Good tidings, good cheer, good will towards men... Christmas has a lot of positives attached to it. A lot of noble qualities, charitable endeavors, attitudes of self-betterment. Christmas is generally when people set aside their vices to opt for a more giving, warm, and down-to-Earth outlook on life. But it's also a time for proving that you are way better than your stupid neighbors.
Yes, the true meaning behind the Christmas season is showmanship: amping up your roof, lawn, and living room with as many elaborate holiday decorations as possible to put all surrounding heathens to shame. Christmas movies throughout the decades have shown us some of the most outlandish pieces of seasonal tribute imaginable — dancing Santas, functioning sleighs, endangered breeds of Evergreen trees. All perfect fodder for channeling the noel spirit... despite demanding a few of those paychecks you meant to spend on things like food and your daughter's college.
But grossly irresponsible spending habits aside, it is unavoidable that we all conform to the competition year after year. The mission to outdo our friends, relatives, and the strangers we avoid whilst walking our dogs in the realm of Christmas decorations. So, for those of you willing to own up to this inevitability, we gift to you some of Hollywood's greatest examples of over-the-top, unreasonably expensive, not-even-remotely-worth-it items for your own winter wonderland.
In this 2005 romantic comedy, hotshot something-or-other Ryan Reynolds returns to his suburban Jersey hometown to reconnect with his old love Amy Smart, whose father (Barry Flatman) just happens to be diametrically obsessed with decorating his house for Christmas.
Animatronic Santa Claus: $838
Reindeer (3): $2,397 ($799 each)
Cypress trees (5): $2,675.80 ($535.16 each)
Decorative candy canes (6): $119.94 ($19.99 each)
Multicolored Christmas lights (thousands): At least $1,360 ($34 per set of 25 lights)
Grand total: $7,390.74
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
The holiday festivities of National Lampoon's Griswold clan sees lovable father Clark vying to give his family the greatest Christmas imaginable, complete with fancy decorations and promise of a swimming pool for the warmer part of the year (which, in Chicago, is that one weekend in July).
Life-size Santa Claus: $185.49
Reindeer (3): $2,397 ($799 each)
Multicolored Christmas lights (thousands): At least $1,360 ($34 per set of 25 lights)
Swimming pool: $23,424.79 (Granted this is not a Christmas decoration, but it's where Clark was allotting most of his income during the holiday season)
Grand total: $27,367.28
Christmas with the Kranks
I'm just going to cut to the chase on this one. Stars Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis actually reveal in the movie that they spent $6,132 on their previous Christmas. So we're just going to go with that.
Grand total: $6,132
Of course, not all lavish cinematic Christmases involve the adornment of roofs and lawns with lights and trees. Some families, the McCallisters for instance, instead opt for exciting vacations... and an unparalleled home security system.
Flight from Chicago to Paris (2 adults, 3 children): $4,991
Sharp Christmas ornaments (14): $41.65 ($5.95 per set of 2 ornaments)
Toy race cars (approximately 100): Approximately $51.03 ($5.67 per set of 12 cars)
Nail: $10.99 (for a good one!)
Bucket of paint/string (2): $123.70 ($61.60 per bucket of paint, $0.05 per 1/4" of rope)
BB Gun: $24.99
When you're trying to blow up a city on Christmas, you always need to keep in mind... actually, no. Let's not do this one. Merry Christmas, everybody.
[Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures; New Line Cinema; Warner Bros]
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Proving that everything “old” can be new again 17 Again opens in 1989 where star basketball player Mike O’Donnell turns his back on a college scholarship deciding instead to marry his girlfriend Scarlet when she reveals they are suddenly expecting a baby. Cut to 20 years later Mike’s marriage and job are floundering when he is physically transformed back into his 17-year-old self although his mind and sensibilities still remain that of a decidedly square thirtysomething dude. With the help of his nerdy-turned-billionaire best childhood buddy Ned he gets himself enrolled in the same school his own teenage kids now attend. Can he help them avert the same kinds of mistakes now that he (sorta) has a second chance to change?
WHO’S IN IT?
