Mid-Life Crisis (Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)

the-nightmare-before-christmas-posterAt the time when Disney was still experiencing their 2D Renaissance, Tim Burton and Director Henry Selick brought us this stop motion classic.

The story follows Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town (in a world where Holidays all have their own town).  As another Halloween comes to a close, the monsters of Halloween Town celebrate.  But Jack feels like life is missing something…and while wandering through a forest, he discovers Christmas Town.  Jack believes this is the answer he has been looking for and aims to step in and give Christmas Town some time off.

Jack has Halloween Town citizens creating toys and decorations…but because they are monsters, they make scary toys and decorations.  Of course, nothing quite goes the way Jack had hoped.  One citizen, Sally, is in love with Jack and tries to steer him from making a terrible mistake…but Jack is one determine skeleton.

Visually, The Nightmare Before Christmas is darkly beautiful.  The stop motion puppets have a delightful and yet scary design.  The songs, by Danny Elfman, are infectious (try and not get sucked into singing This Is Halloween or Making Christmas) and yet heartfelt.  Part of what makes it work is how earnest Jack is.  He is genuinely enthralled by Christmas Town.  He really thinks he is doing a good deed.

This is a real joy of a film, having earned it’s place as a Christmas Classic.

Love of Santa Clause Pt 3 (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, 2006)

santa-clause_3_posterDisney decided to make the series a Trilogy.  Well, at least until they come up with a Santa Clause 4 or maybe a series reboot with Chris Hemsworth as Scott Calvin.  In this film, we are introduced to Jack Frost, who feels like the most under appreciated of the Legendary Figures.  He schemes to find a way to be famous and sets his site on the throne of Santa Clause.

Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Clause are bringing Mrs. Claus’ parents to the North Pole.  Of course, they have no idea Scott is Santa Claus, only knowing he is a toy maker and they never see their daughter.  The In-Laws both take digs at Scott, though in different ways.  While his father-in-law Bud is direct, his mother-in-law Sylvia is passive aggressive.  Yet again, the film relies on a deception themed plot.  Scott and the elves try and convince the In-Laws that they are in Canada.  All the while, Jack Frost is busy trying to undermine everything so he can convince Scott to take the Escape Clause.

Frost is successful, taking over a Santa.  This results in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequence.  It is, frankly not very successful, because Scott finding how life is super different without him as Santa is highly compressed into about five minutes.  It just does not give us enough time for emotional resonance.  The resolution comes quickly, almost to easily.

While there is a good cast here (Short, Anne-Margaret and Alan Arkin are all entertaining), the film feels like there is still a missing element.  One of those elements is Bernard.  Krumholtz and Allen had a fun chemistry, and while Spencer Breslin’s Curtis is a likable character, his ascension to the main elf is not quite the same.

While not a absolute failure, this is not a strong ending for the series.  It feels rushed and has a somewhat unsatisfying resolution.

Love of Santa Clause Pt 2 (The Santa Clause 2, 2002)

santa_clause_2_posterThe Santa Clause 2 takes place about eight to ten years into Scott’s run as Santa Claus.  He is informed that somehow a Clause has been missed.  The Mrs. Clause.  Scott needs to find a wife before Christmas.  And to top it off, his teen son Charlie is on the naughty list.

Scott, Bernard and Curtis (the elf who discovered the missed rule) work to deceive the rest of the elves by creating a fake Santa (who is made of plastic) to run the show while Scott goes to find a wife and check on Charlie.  Charlie has made the bad list because he is rebelling against his Principal who does not like Christmas.  Astute watchers of comedy movies will realize that high jinks with follow.  Charlie becomes upset when Scott falls for his Principal.  Scott is really just upset that he has had to keep the secret of Santa for years.  But he does have a little sister now, who is the film’s doorway to “The Belief of Children”.

The film has a few repeat messages.  In the first film, a big deal is made of when the adults stopped believing in Santa, and this film carries that through again.  At a Christmas party for the teachers, Scott impresses Carol by providing all the teachers with gifts-vintage toys they all wanted or loved as kids.

For the Elves, the plans backfire as Fake Santa becomes obsessed with the rules and takes over under the notion that all kids are naughty and should not be cut any slack.  He creates an army of giant tin soldiers and locks up Bernard and the other elves, while Curtis flies to get Scott’s help.

The film has some rather large plot holes.  Specifically, the whole premise of the Mrs. Clause.  Afterall, Scott is not the first Santa.  Have none of the other previous Santas taken wives?  Have they simply stopped being Santa before the issue came up?  If they did have Mrs. Clauses, what happened to those wives when the new Santa came along?

