Monday, December 24, 2018

A Johnny Cash Christmas to remember

I really wanted to do more cheesy movies, but the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest™ is in a transitional phase and my workload has been through the roof. So I’m going to wrap up the pre-holiday videos with one of the loveliest Christmas shows I’ve ever seen.

Growing up in the ’70s, I remember seeing these variety show specials pert’ near every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Every comedian or musician who was anybody had one. Some of them were pretty good (The Carpenters, for instance) and some of them, well, just didn’t age well. (I subjected my Lovely and Brilliant Wife to a Donny and Marie special, I forget which one, and came out unable to believe we’d ever enjoyed such dreck.) But this 1977 show from Johnny Cash is just jaw-dropping. Roy Clark, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Statler Brothers, they all joined Johnny and June just a few months after their recording buddy Elvis died. Besides the songs that made some of them famous and a few old Christmas standards, the stars all converge for high-energy renditions of the Gospel standards “This Train is Bound for Glory” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee, as well as an absolutely breathtaking performance of “Silent Night.” If you skipped the movies (and who could blame you), you still need to see this.

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cheese at Cartwright's

Okay, this one has cheese. Not in a limburger sort of way, more like a very mild Monterey jack. It would melt well over a nice spicy burrito but doesn’t carry a lot of flavor itself.

I hadn’t looked up the cast of “Christmas at Cartwright’s” before watching, so it was a bit of a jolt to see Wallace Shawn and Gabrielle Miller in roles completely opposite the ones I reviewed a couple of years ago. But they work well in their supporting roles, the one as an angel and the other as a, well, fill in the appropriate misogynistic term.

The film starts out with single mom Nicky (Alicia Witt, whom I recall playing a Hollywood minx on “The Sopranos”) who’s having trouble finding work. Even at Christmas, with every single retailer in the western world hiring temps. She’s dodging the landlady over late rent and her daughter apparently needs a reading tutor. Why Nicky can’t just help Becky herself since she has time on her hands is just one of the many things never addressed.

Finally her search brings her to Cartwright’s Department Store, where she (a) gets on the bad side of the HR person and (b) meets a store executive who happens to be single and handsome and have the right name for a husband. (It makes sense in the context.) As usual, he’s basically a cardboard cutout, filling in the Love Interest blank. She doesn’t get hired (obvs), but with the help of the store’s “Christmas Coordinator,” she manages to fake her way into being the store’s Santa Claus.

Here endeth any semblance of believability. There is no way in [eternal perdition] that her theatrically-lowered voice passes for male. And where is it written that a fake voice has to come with a fake indeterminate accent? This always happens when women try to pass themselves off vocally as men and vice versa, and nobody ever seems to notice or account for it.

The other issue in this one was that little Becky is clearly hungry for a new daddy, but her original daddy is never mentioned, not even alluded to. Unless this was a virgin birth (call the Vatican!), you’d think there would be at least some hint of his existence. Did he die? Did he run off with his secretary? Not a clue. As a father who’s been erased from a child’s life, this bothers me no little.

Outside of those things, it’s a fairly cute film, except for the ending scene at the department store which is just sick-making. I’ve seen proposals with less pomp and schmaltz.

Enjoy (or at least endure) “Christmas at Cartwright’s.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"The Christmas List": Okay cheese, bad geography

The first thing I noticed about “The Christmas List” was that the religious aspects of Christmas were unapologetically displayed, starting out with a Gospel choir singing actual carols over the opening credits. Between that and the utter cleanliness of it (no sex, not even cohabitation), I had to pause and look it up to make sure it wasn’t something from Mollywood. Nope, it was just ABC Family from 21 years ago. The times, they are a-changin’.

The story is a fairly simple one, yet I still kept getting a little lost on the details. Melody Parris (Mimi Rogers, whose name I would swear I recognized but can’t find anything I’ve seen her in), works the perfume counter at a department store in Seattle (about which more anon). Apparently she’s some sort of a super scent savant, able to identify any perfume put under her nose or name the perfect perfume for a given person based on a list of personality traits. Her life changes when she writes down all the things she’s missing in her life – a better job, a marriage (she’s been waiting for her boyfriend George to propose), money in the bank – and her friend steals it and sticks it in Santa’s mailbox. No sooner is her woeful missive deposited than she meets Danny (Bill Switzer, no apparent relation to Carl), who’s missing his dead mother at Christmas. (His performance at the perfume counter is a sniffle-fest.) One thing leads to another (which leads to Danny’s dad) and she finds herself getting all the things she asked for – sort of.

This never quite gets dark enough to be a a “monkey’s paw” (or should it be reindeer’s hoof?) but she does learn a few things, particularly what a colossal douchecanoe George is. (The least loathsome thing about him is that he calls Melody’s mom “Mother Natalie.” Gag me with a candy cane!) Danny’s father is a classic unmemorable Hallmark movie lead, whose girlfriend Faith (Marla Maples back when she was still Mrs. Trump) Danny really dislikes. We’re a little vague on why, as she never really works up to the Wicked Stepmother level, but apparently she lives far away and wants to send him to boarding school. We think.

We knew from the outset that a romance was in the offing, but it starts fast and has to be slowed down. I kind of liked the awkwardness of that; a lot less formulaic. Also, the way her career works out has flashes of the curtain scene in “Singin’ in the Rain.” If some of the plot points sew themselves up too neatly, well, what do you expect?

Now the rant: Faith wants to take Danny and his father (why can’t I remember the guy’s name?) to see her family at Christmas, in the far-off town of Bellevue, Washington, which apparently is so far back in the woods that Danny quips that he can start a tick collection. Say what?

Look, I know a lot of low-budget movies are set in Seattle because it’s so cheap to film in Vancouver, and the landscapes are similar. But seriously, ABC Family, would it kill you to look at a map? Bellevue is across a bridge from Seattle. It’s not woodsy. It’s not rural. It’s a sprawling mess of snooty malls and congested arterial roads leading to more snooty malls. It’s surrounded by Microsoft money. People, you're three hours away from the real Bellevue. Surely someone there could have noticed this.

Good lines to watch for:
“You make me do the strangest things.”
“Get out of my house or I will boil you in Christmas pudding and drive a holly stake through your heart!”
“Hasta la vista, Faithy!” (Yes, really.)

Leave your thoughts in the comments.