Scrooged


Tiny bubbles...

Tiny bubbles…

(1988) Comedy (Paramount) Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, Nicholas Phillips, Mabel King, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, John Houseman, Buddy Hackett, Lee Majors, Brian Doyle-Murray. Directed by Richard Donner

 The Holly and the Quill

Some Christmas tales are so timeless, so meaningful that they can survive being twisted, pulled, yanked out of shape and modified into something quite different and still be meaningful and timeless.

Frank Cross (Murray) is the programming VP at the IBS network and he’s the youngest in the industry. He’s the golden boy, the one who has the eye of network head Preston Rhinelander (Mitchum). It’s Christmastime and Cross has an ace up his sleeve for the Yule season – a live broadcast of Scrooge from various locations, with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, John Houseman narrating and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. God bless us, every one.

The people who work around Frank could use all the blessings they can manage. Frank is a world-class a-hole with a mean streak wider than the Long Island Expressway. This live show is crucial to his career; if it succeeds he is on the fast track to Rhinelander’s job. If it fails, he’s on the fast track to unemployment, where he has already put nebbish assistant Eliot Loudermilk (Goldthwait). He tries to keep his long-suffering assistant Grace Cooley (Woodard) working late, preventing her from taking her mute son Calvin (Phillips) to a needed doctor’s appointment.

But if you think Frank is callous in his professional life, you should see his personal life. He spurns his brother Earl’s (Doyle-Murray) invitation to dinner. He is as alone as alone can be. That wasn’t always the case. He was once deeply in love with the pretty community activist Claire Phillips (Allen) but that was from a long time ago. He’s barely thought about her over the years…well, that’s what he’d have you think anyway.

Frank is on a one-way trip to the hot seat but there are those who think he has something inside him worth saving – one being his mentor Lew Hayward (Forsythe), who pays Frank a visit on Christmas eve to try and reason with him. Never mind that Lew’s been dead for years; he’s really got Frank’s best interests at heart. He sure doesn’t want his protégé to end up like him – a rotting corpse doomed to walk the earth for eternity. To help the reluctant Frank along, Lew’s sending three ghosts to show him the way – the Ghost of Christmas Past (Johansen), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Kane) and…you get the picture.

This was a much ballyhooed remake of the Dickens classic that Murray, who had last tasted success with Ghostbusters four years earlier, had his imprint all over. SNL compatriots Michael O’Donoghue and Mitch Glaser co-wrote it and many of Murray’s cronies from SNL and from his other movies, as well as all of his brothers, were in the film. The film is very much set around Murray and his style of humor, so if you don’t like him much you’re not going to find a lot of reasons to see the film.

Still, if you do like him, this is one of his most iconic performances, one that will live with most of his classic performances in Stripes and the aforementioned Ghostbusters. The movie didn’t resonate with the critics very much – at the movie’s conclusion, Murray delivers a speech about the true meaning of Christmas which some felt was treacly and not heartfelt (although I beg to differ).

The ghosts are all amazing and fun, particularly Kane who beats the snot out of Murray (in one scene she pulled his lip so hard that filming had to be halted for several days while he recovered). The special effects are fun and if they are a little dated by modern standards (the movie will turn 25 next year) they still hold up pretty well.

The movie remains if not a Christmas classic at least a Christmas perennial. It runs regularly on cable this time of year and is easily available on streaming or for rent. It is perhaps less serious than most other Christmas movies but it has edgier laughs and that’s certainly worth something.

WHY RENT THIS: Kane, Forsythe and Johansen make some terrific ghosts.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Seems like an overly long SNL skit at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few scary images and some bad language. A little rude humor to tide you over as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Tiny Tim-like character Calvin Cooley was named for former President Calvin Coolidge who was known for being taciturn.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.3M on an unknown production budget; in its time the movie was a big box office disappointment.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fred Claus

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Holly and the Quill continues!

Happy New Year


2012 is upon us and hopefully Nostradamus is wrong about the world ending in December. If not, let me be the first to say it was nice knowing you.

It has been an up and down year for Cinema365 just like most of us, with our readership falling somewhat after hitting massive highs at the beginning of the year. However, there is a loyal core of regular readers that keep the site going, and for all of you whether you check in daily or just once in awhile, thank you thank you thank you.

For those anxiously awaiting the 2012 Preview, fear not – it will be up either tomorrow or Monday (hopefully no later) as we try to finish up a few minor details. Four-Warned for January will be up no later than Thursday. For those who use those features to help map out their movie plans, your patience is much appreciated. What can I say? It’s been a very busy holiday season for us here at Cinema365’s world headquarters.

There will also be some subtle changes coming starting tomorrow. For all new releases, the “Home or Theater” feature will be going away. With the sophistication of home theaters growing by leaps and bounds, for some movie enthusiasts (and soon nearly all of us) the question is kind of moot in terms of whether you get your big sound and big picture experience at home or at the multiplex. The small screen is rapidly evolving into a big screen and that has both pros and cons about it. We will be adding new features to the new release reviews soon; among those we’re considering is adding the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores, comparison shopping (comparing the new movie to existing movies to give you an idea of what the movie is like) and perhaps some fun little asides for niche viewers – Pet Lovers, Gore Lovers, Meryl Streep Lovers, Sportscar Lovers etc. Just something to make the reviews a little more fun and informative.

Later on in the year more features will be added to the DVD Reviews as well; I’m thinking about posting streaming options for the movies (where you can find them for video streaming with options including Amazon, Netflix, Epix, YouTube and Hulu) as well as moving some of the new release features on the DVD side as well. Top 5 has been on hiatus but it may be back in 2012 if there is demand for it.

Looking forward to 2012, there will be our annual romance movie series Cinema From the Heart taking place over Valentine’s Day. We will be covering the Florida Film Festival in mid-April, hopefully taking in a goodly amount of great movies. Kicking that off, the Enzian Theater here in Orlando will be one of nine theaters in the country hosting Sundance USA, an extension of the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in which selected Sundance films will be screening at said nine theaters. Enzian will be hosting the film on January 26th followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Cinema365 will be there and reviewing the film, Arbitrage starring Richard Gere and Diane Keaton.

In addition to the 2012 Preview, we’ll be publishing a Summer movie preview in April and a Fall/Holiday preview in August. Our regular year-ending events Six Days of Darkness and The Holly and the Quill will be back as well as a new series in July – The American Experience, a three-day series in which we’ll be looking at movies that reflect what it means to be an American. That will take place around the Independence Day holiday. There will also be a non-American film series that will be taking place sometime in the Spring, although I don’t have a name for it yet. Stay tuned.

As the evening descends on the last day of 2012, I hope that you have or will be celebrating in style – and safely. 2011 was a year of great challenges, not only in Hollywood but everywhere. We hope that everyone has a 2012 that is better than the year that preceded it, even if our number is up in December. Me, I’m thinking that if the world ends in my lifetime, I just hope I’m in a darkened multiplex when the end comes. That’s where I belong.

Peace,

Carlos, Da Queen and puppies

Mall Santa


 

           His routine was always the same. Up while it was still dark outside, drinking a mug of hot chocolate and eating a single hard-boiled egg, sometimes with toast. He would read the paper, shaking his head and making a clicking sound. Sometimes a story would move him to tears but most of the time he sat with a stony expression on his bearded face.

            He was an old man, fat and tired. He would get a few stares from those who thought his looks to be Santa-esque, and indeed he played Santa Claus at the Haverford Mall outside of town. There he would sit for hours with lines of children eager to see him.

            Mostly though he was ignored as old men often are. He walked with a wooden cane, his joints aching and his movements stiff. He had no friends that anyone knew about – not that anybody cared enough to inquire. His mail came addressed to George Seaton and that was the name he went by.

            He had played the Santa role from time to time over the years but this year was much different. Where it had been joy to sit with children on his knee, now it seemed dreary and tiresome. Always the same requests, always about me, me, me! The toys they asked for had grown increasingly more expensive; some wanted iPads, some wanted computers, others wanted Nintendos and X-Boxes and Playstations – sometimes all three. They wanted the latest and the greatest and having been bombarded with advertisements on televisions for these treasures he supposed he could hardly blame them but he had a sense about such things – for the most part it was naked greed.

            The era had become defined by greed. He had been a department store Santa during the Second World War; he had become disillusioned by the killing and the cruelty then too but this was the Greatest generation and he had discovered a willingness to sacrifice, and a genuine desire for the war to end. More kids wanted their dads and older brothers to come home than wanted toys. It had given him hope and kept him out of the affairs of the day for more than 70 years.

            George Seaton wasn’t his real name of course. It was the name of a man long dead whose movie he had come to admire. His name was much older and much better known; it suited him to take the name of a forgotten film director as a manner of tribute. The man who directed Miracle on 34th Street should not be forgotten.

            He had made the mistake of using his own name back in 1942. It had led to a brouhaha that screenwriter Valentine Davis had heard about from a friend in the New York attorney general’s office; the affair had been kept quiet but had inspired Davis to write the story that would become the film. He’d wound up swearing he wouldn’t do that again.

