WEEKEND MOVIE MARATHONS: Jim Carrey

“I’m retiring…probably. I have enough. I’ve done enough. I am enough.” That is what Jim Carrey said in a recent interview. Do I believe him?? Of course not. Much like boxers, pro wrestlers, & aging rock stars I don’t think actors ever really retire. They can always be coaxed into a “comeback” to enjoy the spotlight “one last time”. Carrey hasn’t been a hot commodity in Hollywood in several years, so I’m not sure anyone would notice if he really did quit altogether, but I feel quite confident in predicting that he’ll continue to make movies here & there. However, his “retirement” proclamation seems like a great excuse to enjoy a Weekend Movie Marathon, much like we’ve already done with Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, and Ivan Reitman.

Friday Night 

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

This stupid film is what made Jim Carrey a superstar. I say “stupid” with all due respect, because I have no problem with goofy, mindless, foolish entertainment that exists for no significant reason other than to make people laugh. No life lessons, no deep philosophies, no connection to real life whatsoever…just belly laughs, because laughter really is the best medicine. Since he never won a Super Bowl his supporting role in Ace Ventura may be Dan Marino’s greatest contribution to pop culture, and I’d love to shake the hand of the casting director who listened to Wild Thing Funky Cold Medina and decided Tone Loc would make a good cop.   Ace Ventura has a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is expected. Actually, I’m surprised it’s that high given the austere disposition of most critics. Conversely, it was the 16th highest grossing film of 1994, making more money at the box office than Pulp Fiction & Tombstone amongst others. A sequel was released a year later, but the lightning had escaped the bottle. 

Saturday Matinee 

Man on the Moon

I’m all about biopics. I vaguely recall comedian Andy Kaufman from his supporting role on Taxi & his infamous altercation with pro wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman in 1982, and at first I thought Carrey was an odd choice to portray him in a movie. The strange thing is that Carrey’s casting turned out to be the best decision amongst a host of poor choices made by the filmmakers, including having the actual cast of Taxi appear as themselves in scenes set nearly two decades earlier. Carrey should’ve been nominated for an Oscar, but had to settle for a Golden Globe. 

Saturday Night 

The Truman Show

Reality TV was barely a thing in 1998, making The Truman Show seem quite prescient in hindsight. Carrey stars as a man whose entire life has been a reality show, only he has no idea. It’s a dramedy, which is my wheelhouse, and the performances are terrific. This was the first time that Carrey was robbed of an Academy Award nomination, although Ed Harris was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (he lost). There is a scene near the end of the film when the whole world seems to be glued to their televisions to see what will happen with Truman. When the show suddenly goes dark (if you’ve seen the movie you know why) crowds of people are shown in a brief moment of confusion before simply changing the channel, quickly moving on & resuming their lives. It’s a fleeting yet powerful moment that serves as accurately cynical commentary on our society. 

Sunday Matinee 

A Christmas Carol

I’ve written extensively about A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella that has been adapted into a decidedly mixed bag of films in the past century. In 2009 director Robert Zemeckis gifted us with a motion capture digital animated version of the story, with Carrey portraying multiple characters (Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, & Yet to Come). Motion capture seems to be an oddly polarizing technology…some people love it, a lot of folks hate it. Personally, I’m a fan. I also respect movies that remain faithful to the book they’re  based on, and this film is a remarkably authentic translation of Dickens’ tale, especially given the fact that it is animated. Critics & moviegoers had a tepid response, but it has become part of my annual Yuletide tradition.

Sunday Night 

Liar Liar

This is Jim Carrey at his comedic plateau. Sure, he made Me, Myself, & Irene (not terrible by any means) & Bruce Almighty (you probably like it better than I do, although I don’t hate it) afterward, but certainly his roles started to lean toward the dramatic and/or the completely forgettable as a new century dawned. The premise…an attorney who is unable to lie for 24 hours…is inspired. How we get there is reminiscent of the 80’s Tom Hanks classic Big, but I’m willing to overlook the mystical contrivance since it leads to a comic showcase for Carrey’s unique skills, a more polished rendition of his Ace Ventura persona. Critics & audiences both gave Liar Liar two thumbs up, and it was the third highest grossing film of the year (Titanic was released right before Christmas 1997, so it was the box office champ of 1998…but with just a couple of weeks in theaters it was still the 7th highest grossing film of ‘97).

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: 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.