Zac Efron (High School Musical) shoots and scores in a breakout starring role. He shows he’s got the comic chops to believably pull off the way-out-there premise of being a 37-year-old trapped in a 17-year-old’s body. Matthew Perry (Friends) does a nice job bookending the movie as the older Mike but it’s Efron’s show all the way. Thomas Lennon follows up his hilarious supporting antics as the spurned man-date in I Love You Man with some equally amusing work as Mike’s friend Ned while Leslie Mann plays the estranged wife in style. As Mike’s kids who unknowingly become high school buds with their own father newcomer Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg get enough screen time to shine. Melora Hardin (The Office) is also quite funny as the school principal that lovelorn Ned keeps stalking.
Although the premise of the adult/kid switcheroo has been done to death director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi take it one step further a la It's a Wonderful Life or Damn Yankees by letting their main character regain his youth for the chance to see what his life would be like if he could live it another way. This fanciful premise makes this “teen” comedy one that adults will probably enjoy even more.
The filmmakers sometimes have a tendency to go over the top particularly in the "Star Wars fight sequence" when the newly transformed Mike confronts old friend Ned with the news and a laser battle erupts (!). Another scene where 17-year-old Mike is seduced by his own unwitting daughter may be funny but it veers a little too far into creepy territory.
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
If you like 17 Again try renting 18 Again in which 81-year-old George Burns switches places with his grandson. Or how about Big Vice Versa Like Father Like Son or either version of Freaky Friday? And who said there are no original ideas in Hollywood ...
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
A no-brainer — the "Zac Pack" will be out in force on opening day.
A big hit at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Hamlet 2 often careens out of control but when it connects the theatre fills with laughter. This is a story of a very frustrated high school drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) who decides to stage his own play--a musical sequel to Hamlet featuring original songs he has composed (titles like “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and “Gay As the Day Is Long”). Yes he’s aware everyone died at the end of Shakespeare’s immortal classic but the failed actor-turned-teacher has found a way to bring them back to life by using a time machine(!) In any event he’s desperate to save the Tucson school’s arts program which is being cut and he thinks this is the answer. Certainly it’s better he figures than his usual productions which have the students re-enacting live stage versions of popular movies such as Erin Brockovich that are regularly panned by the ninth-grade drama critic. Of course the non-PC nature of the show causes lots of outrage from school officials and community leaders but with the help of ACLU attorney Cricket Feldstein (Amy Poehler) Dana remains steadfast in his determination to go on with the show. Coogan is brilliantly loony and wildly funny in a hit-for-the-fences interpretation of the character. He’s definitely taking chances turning off the audience with his off-the-wall approach to playing this desperate loser who has to resort to teaching bored kids. It’s Coogan’s energy and fresh approach that make the movie work better than it has any right to. Poehler who also scored recently in Baby Mama is hilarious as the take-no-prisoners lawyer who comes to Dana’s defense. Catherine Keener is droll perfection as his bored wife who is having an affair with their boarder Gary underplayed nicely by David Arquette. In the good sport category Elisabeth Shue turns up as…Elisabeth Shue now a local nurse after her movie career supposedly hit the skids. She’s actually very funny spoofing herself and the whole aura of the successful Hollywood star. The students are all first rate including Dana’s star pupils Rand Posin and Epiphany Sellers played amusingly by Broadway’s Spring Awakening cast members Skylar Astin and Phoebe Strole respectively. And special mention to The Ralph Sall Experience for their hilarious musical parodies. Director Andrew Fleming lets the gags fly with abandon and gets much of the broad bits to actually work. He and screenwriter Pam Brady forge a close collaboration that results in a pretty good hit-to-miss ratio on the laugh meter; anyone expecting subtlety has wandered into the wrong theatre. Working with a wonderful group of actors with plenty of improvisational experience certainly has helped here and Fleming’s film has the look and feel of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience. The actual staging of Hamlet 2 is rather inspired with the multitude of wacky musical numbers cleverly presented. The Southwestern high school that Coogan’s character is stuck in is spot-on although Tucson residents probably won’t appreciate the numerous jokes made at the expense of their town.
