Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Diet Of Christmas Films VII : The Festivity Awakens

I am trying hard not to start today's post off with 'It's that time of the year again', but it is that time of the year again.

For the past six years, Christmas Day has been a day where I want to try and not write anything on a blog so - instead of sitting here writing random things on Christmas morning - I have started a tradition where I spend the weeks leading up to the big day watching festive movies. I then list and offer a few thoughts on each title and have the blog post set to publish at 12am.

You're currently reading the seventh edition of A Diet of Christmas Films. This year's installment started off on the weekend of November 9th as I had tons of movies left over from previous years. No doubt, as you're reading this, I have stockpiled a load more for next year.

And the year after.

And after that.

Before I start, I just wanted to note something.

In last year's edition of A Diet of Christmas Films, the first movie I watched was A Christmas Story as I had never seen it before. I mentioned that a few people I know had told me about it. One of these people passed away in 2014, so I'd like to dedicate today's post to her memory.

One of the things I also wrote last year was that I liked the prose used by the films' author and narrator - Jean Shepherd. I stated that I would seek out his book 'In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash' in 2014. I did just that. And then some. I also bought a copy of 'A Christmas Story' by Shepherd which featured the stories specific to the movie (some from 'In God We Trust' didn't make the film). I even started listening to some of Shepherds' archive radio recordings from the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Oh, and I also introduced my five-year-old nephew to the film.

The point I am trying to make is it was a great recommendation!

Now, let me begin...

Santa With Muscles (1996)

An evil millionaire gets amnesia and then believes he is Santa Claus

If you're a professional wrestling fan, you have more than likely heard about this movie. It stars Hulk Hogan and always pops up on lists of dreadful Christmas movies. I had never seen the film before, but had been well aware of its notoriety with film and wrestling fans (it has 1 star on!). I saw that it was on the Movie Mix channel in early November so knew I had to start this year's Diet of Christmas Films with it.
Originally, the plan was to end this year's marathon with Santa With Muscles. However, I wanted to get it out of the way to ensure I did get around to watching it. Oh, and if the fifth edition of the Diet of Christmas Films is anything to go by, it's not the best plan to attempt to finish on a film that has been critically panned.
As for the film itself - Yes, it was bad. However - it wasn't as terrible as some of the other Christmas movies I have seen since I started doing this in 2008.
Hogan plays the role of a millionaire who ends up evading police capture by dressing up as Santa Claus. When trying to escape, he ends up knocked out and wakes to find himself being convinced he is Santa. He happens to then find himself staying at a home for children and needs to thwart another villainous millionaire from evicting the residents of the home because he is aware that there is a cavern underneath it containing valuable precious stones that illuminate.
I always have to point out each year that I have to look at these films for what they are. Family movies for Christmas. I found it fun because it's a notoriously lame Christmas movie that happens to star one of my childhood heroes.
Surprise of the film - a very young Mila Kunis played one of the orphans.
Most unsurprising part of the film - Brutus 'The Barber' Beefcake managed to get himself a gig playing a henchman.

The Case For Christmas (2011)

A lawyer finds himself defending Santa Claus in the biggest trial in history.

It wouldn't be a Diet of Christmas Films blog post without a Dean Cain sighting. He plays the role of a lawyer who is assigned a case where he must defend Chris Kringle from a class action lawsuit from people who have experienced unhappy Christmases due to Santa not bringing them the gifts they had asked for. The person behind the lawsuit is a billionaire whose company sells sporting goods. His aim - to get rid of Santa so that he could launch a special angel that will sell children his sporting goods.
Yes, it's as goofy as it sounds, but it's a Christmas movie dammit!
Now that Dean Cain has been crossed off the list, all I need now is Elisa Donovan to pop up in one. Spoiler alert? Read on.

The Elf Who Didn't Believe (1997)

Young elf - Elmer - wants to become a real boy. He steals Santa's sleigh and escapes to the real world, where he meets a young girl who needs a heart transplant.

And there I was thinking Santa With Muscles was the bad movie on this year's list.
You know when I constantly state that I overlook bad movies because they aren't meant to be masterpieces? Well, this film right here is an example of the rule. Not an exception - an example!
Usually, acting covers up a bad story. Sometimes its a good story hiding the bad acting. In this case, it's a poorly written film hand-in-hand with ropey performances.
With all that noted, I'm going to type with gritted teeth and claim that it might appeal to children. In a way it sort of has a weird Pinocchio theme where the main character wants to become a boy. However, at the end he decides that being an elf can help his friend out with her wish to get a heart transplant so he spends his wish saving her.
There is a message here. You just have to get through a lot of mess to find it.

Almost Christmas (2013)

While out on parole, Dennis reluctantly takes a job selling Christmas trees with his old buddy, Rene, in order to make enough money to buy his estranged daughter the piano she's always wanted.

The above description doesn't really put the film in context. The main gist of the movie is Dennis is reluctant to work with Rene because, while Dennis was serving a four-year prison sentence, Rene had started a relationship with Dennis' wife. So, from the off, you can see that this is a unique buddy movie where the two characters have lingering tension throughout.
It was a good story, but wasn't a jolly old Christmas movie that you'd expect me to be watching. Still, it did make for a welcome change.
It's worth noting that the movie is titled 'All Is Bright' in other countries.

