Monday, November 24, 2014

Riske Business: 30 Days of Christmas Movies (Days 1-3)

by Adam Riske
Season’s Greetings! It’s Merry Movie Month at Riske Business. Care to join me?

Christmas movies (and corporate thrillers) are among my secret movie shames. Being a Jewish man (which I love being, don’t get me wrong), I do not get Christmas every year and that’s too bad, because the commercialized version of Christmas in popular entertainment looks quite fun. The nearest I get to having Christmas is by watching Christmas movies. As a result, I love Christmas movies; even many of the bad ones. There are no Chanukah movies, so what choice do I have really? To celebrate this holiday season, I’ll be watching a Christmas movie every day over the next 30 days. Some will be classics, others not so much.

My goal with these columns is to not only review the movies, but to comment on Hollywood’s depiction of Christmas in popular entertainment. For example, why are so many Christmas comedies grumpy? Ever notice that? It’s like they think the only way to generate laughs is by depicting characters who hate the holiday.

This first column will cover the first three days of the challenge.

Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or have any thoughts on the ones I’m watching? Leave a comment below!

Day 1: Ernest Saves Christmas
My 30 day Christmas movie marathon began inauspiciously in an airport terminal as I was waiting for a flight back home from Las Vegas. I don’t like Las Vegas personally, but much of that has to do with the fact that I’ve only been to Vegas for work and never for fun. Quick – give me some Vegas tips for enjoying my trips out there more!

So I popped up my Netflix and picked out my first movie of the month. I ran a search by the word Christmas and quickly scanned the page. Looking for something undemanding, I chose Ernest Saves Christmas.

Let me set aside the suspense right away: Ernest Saves Christmas is not a good movie, but that’s not to say it’s bereft of charm. Some of the picture (a fancy word for movie) works. I really enjoyed Douglas Seale as Santa Claus. He commits to the bit. The story of Seale’s Santa looking for a replacement is intriguing and the best part of the movie. It helps that the actor playing the new Santa (he’s played by Oliver Clark, who I remember from one episode of Full House) is just as affable. All of this material is fine and makes Ernest Saves Christmas a watchable Christmas movie.

Where the movie hits the skids, though, is Ernest himself,  as played by Jim Varney (oh yeah, and that lying girl who is a nails-on-the-chalkboard character). I used to really like Ernest when I was a kid, but as an adult I think I finally see why my parents used to dislike the character so much. He’s an annoying fuck-up that I just want to get away from. Ernest doesn’t so much “save Christmas” in Ernest Saves Christmas as much as stops fucking up long enough to have everyone else save Christmas for him.

Ernest Saves Christmas is also very anti-horror, which makes it a little lame. In the movie, several characters are all up in arms over the fact that there is a Christmas-themed horror movie being made called Santa’s Slay, which is about an alien that comes down to Earth to terrorize children at Christmas. That sounds like a movie I would totally watch in 2014. I get that Ernest Saves Christmas might be commenting on the controversy that was Silent Night, Deadly Night from the 1980s (where parents did get upset that Santa was being used as a horror device), but seriously, I’m not sure I want to give Ernest Saves Christmas that much credit for sly social commentary.

Lastly, is it just me or, for a Disney production, does Ernest Saves Christmas still look like it was made for $1.50?

Day 2: I’ll be Home for Christmas
JTT…do re me. I was a huge fan of Home Improvement during its original run. Because of that, I used to think Johnathan Taylor Thomas was really cool. Well, he was…in 1995. But in 1998 (at the time of the release of I’ll be Home for Christmas), let’s just say the little urchin was not on top of the hot list. He was going through the awkward Richie Rich period of his career, where he was straddling the line of making kids movies and ones for pre-teens and teens. That’s one of the problems with I’ll be Home for Christmas. It can’t decide which of those audiences it wants to cater to.

So we get JTT as a college-aged con artist who is dating the 11-foot tall Jessica Biel (which is crazy because JTT is like 4’11” dripping wet) that gets Gary Cole bribed (with a Porsche) to come home for Christmas. So you immediately hate the lead characters right off the bat. What a heartwarming story about a family that bribes each other with expensive material possessions to spend time together! This is just one example of this movie’s cavalier attitude about money, which everyone at the college seems to have. I was never broke in college, but c’mon! These kids have access to everything and anything they want despite being college students!?! I’ve never seen a movie so tied into mommy and daddy’s credit cards. This is a recurring motif in many Christmas movies, where characters act as if money grows on trees and you can simply buy away all of your troubles.

Anyways, I still like this movie in a strange way. It’s so bad that it’s entertaining. The comic setups are lame but in a way that becomes fascinating. It is also a total nostalgia trip for late '90s Disney culture, which was focusing heavily on teens through NSync music and landing stars from teen shows like 7th Heaven, etc.

This movie bombed, which is kind of a bummer. It’s so innocuous that stepping on it seems akin to a capital crime.

Day 3: Die Hard
Well, since I’m only covering days 1-3 for this column I wanted to bring out a classic to close things out. And what better movie to watch on a late Saturday night-early Sunday morning than Die Hard!

I’ve written about Die Hard before in a column from my early days at F This Movie! (it was a “Like You Were There” piece about seeing all five Die Hard movies in a row at a theater) so please excuse me if I’m repeating anything. The movie’s great. There is no sense in reviewing it at this point so here are some quick observations…

Why does the front desk guy at Nakatomi make John McClane look up Holly Gennaro when he knows everyone that’s left in the building is on the 30th floor at the party?

