Ghostbusters (2016): A Superfan’s Perspective

My Qualifications

I am not an authority on “Ghostbusters.”  I do not own my own proton pack, have not engineered my own Ecto-1, and I’ve never drank an Ecto Cooler.  But people that know me have expressed interest in my thoughts on the new movie.

I do have a lot of paraphernalia from the first film.  Those are mainly gifts from people that know that the original 1984 film is tied for the top spot of movies in my heart (with “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “American Movie”).  And since I am such a movie enthusiast and because my passion for storytelling is boundless, that top spot means I can tell you details about the film to the tiniest minutia.

If it’s Ghostbusters related, I know about it, and I have something to say.

Ghostbusters 1

Ghostbusters 2

So let me start off with a story about a ten year old kid.  I was excited so excited to be going to see my heroes on the big screen for the first time.  I had watched Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson on VHS and TV showings for years.  I had watched every episode of The Real Ghostbusters on Saturday mornings.  Despite being poor, I even had a couple of the action figures (the kind that animatedly freaked out when you pushed down an arm or squeezed their legs together).  Bill Murray was then and still is one of my favorite actors (one of my personal goals is to write a role for him that would win him an Oscar).  I didn’t know it then, but the original film would easily qualify as the film I would see more times in the theater than any other (usually on my birthday).  So when I watched “Ghostbusters 2” unspool on the big screen, I was about as excited as a kid could be.

But I’ll tell you something, that movie is terrible.  It uses convenient job changes that make no sense (Dana goes from world class musician to world class art historian, Luis Tully goes from passionate accountant to lackluster lawyer, all in five years?).  They completely change characters, forgetting what made Egon funny and have him hamming it up for the camera and having Janine go from mousey Queens nerd to flamboyant Queens hipster.  The logo was changed to show it was a sequel with no world-building reason for doing so.  And most importantly, it wasn’t funny.  There are a handful of funny lines in the movie, but overall, the first film was a much-improvised masterpiece, lightning in a bottle, and the second movie fell flat.  I was a child, and they were pandering to me, and I knew I was being pandered to and felt betrayed.

Ghostbusters 2

Ghostbusters 3

For years they talked about a third movie, and for years I was in Bill Murray’s camp.  “We made a good one.  We made a bad one.  Why make anther one?”  And when Bill callously said he was concerned that “some of the people involved” had lost their taste, siting Harold Ramis’s “Year One,” I cringed for their unresolved personal relationship but was right there with him.

Ghostbusters 6

My Expectations

So here comes the inevitable reboot.  I knew it was going to happen and had been bracing myself for it.  I even wrote this blog, which is a part of my “Re-Imagining” series that I sometimes do, the premise being “They’re going to remake it, so how could they do it where it could ever possibly satisfy me.”  Knowing the rumors that they were thinking of making a female version (and this was a couple of years ago), I had even included casting choices for that.  The only actor I could think of that could come close to Murray was Melissa McCarthy, so when she was cast, I was optimistic.  Really, the whole cast had me excited.  I’m a huge fan of Kristen Wiig, and I love what Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are doing on Saturday Night Live.  These are great choices.

I watched Paul Fieg’s “Spy,” “Bridesmaids,” and “The Heat” to get a feel for his work.  The first two were great, and the last one was at least funny.  So I was optimistic about his inclusion too.


Ghostbusters 8

The Trailer

Then the trailer came out, and it was bad.  The most hated movie trailer in internet history.  It looked lame, unasked for, and worst of all, unfunny.  People were done being tricked into watching terrible movies based on beloved franchises. . .  Sick of Michael Bay’s adaptations. . .  Tired of tone deaf recitations of The Lone Ranger’s theme. . .  Fed up with darker, overly-shadowy versions of beloved icons, this would be the battleground on which they would make their stand and say, “No More!”

In response, the filmmakers called us all misogynists, and some of us undoubtedly were, but not all.

Ghostbusters 7

Ghostbusters (2016)

Which brings me to last night, when I sat in a theater with 3D glasses.  It was the theater directly across from my old store, where I had staged a legendary release party for the video game that had come out seven years earlier.  A party that had authentic costumes and equipment, games and themed snacks, and a real-world, internationally acclaimed psychic who claimed to have talked to someone’s dead mother right there that night.  And there I sat with both high and low expectations.

What a relief when the movie was actually pretty good.

Ghostbusters 3


The Negatives:

There are a few times when the movie makes choices that don’t make sense (Chris Hemsworth standing in the street, saying “I’m a part of the team” comes out of nowhere).  There are a few too many one-liner references to the source material.  And lines that should have been improvised away (“That’ll leave a mark” being the sorest thumb).  But it worked.  Aside from the cameos, which were well-paced and fun, the film hummed best when it stood on its own merits.  There are scenes that lay flat here, and then there are laugh out loud lines and moments that far outweigh those.  The middle of the movie is where it would have benefited from re-writes and skilled improvisation, and the end feels heavily edited.

Ghostbusters 9

The Positives:

Here’s where I might take some crap.  While the first film is a better comedy, this one is a better ghost story.  The ghosts in this movie are beautiful and scary.  The explanation for the extra psychic-kinetic energy in the city is a fun new take.  And while the story of Zuul lingers in the background of a character-driven 80s comedy and only becomes the central figure in the third reel, this new movie’s grounded in that story from the first scene.

A lot of the stuff that bothered me in the trailer were fine in the film.  This is particularly true for Kate McKinnon’s character, which only makes sense when you spend some time with her.  Kate and Leslie Jones are the comic force of this movie, and they both steal scenes, blowing a hole through the television screen to step onto the big screen in a big way.  Still, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are the heart of the film, and they keep us grounded in the real world while so many strange things are happening around them.  The movie is about friendship and about how finding someone that gets you can save you from torment and ridicule (or at least from caring about that stuff as much), and after an hour and forty seven minutes with these characters, I wanted to see more of their story.

The film also lets the supporting cast shine in their own right.  Every actor that speaks, from Zach Woods to Karan Soni, Nate Corddry to Steve Higgins, Ed Begley Jr. to Andy Garcia, Cecily Strong to Chris Hemsworth, turns in a strong performance here.  And this honestly shouldn’t surprise you if you’re familiar with Paul Fieg’s work.

