alone in a dive bar on Christmas Eve nursing my whiskey and raging at the jolly masses while wondering why my life has gone so horribly wrong, but thankfully I’m not there yet. Frosty the Snowman is something I grew up with, and for a short time every December I get to bring my inner child out to play, which is awesome.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Did you know that the Holiday Inn chain of hotels got its name from this movie?? Well you do now!! Bing Crosby stars as a song & dance man who decides to escape the bright lights of New York and open a quaint Connecticut inn that will only be open on holidays. There is singing, dancing, romance, & hijinks, all centered around familiar celebrations on the calendar. Holiday Inn is mostly remembered for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, but there are memorable performances throughout. They don’t make movies like this anymore, which is a shame.

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

1991 will be forever be remembered by the masses as the year that launched the fabled career of actor Ethan Embry. And while he went on to star in cinematic masterpieces like Vegas Vacation, That Thing You Do, and Can’t Hardly Wait, it is this little holiday gem that might outlast everything else. The basic gist of the story is that two kids whose parents are divorced hatch a scheme on Christmas Eve to get them back together (spoiler alert: it works). For such an overlooked film the cast is actually quite stellar, including Thora Birch (who would go on to more notorious roles in American Beauty and…well…American Beauty is pretty much it), Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus, SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon, & the legendary Lauren Bacall. All I Want For Christmas was a box office bomb that the critics didn’t like, but found new life for awhile popping up on television, which is where I first discovered it. It’s not a great movie, but it is delightful enough.

 

The Verdict:       Holiday Inn. I am eternally indebted to my friend & brother The Owl for introducing me to this movie back in college. I pride myself on having good taste, and films like this display a level of class generally absent from the vast majority of modern entertainment. Would it even be possible to maintain a business that is open less than a dozen times per year?? I have no idea. But the concept sure does make a terrific foundation for this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

Director                                              John Pasquin (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

There was a brief moment in 1994 when Tim Allen starred in the top rated show on TV (Home Improvement), authored the best-selling book in the country (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), & played Santa in the #1 film at the box office. The Santa Clause was the first of a (unplanned…I assume) trilogy, and is indisputably the best of the three movies. It is an origin story suggesting that Santa is a character inhabited by different men at different times. In this case Scott Calvin…a divorced toy executive who has consistently disillusioned his young son…inherits the job when the current Santa falls off his roof and I guess dies…a morbid fact that is mercifully glossed over. Scott & his boy Charlie deliver gifts around the world and spend a night at The North Pole, but the real fun begins the next day when the new Santa thinks it was all a dream…until he slowly begins to morph into The Jolly Old Elf over the next few months. I’m a fan of Santa Claus origin stories, and this is one of the best.

 

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

It’s difficult to tell the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a half hour, yet it’s been tried several times with varying degrees of success. Taken at face value the Mickey Mouse version is perfectly charming. Disney created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 as a homage to Ebenezer Scrooge, and that tribute comes full circle in this show. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting, and a few other cartoon favorites make an appearance (Jiminy Cricket, Daisy Dick, Goofy, The Three Little Pigs, Chip & Dale, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, Minnie Mouse). Television aficionados may be interested to know that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell from The Andy Griffith Show) and Alan Young (Wilbur from Mister Ed) provide the voices for Goofy/Jacob Marley and Scrooge McDuck / Ebenezer Scrooge, respectively.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a great introduction to the story for small children, but at a running time of less than 30 minutes it only has time to hit the highlights, which is fine for short attention spans but not all that enticing to adults. There is also an issue with accessibility. I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I don’t think it has aired with any kind of regularity for a decade…maybe two. The Santa Clause instantly became a beloved classic twenty years ago. Sure it has some undertones emblematic of somber 90’s cynicism, but that is minimized in favor of Christmas magic. I love Santa origin stories, and though it has a modern spin at the beginning the outcome is decidedly vintage.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

I am a traditionalist in most aspects of life, and it has always been my belief that uniquely British characters from British novels should be portrayed by British actors in film adaptations. However, there are exceptions to most rules, and in this case I must admit that Virginia native George C. Scott is a worthy Ebenezer Scrooge. This version of Carol was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS here in America, but it was released in theaters in Britain and certainly has a big screen vibe. Like just about every other adaptation it takes certain liberties with the novel, adding & subtracting little things, but none are deal breakers. If you’re channel surfing and need your Scrooge fix you could definitely do worse.