            Now he felt the same kind of shame as greed had taken the world over. People had become so self-centered and so all about their own needs that they had forgotten that they share the world with others. They had forgotten that they were merely there for a short while, caretakers of a planet that didn’t belong to them but that they were at best temporary residents of. He had seen the signs and decided to do what he had done once before back in 1942 – to determine whether the world was still worthy of him.

            It wasn’t that he thought so highly of himself, but he knew what his gift was to the world; the gift of joy, the gift of hope. However, if his despair continued he would fade into nothingness and the world would be without him permanently. At least this way he could simply lie down and sleep, waiting for the people of the world to grow up – or disappear entirely.

            He had been charged with a terrible burden years ago – to be the embodiment of the Christmas spirit. At least, it wasn’t a burden back then. It had been an honor and his great joy. The smiles and the genuine gratefulness had made it worthwhile. He never for one moment forgot why he was doing what he did, and why it was important that he did it.

            But now it was different. The requests for gifts had become demands and if the children didn’t get what they wanted they went from being disappointed to being downright angry. The parents were little better. They spent the year fobbing off parental responsibilities on teachers, coaches, day care centers and activities and when they did have the kids at home they tended to ignore them, telling their kids to go play or sit them down with a DVD or a videogame while they themselves surfed the web. No wonder the children had changed.

            He hadn’t and he wondered as he trudged to work if perhaps he was no better than a dinosaur, a being who had outlived his usefulness to the world. Perhaps Christmas was dead after all.

            It was Christmas eve and so far he hadn’t found a single child that had given him any hope for the future, only more of the same greed and egotistical self-centeredness that infected the world. As he put on his suit and the bored temp workers who played his elves put on theirs he felt like he was merely going through the motions. He already knew in his heart his quest was futile. He would take his leave this night and Santa Claus would be gone from the world, possibly forever. He wished he could shed a tear over the enormity of that, but he suspected he wouldn’t be missed much.

            He sat down on his wooden chair that was supposed to be his throne – as if he would ever need a throne. Back at home he had only chairs. Still he waited patiently as each child climbed on his knee, whispered in his ear all the toys and games they wanted and a picture was snapped. Some would hug him, usually at their mother’s directions but the hugs were never genuine.

            Some were shy but once they started listing their toys the greed would take over. It was monotonous, different children but listing the same toys over and over again. A new Barbie doll. The latest videogame. Action figures and Transformers and Superheroes and radio-controlled helicopters. It wasn’t even lunchtime and he wanted nothing more than to leave.

            After lunch it grew much worse. The shoppers knew the mall would be closing early as people moved on from shopping for presents to wrapping them and the line was large and the moms frantic. An air of desperation had taken over as people shopped for last minute gifts. There was no sense of joy but of obligation only. He wanted to scream.

            At last the line began to dwindle as the hour grew short. One more child was left, one more list to listen to and he would leave; not returning to the meager apartment where George Seaton lived but back to the ether of oblivion, where he would stay, slumbering until he was required again – which might never happen as far as he could tell. The human race was getting worse, not better and had refused to grow into wisdom and maturity as a species. It was all so very depressing.

            The kid scrambled into his lap, a tow-headed boy with blue eyes which were strangely calm. Many of the eyes that stared back at him were eager, or shy. Not so this one. His helper elf, a pretty young high school girl wearing the too-short elf skirt introduced the boy as Jason Christopher. The boy wore a pair of blue jeans, store-brand sneakers and a red sweater with a snowflake pattern in white.

            The old man had always been able to tell instantly if the kids had been good and he knew at once this one had been better than nearly every kid he had sat with. His chuckle, so fake all season long, was genuine as he asked Jason what he wanted.

            The boy looked at him and said “I don’t know if you can give me what I really want.” The kid looked about ten years old but sounded much older than that. The old man smiled and said “Well why don’t you tell Santa what you really want and I’ll see what I can do.” The kid shook his head gently as if he were talking to a very young child. “I don’t think you can do anything but I’ll tell you anyway.”

            The boy paused as if weighing his words carefully and the man who was Santa Claus suddenly grew nervous himself. The fate of Christmas rode on this one boy and he didn’t even know it, but the man did and he was frightened all of a sudden, terrified that something so wonderful and magic might leave the world forever.

            The boy spoke. “I want peace.” The man in the Santa suit frowned. “You mean an end to the war?” he asked the boy. The boy shook his head impatiently. “An end to all war,” he said with a sad smile. He then continued, the words coming out in a torrent. “I want peace in every heart so that people don’t want more than they need. I want people to think of others before they think of themselves and to stop being so mean to one another. I want us to clean up the world so that we still have a good planet to live on. I want peace.”

            The boy looked down, almost embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, “I know that’s too much but I just want everyone to be happy and it seems so few are.” The man was speechless for a moment but at last he spoke. “You’re right, young man, few people are happy nowadays and perhaps they might be if they weren’t so involved with themselves. I wish more people had your wisdom.”

            The boy smiled at him and said “I wish more people were like you, Santa.” and the man realized that the boy didn’t think he was Santa he knew he was and a great joy took his heart. Perhaps there was hope after all. “I can’t give you what you want, Jason. People have to give that to you for themselves but I can tell you that you can lead by example. Carry the spirit of giving in your heart all year round and perhaps you can make a difference. I could use the help.”

            The boy nodded and impulsively through his arms around Santa. The man held him tight and after a few moments the boy hopped off of his lap and disappeared with his mother into the dwindling crowd.

            The intercom crackled. “The mall is closing so that our employees might spend Christmas Eve with their families. All customers please complete your purchases and make your way to the exits. On behalf of the Haverford Mall we’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and thank you for shopping at the Haverford Mall.”

            Soon the mall had emptied out and Santa and his elves went back to the changing room to get out of their outfits. He put on his clothes and walked out into the evening. “Hey Santa!” and he turned around to see the young girl who had been his lead elf. She wore a pair of jeans and a nice Christmas sweater and without all the elf make-up looked quite pretty. She walked up to him quickly and gave him a hug. “That last kid was something special wasn’t he?” Santa nodded. “He was one of a kind, Sarah.”

            She smiled at him. “My family always has Christmas eve dinner together. You’re welcome to join us…if you don’t have somewhere else to go.” He beamed at the young girl. “Thank you very much for the offer and I might take you up on that sometime…but I’ll be very busy tonight.”

            Impulsively she gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll bet you are…Santa. I hope I see you again next year.” He smiled and nodded and she walked away, whistling “Away in a Manger.”

            He walked out of the empty parking lot but nobody saw where he went. He had, after all, a lot of work to do.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)


Miracle on 34th Street
What could be more Christmas-y than a hug by a little girl for Santa Claus?

 

(1947) Family (20th Century Fox) Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Phillip Tonge, Jack Albertson, Harry Antrim, Thelma Ritter, Mae Marsh, William Forrest. Directed by George Seaton

 

Here in the United States, it is a sign of growing up when a child sets aside their belief in Santa Claus. Perhaps in several senses it is more of a sign that they are setting aside their imagination as well.

Kris Kringle (Gwenn) is appalled to see the man who is scheduled to play Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is drunk as a skunk. He reports his outrage to Doris Walker (O’Hara), the event director. She persuades him to accept the role himself and he does such a fine job that he is hired to be the Santa in the chain’s flagship store on 34th street in Manhattan.

Although he is told to direct shoppers to Macy’s merchandise, he tells one (Ritter) that the fire engine her son wants that Macy’s doesn’t carry can be found at Gimbels, Macy’s archrivals. She is so impressed that she tells toy department manager Julian Shellhammer (Tonge) that she will be a Macy’s customer for life.

Doris, a divorcee, leaves her daughter with her neighbor Fred Gailey (Payne), a lawyer. He takes Susan (Wood), six years old and having been brought up in a practical manner by her mother to believe that there is no  Santa Claus, to see Kris Kringle at the store. When Doris discovers this, she urges Kris to tell Susan that he’s not really Santa. Instead, he tells her that he’s the genuine article.

Doris is concerned that he is delusional and might harm someone so she decides to fire Kringle but store owner R.H. Macy (Antrim) is delighted by the positive publicity and goodwill that he has generated for Macy’s and promises both Shellhammer and Doris generous bonuses if he stays. To alleviate Doris’ concerns, he has Kringle undergo an evaluation with company psychologist Granville Sawyer (Hall) which Kringle passes but not without antagonizing Sawyer.

Kris discovers that Sawyer has convinced store employee Alfred that he is mentally ill just because Alfred is kind-hearted and generous, and raps Sawyer on the head with the handle of an umbrella. Sawyer exaggerates his injury and Kringle is confined in the Bellevue Mental Hospital. Tricked into co-operating and believing that Doris is part of the deception, Kringle deliberately fails his mental examination and is recommended for permanent confinement. Fred however urges Kris not to give up and takes on his case as his lawyer, arranging a formal competency hearing in the court of Judge Henry X. Harper (Lockhart) of the New York Supreme Court.

Ordered by Macy to get the matter dropped, Sawyer pleads with Fred to drop the case quietly and not seek publicity. Instead, Fred thanks the horrified Sawyer for the idea and bumps up the hearing into a full-blown trial placing Judge Harper in an awkward position – having to try the existence of Santa Claus.

