Christmas should only come once every two years. It would make the season more exciting. And it sure would save on gas, electricity, food, and the general good spirits of all involved. That's a Scrooge-mentality, sure. But don't worry. It's easy to shake as soon as that first yuletide special hits the airwaves seconds after Thanksgiving dinner is consumed. Then comes the hunt for a Christmas tree, the outdoor festival of lights, gift competition, and a hatred for all things 'relative'. I wanted to abandoned Christmas this year. I shot at the idea with a pellet gun for about five seconds. Before I could penetrate plastic, and puncture a hole worthy of a gulp of beer, I was back in the shed, pulling out that white plastic tree, along with the festive donkey ears, the mistletoe, and a trash can full of ornamental memories not fit for the faint of heart.
Heading back into the storage unit of my youth also had me revisiting the wintertime DVD box. Twelve months ago I was broke and none-too-eager to spend 18 bucks on Robert Zemeckis' gut-green and awful Disney's a Christmas Carol. In Disney 3D and IMAX, no less. Though I did, and I hated it with every ounce of my Ebenezer being. I refused to return to the multiplex for the rest of November and all of December. After sifting through that soulless experience, I instead decided to rely on my DVR for unexpected holiday fare. Which you can read about here. Now, as last year's Christmas theatricals begin to hit store shelves, I truly understand that Hollywood really isn't interested in making good, solid snow-themed entertainment anymore.
The putrid turd flush that is Disney's a Christmas Carol seems to be indicative of the holiday themed movies that get a proper release nowadays. When considering Santa's slim birth of visual stimuli, here at the tail end of a shaky cinematic year, holiday movies have all but been left in the dust. It's easy to understand why. They don't have a proper shelf life. Which, even just a few years ago, didn't mean much. But now, box office is absolutely everything. And a proper Chanukah adventure is a supremely lofty idea. More so than ever, because producers want to see their cash cow baby live in lights for more than eight days. Plus, Hayseeds don't visit the darkened velvety halls used to fuel our soft imaginations as often as the rest of us. That idealistic truism seems to be growing for pagans and Christians as well, in this dark age of December affairs.
Sure. Disney manages to re-release Tim Burton's the Nightmare Before Christmas 3D in theaters every single year. But that's because they're lazy and don't want to reinvent, or conjure up, a new classic. Instead they rely upon the auspices of their past achievements. Some could argue, "But isn't that what this time of year is all about? Remembering the past?" Yeah, but its also about celebrating the future, and discovering an unexpected surprise inside a box.
Am I wrong?
Like some of you, I love all the tried and true classics: Elf, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Bad Santa, The Bells of St. Mary's, It's a Wonderful Life, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I like the less obvious, but still at this point over-watched Christmas themed action flicks as well, like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Cobra. Even the downers like Less Than Zero, and the scary shit like Gremlins, Christmas Evil, and Black Christmas. Then you have your Rankin and Bass specials and A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've seen them all too many times to count, as the months through late November leading up to and through January 1st are filled with holiday movie nights.
I do enjoy perusing the same old shit over and over again around the holidays. But it also leaves me desperately wanting to watch something new and different. Every year can't be the exact same. I'm even starting to eye Bad Santa with a little bit of disdain. So its here that I must someone how, once again, hunt down, find, watch, and kill at least two or three new Christmas classics with the hopes that they are added into this ubiquitously redundant year-end rotation.
Instead of relying solely on my DVR this year, I decided to scrub through all of my entertainment options. There's plenty of holiday-themed excitement swirling around inside your cable box, but if you're not careful when wading into this buzzing electrical wasteland, you'll quickly find yourself drowning in Lifetime Originals and ABC Family Channel debuts starring Mario López and Daphne Zuniga. Sure, it seems fun at first. Like that first bite of hard candy out of Grandma's confederate coffee table dish. But these pastel colored confections will leave your teeth polka dotted with sizable black holes, and your stomach will audibly scream "CHRIST!" in a fit to reach porcelain. You'll grow to hate this time of year more than the Grinch himself.