 

 

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

There are no sacred cows in Hollywood. If they’ll remake Psycho, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Pink Panther then apparently all bets are off. This was clear way back in 1994 when a remake of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street was released. The thing is…it’s not that bad. Macy’s didn’t want to be involved and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional department stores fill in, but other than that and a few other modern updates the essence of the story remains. Alas, while the underrated Elizabeth Perkins as the jaded mother is luminous, the film itself lacks the innocent magic of the original, replacing it with subtle 90’s era cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. I don’t HATE the Miracle remake and I don’t LOVE this version of Carol, but I am used to there being a plethora of A Christmas Carol adaptations and accept that each of them tries to put their own unique spin on the story. This one brings a lot of good stuff to the table. 1994 wasn’t the first time Miracle on 34th Street was remade, but the others were TV movies made in the 50’s & 70’s that are easily ignored. The 1994 movie can’t be ignored and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it just doesn’t measure up.

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

My generation remembers Bob Hope as an aging comedian who frequently hosted variety show specials on NBC, including an annual show at Christmastime when he would introduce college football’s All-American Team, and also for regularly heading overseas to entertain American servicemen in places like Korea, Vietnam, & The Middle East. Hope always ended his shows with his signature song Thanks for the Memory, and the Christmas special traditionally featured him singing Silver Bells. But from the 1930’s thru the 60’s he was also a movie star, and Silver Bells became famous in part due to being sung in this film in which Hope plays a fast-talking racetrack hustler known as The Lemon Drop Kid because of his fondness for lemon drop candies. When The Kid inadvertently crosses a well-known gangster in Florida he is given until Christmas Eve to come up with the money he owes or else he’ll face…unpleasant…consequences. The Kid flees to New York, but when his gig as a street corner bell-ringing Santa Claus doesn’t work out he hatches a new scheme to raise donations for a phony old folks’ home. That plan is going alright until another mobster interferes. Hilarity & chaos ensue, but all’s well that ends well in a fun Christmas Eve climax.

 

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Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

I wanted to avoid crossover with this project and 80’s Movie Mania, which necessitated a few difficult decisions. At the end of the day that means Trading Places & Die Hard were saved for this competition, while Lethal Weapon was a part of 80’s Movie Mania. At any rate, Murphy & Aykroyd are both SNL alums who went on to bigtime movie stardom in the 1980’s. Their stars have since faded significantly, although they still pop up now & again (Aykroyd has gracefully transitioned into supporting roles, while Murphy still labors under the delusion that he’s relevant). Hot off the success of 48 Hrs. and just before the box office triumph of Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy took this role as a smartass homeless bum who basically switches lives with an erudite stockbroker at Christmastime as part of a social experiment/wager between two wealthy old geezers. The key is that the two guys are set up and not in on the joke. It is essentially a modern take on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince & the Pauper, and the two leading men really deliver. It is a smart, funny, well-written movie with an immensely satisfying conclusion.

 

The Verdict:       The Lemon Drop Kid. This is a tough call. It’s a great example of what exactly defines a Christmas movie…or not. Both are set at Christmastime. Neither story is dependent on Christmas as a factor in the plot…they both could be set at any other time of the year with few changes needed. However, I think the Christmas timeline plays a slightly bigger role in The Lemon Drop Kid, and we cannot overlook the fact that the movie introduced the world to what has become a very popular Christmas carol. There is an accessibility issue. The Lemon Drop Kid is never shown on television…not even on AMC or TCM, and it’s not available on streaming services. The only way I know to watch it is on YouTube, which is a shame. Trading Places is a great movie…one of the best of its era. But it just doesn’t jump into my mind when pondering Christmas movies.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

Welcome back to Merry Movie Mayhem!! If you have not yet perused first round action in the Candy Cane and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to check it out.