The busting also made me feel good.  No, really.  The whole way they fought ghosts was fresh, unique, and emotionally satisfying.

Ghostbusters 5

In Summary:

It’s not a perfect 10.  It’s more of a 7.5.  But in the end, when it comes to material based on the “Ghostbusters” franchise, it stands above most of the rest.  It’s on par with the video game and the best episodes of the cartoon and comic books, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment.

We also learned something about how Hollywood works, didn’t we?  When the studio puts out a trailer the fans don’t like, you can either blame the studio or the fans.  I think by focusing on the most vocal bigots in the fan community, the filmmakers were able to get the studio to back them and get the fans that weren’t rabid woman haters to give the movie a chance.  It sure got ugly and made a lot of people defend themselves for simply worrying about what they were seeing, and it put the cast and director on the defensive.  That’s not the kind of atmosphere you want a big, nerdy love fest to come out in.

Finally, while I hate to tell people their opinions are incorrect, if someone tells you that “Ghostbusters 2” is a classic and this is trash, they’re dead wrong.

Ghostbusters 4


UPDATE  10/15/2016:

I don’t really purchase movies anymore.  I have over three hundred DVDs and never load them, instead streaming Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime or watching Direct TV.  But since I’d really like to see a sequel in this new franchise, I ordered the Bluray for “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call,” which includes the extended cut.  Upon my second viewing, I have a few more things to say.

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge that the first hour of the film is pretty solid.  It’s the middle portion where most of the cuts could be made (some of which were), and if I had the job of doing the theatrical edits, I would have seriously considered leaving out anything that didn’t actively move the story forward.  That would unfortunately include Bill Murray’s scenes.   I think you could have left more of the middle on the editing room floor and left in more of the end.  As stated in my review, the end felt choppy and there were some things that didn’t make sense because of the edits that were made.

That being said, I actually prefer the extended cut.  In fact, some of the scenes that remained in the deleted scenes could have been put back in as well.  Overall, it wouldn’t approve on the score I gave the movie.  It would still be about a seven, but it is more of a comprehensive narrative.  Since I enjoyed what I saw, I don’t mind having more, even if the movie doesn’t kill me like it did during that first hour.

The day I got my Bluray, I woke up from a dream about the sequel that will probably never be.  I was thrilled that it was coming out, and I imagined that they would grow the material in more meaningful, emotionally grounded ways the second time around.  Let’s hope these girls get a second chance to answer the call.



As a lifelong enthusiast of comedy teams like Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Crosby and Hope, Martin and Lawrence, and The Three Stooges, I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I am that I live in a time when one of the greatest duos in history is building up their body of work.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, collectively known as Key and Peele, began their story together on MadTV, where they quickly demonstrated their natural chemistry and work ethic.  In a competitive ensemble cast, they were drawn together by their similarities and differences.

The first time I think I ever saw Key and Peele was in “Weird” Al’s music video for “White and Nerdy,” although it would be years before I realized it was them.

Eventually they would get their own sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, and that’s where most of the world discovered their perfectionism and excellent taste.

They became so successful that their characters were being used to advertise for the very things they were looking at with a satirical eye.

Then they started popping up everywhere.

Soon one of their characters basically became a reality on an international stage.

And finally, the actors defied all expectation and boldly went where no other comedy duo had gone.

That last video is from the critically acclaimed dramedy “Fargo.”

The success of Key and Peele should come as no surprise to anyone who loves comedy.  Sketch is generally disposable comedy, and these two guys willingly work on one segment for months and then dispose of it when it doesn’t work.

And now we have “Keanu,” which came about when Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens, who had written together on the Comedy Central show, challenged themselves to write the ideal Key and Peele movie.

By this point, I don’t know how in-depth I really need to go with this review.  Obviously, I am a big fan of their work (both as a team and as individual performers), so I think I really only have to answer one question.

Does it disappoint or does it satisfy?

It’s fantastic.  If you are a fan of these two, you’re going to love every moment of it.

It does everything you want Key and Peele to do in a movie.  They play interesting, nuanced, energetic characters.  They include their deep love of action movies.  They tackle the issues that come along with being of mixed race and what it means to be a “black man” in our society.  And they work in another set of characters.  It’s fun, visually appealing, funny, and plays out without a lull.  Is it a perfect movie?  No.  But it does make a fan like me so excited about the prospects of the future for these two amazing talents.

Keanu 02.jpg

#keanu #kittenplease

The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 10)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

6 Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis

There are few things more in the spirit of the season than Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her baby sister.

That being said, I found very little in this film that I could relate to. It isn’t that the movie is not entertaining. It is. But it acted as more of a curiosity to me than anything. I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with the characters or their trials.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” follows four beautiful sisters. There’s the boy crazy older pair (Judy Garland, “The Wizard of Oz,” “A Star is Born;” Lucille Bremer, “Ziegfeld Follies”) and younger tomboys (Joan Carroll, “The Bells of St Mary;” and Margaret O’Brien, “Little Women,” “Jane Eyre”). They look forward to the upcoming World’s Fair, seek out Victorian style engagements, and fret over leaving the family home for dad’s promotion.

It’s all really much ado about nothing. The writing is clever, but the plot is dull. And the characters spend most of their time crying over one tiny crisis or another.

Certainly, there is nostalgia for those childhood and teenage years, but the traditions that this film show are somewhat foreign to a modern audience. In fact, the Halloween scenes are almost completely unrecognizable. It’s more like a film about another country than one about the Gateway to the American West.

Certainly there are people to whom this film will speak to more than myself, and for those I can say just one thing. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.


8 Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut

When this film was made, Barbara Stanwyck (“Double Indemnity,” “The Lady Eve”) was the most wealthy woman in America. She was talented, beautiful, and rich, and this film represents the pinnacle of her talents and career.

Dennis Morgan (“Kitty Foyle”) is a WWII soldier that was stranded on a raft. He spent that time dreaming of food. A nurse at his hospital and an enterprising newspaper man (Sydney Greenstreet, “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon”) cook up a great plan for charity and publicity.

