Holiday movies really are a genre unto themselves. The holiday season functions not merely as a setting for the various Christmas adventures, but instead it actually dominates the narrative and thematic structures of these movies. We adopt a different set of standards and expectations for holiday movies, and as a result, our response to them is unique to any other classification of film. There are so many examples of Christmas movies that one could easily assign them to tiers of varying quality.
So much like that iconic, corpulent elf/toy magnate, we’ve constructed a naughty and nice list respectively celebrating the best and the worst of holiday cinema. Every week this month we will pair one against the other to see if, despite their divergent levels of merit, they share any commonalities. Welcome to Naughty vs. Nice:
Nice: It’s a Wonderful Life
Dir: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers
Plot: A guardian angel is sent to prevent a downtrodden family man from taking his life by showing him what the world would be like if he had never existed.
It’s a Wonderful Life is a fantastic Christmas movie that often also finds comfortable purchase high on lists of the all time greatest American films. Frank Capra had a knack for cutting straight the emotional and benevolent core of his characters. His films have been criticized as being overly sentimental, and this may be the primary example of his steadfast belief in the capacity for redemption. However, what some may read as quaint, hokey naiveté, truly plays out as crucial optimism for our national identity; especially given the United States was just emerging from World War II.
And yet that admirable optimism harbors a certain timeless quality. In fact, It’s a Wonderful Life is sort of the counter to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Instead of three spirits informing the detestable Mr. Scrooge of what has been and what will be if he does not mend his wicked ways, Clarence reveals to the amiable, but desperate George Bailey of what would never have been. It is impressed upon him that the world would be far worse off without him. In this way, Capra, like Dickens, is extrapolating the true meaning of Christmas into a more universal appraisal of one’s place within their community.
Apart from its stirring cinematography and stellar performances, what It’s a Wonderful Life does is reexamine the concept of the self to find its more intrinsic value. It poses the very audacious notion that perhaps our worth as an individual is measured by the impact we have on our surrounding world. Conversely, Jingle All the Way sees the figurative conception of the self as something that can only truly be enhanced by the acquisition of material possessions, giving the film as fleeting an impression upon cultural consciousness as is insubstantial its central plot.
Naughty: Jingle All the Way
Dir: Brian LeVant
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Jack Lloyd
Plot: Just days before Christmas, a busy dad hunts for the most popular toy on the market; battling the frenzy of last-minute holiday shopping in the hopes of narrowing the slowly growing void between himself and his son.
While no one would argue that 1996’s Jingle All the Way is a quality film on any level, it seems to inexplicably make the rounds on network, and sometimes even cable, television stations every December. In many ways, Jingle All the Way exists on the exact opposite end of the Christmas movie spectrum from It’s a Wonderful Life. Both of these films are about fathers who find themselves at the ends of their respective ropes during the holiday season. Both films also deal with the idea of absence. Whereas Stewart is afforded the chance to see what life would have been like were his existence entirely erased, Jingle All the Way centers on a father whose devotion to his career largely removes him from his own son’s life.
Much like Wonderful Life, Jingle All the Way delves in to what it perceives as the true reason for the season. The difference of course is that where Capra’s film sees the meaning of the holiday to be a vital reassessment of one’s place in the world and the importance of family and friends, Jingle All the Way is an unabashed celebration of the commercialization of Christmas. While some may argue the comedy in the film, as Arnold sinks to lower and lower tactics to obtain the hot ticket toy item for this son for Christmas, is actually an indictment of materialism, with its inept writing and lackluster performances, the only thing Jingle All the Way succeeds in satirizing is itself.
The interesting thing about comparing these two films is how they handle the subject of greed. Capra loved to tackle stories about the common man contending with the basic vices often usually broadstroke associated with mankind. The villain of It’s a Wonderful Life is the greedy Mr. Potter who is willing to jeopardize the financial security of an entire town, not to mention frame its favored citizen, just to increase his already considerable wealth. It is the clearest of condemnations of avarice. Jingle All the Way on the other hand treats greed as a natural and all-consuming motivation for mankind. Is it more realistic in that regard? Perhaps, but its refusal to strive for anything more than pessimistic and reductive observations about humanity is at the heart of Jingle’s innumerable shortcomings.
That and, you know, Sinbad.
[Photo Credit: RKO Pictures; 20th Century Fox]
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Price William of Wales and Catherine Middleton were married this morning at approximately 6 AM Eastern Standard Time, at Westminster Abbey. Present for the ceremony from William's family was Queen Elizabeth II, William's father Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, and William's brother Harry. In attendance from Catherine's family was her mother Carole, her father Michael, her sister Pippa, and her brother James. Various celebrities were also present, like Sir Elton John, Rowan Atkinson, David and Victoria Beckham, and Guy Ritchie. Hundreds of members of government and parliament were also there, as were 80 people from Prince William's charities, more than 40 members of foreign royal families, 30 members of defense services.
Click here for our full set of Royal Wedding Photos!
