By Ezra Stead
Yes, I know this should be “12 Days of Christmas Movies.” Listen, it’s the holidays, guys; cut me some slack. Anyway, Christmas is far from my favorite holiday, as evidenced by my much more thorough Halloween article (over four times as many movies in that one, folks!), but I wanted to take some time this year to look at some rather off-the-beaten-path movies, as well as a couple I had seen before, but felt it was time to revisit. Here they are, in the order in which I watched them. Happy birthday, Jeebus!
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL – a delightful and remarkably faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic, starring Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge (Ebenezer apparently went the way of Adolph as a first name choice), Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, and the Great Gonzo as Dickens himself. The biggest deviation from the source material is the casting of not one but two Jacob Marleys, in the form of crusty old hecklers Statler and Waldorf. Michael Caine gives a typically excellent performance, with far more emotional depth than you’d expect from a Muppet movie, and the film ends on a positive, Sesame Street-esque educational note: “If you’d like to know more, read the book.” ****
I AM: SANTA CLAUS – an unusual and frequently funny documentary about the phenomenon of real-bearded Santas, many of whom take the responsibility of being St. Nicholas seriously all year-round. One of the Santas in training is pro wrestling legend Mick Foley, who serves as a sort of audience surrogate to the world of gay Santas, swinging Santas, and even one Long Islander who has had his name legally changed to Santa Claus. ***1/2
LOVE ACTUALLY – the first time I saw this movie was with my girlfriend at the time, and I think I was just so relieved that it was less boring than that Joel Schumacher Phantom of the Opera movie she made me watch that I thought I really liked it. Watching it again without a cute blonde who loved every second of it, however, the film’s flaws became more evident. This is the kind of movie in which a character unironically (and awkwardly) says, “All I want for Christmas is you,” and within 15 minutes, someone sings the Mariah Carey song of the same name. This is the type of movie in which more than one character does a victory dance after finally getting a first kiss. This is the type of movie in which everyone falls in love easily and immediately, with the most obvious person in their social circle, and big moments are scored with overbearing pop songs. With its disparate but intertwining storylines, it plays like a romantic comedy version of Babel. The only thing that saves it is an ensemble cast of very good actors, but even the likes of Colin Firth can’t save his abysmal storyline. Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and legendary funnyman Liam Neeson fare a bit better with theirs. **1/2
WHITE REINDEER – this is a Christmas movie for people like me who prefer Bad Santa to any other Christmas movie. It is a grim, very dark comedy full of cocaine, strippers, orgies, death and bitterness. Though it is not as hilarious or memorable as Bad Santa, it is a legitimate Christmas movie that also doesn’t sugarcoat the dark side of the season. ***1/2
SCROOGED – another one I’ve seen before, but unlike Love Actually, this one gets better on repeat viewings. Bill Murray perfectly balances his natural charm with his unsurpassed ability to act like a jerk, for a role that requires both. Personally, I like the first half of the movie better, because Murray is hilarious when he’s being a dick. Perfect example: after Murray rudely manhandles a small boy on the set of his network’s Christmas special, the boy’s mother (Alfre Woodard, the Bob Cratchit figure of the movie) rushes over to defend him, crying, “That’s my little boy!” Without missing a beat, Murray replies, “Good. You beat him.” ****
ERNEST SAVES CHRISTMAS – this was my introduction to the Ernest movies, and I’m guessing it’s as good a place to start as any. Jim Varney’s Ernest character is a bumbling hillbilly who is also capable of becoming an articulate master of disguise at a moment’s notice, for no apparent reason other than showcasing Varney’s performance chops. This adventure finds him helping Santa Claus hire a replacement so he can retire, an engaging premise that was later expanded upon in The Santa Clause. ***
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper, and aspiring stand-up comic who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com