Pete's Christmas (2013)

An overlooked middle child finds himself in the unexpected spotlight when he realizes his family's Christmas day keeps repeating. As the only one experiencing the day over and over, he decides to use his unique gift to give the holidays a makeover and his family a Christmas they will never forget.

This one was is very similar to other Christmas movies that adopt the Groundhog Day plot. However, it is the best of the Groundhog Day Christmas plot lot. It's certainly the best of the five that I have watched so far in 2014.
Even though the plot was predictable, I really did like it. Now the question I ask is - can it be beaten?

K-9 Christmas (2013)

Luke Perry stars in this heartwarming 'tail'. Kassie, her friends and her dog, Scoot, organise a holiday fundraiser, but must protect the cash from some crooks in order to save Christmas.

The gist of the story goes like this - a police dog chases two thieves onto wasteland. The dog gets itself trapped in barbed wire and ends up getting stuck in a stream and is lost. It shows up in a small town where two girls and their banker father have just moved to. One of the girls finds the dog and adopts it as her own. The two thieves who had been evading the police in the beginning turn out to be the crooks who have been employed as security guards at the bank. As you've probably guessed by now, it all ends happily ever after with the baddies' plot compromised due to the dog.
It was okayish. A good film for children more than adults. It is titled 'K-9 Adventures: A Christmas Tale' elsewhere. I'm wondering if it's a sort of spin-off from the K-9 movies starring James Belushi. If so, it's only in title.

A Golden Christmas (2009)

Jessica is a federal lawyer who returns to her parent's home for Christmas. When she discovers that the house where she grew up is to be sold to a stranger, she looks for ways to prevent the sale.

Well, firstly - the IMDB summary is absolute rubbish! Let me try and do a better job...

Widowed Jessica comes back to her family home for the holidays with her son and finds out that her father is selling the house to a man named Michael. Jessica does not want the house to be sold as it reminds her of a summer when she was nine-years old where she met a young boy who was her first love. It turns out that Michael is buying the house because - yes, you guessed it - he has memories of a summer when he met his first love.

This turned out to be okay, even though you could telegraph everything that was going to happen. Remember kids, it's a Christmas film - we aren't watching masterpieces.

Oh, and guess who plays a supporting part in this? Elisa Donovan! So, I did get to see her in a Christmas movie in 2014.

Another thing worth noting is a dog played a key part in the story. I have genuinely lost count of how many dog-themed Christmas movies I have seen over the years.

The Town That Banned Christmas (2006)

When the annual Christmas decorations contest in a small American town gets out of hand, there is only one solution: ban Christmas!

Uh oh. It's Christmas Eve as I type this and I decided to watch this film late last night when I couldn't get to sleep. This is up there with Santa Claus Conquers The Martians for how abysmal the movie is. Yes, I ALWAYS state that it's best to overlook how bad these films are. The problem here is I couldn't sit through it all in one sitting! That should tell you how I felt about the acting and storyline.
Okay, you want the storyline? It's the usual two neighbours trying to better the other for Christmas display plot. This time, however, it ends up with the town they are living in banning Christmas. I stopped watching about half-way through. Don't worry, I'll finish it by the time you're reading this.
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, even though it is poor, has this cult quality about it in that people love it because of how bad it is. And I didn't really know about the unique appeal before I watched it. I doubt The Town That Banned Christmas will be viewed upon like that fifty years from now.

With time running short, I am now going to choose one final movie to watch. I know this one will be a controversial choice, but - because I started off by mentioning my friend who had introduced me to A Christmas Story - It's only fitting for me to give the next title a try. Trust me when I state, I'm heading into this with low expectations..

A Christmas Story 2 (2012)

The original 100% all-American Christmas continues five years later with Ralphie, Randy, Mom and The Old Man. Now Ralphie has his eyes fixed on a car. But trouble is soon to follow.

Well, it certainly wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.
This new film based on Ralphie and his family was obviously created without the consent of Jean Shepherd, who passed away in 1999. I don't know how this would have been received by Mr. Shepherd. There is an authorial voice-over similar to Shepherd in this movie that catches up with the Parkers half a decade after everything that went down in the first story.
This time we see Ralphie as a sixteen year-old wanting a car and fancying a girl at school. He gets himself into trouble with the local car salesman after damaging the roof of a car. The dealer gives Ralphie and his friends until Christmas Eve to raise $85 to pay for the damages otherwise he would report Ralphie to the police. This results in the three lads getting a job at a department store. As you would expect from a comedy like this: calamities ensue.
Speaking of calamities - The Old Man faces his fair share of strife similarly to how he is presented in the 1983 movie.
All-in-all, I found the film enjoyable, but I can certainly understand if people who loved the original are put off by its existence.

And that's it for another year. This year's worst film goes to The Town That Banned Christmas. Even though I didn't like it at all, I do recommend watching it. You have to see it to believe how terrible it is. 
As for the best film of the season.. I'm going to give it to A Christmas Story 2. Pete's Christmas was good, it's just that A Christmas Story 2 did surprise me. I went in there expecting a dire sequel but didn't find it all that bad. When checking out the year it was made on IMDB, I have found a lot of criticism towards the film. Like I noted in my thoughts, I can certainly see where they're coming from.
I still have so many DVDs and hard-drive recorded movies saved up, so I'll be back next Christmas with what will be the eighth edition. 
Until then - Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.

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