Barbara Stanwyck’s character is supposed to be a cross between Emily Post and Martha Stewart. Well, she’s supposed to be. That what she tells her readers. She lives on a farm, has a loving husband and an infant, and can whip up gourmet meals in the kitchen. The reality, however, is that she’s a single lady in the city that gets recipes from her favorite restaurateur (S.Z. Sakall, “Ball of Fire,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”). When she is all but forced to host a Christmas party on her imaginary farm, she has to agree to marry a wealthy friend (Reginald Gardiner, “The Great Dictator,” “The Flying Deuces”) and create a series of elaborate lies.

The charade is the fun of this film. As the holiday lies spin more and more elaborate webs, Stanwyck gets entangled more and more. She’s also falling deeper in deeper in a kind of love those lies will only prevent.

What’s more festive than lying to those you care about?

When seeking out a fun and witty way to spend the holidays, perhaps you should consider spending Christmas in Connecticut.


8.5 The Holiday

The Holiday

When two strangers who were recently involved in horrible break-ups decide to trade spaces for Christmas, a Londoner finds herself in Beverly Hills and the Hollywood blond goes to a tiny, frozen cottage.  A mere whim of heartbreak and the blowing Santa Annas promise to change both of their lives with holiday magic.

Cameron Diaz (“There’s Something About Mary,” “Shrek”) is the film industry’s hottest cutter of trailers, which is a fun device as she occasionally imagines her life in those terms.  Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) writes wedding announcements for the paper but suffers from unrequited love.  When they swap lives for two weeks, they each find love in unexpected places.  Cameron hooks a serial one-night-stander (Jude Law, “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Sherlock Holmes”).  Kate flirts with a guy that scores movies (Jack Black, “School of Rock,” “Bernie”).  The love stories follow the standard formula and are rather predictable, but both unwind their yarns with fun, well-acted scenes that effectively demonstrate the transcendent power of love.

Honestly, if this film simply told the pair of love stories, it would have been satisfactory, but there is another story line that demonstrates non-romantic love in a gentle and very entertaining way.  Eli Wallach (“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “The Magnificent Seven”) plays Cameron – err, Kate’s next door neighbor.  He’s an aging man that can’t walk on his own power, and for that reason, he keeps blowing off the Writing Guild’s invitation to pay tribute to his work.  Winslet and Black find the wily older man and his pals to be charming and decide to offer him a hand.

A lot has been made of “Love Actually,” but if you ask me, the superior romantic Christmas movie is “The Holiday.”


9 The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner

Before the internet, before and speed dating, the concept of anonymous courtship still existed.  In Budapest, Hungary in 1940 when a person wanted to meet a potential mate, they could go to the dance halls or they could respond to personal ads in the newspaper for a pen pal.

That’s just what Alfred Kralik (James Stewart, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”) has done.  The lead salesman at Matuschek and Company has found passion in the words of a stranger, and he has no idea that his anonymous amor is actually the new salesgirl, Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan, “The Mortal Storm,” “Three Comrads”).  In their letters, they find love, but on the sales floor, they find nothing but disagreement and discord.

Director Ernst Lubitsch (“To Be or Not to Be,” “Ninotchka,” “Trouble in Paradise”) calls “The Little Shop Around the Corner” his greatest comedy, and it’s not simply because of the playful romance.  This film will find a special place in the heart of anyone who has worked retail.

Matuschek and Company is a place that is both foreign and incredibly familiar.  Who in sales hasn’t had someone ask a question like, “How much is that belt in the window, the one that says ‘2.95?'”  No matter where you are in the world, this little store could be the shop around the corner.  All the characters from the sensitive manager (Frank Morgan, “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Great Ziegfeld”) to the older and wiser salesman (Joseph Schildkraut, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Orphans of the Storm”) to the style-obsessed upstart (Felix Bressart, “To Be or Not to Be,” “Ninotchka”) are remarkably like people that I’ve worked with.  They’re realistic and endlessly entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed the story of the errand boy, Pepi (William Tracy, “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”).

With all of your Christmas shopping this year, you really ought to see if there’s something you might like at “The Little Shop Around the Corner.”


4 Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night

A boy is traumatized when his parents are murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus.  He is raised in an orphanage run by a nun that punishes naughty wards with brutality.  As a man, he is given the job of being a toy store Santa, and the terrible flashbacks and an incident of witnessed workplace harassment makes him snap.  This year, Santa is bringing more than lumps of coal to the bad little boys and girls.

Just like most horror flicks of the 1980’s, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is a gimmicky romp.  It follows all of the required rules.  There’s a harbinger, a set of bare breasts about every twenty minutes, and a creatively dispatched body count that rises into the double digits.  The writers could have used some clever puns, and the deaths aren’t particularly holiday themed.  But if you need a Christmas horror movie, you’re choices are pretty much just limited to this one anyway.

Well, this and its four sequels.



The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 8)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

6.5 Love Actually

Love Actually

This movie features an all-star cast in a film that claims that love actually is all around, using arrivals at the Heathrow Airport as the primary evidence of this claim. Thus, we enter into the stories of several people who would wind up in that same airport three months after Christmas and see where they were for three weeks leading up to the holiday.

There is an aging rocker who is trying to revitalize his career (Bill Nighy, “Shawn of the Dead,” “Arthur Christmas”), who finds that the more his manager’s plan works, the further he grows from his manager. There’s the new prime minister (Hugh Grant, “About a Boy,” “Notting Hill”), who finds himself attracted to a member of his staff that closely resembles Monica Lewinski in the “chubby” commentary she attracts and also in dress (blue jacket is red, black beret is white). A father (Liam Neeson, “Taken,” “Schindler’s List”) has lost his wife and finds himself teaching his step-son how to court his first love. A writer (Colin Firth, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “The King’s Speech”) finds an attraction that transcends language when he is saddled with a foreign assistant who can speak no English. A lonely American (Laura Linney, “The Truman Show,” “Mystic River”) has to decide between caring for her mental patient brother or pursuing a relationship with a co-worker. Then there’s the British loser in love that decides he can score in America with his accent and decides to go and find out. There’s also the best man (Andrew Lincoln, “The Walking Dead”) that has fallen in love with the bride (Keira Knightley, “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Pirates of the Caribbean”) but doesn’t know how to tell his best friend the groom (Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”). Adding to the list is the naked body double couple that films the same sex scene for three full weeks (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit,” “Sherlock;” Joanna Page, “From Hell”). And finally there’s the husband (Alan Rickman, the Harry Potter series, “Die Hard”) that is cheating on his wife (Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Wit,” “Sense and Sensibility”) with his gold-digging secretary.