This is not to say that the film is not fun.  They expand on the Santa world mythology, introducing the other Legendary figures… Mother Nature, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman, Father Time, Cupid and a scene stealing Tooth Fairy.  They cast character actor Art LaFleur, who is a pretty imposing size, but with small and dainty wings.

The film also is not burdened with explaining all the laws of Santa (only really adding the Mrs. Clause).  And there is a certain fun in Wendy and Neil being in on the secret that Scott is Santa.  For one, it makes them far more likable.

Overall, this is a fun film, though not quite as strong as it’s predecessor.  I however, give them credit for coming up with a story idea that is not a total rehash of the original.  Of course, it also relies on the issue of keeping the Santa identity a secret all over again.  But as a fun holiday diversion, the Santa Clause 2 if certainly still a fun way to pass the time.


Love of Santa Clause Pt 1 (The Santa Clause, 1994)

santa_clause_posterAt the height of Tim Allen’s power, he was tapped by Disney for this family comedy.  Surprisingly, it is not simply a transplant of the Tim Taylor character into a movie.  Scott Calvin is, in fact, a very effective toy executive.  But as a father, he is not so successful.  When his ex-wife and her husband drop Scott’s son Charlie off for Christmas Eve, Charlie asks if he has to stay.  Scott struggles to make the night fun for Charlie, but he does a pretty terrible job.  Fatherhood feels like a distant skill for him.

Later that evening, there is a sound on the roof, causing Scott to run out side.  He sees someone on the roof and calls out.  Startled, the person falls off the roof.  They disappear, leaving behind a Santa suit and business card.  Scott carelessly puts on the jacket and find he and Charlie taken on a wild ride delivering presents.  Their night ends in the North Pole where Scott and Charlie find themselves meeting elves and having fantastic hot chocolate.  Speaking with Head Elf Bernard, Scott finds out that he is bound by a contract…the Santa Clause.  Should something happen to Santa, reading the card and putting on the jacket makes the wearer the new Santa Clause.

Scott of course, convinces himself this was all a dream, while his Ex Wendy and her Psychiatrist husband Neil are becoming increasingly concerned with Charlie’s insistence that Scott is Santa.  As the story continues, Scott finds it hard to ignore his new role as he instantly grows a white beard and is rapidly gaining weight.  And children are drawn to him, lining up to tell him their Christmas wishes.

The Santa Clause is all about faith in things unseen, there is a line in the film that Believing is Seeing.  It is a very non-religious faith, as Christmas is really about Santa in this film.  There are no real ties to the Christian vision of Christmas as part of the film’s mythology.  It even has a subplot about Wendy and Neil learning to embrace the joy of Christmas.  Which is to believe Scott Really is Santa Claus.

The mythology of the film is quite a bit of fun.  The North Pole is quite high tech, with a “science” all it’s own.  There are things like Hot Chocolate dispensers in the Sleigh and Santa’s hat has a two way radio.  There is even a Navy Seal-like team of Elves.  The elves are skilled makers of the most popular toys.  How does Santa enter a house with no fireplace or chimney?  One magically appears when needed.

All in all, this is a pleasant and fun film for kids and parents.  Allen actually is entertaining as a guy who is trying to deny his calling.  The attitude laden Bernard is a fun presence.  The effects are, of course a bit dated, but not so much so that they ruin enjoyment.


Force Adjacent (Rogue One, 2016)

rogue_one_posterTaking it’s plot from about two sentences of Star Wars: A New Hopes Opening Scrawl, this Star Wars Story focuses on the Rebels who got the Death Star plans carried by R2-D2.  Focusing on Jyn Erso, daughter of a brilliant engineer, Rogue One follows her forced recruitment by the Rebel Alliance in an attempt to get the information.  Along with her father, Erso has another connection the Alliance wants to take advantage of.  After escaping the clutches of the Empire, Jyn was raised for a time  by Saw Gerrera.  The Alliance parted ways with him over his extremism, but feel they now need his help.

What follows is an exciting espionage and war film, different from what we have seen in the past…and yet familiar.  While there are brief glimpses of some recognizable faces, our central cast is pretty much new.  The film is a bit darker than other entries, showing a side of the Rebel Alliance not often addressed.  Some have expressed problems with this.  While I had not given much thought to some of the darker implications of the alliance, I cannot say this take is unreasonable.  The idea that people are sometimes doing things they struggle to justify as being in the greater good makes absolute sense.  Certainly, it may seem out of place if you are used to thinking of the Alliance as morally pure.

Jyn is an interesting character who despises the Empire for a pretty simple and personal reason.  They took her dad and killed her mom.  She seems to have soured on the rebellion though (feeling betrayed by Saw) and given way to cynicism.  Meanwhile, Cassian Andor is a dedicated Rebel spy who plays out his role without question.  At least until he is given a side mission that makes him question his moral compass.

