After being referred to as a Grinch and a Scrooge by many of her friends, Gemma Pecorini Goodall continues her quest to Christmas spirit in her third week of festive film binging.
Monday, December 14th – Jingle All the Way (1996)
If there’s one person I wouldn’t expect, or even want to see, in a Christmas film it’s former Mr. Universe and California Govern-ator Arnold Schwarzenegger. Back when the body builder turned actor was still monetarily relevant, he starred in a little Christmas film called Jingle All the Way. I swear that until I set out to write this series of articles, I had never EVER heard of this festive film and having watched it now, I kind of see why it hasn’t stuck in the Christmas film lexicon.
Inspired by the real events of toy sell-outs across the United States, Jingle All the Way tells the story of Howard (Schwarzenegger), a hard-working and emotionally absent father who sets out on Christmas Eve to find his son the latest, most popular Christmas gift: Turbo-Man. As Howard is judged for leaving the shopping until the last (I swear they live in the same town as the Kranks), he fights with fellow last-minute shopping dad and postal worker Myron (Sinbad). The film is rife with physical comedy and not much else. Sure, it’s fun to see Schwarzenegger try to get a toy last minute, because in reality you’d hand it to him if he even looked at you in any sort of threatening way, but the rest of the film is bland. There is nothing artistically interesting about the film visually and the plot, which is based on the commercialisation of Christmas, has no heart. Jingle All the Way is very ‘90s with shapeless trenches, a cast that hasn’t successfully worked in film since, and America trying to claim Schwarzenegger as their own even if his thick Austrian accent never disappears for a second. I was left feeling bored and robbed of my time. After watching Jingle All the Way, I am very well aware of why the film has a one star rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Tuesday, December 15th – The Holiday (2006)
I watch The Holiday every damn year. It’s one of the few Christmas traditions in my house. My mother and I love it, my dad and brother enjoy it and the cast and story is charming and memorable. Following in the footsteps of Love Actually, The Holiday is a romantic Christmas film extravaganza that is bound to bring both a chuckle to your lips and a tear to your eye.
Directed by rom-com powerhouse Nancy Meyers, The Holiday is set simultaneously in Los Angeles and Surrey over the Christmas period. The plot centres on Iris (Kate Winslet), an English journalist who discovers the love of her life is engaged to another woman, and Amanda (Cameron Diaz), a workaholic who blames her partner’s infidelity on her busy schedule. When everything in the two women’s lives falls apart, the two decide to skip Christmas by swapping homes for a week over the holiday period. As Amanda flies to the U.K. and Iris travels to California, the two find love in the most unexpected of ways. The cast also features Jude Law and Jack Black who is, as always, perfect in every way. Set against the backdrops of both a summery, warm Christmas and the snowy, picturesque English countryside, The Holiday is a lovely film about the quest for unconditional love and acceptance. Beautifully shot, one of the most wonderful elements of the film is the stunning music by Hans Zimmer. For me personally, The Holiday always gets me into a festive mood possibly because it showcases both the winters I spent in Los Angeles as a child as well as the more classic, traditional Christmases I celebrated in Europe.
Wednesday, December 16th – The Polar Express (2004)
Anyone who knows me knows that if there’s one thing I love more than life it’s animated films. When I was a child I loved the original book of The Polar Express so when Warner Bros. announced they were adapting it for the screen I immediately smashed my piggy bank to make sure I bought a ticket. One of the first 3D films I remember seeing, The Polar Express is either loved or hated by Christmas audiences.
Capturing every child’s secret Christmas dream, The Polar Express tells the story of a beautiful train that brings children on a journey to the North Pole. When Billy discovers that the steam engine will pass his home on Christmas Eve, he is ecstatic and jumps on, surrounded by fellow children clad in their nightgowns and pyjamas. As Billy and the other children travel to Santa’s home, the characters find themselves on a coming-of-age quest early in life. The Polar Express is one of those films that helps to reinforce the belief in the spectacular and wonderful. Watching it now as an adult, I noticed the film is far more sophisticated than I did as a kid, underlying themes that I was oblivious to as a child. The Polar Express manages to beautifully create its own world and although often frightening, The Polar Express is wonderful family entertainment. The wonderful motion capture animation, not dissimilar to Disney’s A Christmas Carol, is unique and visually breath-taking. The wonderfully theatrical music alongside the familiar and soothing voice of Tom Hanks is enough to make any viewer feel comfortable watching The Polar Express. This film, particularly the substantial amount of hot cocoa the children drink on the train, put me in an extremely Christmassy mood.
Thursday, December 17th – Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
- FUCKING. LOVE. THE GRINCH. I really, really, really do. I love Dr. Seuss, I’m overly obsessed with Jim Carrey (unpopular opinion, I know) and I just find The Grinch to be such a sweet, heart-warming film. The Grinch was one of few Christmas films I actively watched as a kid and it has remained my all time favourite to this day.
