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: 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.

100 Favorite Movies…..36-40

It is more than likely after today’s sojourn into cinema that we’ll be taking another little break from this series. There are some other things that The Lord is laying on my heart to write, some that I have already begun such as the Sermon on the Mount analysis and the examination of the Fruits of The Spirit. I do not anticipate that this breather will be a few months like last time…more like a few weeks. Until we pick things back up, please enjoy this entry and take a look around The Manofesto at the other subject matter I attempt to write about with some semblance of intelligence and affection.


 

 

40 Cast Away

Any hardcore sports fan will tell you that success in baseball requires a collective effort, as does football…but in basketball one superstar can put a team on his back and carry them a long way toward victory.  Similarly, in film, occasionally a single performance is so brilliant that it makes an otherwise flawed film great. Tom Hanks is another actor, like Jimmy Stewart & Robin Williams, who seems equally adept at comedy and drama. I tend to prefer his more lighthearted performances, but that is a byproduct of my overall gravitation toward comedy and not really a commentary on Hanks’ abilities. In 2000’s Cast Away Hanks plays Chuck, a globetrotting FedEx systems guru who is constantly called to all corners of the world to put out fires (in a figurative sense). He is on the verge of proposing to his understanding girlfriend Kelly on Christmas Eve when he has to fly off on yet another problem solving endeavor. He tells her “I’ll be right back”, but his plane crashes and he ends up marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. The plane crash scene is attention-grabbing and disturbingly realistic, but in a good way. A large chunk of the story is then told on the island, as we see Chuck evolve…or maybe devolve…from a harried, Type A, always on the run, white collar yuppie wannabe into a lonely, boney, grizzled survivalist. The island scenes are, in my opinion, sublime. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and it’s only the subtle, skillful craftsmanship of Tom Hanks that keeps us invested. Cast Away should be shown to every acting student in order to teach how a performer can convey so much with their eyes, small gestures, and sheer physicality. I cannot avoid spoiling things by saying that Chuck does find a way off the island after four years and is rescued. His return home is the portion of the film that is a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud the writers and director Robert Zemeckis for not giving into the temptation to give us the trite, happy ending. Kelly has moved on with her life, gotten married and had children, and that is dealt with effectively. And there is a scene where Chuck’s co-workers throw him a welcome back party complete with a smorgasbord that includes crab legs. Chuck picks one up and tosses it aside dismissively, which is absolutely exceptional. The man has just returned from a deserted island where he has eaten nothing but seafood for four years and these thoughtless jackasses put that kind of stuff on the buffet?? It is almost a throwaway moment, but for me it is one of the most memorable scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the ending leaves something to be desired. Chuck has held onto one unopened package that washed up on the island and delivers it. The note he leaves says “this package saved my life”, which I don’t get. Maybe I am just being thick, or overanalyzing. Then he comes to a crossroads…literally. The film ends with Chuck standing in the middle of a four way road with a slight grin on his face. It’s a very odd ending that I suppose was meant to have a thoughtful, ponderous tone. Instead it just leaves me…every time I watch…thinking “That’s it??”. At any rate, the film’s shortcomings are trumped by Hanks’ unforgettable performance and its “read between the lines” commentary on the value of time and the importance of priorities. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on what happens after Chuck’s re-entry into civilization, but that likely would have meant shaving the amount of time spent on the island scenes, which would probably lessen the overall impact.

 

39 The Shawshank Redemption

Sometimes I wish Hollywood could figure out a way to put Morgan Freeman in every movie and television show. He automatically makes whatever he is in better. He has a certain something…call it class, or maybe gravitas…that draws the viewer in like a magnet. In 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, Freeman plays Red, a grizzled veteran of prison life and a man with “connections” who is able to get his fellow prisoners almost anything they want, which makes him an important guy. Red becomes good friends with the newly arrived Andy, played by Tim Robbins in his only notable performance outside Bull Durham. Andy has been wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He begins to become an important guy like Red by tutoring fellow inmates to get their GED and helping the guards with their taxes. The warden utilizes Andy’s skills to launder kickback money. Eventually, after 20 years, Andy escapes in a unique and unforgettable way that involves a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster, exposing the warden’s illegal schemes in the process. Not long after Red is paroled after having spent 40 years at Shawshank for a murder he did actually commit. The ending is all about hope and…well…redemption. But before we get to that ending we get realistically harsh glimpses of prison life, from brutal & crooked guards to gang rape to the suicide of an old convict who has been released but cannot function “on the outside”. The Shawshank Redemption is not light entertainment, and thus it probably ranks lower than many films of lesser quality on this list simply because it isn’t the kind of movie that one watches over and over again on a lazy rainy Saturday on one of the abundantly available cable TV channels. Or atleast it’s not the kind of movie I am going to watch that often. When I do watch stories like this my palate has to be immediately cleansed with something frivolous and optimistic. Nonetheless, Shawshank is a brilliantly written tale with a cast second to none.