Before we proceed further it may be worth considering what exactly makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie, because there is legitimate dispute on the issue when it comes to certain films. Since I am the king of The Manoverse I make the rules here so it boils down to three things for me:

            *the film has to be set…mostly…during the holiday season

            *Christmas carols/songs must be part of the soundtrack, even if they’re just in the background

            *Christmas imagery…tree, lights, Santa Claus…needs to be present

Those are the biggies…the dealbreakers. After that it becomes a matter of opinion, and sometimes those opinions might not make sense to anyone else. Why is Die Hard a Christmas movie but Lethal Weapon isn’t?? Why does Mixed Nuts make the cut but Batman Returns does not?? Edward Scissorhands isn’t but Love Actually is?? I don’t put a lot of stock in the whole idea of “if you set the film’s storyline at any other time of year other than Christmas it wouldn’t change the plot”, because that is such a broad notion. The opposite could be just as true. If George Clooney & Brad Pitt were robbing Vegas casinos on Christmas Eve would that make Ocean’s Eleven a Christmas movie?? I think it might. If Doc Brown & Marty McFly had used their time machine to visit Christmases past & yet to come would that qualify Back to the Future as a Christmas film?? Perhaps. In the grand scheme of things I believe that most people know a Christmas movie when they see it, right?? As always I value the opinions of The Manoverse and welcome your feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

I never would have dreamed 28 years ago that Christmas Vacation would become the holiday entertainment juggernaut that it has evolved into, especially in the past decade. It is one of about a half dozen Christmas movies that is shown almost daily from Thanksgiving clear thru New Year’s, and oftentimes I see it popping up at other times of the year (usually as part of a Vacation marathon). I’m sure I don’t have to review the plot. Everyone has seen Christmas Vacation. Many people love it, some folks hate it. Either way, no one can deny its staying power.

 

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Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

Adam Sandler made this mess right around the time that his career had plateaued and was beginning to approach the abyss on the other side. I’m not Jewish, but to my knowledge Hanukkah films are rare. This is an animated story wherein Sandler gives voice to Davey Stone, a thirtysomething malcontent with an alcohol problem & a rap sheet. After Davey’s latest arrest he is sentenced to community service under the guidance of an elderly referee for a youth basketball league. The rest of the film focuses on the relationship between Davey & the old guy, which has its ups & downs. This is about the least heartwarming holiday film of all time, making slasher flicks about Santa Claus look like after school specials.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. Come on now…was there ever any doubt?? I think two hours of infomercials would be more entertaining than Eight Crazy Nights, and probably have just as much to do with Hanukkah. Believe it or not Sandler has done worse…but he’s also produced much better, funnier, & more memorable films. Meanwhile, Christmas Vacation is a certified classic that just seems to get better with age.

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

An advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward named Bob May created Rudolph in 1939. Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money and be a nice goodwill gesture. The oddball reindeer became the star of that coloring book (with accompanying poem). May’s sister just happened to be married to Johnny Marks, a songwriter whose hits would eventually include Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas. But in 1949 Marks’ career hadn’t gotten off the ground yet (no pun intended) and he adapted May’s poem into a song, which was then recorded by “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry. The song was a smash hit, and just over 15 years later an animated special was produced and began to air annually on NBC. It shifted over to CBS in 1972 and has now been a beloved Christmas tradition for a half century.

 

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Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

Starring                                              Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas

Director                                              Gary Trousdale (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beauty and the Beast)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

In comparison Shrek has only been a holiday tradition for about a decade, and calling it a tradition is being quite generous. Of course a quartet of movies spanning from 2001 to 2010 introduced us to the big green ogre & his quirky pals Donkey & Puss-in-Boots (a fifth film is rumored to be in the works), and he’s even made it to Broadway. The Christmas special has Shrek learning about Christmas so he can celebrate properly with his wife & children. Unfortunately all of his plans turn into chaos thanks to the well-meaning interference of his friends.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph.    I have absolutely nothing against Shrek. The movies are solidly entertaining, and the Christmas special is just dandy. Perhaps kids growing up right now will feel about it in 35 years the way that I feel about Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, et al. But for me Shrek is the newbie that I have no attachment to whatsoever, while Rudolph is a HUGE part of the whole Christmas zeitgeist.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Charles Dickens’ novella has been adapted for the big screen countless times, with several of those versions being part of this competition. And while you will find varying opinions of many of those movies there is almost unanimous agreement that the 1951 film starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is…at the very least…one of the best. I can’t say that it’s a faithful rendering of the book, as there are several plot points that are either expanded upon or entirely fabricated for the film. However, I don’t mind these changes all that much, especially since the film does capture the solemn tone of the book quite effectively.

