The Christmas Chronicles

Last weekend I watched the new holiday movie, “The Christmas Chronicles,” on the Netflix. The flick follows the exploits of a brother and sister who accidentally cause Santa’s sleigh to crash on Christmas Eve.

While Kurt Russell, who plays Santa, makes the movie worthwhile, it is not without flaw. For starters, the title doesn’t evoke feelings of heartwarming, holiday fare. In fact, when I heard that Russell was attached to something called “The Christmas Chronicles,” I figured he was narrating a documentary that chronicled the holiday through the centuries.

What’s more, the elves are downright scary and annoying. They’re a combination of the demonic Chucky doll and the irritating Ewoks with a dash of Smeagol added to the mix.

Anyway, after the sleigh crashes, Santa and the younglings head to a crowded restaurant looking for help. You read that right. The restaurant is crowded – on Christmas Eve.

As Santa goes from table to table, calling skeptical diners by name and mentioning gifts from their childhoods, I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make a point about how we lose our belief in the magic of Christmas as we age.

But I couldn’t stop wondering why these families weren’t home, opening presents and shoving homemade goodies into their mouths. Of course, I’m sure some of the characters don’t celebrate the holiday due to religious and/or cultural reasons. Could that be true of all of them, though? I don’t think so.

Then again, I’m always surprised to learn that, unlike my immediate and extended family, not everyone starts their Christmas baking early in December for their various pre-holiday spreads. One year, I asked a former coworker of her plans for Christmas Eve. She told me that, as they do every year, she and her husband planned to spend a quiet evening at home. I also learned they don’t do much for Christmas Day, either. Another former coworker complained to me that her husband’s family did nothing for Christmas.

To be clear, the aforementioned folks do not shy away from Christmas due to religious and/or cultural reasons. They’re not orphans. They have loved ones. So, it took all my resolve not to tell the first coworker she could spend a quiet evening at home on the eve of Christmas Eve and ask the second coworker if I could share some recipes with her husband’s family.

Back to the movie. A couple times in “The Christmas Chronicles,” Santa produces vintage presents from the characters’ childhoods in an effort to prove he’s who he says he is. At least one of the characters doesn’t seem to care. Once again, I was shocked. If Santa were to ask me for help, I’d tell him to produce a fully-stocked 1980’s-era Barbie Dreamhouse and I’d drive him anywhere he wanted to go. But those creepy elves would have to find their own ride.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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All that melodrama allows

allthatheavenallows_poster1Rock Hudson is the Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies, which means TCM has been or will be showing several of his films including Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows.

Both melodramas were directed by Douglas Sirk and feature Jane Wyman as Hudson’s star-crossed lover, so it’s easy to confuse the two films. Hudson’s professions in the movies also add to the confusion – in Magnificent Obsession he plays a surgeon while in All That Heaven Allows he plays a tree surgeon.

Oh, and Agnes Moorehead, known to TV fans as Bewtiched’s Endora, also co-stars as Wyman’s sidekick in each movie.

Although I can appreciate all the soapy goodness inherent in an engaging melodrama as well as Sirk’s stylized genius, Magnificent Obsession goes a little too far over the top for me. When Hudson’s playboy character wrecks his speedboat, first responders send for the only available resuscitator, which happens to belong to Wyman’s doctor husband who happens to have a fatal heart attack while his resuscitator is saving Hudson.

Following her husband’s death, Wyman encounters grateful people who offer to pay back loans he gave them. Many say they offered to repay the doctor during his lifetime, but he refused, noting they were “already used up.” In today’s terminology, this means the doctor asked the people he helped to “pay it forward.”

After Hudson crashes his car (I told you he was reckless), he meets an artist who received a loan from Wyman’s husband. While explaining the doctor’s “powerful” philosophy to Hudson, the artist alludes to electricity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Hudson, who’s obsessed (hence the title) with making things right with Wyman, decides to spread some of his wealth around in the hopes he’ll receive the benefits of this “power.” But he makes the mistake of owning up to his philanthropy, which leads to Wyman becoming blind.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the movie, but Hudson does become a surgeon, so I think you can predict the next plot twist. And, despite my reservations, the film is worth watching. Sirk needed to turn down the distracting soundtrack, which reaches a crescendo during discussions of the “power,” but the movie has several wonderful moments. My favorite occurs when blinded Wyman makes her way to the beach on her own and enjoys the company of a young tomboy who reads to her. The camera follows the little girl as she walks across the beach to show Hudson lounging and smoking. It’s clichéd and predictable, but also beautiful and memorable. It’s the type of scene that reminds me why I love movies.