Along with It’s a Wonderful Life this might be the most beloved Christmas film in history. Gwenn would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, one of two that the movie won (the other was for Best Original Screenplay). That it was released in the summertime is perhaps one of the most boneheaded moves in studio history – the publicity of the film wound up hiding it’s Christmas setting for fear that audiences wouldn’t see a Christmas film in the heat of summer, a fear that proved to be sadly well-founded.

Still, it remains the standard of Christmas movies, both a sly commentary on the commercialization of the holiday (an issue that has sadly only gotten worse in the 70 years since the movie was made) and also on the faith and imagination of children that we tend to lose as adults.

Wood, in one of her first feature film appearances is self-assured and definitely doesn’t have that forced quality that many of the child actors of the time had. You never get a sense she is reading lines so much as inhabiting the role. O’Hara, who initially didn’t want to do the film until she read the script (she had moved back to Ireland) gives one of the defining performances of her career.

The movie definitely is a product of its time, although as such it has more charm than you can imagine. The opening scenes of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade were actually filmed at the 1946 Parade (and yes, Gwenn did play Santa in that parade), which gives you an idea of what it was like back then. That kind of realism was unusual for films of the era.

While It’s a Wonderful Life had a much more heartland frame of mind, Miracle on 34th Street has the East Coast sophistication of its era to distinguish it. Both movies are heartwarming and both perfectly synthesize the spirit of the season and both have the uplifting quality that was present in Frank Capra’s films which It’s a Wonderful Life actually was – Miracle on 34th Street was not but very well could have been.  Those who love Christmas movies in all likelihood do so largely because of this movie. It’s a classic that may be dated at times but never gets old.

WHY RENT THIS: A Christmas classic, a perennial that bears watching again and again. Gwenn’s performance is one of the best Santa depictions ever.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Exceedingly dated in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  Perfect viewing for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house depicted at the end of the film still exists, and is located at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. Other than the addition of window near the roofline, it looks nearly exactly the same as it did in 1947. The Macy’s Christmas display shown in the film is on display every Christmas at the Marshall and Ilsley Bank headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an AMC television special about the movie, as well as newsreel footage of Gwenn accepting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1948. In addition, the special DVD edition includes both the colorized and original black and white versions of the film, in addition to a one-hour television version from 1955. Do note that the Blu-Ray version does not include the latter two features although the box packaging claims that it has the colorized version – only the original black and white version is present here. Expect a deluxe Blu-Ray version of the film classic somewhere down the road.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The Santa Clause


The Santa Clause
You’d better not cry…

(1994) Family (Disney) Tim Allen, Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, David Krumholtz, Larry Brandenburg, Mary Gross, Paige Tamada, Peter Boyle, Judith Scott, Jayne Eastwood, Melissa King, Bradley Wentworth, Steve Vinovich. Directed by John Pasquin

 

Belief is a powerful thing. There are those among us who must have the evidence of the senses to believe in something – seeing is believing, after all. It also must be said that one of the most lovely thing about children is their ability to believe whole-heartedly in something without evidence – their innocence augments their faith.

Scott Calvin (Allen) is an executive at a toy company. He is divorced and a bit estranged from his son Charlie (Lloyd). His ex-wife Laura (Crewson) has since re-married to a psychiatrist named Dr. Neil Miler (Reinhold) who is a pretty decent fellow.

Charlie is staying over at Scott’s house for Christmas Eve, with the intention of sending him back to his mom’s for the big day itself. Charlie is beginning to have doubts about the existence of Santa Clause whom Scott tries to re-assure him is real but Scott really doesn’t believe himself so the attempt falls flat. Later that night, they are awakened by a commotion on the roof. When they go out to investigate, Scott startles a man dressed in red on his roof, who then falls to the ground and apparently breaks his neck. The man disappears mysteriously, but when Scott investigates he finds a business card in the pocket of the suit which says that someone needs to put on the suit and that the reindeer would then know what to do.

In order to please Charlie, Scott puts on the suit and ascends to the roof where to his astonishment find eight reindeer and a sleigh. The two of them get into the sleigh and start delivering toys from house to house, with Scott making a rather poor Santa although he is able to magically fit down chimneys or for homes without fireplaces, dryer vents and radiator vents.

The last stop is the North Pole where Scott is greeted by a rather officious elf named Bernard (Krumholtz) who informs Scott that by donning the suit he has activated the Santa Clause which requires him to become Santa. He has until Thanksgiving of the following year to wrap up his affairs, after which he’ll become Santa full time. Charlie is given a snow globe as a gift. The two go to sleep in the North Pole but wake up back at Scott’s house. Scott assumes it was just a crazy dream.

Strange things begin to happen to Scott. He begins to develop an insatiable desire for cookies and hot chocolate and begins to put on an embarrassing amount of weight. He starts growing a long beard which no matter how he tries to shave it off re-appears instantly. His hair turns white. He has an uncanny knack of knowing who is naughty and nice. Kids, unconsciously knowing he’s Santa begin giving him lists of gifts they want.

Neil and Laura, seeing the extent of Scott’s Santa obsession and of Charlie’s increasing insistence that his father is the Santa Claus, become concerned with Charlie’s well-being and seek to terminate Scott’s visitation rights. The petition turns out to be successful and Scott, now determined to be a better father, is devastated.

The events create doubt in Scott that he is the true Santa Clause but while visiting Charlie on Thanksgiving, Charlie’s pleas and faith reawaken the magic and Bernard with Charlie’s help whisk Scott away to the North Pole. Charlie, wanting to be with his father, goes along. Laura and Neil are certain that Charlie has been kidnapped against his will and a police investigation is launched, led by Detective Nunzio (Brandenburg). When Scott tries to deliver presents to Neil’s house on Christmas Eve, Scott is arrested. Can Christmas be saved?

At the time this film was made, Allen was best known for his “Home Improvement” hit series which was then in its third year. The movie increased his star power and led to his casting as Buzz Lightyear shortly thereafter. Two additional Santa Clause movies were also made in the succeeding years.

The movie is inventive and charming and a bit sticky sweet in places. It harkens back to the heyday of Disney live action family movies such as The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Three Lives of Tomasina. The blend of magic and physics makes this entertaining for adults as well as kids and the movie never forgets that while its target audience is children that their parents are going to have to be entertained as well.

Allen is at his best here and would have a solid career in family films for the Mouse House following this. He brings the right mix of cynicism and warm-heartedness to the role and the transformation of Scott as a career-oriented man to a devoted father is believable. The chemistry between him and Lloyd as his son Charlie seems genuine.

While the North Pole operation isn’t as impressive as shown in later films like The Polar Express and Fred Claus it was nifty at the time it was released and still is grand enough to get oohs and aahs from the younger set.

There are no villains in this movie – Neil and Laura act out of genuine concern for Charlie and that’s kind of refreshing. Some Scrooge-like critics grumbled about the custody issues bogging down the plot but quite frankly I disagree. The movie is about the difficulties created by Scott becoming Santa and in that sense the reaction of other adults to Scott’s transformation seems logical and believable to me. Even though there is a certain magic in the North Pole scenes, Scott’s coping with his physical transformation are for me the best scenes in the movie.

This is certainly not the best Christmas movie ever made but it has become a minor holiday classic. It is clever, good fun and essentially harmless. It could have used a little more edge and Santa breaking his neck early on might scar the more sensitive kids for life but other than that this is charming holiday viewing and definitely a movie I don’t mind seeing again and again.

WHY RENT THIS: Clever and heartwarming in places, a worthy addition to Disney’s live action family film tradition. Allen proves he has big screen star power here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little sticky-sweet in places. Somewhat dated at times.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few moments of crude humor but not so crude that you wouldn’t want your kids to watch.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The script was originally written with Bill Murray in mind, but he passed. Fellow SNL alumni Chevy Chase was also offered the part but had to decline due to scheduling conflicts. Disney had a strict policy of not hiring ex-cons, but an exception was made in his case for the “Home Improvement” television show which was produced by Disney’s Touchstone arm and Allen went on to make movies not only in the Santa Clause franchise but several other family films as well the Toy Story series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The special edition DVD includes a feature hosted by Wolfgang Puck as he shows you how to make some of Santa’s favorite snacks, and there’s is also an interactive game called “Santa’s Helper.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $189.8M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a franchise-establishing blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill concludes!

Arthur Christmas


Arthur Christmas
Who knew that Santa Claus was actually a South American dictator?

(2011) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Ashley Jensen, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Michael Palin, Robby Coltane, Joan Cusack, Jane Horrocks, Andy Serkis, Marc Wootton, Dominic West. Directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook

 

One of the most common questions children have about the legend of Santa Claus is how does he deliver so many presents in a single night (I don’t remember that being much of an issue when I was growing up – we just took it for granted that he did it and moved on). These days with the world population increasing and the demand for presents soaring it has become quite an operation indeed.

In fact, Santa (Broadbent) is more of a figurehead these days. The North Pole is a subterranean base that doesn’t appear on Google Earth. His gift-delivering operation is run with military precision by his eldest son Steve (Laurie) who fully expects that dear old dad will be passing along the job to him at the successful conclusion of Christmas this year.