Add to that long list a thread of political intrigue with a smarmy cowboy US President (Billy Bob Thornton, “Bad Santa,” “Sling Blade”) and the mysterious jewelry salesman that appears right when one of our characters needs him (Rowen Atkinson, “Mr. Bean,” “Blackaddar”).

Okay. Take a deep breath. Now that the introductions are out of the way, I will attempt to give you my assessment.

Basically, “Love Actually” is a fairly shallow look at what love actually means. The kind of love observed on this particular day at Heathrow Airport is the kind that flourishes in the first few weeks – you know, when lust is a primary component still – and that’s all. In this film, enduring love is rewarded with death (as in the case of the Liam Neeson story) or with infidelity (as in the case of the Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson story). There is one other enduring love story, but it’s purely platonic and mostly one-sided (the Bill Nighy story). The rest of the movie is about new love, and that would be okay if it wasn’t so cynical. You can’t have love if you care for an ailing family member. If it’s “love” that you feel, then why not go behind your best friend’s back and confess it to his wife? I mean, it’s Christmas, right? And why go after British girls when American girls are such giant slags that they’ll throw a foursome at the first Brit they see? This film had the freedom – and the cast – to truly explore the theme it proposes, but in the end there are only three halfway decent *love* stories.

The comical, clumsy courtship of Freeman and Page is a great short film buried in the two plus hours surrounding it. Colin Firth’s earnest yearning is intriguing but under nourished. And Hugh Grant’s battle within over what to do with that darned intern is playful and flirty but also overwrought with silly political commentary.

Overall, this is film has enough great actors in it that it is watchable. It almost even tricks you into thinking your watching a story with substance. But deep down, “Love Actually” is hard to find in this film.


6.5 Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays

“When you go home do you ever look around and say, ‘Who are these people? Where do I even come from?'”

Bill Clinton is in office. Gay is a bad, shameful word. And everything is changing.

Holly Hunter (“The Incredibles,” “The Piano”) plays a woman who is falling apart. She lost her job, made out with her sixty-something boss, and just as she’s getting on the plane, her teen daughter (Claire Danes, “The Family Stone,” “My So Called Life”) tells her she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend. Her aging parents (played beautifully by Anne Bancroft, “The Graduate,” “The Miracle Worker” and Charles Durning, “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “The Sting”) are playing host to the family for Thanksgiving. When the brother (Robert Downey Jr., “Iron Man,” “Chaplin”) shows up with a man (Dylan McDermott, “In the Line of Fire,” “The Practice”) that isn’t his longtime boyfriend, Hunter worries that her brother has given up “the one.” The holiday isn’t complete until the dotty aunt (Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, “Doctor Zhivago”) and the conservative sister (Cynthia Stevenson, “The Player,” “Jennifer’s Body”) and her husband (Steve Guttenberg, “Three Men and a Baby,” “Diner”) join in the festivities – and the insanity.

Jodie Foster directs this textured, realistic picture of a family searching for the point in life, love, and family. Perhaps the point isn’t something we can point to, some video of a moment that we shared. Perhaps life is in the moments that we didn’t think amounted to a picture at the time, the moments that we have recorded in our minds and think back on with great fondness.

“Home for the Holidays” is not technically a Christmas movie, since it takes place on Thanksgiving, but it certainly is an excellent primer to get you in the mood to spend those hectic, stressful, and so so important moments with your family.


5 Batman Returns

Batman Returns

A Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, “Scarface,” “What Lies Beneath”) that was a secretary until her boss shoved her out the window. After that she eats birds, bathes herself with her tongue, can do acrobatics without training, and has nine lives. Not metaphorically. She literally has nine lives.

A Penguin (Danny DeVito, “L.A. Confidential,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) that was raised in the sewers by birds and lunatic circus performers. He spew black bile and bites people’s noses until they bleed, but he’s still the best candidate Gotham City has for mayor. Also, while living in the sewers, he built a floating rubber ducky scissor-lift.

A Batman (Michael Keaton, “Beetlejuice,” “Birdman”) that has a suit that can stop bullets but not a sewing machine needle. He straight up murders at least two henchman (one he deliberately sets on fire with the Batmobile’s jet engine, the other he straps a bomb to), but he won’t kill the boss.

A venture capitalist (Christopher Walken, “Deer Hunter,” “Catch Me If You Can”) that pollutes the river with toxic waste, murders partners and assistants, and who wants to steal Gotham’s power. He creates Catwoman and the Penguin and drives their evil plans.

An evil plan, by the way, that requires a recall and election, for the Penguin to pilot a coin operated kiddy ride, and bombs to be strapped on the backs of an army of penguins. But don’t think this movie is just visual gags for the kiddies. The Penguin tells Catwoman that she’s “just the pussy” he’s looking for and tells the penguin army that there’s gender equality when everyone’s “erogenous zones are blown sky high.”

This is Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.”

There have been many versions of my favorite superhero. In cinema alone, there were the 1940’s serials, the 1960’s campy show and movie, Burton’s dark original, the nipple-raising Joel Schumacher sequels, and Nolan’s gritty trilogy. In the comics, there have been seventy five years of different Batman stories. My problem with this film isn’t that it’s *not* Batman, *not* Catwoman, and *not* the Penguin. It’s that I don’t care for *this* Batman, *this* Catwoman, and *this* Penguin.

This period in Tim Burton’s career was his best. It was a period when visual effects were still more practical than digital. Burton’s worlds just more artistic and magical when they were cobbled together with miniatures, puppets, and props. These aspects in the film are quite good. The march of the Penguin is somehow romantic. The world of Gotham explodes with character. And quite simply, this is the best Catwoman costume we’ve seen. If only Burton had drawn inspiration from the best comics and less from the Adam West series, we could have had a truly great film.

If you want some Burton this Christmas, I’d recommend that instead of watching “Batman Returns” that you watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I mean, *this* Catwoman is basically just Sally anyway.