 

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It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, David Arquette, Joan Cusack    

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

Be careful not to confuse this film with The Muppet Christmas Carol. This was a made-for-TV movie that originally aired on NBC, and it is basically a Muppet send-up of It’s A Wonderful Life. Kermit is despondent at the prospect of losing his beloved theater, so various characters show him what life would be like if he’d never existed. There are several human actors involved, including Mel Brooks, David Arquette, Willam H. Macy, the cast of Scrubs (which was a semi-popular NBC show at the time), Snoop Dogg, & Kelly Ripa. That’s way way way too much humanity for a Muppet movie. IAWL has been ripped off too many times to even fathom, and this is far from the worst tribute to a great film. However, it’s not even the best Muppet Christmas film!!

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge.    Neither is an original idea. Both are based on other works. Scrooge just happens to be a far better adaptation of its source material.

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

Director                                              John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go!! Yes…I do consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. NYPD Detective John McClane comes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to see his estranged wife at her company Christmas party. Winter Wonderland & Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! are part of the soundtrack. At one point a dead terrorist shows up with a Santa hat & the words “Ho Ho Ho” written on his shirt. Case closed my friends. Oh, and it also happens to be a great action flick, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t particularly like action flicks.

 

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The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

Hey, we’re all entitled to a bad day & the occasional foul mood, right?? Even Santa Claus isn’t always so jolly. In this stop motion animated classic from the prolific folks at Rankin-Bass ol’ Saint Nick is under the weather and isn’t sure anyone really believes in him anymore anyway, so he decides to skip the whole ordeal. Mrs. Claus helps the cause by playing two evil brothers…Heat Miser & Snow Miser (who both apparently control the weather)…against one another (with an assist from Mother Nature). Long story short…all’s well that ends well and Santa goes forth with his annual gift giving. You might have a hard time finding it on television in comparison to other Rankin-Bass classics, but Freeform (or whatever they’re calling that channel this week) usually has it on at some point.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard. This is a tough call. The debate about Die Hard’s worthiness as a Christmas film is legit, and though I obviously come down on the pro side that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the veracity of the argument. Conversely, TYWASC is indisputably a Christmas classic, but I’m not sure that it has held up well thru the decades. To be honest I don’t even recall it being that important of a viewing tradition in my childhood, and as an adult I can take it or leave it.

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

Starring                                              Will Ferrell, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Will Ferrell has to be considered one of the Top 5 alumni whose career was launched on Saturday Night Live, and that is mostly due to the staying power of Elf. As much as one might enjoy watching Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Wedding Crashers, or Blades of Glory none of those films has achieved the pop culture significance or made the kind of sustained entertainment impact that Elf has in the past 15 years. Buddy the Elf is the role Ferrell was born to play, and its popularity will probably outlive him.

 

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I can imagine the pitch to the studio back in the mid-80’s…”Santa…as an action fantasy!!”. It may help you wrap your head around the concept and understand why this film is what it is to know that it was produced by the same guys who produced the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and directed by the man who helmed Jaws 2. The Movie tells a…unique…Santa Claus origin story, and weaves in subplots involving an industrious elf and an evil toy manufacturer. The cast…Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, Burgess Meredith, among others…is solid, but the movie as a whole is largely style over substance.

 

The Verdict:       Elf.    In the three decades since its release Santa Claus: The Movie hasn’t really become a cherished holiday tradition. Oh sure, it has its fans…but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. And it hasn’t gotten a lot of airtime on TV over the years. I understand that technology has transformed the world and that virtually anything that has ever been produced can be watched with the push of a few buttons, but please understand that I’m an old school child of the 80’s and repeat viewings to me entail using my remote to flip thru the channels and catch whatever is on. Elf almost immediately took its place as a Christmas classic when it hit theaters a decade & a half ago, and its stature as lighthearted family fun has only grown in the ensuing years.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

More than three dozen animated television specials starring Charles Schultz’s comic strip characters from Peanuts have been produced from the 1960’s until just a few years ago. Several have been centered on holidays (there’s even one about Arbor Day), which makes sense because Schultz was a very devout man. This Thanksgiving story finds Peppermint Patty, Marcie, & Franklin inviting themselves over to Charlie Brown’s place for the holiday, and ol’ Chuck being too timid to tell them that he & his family will be heading out to Grandma’s house. Linus, Snoopy, & Woodstock are recruited to help, and when the kids all sit down at a ping pong table in the back yard they are served a hilarious meal of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans, & an ice cream sundae, which totally sounds like my diet. Luckily Grandma (unseen, as all adults are in Peanuts) invites all the children to her house for real food, while Snoopy & Woodstock stay behind and have their own feast.

