Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nostalgia Nugget: Those Holiday Classics

Each year us movie fans end up settling in with our favorite holiday classics. Being brought up with a family that celebrates Christmas, I enjoy watching Christmas films. There are the classics that most folks enjoy; It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas or even biblical epics like Ben Hur.

But if you look off the beaten path there are some Christmas films out there that don’t get mentioned, but hell I enjoy them and they often hold a nostalgic place for my family and me. And yes Mystery Science Theater episodes count.

One of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. This Mexican take on the Santa Claus story is filled to bursting with oddities. You get enslaved children workers, a huge, huge mouth, Santa spying on people with a disturbing telescope, an imp from hell trying to fight Santa and the horrible laughing reindeer. No, nothing can prepare you for the terrors within. So if you seek this out, make sure it’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, with Mike and bots on hand to riff away.

Gremlins (1984)
Joe Dante’s demented dark sense of humor, combined with his love of Loony Tunes and some of the most disgusting death scenes ever enacted on puppets – it’s a holiday classic for sure. The movie features all kinds of Christmas trappings, and Jerry Goldsmith even works some Silent Night into the score. Looking for something a bit nasty to counteract the wholesomeness this time of year – look no further than a severed Gremlin head on the fire and the movie ending with the town of Kingston Falls on fire.

Sure it borrows from The Terminator, but its all done in good fun. Besides it’s got a futuristic cop hunting zombies in 1985 during Christmas. Add in Helen Hunt dressed as a cute mall elf and it’s just too awesome to describe. If you enjoy low budget sci-fi from the Regan years, this is well worth checking out.

Die Hard (1988)
Want hard-hitting action this Christmas? Look no further than one of the best action films of the ‘80s. Bruce Willis is still great as McClane and Alan Rickman is still the slickest bad guy we love to hate: Hans Gruber. But what really is amazing is how director John McTiernan manages to keep the 131 minute film sailing along and bursting with great lines and great pacing. If you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another spin.

Take one silly kids movie featuring one of the funniest looking robots in history, combine it with the most annoying Martians in history and you’ve got a real winner for the riffing crowd. Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Cinematic Titanic have both tackled this film with plenty of laughs to be had. The theme song Hooray for Santee Claus is enough to give you nightmares.

Scrooged (1988)
Richard Donner’s final version of this film may be flawed, but there is so much to like here I give it a pass. Bill Murray is excellent as Frank Cross, really giving is a nasty character as well as the reformed Scrooge at the end. The interplay between the TV special and the ghosts is hilarious. Danny Elfman gives us a darkly magical score to accompany the action. Then there’s the ghosts, some of the funniest and most creative seen in any version of A Christmas Carol or any of its adaptations.

Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Or maybe you just want to have some more felt in your Charles Dickens experience. Well here ya go, one of the most fun adaptations of the story, and with all your favorite Muppets at hand. Michael Caine is an excellent Scrooge and really works well with the rest of the puppety cast. Add to that Paul Williams providing the song and lyrics and you’ve got some of the catchiest tunes since the original Muppet Movie.

Hey don’t make that face at me, part of this moronic police drama takes place during Christmas. Joe Don Baker is a slovenly cop who annoys everyone he meets, sleeps with hookers, gets in fights with Merlin Olsen and has his own theme song sung by Hoyt Axton. How he’s supposed to be our hero is anyone’s guess, but there it is. This was the final Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode with Joel as the host, and its one of the funniest riffing sessions they ever had. Fun to watch any time, but usually makes the rounds this time of year because of the Christmas scene at John Saxon’s house.

A Russian fairy tale movie about the magical Jack Frost (or Morozko, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus). I’m sure unedited; in its original aspect ratio and language this is a fun fantasy film for children and adults alike. Some editing and dubbing later and you’ve got a fever dream of epic proportions. A man with a bear head, a conversation with flowers, a game of hide and seek with a mushroom man, a cackling witch, an enchanted wooden pig sled and an evil black cat are mixed into one story and unleashed on the audience. I love this movie for all its sweetness and amazing visuals. I also love that Mike and bots riff on it in this wonderful offering from Season Eight of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This second film (also known as Midsummer's Eve) in the Tenchi Muyo series takes place during summer, but has a bunch of flashbacks and talk about Christmas all the way through it. While it helps to at least have seen some of Tenchi’s previous adventures prior to giving this movie a spin, there’s lots of fun to be had. This movie feels a lot closer to the original series made in 1992, and also to that take on the characters. Ko Otani’s musical score is a mix of great synth oriented themes, a sprinkling holiday cheer and excellent battle music. Ok, I admit it, this is a very personal choice, but I enjoy watching it this time of year or closer to Midsummer if the mood is right. Besides the end credits song is about Christmas presents!

One of my favorite anime directors, Satoshi Kon, delivers his most realistic film. It follows the adventures for three homeless folks who find a baby in a dumpster and go on a quest to return her to her parents. Along the way they have all kinds of adventures and it culminates into one of the most amazing chase scenes in animation history. A mixture of heart, silly humor and sadness, this is one movie filled to the brim with the spirit of the holidays.

So give one of these movies a shot next time you’re looking for something a little different around the holidays. 

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