7 Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

“I am going to prove that Santa Claus exists and that you are him.”

While the original film did a fantastic job of fulfilling that promise, the remake, which celebrates its twenty year anniversary this year, had a slightly different focus.

When you find out that John Hughes (“Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” the Brat Pack films) was the producer and writer for the remake, it should come as no surprise that the scope the film takes is much more family centered than the original.

In the original film, the mother rightfully keeps her child out of the courtroom drama. In the remake, those scenes become much more about what the child bares witness to. The good news is that Mara Wilson (“Matilda,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”) does an exemplary job filling the larger role. The bad news is that the movie loses some of the realism that made the courtroom and psychological drama a textured and compelling thing.

The role of Santa Claus was played by Richard Attenborough (“The Great Escape”), who was very recognizable to audiences at the time due to his role in “Jurassic Park.” He plays the role with a jolly vigor, but some of the ambiguity regarding his sanity is missing. This, again, is due to the change in focus, since the stakes don’t feel as largely against him.

Elizabeth Perkins (“The Flintstones,” “Big”) is just as powerful a female role model in this film, but this time she seems higher ranked in the department store. Dylan McDermott (“Home for the Holidays,” “The Practice”) is just as slick an attorney, but he doesn’t always seem to think his propositions or proposals through. He, just like the film, has faith that everything will turn out okay in the end.

This version of the film may literally fill every street in New York with people who care about the verdict, but in the end, it is the personal belief of the family that is of importance. Unsurprisingly, the argument made in court is weaker than in the original, but the final scene, the one that involves Kris Kringle building faith with Susan and her mother, actually works better.

Overall, I would say that this is a good film, and if you value the belief of the individual over the masses, you might even think it’s great.


6 Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn

With “Holiday Inn” in 1942 and “White Christmas” in 1954, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby are a dynamic Christmas duo. Both films are loaded with great music, but the latter is filled with nostalgia for the former.

This begins with the song that won “Holiday Inn” the Oscar, “White Christmas,” which takes on a slightly different meaning in this film. This movie has a few patriotic moments, but it’s not really about the war. It’s about the pleasures and freedoms Americans were fighting the war for.

The story is pretty simple. Bing Crosby (“The Bells of St. Mary”) and Fred Astaire (“Top Hat,” “Swing Time”) are competing for the same girl. Bing thinks he can win her with singing – and an inn in the country – and Fred thinks he can win her with dancing – and the promise of fame and fortune. Bing has given up the fast life of performance for the “lazy” life on the farm. Unfortunately, work on the farm isn’t as easy as singing, so he’s cooked up a scheme to turn the place into an inn that only operates on holidays. Every holiday, he puts on a big show for the guests and writes an original song for each. This attracts a new talent, Marjorie Reynolds (“The Life of Riley,” “The Time of Their Lives”), the girl caught in the middle.

Bing is my favorite crooner, and no one in the world can dance like Fred Astaire. Their chemistry together is pretty good, but it’s not dynamite. What is explosive is the July Fourth dance by Astaire. It’s one of my favorite dance routines in any film.

I do have to say that a segment of this film is usually edited out due to controversial material. However, the scenes leading up to it and following it are so relevant to the plot that they are never removed, and they prove to be hard to watch for a modern day audience. On Lincoln’s birthday, there is a blackface routine. We see some actors in blackface and there is a lot of talk about the routine. It’s used as a way of hiding Reynolds’s appearance, but her line about how she had hoped her hopes of looking pretty for the show were now dashed as Crosby spreads the black make-up on her face is rather distasteful.

Of course, “White Christmas” paid tribute to nostalgia for minstrel theatre too, but that time, they left out the blackface.



The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 7)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

8.5 A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

American humorist Jean Shepherd, who spent many years spinning semi-autobiographical yarns on the radio and in books, wove several of his stories into this tale of Christmas Americana. The result is one of the most beloved holiday films.

I could write endlessly of bee bee guns that shoot out eyes and the glowing light of sexuality that burns in the front window and the hillbilly neighbor’s dogs and tongues on flagpoles and the f dash dash dash word, but that would make this review seem more like a love letter to the movie. That would be unprofessional. I might as well be writing these words while wearing a set of pink bunny pajamas with long floppy ears and a cotton tail.

This movie has been nostalgia typified for a handful of generations. There are those who were adults in the 1980s that knew what a decoder ring was. There are those who were children in the 1980s that viewed Christmas through their parents’ experience and could see their reflection of their own. And then there have been those who have come after, who see that those stories Mr. Shepherd told about his own life are both frozen in time and alive in our own.

If you’re an adult and want to see Christmas as a kid again, “A Christmas Story” is a great way to go.


9 Die Hard

Die Hard

“Die Hard” is the manual for how to create a compelling action movie.

First, you get the cool, quick witted hero. Someone like John McClain (Bruce Willis). You put him into a situation where he has personal interests in stake. In this case, it’s his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids and the opportunity to save his marriage – and his wife’s life.

Now you need a great bad guy. Someone you really love to hate. Someone like Alan Rickman will do, and if you can make him a racist, perhaps install overtones of neo-Nazism, that will work best. Give him a sinister plan, like a terror plot to hijack the building where John McClain’s wife is having her company Christmas party.

You need some great henchmen, and Die Hard starts off with twelve really good ones. There’s the Aryan twins, the obnoxious hacker, a bunch of guys with machine guns (ho-ho-ho), and everyone’s favorite 80’s stuntman (Al Leong).

Now, if you’re making this movie in the 1980’s, you’ll need more than just Al Leong. You’ll want the coked up business guy, a journalist a-hole (no one better than William Atherton for that part), and if you can find a way to work in Mary Ellen Trainor (“Lethal Weapon,” “Scrooged,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Ghostbusters II”), then you’re really cooking with grease.

You’ll need a sidekick. He could be the hero’s driver and played for laughs. Or he could be the only one that believes in the hero and played for heart (Reginald VelJohnson).

Create a series of plausible scenarios. Use physics as a guiding principle for how things will react in your world. Hobble your main character with some kind of injury that makes the audience worry even more as the third act draws near. And make it one man against a small army.