A real standout character is the reprogrammed Imperial Droid K2-S0.  He is mouthy, sarcastic and also the brawn.  Whereas C-3PO up-tightly delivers in depth information about the odds, K2 casually tosses out comments along the lines of “The odds are bad” and just leaving it at that.  Then there is the blind monk Chirrut Îmwe.  He fights like a Jedi Master, but is not a Jedi.  He also fights with a staff, rather than a lightsaber.  His sighted companion Baze prefers blaster rifles and does not buy into the Force at all.

The film does suffer a bit from the problem of many prequels.  The obsessive desire with filling in every blank results in a way that it can start to interfere the film it is “setting up”.  This leads to the film dying to pull right up to the beginning of a New Hope.

Admittedly, it feels a little odd having no potential Jedi (Chirrut does not use force moves beyond a certain Daredevil styled super hearing) or lightsaber duels.  The Force is spoken of, but not really seen in action beyond Darth Vader.

In the end, however, the film more than overcomes these things.  It is exciting and fun, while having an edge more in the vein of Empire.  I found Rogue One immensely satisfying.

Fear of Santa Claus: Television Edition Pt 2 (And All Through the House, Tales From the Crypt, S1 Ep2, 1989)

tales_from_the_crypt_s1EC was the controversial publisher of crime and horror comics in the 1950’s.  The comics code kind of killed them.  Funny enough, the EC Comics stories were very “moral”.  Each story involved people doing evil and getting their comeuppance.  In 1972 there was a film based on the comics, adapting the stories.  And All Through the House was included in the  anthology…it was a very serious affair with Joan Collins.  It is extremely serious.  In 1989, HBO brought the Crypt Keeper to the television scream, I mean, screen.  Using popular actors of the time (episodes featured Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Lithgow, among others).  Some were big stars, some were rising stars, some waning and some unknowns who were discovered much later.  It was a popular show that was eventually brought to the networks (albeit in an edited format) through syndication.

Written by Monster Squad director Fred Dekker and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the episode is both full of tension and laughs.  Mary Ellen Trainor plays the wife of Marshall Bell.  She kills him on Christmas Eve, and while disposing of the body, encounters a maniac in a Santa Suit.  Much of their initial confrontation gets played for laughs.  Especially as the Santa Suited killer is the one getting hurt.  Larry Drake offers some comical reactions as he is hurt by Trainor.

But of course, Trainor killed her husband, so the story cannot end well.  Bookended by the Crypt Keeper, the story begins and ends with bad puns,  This is a very entertaining episode, and one of the series strongest.  It is a lot of fun for a tale about a homicidal killer in a Santa suit.

Fear of Santa Clause TV Edition Pt 1 (Tales From the Darkside, S3: Seasons of Belief, 1986)

tales-from-the-darkside-seasons-of-belief-1986Tales from the Darkside was a creation of George Romero.  It ran for four seasons, with each episode being half an hour.  It was a more horror themed take on the Twilight Zone.

The episode Seasons of Belief is about a family in which the kids express no Christmas spirit.  They are upset that they cannot watch TV on Christmas Eve.  They are bored, speak ill of Santa and so on.  The parents start telling their children a story about “the Grither”. He is an angry Christmas Spirit who seeks out anyone who calls his name.  The parents start weaving in odd folklore and songs about the Grither.  Of course, the kids (already not believing in Santa Clause) keep calling his name after the parents tell them he will come to find them.

The kids become more and more frightened of the made up monster.  The parents, instead of calming the fears keep making them worse.  The twist calls into question the nature of the story.  Is the intense fear of the children giving the story life?  Is it truly old folklore, speaking to something very real?

This is a really well done holiday episode, anchored by a good performance from E.G. Marshall.  In spite of facing a very limited budget, the story is effectively told so as to overcome those limitations.



Fear of Santa Claus Pt 14 (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, 2010)

rare-exports-posterOf all the movies I have watched for this series, this Finnish production is the best of the lot.  It is a terrific and creative movie.  In the Korvatunturi Mountains two young boys spy on an excavation mission to locate the grave of Santa Claus.  Pietari is  concerned by this, as he still believes in Santa Claus.  But he finds books in the attic telling the truth about Santa Claus.  Santa and the Krampus are the same myth.  Santa is not a perversion of sainthood here, but rather, a strange and frightening creature, long buried in the mountains.  The excavation is a plan to raid the tomb of Santa.

This of course goes wrong and Pietari and his father find themselves menaced by something from the mountain.  Especially frightening for Pietari is that his friends seem to be disappearing.

