“Why in the fuck would you even attempt to do that?” runs a close second place to the various tidings of comfort and joy I’ve been wished this holiday season. This is because, from December 1st until the 24th, I’ve been on a relatively consistent diet of televised Christmas films. To be clear, it wasn’t a strict diet – that would be too “Clockwork Orange,” ya know?
More specifically, I watched Christmas films shown on the Hallmark and Lifetime families of channels. Unlike the Patron Saint of Conspicuous Consumption, Santa der Klaus, good Christmas movies do exist, even if they’re along the campy, shticky lines of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and the like. Needless to say, this isn’t so on extended cable television. Fare produced by those two abominations of programming simply tends to represent everything I hate about The Holiday. There’s a dividing line — however thin — between camp, and shite produced, evidently, for emotional retards.
The raison d’ etre? In a nutshell, filthy lucre, folks. I want to cash in, too. I’m writing a book, and the working title is It’s a Horrible Life(time): 25 Days of Televised X-Mas “Films.” Apparently, X-Mas entertainment is as bulletproof as Christian music, and that unchecked passive-aggression [“Be nice! It’s Christmas!”] will stand no longer with me. I don’t believe I’m unique particularly unique, and folks like me would probably enjoy a book that is an extended rant, not so much against Christmas as it against what it’s become to your “Average American,” whatever that means. I’m writing a book “for the rest of us,” even though I’m pretty sure it’s been done many times, many ways.
To be clear, I’m don’t really hate Christmas whatsoever, and my consternation toward The Holiday is more political/economic than it is an aversion to happiness. Try this:
I’ve been doing it stoned out of my mind, but for those who don’t partake in the greenery, you can pretend you’re an alien. Either next year, or now, during post-Christmas sales and returns season, walk through a mall WITHOUT THE INTENT OF BUYING A SINGLE THING, OTHER THAN A SHITTY SLICE AT SBARRO’S. Fuck – walk through any given Target. Spend some time. Mill around a bit. There, my friends, is where you’ll find that the Milk of Human Kindness done spoilt quite a while ago.
The movies are the tip of a very large iceberg, but they’re going to be the backbone of the piece, so in the spirit of offering up an after-holiday aperitif, I offer a bounty of mini-snarks.
The Three Kings of Hell, and the Abbreviated Advent Calendar of Doom
Every — and I do mean “every” quite literally — Christmas movie on Hallmark and Lifetime channels can be broken down in to three subgenres: Wouldn’t it be nutty if Santa Claus were real?; ‘A Christmas Carol’ Redux; and We Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute, In Our Crazy, Modern World. Sure, it may be cynical, but I actually call the latter, Christmas Slapped On an Otherwise Shitty, Mediocre Clusterfuck of a Script to Sell It to Holiday-Addled Fucktards.
The First Horseman
I have to confess that it irks me to no end that two of the films I “liked” best are in the ‘Christmas Carol’ Redux category. Though I generally put my “They made this, and I’m still trying to shove my way in???” writer’s rage on the backburner, the very idea that AT LEAST one of these fucking things is made every year or so burns my ass. Plunder the Public Domain catalog and shitforbrains will beat a path to your door. They usually have “clever” twists on the title like A Carol Christmas (a Tori Spelling vehicle I unfortunately missed), and the lead is a person who has a career in which it’s plausible that the morally bankrupt are bound to rise to the top. And somehow, the ghosts come, and we all know the rest of the fuckin’ story from there.
If you’re going to watch one, Karroll’s Christmas is slightly less painful than having your wisdom teeth pulled. It stars Tom Everett Scott as Allen Karroll, a congenial, albeit cynical and a tad self-absorbed, greeting card artist. Because of his attitude, he’s shitcanned on Christmas Eve, and of course, his relationship with a cute, spunky, Christmassy chick, hangs by a thread because he was too obsessed with being fired while she was flirting with him in “hot Santa” lingerie
A friendly, helpful hint to my lady friends:
Men don’t give a French-fried fuck about the Santa or Elf-themed lingerie. Sticking your cock in Mrs. Claus is, like, one step up from being a Furry. Why not put on the goddam beard while you’re at it??? I’m not judging someone who has a serious devotion to a kink, but that’s enitrely different discussion…
The rub is a clerical error by the ghost of Bob Marley. [Get it??? Nudge, nudge!!!] I want to know where this guy gets his mistletoe because he’s clearly smoked himself stupid. It is the kind of performance that can only come from someone who’s never so much as been near a joint. But I digress…
His neighbor, Zeb Rosecog is the actual target, and poor Allen is dragged through Rosecog’s life, heavy on the pathos from the death of his wife, to his alienated daughter just making it to his deathbed in time to see him flatline. Maybe I should have said SPOILER ALERT first. SPOILER ALERT: Rosecog was a jaded greeting card writer, too. The message is SPOILER ALERT: that having a dark sense of humor about Christmas is just as toxic as being a Scrooge… I mean, Rosecog. So I found the protagonist in this piece to be relatable, however, you’re not bloody likely to see me running down the street like George Bailey, having had a Christmas epiphany. I don’t agree with the thesis statement, though I surely understand it.
