'Tis the season, and thus the time (and the only time) to watch some Holiday films. Rather than to rewatch the same old classics each year, I prefer to always watch films I haven't seen before (though I can rewatch Die Hard, Gremlins and Nightmare Before Christmas just about endlessly). So, here's a medley of Five Festive Films ranging from classic to crap.
Christmas Story (Joulutarina, 2007)
Director: Juha Wuoljoki
No, not the comedy about the bespectacled kid wanting a BB gun for christmas (we'll get to that). This finnish fairy tale is relatively recent, but already gets steady airtime in finnish TV. The film does like many Hollywood franchise starters like to: goes to the roots of a particular legend. But as anyone who has seen Santa Claus: The Movie or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians knows all too well, Santa isn't usually a very good protagonist on celluloid.
The premise of Christmas Story itself feels calculated. For the information of my foreign readers, Finland has a strange obsesion to prove Santa Claus is Finnish. As an example, they poured a shitload of government money to this movie, which is little more than a travel advertisement to Lapland. There are long, lingering shots of beautiful landscapes, but a boring story and theatrical acting. It's just like most other finnish films made today, then. No wonder we usually do so badly at international film festivals.
Santa grows up as a little boy called Nikolas, who goes to live in different houses each year in his poor village. As the switch to a new house happens in Christmas, he leaves presents for the children of the house. As time goes on, he gets more and more obsessed of giving gifts to all the children.
It's nice that Santa has also shades of grey in his character, but for a fantasy film, everything happening in the film is pretty mundane and way too realistic. All the magic is left to the imagination of the viewer, which sounds like a good idea, but is executed poorly here. Where did Santa hire his elves? Where does Mrs. Santa come from? Why is Santa obsessed with children being naughty and nice? Why does he watch us while we are sleeping? And why does he lust after mommy? These are just some of the questions the film has no intention of answering. For a cheery christmassy feel-good film it sure the plot revolves a lot around sorrow, pity, regret and obsessive behaviour.
If you will watch only one Finnish Santa Claus movie, I recommend Rare Exports. At least that one was based on the actual Finnish pagan god, not the German saint who was developed into a marketing figure in the United States. Santa is multi-national, not in any way Finnish.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Director: Bob Clark
This is the more popular Christmas Story in most of the world, yet I suppose not in Finland as I had never seen the film before recently. This cult comedy is about little Ralphie Baker (Peter Billingsley) who gets ready for christmas in a small American town in the 1940's. The preparations, toy lists, wait for Santa, everything is told from a prespective of a child pretty well. It seems children in the 40's weren't that much different from the children in the 80's when this was made, or in the early 90's when I was that age. They all felt enthusiastic, anxious and a little fearful around Christmas just because they hoped they would get everything they wanted from Santa. Ralphie's misadventures in school, in the playground and at home are narrated by a much older Ralphie, played by Jean Shephard.
I thought the best thing in the film, however, was not in its depiction of child culture, but rather in little touches. My favorite character was Ralphie's Old Man, Mr. Parker (Darren McGavin). The scenes where he is watching his family acting obnoxious, whether the kids are porking up their food with their mother encouraging, or horribly singing Jingle Bells out of tune, it's clear that the man would wish to be as far away from them as possible. The threat of spending the holidays indoors with them seems unbearable. For the kids the father is also a sort of Punisher, the supervisor who will straighten out behaviour that's out of the line. He is also has a soft spot for awful kitch, and is not well beloved by dogs. This all doesn not mean that the man hasn't got his heart in the right place. In the end he will give his sone the present, which will probably not be a good idea.
Seeing as director Bob Clark also directed Black Christmas, he seemed to have the right idea about the holiday. A Christmas Story is a bit too American and a bit dated for me to want to watch it every year again and a again, but it holds well even when watched first as an adult. I suspect it would go down well with the kiddies, too.
An American Carol (a.k.a. Big Fat Important Movie, 2008)
Director: David Zucker
As this happened to be one of the last films of Leslie Nielsen, Dennis Hopper and, um, Gary Coleman, I was intrigued to watch this. I didn't expect it to be good, but as even Scary Movies 3 & 4 had their moments, there was no way David Zucker could fail, even if the movie's premise sounded a little too neo-conservative for my tastes.
Yeah, right. The fact that it features a Paris Hilton cameo tells you enough about this films "quality".
It was absolutely horrible, Meet the Spartans-sized bad. For starters, even though the film is loosely based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the film itself is set around the 4th of July. As it's not actually a Christmas movie I felt doubly stupid for watching this piece of shit.
