Thursday, December 11, 2014

Riske Business: 30 Days of Christmas Movies (Days 11-17)

by Adam Riske
I’m going to start with some dime-store psychology.

I’ve heard it been said that one of reasons people like movies is because they fill in experiences we are not subject to in our normal lives. I wholeheartedly agree with that, especially for myself in terms of Christmas movies (because I didn’t grow up with it so it feels like this special, forbidden thing). If you love Christmas movies, why do you love them?

Read Days 1-3 here
Read Days 4-10 here

Here’s what I watched this week:

Day 11: Deck the Halls
Deck the Halls is one of the “trilogy of bad” that I mentioned in a previous column when discussing Christmas with the Kranks. Mark 2014 as the year that I am just about out of irony, because I don’t think I am ever going to watch Deck the Halls again after this past viewing. I used to “enjoy” Deck the Halls in an ironic, hipster douchebag “so bad, it’s good” way, but now I just find it to be a soul-crushing experience. From what I’ve heard and read, everyone was miserable on the set of Deck the Halls, knowing that what they were making was truly from the bottom of the barrel. I couldn’t get that out of my head on this viewing, as it shows in relation to everyone’s enthusiasm for the project and just the overall quality. This is a movie that has zero respect for your intelligence. It can only be enjoyed by hipsters who have not yet become real adults or by children who have not seen enough good Christmas movies to know the difference yet. I will say though, as a lover of puns, the tagline on the poster for Deck the Halls made me chuckle.

Note: I also intended to watch Jingle All the Way this month (the last member of the “trilogy of bad”) but I am going to skip that one. Why not watch something I know to be good, or that has the chance of being good, instead? Oh wait, we did a commentary on Jingle All the Way last year. You should watch Jingle All the Way.

Day 12: Happy Christmas
I really enjoy Happy Christmas and I’m glad it is now in my annual rotation. In fact, you can read my review of the movie here. Instead of reiterating what I’ve already said about the movie, let me share a story with you from this week because I saw Joe Swanberg! Twice! First when I watched Happy Christmas (Swanberg has a supporting part in the movie as well as writing and directing it) and a second time two days later at an early screening of Inherent Vice (which was fine but another step down for the once mighty Paul Thomas Anderson, I’m afraid to say..#IMissTheOldPTAnderson). I really wanted to go up to Swanberg and tell him that I really love his past two movies but I didn’t. I was too nervous and I didn’t want to bother him, although it might have been nice to pay a compliment and nothing more. Instead I stared at him a couple of times, checking in to see if I could tell what he thought of Inherent Vice (I couldn’t tell). What do you do when you see celebrities in person?

Note: Don’t you think, in the poster, that Anna Kendrick looks like she’s wearing a Jack Nicholson mask?

Day 13: Lethal Weapon
I love Lethal Weapon so much that it makes me forget that Mel Gibson hates me and my family. This was only my second viewing of the movie (I just caught up to it in the past year or so, despite having grown up on the sequels) and it was really good the first time and just fantastic the second time. The script (by Shane Black of The Long Kiss Goodnight) is tight and rife with interesting character touches, the action is exciting and well-staged and the direction (by Richard Donner) is controlled and confident. This movie is so damn entertaining. Read Patrick’s Heavy Action column on Lethal Weapon, as it covers what I’m trying to say but even better. Outside of Die Hard, is this the best action movie of the 1980s?

Note: I have to say that the highlight of my Christmas movie watching month thus far is when I get to a day where I watch an action movie. Two things I love jammed together. How do you beat that?

Day 14: Miracle on 34th Street
The word that comes to mind when I think of the original Miracle on 34th Street is “classy.” Is it possible that Miracle on 34th Street is underrated? Do people watch this movie enough around the holidays? Why the hell does ABC Family play the remake (which I’ve heard is good, I’ve never seen it) instead of the original, which is practically a perfect movie? Other than It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard (which I’ll get to later this month), isn’t this the best Christmas movie ever made? I know Miracle on 34th Street is often listed on top Christmas movie lists as the best Christmas movie ever made, but don’t you find it strange that it seems to not be part of the conversation that much every December (i.e. lack of screenings, airings on television, mention by people of being a movie they watch around Christmas)?

Day 15: Gremlins
Let me be the first to say, I think Phoebe Cates is really cute in this movie ☺, despite being a girl who is MORBID! Guys will let cute girls get away saying anything, won’t they? That aside, I feel bad almost because I know I’m supposed to like Gremlins but it’s a case of a movie I want to like much more than I actually do. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it just doesn’t do much for me. There is much to appreciate on a technical level. The special effects and music are great. The performances are appealing, but I just feel like the movie meanders and there’s not much to it. It’s a premise much more than a story. I’m a fan of Joe Dante, but this isn’t one of my favorites of his. I like Gremlins 2 more. But hey, it’s ok. It has nice Christmas atmosphere after all.