 

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Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

The commercialism of Christmas has been a popular subplot for holiday films thru the years, and this one might be among the best at capturing the pathetic retail frenzy. Schwarzenegger stars as a busy, somewhat neglectful Dad (as many fathers are in Christmas movies) who waits until the last minute to find the toy that his son really wants to find under the tree. Every Christmas season has THE toy, right?? Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cube, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Xbox, Playstation. Parents spend time, energy, & money to get their child what every kid wants that particular year, only to see it collecting dust before spring arrives. At any rate, in this film that toy is a super hero action figure called Turbo Man. Dad quickly develops a rivalry with a weird mailman who is desperately seeking the same item. Meanwhile, a smarmy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman at his slimy best) has his eyes on Mom and successfully drives a wedge into the marriage. The whole movie crescendos to a really fun conclusion, and overall it’s a better film after you watch it a few times than one might think from a first impression.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. There are better Peanuts specials, and Jingle All the Way is a better movie than you may remember. However, while we all recognize the commercialization of Christmas as a bad thing I think an entire movie focused on it is a bit too cynical. Schwarzenegger can be funny (Twins is pretty good), but he is miscast here and would have benefitted from a better foil than Sinbad. Peanuts is what it is…and that’s why we’ve loved it for decades.

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

Although I’m not really sure what a director does when helming an animated film, I am a huge Zemeckis fan and was thrilled far in advance when I found out he’d be making a new version of the Dickens classic using performance capture technology. Jim Carrey’s shtick wore thin two decades ago, but his talent is undeniable and put to good use in an animated format that allows him to portray multiple characters. This is a fairly faithful interpretation of the source material, and technology allows scenes & characters to be depicted in fresh, distinctive, & inspired ways. Some are critical of the film’s dark tone, and Zemeckis probably does go overboard & have a little too much fun with the toys at his disposal, but one must remember that the book is rather macabre. Don’t blame the director for not caving into the temptation to make a more palatable “family friendly” adaptation…it’s been done.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

The legendary Jimmy Stewart’s career had peaked long before he ever made this little gem, although he would do a few more projects in the following decade. If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas you are far from alone. It was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and broadcast on NBC just a few days before Christmas 1980. Since then it is impossible to find on television and isn’t even available for streaming. The only avenue available to watch it…to my knowledge…is YouTube. It is a half hour in length and tells the story of Willie Krueger, an elderly janitor who lives in the basement apartment of the building that he takes care of. Willie is a lonely widower whose only companion is a cat named George, and he fills the void with Walter Mitty-esque fantasies. On this Christmas Eve Willie’s imagination has him conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, wearing finer threads than he can afford in real life, enjoying a delightful sleigh ride, welcoming carolers into a much nicer abode than he actually lives in, decorating a grander tree than the little tabletop one he has, & talking to Jesus as he lays in the manger at the Nativity. You might notice that in all of these dreams except the last one Willie, as opposed to his actual life, is surrounded by people who respect & appreciate him. While he is talking to Jesus he is, as in life, invisible to others…but in the presence of Christ there is no loneliness. This short film makes such a profound impact on multiple levels that it’s a shame it isn’t shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season.

 

The Verdict:       It’s a tie!! I’m sorry. It was never my intention to cop out in such a manner at any point in this competition, but I just can’t choose between these two. I like Zemeckis, love A Christmas Carol, & am smitten with motion capture animation. Some find the technology a bit creepy and believe its use in A Christmas Carol is too dark & scary, but I think the combination is fantastic. Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is difficult to find and repeat viewings are few, but its story is so delicately effectual that it must not be overlooked. Jimmy Stewart still had it even at 72 years old!! If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas please set aside some time to find it online. Trust me…you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

I have to give Nicolas Cage credit. There’s no way to typecast or pigeonhole him as an actor because he’s done a little bit of everything…comedy, action, drama, rom-coms. With films on his resume like Raising Arizona & Honeymoon in Vegas it can’t be said that he’s not funny. Yet having said that he feels…out of place…in this movie. The story follows three dimwitted brothers who head to a small Pennsylvania township (think modern day Mayberry) to rob a bank. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong and the trio is unable to make their escape, all while they are being treated warmly by the pleasant, unsuspecting citizens. I’m not a fan of Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carey is inexplicably annoying…but somehow it all works, atleast for me.

