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It’s hard to believe it wasn’t always like this, but it’s true: Christmas at the movies took off in the nineties. It was the first decade where it actually became a genre, though that’s not to say Hollywood got it right.
Like an avalanche of seasonal snow, Christmas movies became an expected part of those November/December releases. That didn’t necessarily raise the quality quota. In fact, most were pretty bad. Titles like ‘Santa with Muscles’ didn’t help. And even though that last one did not star Arnold Schwarzenegger, he did appear in his own nineties Christmas comedy, ‘Jingle All The Way,’ which also didn’t help.
…and a couple are so bad they start looking good…
Quick tip. In case you’re doing your own research, be warned if you see Holly Hunter’s ’95 comedy ‘Home For The Holidays’ on the rental list. It’s a good film but it’s not Christmas. It’s Thanksgiving. In America, Thanksgiving occurs on the last Thursday of November and it celebrates the arrival of pilgrims on American shores from England. Inspired by Cromwell’s line of thinking, they’re the ones who actually wanted Christmas banned.
In England there’s no Thanksgiving holiday, though a few Brits might privately celebrate the fact that there was once a time when all the fundamentalists who took the fun out of Christmas left the country and ate their turkey somewhere else.
The following are some of the more interesting Christmas movies released during the nineties, all for different reasons. Admittedly, no one’s kidding anyone; the level of quality is not always there, and a couple are so bad they start looking good, but the movie buff should have a great time feasting on films no one else would dream of watching, especially if you know what was going on behind the scenes. Consider the following.
I’d like to say my ‘preciation for your hospitableness.
The plot sounds great. Three petty criminals rob a small town bank but find themselves trapped within city limits due to a pile of Christmas snow. The locals feel sorry for the three strangers without a place to stay and take them into their homes offering food, drink and all kinds of cozy comforts, not realizing that these are the same three that had just stolen their money. The town is called Paradise. It’s a real town in Pennsylvania and it snows there.
The three stars were Nicolas Cage and two ‘Saturday Night Live’ comedians, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey. It is said that filming was a nightmare and that the director, George Gallo, was often so uninterested he even told the cast to do whatever they wanted. Things became so bad that in an interview with actor Lovitz, the comic revealed that co-star Cage would often take over directing duties simply because Gallo refused to direct.
Despite the turmoil, the film’s setup is still good and there really are some laughs, plus it looks great with all the Christmas snow and the Pennsylvania decorations. If you want to know why the cast nicknamed the film ‘Trapped in Bullshit,’ put it on your list.
I don’t know what day it is. I have no watch, so I don’t know what time it is. I’m not even sure of my name. The next thing you know, they’ll be making me a general.
Now this is a good film, a really good film. It’s the last December of the Second World War and the famous Battle of the Bulge in Europe is about to start. But before that happens, a US Army intelligence unit comes upon a German platoon, and all the Germans want for Christmas is to surrender rather than be killed in the oncoming battle.
You may remember the director, Keith Gordon. He was also an actor and played Angie Dickinson’s son in the horror/thriller ‘Dressed to Kill.’ Gordon went on to direct several more, but ‘A Midnight Clear’ is to date easily the best. It’s intelligent, extremely well performed from a good cast including Gary Sinise (his first film), Ethan Hawke (who went on to direct) and Peter Berg (who also went on to direct), plus it qualifies as a Christmas movie.
What was meant to be a snow laden Belgium ended up being filmed in Utah. There was not enough snow overseas to make things look authentic, and the production budget couldn’t cover the cost of having the fake stuff brought in, so Utah it was. But filming local still had its snow and weather problems. There was snow, sure, but much of the film takes place at night, and during the night temperatures dropped way below freezing. It was the coldest winter in Utah for eighty-three years. Everything froze. When you watch the film and see the pinched looks on those faces and notice how the bodies are shivering, they’re not acting.
Now look, Hallie, you can ask for toys, parakeets, hair care products, I don’t care. But you may not ask for anything to do with interpersonal relationships! Got it? This is Santa Claus, not Dear Abby.