The moronic documentary directory Michael Malone (Kevin P. Farley) hates everything about America and is smelly and fat. That's why three ghosts appear to show him what America is all about. And that includes shooting liberals who don't share your views and being ready to blow up every arab there is because they might all be terrorists. And it's so absurd to think Christians might ever do anything bad to anyone with their views or actions that it's a subject of a skit.
Now, I have nothing against gross-out comedy and I can handle different political views in films (I usually embrace them, such as Charles Bronson's vigilantist films). That being said, this was not so much conservative, as so crazily right-wing it seems a campaign film for Tea Party candidates. The film begins with a joke how all arabs are named Mohammed Hussein (seriously), does plenty of bad terrorist jokes and it's all downhill from there. Eat your heart out, Chris Morris.
If it all were made with a tongue-in-cheek sillyness that would suggest that the whole film is a big joke, it would be just fine, but sadly the film is also preachy as hell. It's the kind of film that critizises Michael Moore for showing only one side of the truth in his films, yet cuts corners in just about every one of its arguments at the same time. And sure enough, like all poor conversation stirrers, Zucker likes to pull the Hitler card as an argument to anything. The overall message seems to be that because The United States of America is the world's greatest country, one is a traitor to his own country to critizise it in any way. A good citizen just accepts anything the officials tell him to. And of course that the war against terrorism is the worst threat America has faced since Nazism. It's sad to see Communism doesn't rank that high on the American list of biggest threats of all time any more. In addition to the afore mentioned dead celebrities, Zucker has lured the Hollywood conservative likes of Kelsey Grammer and Jon Voight to do roles in his bug-crazy near-fascist fantasy. Seriously, the film portrays African-Americans only in a scene where they perform modern slaves (because that's what would have happened if The Civil War had been resolved with diplomatic means) and liberals wanting to seperate church and state are portrayed as deadly zombies that should be shot to the head.
The people responsible for this drivel would deserve it more. It did have one good joke, which infuriates me, as it pains me to say anything positive about this. The worst film I've seen in a long, long, long time.
Director: Richard Donner
For a much better modern adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, I had to turn to Bill Murray. Good ol' Bill, he never fails. Except when he made Garfield, of course.
Bill Murray plays a TV executive that's a real dick to his employees, family, the poor in general and to his long lost love, played by Karen Allen. And that, of course nothing plays to the strengths of the film's lead actor than the ability to act a complete douchebag. After firing a back talking employee, putting a scary promo of a heart-warming Christmas special on air and humbugging just about half of NYC's population (including Miles Davis' street orchestra), Bill gets a meeting from a ghost of a long-lost buisness partner. Now, the film is quite close to being a horror-comedy. Yet, the ghastly sequences are done in a tongue-in-cheek manner that reminiscens Creepshow and the likes. Probably the scariest moment in the film comes when the rotten zombie ghost tangles Bill Murray from a scyscraper window and his wrist starts to rot off. For someone afraid of heights, this makes a dizzyingly terrifying scene.
Bill meets up with several more ghosts, and as the story goes, after seeing himself dead in the future, he decides to change his ways. The ending is a bit overkill in all its feel-goodiness. I would've gotten enough christmas spirit fom just Karen Allen's smile. Boy, that gal sure has a beautiful smile. But anyway, the film delivers plenty of laughs and a classic character for Bill Murray. I don's see why I wouldn't want to watch this again, come next christmas.
Don't Open 'Till Christmas (1984)
Director: Edmund Purdom
I have a weird fondness of various Christmas-themed horror films. So I had to see one for this article as well. Usually it is Santa Claus who does the slaughtering. yet in this British slasher classic, it is Santa Clauses who get the axe. It has everything that a good slasher should have. Plenty of funny deaths (one santa gets impaled with a spear through the mouth when blowing on a party whistle, one has his penis cut off while urinating) and some gratitious boobs. The plot itself is the most basic one one can have, with police pursuting the killer that seems to always be one step ahead, and a heroic journalist slowly uncovering better evidence. If the film wasn't so outrageous in its violence, it would be your standard Halloween-carbon copy. Yet with the Santa theme, it is a fun ride. And the present that ends the film is quite unforgettable.
★ or ★★★★★
OK, that's enough of holiday cheer for this time. Merry Christmas to both my readers and if people should happen to stumble to this post, Happy Hanukkah, A Crazy Kwaanzaa and a solemn and dignified Ramadan to you as well! Or Happy festivus for the Rest of Us!