 

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

Quincy Magoo dates all the way back to the 1950’s when he starred in animated shorts that would precede feature films. Eventually he’d make his way onto television, and in the 90’s there was even a live action movie starring Leslie Nielsen. However, the most enduring legacy of Mr. Magoo is his take on Dickens, a fairly authentic telling of the story, or atleast as faithful as a less-than-an-hour long cartoon can be. I seem to recall this particular special being an annual thing when I was a kid, but in the past 25-ish years airings have been hit & miss, and I believe it is often heavily edited to allow for more commercials.

 

The Verdict:       Trapped in Paradise. I feel like I’m betraying my 80’s kid roots. Is Trapped in Paradise a good movie?? Not really. However, for reasons that I have alluded to on a few occasions it holds a special place in my heart, despite its shortcomings. I cannot get behind Magoo a) because repeat viewings have been scant (it’s hardly a Christmas tradition), & b) airings are usually edited significantly. I’m sure the original, full length show can be streamed, and maybe someday that’ll be the norm, but right now I’m still old school and want my Christmas movies & specials to be available the way they always were…thru mindless channel surfing.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Eggnog (Round 1)

Welcome back to the continuation of Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you have not yet checked out the exciting competition from the Candy Cane Division please be sure to do so. Today we focus on the Eggnog Division and a wide-ranging group of entertaining holiday stories. I hope everyone in The Manoverse has gotten their Christmas shopping started and are keeping warm while the temperatures are frigid & the snow flies outside. Here in West Virginia it has been unseasonably pleasant with no sign of snow, although I’m sure that’ll change soon enough. Stay safe, have fun, & never forget the reason for the season, that being the celebration of the glorious birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

Released                               11/18/83

Starring                                  Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon

Director                                  Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Porky’s, Rhinestone, Turk 182)

Rotten Tomatoes                  89%

A young boy in 1940s Indiana desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas, but his mother, teacher, & even Santa Claus himself all seem to be deadset against the idea. When A Christmas Story hit theaters in 1983 it wasn’t that successful. As a matter of fact it was released before Thanksgiving and quietly disappeared before the holiday it is named for even rolled around on the calendar. Three decades later, thanks in large part to a 24 hour television marathon that has become a Christmas Eve/Day tradition, it is adored by almost everyone who likes Christmas movies. I have ran into a few detractors here & there, but the marathon has been going strong for about 20 years, which seems to indicate that any negativity is negligible.

 

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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Released                               11/14/64

Starring                                  Pia Zadora

Director                                  Nicholas Webster

Rotten Tomatoes                  25%

Regularly considered one of the worst Christmas films ever produced, SCCTM became a “so bad you’ve got to see it” classic after being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90’s, thirty years after its initial release. The plot involves Martians kidnapping Santa Claus so he can help their children loosen up & have some fun, which is exactly as terrible as it sounds. I suppose Christmas film aficionados ought to see it atleast once “just because”, but it really is an hour & a half of your life that could be better spent doing literally almost anything else.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. I’m tempted to say that this isn’t a fair matchup, but I can’t imagine that Martians would fare well against any competition, so it may as well go down against what has to be considered one of the heavy favorites.

 

 

 

 

White Christmas                                              

Released                               10/14/54

Starring                                  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen

Director                                  Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood)

Rotten Tomatoes                  76%

 

Two WWII Army buddies become a successful song & dance act. They meet up with two sisters in the same business. The foursome heads to Vermont to put on a Christmas show at a cozy country inn that just happens to be owned & operated by the guys’ former commanding officer. Romance, hijinks, and…most importantly…plenty of singing & dancing ensue. White Christmas was conceived mostly to cash in on the success of the wonderful song, first introduced by Crosby twelve years earlier in the film Holiday Inn (which featured romance, hijinks, singing, & dancing at a cozy Connecticut country inn), and whether one views it as sort of corny or wistful reminiscence of a bygone era probably depends on your age and perception of what entertainment should be. I think it is really interesting that the same man directed both White Christmas and Casablanca.

 

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Serendipity

Released                               10/5/01

Starring                                  John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale

Director                                  Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie)

Rotten Tomatoes                  58%

I love rom-coms, and when you combine that genre with a Christmas film you theoretically should have a winner. The story involves two people who meet each other while Christmas shopping and hit it off, spending a delightful evening together in New York City. They don’t exchange contact information and leave it up to fate as to whether or not they’ll meet again. In a film like this the conclusion is inevitable, but the journey is what’s important, and Serendipity has its charms. John Cusack is an underrated actor that has had a sneaky good career, and this is his wheelhouse.