The Grinch is the eponymous story of a solitary, bitter character who encloses himself in a mountain hideout throughout the year and spits on the idea of Christmas. Below his mountain residence is Whoville, a town so saccharine it could give you a root canal. Feeling exiled and unwanted, the Grinch (Carrey) decides to steal Christmas, leaving all of the ‘Whos down in Whoville’ without gifts or a Christmas feast. By the end of the film, when the Grinch is about to discard of all the stolen Christmas presents, the creature’s ‘small heart [grows] three sizes’ and he manages to finally see the true meaning of Christmas. The Grinch is overall a film about outsiders trying to find a place where they can fit it. Because of these themes, anyone who has ever felt discriminated against or unwanted can relate to the furry green man(?)’s story. Featuring a brilliantly talented cast of Whos, including Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent, Arrested Development), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife, Mamma Mia!), Taylor Momsen (Gossip Girl), and Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live), The Grinch is always enjoyable and features buckets of comedy, both physical and more sophisticated. Without a doubt, this film has put me in the largest of Christmas moods so far. It might be because it’s about acceptance and forgiveness, but I also feel a close connection with the Grinch as he, similarly to me, doesn’t warm easily to the thought of Christmas.
Friday, December 18th – It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)
If there is one film I try to watch every year it’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The film always brings a smile to my face and I feel that it is one of those classic that just won’t quit and becomes better and better with each viewing. I also love the fact that, although a Christmas film, it is not all about the winter holiday but instead about love, forgiveness and acceptance of oneself.
Set in a fictional upstate New York town, It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart). When George begins to wish he had never been born Clarence (Henry Travers), a guardian angel, is sent to Earth to help him find his way back. The initial hour of the film tells the story of George’s life from childhood to the present. We find out that George gave up all of his plans and dreams for the sake of others: his family, his friends, his town. When Clarence finally arrives to Earth, determined to help George out in order to earn his wings, he grants George’s wish and the depressed man gets to see what his world would be like if he had never been born. As George tumbles through the town’s streets he is beside himself as he realises that his children had never been born, his brother had never lived passed a certain age and the townspeople were vile and unlucky simply because his birth had never occurred. When George realises what a horrible mistake he has made, he wishes to return to his life and Clarence obliges. The film ends with George reunited with his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and his family as he realises and learns to recognise just how much everyone in his life appreciates him. Beautifully shot and wonderfully written, this story of a simpler time is superbly executed particularly because of Stewart’s performance. The late actor was always able to deliver a wonderfully natural and organic performance. It’s a Wonderful Life made me cry and, besides puting me in a slightly more Christmassy mood, also made me feel grateful for the love I have in my life. #blessed.
Saturday, December 19th – Scrooged (1988)
Another Chrismas Carol adaptation, Scrooged takes the famous Dickensian tale and makes it new putting it in a contemporary setting and keeping very little of the original plot.
Bill Murray plays Frank, this film’s incarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge and a powerful television executive. In preparation for Christmas, Frank’s company plans on broadcasting a live performance of A Christmas Carol with the touch of flair you could only expect from the late ‘80s. Frank’s wake up call and visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future begin when he refuses to gift his brother anything but a towel and only sees Christmas as a way to make more money from families staying in to watch television. Of course, the tale ends much like Dicken’s original with Frank coming to terms with the true meaning of Christmas and accepting the love that is in his life. The parallel between the filmic version of A Christmas Carol the characters are producing and the course of Frank’s story is very theatrical and brings in a hint of irony whenever Frank is unable to notice that he is indeed becoming the antagonist of the year’s most highly watched television special. The story takes on a frightful spin and I would definitely not suggest it for children of families seeing as the dark comedy, although highly hilarious, contains a lot of adult humour and frightening imagery. My only qualm with this Christmas film is that Frank, unlike Scrooge himself, is nowhere near as evil and therefore his change of heart is not as surprising. The fact that Scrooged’s protagonist is considerably younger than the Dickensian character effects the plot and story as well. Overall, I enjoyed the subdued Christmas film and appreciated its non-saccharine nature. I would definitely suggest Scrooged to anybody who, like me, isn’t the most massive fan of Christmas or the films the holiday has spawned.
Sunday, December 20th – Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me in St. Louis is one of those films that somehow entered itself into the Christmas canon although not having much to do with the holiday at all. Starring Judy Garland, this classic Hollywood film gives viewers a glance of life at the turn of the century in rural America in vivid technicolour.
As much as I love Garland and any over the top classic comedy-musicals, I had never actually watched Meet Me in St. Louis. Set between the summer and winter of 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, Meet Me in St. Louis focuses on a family and the love they have for one another. Immediately, it is obvious how close the family are with the grandfather spending time in the kitchen while his daughter and grandchildren cook with the maid. Meet Me in St. Louis tells the trials and tribulations of the Smith (shout out to everyone at [smiths]) family as they await the beginning of the 1904 World Expo that put St. Louis on the world’s map. Although the film watching experience is enjoyable, the film appears a bit flat once it’s concluded with nothing of great merit occurring throughout the narrative. What the film lacks in plot twists it makes up for with charisma. Visually compelling with stunning costumes and sets, Meet Me in St. Louis is also the film responsible for creating the festive (and my personal) favourite song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I can’t say that Meet Me in St. Louis greatly affected my Christmas spirit but I am glad I finally watched this classic. If you want to see Garland at the height of her career donning beautiful frocks and uttering words like ‘that Welsh rabbit was ginger peachy!’ I suggest you check out Meet Me in St. Louis.