Kate did not arrive at Buckingham Palace in a horse-drawn carriage. Instead, she was transported to the ceremony in a Rolls Royce. She wore a Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen gown, that was hand-made from French Chantilly lace and English Cluny lace. She carried a bouquet of gardenias, lily of the valley delphiniums, roses and a sprig of myrtle, and her hair was styled down. She was also wearing Cartier's "Halo" tiara that the Queen loaned to her. Her father walked her down the aisle while "I Was Glad" by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (which was composed for the coronation of William's great-great-great grandfather Edward VII in 1902) was sung by the Chapel Royal Choir. Once she reached the altar, various hymns were sung and the couple recited traditional vows. Then, Prince William put a ring on Kate's finger that (made out of Welsh gold that the Queen gave to William after the couple got engaged). They were pronounced husband and wife in front of 1,900 people and then went to the side of the altar to sing more hymns.
Even though reports indicated that Prince William and Kate planned on spending the night before their wedding together, they opted to be traditional and spend it separately. Kate stayed with her family at the five star Goring Hotel in Belgravia, while Prince William stayed at Clarence House. In terms of what Kate will be called now that she's married into the royal family, experts do not expect her to be called Princess Kate because she was not born into the royal family. Last night, it was revealed that the Queen gave both Prince William and Kate new titles: Duke of Cambridge and Duchess of Cambridge. Kate can additionally be called HRH Princess William of Wales, or HRH Catherine of Wales. But if -- when the Queen dies and Prince Charles becomes King -- Prince William is made the Prince of Wales, then Kate can officially be called HRH Catherine, Princess of Wales (which was William's mother Diana's title).
For the ceremony, Prince William and Kate chose London florist Shane Connolly with decorating Westminster Abbey with extravagant floral arrangements. The center aisle was adorned with trees: six English Field Maples and two Hornbeams (some of which reached as tall as 20 feet) that came straight from the royal estates and were provided by Queen Elizabeth herself. The flowers, which were azaleas, lilacs, rhododendron and wisteria, came from Windsor Great Park and were arranged by Kate's family florist, Emma Sampson.
Of the 1900 people at the ceremony, 650 of them were invited to the Queen's lunchtime reception at Buckingham Palace, and approximately 300 of those 650 were invited to a dinner at Buckingham Palace hosted by Prince Charles. Leicestershire-based pastry chef, Fiona Cairns, was selected to provide Prince William and Kate with a wedding cake, which will be a multi-tier fruit cake. The tiers will be encrusted with leaves and flowers like English Roses, Welsh daffodils and Irish shamrocks. Each layer will be coated in brandy-mixed icing.
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Sources: Telegraph, Huffpo, Daily Mail, People, People, Official Royal Wedding, People
Set in 1976 an arrogant doofus--who loves booze partying and women--buys an underdog professional basketball team and basically runs it into the ground until he is inspired to take his rag-tag team all the way to the NBA. Sound familiar? Semi-Pro is pretty much a mixture of every other Will Ferrell movie. He plays Jackie Moon a one-hit wonder who buys the Flint Michigan Tropics off the proceeds of his hit song “Love Me Sexy.” and tries to coach them even playing on the team. But he ends up dragging them down to last place with his promotional antics. And when the wild and crazy ABA basketball league--known for its slam dunk contests--is about to merge with the all-powerful NBA the Tropics only have one shot to make the cut. Can they pull themselves together in time? This is an underdog sports movie after all. It’s really the same old Will Ferrell shtick in Semi-Pro. Sometimes it’s hilarious but unfortunately after Anchorman Kicking & Screaming Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory much of it is rehash. Tiresome rehash. Nevertheless Ferrell has surrounded himself with another eclectic crew mixing some old favorites with new faces: old Ferrell cronies include David Koechner as the ABA commissioner and Will Arnett as a Tropics sports announcer while the newbies include Andre Benjamin as Clarence “Coffee” Black the Tropics star player and Woody Harrelson as Ed Monix a veteran player Moon brings in to help the team. Think of Monix as Bull Durham’s Crash Davis who once played in the show but has been demoted to the B leagues. Oddly enough Harrelson actually brings some dignity to the otherwise silly proceedings. Veteran executive producer Kent Alterman who has overseen such diverse films as Balls of Fury and Little Children helms his first feature film with Semi-Pro--and that’s basically how the film comes off: semi-professional. Alterman probably figured he only had to point and shoot which is mostly the case and doesn’t do anything above and beyond. The real effort comes from the script written by comedy veteran Scot Armstrong (Old School Starsky & Hutch). The first half of the film is pure Will Ferrell non sequitur fodder--beginning with Moon singing his hit “Love Me Sexy” (lyrics also included is “Lick Me Sexy” and “Hump Me Sexy”) and the obligatory scene of Moon sitting around with his buddies saying “nutty things because they’re not true.” Then there’s the bear wrestling scene. Ferrell must have a thing for the big furry animals (remember the bear pit in Anchorman?) Unfortunately the outrageousness lessens in the second half of the film becoming your straight forward underdog movie. If Semi-Pro is a huge hit Ferrell won't stop making these movies; but if it falls flat maybe he'll think of ways to reinvent himself. One can only hope.