In fact, the job has been in the same family for many generations. Grandsanta (Nighy) delivered the presents in the old sleigh with the reindeer but Steve has modernized, utilizing an incredible jet the size of a fleet of battleships using advanced stealth technology to stay off of the radar. As befuddled as Santa is, Grandsanta is as curmudgeonly, having felt left behind.

Arthur (McAvoy) is Santa’s younger son, a gentle soul who is a bit of a screw up. He has been given the relatively harmless position of handling the Letter Response Division. He tends to have more of the Christmas spirit in his heart which Steve looks at as a liability. Actually going out into the field and delivering presents terrifies Arthur.

When it’s discovered that one child’s present remained undelivered the reaction of Steve and Santa is a colossal “Ho-hum” which is a mighty change from “Ho ho ho!” One child left behind is considered acceptable collateral damage. However, Arthur doesn’t see it that way. To him, if one child isn’t considered special, than nobody can be. Despite his trepidations, he decides to see to the delivery himself and Grandsanta decides to come along for the ride, bringing the old sleigh out of mothballs. Grandsanta’s motivation is more to show up his progeny, however.

This is the first feature to be released from Aardman Animation since Flushed Away back in 2006 (they also have the feature Pirates! Band of Misfits slated for release in early 2012) and quite frankly, this isn’t up to the standards of the folks that brought us Wallace and Gromit. There’s plenty of imagination all right and some clever, sly humor that the studio is known for but not enough of the latter to really stand out like their other films did.

The squabbling Santas are a prime example. I get the feeling that the filmmakers were lampooning the commercialization of Christmas, but making the two elder Claus statesmen out to be doddering old fools or scheming old fools kind of violates their own mythology to a certain extent. The whole portrayal makes me wonder if the Santa Claus family isn’t a little bit guilty of inbreeding.

The vocal performances are dead on; Laurie, best known for his stint on ”House” plays Steve as a supercilious British Army officer, very regimented and expecting life to run like clockwork like it does in the Army when he was in Indja don’t you know. Nighy alternates between reminiscing about the good old days and bitching about the modern days like many grandsires do.

McAvoy is a bit bland as Arthur but then again Arthur isn’t really drawn all that well as a character. He is a bit of a bumbler and is good-hearted but has little to no self-confidence. His most identifiable characteristic is his nearly obsessive love for all things Christmas. We get that he has a good heart and he is a bit of a klutz but little more beyond that. Perhaps the writers didn’t think the kids in the audience care much about that.

The North Pole base and Santa’s S-1 jet are both marvelously done, as well as the armies of elves who make things happen. The backgrounds and artwork are amazing, and keeping with Aardman tradition have a bit of the Claymation look to them (Aardman’s earliest shorts and films were done with stop-motion Claymation). One thing about Aardman; you can always instantly tell their films apart from other studios.

I may be sounding a bit harsh on the movie, but this is a studio I hold to higher standards than most. In all honesty this is a pretty decent Christmas movie, but I had hoped for something that would be more of a perennial from a studio with as much imagination as this one has had over the years. It should do well enough to keep the kids entertained and it won’t have the adults squirming in their seats, but the wit is lacking and the sense of wonder fleeting. Not quite a lump of coal but not the present I was looking for.

REASONS TO GO: Has much of the wonderfully quirky Aardman sense of humor. Some of the North Pole and Santa’s spaceship scenes are spectacular.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit whiny in spots.

FAMILY VALUES: This got a PG rating for “mild rude humor” but in all actuality this is perfectly suitable for all members of the family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writer Peter Baynham’s last film was Arthur making this the second consecutive film he’s written that contains the word “Arthur” in the title.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely a theatrical experience.

FINAL RATING; 6/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and the Quill continues!

The Holly & The Quill


            Winter was always a tough time in the Northlands. The land was blanketed with snow; all was peaceful, serene and white. For the Northlanders, however, winter was a time of quiet desperation, particularly if the fall harvest was poor. The Northlanders were a simple folk, working the lands and trying to keep their families fed. The Northland was ruled by a cruel man, the Duke. He had wealth and power, something the Northlanders neither had nor desired. He had an army that did his bidding, and his bidding was often vicious. For the right to live in the Northland (something most of the families of the Northland had done much longer than the Duke’s family had), each Northland family was required to produce two wagonloads of bounty, whether it be the grains that made bread or the vegetables and fruits of the orchard. Regardless of how the harvest came out, two wagonloads were the requirement. Whatever was left would be all that the Northlanders had to sustain them through the harsh winter.

            In bad years, many would starve and others would leave. The Duke didn’t mind. He would seize the lands of those who died or fled and give it as favors to those who pleased him…or to those he owed debts to, and that list was many for the Duke was a man of lavish tastes. Soon, the Duke found his need for land exceeded the rate of available land. He determined that he must find a way to encourage more to leave…or die.

            He would have preferred to just seize the land directly and order the Northlanders away, but he could not do that without just cause; that would also attract the attention of the King who might take a dim view of his actions and that could jeopardize his place at court. No, the Duke crafted a simple and elegant solution; he outlawed hunting.

            He cloaked himself in self-righteous piety and claimed that the animals of his domain must be protected because they were being hunted to extinction. In point of fact, the Northlanders only hunted to supplement their diets. They were a peaceful and gentle folk who loved the Northland, as harsh a place as it could be. There was no orgy of killing the way the Duke did when he went hunting. A single animal would be brought down and its meat would be cured and stored, its skin used as clothing and blankets to help keep the Northlanders warm during the cruel winter.

            Not that the Duke followed his own edict. He and his cronies would go into his woods and shoot everything that moved merely for the sport of killing. The carcasses would sit where they lay, drawing flies and scavengers, eventually being stripped to the bone and left there. The people of the Northlands called the Duke’s woods The Bone Forest. They were forbidden entry there upon pain of death; sometimes starving Northlanders would huddle in their homes, less than an hour’s walk from meat that could save their lives but too frightened to make that walk. Some would; some were bold that way, but there were always watchers, informers who would do anything to get in the Duke’s good graces. Those that went into the woods and brought back meat were always reported, always punished. The Northlands soon became a place of great sadness, a feeling of helplessness and despair ruled the land alongside the Duke.

            This was the place where he lived, one of the more prosperous farms in the Northlands. His father and his father before him had tended the land well, and drew great bounty from it. They were good men who shared their prosperity with their neighbors who were less fortunate; many families who were starving were rescued by his family and he admired his father for it. Some resented their prosperity, but most knew that theirs was a kindly family and blessed them.

            He was a strapping young man, well over six feet tall and powerful from working hard on the land. He was efficient in his work and the land prospered from his care; his proud father often said he had a magic touch when it came to the land. The truth was he felt a kinship with the land, a bond that was deep and powerful. In his spare time, he would roam the countryside into the wild places that were not farmed. Although there were bears and wolves in these places, he never felt threatened or afraid. He grew to know the animals that dwelled there; the reindeer, the birds and the wild pigs.

            He was a handsome man, and well loved by the women of the Northlands and the truth was he was a very desirable catch. Handsome and strong but also the heir to one of the most prosperous farms in the Northlands, he was pursued by many a fair maiden and certainly by their fathers who desired the advantageous match a marriage to him would bring. Even a few married women displayed their charms for him, well-aware an affair with him might bring more to their lives than the pleasures of the bed.

            For his part, his heart was yet unclaimed. He was an easygoing sort but he preferred solitude to the company of women or the company of men for that matter. He was at his happiest when he was alone in the mountains that ringed the Northlands. Sometimes he would be gone for days; his father often would worry himself sick over his son’s behavior but soon grew to accept it as part of his mercurial son’s nature. While his father would have preferred that his son find a match advantageous to the family and help keep their place strong in the community, he was a good man who wanted his son to be happy and so he pushed no unwanted romance on his son.

            He was well past marriageable age and there were some whispers that he did not intend to marry at all, which certainly wasn’t true. He wasn’t against marriage nor was he uninterested in the fairer sex. Many were the maidens that he favored; it was just that he hadn’t found one that made his heart soar.

            He knew deep down that he wouldn’t find one in his village or the neighboring ones and he certainly wouldn’t find the right one in the woods and the mountains, but he could not yet bring himself to end his ranging. For now, these were places that brought him happiness and peace, and he couldn’t bear to give that up just yet.

            As winter approached every year, the Northlanders always celebrated with the harvest festival. The harvest was done, the taxes paid and the remainder had been stored for the coming winter. The harvest festival was well underway and the Northlanders celebrated with games and feasting. The Duke had even supplied several chickens and some eggs for the Northlanders to feast upon. The Duke’s “generosity” was toasted in the same spirit the gifts were given.

            He normally loved the harvest festival with the dancing, the laughter and merriment that was part of it, but he felt more restless than usual. He had grabbed his cloak, a coil of rope, his bow and quiver (guns were forbidden to the Northlanders) and set out for the mountains. He walked at a fast pace, his strides long and determined. He didn’t know why he felt this urgency, but trusted his instincts enough to follow them. He rose in the mountains that separated the Northlands from the icy wilderness that they called the Winterlands, where the snow never melted even in the heat of summer. Northlanders never went there; those that did never returned. He had seen them from afar once, glittering and cold in the height of summer, no life visible from his perch high in the mountains.