If there’s anything that saves the movie, it’s the cast. Besides being a fucked out story that every numbskull in Hollywood thinks it’s something on which they can put their “stamp,” it’s horribly written, to boot. Yet somehow, it was the least painful one to watch. It’s kind of like looking at a pile of rancid meat and saying, “Hey! That one doesn’t have any maggots on it!”
The always likable Tom Everett Scott is the eponymous Karroll, and the “inconceivable” Wallace Shawn is Zeb Rosecog. Larry Miller continues his tradition of being a talented stand-up who does horrible fucking movies as one of the ghosts – I forget which. Vern “Mini Me” Troyer is a good left-field choice as the Ghost of Christmas To Come, and he’s actually pretty funny in the role. Say what you like about the obviousness of a little person in a Grim Reaper costume, but it’s truly a feat – Troyer nailed down the one roll this time of year that didn’t involve putting on a fuckin’ elf costume.
And even though she’s a little vanilla for my usual taste, I’d bang the holy bejeezus out of Deanna Milligan, who played Allen Karroll’s long suffering girlfriend. She’d have to leave the Santa suit home, though.
A Diva’s Christmas Carol is worlds apart. Okay, it’s not. Vanessa Williams stars as Ebony Scrooge. I’ve never really heard any stories about Whitney-esque behavior from Ms. Williams, but then again, she’s really believable in the role. SPOILER ALERT: Rozonda ‘Chilli from TLC’ Thomas plays Marli Jacob, Ebony’s former partner in an 80’s girl group, yadda, yadda, Kathy Griffin is one of the ghosts, yadda, yadda… This film, oddly, does not have an appearance by Madea.
I was set to hate this movie on every level, and I was progressing at a fairly even clip, then the twist in the third act. I have to admit it was atypically inventive. SPOILER ALERT: instead of another ghost flying her around in time, her hotel room ices over, and the television plays a VH1 “Behind the Music” about her. SPOILER ALERT: she’s a real piece of shit. She made all of her dancers do a Christmas show! Oh the humanity!!! Do you know how many dancers would give an appendage (or at least a humiliating blowjob) for a chance to perform??? Christmas or otherwise??? But I digress…
The Second Horseman
In The Santa Suit, Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo plays a ruthless executive at a toy manufacturing company, who in a brush with “the real Santa Claus” is turned into Kris Kringle until he straightens up and learns the “true meaning of Christmas.” I was a little torn as to whether or not I should make a fourth genre designation: ‘The Santa Clause’ Redux. Ultimately, I decided that the overriding idea is that the rub in those kind of flicks still comes from a “being Santa must be pretty wacky” place. It’s entire hook is that yuks that are sure to come when Sorbo wears a Santa suit, and mugs with hyperactive children with Down Syndrome who shit and piss in his lap. There’s a second tier to the demographic, of course, because women who read Harlequin Romances need something to masturbate to, too.
But my joy came from how it wears its shoddy production values on its sleeve unrepentantly, like a Purple Heart made of Road Apples. SPOILER ALERT: Because he is destitute, and living in a homeless shelter — and presumably funky as a Bootsy Collins bass solo from wearing the Santa Suit day in, day out — he gets a job as a toy store Santa. You don’t need to have gone to USC Film or Tisch to see that the “toy store” is one fucking aisle of a Party City. For one, no toys. Lots of balloons and candy, though. Without the establishing shot of a toy store in a mini-mall, the only thing to indicate it was such a thing would be the dialog.
That’s bad enough, but the pièce de résistance is in the film’s climax, when Santa Sorbo goes running down the street SPOILER ALERT: to find the little girl of the lady at the homeless shelter who he wants to bang because… Well, either way, the “snow” lining the “New York” street down which he was charging was coming up with each stride the Mighty Hercules took. That is to say that you can tell when even the Teamsters on a project are phoning it in. Just a couple more staples and I could have focused on the lousy writing and acting.
Mr. Saint Nick and Santa Jr. are a little closer to the mark – not because they involve Santa in the “crazy” real world, which they do, but they’re fucking terrible. And having seen more than my fare share of this crap over the course of 24 days, that’s saying something! Both involve the idea of Santa’s son taking over the “family business,” although he doesn’t want to do things “the way the old man did.” For the most part, this involves living in a beach community.
