Well it has taken about twelve months but the Christmas holidays are finally upon us. For most this calls for presents, over eating, drinking too much, family arguments and making up again (usually all within the space of a few hours). Another important part of the holiday season for most families is the television and the films that are shown during the Christmas period. Many a classic motion picture has used Christmas as a focal point such as: The Santa Clause, Elf, A Muppets Christmas Carol, Miracle of 34th Street and of course The Snowman. However for every decent yuletide movie, there are at least 2 that are the equivalent of someone leaving excrement in your stocking! So in this feature instead of being normal and talking about the classics, I’m going to warn you dear reader about the Christmas films that should be avoided at all costs (Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!!).
Can you believe that they actually managed to make a franchise out of the first film? Nope, me neither but alas in early 2012 an evil producer must have gone “Hey do you know what dead horse we haven’t flogged in about ten years? Home Alone!!” So now we have a new kid Finn Baxter (Christian Martyn) who has moved with his family to a big creepy house in Maine when his Mum (Ellie Harvie) lands a new job (said job or position is never specified in the film). Finn doesn’t like the new house and upon noticing this, his Dad (Doug Murray) pulls him aside and says something like “Son, I know you don’t like change but everything will be fine as long as we stick together as a family” – or something sickeningly syrupy along those lines. As always parallel to this storyline we have a group of bandits led by Sinclair (Malcolm McDowell), with Hughes (Eddie Steeples) and Jessica (Debi Mazar) who are looking to steal a rare painting from the Baxter residence. To cut an unnecessarily long story short the parents go out leaving Finn and his sister (Jodelle Ferland) alone in the house. Eventually the thieves get to the house and from here on it is business as usual for the Home Alone franchise.
The first of the films’ many problems is the title. It technically cannot be a Home Alone film seeing as our protagonist is never actually alone in the house due to his sister being there too (granted she is locked in the basement for most of it but still). Secondly there’s the acting. If you ever thought that as Kevin Macaulay Culkin was annoying and overly precocious, you haven’t seen anything yet! This is because as Finn, Christian Martyn is such an aggravating presence his performance could be used as a case to prevent children from appearing in future films. Surprisingly the other actors actually manage to come off worse than him as they are either mugging excessively (as the Mum, Ellie Harvey is the worst offender of this), are not given enough to do (the usually good Jodelle Ferland), or are so experienced that they should know better than to pick crap like this (Malcolm McDowell and Edward Asner). The third issue would be the filmmaking itself. The movie is directed by the guy who brought us Thunderpants and Zoom (I dare you to watch either of those films, in fact I dare you to do it as a double feature). Because of this the film wasn’t expected to be an Oscar nominee but that doesn’t excuse terrible camera angles and sloppy video and audio editing (this is most noticeable in one scene where a sound effect is made before a character is hit by an object). Avoid this film like the plague!
Jingle All The Way (1996)
Oh Arnold, what were you thinking when you signed up for this? Did you lose a bet? Did one of the producers have incriminating pictures of you and another man, woman or child? Whatever the reason, it still probably isn’t a good enough excuse for the steaming pile of dog poo that is Jingle All The Way.
The ‘story’ here focuses on Howard (Schwarzenegger), a workaholic dad who works so hard that on the night before Christmas Eve, he turns up late to his son’s Karate grading (as if the audience did not realise this due to the empty gymnasium and the cleaner mopping the floor, the writers have Arnie say “I didn’t make it”). Following this Howard decides that the best way to gain the love of his son back is through commercial means and promises to buy him a Turbo-man action figure. However when he gets to the toy shop he finds that they have run out of the doll and from here onwards ‘hilarity’ ensues as Howard goes around town doing anything just to get his hands on the damn toy.
This dreck is not without two positives so let’s start with those. Firstly as always, Arnold is charming, charismatic and is not afraid to make a fool of himself by putting his body through all sorts of slapstick situations for the audiences’ ‘amusement’. Second…well the film was shot in colour so I suppose that’s something to celebrate.
Now lets’ roast this turkey! Of all the problems that the film has, the biggest and most glaring one would be the casting of Sinbad as Marion, a father who like Howard is also trying to get his hands on one of the dolls. If you have not seen this film or have never heard of Sinbad, he’d be the result if you cloned Chris Tucker, put the clone through a photocopier and made the clone more annoying. As well as him, the film also stars Jake Lloyd as Arnie’s son. Yes, THE Jake Lloyd! THE Jake Lloyd who approximately three years later would take on the role of a young Anakin Skywalker and thus take the first step to (temporarily) killing the Star Wars franchise.
Mix in some dodgy special effects (everyone in this film seems to have a wire connected to them as the lightest touch sends them flying), an uncomfortable subplot involving Howard’s wife and their stalker/neighbor and the fact that the film was directed by Brian Levant (who out of the sixteen films and television series’ he’s made, only four would I consider good) the viewing of this film should be a punishment for kids who are on the naughty list.
Surviving Christmas (2004)
Before too much detail is given about the film itself, let me tell you a little tale about the marketing and release of this feature. DreamWorks SKG (the company that distributed the film and thus unleashing it on to the rest of us…cheers guys) originally planned to release the film in December 2003. However at the last minute, they decided to push the film back a year which begs the question ‘why did they change their minds?’ Well according to the Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surviving_Christmas) this decision was made so that the film did not have to compete with Ben Affleck’s (who stars in this film) other movie Paycheck; I however have another theory. It is my belief that the studio and the producers knew very well how bad this film is and they did not like their chances of competing against the Christmas juggernauts known as Elf and Bad Santa (both released in America in 2003). The stateside release date was changed to October 21st 2004 (presumably so it did not have to compete with The Incredibles, The Polar Express and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). As a result the film was a critical and box office failure resulting in the film being shoved on to DVD a mere month after it’s theatrical debut in America. Since then filmgoers have not given the movie any attention, until now…
Ben Affleck plays a successful salesman who gets dumped when he suggests that he and his girlfriend spend Christmas abroad. Before walking out of his apartment she informs him “CHRISTMAS IS ALL ABOUT FAMILY HOWARD!” which I suppose is the message that the film is trying to force feed down our gullets (quick question: aren’t these morally statements meant to come at the END OF THE FILM? Just saying.) Anyway this registers with Howard and he decides to go and visit the house that he grew up in which is now inhabited by a family consisting of James Gandolfini (yes that’s right, Tony Soprano is in this movie), Catherine O’Hara and their son played by Josh Zuckerman. Howard then decides to offer them a substantial amount of money to pretend to be his family so that he can have a Christmas like when he was a child and from here hilarity definitely does not ensue.
It’s very hard to put into words just how odious, mean spirited, sickly and at times weird this film is but damn it I will try! Let’s start with Ben Affleck who as Howard quickly goes from annoying to downright creepy as a man-child. It’s anybody’s guess as to why the family didn’t attempt to get him sectioned. O’Hara isn’t given much to do except be a thankless “movie mum” and take risqué photos of herself. The same can be said for Zuckerman who plays a fifteen year old who is addicted to porn websites (well you know what they say, nothing goes better with yuletide cheer than naked breasts). This then leaves Gandolfini who walks around with a look that tells the audience that he is there only because The Sopranos was on hiatus and he wanted a cheque. Also wasted here as the family’s daughter/Howard’s love interest is the adorable Christina Applegate who was probably thankful that she managed to get a role in Anchorman whilst this dreck was being pushed back a year.
On the plus side though, James Gandolfini does get to knock Ben Affleck out with a shovel…the lucky bastard!
By Nathan Gibbons