Staring at the theater marquee, you'll notice a startling lack of Holiday genre flicks playing at your local Cineplex. At first glance, this might seem like a sad situation. Until you realize that quantity isn't everything. When selecting a new Christmas classic, its quality that counts. Though we are only being given two true gifts of projected joy this season, their thematic weight as presents certainly doesn't demand a sales return. We're actually being sold some odd, strange greatness here for a change.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a bonafide hit that will linger around for many years to come. It's a strong, stirring mix of old and new, as Santa wages a war across a cold Finish landscape. Director Jalmari Helander has handcrafted a timeless tale that won't quite age like other horror-action entries in its stated class. The film strongly adheres to the beloved post-modern vibe its country of origin naturally offers, giving us a more realistic and wanted take on the St. Nicholas mythos. It's a widescreen panorama of breathtaking cinematography that demands to be seen on the big screen. And it truly is a shame that this masterpiece of a fairytale is only playing at a handful of locations as it makes its way across the states. If it comes to your town, don't turn down the opportunity to see it.
Reading the synopsis might conjure images of Bill Goldberg's Santa's Slay, a little horror ditty from 2005 that takes a hefty amount of eggnog to truly enjoy. The conceit is the same, but they're two entirely different beasts. The main push in both films sees Santa appearing as an evil yule goat hell bent on devouring children's souls. If you've seen the trailer for Rare Exports, you already know that Farther Christmas is being presented as a scary, rail-thin hobo dressed in soot-black skin. He, or rather I should say "It", is unearthed by an American excavation company working in Finland, and soon the monster is being hunted by a couple of Reindeer herdsman looking to cash in on this truly rare export. That is where the trailer stops, and so shall I. To tell you any more would be to ruin the surprise that waits you inside this shoe-sized box. You can shake it and turn it all you want, you still won't figure out the ending to this heavy hitter until it slaps you in the face with a gleeful tease. And a lot of old man elf dick.
If you've been eagerly waiting for another Gremlins to come along, this is it. Too bad a lot of you will have to wait until next November to discover it on DVD. Opening in wider release is not so much a Christmas classic as it is a soon-to-be cult oddity. The Nutcracker in 3D is not a kids' movie; its more like an adolescent nightmare waiting to be discovered by lovers of strange pulp. It's a wicked ride about Nazi mice and Albert Einstein. Roger Ebert may have given it a "thumbs way down", but read his review carefully:
"The Nutcracker in 3D is one of those rare holiday movies that may send children screaming under their seats. Their parents, naively hoping to see a sweet version of "The Nutcracker," will be appalled or angry, take your choice."
Your interest is piqued, and Roger has certainly done more to sell tickets to this dark scrapper than any of its own marketing has. In your life, you will most certainly find a friend in the future who swears by this crackling, spooky-for-all-the-wrong-reasons fable. It's that off-type of twirling knife to the abdomen that will have you covering your eyes in bewildered amazement and horror. Its Andrei Konchalovsky's (yeah, the guy that made Tango & Cash) answer to his own hatred of having to sit through the musical upon which this byproduct of fear is based. Don't worry, there isn't much dancing locked in this soulful rendition of rotten egg salad. But Einstein does sing a song about relativity versus reality. Its Terry Gilliam's Brazil by way of Pee-wee's Playhouse as told by a Russian fascist high on weeded Vodka.
Like Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, it, to, is a keeper that manages to protract and elongate what we expect to find in our traditional holiday fare. For once, we're seeing reality mixed with the fantastical elements of an over-worked imagination. And it's glorious. This is exactly what we've been longing for in this harsh holiday landscape. Santa Claus and his North Pole operation are ripe for myth making, and should be fully utilized at this time of year by Hollywood. Though, if you are more of a comedy traditionalist that lives and dies by A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation, DVD has a true blue holiday classic titled Coopers' Christmas with your name all over it. Okay, so that keep-case art is a bit of a turn off, I know. This certainly looks like a generic toss-off not worthy of your Mulled Wine. I can understand why you might waft it by like a whiff of ass stink upon first glance.