The relationship between Pietari and his father is strong (as they are father and son in real life) and effective.  The film is full of horror and yet whimsy.  The Santa creatures look like old and decrepit men, but they are far more.  And the  final moments are comical in the most positive way.  I really do not want to say more as the film really is a treat.  It is the one film in this whole series I recommend without reservation.

Fear of Santa Claus Pt 13 (Sint, 2010)

sint-posterSint (known as Saint here in the United States) is a contribution from the Netherlands.  In this horror film, Saint Nick was not such a nice guy.  He was a disgraced Bishop who would lead his followers to slaughter and pillage villages.  The people seek revenge and kill Saint Nick and his band of ruffians…but this causes a curse.  The film jumps up to 1968 and a family relaxing on December 5th. The house is besieged by strange little monsters who kill all but one member of the family.  Then the film makes one more jump to the present.

It turns out that when there is a full moon on December 5th, Saint Nick returns to punish the naughty.  In modern society, that means pretty much anybody.  Goert, the kid that survived, grew up to be a policeman.  He is a bit on edge some years later (the film is a little vague, one character says it occurs every thirty two years, another every 23 years, and  one character refers to the death of the officer’s family being forty years ago, but if the film takes place in 2010?  It is over fifty years).  The film combines Old Saint Nick with the Krampus and gives us a rather bloody vision of holiday shenanigans.

The film has a bit of a misdirect, making it look like one character is the lead, but killing them off at the start of the action.  Meanwhile a guy named Frank and his buddies are dressed as Saint Nick and Black Petes (this particular bit of folklore is highly controversial as most of the people who dress up as the character are wearing black face, as Frank’s buddies are).  The Black Petes with the real Saint Nick are his troll like minions.  Of course, the police do not believe Frank when he says the Real Saint Nick and his Black Petes killed Frank’s friends.

Frank and Goert team up to fight Saint Nicholas and crazy action ensues.

The film may be a bit off-putting for American audiences, as our horror films have always treated the death of children as taboo.  While the film does not show graphic attacks on children, it is implied that terrible things happen to them.

Sint is visually striking (there is a nicely done scene with the police chasing Nicholas as he rides his horse across roof tops). The makeup for Saint Nicholas is effectively gruesome.  The film is quite well done, though rarely breaks from the most standard of horror movie tropes.  Nobody believes the people who know what is really going on.  Two lone believers team up.  People keep interfering with their attempts to defeat the monster.  The final jump scare.  There is a massive cover up.  But still, it is a pretty decent effort that horror fans should enjoy.

Fear of Santa Claus pt 12 (Elves, 1989)

elves_posterThere are two memorable things about the movie Elves.  It is about little Nazi monsters that are an experiment to create racial purity that seek to mate with some teen girls.  Ew.  It also stars Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty.  Haggerty died back in January of 2016…and thankfully was able to bury this with 29 acting credits.  Because I have seen Axe Giant: The wrath of Paul Bunyan and as terrible as that film is, it is the better of the two films.

There are, of course, other things that set this film apart.  Not in good ways…but apart none the less.  There is the German Grandpa who displays his concern for his grand daughter by slapping her.  The mother who only seems to derive happiness from making her kids miserable  (she drowns the family cat!).  The little brother who tells his older sister that he likes looking at naked girls…this is when she catches him peeping at her in the shower.  He also swears like a sailor.


Then there is the Santa who tries to molest high school aged Kirsten in front of the store.  Thankfully he is killed by an elf so Haggerty can get a job as the new Santa.

The Elves seem to be focused on Kirsten and her family.  And then the Nazis show up, hoping that the Elves mate with Kirsten, because she apparently is genetically pure. This film has one of the saddest exchanges regarding sexual activity ever.  Kirsten explains how she is saving it for someone special.  Her friend explains that rather than risk confrontation with a guy by saying no to sex, she would just rather go through with it so he does not get mad.

Frankly, the plot makes no sense.  The elves are part of an experiment in genetic purity?  Little warped monsters provide the necessary genetic material for a race of pure superman?  This seems kind of unlikely…there is also a big Chinatown style twist about an hour in.  To, you know, class things up a bit.  Also, apparently they do not need conventional means for creating a baby as the film implies Kirsten is pregnant at the end.  Well, not so much implies as explicitly shows us a fetus with a heartbeat.

While this is not quite Troll 2, is practically runs off the road into it.  Elves is a badly acted film where people fight puppets that are less stiff than some of the actors.  It is a genuinely awful film.

I will leave you with this exchange from the film:

“Are we gonna be alright?”

“No, Willy.  Gramps is a Nazi.”


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