Has everyone who has ever seen Die Hard tried the “making fists with your toes” bit? I have, and while it doesn’t beat a shower and a hot cup of coffee, it is kind of nice.

The only benefit of taking four years of German in high school is that I can understand what the terrorists are saying when there are no subtitles. Links, rechts….

How much would you tip Argyle? He’s the best limo driver ever! I would say you have to go 100% or maybe even 200%. IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!!!

The Die Hard poster has the longest tag line I’ve ever seen. Plus, it has TWO tag lines!

Has there ever been a better title for a movie than Die Hard?

The woman cop at the 911 operator (who thinks Bruce Willis’ message is a prank) is pretty attractive. Never picked up on that before.

And scene.

Three days in, I’ve loved having the opportunity to watch a Christmas movie every day. We’ll see if that changes in the weeks to come.

Tune in next week as we’ll discuss Christmas with the Kranks, Christmas with the Muppets and my first ever viewing of The Holiday, with the infamous Cameron Diaz running scene!

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

25 comments:

  1. Oh Adam, you are entering my wheelhouse! I'm more of a TV specials man, but I do love me a good Christmas movie. Granted, we're talking a given definition of the term "Good" but you know what I mean. I have to wait until Thanksgiving is over, but after that we can have dueling Marathons!

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    1. I'll be mixing in some TV specials as well starting next week :-) Looking forward to our dueling marathons!

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  2. Why does the front desk guy at Nakatomi make John McClane look up Holly Gennaro when he knows everyone that’s left in the building is on the 30th floor at the party?

    I always wondered this myself! Also, why is Argyle all nervous when he picks up Bruce at the airport, then cut to him saying "Relax, we got everything in here man"...that always drove me nuts.

    The Die Hard poster has the longest tag line I’ve ever seen. Plus, it has TWO tag lines! AMAZING!!

    Has there ever been a better title for a movie than Die Hard?

    Nope. Has there ever been a better MOVIE than Die Hard?! Nope again.

    The woman cop at the 911 operator (who thinks Bruce Willis’ message is a prank) is pretty attractive. Never picked up on that before.

    Totally agree - I've even looked her up on IMDB before!

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    1. Good call on the wavering nervousness of our favorite limo driver. I never thought about that.

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    2. Sorry to get off of the Christmas movie topic, but my co-worker and I were talking about the title Die Hard which led to us trying to figure out what Die Hard would be called if it came out today. I said probably "High Rise" or some silly shit like that. He said the problem with that is then they would have to call Die Hard 2 - "High Rise 2 - Airport" haha, which doesn't work. So what do you think they would call Die Hard if it came out today?

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    3. Nakatomi Has Fallen, Has Fallen 2: Fallen Further, New York Has Fallen With A Vengeance, Live Free or Has Fallen, A Good Day to Have Fallen

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    4. John McClane Origins: Rise of Gruber

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    5. The Vault Games - MockingJohn Part 1

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  3. Wow another bold venture, Riske - this is like the polar opposite of Scary Movie Month - I look forward to reading about your slow descent into Chrazy.

    In case you haven't seen it, I'd highly recommend the 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim - I only watched it for the first time a couple of years ago and was blown away by how good it is.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I have not yet seen that one. I'll add it to my list.

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    2. Alastair Sim's is my favorite version of A Christmas Carol. Everything about that version is the tops. Can't recommend that highly enough.

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    3. "Polar opposite"? More like "North Polar opposite."

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  4. Best of luck, and good job so far! :) But no Chanukah movies, you say? Let's not forget the Adam Sandler gem Eight Crazy Nights! Kidding, of course.

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    1. I'm trying to forget Eight Crazy Nights.

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  5. Maybe many Christmas movies are humbuggy so the cast and crew can feel less embarrassed about working on such a project for months or even years? Not everyone has the patience and inclination to make a movie like Love, Actually. And maybe Christmas-themed TV episodes tend to be fuzzier for similar (inverse) reasons.

    Also: it is crap, no question, but Fred Claus features the Spaceymeister trying to shut down the North Pole, and Rachel Weisz smiling, speaking in her native accent and not dying, and that's not nothing. Just saying (though I'm not sure I should be)...

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    1. Ooooh...Fred Claus. That movie's rough. It makes Four Christmases look like It's a Wonderful Life.

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  6. I like to watch Die Hard for every minor occasion in my life. I watched it this past weekend for my birthday. I'll watch it for Christmas. Martin Luther King day? Sure. Easter? Why not. It goes perfect with everything.

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    1. Damn straight. I find something new to admire about the movie every time I watch it.

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  7. I feel like it's my duty to promote movies from my native country of Finland on this site, so I would be remiss not to recommend the movie Rare Exports from 2010.

    Or you could just check out the short from 2003 on which it is based, available on YouTube. That's pretty much the gist of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FReZqgTjS8I

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I haven't seen that one yet so I'll work it into the lineup.

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  8. I've been watching Die Hard as the Christmas Eve movie for just about as long as it's been around. It's a special subset of cinemaphiles that thinks this is ok. Thanks for the validation.

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  9. Im surprised it has not been mentioned yet. My Christmas movie is always Scrooged. Bill getting beat up by the fairy with the toaster gets me everytime and I usually have something in my eye at the final speech
    Die hard is fantastic of course too

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