The Christmas season is upon us. A time for buying presents, then worrying that they aren't nice enough, then wrapping them and worrying that you did a sloppy job. A time for making homemade fudge for the Christmas party, then making a second batch because after "sampling" a few pieces from the first one, you ate the whole thing (or maybe that's just me). A time for festive songs about Chipmunks roasting on an open fire. (Well, that sounds festive to me anyway.)
And it's also a time for Christmas movies and TV specials. Along with annual favorites there are also some...not so favorites. So as my gift to all of you, here are a few "also rans" you may have missed. If you were lucky.
Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (2000) Remember those animated TV specials inspired by popular Christmas songs like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Frosty the Snowman", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "The Little Drummer Boy"? Sure you do! Even if the stories didn't always hold up with repeat viewings (In Rudolph, Santa comes across as kind of a dickbag), they boasted great animation, catchy songs, and big stars supplying voices (Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Greer Garson and Jimmy Durante). Well, here's another to add to that collection -- on the bottom of the pile to protect the others. Based on the 1979 novelty record that achieved popularity in the '80's thanks to a sort-of-funny music video, this hour long special tries to tell us what really happened on that fateful night. The story is told through the eyes of Grandma's 10 year-old grandson Jake Spankenheimer. It's narrated by the adult Jake, as if the story is taking place decades ago, although the characters are using technology that didn't exist in the '70's. So we must be hearing Jake 35 years in the future I guess. In any case, Grandma disappears on Christmas Eve, and all evidence points to her being trampled to death by Santa's reindeer, except for the fact that there's no body. She's presumed dead, which doesn't seem to faze Grandpa too much as he appears to be senile. The story's baddie is Cousin Mel, whose voice is supplied by Michele Lee (if there's a wrong way to pick a holiday special, nobody does it like she), who with the help of attorney I.M. Slime, attempts to sell Grandma's shop to a wealthy businessman. Of course it turns out Grandma isn't dead, and shows up before the sale can go through and oh, Sweet Lordy Gordy, who the hell is this cartoon for anyway? The animation is crappy, the songs are worse (the title song is actually the best one) and Mel and the lawyer wear cleavage bearing outfits while singing a duet that ends with them wiggling their butts at the audience.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). There's a reason the 1966 animated special is universally beloved: it's very nearly perfect. It's produced and directed by the great Chuck Jones (who brought in voiceover vet June Foray for one memorable line), features clever songs, and narration by the wonderful Boris Karloff. It's funny, it's got a great story, and conveys a nice little message ("Christmas day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.) Everything in it works. And in the abysmal live action version, nothing works. Well, almost nothing -- Anthony Hopkins, who narrates, is a worthy successor to Karloff. The movie actually won an Oscar for its makeup, and to be sure, the transformation of Jim Carrey into the Grinch is impressive -- he's so buried under the makeup it hardly even matters who's playing the character at all. The actors playing the Whoville residents aren't quite as lucky -- Christine Baranski and Molly Shannon are made up so grotesquely they'd make Diane Arbus cringe. But that's not the worst thing about this movie. No, the worst thing is the way they managed to miss the entire point of the original story. In this version, the Whos are assholes and the Grinch is lonely and misunderstood. Did we really need to mine the depths of his soul? And here's how completely off this thing is: remember in the cartoon, that the Grinch's heart was "two sizes two small", until he's moved by the sweetness of the Whoville residents and his heart grows three sizes? Well, in the live action version, it seems to be literally happening, and the Grinch writhes around like he's having a heart attack, in genuine agony. Which we, in the audience, can relate to. When I watched this movie with my brother and my then three-year old nephew, my brother had to convince the boy to sit still, telling him, "C'mon, it's funny". And hour into it, my nephew rose, looked at my brother and, in a tone of righteous indignation cried, "This is not funny!" My brother had to admit his son was right.
Comfort and Joy (2003) Not to be confused with the charming 1984 comedy of the same name, this Lifetime Original tells the tale of Jane (Nancy McKeon) a single woman with a successful career who, after being struck unconscious in an auto accident, awakens to find herself in some weird parallel universe where she's a wife and mother. Everyone seems to know her as this woman she isn't, including her children (upon seeing them for the first time, she screams in horror) and her husband, who's played by Steven Eckholdt. (You may remember him from his role on the sitcom Ellen. He appeared in the famous "Puppy" Episode, playing the last boyfriend Ellen Morgan has before realizing she's a lesbian.) Since Jane has no idea how to navigate this role of Happy Homemaker that has suddenly been thrust upon her, she makes alarming goofs. For instance, when preparing the stuffing for Christmas dinner, she dumps in a bottle of ketchup. Which means she's not only never cooked for herself, she's also never eaten. Eventually she comes to enjoy the role, before waking up again to her old life. I guess the lesson to be learned here is that for a successful single woman to find PTA meetings and household drudge work rewarding, all it takes is a massive head trauma. Which is probably true.
Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) A sequel to the 1996 comedy. Did we need this? The first one only left one question unanswered: is there any actor more painfully unfunny than Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well, in this one he's replaced by Larry the Cable Guy, so I guess there's your answer.
Saving Christmas (2014) The newest film on our list -- a future holiday favorite, perhaps? By now you've probably heard of Kirk Cameron's weapon in the imaginary war on Christmas.