Oh, and if it can be on Christmas Eve, and you can work in as many references to the holiday, you might end up with a movie as good as “Die Hard.”


6 A Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol

There was a time directly after Jim Henson’s death when the future of The Muppets was in peril. Mr. Henson realized that in order for the creations he and his workshop had come up with to continue in perpetuity after his demise, he would have to entrust the characters to a studio that could continue the legacy. A studio like Walt Disney.

Whereas the live Muppet Theater show at Disneyland is the perfect example of what this new collaboration could be, Jim had a major part to play in that attraction. However, subsequent to Disney taking full control of The Muppets, there was a period where the classic formula was set aside. It was only natural, after all, since that formula was very driven by Henson, Oz, and the gang and their distinct sense of humor. Without them as the driving force – and coming off of a declining franchise of theatrical releases – the Disney executives were tasked with reinvention.

That reinvention came in the form of overlaying The Muppets onto classic public domain literature. Treasure Island and A Christmas Carol. By the time the studio had figured out how to do an original Muppet story (the excellent “Muppets from Space”), the audience had all but forgotten about the clan of crazy puppets.

Luckily, the internet kept the characters alive long enough for modern stars that grew up loving The Muppets (director James Bobin, actors like Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Tina Fey, and Ricky Gervais) to revitalize the dying franchise with nostalgia for the best material.

Okay, that subjective history lesson aside, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is a pleasant and utilitarian retelling of the Dickens classic. While it is not the best Muppet story – or the best version of “The Christmas Carol” – there’s some nice work here. Michael Caine is quite good as Ebenezer. The puppet work is endlessly clever. And if you’re a fan of Rizzo, this is his most important part.

There are some problems too. Some of the characters work well (Waldorf and Statler are perfectly cast), and some of them are definitely forced puzzle pieces (Miss Piggy being the worst offender).

If you’re a huge fan of The Muppets, this is a fun holiday movie. But may I suggest you stagger this one with the other Muppet Christmases? There are quite a few.


8.5 The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Henry Selick’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a love letter to those who sometimes feel isolated. That’s the ultimate origin and what drew many of the key players into giving some of their best work.

Tim Burton had gone back again and again to draw storyboards for a poem he had written. He was inspired by the classic television special, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” so when it came time to produce the film for Disney, he sought out a director with experience in stop-go-animation.

Henry Selick, who would go on to create “James and the Giant Peach” and “Caroline,” had created some shorts that showed great promise. He was given the great task of helming the film.

Danny Elfman had done some great instrumental music for films and television, including “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” for Burton. However, he hadn’t yet tapped into the type of songwriting he had done in Oingo Boingo. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” would be a chance to create music for a full musical. He was so eagerly involved that he ended up voicing the singing parts for several parts, including Jack Skellington.

The material itself came from Burton’s childhood memories. He felt isolated, but when Halloween or Christmas came around, things felt magical. In the film, Jack Skellington has lost his zeal for his own holiday, Halloween, but finds himself drawn to the light and mysterious Christmasland. Not yet seeing what makes him special, Jack does everything he can to adopt the magic of Christmas. Unfortunately, these two holidays don’t and shouldn’t feel the same.

Selick and Elfman felt they could understand Jack, and that was very advantageous for the cult audience that can too.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a treasure of a holiday film that manages to do what Jack could not, find the proper mix of both Halloween and Christmas that would please the world.


7.5 The Bells of St. Mary's

The Bells of St. Mary’s

Though not technically a Christmas film, this school house drama has become a holiday staple for classic film lovers the world over. There are, after all, two scenes during Christmas and a reference to the spirit of the holiday in one of the closing speeches.

Bing Crosby (“White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn”) plays Father O’Malley, a priest with a straw hat and swagger. Ingrid Bergman (“Casablanca”) is Sister Benedict, the head nun that teaches compassion and discipline to the students. Henry Travers (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) is Horace Bogardus, a venture capitalist that has his mind set on tearing down the school to make a parking lot. Sister Benedict, however, has her mind – and prayers – set on Bogardus donating the building to the school.

Many of the best moments and scenes in this film seem improvised, which is a very uncommon thing for movies during this period. My favorite scene, in fact, is the reenactment of the nativity by a group of first graders. For about five minutes, the movie becomes a Little Rascals title of the highest caliber.

The plot is fairly melodramatic (and the ending ever so), but in many ways it takes the back seat to tableau of kindness and compassionate tutoring.

The greatest strength of this film is that the crooner and the beauty have incredible chemistry together, but it never becomes inappropriate. It’s a pleasant story of the Christian compassion that makes up the spirit of Christmas.

Honestly, this one is worth watching just to watch Sweden’s greatest Hollywood starlet dressed as nun teaching a boy how to box.



The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 6)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

7 Bad Santa

Bad Santa

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is worse than The Grinch. He’s worse than Scrooge. He’s a career criminal that poses as a department store Santa so he can steal the holiday deposit. He’s constantly drunk, hates himself, and has no more will to live. He has no filter and constantly spews the worst things possible to children.

Willie always has plans to use the money they steal to change his life around, but he’s beyond saving. His accomplice, a dwarf played by Tony Cox, is in it to get his materialistic mail order bride (Lauren Tom) her heart’s desires, and he’s fed up with Willie’s antics.

As Santa, Willie pees himself, hits on jailbait, stays at with a slow kid and his demented grandmother, and has sex with anyone he can, including a waitress that has a thing for Santa Claus (Lauren Graham).

On the other side of the law is the prudish mall manager (John Ritter) and the head of security (Bernie Mac). This is considered Ritter’s final performance, and it is the best in the film. If only there were more scenes with him.

This is not a Christmas movie for just anyone. There is some sentimentality, but it’s not the kind for people that hang out around the Hallmark Channel. But if you like toilet humor with your holiday ham, then you should watch “Bad Santa.”


7.5 The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop’s Wife

From the first scene, we know that Dudley (Cary Grant) is what he says he is. He’s an angel, and he’s come to help the Bishop with his prayers. He could just give the Bishop (David Niven) the miracle he desires, but it would lose meaning that way.

Dudley says he will assist Bishop Brougham in any way he asks, and instead of asking for the angel to attend to the business of helping him build his new church, he asks Dudley to take care of his wife Julia (Loretta Young).