            Through the mountain range he walked. He would drink from streams that flowed in the mountains; he would eat fruit from trees and bushes that grew there. At night, he would take shelter in caves or beneath trees, lighting a fire to keep predators away. Although it was already cold and he knew how dangerous it was to be caught in the mountains in winter, something was drawing him further away.

            Like many of his age, he hated the oppression and corruption of the Duke. He had a compassionate heart and knew that what the Duke was doing to his people was wrong. As one who understood the importance of caretaking his land, he knew that the Duke had an equal responsibility to care for his people, a responsibility the Duke wasn’t fulfilling. He didn’t hate the Duke per se; it was more as if he were disappointed in him. He did nothing, however, because to openly oppose the Duke would bring ruin down on his family.

            And so he ranged, further and further away until the trees began to thin out and at last, there were none. The frozen wastes of the Winterlands were closer than they had ever been; he could feel their icy breath on him. To go there would be death, and yet he was drawn as if unseen hands were pushing him in that direction.

            At last he descended from the last mountain and into the Winterlands, and still he walked. His cloak was warm and sturdy but it was unable to keep all the cold out; soon his hair and beard were frozen with the icicles of his sweat. He would take snow and pack it into his mouth, using the water that melted to sustain him. Days went by and he neither stopped nor rested, stumbling through the Winterlands like a man possessed. He never questioned what drew him, what inflamed him to undertake such madness, he just followed his instincts.

            As his strength began to fail, he started to wonder if he was going to die alone in the Winterlands. Part of him wanted to flee, to turn back but he knew he had passed the point of safe return, even if he could navigate back to the mountains which he had left far behind him. Still, there was a peace inside him, a calm that he couldn’t explain, as if all were right in the world. For someone who was as near death as he was, that was an inexplicable feeling.

            He knew if he lay down, if he stopped he would die. His only chance of survival was to continue walking until he found food and shelter. But where would he find it in this icy wilderness? There were no inns, no people, no anything; just ice, snow and rocks.

            Just when he began to despair and wonder if he should just lie down and die, he saw it; a light in the distance. His heart soared; light meant people, shelter, and warmth. If he could make it to the source of the light, he would be saved. With renewed vigor, he marched and soon beheld an amazing sight.

            It was a city, larger than any village he had ever seen, and here in the middle of the Winterlands. There were huge buildings of brick and wood, and windows aglow with light. No wall surrounded it. No guards patrolled it. There were people milling about, going about their business but it was strangely quiet.

            He entered the city, hoping he could find an inn or someplace he could get shelter. As he walked down the street, he saw two children walking towards him. When they noticed his presence, they stopped. In a weak voice he called out, “I mean you no harm children! I only seek shelter, warmth and food. Can you direct me to a place where I might find it?”

            The two whispered to each other, their gestures animated. After a few moments one said in a strangely deep voice “Follow us, stranger. We will take you to someone who can help.” His voice was musical in a way that he couldn’t describe, but he felt great joy at hearing it. It also had a strange accent that he couldn’t quite place. As he followed the heavily cloaked children, he noticed that they walked in a way that was most un-childlike.            

            As it was nearly dark, there were few on the streets but they were all children, which he found strange. He could hear voices of others, all speaking a language he didn’t know yet sounded oddly familiar; he also heard the sounds of sorrow. In fact, he could almost feel that sorrow, palpable and overwhelming. Even if he was overjoyed at his rescue, he was still affected by the sadness that seemed to permeate the very stones of this place.

            In his weakened state he had trouble keeping up with his guides but at last they reached the center of the city and a gigantic building, the largest he had ever seen. The façade was impressive with great wooden doors fifty feet high, and glass windows which to that point he had only seen in the Duke’s residence. Even the meanest building in this city had glass; it must be very prosperous here indeed. He wondered if he could negotiate with them to share some of that prosperity with his village who were in dire need of help for the harvest had been unusually poor this year.

            The doors to the building were so huge he wondered how they could be opened at all but the children just pushed on the door and it swung open slowly. The two children walked inside and he hurried to follow them. The door closed behind them of its own accord.

            Inside they were in a room where there were thousands of pegs. On several of them hung cloaks of the type the children wore. The pegs were all of a height that children would find comfortable but adults would not. The children hung up their cloaks on two vacant pegs and his eyes widened with a start.

            For one thing, these were not children but adults, both bearded, both the size of small children. Their ears came to a strange point rather than being rounded and their eyes were golden, their lips cherry red and their hair the color of strawberries. One of them gestured to follow and he did, grateful that for the first time in days he was warm.

            The warmth was different, too; it enveloped him. After being so long in the cold, often warmth would be painful as the body slowly thawed, but it was as if his body had been blanketed and the cold seeped out as if drawn like water from a sponge. Although he was still hungry, he felt safe and warm. It was a good feeling, one that he would like to keep.

            They passed through a door and once again he was brought up short. It was a workshop, but like none he had ever seen; it was gigantic, going on as far as the eye could see. This one room was many times the size of his entire village. Why, the Duke’s mansion would fit comfortably in a single corner.            

            But the workshop was nearly deserted, the tabletops covered with unassembled items. There were a few of these strange people walking about, but they seemed aimless, without purpose. Certainly there was no work going on in the workshop.

            At the sight of him, however, they would all stop and stare and he kind of understood that; after all, if one of their kind arrived in his village, all the Northlanders would stop and stare as well. One of his guides shouted “Get Salidia!” One of those who had been staring quickly scurried off, disappearing quickly in the maze of tables and benches.

            They led him to a room off to the side of the workshop. There was a large fireplace, a desk and several chairs. The room was luxurious and welcoming, homey in a way that was like no home he had ever seen. He felt as if he belonged there, strangely enough even though he had never laid eyes upon it before. It was unsettling and exciting and yet strangely made him feel content at the same time. “Wait here, she will come,” said one of the guides. “Thank you,” he said, “You have saved my life.” The two exchanged puzzled looks and then did a strange thing. They bowed deeply, as if he were a person of great importance, and exited the room bowing. He was confused by that.

            Some minutes later the door opened and once again his jaw dropped but this time for a different reason. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen walked into the room. Her hair was blonde, spun like shining soft strands of platinum on her head. Her eyes were the deepest blue, and kindly. Her smile was radiant and made his heart beat like a drum. She wore a red dress, trimmed with ermine and her boots were black. His tongue felt thick and awkward in her presence.

            “They told me you had come. You walked all the way from the Northlands?” He nodded, unable to speak. “You must be near to starving. Come, let us feed you, and then you may rest. You must also be weary to the bone.” He nodded again, and felt tears of gratitude streaming from his eyes. He managed to stammer out a thank you, rising at her gesture to follow. She gave him her arm and he took it, grateful to touch such a perfect creature.

            She led him into a dining room, where a great meal was set before him. He ate and drank to his fill, the food the most wonderful he had ever eaten, the wine the best vintage he had ever drunk. When he was full, she led him back to the room with the pegs, where he put on his cloak. She had put on a matching red cloak of her own with an ermine-trimmed hood. She said “We will supply you with a better cloak, but for now we have prepared a room for you near the Workshop. It is but a short walk.”

            Now that he was fed and felt more like himself, the sorrow he had noticed earlier came back in full force. He asked her about it. She smiled and he saw at once the sadness in her. “My father is dying,” she said. “You will meet him soon; I’m sure he is anxious to. For now, just rest. You will see him on the morrow.”

            “Does he rule here?” he asked. She nodded. “He does not command; he leads. He is nothing like your Duke.” He nodded. The Duke could not possibly have created a daughter so kind, so beautiful. No, someone like her could only have come from a good man, a saintly man in fact.

            She was true to her word; the walk was a short one. They came to a house, one that was taller than the others but not large. Inside it was comfortable and warm. A fire roared in the fireplace, and in the back was a bed larger and more comfortable than any he had ever seen. Goose-down pillows and soft comforters made it inviting. He realized how weary he was and in fact was barely keeping his eyes open. She smiled at him. “Your clothes will be seen to. I will come fetch you in the morning; breakfast will be left here for you, but for now sleep. You are safe here. I bid you farewell, until the morning.” She smiled at him and left him alone in the house. He was sad to see her leave, but his whole body cried out for sleep. He stripped his clothes off and put on a nightshirt that was left for him; it fit well and was soft and comfortable but he barely noticed. Almost as soon as his head hit the pillow he slept.

            The next day he awoke to find a magnificent breakfast of porridge, muffins with honey, sausages, bacon and cakes waiting for him. He ate lustily – he had always had an appetite, and found his clothes gone. In a closet, however he saw that there were clothes waiting for him; a red velvet tunic, soft and warm; red breeches, a great black belt and black boots. There were also smallclothes, silken and comfortable.

            She arrived soon afterwards. “I trust you slept well,” she said, her smile dazzling him even greater than before. He nodded and bowed. “Thank you for your kindness, my lady. I am indebted to you and the citizens of your city forever.” She laughed then, a merry, musical sound. “So polite you are, young man. You must call me Salidia, but do not tell me your name just yet. It is a custom among us that you must give your name to my father before any might speak it. I would appreciate very much if you would respect that custom.” He nodded and bowed again. “Of course I will, Lady Salidia. I am at your service. Shall we go meet your father?”

