Tis the season to be happy and jolly, but sometimes it’s easy to forget not everything is right, especially with the typical fights over Christmas dinner. So what better way than to either get drunk and overhear the accusations or just enjoy some alternative X-Mas flicks? Here are a couple of recommendations… soon to be followed by more.
(USA 2003, director: Terry Zwigoff)
It’s a brave move by a director to show an unsympathetic character in a Santa suit who constantly swears, is drunk and has sex with who’s available. The movie can be criticised because at first glance the only selling point seems to be the idea of how far can you go with the crude humor and a revolting main protagonist. But that’s not really true. Sure the humor is pretty crude and curse words are consistently used, but there’s some heart in it and Billy Bob Thornton’s performance fits in every situation, Brad Kelly, The Kid, shows his opposite, the naivitee, but not stupidity of Christmas values. Character development isn’t all that apparent, but this doesn’t pose a problem. Even though one doesn’t learn much from Thornton’s character (from his past), this is exactly WHY it works as no forced “bad childhood” story is constructed and hit on every time (a problem so many other Christmas movies face when it comes down to a sudden realization one can change; which is most prominent in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol).
One shouldn’t really see too much in it even though there is a moral at the end and a critical undertone of commercialism and hypocrisy. It’s more like a fun ride with one comic scene following the other, a X-Mas flick which can be enjoyed throughout the year.
(USA 1984, director: Joe Dante)
I remember watching this for the first time when I already knew what happened to the small town because the sequel was my first contact with the little monsters. So of course some of the surprise was gone. Now after so many years of Gremlins during Christmas time there’s not much suspense left and the cutesy-factor of Gizmo wears off. Still the movie has so many memorable scenes and dialogues that it’s easy to dismiss it as an outdated flick which gets boring. The little monsters are still fun to watch, their animations and looks being just right. The music is catchy, and the chemistry between the characters (especially Phoebe Cates and Zach Galligan) works just fine. And I’ll always remember that one line with Kate telling Billy during Christmas: “On Christmas some people open their hearts, others their wrists”. It has an off-beat humor as well when she tells him the story with her father (not to spoil anything here) which I only recently found out refers to an urban legend.
The sequel might be more over-the-top with crazier ideas, but this one feels so much more coherent and round even if one knows what’s happening…especially to a certain old lady, Mrs. Beagle, the female version of Dickens’ Scrooge character.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
(USA 1993, director: Henry Selick)
Now this is a strange thing: As much as I loved Tim Burton’s old movies (Batman, Edward Scissorhands,Ed Wood), this animated flick went through different stages of appreciation: First I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about, then when watching it a second time at the Film Society of Birmingham University with lots of other people I caught all the small parts which sprang from a completely different perspective. It’s difficult to explain, I just thought the idea of looking at Christmas from a scientist’s (read: don’t-have-a-clue-what-it-is-but-find-out-anyway character) point of view. How does one explain the whole presents thing to a group of monsters? Still I always got the impression this is not so much a Christmas-movie, but more suitable for Halloween, especially with the Bogeyman who’s animation for me never felt right. Something quite disturbing about his moves (and let’s not talk about the weird 6+ age rating system in Germany).
Stranger still even with those weird-looking characters I kind of seem to have grown out of the humor…and also the singing. I’ve never been a fan of musicals (as I think you can tell something in fewer words and it just looks weird if people start singing, especially in a serious situation) and Disney songs are always a hit-or-miss affair when it gets too pathetic. In this case there are still some catchy tunes, but all in all it’s a bit too childish at points for my taste. It might also have something to do with me getting tired of Tim Burton being seen as the “weird kid in the movie industry” (I think Kevin Smith said something like that during an interview when he was a bit displeased with what “the guy with the strange hair” did TO the dark Batman franchise). I’m aware the movie has a big cult following, but I can do well without watching it every Christmas (or Halloween for that matter).
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (live action)
(USA 2000, director: Ron Howard)
I have to confess that I haven’t seen the original animated short in full length. All I know is that Dr. Seuss knows how to write rhymes which just feel right (that’s why Horton Hears A Who also worked). Of course it’s impossible to compare the source material to the almost 2-hour-long movie, but what I can say is that it never feels drawn-out, boring or too sentimental. Many people (especially the German audience) brushed it off as another one of those “typical season movies the Americans are so good at and the idealistic US audience seems to like). But what those (I call them stone-hearted) people miss is the fact that even Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is heavy on the moral, and so many other Christmas movies are trying desperately to mix drama with lighthearted humor (especially in Germany; there’s this awful talking-dog-movies-series “Willy Wuff” I despised to watch…), but seldom succeed.
Here we have a fully-colored world with strange-looking (and maybe too cute for some adults or too weird-looking for small children) inhabitants of Whoville. Still what’s really fun about it is that they behave like normal people (especially in a scene where neighbors compare their house decorations), so there’s an underlying criticism. Without going any further in this direction, a few words about Jim Carrey’s performance: He IS the Grinch, there’s no doubt about it. Not every gesture or joke might work (and there ARE some annoying sequences with an oh-so-cute-little doggie), but he plays and looks the part. What’s also cool are the flashbacks how the Grinch became this misanthropic character. It’s always the humor which keeps the viewer engaged, together with some neat special effects and a weird setting. And let’s not forget the off-key singing parts, especially with the little (and this time “cute” in a positive sense) girl who has this look of innocence about Christmas…but who also likes to ask the right questions no one of the adults seem to ask themselves.