Dudley is learned, well-spoken, and adventurous, and it isn’t long before he’s charming everyone around him, including the Bishop’s daughter (Karolyn Grimes, who is also Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life“), the help (Elsa Lanchester, who had a storied career including being the Bride of Frankenstein), a cab driver named Sylvester (James Gleason), an atheist (Monty Woolley), and especially Julia. Yes, and Julia charms him too.

An angel that shows us inspiration and sees inspiration in us. That’s “The Bishop’s Wife.”


8 How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Dr. Seuss is perhaps the most beloved of all writers in children’s literature. His bizarre rhymes and whimsical illustrations have inspired kids of all generations for years.

Chuck Jones is the man that humanized the Loony Tunes, making Daffy, for example, a bit less daffy and more motivated by emotions we can relate to, like greed and envy.

Boris Karloff is a movie star of legend that created many memorable characters. He is best known as one of the most important Universal creatures, Frankenstein’s monster.

When the time came to adapt Dr. Seuss’s beloved book into a television special, Boris Karloff was given the job of narrating and voicing the Grinch. However, he did not sing the famed song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Many believe he did, due the the fact the song went uncredited, but it was performed by Tony the Tiger’s voice actor, Thurl Ravenscroft.

This film is quite simply the sum of its parts. It is the writing of Dr. Seuss, the animation style of Chuck Jones, and the vocal talents of Karloff and Ravenscroft. No more, no less. Good thing for all of us that each of these talents was a master of his craft, and this short little holiday classic is a masterpiece.


6 Surviving Christmas

Surviving Christmas

Ben Affleck plays a man that has more money than he can spend, but he doesn’t have the one thing he needs, a family to spend Christmas with. Years of loneliness have caught up with him, and he’s finally snapped. He goes to the house where he grew up and hires the family that lives there now to take him in for the holidays.

James Gandolfini plays the grumpy father, and Catherine O’Hara is the long suffering wife. Their marriage is basically over, but for the benefit of getting the money, they’re willing to pretend to be the perfect family. Until things get weird, that is.

Their son sees what’s going on. That’s why he locks himself in the room and surfs for porn all day. But his older sister, played by Christina Applegate, is still in denial.

There are times where this movie works, but overall it has a tragic flaw. Unfortunately Affleck’s character is a bit loony, and he’s essentially holding this family hostage with his mania. The film does give good reason in the end for this, but it doesn’t feel like the *right* reason given that this is an ad man that pitches boozing it up as the only way to survive the holidays with your family. Best not to think of it, I suppose.

No, even better!! Imagine that Affleck is Bruce Wayne in *this* movie too. Then “Surviving Christmas” is awesome!


8 Scrooged


I should begin this review by telling you that Bill Murray is one of my favorite actors, and that it was *this* film that made me realize how gifted he was, not only with comedy, but as a dramatic actor as well.

After “Ghostbusters,” Bill was the biggest movie star in Hollywood. His pet project, “The Razor’s Edge,” was a brave film but was met with critical criticism and was not a commercial success. After that, Bill stepped away from the limelight. “Scrooged” was his return to starring roles (he had a cameo in “Little Shop of Horrors”).

Murray is at his best when he plays a character that is just as self-loathing as he is smarmy and charming. But there is the other side to Bill as well. A part of Mr. Murray is still that kid that hasn’t accepted his father’s death. This part of Bill is sentimental and has a message of kindness for the world. Frank Cross is in the upper echelon of great Murray roles, because in playing a variation of Ebenezer in the moral tale of “A Christmas Carol,” Murray is able to fully explore both sides of his personality.

Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon,” “Superman,” “The Goonies”) helms this update of the Dickens tale. The humor is biting and dark, but the message of transformation and redemption is still intact.

The role of Bob Cratchet is split in two. There’s the assistant with the heart of gold and poor, lovable family (Alfre Woodard), and then there’s the disgruntled former employee that has gone totally postal (Bobcat Goldthwait). In this version of the story, the lost love is a more important aspect of the story, and Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) represents the side of Frank that could know love and charity.

From “The Night the Reindeer Cried” with Lee Majors to the casting of Buddy Hacket and Mary Lou Retton in the movie within the movie, this is pure satire. The ghosts are varied and refreshing (John Forsythe, Carol Kane, and David Johansen – better known as Buster Poindexter), and the rest of the cast and the cameos are high caliber and fit their roles well.

With four Murray Brothers (Brian Doyle-Murray, John Murray, and Joel Murray) in tow, this is the best way to have a Murray Christmas this year.



The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 4)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

4.5 Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas with the Kranks

Tim Allen was on a posivite run with holiday classics with “The Santa Clause” series, so Hollywood decided to try to cast him in a movie that was a cross between “Christmas Vacation” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” This time, the Clark Griswold archetype wants to take a vacation that *isn’t* Christmas.

Truly, if you decide to skip Christmas this year, there will be repercussions. Your family will assume you’re being cheap, and your friends simply won’t understand. Unless you are someone who does not observe the holiday for religious reasons, people will shake their heads at you for making such a bold choice. BUT the world in which this movie takes place is a veritable Whoville where Christmas turns the observant into caricatures straight out of The Twilight Zone. They creep in on The Kranks like a zombie horde and demand Frosty is put on the roof where he belongs!

It’s the first two thirds of this film that doesn’t work, because I think most of us side with Tim Allen’s character and see Jamie Lee Curtis’s character as someone who really needs the gift of a break from the holiday. Dan Aykroyd, Cheech Marin, Jake Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, and the rest of the neighbors seem like unsympathetic characters, In the end, we’re supposed to believe that Allen was motivated by self-interest, but it really seems like everyone else was being selfish and wasn’t listening to his needs.

The last third is better. After a total boycott of the holiday, they receive word that their daughter is coming home after all, and they scramble to create the Christmas they had spent the rest of the film avoiding. There are some sweet moments here and there, and it’s always fun to watch Tim Allen do slapstick.

Overall, this is an uneven film with a shoe-horned message. The premise could have worked if the reactions were a bit more believable, but if you’ve already seen all of the films this one is trying to be, then you could give it a go. Just don’t judge The Kranks too harshly. It’s Christmas.


