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Published on December 22nd, 2010 | by admin


Mars Needs Culture! #5: …And to all a good night

The holidays are solidly upon us now, and in my household it is definitely a time where I like to shut off from the rest of the world and spend time with my girlfriend. I’m sure it will surprise no one that movies play a large part in our Christmas day festivities, and I couldn’t imagine having a discussion on our favorite holiday movies and specials without her. So please join me in giving a warm welcome to this week’s co-columnist my girlfriend Elizabeth.

First up, a personal favorite – A Wish for Wings That Work (1991). For those of you who may be unfortunate enough to have never had this special cross your path, it is based on Berkeley Breathed’s children’s book of the same name. In the story, Opus and Bill the Cat, iconic characters from Breathed’s comic strip Bloom County, rush to save Christmas by helping Santa.

JJ– I love Bloom County, so for me this was tantamount to A Charlie Brown Christmas. I have heard that Mr. Breathed was not all that happy with the final product, but I have never understood his disdain. I feel it captures the off-kilter sensibility of the strip nicely, not to mention it is the only Christmas special I know that features an animated hairball.

E– And it’s full of the kind of falderal about the importance of embracing one’s individual talents and idiosyncrasies one expects from any self-respecting children’s special. Awesome. It is beautifully drawn with a rich palette, and the voices, while at first a bit unexpected for characters I hold dear, now comfortably inhabit the cartoon world, even if they are still not those I hear in my head when I read the comic.

Second, let’s take a look at Scrooge (1970). A young Albert Finney plays Ebenezer Scrooge in a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

JJ– Not only does this hit upon my love of Christmas stories, it’s a freakin’ MUSICAL! A really dark one at that. Scrooge sings about his hatred of the general public in a song that I am not ashamed to admit goes through my head all year long. Even the most jolly song in this film “Thank You Very Much” is sung by those people who owe Scrooge money, and are quite literally dancing on his coffin. It also speaks volumes toward Finney’s abilities that he’s able to bring the decrepit miser to life so perfectly when you see scenes of Scrooge as a young man, and you realize that this is only a short while since he played quite the ladies man in Tom Jones. Visually, this film is a cousin to Dickens’ other musical Oliver! in as much as it feels as if we are watching the very same part of London in a tale from a different part of the year.

E– An important aspect of this adaptation is the charisma of Scrooge before his enlightenment. One can find the same phenomenon in Bill Murray’s portrayal of the same character in Scrooged, a man who makes unsavory decisions, yet remains on a level, both endearing and relatable. We humans don’t, generally speaking, like it when other people ask us for our stuff, either. As a person who lives in a city rife with the pestilence known as “canvassers,” I cringe when those two men meet Finney’s Scrooge outside his work place to ask for a donation. Happens every day here. The casting of a charming actor in this role is vital to lure the viewer into Ebenezer’s frame of mind before the conversion, so that said viewer can experience a similar metamorphosis.

JJ– I agree, if Finney had less charisma, this film would fall apart. He holds this movie together with a compelling gravitas.

Now let’s touch on The Santa Clause (1994). Tim Allen’s movie debut as a man who becomes Santa after an unfortunate rooftop accident.

JJ– I know this is a fairly polarizing film. I have talked to a few people that feel that the rather saccharine nature of the story makes for a hollow movie. Now, I will admit to feeling that the sequel was almost unwatchable, and I never bothered to go back for the third installment. However, I think that the core story of a man trying to connect to a son that he was always too busy to spend time with has a resonance and truth that may be a bit sugary, but it’s the holidays, why not indulge a bit? Not to mention the fact that it puts Judge Reinhold on screen again and that does not happen enough. The comedy may be broad and a bit obvious at times, but I don’t care, it speaks to the kid in me. Plus as a side note, my own father was a rather heavy man with a big white beard, and many was the time a child would come up to him in a park to tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

E– Elves with glittery cheeks, brightly colored costumes, the best version of the North Pole I’ve seen, world class cocoa in fancy pewter mugs, that guy from Numb3rs, unconditional father/son love, the kind of humor you can’t get outside of Tool Time, Tim Allen as a deranged snow-bunny in short-shorts and a parka, Judge Reinhold’s sweaters, Judge Reinhold in Judge Reinhold’s sweaters, and a polar bear directing traffic.

JJ– ‘Nuff Said.

Let’s finish up with an unconventional tale of Christmas, Love Actually (2003). Love Actually is a Christmas movie only in the fact it takes place during the weeks before the holidays. The film consists of many smaller stories that all tell the tale of several couples in many different stages and types of relationships surviving the cold month of December.

JJ– I remember a time in the last year or so, when Elizabeth and I were at the grocery store and on the display televisions they were showing a montage of Hugh Grant movies. As the movies faded one into another, I realized I had been watching and saying “Ooh, I like that one” to each film. It was that day that I realized I had become a massive Hugh Grant fan without even being aware I was even fond of him. Hugh Grant’s prime minister is everything you could want in a Richard Curtis film, a sly, blinky charmer who actually stands up to the American President. But to focus on him is a disservice to this overwhelming cast. Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, and one of my favorite actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor all bring their A game, and with this cast, that is really saying something. It is cliché at this point to refer to a movie with the statement “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” but I have never seen a movie where this was more applicable.

E– Love Actually is a fine example of a seamless interweaving of fairly complete narratives, an exercise that has been attempted in many other movies, but often with far less success. Two other recent examples would be Crash and Babel. The latter two films have built multiple complex storylines for characters that were at times a bit flat and less than engaging. The same cannot be said for the inhabitants of the universe of Love Actually. One cares deeply about the flawed, angsty, sweet, and funny people on the screen. Thompson is no mere victim or stalwart matron with a stiff upper lip: she is strong and brave for her children, but vulnerable and wounded to the core. Rickman is no completely callous bastard, stomping unfeelingly over his wife’s dignity. He is a middle-aged man, feeling slightly dull, who falls under the spell of a few moments of attention. Liam Neeson faces the challenges brought by the tragic end of his married life by embracing the beginning of his stepson’s romantic awakenings. This is not just another instance of kissing British butt, although that is a favorite pastime of mine. American actress Laura Linney’s portrayal of a woman so afraid of her sexual self that she hides behind her caregiving duties to her brother is also heartbreaking and sympathetic. Oh, and it qualifies as a Christmas movie because Bill Nighy sings one of the best Christmas songs to come out in the past ten years.

There you go, you beautiful people. A few of our favorite Christmas movies. If you haven’t seen them, consider this a recommendation. If you have, then know that we are watching them along with you this very holiday season. If your opinions differ from ours feel free to send comments to:

I would like to say a very special thank you to Elizabeth for helping me this week. Merry Christmas, sweetheart. Now all of you go out and make some Christmas memories of your own, and I’ll see you back here very soon.

– JJ

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