 

The Verdict:       White Christmas. Now THIS is an unfair matchup. Serendipity would win against many other films in this competition. It is a perfectly enjoyable movie with engaging actors in the two lead roles. But White Christmas…a rom-com before rom-coms were cool…is a masterpiece that is a must watch in my house every December, and on the random occasions when it’s on TV at other times of the year I’ll put aside anything I’m doing if at all possible and watch.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas                          

Released                                           12/9/65

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus Van Pelt

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Charles Schulz began writing the Peanuts comic strip in 1950, providing over 2000 newspapers with more than 18,000 strips for a half century. Numerous animated Peanuts television specials were produced over the years, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the first and probably the best. The story centers on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the holiday spirit, with pals like Lucy, Snoopy, & his little sister Sally being absolutely no help at all. It is sweet, guileless Linus, in one of the more elegantly profound moments in TV history, who finally explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas.

 

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Christmas with the Kranks

Released                                           11/24/04

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis

Director                                              Joe Roth

Rotten Tomatoes                              5%

Tim Allen hit a home run…mostly…with his Santa Clause trilogy, so it is logical that he would return to the land of Christmas movies seeking further success. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Allen & former Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther & Nora, a middle aged couple whose daughter has joined the Peace Corps. They decide to skip all the usual Christmas hubbub & expense and spend their money on a Caribbean cruise. Things don’t go as planned though, thanks in large part to a group of neighbors who are way too creepy & intrusive. The movie is based on a John Grisham novel called Skipping Christmas. I’ve never read it and doubt I ever will. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around a Grisham book being as bad as this movie.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Peanuts is a heartwarming classic, while Kranks is a sardonic & sad commentary on what the masses deem entertaining these days.

 

 

 

The Muppet Christmas Carol    

Released                                           12/11/92

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine, The Great Gonzo

Director                                              Brian Henson

Rotten Tomatoes                              69%

I tend to favor more traditional adaptations of the beloved Dickens novella, but there have been a couple of unique versions that really work. This is an unusual yet surprisingly authentic interpretation, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Those of us of a certain age who grew up with The Muppets as an integral part of our childhood can’t help but get a kick out of it.

 

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Four Christmases

Released                                           11/26/08

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon

Director                                              Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief)

Rotten Tomatoes                              25%

Countless movies & TV shows have embraced…even celebrated…the evolving definition of “family” due to contemporary issues like divorce and the…fluid…characterization of marriage. Hollywood likes to be hip & cool like that. Here we have Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon as a couple whose failure to successfully skip town for Christmas means that they are forced to visit all four of their divorced parents for the holiday, with each part of these families being dysfunctional. The movie isn’t without its charms, mostly because of the appealing charisma of the two leads, but despite a star studded supporting cast (Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth) it just falls flat.

 

The Verdict:       The Muppets. I like Vince Vaughn, and I know family chaos is a favorite holiday film trope, but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be laughing. The Muppet Christmas Carol puts a new spin on a classic that is fun for kids of all ages…even the grown up ones.

 

 

 

 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Released                                           11/20/92

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Night at the Museum)

Rotten Tomatoes                              24%

After the monster success of Home Alone a sequel was inevitable, and honestly the set up isn’t that far-fetched (or atleast it wasn’t in the pre-9/11 era). Lost in New York finds little Kevin…a bit older & wiser than in the original yet still a bemused child…all alone in The Big Apple while his family has jetted off to Florida. There he runs into his old adversaries The Sticky…nee Wet…Bandits, and must stop them from robbing a toy store on Christmas Eve. The subplots aren’t as engaging as in the first film, but the follow-up does actually work to a surprisingly entertaining degree.

 

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Free Birds

Released                                           11/1/13

Starring                                              Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Woody Harrelson

Director                                              Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I’ve become a fan of animated feature films in recent years, although the quality is admittedly inconsistent. Free Birds is a time travel yarn about two turkeys going back to 1621 in an effort to prevent their brethren from ever becoming the traditional main course for Thanksgiving. It’s a fun story, but hasn’t had the…stickiness…of other holiday movies. I saw it once at the theater and have never watched it again.