5 How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2002)

Some movies are made for children and are basically not watchable by adults. While the Chuck Jones may be a bit dry for a modern audience brought up on television geared for the ADD generation, Ron Howard’s interpretation is a fever dream of SpongeBob laughing incessantly and quick cuts of grown ups making peek a boo faces at babies.

The problem for me is that I don’t like the way Whoville celebrates Christmas. It’s crass and commercial and celebrates maxing out enough credit cards to put you in debt forever. I get that this is the point of the movie. The Grinch steals the material goods, and the Whovians still manage to find the Christmas spirit. So in a way, The Grinch is the hero, but I can’t relate to him at all in this movie. The film has basically turned the famous green grump into a raving homeless person that barks at the moon. He’s mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, beyond the point where I can believe he’ll be alright when the movie fades to black.

I guess we’re supposed to view the situation through the eyes of Cindy Lou Who. She is, after all, the only one that sees the holiday and the Grinch for what they truly are. This is a film for children, after all, so it makes sense that the window would be a child.

There are some positives from a mature film viewer’s perspective. The make-up and special effects are excellent, and there are some inventive approaches that are totally Dr. Seussical (ie the Christmas light machine gun).

Overall this movie is a miss, and that’s a shame. Jim Carrey’s abilities far outreach what he’s asked to do here. If both he and the movie were reeled in a bit, this could have been a much stronger experience.


7 Fred Claus

Fred Claus

“Sometimes I feel like my brother is Santa.” The words of Frank Stallone, who has to fight both Rocky and Rambo in order to get out of his brother’s shadow. He is consoled by both Roger Clinton and Stephen Baldwin, the latter whom has to remind himself that the newcomer to the Siblings Anonymous group is “not Alec.”

When you’re brother is a saint – and especially when he’s Saint Nicholas – you have a lot of catching up to do if you don’t want to be labeled the “naughty” son. Fred (Vince Vaughn) grew up with his mother (Kathy Bates) constantly comparing him to Nicholas (Paul Giamati), and while he promised he would be the best big brother in the world, he’s come to realize that he’d better start looking out for himself.

So Fred grows up to become a fast talking hustler that repossess your Christmas gifts when you miss someone misses a payment. He reasons with the neighborhood kid that Santa’s a spotlight hog, and he gets himself arrested for getting into a brawl with the Salvation Army bell ringers. For Fred, the blessing of eternal youth his brother earned the family is a curse to scrape and struggle forever.

Meanwhile, the elves and their workshop are under the scrutiny of an efficiency inspector (Kevin Spacey) that’s already shut down the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. Santa, who has just agreed to give Fred a temporary job, is on a three strikes warning.

From here, the story is pretty much what you would expect. There are some fun moments here and there,Ludacris as a deejay elf that keeps playing the same song over and over (a situation anyone in retail is sure to relate to), a brooding love brimming between a three foot elf (John Michael Higgins) and a normal sized “helper” (Elizabeth Banks), and a family intervention where Fred’s girlfriend (Rachel Weisz) finds herself in the middle of family drama in Santa’s village.

Let me get to the point. This movie seems like the kind that works better on paper than it does in practice, and that would certainly be the case had the cast and direction not been properly aligned. David Dobkin, who had previously directed Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers,” handled this one the right way. He must have had the confidence that if he let Vaughn chatter and let the competent actors around him (mostly Oscar winners) play things straight, he’d have some good stuff that could appeal to both children and adults.

It must be a Christmas miracle, because Fred Claus gets the job done, both literally and figuratively.


8.5 Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

George Seaton and his team pull off a hat trick with this one.

Imagine for a moment that I have come to pitch a film to you. I tell you it follows employees at Macy’s. Then I say it will explore mental health issues. Finally, I explain that it will also be a courtroom drama. Oh, and it’s about Santa Claus and the miracle of Christmas. You’d probably think I was nuts, right? Well, “Miracle on 34th Street” is that movie, and it’s wonderful.

Doris (Maureen O’Hara) is a single mother. She’s also in charge of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and runs the toy department at the biggest store in New York. She’s a liberated woman that doesn’t have time for fairy tales, and she’s brought up her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) the same way.

Fred (John Payne) is a bachelor that has taken an interest in Susan in order to get her mother’s attention. He’s also a well-respected attorney. He doesn’t see the harm in a bit of imagination, and in fact, he’s trying to help both Susan and Doris to exercise a bit of fantasy.

Along comes Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), Macy’s new Santa Claus. Only, he thinks he’s the real Santa, and maybe, just maybe. . . nah! Kris is a gentle old man that makes it his duty in life to make people believe in miracles, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s pulled off a few already. By telling mothers where they can get their gifts at Gimble’s, a rival department store, Kris has ushered in a whole new philosophy in retail. Both Macy’s and Gimble’s suddenly decide that *they* want to be the store that cares about its customers.

Things are going along just fine until Kris runs up against the store psychiatrist and finds himself committed to Bellevue. And that is what sets off the court case where Fred must convince the judge (Gene Lockhart) – and his political adviser (William Frawley) – that Kris actually is who he says he is, the real Santa Claus.

This is truly a Christmas classic and should be in your stocking every year.


9 A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

This is one that is better than I remembered. The shortest movie on the list, it is a rare gem that has become both iconic and beloved.

This year is the 60th Birthday of The Peanuts, and next Christmas will be the 50th for this television special. As a kid, I recall thinking this movie was brand new, and that’s part of why it works so well. It still feels fresh even though Violet and Shermy are characters that lost panels to the old block head long ago, and Patty lived through the sixties and became a hippy. This is from a time before Woodstock, both the festival and the bird.

There is no real story to speak of here, other than Charlie Brown is tired of commercialism in Christmas and has forgotten the true meaning of the holiday. The plot unravels like a tableau of morning editions from the funny pages, and honestly, that’s why this movie is so charming. This was the first time Charles “Sparky” Schwartz was able to bring to life the Psychiatrist booth and doghouse that readers had grown to love over a decade of strips. This film is funny and random, but it still manages to bring peace and value.

Charlie Brown’s tree may not look like much, but it is the bare bones of the holiday spirit.