Movies: Holiday Movies

badsanta.jpgHoliday movies like you‘ve never seen

Since it first aired on television in 1955 “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been broadcast 18,257 times.

OK, I made that number up, but I think you get my drift.

As touching as George Bailey’s story of redemption is it’s been played to death. Even though I love hissing at Mr. Potter and just flat out love little Zuzu, it’s time to move on, broaden our collective holiday horizons and watch something else this year.

There are lots of Christmas movies to choose from, the trick is finding a selection of Yule films that are suitable for everyone in the family. “Christmas Evil”? Why upset Granny? “The Toy That Saved Christmas”? It’s fine, but so sweet it’ll give everyone in the house cavities. “Bad Santa”? That one puts the “X” in Xmas.

So what can take the place of Clarence and George on Christmas Eve?

How about “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”? Released in 1964, it’s a no-budget wonder that ping-pongs from so-bad-it’s-good right back to bad again. Cinematically it may be the biggest Christmas turkey ever, but check out the crazy story: Martians kidnap Santa so their little green kids can get some presents just like human children!

You won’t it find on any critics top ten list. “The Monster Times” called it “the worst science fiction flick ever, bar none” and it was featured on an episode of the “Canned Film Festival,” a syndicated series that showcased the worst movies ever made.

So why is it on my list?

It’s there because it makes me smile. It’s there because the song “Hooray for Santy Claus” has the lines “He’s fat and round, but jumpin’ jiminy / He can climb down any chiminy!” It’s there because it’s one of the few Christmas movies to feature a character named after a Yiddish word (that’s Chochem, an 800-year old Martian sage who takes his name from the word for genius) It’s there because it’s Pia Zadora’s first film (although, sadly, not her last).

If you don’t share my taste for kitsch there are some more traditional, but non-treacle-laced movies on my list.

You might want to give Granny an extra sherry and send the tots off to bed before plugging “The Ref” into the DVD player. Few holiday films use a Christmas Eve home invasion as a staring point for the action, but this O Henry-ish story about a kidnapper (Dennis Leary) forced to become a marriage counselor when his hostages (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) refuse to stop bickering, (“Great,” he says, “I hijacked my %$#@ing parents.”) is hilarious and heartwarming in its own foul-mouthed way.

Christmas dysfunction has rarely been this raw or this well written. When Lloyd (Spacey) says to his mother, “You know what I’m going to get you next Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices, you can climb on up and nail yourself to it,” it’s vicious, but viciously funny. It’s like Neil Simon from Hell.

Of course there’s a message; it’s a Christmas movie after all. Amidst all the barbs is a lesson from Leary’s bad guy for the good guys on how to behave on Christmas. Of course the message is delivered with an edge. When a nephew whines, “What are we supposed to do now?” after discovering that the television is broken, his mom smacks him and snaps, “Celebrate the birth of Christ!”

It’s not “White Christmas” but isn’t that the whole point of this list?

A little more touchy-feely than “The Ref” (but just barely) is “Scrooged,” Bill Murray’s take on “A Christmas Carol.” The story of a cold hearted television executive (Bill Murray) who is visited by three ghosts (“You are a hallucination,” he says, “brought on by alcohol. Russian Vodka; poisoned by Chernobyl.”) on the eve of presenting a live televised version of the Dickens classic starring Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, is acerbic and sentimental simultaneously.

As played by Murray Frank Cross is one of the grinchiest characters ever seen on screen. He takes Bah Humbug to a level I don’t think even Charles Dickens could have imagined. He fires people on Christmas Eve, sends his brother a towel as a gift and is so self centered he doesn’t get that his secretary wore black for a year because her husband had passed away. “I thought it was a fashion thing,” he says.

But by the end he’s a nicer man and it’s near impossible not to be moved by his transformation. “The Jews taught me this great word,” he says. “Schmuck. I was a schmuck, and now I’m not a schmuck.”
So don’t be a schmuck! Put “It’s a Wonderful Life” back in the DVD drawer and check out something different to make your Yuletide bright.

richardcrouse.jpg– Richard Crouse

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