 

The Verdict:       Lost in New York. It may not retain all the magic of its predecessor, but the second Home Alone film is more than adequate entertainment. Repeat viewings are a big part of what makes these holiday classics so special, and in the few years since its initial release Free Birds has shown no signs of becoming the kind of film we’ll still be watching in a decade or two or three.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Released                                           12/14/70

Starring                                              Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              81% (a)

1934 saw the release of a song that has been messing with the fragile psyches of young children ever since. Whether one considers telling kids that Santa “sees when you are sleeping & knows when you’re awake” a little creepy or an effective Jedi mind trick is a matter of personal opinion, but it’s a tune that has long since become an ingrained part of secular Christmas tradition. A few decades later Rankin-Bass borrowed the title for this charming origin story explaining how everyone’s favorite jolly old elf came to exist, including his battles with the surly Burgermeister Meisterburger and romance with schoolteacher Jessica, the future Mrs. Claus. Town might get a bit lost in the shuffle amidst the abundance of animated holiday specials, and its outdated “technology” certainly seems quaint nowadays, but they still show it on TV every single year, so that says a lot.

 

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 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Released                                           11/3/06

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Martin Short

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              15%

The third leg of the Santa Clause trilogy finds Scott Calvin, aka Santa, expecting a baby with Mrs. Claus, dealing with the in-laws, & battling Jack Frost for control of the North Pole. The cast is amiable & talented, but they just don’t have good material from the screenwriters. Escape Clause is a little too…manic…for my taste and isn’t nearly as good as its two predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Despite the ample talent of its cast and a premise that isn’t that terrible The Escape Clause tries to pack too much zaniness into one movie. Conversely, Town presents a low-key, entertaining, & delightfully plausible Santa Claus origin story.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1999)                         

Released                                           12/5/99

Starring                                              Patrick Stewart

Director                                              David Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

It isn’t a feature film. It isn’t animated. It isn’t modernized. 1999’s made-for-TV presentation of A Christmas Carol is a straightforward, somber, mostly faithful telling of the tale…just as Dickens would have wanted. The attraction here is Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Stewart had finished his run as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation a few years earlier, and has mostly escaped being typecast in the years since. TNT still shows this version of Carol a few times each December, and I recommend giving it a whirl.

 

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Rise of the Guardians

Released                                           11/21/12

Starring                                              Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman

Director                                              Peter Ramsey

Rotten Tomatoes                              73%

What happens when a few of childhood’s most cherished characters team up to save the world?? Guardians presents Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, & The Sandman as a group of ass kicking superheroes who recruit Jack Frost to help them stop The Boogeyman from ruining childhood…or something like that. For those that are paying attention there is a bit of almost profound social commentary about childhood, dreams, fear, & feeling invisible, but it doesn’t feel preachy. Guardians hasn’t latched onto the pop culture consciousness in the years following its release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is actually a tough decision. It’s not the best Carol adaptation, but it does remain faithful to the book and it does have Patrick Stewart. That’s enough for me.

 

 

 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Released                                           12/8/74

Starring                                              Joel Grey, George Gobel

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

A century & a half after the poem from which it borrows its title was written came this animated tale about an anthropomorphic mouse who ticks off Santa Claus by publishing a letter stating that the townspeople don’t believe in him anymore. An idea is hatched to placate ol’ Kris Kringle by having the clock in the town square play him a tune on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues. The story has very little…if anything…to do with the beloved poem.

 

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Prancer

Released                                           11/17/89

Starring                                              Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda

Director                                              John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly)

Rotten Tomatoes                              67%

Anytime you can get Sam Elliott, Abe Vigoda, & Cloris Leachman in the same cast I’m intrigued. The story is about a little girl who befriends a reindeer that she believes is one of Santa’s famous flock. Drama ensues. Honestly, Prancer is a bit of a downer in comparison to other holiday entertainment. I feel like the story had possibilities but is dragged down by poor directing & cinematography.

 

The Verdict:       Serendipity. Wait…what?!??? What just happened?? Well, this is my concept and I make the rules, so I’m calling an audible and giving a wildcard victory to Serendipity. I can count on one hand the number of times in almost 30 years that I’ve watched Prancer. I just find it visually unappealing and tedious on a variety of levels. TTNBC is pleasant enough, but amongst all of the greatness that Rankin-Bass produced it just doesn’t measure up. It isn’t easy to find on television, and if I miss it I don’t really notice or care. You’re welcome John Cusack.