Nate watches Christmas Movies

Merry Christmas.  I assume like many folks, you and yours probably have a tradition of certain movies to watch during the season every year.  May as well review mine…

Of course the scale is based on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”  An associate calls it the Citizen Kane of Christmas movies and I say that’s fair.

Christmas Vacation

For a long time I actually thought my family was the only one who enjoyed this every year.  I don’t know why since it pretty universal as a representation of the simultaneous delight and frustration probably nearly everyone feels when gathering with family around the holiday.  Of course the plot revolves around Clark Griswald, a man who’s biggest flaw is that he cares too much, trying to give the perfect holiday to his family.  The problem is his family is filled with imperfect people.

What is there to say about this film other than to laugh at the pre-Seinfeld Elaine and pre-Big Bang Theory Leonard? (I do wish they had gotten Chevy Chase to play Leonard’s father in that show – or did they? I don’t watch it much.)  The movie has a lot of charm and near perfect rhythm knowing when to shift from comedy to heart without grinding the gears.  It does quite well pulling off both quick gags (like the “aux nuke”) and jokes with long setups (Jelly of the Month).  It is also quite organic with each plot and joke building logically and naturally from the previous one.  If you were wanting to write your own Christmas comedy movie, I’d say there’s worse ones out there to learn from.  On the scale of holiday movies, this is about a 9, but as far as holiday comedies go, pretty much the standard-setter.

Elf

Probably my favorite Will Farrell movie, this is a pretty solid film from the director of Iron Man about a boy raised by elves going on a journey to find himself.  I understand why some people can find his performance grating but nobody can deny that Will tosses himself into the role and really makes you believe this is a man raised by elves. (Some of the production designs are also really, really clever.)

If I had any complaints it’s that the movie really loses steam in the last act.  Santa crashes in New York because he’s low on Christmas cheer, yet throughout the movie we have seen Buddy spreading cheer wherever he goes (see: the mailroom).  But rather than the more subtle point of Buddy changing the world for the better just by being him, the movie makes it more overt with the people Buddy’s met joining in a televised carol.  The plot and framing also establishes Buddy’s father being on the naughty list as a big deal, yet by movie’s end we have no real pay off.  Instead of being “nice” we just have Buddy’s father finally acting as somewhat a dad, there’s no real Scourge-like reform with visuals of the man actually being nice.  I mean when Buddy needs advice about a girl, it’s his little brother he turns to, not his father.  For a movie that was putting such original spins on classic tropes, it becomes very paint-by-numbers in the third act.

Still that doesn’t take away from the charm and humor of the fish-out-water of a very solid first and second act.  Plus we’re big fans of Bob Newhart around here.  A decent 6 on the holiday scale.

Christmas with the Kranks

Edmund Burke is still on my reading list but of what I have read about his philosophy, I dare say this may be one of the most Burkian films ever made.  It certainly brings to mind the GK Chesterton saying: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” [insert topical political point here]  In this film, two parents facing their first Christmas without their only child decide to forgo the traditional trappings of the holiday and go on a cruise.  Of course the problem arises from the fact that they’re a part of a community, and communities don’t like to buck traditions.

The film is pretty rough in spots.  The antagonistic neighbor around which Tim Allen’s character’s arc revolves isn’t introduced until well into the movie.  The crook at the end of the film does little more than pad the running time and it’s debatable how necessary “Marty” is to the plot.  Still Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis have a real charm about them and it’s had not to laugh at some of the set pieces.  I think what I like most about the film is that all sides are shown to be a little right, and a little wrong.  Yes the community is a little bit psychotic in order to heighten the humor but they also prove to come together in the end and pull off the impossible.  It really shows how there is a cost to everything and you take the bad with the good.  In the end, everything improves for everyone when they stop thinking about themselves and think about others.

About a 5 on our scale.

Ernest Saves Christmas

Yeah, growing up I was a huge fan of Ernest P Worrell and saw almost all of his movies in theater.  Ever since this film, his second, came out, we’ve tried to watch it just about every Christmas.

It does have probably my favorite premise of any Christmas I’ve yet to see: Santa isn’t quite a person, but a job.  It does provide the holder of the title a long life, but the spirit must be passed on after so long since the passing keeps the magic alive.  The latest Santa has held onto the job for a bit too long and is now running on fumes and must convince his replacement to become the next Santa – with a little help from Ernest.  Douglas Seale plays my favorite portrayal of a Santa that loves his work and even Oliver Clark does a decent job as the man who is supposed to replace him.

I’ll admit this is a film that gets better and worse as I get older.  The antics of Ernest and his friends is at times too wacky, disrupting the flow of the film and screeching the story to a halt for a bit of mugging.  On the other hand I am now understanding a lot more of Jim Varney’s jokes and can appreciate how brilliant his humor could be at times being both subtle and overt.  (It also makes you wonder if any of this performance influenced Jim Carey as there’s a lot of parallels in their style and makes me regretful the two Jim’s never teamed up to play father and son in a comedy film.)

What makes it extra ironic is that the rest of the film is so understated with moments that are pitch perfect in pulling the feels straight out of your gut without overselling said moment.  Though they probably stand out more because of the over-the-top antics elsewhere.  Regardless, the story has such a solid core to its plot I half wish somebody would do a sequel/remake style film getting Oliver Clark to come back and play the Santa having to pass on the torch and let it all be more serious.  Though it might overload the film and make it a bit to maudlin.

Is there a message to this film?  Probably.  I’m sure Jordan Peterson would have a field day with it but for me, it’s just a tale about the need to pass on what we’ve been given and that help can come from the most unlikely of places.

I’d say it’s a solid 8.

Merry Christmas, reader. And I hope I don’t bore you in the new year.

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