            He put on a red hooded cloak similar to the one that she had worn the evening before. This time, when they went out, he didn’t feel the cold at all. He supposed that those who lived in such a place must learn to weave clothes that resisted the cold better than those who lived in the Northlands were able to weave.

            She led him back to the workshop and this time once inside didn’t stop at the peg room but led him all the way to the back. They passed many many rooms, so many he lost count. At last they came to a set of massive wooden doors, made of sturdy oak. There were carvings on them of reindeer. She indicated he should wait there and knocked softly. A voice weathered by age said “Come in.”

            Inside the room was a large desk, with a gigantic chair behind it. There was also a bed, one as large and ornately carved as any he had ever seen, even more luxuriously appointed than the one he had slept in the night before. In it was an old man, his hair white as snow, his beard long, nearly to his waist. His skin was sallow and his breathing labored but his eyes were the same blue as Salidia’s and kindly as well. “They told me you had come,” he said in a voice that had once been strong but was weakened by illness and age. “I have been waiting for a longer time than you can imagine.”

            The old man indicated that he should sit down and so he did. “It is a pleasure to meet you sir. I wanted to thank you for the hospitality your fair city has shown me. I was quite literally at death’s door when I found you.” The old man smiled. “Believe me young man, you are most welcome. I am told you walked here from the Northlands?”

            He nodded and the old man smiled. “I made that same walk, many years ago. I came from a village called Elkhorn. Do you know it?” The younger man shook his head. “I am from Dukeswood, near the Craghorn.” The old man smiled. “The Craghorn I know well but I know not this Dukeswood. I guess that it is near the Duke’s castle?” The younger man nodded and the old man smiled. “Names change my son, but much else remains the same. I will not ask you for your name just yet. I have much to tell you, but I will give you my own name, one I have not used in many a year. I am Nicholas. However, around here I am often referred to as Father. You may use either if you wish.”

            The young man nodded. “This is an amazing city, Nicholas. I have never seen its like. It seems to be a place of great bounty and yet it sits here in the midst of the Winterlands, with no land to till, no beast to hunt. How do you survive?” Nicholas chuckled. “That is a very good question my son. I will answer it in time but first I must sit at my desk. Salidia, if you please?”

            She helped the old man rise from the bed and wrapped him in a robe of red velvet and ermine. She led him to the desk where he sat down behind it. On the desk was a gigantic scroll on which many names had been penned. Next to the scroll was an elaborate quill, like none he had ever seen. The feather was shiny and seemed to shimmer and change colors. The old man noticed him looking at it and said “Ah, I see you have spied my quill. That is the feather of a phoenix, a bird that exists no longer. It has many rare qualities that I hope one day you will discover.”

            He cleared his throat. “Salidia, would you fetch us some hot chocolate? I have much to discuss with this young man and I fear my throat will grow dry long before I finish.” She smiled and exited. The old man smiled and regarded the younger man with kindly eyes. “This is a very special city, my son. Only those with giving hearts may find it, and only those with noble spirits may enter it. We have a unique function here, one which is important, perhaps most important in the whole world. Did you wonder what my great Workshop manufactures?” The young man nodded. “Toys. We make toys here. Toys of every shape and size, toys to bring joy to the hearts of every child. Tell me, do you remember the joy of Christmas morning?”

            The young man nodded. “Yes, sir. We would go to church and celebrate, and then we would return home and there would be presents. We would exchange gifts we had made during the year for one another. My parents always claimed that the toys were the work of elves who left them in the night, but I always suspected that my father made them secretly as we slept.”

            The old man chuckled, his entire body shaking. His laughter was the most wonderful sound he had ever heard, filling him with joy and warmth and a feeling that all was right with the world. “Yes, my son, you are not far from the mark on that. Unfortunately, many have forgotten the meaning of Christmas, living as they do under the yokes of those like the Duke whose greed and lust for power have hardened their hearts against the true meaning of Christmas and the lesson it teaches us. Much of that is because I have grown old, unable to combat the onset of corruption and greed that have addled the world. It is time for a younger man to succeed me.”

            The young man asked “Do you have a son who will take your place?” The old man smiled sadly. “Our city doesn’t work that way young man. My sons go out into the world, spreading peace and love as best they can. Their sacrifice helps keep our mission to bring the world closer to what the world is supposed to be. It is also the nature of the world to want that message to be suppressed and those who bring it to be brought down. My sons are all dead. I have but one daughter left, Salidia.” As if on cue, she walked into the room with big mugs full of steaming hot chocolate. The two men sat drinking for a few moments. It was the best thing he had ever had, filling his body with warmth and good feeling. Salidia sat with them, drinking as well. He felt her presence and yearned to touch her, but would not dishonor her in front of her father, who seemed so kindly and gentle as well.

            Nicholas went on, “Although at times it seems as if we fight a losing battle, we have powerful forces at work for us as well. You might even say magical forces. I see in your eyes that you are a practical man, my son. You are a farmer?” The young man nodded. “You love the land very much, the Northlands. I understand that love. I love this city in much the same way. I hope that you will love it that way as well.”

            The young man smiled. “Tis an amazing place, Sir Nicholas. I have never seen the like. I feel so peaceful here, I cannot explain it.” Nicholas chuckled again, smiling broadly. “Ah yes, I understand very well. This city has a profound effect on people. It is a place where hope and love are allowed to flourish. We deliver toys, yes, but we also deliver much more; a feeling that there is something better in life, that if we live our lives to the best we can be, everywhere can be the same as this city. We are the example to live by. It is an immense responsibility, but one I have gladly borne. Does that sound like something important to you?”

            The young man nodded. “I think it is important that one live in the world with kindness and regard for others. It is the responsibility of those who have to share with others, and those who have not to be kindly and caring. Money is unimportant; it corrupts and it leads men to cruelty and barbarism. Those who seek money find only coldness and emptiness. Those who seek to give find warmth and contentment.”

            The old man smiled broadly, nodding. “Yes, that’s it exactly. You understand what my city is all about. It is that understanding that we desperately need now.” He took a sip of hot chocolate, wiping the excess from his beard. “I have to ask something of you young man. I want you to hear what I have to say before accepting. It can bring you great joy but it is a mighty burden and there is great sacrifice that is required. Your life will change forever should you choose to accept, but it is your choice. You may say no if you wish to and should you do so, you will be returned to the Northlands safe and sound. Will you do me the kindness of listening to what I have to say?”

            The young man nodded. “It is the least I can do, sir. Please, speak.” The old man nodded. “What I am about to tell you is at times difficult to believe because, as I said, there are forces here that are not easily explainable. You have seen the Workshop and you have seen the elves. Do you know who I am, boy?” The young man nodded. “Of course. You are Father Christmas. You are Santa Claus.”

            The old man sighed. “It is a good thing that you recognize me. It makes what I have to say much easier. Yes, I am Santa Claus. I am he who delivers the toys to all the children of the globe on Christmas Eve. I am also dying.”

            The young man frowned. “How can that be? The legends say that you are immortal.” Santa chuckled again. “The position is immortal my son, but I am not. Tis true, I live much longer than most because of what I do but even I must die for that is the will of the Creator; only He lives forever, and that is as it should be. No, it is necessary for me to die and so I shall, soon. The world needs a Santa Claus however, and only someone who is giving and true can fill the position. Only one who has the courage to walk into the wilderness and brave certain death can find this city. Only one such as yourself. What I ask, dear boy, is that you take my place.”

            The young man was thunderstruck. “I…don’t know what to say. It is quite an honor…” The old man held up his hand. “Don’t answer just yet. You must know what all that entails. You will lead this city and while the elves are very much able to handle the toy making without much supervision from me…or you, should you choose to accept my offer, there is much responsibility that you undertake. You are tasked with determining which children are naughty and which children are nice. It is a list that requires you to see into the very souls of the innocent and from time to time, see things that are awful and saddening. Most children, you see, have some goodness in them, even if circumstances cause them to act in ways that are naughty and mean. A very few, however, were born without conscience or care, and have no love in them save for themselves. Some of these may be rehabilitated but most will go on to be your enemies, the ones in the world whose actions you exist to contravene.”

            The young man nodded. “How do I fight them?” The old man smiled gently. “With love and joy. With courage and conviction. We have no army, no political power, no laws to assist us save the laws that are most basic to us all; the laws of kindness and compassion. The law that we do unto others not only as we would have done to ourselves, but that which is right even if it is difficult. To aid those who need it. To uplift those who require it. To give all we have to give and sometimes more. It is a very difficult proposition, for greed is a very powerful thing. To survive in the world that is, one must have gold and yet the more gold one gets, the more gold one wants. We must show them that not all that glitters is gold.”

            He turned to his daughter. “Salidia, please fetch the Holly.” Her eyes sparkled and she looked even more beautiful. “You honor me, father. I will return with it in a moment.” She rose and walked out quickly. The young man stared after her, sorry to see her go. Santa chuckled. “You are fond of my daughter are you not?” He nodded absently then suddenly turned beet red. “Uhhh…I mean no offense sir…I mean, she’s the most beautiful woman…but…I…” Santa laughed then, a true laugh and the room seemed to brighten. The young man couldn’t help but smile and laugh as well.

