Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 2)

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

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation             vs.              Elf

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Home Alone                vs.              How the Grinch Stole Christmas        

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: 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.