 

38 Best in Show

I talked about my affection for mockumentaries when we looked at This Is Spinal Tap, and Best in Show is the funniest yet. Maybe being a dog owner enhances the experience?? I don’t know. There is a group of actors…Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, & Jennifer Coolidge…that have done several of these types of films together, all directed by Guest. The story centers around an eclectic group of dog owners all headed to the same show in Philadelphia. The show itself is a parody of the Westminster Dog Show held every spring at Madison Square Garden and The National Dog Show shown every Thanksgiving on NBC immediately following the Macy’s Parade. The owners portrayed include a redneck hound dog lover, a clueless airhead heiress engaged in the love that dare not speak its name with her dog’s lesbian trainer, an uptight yuppie couple, a middle aged Florida couple who keeps coming across men the wife has had sex with, and a humorously effeminate gay couple. We also get to meet the folks who actually produce the dog show, and the highlight is a clueless, over-the-top announcer that says things like “which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?” and “I went to one of those obedience places once. It was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts.” It’s all very absurd and that is kind of the point. There isn’t any message, no moral to the story, no lessons to be gleaned. It’s just a good time. Try this though…watch Best in Show and then watch one of the real dog shows. You will see just how perfectly the movie captures the essence of the actual event, and that’ll make the movie even funnier.

 

37 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

The parade of Christmas movies continues. Lost in New York is a sequel to 1990’s Home Alone, which we will discuss down the road. I feel safe in assuming that the vast majority of folks have seen both films. The sequel uses the same formula as the original, only changing the setting. And while that may indicate an all too prevalent lack of creativity, it is also quite logical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? The question I had when this film first arrived in theaters in 1992…and I am sure I was not the only one…was “How in the world can these idiotic parents accidentally ditch their kid AGAIN??” The answer is actually rather clever, the only part of the story with any originality. Once little Kevin has been separated from the pack he ends up in The Big Apple and is having a rollicking good time shacked up at the posh Plaza Hotel. But coincidentally the bumbling thieves from the first film end up in New York too, plotting to rob a toy store on Christmas Eve. Kevin discovers the plan and foils the robbery. There is an extended scene of cartoon violence just as in the first film, this time making use of an absent aunt and uncle’s currently undergoing extensive renovations home. Meanwhile the rest of the family is in Florida until the police discover that Kevin has used his Dad’s credit card in New York. The story is completely predictable and we can see the ending a mile away, but I don’t care. This is a funny movie and a holiday tradition. Is it on the same level as some of the more renowned Christmas classics?? No. I would put it a level below most of them. I could have done without the pious subplot involving the homeless pigeon lady, and the preachy toy store owner is a weak but necessary plot device. But those are small points of contention. Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern are once again sufficiently amusing as the crooks, and Rob Schneider & Tim Curry are modestly humorous as maybe the most inept hotel employees in history. The family plays its necessary part. The city itself is always an effective co-star in the myriad movies and television shows set there. I suppose my affection is, in this case, more a function of repeated viewings than possibly any other movie thus far. Lost in New York is inexplicably on random television channels throughout the year, so I have watched it a lot. I am fully aware that it isn’t high art or critically acclaimed, but it is innocuous enough and suits my tastes just fine.

 

36 Halloween

Let us segue from Christmas to Halloween. I am not a big horror guy. I just get no joy out of seeing some deranged serial killer mow through an entire cast of characters with a knife or chainsaw or other sundry instruments of doom. People who seem a bit too fascinated with blood n’ guts have a chemical makeup in their brains with which I cannot identify. That being said, Halloween is the one movie of its genre that I thoroughly enjoy and watch annually (during the appropriate season of course). Just to be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 John Carpenter original and not the fairly recent Rob Zombie “reimagining”. I haven’t seen that one yet and probably never will. Carpenter’s film introduces us to Michael Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister to death when he was six years old on Halloween night and has been in a mental institution for 15 years. He escapes…on Halloween…and returns to his hometown. In hot pursuit is the obsessed Dr. Loomis, who has been treating Michael all these years but at some point gave up because he realized the boy was “pure evil”. We also meet teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in what was her first film role. Michael Myers seems to have an odd fascination with Laurie Strode and stalks her throughout the movie, killing several innocent bystanders along the way. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween is because it really isn’t all that bloody, atleast by today’s standards. The producers didn’t have much of a budget, so they rely mostly on atmosphere and ambiance, and that works really well. Halloween isn’t so much gory as it is eerie and suspenseful. The story is well written and not really all that out in left field. The use of our scariest holiday is inspired and the music is perfect. I particularly enjoy Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis. He is borderline maniacal himself in his dogged hunt for the killer. As with so many other horror films Halloween spawned countless sequels, each one progressively more ridiculous, atleast until Jamie Lee Curtis was brought back into the mix after two decades and participated in two follow-ups that basically ignored all the insipidly silly chapters that preceded them. But even those two movies couldn’t live up to the magic of the original. Sometimes the right mix of circumstances converges and we get lightning in a bottle, and it is nearly impossible to ever repeat. Such is the case with Halloween. I would be remiss if I did not mention Halloween II, which was made 3 years after the first but the story picks up exactly where the first film left off. Michael stalks Laurie in a hospital, slowly killing various nurses and staff. We eventually learn that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister and that’s why he is after her. Michael and Dr. Loomis both supposedly die at the end, but of course death is oftentimes not permanent in the slasher genre. I just cannot put Halloween II in the list, even as a backdoor tie. The violence and gore is increased noticeably and unnecessarily, and there just seems to be something missing. It is certainly much better than the countless sequels that would follow, but not on par with its predecessor. As I said, lightning in a bottle is almost never captured again.