In the former, Kelsey Grammer plays a television weather man in Miami, Nick Saint Nicholas, whose blowout with Dad leads him to denying his birthright. In a misguided attempt to one-up the old man by starting a charity, Mr. Saint Nick, he falls for a sexy con-artist; and falls prey to Internet fraud. To make matters worse, the current Santa’s power is fading, and Christmas may be “lost” altogether if Junior doesn’t get his shit together, and marry to boot. Fortunately, his recently hired, nebulously Latina housekeeper, who loves him from afar, and whose son plays in a mambo band…
The Pale Rider
Seriously, I’m going to dig out some of my old, crappy, go-nowhere scripts, and see if The Unholy Three can slap Christmas on ’em, to scare up a little cashola. We’re tired of being really talented undiscovered people, and we know how to use a nom de plumre. The holiday creates a sort of bypass in one’s internal Quality Assurance circuits to where saying “This is shit!” is tantamount to kicking the Baby Jesus. While he holds a puppy. Both of them swaddled in the fucking American flag.
Case in point: What I Did For Love. The title is a dead giveaway, right? I mean, it’s the title of a song from that classic Christmas story, A Chorus Line. Erstwile Mallrat, Jeremy London plays a big city attorney, who’s engaged to a “big city” transplant. Though she’s a city sophisticate, she’s still a country girl at heart, and wants him to come home with her to, I don’t know, Nebraska (?) for Christmas. It follows the played out “fish out of water concept,” with rare moments of Jeremy London abating the DT’s long enough to manage to do some yoga against a prairie backdrop, then awkardly fall over when her grizzled Pa comes out and hollers, “What’re you doin’???”. Ma’s actually dead, but the irrepressible Sally Struthers, her aunt, is around to chew some scenery with a honed and textured performance. Well, no. She was just actually breaking off pieces of the set and literally eating them, while her mind went to a place where it was 1974 and she was doing Emmy-caliber work with Normal Lear.
Though the family doesn’t immediately “take a shine” to him, Jeremy London’s lawyerin’ saves the family farm from city slicker lawers. I bet he wishes he could claim that a bunch of tweekers from the High Desert tied him up, forcefed him crack, and made him do this film – but, even with a raised eyebrow, you can only get away with using that excuse once in this life time.
There’s more, but why? I’m looking at 25oo words now, and if there’s one thing I learned over the course of the last 24 days, it’s that enough is enough. Happy thoughts. Calm blue ocean. Christina Hendricks. A week-long pallette cleanser of Sam Peckinpah movies. Silent Movie Theater…
Catharsis (or “How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy Yule.”)
I have more nostalgia for Christmas than any other emotion, and in that way, I don’t resent the commercial angle at all. In fact, thinking about it, it’s the only window through which I process Christmas – it certainly isn’t religion. It’s mostly commercialism and parties.
I don’t look at a manger scene and think about the birth of Christ – I think about the time our dog, Daniel, stole the Baby Jesus out of his crib, and ate him. I smell stale popcorn and think of the basement of the Sears in Riverside when I was a little kid in the seventies – every Christmas it became “Toyland,” as if it were still the 1940’s. Mego Superheroes and Star Wars action figures as far as the eye could see. And I get more choked up at Christmas Comes to Pac-Land, than I am the manipulative drivel I endured for 24 fucking days of my LIFE.
So in that spirit, this year, I changed up my usual Christmas ritual of at least two NBA games — even with teams I could give a shit about — and a sojourn to Canter’s. I still went to Canter’s, but I caught the Laker game on the radio as I drove to see Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas – a Jim Henson television special from the late 70’s. It’s a simple, “Gift of the Magi” riff populated by cute, furry (non-Muppet) woodland creatures hammering out tunes from the Paul Williams bluegrass collection.
It was playing at The Silent Movie Theater – which is a misnomer because they do play more than silent movies there. Cinefamily was hosting. Before the show, they served eggnog. I mean real eggnog – not some bullshit, virgin, “think of the children,” horseshit. Genuinely nogged egg! And Christmas cookies! Which may be the first time since 1980 that I’ve gotten excited about sugar cookies.
Before the main event, well, I don’t know who put together the video montage, but whoever it is is a sick genius after my own heart – everything from “A Very Brady Christmas” to “The Night They Saved Christmas,” and yes, my beloved Pac Man. (and even Masters of the Universe!) The DJ managed to find a selection of obscure Christmas pop singles from times past – and strangely it was Christmas music that didn’t suck. And as I sunk into my uncomfortable seat (my only critique of the space), I finally got what I wanted – if even just for a second, it felt like Christmas to me. Sniffle.
If it wasn’t for the finicky, yappy bitch behind me, it would have been perfect. What am I saying? It’s Christmas!