Day 16: Scrooged
I have no clue why people like this movie. I feel like most are Bill Murray fans that are tricking themselves into thinking what he is doing in Scrooged is “great” or “funny.” This movie is so ugly, mean-spirited and abrasive. I really hate it. I did not know I hated Scrooged before this recent viewing because it had been maybe 20 years since I last saw it, but even when I was a kid, I didn’t care for it too much. Watching it this time, the reasons all came flooding back to me. And the last 10 minutes of this movie are just brutal. It seems so arbitrary that the Bill Murray character is now “good” because he’s the exact same pitch and negative energy that he was for the previous 80+ minutes, it’s just the words are different. I am a Bill Murray fan, but this movie is bad. It’s ok to admit it everyone. The only saving graces I can think of are the special effects (which are gothic and horror-like in vibe) and the safety valve performance from Karen Allen, who every once in a while shows up to give the movie SOME HUMANITY! The song at the end too is garbage. Sorry, for bashing this movie if you like it. I just really hated it.

Day 17: The Santa Clause
I grew up on The Santa Clause but had not seen it in a very long time. I come away half impressed and half unimpressed. It’s cheap looking and a little unpleasant (in the way that it really follows through on the consequences of if someone believed himself to be Santa Claus, .e.g. losing custody of your kid, people thinking you’re insane) and those S.W.A.T. team elves are the dumbest thing I’ve seen in a movie possibly ever. Yet I really admire the movie for having some follow-through with its own story (it’s a double-edged sword) and I can’t speak highly enough of the lead performance from Tim Allen. He’s just wonderful in this movie. He’s funny (even in 2014), charismatic, warm, sweet without being saccharine and so likable that he navigates the viewer through some of the chop of the second half of the movie. I really enjoy the first half of the movie too, I must say. The sequence where Allen and his son (Eric Lloyd) perform the duties of Santa Claus for the first time are inspired and fun.

Join me next week as I’ll discuss the best Christmas horror movie ever made, a movie that runs 24 hours a day every Christmas day and a Christmas movie from just last year that more people should have seen.

How is your holiday DVD shopping going? Pick up anything cool?


  1. I can only speak for myself, but I certainly rate Miracle on 34th Street just as highly as all of the other Christmas classics, and I feel like I see it somewhere on TV every year. I don't know.

    I want to see Happy Christmas at some point, for sure. I am an unabashed fan of Anna Kendrick. That girl is ridiculously cute to me. I just love her.

    Confession: I still have never seen Lethal Weapon. Like you, I have seen the sequels, but not the original, that I recall.

    As far as DVD shopping goes, this has been an especially emotionally difficult year where I basically have to do my own Christmas shopping for myself, and in doing so I have picked up Goddard's Breathless, Her, Ace in the Hole, The Wind Rises, and Guardians of the Galaxy. I have not seen Breathless, Ace in the Hole or The Wind Rises, so those are all blind buys, but I think it's pretty safe to assume I will enjoy all three of them.

    1. I have seen all but Ace in the Hole. I really need to see Ace in the Hole! Let me know what you think about The Wind Rises. I didn't love it when I saw it last February but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I've thought about it a few times since then.

    2. I sure will. I know that, from what I've heard and read, it's "lesser Miyazaki," but the dude is such an animation and storytelling genius that I figure lesser Miyazaki still has to be pretty darn good. I am a big fan of pretty much all of his work. I will definitely report back later.

    3. As a Miyazaki fan myself, I think you'll like The Wind Rises. It's definitely a departure, but if you know that going in you can get more out of it by not trying to compare. I have a couple issues with the plot flow, but it still has his old-fashioned sensibilities of human decency and great animation...and flying.

      Also you should see Lethal Weapon when you get a chance. It's awesome. Disclaimer: Mel Gibson is my kryptonite.

    4. Thanks! I'm sure I will. Like I said, I enjoy and appreciate all of Miyazaki's work to one degree or another. And I absolutely will get around to seeing Lethal Weapon soon. I don't know why that movie has eluded me for so long. But then again, so did Die Hard for a long time.

  2. Wasn't Annie Lennox and Al Green supposed to "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" onto you? That was song a huge hit!

  3. Yeah - Scrooged is a movie I liked a lot growing up (and was part of my limited taped movie collection so I watched it frequently) but when I watched it again for the first time in a long time last year I was really disappointed. It's still got some moments but it's mostly aggressively unfunny and mean-spirited. Disillusionment is a bitch.

    I realized a couple Christmases ago that I LOVE the Lethal Weapon franchise - it might be my favourite action franchise. For all the little quips you really get that those two love each other. I use Bad Boys as my comparison point - those two assholes hate each other all movie with a couple brief moments of actual friendship - their constant insults are negative and mean-spirited and I don't like watching people bicker for two hours straight. Riggs and Murtaugh love each other like family and that's the kind of relationship I want to see at Xmas time.