            Santa said “Of course you are already in love with her my son, as I was with my dear Martha when I first came. You are meant to be with her and she with you. I have seen how she looks at you and believe me she feels the same about you. You will be married one day, mark my words.” The young man was flabbergasted, blushing furiously. Santa chuckled again. “That is one of the perks of the job, my son. You get to spend it with your one true love.”

            His face turned serious. “But there is also a great sacrifice that you make. Your life will be long and fruitful, but she is not Santa Claus; she will live long, but she will die long before you do. You will spend many lonely years missing her. You will also see your children die. All those you love in the Northlands shall die long before you do. At the end, you will have the comfort of but one of your children, one who will be the one who marries your successor or, at least the one who is meant to be your successor.”

            “You see, you have the choice to stay or leave. I cannot force this life on you. It must be accepted without reservation, understanding fully the ramifications of what your choice means. This is a life that offers great fulfillment and many, many years of joy but there is also great sadness and pain. The battle you will wage is never an easy one, and it is easy to despair. You will often feel your efforts in vain as often the children see their presents as their right and proper due rather than as what they really are; an expression of love and hope. You will wonder if you are truly making a difference and you will feel the loneliness that comes with being the only one of your kind. If you choose this life for yourself, it is with the understanding that the burden is a consuming one. Do you understand dear boy what I am offering you?”

            The young man nodded and stood up. “Yes, Father Christmas, I do understand. I want nothing more than to do good in this life. What better way than to be Santa Claus?” He offered his hand to the old man who shook it. Tears began to flow out of the old man’s eyes and he said “You have made an old man very happy, young man. Very happy indeed. Now, I ask you…your name.” The young man nodded and said “My name is Kris.”

            The old man nodded and said “It is an honor to meet you Kris.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a ledger. On this, there were several names listed. The last was Nicholas of Myra. Santa pushed the inkwell, the quill and the ledger towards him. “When you sign your name to the ledger, the deed will be done. You will become Santa Claus. I will once again be just Nicholas.” The young man picked up the Quill. As he did, a beautiful light filled his eyes. He could see everywhere, inside people and see the generosity in them, the goodness of their spirits. It brought tears to his eyes, but he looked to the ledger and slowly signed it “Kris Kringle.”

            The door opened and Salidia entered, carrying a velvet pillow on which a sprig of holly rested. The sprig was merely a stick, without leaves or berries. She carried it in with great reverence and laid it on the desk. She saw the ledger’s new signature and her smile broadened. She hugged Kris close and gave him a kiss, and he knew that he was with the woman he had always been searching for in that instant.

            Nicholas said “This is an ancient Holly, in which the spirit of Christmas resides. It contains the souls of all those who have presided over this city before you and into which my soul will now pass. It is where yours shall go when your successor arrives. It is the source for all the magic in this city; it endows simple reindeer with the power of flight and allows you to be in all places at once. When Christmas Eve arrives, you will bear it with you and this shall allow you to deliver all the presents in a single night. It is the Christmas miracle that happens each year and symbolizes the ability of Christmas to bring out the best in all of us. I will leave it in your capable hands…Santa.”

            The young man found himself crying. “Must you leave…?” The old man nodded sadly. “It is my time,” he said in a gentle voice, “and I am more than ready for it. I will always dwell here, in this spring of Holly and you shall know me each time you take it in your hands. Now, please allow an old man to say goodbye to his daughter one last time.”

            He rose and Salidia, who was sobbing rose to hug her father. They embraced and Salidia whispered “I love you father. Thank you for all you have given me.” The old man hugged her tightly. “And thank you, my child, for all you have given me.” They held each other for a time, and then the old man gently moved her away. The young man found himself rising and took Salidia in his arms to comfort her. She buried her head in his shoulder, weeping.

            Nicholas said “It is time,” and there was a loud sound like the tolling of a bell. He placed his hand on the sprig and smiled. “Goodbye children. I am content.” Sparkling light suffused the old man, all the colors of the rainbow did he glow. The light grew gradually brighter and brighter until at last it was pure white, and both Salidia and Kris had to look away. Soon the light gradually faded and the old man was gone but the sprig of Holly bloomed once again, covered with leaves and berries.

            Salidia and Kris held each other for a time until the tears stopped. They dried each other’s eyes and kissed; a long and loving embrace that would mark their wedding. The vows that they took were never spoken but implied. In that moment they were united as one.

            They walked to the doors of Santa’s office and opened them. There waiting were hundreds of elves, expectantly. It was Kris who spoke. “Nicholas is no more. He has joined those who came before him. A great man has passed from this world.” There was weeping then, as those who had served him so well and so long paid their respects. At last Kris spoke again. “His mantle passes to me now and I hope that I do as well by him as he did by you. Together we will continue the work that he did so well.”

            A voice cried out from the elves “Long live Santa Claus! Long live Christmas!” All the other elves took up the cry and there was great cheering. The bells of the city began to toll in joy and solemnity. The world itself seemed brighter for a bit.

            In the Northlands, Kris’ disappearance would be a mystery that would soon be forgotten. A younger brother would inherit the family farm and do as well by it as Kris himself probably would have. As for the Duke, he became a victim of his own greed as one of his debtors grew tired of waiting for payment and had the Duke brought to justice. The King, disgusted with the harm, the Duke had wrought on the Northlands, installed Kris’ brother as the new Duke and he ruled the Northlands with compassion and fairness, bringing to it a prosperity that was unrivaled for many generations.

            As for Kris, well, we all know about him. He continues to be Santa to this day and has spread joy and love for many years, but as he has grown older, the world has become a corrupt and despairing place. It is fast becoming time for his successor to be chosen. Perhaps one of you, gentle readers, shall feel a call, an urge to walk for reasons you cannot explain into a place where there are no humans and no hope of walking out alive. I hope you find the city where an old man and his daughter wait for you. I hope you find it in your heart to take up his mantle. I hope, most of all, you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

It’s a Wonderful Life


It's a Wonderful Life
George Bailey once caught a fish that was THISSSS big!!

(1946) Holiday Fantasy (RKO Radio) Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Tom Karns. Directed by Frank Capra

There are a lot of movies that are designated as classics, and they get that kind of acclaim for a variety of reasons. Some transcend time and place, bring into focus our basic humanity and reaffirm the basic goodness that is inside all of us, even though we sometimes seem more like the greedy banker than the noble George Bailey.

The aforementioned George Bailey (Stewart) wants nothing more than to see the world, but events conspire against him. His father’s building and loan in the picturesque town of Bedford Falls is the only alternative for people to build homes as opposed to live in the squalid shacks built by the town’s greedy, grasping Mr. Potter (Barrymore), one of  filmdom’s all time nastiest villains. Time after time, just when it seems that George is going to get his dream, something happens to frustrate him.

Most of us know the basics of the story. When George hits rock bottom, his business short by several thousand dollars on Christmas Eve just when the auditor arrives and it seems as if he is going to go to jail and his family rocked by scandal, he wishes he had never been born. His somewhat bedraggled guardian angel Clarence (Travers) grants him his wish and he gets to see what the world would be like without him.

The message is that a single person can make a huge difference on the lives of those around them is perhaps not an unusual one but few films have ever delivered it as effectively as this one. A perennial Christmas favorite, the redemption of George Bailey is recognized as the redemption of us all. Like George Bailey, we often don’t recognize what we have right in front of us.

This may very well be Jimmy Stewart’s most defining role. He made a career of playing an unassuming everyman, none more basically good than George Bailey. He’s a good man doing the best he can in trying circumstances; we can all see a little bit of ourselves in George, and in his devoted wife Mary (Reed). The love between them is genuine and uplifting, and much more passionate than movies of the time were generally.

Barrymore, one of the great actors of his generation, plays mean Mr. Potter note-perfectly as a man obsessed with power and possession and in doing so creates one of the most memorable movie villains ever. George Bailey compares him to a spider and so he is, sitting in his web, spinning his plans with a worldview that is cynical, believing the people are basically corrupt and unworthy. It is the difference between Bailey and Potter that represents the two opposing views of the nature of man. We like to believe that we are more like George Bailey, even though oftentimes we act more like Mr. Potter – in our own self-interest with little regard for the world behind us. I do believe he would have found our world very much to his liking.

And yet we still believe in George Bailey. Seeing this movie always brings to mind that we are, at heart, yearning to be George Bailey, wishing that the world worked the way it does here where the good are surrounded by friends who rush to the rescue in our darkest hour. It’s a world where angels get wings whenever a bell rings, where decrepit houses can become homes and where daddies can fix broken flowers with a little bit of glue and a lot of love. It’s a world where prayers are answered and guardian angels walk among us. It is a better world. It is our world, or at least it could be.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s a heartwarming classic that uplifts the spirit no matter how depressed you may be.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You have the soul of Mr. Potter.