The proceedings start off slow, and it's an idea that has been worn to a nub at this point. The mockumentary. Or fauxumentary. Gord Cooper has been given a VHS video camera in lieu of a $2000 debt owed to his family, which they were going to use for a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. The camera captures the Cooper family's 1985 Christmas day celebration, and it's a downward spiraling doozy that will hit a little too close to home for most of us. Its Christmas Vacation on steroids, rebranded and made a bit more truthful for this cynical age. Its imprisoned, cinema-verite aspirations are certainly stale bread at first sight. But after the requisite present opening sequence that kicks things off with a sluggish squirt of uncomfortable mutualism, things soon start to sky rocket on the weirdness meter. The fact that the film is being told in the first person only helps push the intimacy of the lunacy home, and make it more realistic. What transpires over the course of ninety-some minutes is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Its Canadian, a fact the comedy elements wear proudly. If you're bored to death of watching Lil' Ralphie Parker shoot his eye out with a BB gun (blasphemy, I know), you'll certainly welcome Gord Cooper's chaotic spin into Hell. It's a diversion from the norm, and as more people accidentally catch it on cable in the coming years, it will certainly find its way into your permanent Christmas stash.
I don't blame you for not wanting to run out and purchase this disc sight-unseen for twenty bucks on my recommendation alone. I tend not to believe the things I say either. One thing you can always count on, though, is the discount bin. And the Dollar Store's sanctioned collection of dumpster DVDs. I've found forgotten gems waiting to be re-loved here before, and this year I have done it again with the Black & White relic Beyond Christmas (or Beyond Tomorrow as it is referenced on this cheap DigiView Entertainment release). A charming tale of love and death, its quaint story relies on that age old staple: The Christmas Ghost. It pulls heavily from It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, which may be why we haven't ever really heard or seen it too much before now.
This engrossing, snow-laden tale from 1940 finds three elderly well-to-do businessmen getting ditched on Christmas Eve. Instead of letting their huge dinner go to waist, they decide to throw their wallets out the window and onto a busy street, just to see if anyone will bring them back. The bait lures in a young singer-song writer from Texas and a sexy school teacher who bond over turkey legs and cranberry sauce. Of course they fall deeply in love, and soon become endeared to these old men who have unwittingly introduced them over a scrambled attempt at salvaging their own holiday meal. A year goes zooming by in montage, and soon the handsome singer has found fame on the radio. After becoming engaged to the school teacher, he is lured away from home by a famous starlet looking for a new stage partner. The old businessmen die in a horrible plane accident, but before they can be allowed into heaven, they have to fix this broken union they had every hand in forming.
In a surprising twist, none of what proceeds from this point on is at all predicable. One of the old men goes to Hell, one of them strays at the sound of his dead son's calling voice, and the other loses sight of his mission, allowing the straying fiancé and his fling to get shot in the gut on Christmas Eve. It's a mixed bag of emotionally hubris that will thrill and delight, and stun your senses. As well-made and entertaining as It's a Wonderful Life is, Beyond Christmas never quite found its repetition on pre-cable broadcast television. Now, it has to battle thousands of other movies to even get noticed in the Holiday badlands of utter junk. It's certainly worth a dollar. If you come across it while hunting for cheap wrapping paper, buy it! You'll definitely fall in love with its enchanting, blissfully original stance.
