Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Movies for Christmas Day

When I closed my movie blog (Shhhh! The Movie's Starting), I had two Christmas movie reviews that I had not run. Instead of trashing them unread, I saved them to post here for you.

A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story is based on Jean Shepherd’s short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes gleaned from two of his books – In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.

In 1940, 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley, and as an adult, the narrating voice of Jean Shepherd) of Hohman, Indiana, has only one Christmas wish – he wants a Red Ryder BB gun (y’know, the one with the compass and a sundial, displayed in Higbee's corner window).

His parents, however, balk at this, admonishing him that he’s just going to shoot his eye out.

First, he tries his mom – Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon). Nope. He ends up getting the standard mom-response of "Oh no, you'll ..." Well, y'know.

Next, he tries his teacher – Miss Shields (Teddie Moore). Nope again, he ends up getting another lecture. Finally, he tries a department store Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen), also to no avail, and will these lectures never end?

Each of these three attempts is embellished and supplemented by several anecdotal experiences:

  • Like Ralphie saving his mom, brother Randy (Ian Petrella) and dad, aka “The Old Man” (Darren McGavin), from an imaginary Black Bart attack with his trusty Red Ryder rifle, Old Blue.
  • Like his friend, Flick (Scott Schwartz), getting his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole during school recess when he is triple-dog dared, resulting in a visit by the fire department and cops to free him.
  • Like the confrontations with the local bully, Scul Farkus (Zack Ward), and his runty sidekick, Grover Dill (Yano Anaya), until one day, something inside Ralphie snaps and he beats the snot out of Scul while hurling a never-ending stream of obscenities until his mom happens by and pulls him off.
  • Like his father winning the major sweepstakes award – a lamp shaped like a woman's leg, wearing a fishnet stocking ... a prize that causes considerable consternation for mom because dad loves it and sets it up at the front window. Not only that, Ralphie keeps stroking it.
  • Like Ralphie blaming his friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb) for being the source of the uber-bad "F" word that he blurted out while helping his father change a flat tire on the way home from the Christmas tree lot. (Actually, he'd learned from dad, who used it at least 10 times a day). The imaginary result? Soap-poisoning blindness.

Does Ralphie get his Red Ryder rifle? Does he get to shoot his eye out? Tell you what – put that out of your mind, and anticipate instead their Christmas dinner. It's classic.

The writing is so humorous and entertaining, and the episodes accurately reflect the thoughts and experience of most adolescent boys, I'd wager. And that's the beauty of A Christmas Story; it's heart-warming and true-to-life.

A Christmas Story inspired the creation of the television series, The Wonder Years, starring Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold, whose 1960s formative years were followed by legions of nostalgic adults for six seasons from 1988 through 1993.

Grade: A-

Quotation I like from the film: "In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." – Ralphie Parker (in narrative by Jean Shepherd)

The Santa Suit (2010)

Drake Hunter (Kevin Sorbo), president of Hunter Toys, is a big Scrooge, totally focused on the bottom line. He isn't planning on giving his employees any bonuses or days off during Christmas, except Christmas Day, which just so happens to fall on a Sunday this year.

Nobody else is on the same page as Drake. His secretary, Marge (Rosemary Dunsmore), who worked with his dad (the company founder and creator of the Princess Doll), tries to be his conscience and steer him in the right direction, but it all just slides away, like water off a duck's back.

Then, Kris Krandall (Derry Robinson), one of the Santas provided by Hunter Toys to stores, questions what Drake wants them to do – "pimp" and push Hunter toys to the kids that sit on their laps, and earn a commission for each one the store sells.

He does manage to touch Drake (literally), which changes things considerably. Something weird happens. He's no longer Drake Hunter. He's changed. He now looks like Kris Krandall. Arrested for trespassing at his own company, he is sent to a social worker – Nancy Baxter (Jodie Dowdall).

Nancy takes him in at the social services shelter, after which he gets a job as a store Santa at Dobson's Toy Store, owned by the high-strung Norm Dobson (Jason Blicker). He's teamed up with Sebastian (Darrell Faria), the store's Christmas elf with an acting attitude jealous of Drake's success.

He's pretty good at it, and becomes attached to Gemma (Brianna D'Aguanno), a shy, sad little girl who shows up every day. He follows her home one evening to make sure she gets there safely, and is surprised to see that she lives in the house where he grew up. It's more than a coincidence. For you see, Gemma's mother works on an assembly line at ... Hunter Toys. And she can't afford to get Gemma what she really wants for Christmas – a Princess Doll.

Do things work out in the end? Of course they do. After all, it's Christmas.

The Santa Suit ran on the Hallmark Channel, and like all Hallmark productions, it's a quality presentation. It certainly makes one feel good. At least it did me. Kevin Sorbo does a good job, and as his alter-ego Kris (Santa), he goes a great job. And Jodie Dowdall is a very good-looking lady with a beautiful, radiant smile.

Grade: B+

Quotation I like from the film: "Santa Claus is more than a symbol. He's been overused and misrepresented. But underneath it all, he represents the best of humankind. Selflessness. Generosity. Charity. Kindness." – Kris Krandall

Y'all have a very Merry Christmas now, y'heah?

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