FAMILY VALUES: This is a family classic that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The American Film Institute has named this movie the #1 most inspirational film of all time, the #1 most powerful film of all time, the #3 Fantasy film of all time and the #20 film overall.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The 2-disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions include a making of documentary hosted by the late Tom Bosley and Frank Capra Jr. hosts a featurette entitled “A Personal Remembrance.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Formosa Betrayed

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jim Carrey makes a point about Taylor Momsen’s hairstyle; it’s a bit too drab.

(2000) Holiday Fantasy (Universal) Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, Clint Howard, Mindy Sterling, Anthony Hopkins (voice). Directed by Ron Howard

Family movies, particularly those concerning the holidays, have become increasingly marketing-oriented, substituting toys and corporate tie-ins for good storytelling and meaningful lessons. It’s ironic that this live-action remake of a beloved animated classic that espouses the feeling behind Christmas over the commercialism that Christmas has become should be marketed so aggressively – with toys and corporate tie-ins.

Irony aside, most of us who aren’t named Ebeneezer Scrooge know the story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” A mean-spirited, cold-hearted (that heart being two sizes too small) creature known as the Grinch (Carrey) sits in his mountain lair, dreading the coming of Christmas, a holiday loathed by the green-furred curmudgeon. Taking solace by playing mean-spirited pranks on his Christmas-obsessed neighbors down in Whoville (known as Whos, creatures with off-the-wall haircuts and upwardly mobile noses), the Grinch is eventually goaded into a dastardly scheme. He means to eradicate every vestige of Christmas from Whoville while the unsuspecting Whos slumber amid the splendors of pine and light.

With the reluctant help of his adorable mutt Max, the Grinch devises a Santa suit and a rather unlikely-looking sleigh to carry out his nefarious deed. Of course, we all know how it ends – so there’s no need to discuss that here.

Director Ron Howard goes deeper into the background story of the Grinch, exploring the reasons behind his hate affair with the Yuletide, and adds numerous subplots, turning tiny Cindy Lou Who (Momsen) into a central character, whose non-judgmental belief in the goodness of the Grinch proves to be the linchpin the story revolves around. Writer Jeffrey Price adds a love interest (Baranski), a pompous mayor (Tambor) and Cindy Lou’s simple but eventually steadfast dad (Irwin).

The onscreen Whoville appears just as the late Theodore Geisel drew it, only in greater detail. Methinks the film’s designers spent a lot of time examining Seuss Landing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure; the set bears a striking resemblance to the theme park. Much like Never-Never Land in “Hook,” Whoville and the Mount Crumpit Grinch Cave become pivotal to the movie’s success, becoming places that are real and that we want to visit. Whoville may not be the star of the show, but it’s certainly an important cast member.

In one of his most physically demanding roles, Carrey brings the Grinch to life and though he can’t resist the over-the-top mugging that keeps me from being a big fan of his work, I am nonetheless impressed with his commitment to the character. Young Momsen makes a charming Cindy Lou Who, and though it probably wasn’t a wise idea to let her sing, she at least is off-key with heart. Boris Karloff is no longer with us to narrate, but Hopkins is the best person for filling those shoes that we have today, Christopher Lee notwithstanding.

This is a family movie that is actually for the whole family. Young ‘uns will appreciate the simple story, the physical comedy and the wonderful eye candy. Adults (most of us who grew up with Dr. Seuss or reading it to someone who did) will find comfort in the nostalgia that is evoked, and delight in seeing Whoville brought to life.

Add “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the list of timeless holiday classics that we’ll want to revisit again and again through the years. It’s a marvelous treat for the entire family or share with a date, or even just experience by yourself. Da Queen gave this one sentimental hankie, and for once, I think she underrated it.

WHY RENT THIS: The dazzling Whoville set brings Dr. Seuss to life. Certainly there are moments in the movie when the Christmas spirit really shows through.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Carrey has a tendency to overdo it at times.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the humor is a little crude but otherwise this is a holiday classic fit for the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Whoville set was built behind the Psycho house on the Universal lot in California. Sometimes during breaks in filming, Carrey would run out of the house while wearing a dress and brandishing a knife, startling the tourists taking the Backlot Tram Tour but nobody ever recognized him.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video of Faith Hill’s performance of “Where Are You Christmas” (the song Momsen sings, sorta, in the film) and some interesting featurettes on translating Dr. Seuss’ world to the screen as well as the instructions that went to the extras on how to be Whos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $345.1M on a $123M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill concludes with the review of a Holiday Classic and a special Christmas story.

A Christmas Story


A Christmas Story
How could you deny this face a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun?

(1983) Holiday Comedy (MGM) Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tedde Moore, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Jeff Gillen, Jean Shepherd (voice). Directed by Bob Clark

The Christmases of our childhood are special and priceless. Sometimes a single Christmas can be defined by the things we get, but sometimes what we get is more than the presents we’re given.

Ralphie Parker (Billingsley) lives in an Indiana town in 1940; a very Norman Rockwell kind of place with department stores, middle schools and Chinese restaurants. Ralphie is a pretty normal kid who wants just one thing for Christmas; a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun. He knows exactly the one he wants; it has a compass in the stock as well as a sundial; he even knows the serial number.

Unfortunately, no adult in their right mind is willing to get that kind of gift for him. He could shoot his eye out with that thing. So he does what he can to convince those in charge that he deserves the gift of his dreams and will use it safely. Unfortunately, he has to contend with a whole lot of things, like the school bully Scut Farkas (Ward) and his minion Grover Dill (Anaya). On his side is his little brother Randy (Petrella) and his friend Flick (Schwartz) who is foolish enough to affix his tongue to a frozen metal post with predictable results.

He has a mom (Dillon) with the patience of a saint but a firm and steadfast refusal to let him get the BB gun. His old man (McGavin) is far too busy dealing with the neighbor’s mutts who drive him crazy, as well as the anticipation of the arrival of a major award, which turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg with a fishnet stocking on it. He sticks it in the front window, mortifying Ralphie’s mom.

When Ralphie gives one final try to see if the big man – Santa (Gillen) will come through but when he goes to the local department store to ask the Man in the Suit for his beloved BB gun, the response is “You’ll shoot your eye out with one of those things, kid. Ho ho ho” followed by a shove by his jolly boot. With Christmas days away and nowhere left to turn, how could this be anything but the worst Christmas ever?

This has become a modern classic of the holiday movie genre and the most bizarre part is that it was directed by the man best known for directing Porky’s. If two movies on the same filmography could be more diametrically opposed, I can’t think of any. While A Christmas Story has a feeling of Americana (courtesy of Jean Shepherd, who wrote the collection of short stories the movie is based on and also narrates), the other is raunchy and outrageous at times, a precursor to things like American Pie.

McGavin and Dillon are perfectly cast in this. Dillon, who was cast based on her work in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is much more of an idealized American mom here. She is patient (for the most part – don’t think of cursing in front of her though) and nurturing although there are times her patience grows thin. McGavin, who was mostly known as Carl Kolchak on the “Night Stalker”  television series, was cast when Jack Nicholson turned down the role and the movie benefitted I think. McGavin is equal parts loving dad, bumbling husband and antagonized neighbor. He mutters vague expletives that the movie serves to keep from being specific, which makes it actually funnier.

Billingsley is not the most talented child actor that ever came down the pike, but he does a decent job here. Most of the child actors here are by modern standards somewhat wooden, but they were more or less equal to the standards of the time. It helps that Shepherd moves much of the plot along with his narration, leaving the kids less to do.

Shepherd was the kind of writer who inspired people like Garrison Keillor and Spalding Gray; he was quite a raconteur and left behind a body of work that is as impressive as any 20th century author, but it will be this movie he will most be remembered for. Like Charles Dickens, his insights into human nature and the power of Christmas to make things better are timeless and needed. Sometimes things just come into confluence as if guided by fate, unseen hands or whatever – this is one of those things. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, y’know?

WHY RENT THIS: One of those timeless movies of Americana that have to do with family, love and Daisy Red Rider BB Guns.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor may be a bit too dry for some..

FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild violence and swearing, although there are allusions to much worse language than is actually used onscreen.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house that was featured in the exterior shots was actually in Cleveland, not in Indiana where the movie is set. A fan of the film bought the home in 2005, refurbishing the interior to match the movie. It opened in 2006, along with a gift shop and museum dedicated to the movie in the house next door which the fan also purchased. You can learn more about the house and the movie at their website here.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Because the movie is a classic and has gone through several DVD releases, there are a plethora of features out there in the various iterations. While the original DVD just contains the film and the trailer, the Blu-Ray and Special Edition include a couple of games, a fascinating featurette on the Daisy Red Rider BB Gun, Jean Shepherd reading two of his stories for a radio show, an 18-minute “Another Christmas Story” which features the now-adult members of the cast reminiscing about their time filming the movie and its impact on their lives and a funny featurette known as “The Leg Lamp: Shining Light of Freedom.” The Ultimate edition contains all of these and the scripted “Flash Gordon” scene that was eventually cut from the film, as well as a recipe book, cookie cutters and an apron (it comes in a cookie tin).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $20.6M on an unreported production budget; although it’s likely that the movie broke even at best during its theatrical run, it has more than earned its keep on cable and home video.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill continues.