On the Christmas Special side of things, Tim and Eric and Mariah Carey have two new outings that are worth mentioning. Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to You is a simple hour of Christmas standards sang by Carey as elves and snowmen dance behind her. Once available on DVD, this will become the go-to disc anytime you want some decent background noise while wrapping gifts or making Gingerbread cookies. There isn't a whole lot going on here to stimulate the non-aural senses. There are no comedy skits or weird moments of unnecessary banter. Mariah does join her opera singer mother on stage, but only in song. It's a peaceful, joyous experience meant to be played at parties, or on a TV above a bar on Christmas Eve. Definitely worth it for what it is.
The more polarizing Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular, which is available for purchase on the Adult Swim website, comes as an odd blast of uncomfortable silence that will have you frowning long before it reaches its excretion-dripping climax. It's the visual equivalent of a Neil Hamburger joke: Excruciating and not at all funny; but purposely so. Tim and Eric have bought into the conceit that their drug-addled fan base will laugh at anything simply because they are doing it. This is a lazy excuse for product, but what makes it so bewildering is the fact that the two comedians know this fact and flaunt it wildly. They seem exhausted by the idea of their own fame, and willingly heckle their audience with idiotic compliancy. Daring them to actually like what they have made in haste. This thing is strange and off-putting, to say the least. The energy has been sucked straight out of this once-keen property with an undeniable urgency. You may want to come to its defense, but you know, deep down, that it sucks on a visceral level.
I can certainly see how some fans will stand by and defend this so-called "special", even though it's a maddening decent into glaringly obnoxious consumer and fan hate (on equal levels). Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular exists only to sell itself, appearing as an infomercial for itself. It's both an advert and a piece of avant-garde dooket that spends the duration of its runtime eating its own tail. From that view-point, it is fascinating, if not at all actually entertaining in the least bit. If you are inclined to disagree with me, watch it again. It is pissing on the face of its fanbase with respite. They entirety of it screams, "Buy this DVD!" With a storyline that is about buying a DVD. Which, if I am not mistaken, is basically Tim and Eric saying they are disappointed by their fans lean ambitions and hopes. They'll buy the DVD sight-unseen no matter what is on it. So why not make it about that fact? They have succeeded in alienating themselves, but its unlikely that their core base of admires will even get on a base level, or understand the point being made. It is a strange Andy Kaufman-esque ploy at taking a shit in the corporate mailbox. It's shockingly incorrigible. You won't laugh one single time, at least not from the soul or the heart. Maybe because you feel like you should laugh without a good reason why you're doing so.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! Chrimbus Spectacular is on a whole other level beyond the shell of itself. It's a metaphorical cartoon about the human condition and its urge to liquate subversive nanadotes. It will likely zoom right over the heads of the people most inclined to watch it. Because of that, it certainly is a fascinating piece of work. A nightmare of images that speaks to the horrors of Holiday consumerism on a scale you certainly don't want to think about at this time of year. It's incredibly intelligent, yet off-putting and subtly stupid at the same time. It would be the prefect Christmas Special to revisit if Christmas came once every five years. That would give you ample time to scrub it free from your brain before sitting down to not enjoy it again.
What's truly odd about this year is that there are interesting and new Christmas classics waiting to be added to our annual holiday entertainment run. Which makes me smile, as I simply can't stand the thought of watching Scrooged right this second. Don't judge me. I love it as much as you do. But I have also seen it a billion times. Now I can skip it this year in exchange for one of the movies I mentioned above, and then look forward to seeing Scrooged next year. It's about giving the true hits some room and time to breath. Especially after they have been watched to the brink of death.
Before I go away for the rest of the year, you might also want to check out Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and The Great Rupert (also known in some circles as ), two potential Christmas favorites that haven't picked up much steam in the automatic go-to category of Christmas hits since I mentioned them last year. They should defiantly be higher on your Yuletide must-watch list. They'll get there eventually. All it takes is you watching them one time. And then you'll know they are truly deserving of your attention.
Until 2011: Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Drink a smashing New Year's Eve. Eat Food. Kill Grandma. Boo! And Whoop-doo!