All That Heaven Allows features a much more believable soapy plot in which a well-to-do widow falls for her hunky gardener. Unfortunately for Wyman’s character, her society friends and her spoiled children pitch fits of hissy when she decides to marry Hudson. Wyman bends to their will and they reward her with a TV.

I won’t reveal the ending except to say it involves a peeping-tom deer.

In All That Heaven Allows, Wyman, whom I have loved since she played scheming Angela Channing on Falcon Crest, equals her performances in The Yearling and Johnny Belinda.And that woman could rock a head scarf like no one this side of Valerie Harper.

As for Hudson, well, he is the star of the month.

Every which way but iTunes

I started this blog three years ago to commemorate the 20th anniversary of “Thelma & Louise.” And, for nearly a year, I posted regularly if not religiously.

Then, right after I vowed to pen 40 movie reviews in 40 days, life intervened and I quit blogging. If you’ll allow me to quote “We Need a Little Christmas,” in the ensuing time I’ve “Grown a little sadder, grown a little older.”

Regardless of my past situation, I’m back to blogging. At this point, you might be asking yourself, “What event of epic proportions has awakened her from this slumber?”

That’s simple – the theme from “Every Which Way but Loose” is not on iTunes. As everyone no doubt knows, the late great Eddie Rabbit recorded the song, which served as the theme to the Clint Eastwood/Clyde the orangutan flick of the same name. It’s a beautiful song that explores the fears of commitment and heartache – and in under three minutes.

But you can’t find it on iTunes. Oh, you can find Eddie Rabbit wannabes warbling the song, but it’s either Eddie or nothing as far as I’m concerned. iTunes also offers other Eddie Rabbit releases, but until I can download “Every Which Way but Loose,” I’ll find a way to survive without “I Love a Rainy Night” and “Driving My Life Away.”

Somehow, the song is available for download on Amazon, but I refuse to buy it on principle and because I don’t know if the mp3 version will be compatible with my iPod.

I guess I could always give in and buy Eddie Rabbit’s greatest hits, which includes the song, but this is 2014. Should I really be forced to buy a CD?

40 movies for 40 days: There Will Be Blood

For the fourth movie on my Lent list, I’m exploring Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.”

Here’s a quick synopsis: As oilman Daniel Plainview’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) wealth increases, so does his social and moral alienation.

I love “There Will Be Blood” because…

…Day-Lewis consumes the role of Plainview. When it comes to acting, there’s DDL and then everybody else.

…it taught me another use for bowling pins. Continue reading

40 movies for 40 days: No Country for Old Men

I actually chose a movie released in this century for the third title on my Lent list, the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning “No Country For Old Men.”

Here’s a quick synopsis: After Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the remnants of a drug deal gone wrong, including $2 million, he’s pursued by single-minded hitman Anton Chigurh (Jarvier Bardem). Veteran Texas sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is also on the bloody case, which makes Ed Tom ponder his effectiveness as a lawman in what he perceives as an increasingly violent society.

I love “No Country” because… Continue reading

40 movies for 40 days: Johnny Guitar

For the second movie on my Lent list, I’m profiling director Nicholas Ray’s classic 1954 western, “Johnny Guitar,” which pits Joan Crawford against a vigilante mob led by Mercedes McCambridge.

Here’s a quick synopsis: Joan’s character, Vienna, has built a saloon/casino on the outskirts of town hoping she’ll cash in her chips once the railroad lays down tracks. But the haughty townspeople, especially Mercedes’ character, Emma, hate Vienna. Trouble ensues when Emma accuses Vienna of abetting stagecoach robbers who killed her brother. More trouble ensues when Vienna’s old flame, who answers to the name Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), shows up. How will Vienna’s new flame, the Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady), respond to Johnny’s arrival?

I love “Johnny Guitar” because… Continue reading

40 movies for 40 days: The Bad News Bears

I’m not giving up anything for Lent. I’m taking something on. Over the next 40 days, I shall devote 40 blogs to (some of) the reasons I love movies.

If you don’t think that’s a sacrifice, consider this: In the nine months I’ve been blogging, I’ve posted fewer than 30 times.

So, it’s either pen love notes to movies or cut out skim milk.

Spring training just began, so let’s get started with my favorite baseball movie – the original recipe version of “The Bad News Bears.” Continue reading