Here’s a Christmas movie that is as bad as ‘A Midnight Clear’ is good, which I know hardly sounds promising, but there’s a reason why this forgotten comedy is included, and it’s one that should interest movie buffs and put the film in a different light.
With escalating production costs that were getting way out of hand, Paramount Pictures tried something different. Unlike most studio pictures, the heads wanted to prove that a commercial studio movie didn’t have to take months of preparation followed by more months of filming, and it didn’t need million dollar paychecks for stars and it didn’t have to cost a fortune either. It could all be done within weeks and released immediately. And if it worked, the studio would repeat the formula. It failed.
Two wealthy kids want their parents back together again for Christmas, but first they have to get rid of the new boyfriend. Reviews were negative and the box-office take was down. There was a star name; that was Lauren Bacall. The others were Harley Jane Kozak and Kevin Nealon.
The cast was fine, it was all very Christmassy and the film looked good; in fact, it actually looked great and very seasonal and proved that you could rush a film through with no rehearsal, little time shooting – rarely a second take – no budget and still make it look professional, but there was one important thing the studio bosses couldn’t do – they couldn’t make it good. ‘All I Want For Christmas’ is part of film history because of the experiment the studios tried, and for that reason alone movie buffs should catch it.
A snowdad is better than no dad.
Just in case you’re thinking that this is the ‘Jack Frost’ about the mutant killer snowman, slow down; it’s not. This is the family friendly Christmas movie about a walking, talking snowman. Though, come to think of it, in its way, it’s still kind of creepy.
Here’s the plot, and it falls under the what-were-they-thinking? category. Dad (Michael Keaton) is killed in a car accident at Christmas. He’s usually late but this time he’s never going to make it. Instead, his spirit occupies the snowman standing outside on the family front lawn. When he tries to talk to his son, the boy is understandably terrified and runs. And who can blame him? That talking snowman is borderline demonic.
The film was intended to be a magical Christmas fantasy with an ending that in someway resembled the emotionally moving ending in ‘E.T.’ The problem is, the whole thing is such a lousy idea, plus that snowman with the voice of Keaton simply doesn’t work. George Clooney was originally in line to play dad, but he pulled out to do ‘Batman & Robin.’ This messed up the special effects people who already had everything programmed in the animatronic snowman to reflect Clooney’s mannerisms. They had to reprogram things for Keaton.
So, why is this on the list? Because your jaw will drop lower than Jacob Marley’s when he removed the bandage from his face. You have to see this to believe it.
Felix, I just want you to know I forgive you for shooting me in the foot.
The pedigree of talent behind this bomb is astounding. First, it was written by the Ephron sisters, Nora and Delia, who based their script on a 1979 French comedy. Second, it starred several great American comedic talents, beginning with Steve Martin followed by Madeline Kahn, Rob Reiner, Gary Shandling, Robert Klein, Jon Stewart and Steven Wright. If you’re familiar with American humor, you’ll know those names and you’ll know how great they can be. Adam Sandler was also in the film, which might explain a few things.
There’s a great sounding setup and one that sounds full of potential for seasonal good cheer. It’s Christmas Eve at a crisis hotline phone center, something like the Samaritans. As the calls come, whacky stuff ensues, except its all energy and no laughs. When more than one critic declared it to be among the worst films ever made, doesn’t that pique your interest just a little? Particularly when it’s full to the brim with famous names and it was Nora Ephron’s follow up directorial job after the hugely successful ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’
The French version began as a play, then a 1982 film. It was called ‘Le Père Noël est une ordure,’ and if you don’t know your French, here’s the translation. Santa Claus is a stinker. Say no more.
With the exception of ‘A Midnight Clear’ which is actually a good film, those others mentioned are the kind you should see in order to have something to say when you’re standing in the kitchen at parties. Anyone can talk about ‘Home Alone’ or the ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ remake, but who knew that the cast of ‘Trapped in Paradise’ gave their own film a different name or that the French title of ‘Mixed Nuts’ summed up what everyone thought of the American remake?
Christmas may come but once a year, but these films can be seen whenever you want. Start your homework and be ready to sound impressive.
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