Painfully estranged from his daughter old-school boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) hasn't let anyone get too close to him in a very long time. Even his best friend and former trainee Scrap (Morgan Freeman) who manages Frankie's rundown boxing gym has a tough time getting through. Everything changes however when Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) walks into the gym. A spitfire looking for someone to believe in her Maggie also has a painful past. But with unshakable willpower along with some tremendous raw talent Maggie has found that her love for boxing could be her ticket to a happy life--and she wants Frankie to turn her into a champion. Naturally he doesn't want to have anything to do with her and doesn't want to take that risk especially with a girl.Yet Frankie is soon won over by the young boxer's dogged resolve to be the best. The road to glory isn't easily paved for these two stubborn mules but Maggie and Frankie rediscover a sense of family they both thought they'd lost long ago. Theirs is a bond that will carry them through one of the hardest journeys either one of them will ever take. Oh yeah you're going to need a wad of tissues for this one.
Swank once again sheds her girlishness to tackle the roughhouse world of female boxing and she delivers another Oscar-caliber performance as Maggie. Not only does the actress embody the physicality of such a role--achieved after months of hard training--she also captures the spirit of a woman who defies the odds by breaking away from her dirt-poor trailer-trash upbringing to become a champion. Some may liken the plain no-nonsense Maggie to Swank's Oscar-winning role as the girl-turned-boy Brandon in Boys Don't Cry but Swank has matured in her acting abilities giving Maggie a very definite feminine edge. Still Swank might consider a nice romantic comedy for her next project. As for the men of Baby Eastwood and Freeman have never been more on top of their game. Frankie is tailored-made for Eastwood who plays a man tortured by his past and reluctant to let anyone in. It's a persona he has adopted many times but as the boxing trainer the craggy face gravel-voiced actor-director truly gives one of the better performances of his career. The same goes for Freeman as the soft-spoken but oh-so-wise Scrap. And watching the two Unforgiven veterans bicker and banter in Baby is like watching an old married couple.
Like a fine wine Clint Eastwood's movies just keep getting better and better the older the director gets. Following last year's intense Mystic River which some saw as a bit heavy handed Eastwood seems to have gone back to a quieter simpler more personal tone with Million Dollar Baby. The film starts out along the lines of such great boxing films as Raging Bull and the recent Girlfight as it highlights the competitive world of female boxing. It's in your face and gritty showing the punches the blood and the pain in glorious Technicolor. But just as it starts to turn into Rocky-style sap when Maggie rises to the top against all the odds the film subtly shifts into a love story about two people hurt by their pasts only to find each other and decide to hold on in a deeply familial way. Then just when you think how sweet that all is Baby throws you for an even bigger albeit darker loop. Eastwood expertly and gently guides you through the film's wondrous maze of revelations. Baby could very well creep in as a surprise Oscar contender.
Top Story: ABC Considers Fate of Rules
As the world of entertainment mourns the loss of John Ritter, who died Friday from a heart defect, ABC and Touchstone Television are having to make tough decisions about the fate of Ritter's hit sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter just days before the network launches its fall lineup. One top TV exec told Variety ABC shouldn't feel guilty to keep the series running.
"Shut down production for awhile to pay respect and mourn and figure the whole thing out. But I don't think there's anything disrespectful (about continuing). There are a lot of people whose livelihoods depend on the show." A few scenarios to keep the show moving have already been discussed, such as bringing in another father figure or another family member to fill the void. Most agree, however, the show should deal with the loss of Ritter's character, which would definitely change the tone of the series. "The show's so irreverent, it's hard to imagine the (daughters) on the show still being as shallow as they seem and people finding that appropriate," one industry insider told Variety. "Audiences have to feel these characters are real. They can't pretend dad is off on a business trip." In the meantime, ABC plans to air an hourlong tribute to Ritter, hosted by Diane Sawyer, Tuesday night.
Madonna Launches Roses
Entering the world of children's literature, pop diva Madonna is celebrating the launch of her children's book The English Roses, the first of five she has written, The Associated Press reports. Roses, which follows the friendship of four 11-year-old girls and their mutual envy of a beautiful classmate, is being released Monday in 100 countries with the initial print run of more than 750,000 copies in the United States, and 1 million worldwide, according to publisher Callaway Editions. A second book, Mr. Peabody's Apples, will be out in November, AP reports.
Michael Jackson Hosts Neverland Event
The King of Pop hosted a spectacular charity fund-raiser at his Neverland Ranch Saturday, where guests such as Mike Tyson and Patti LaBelle paid $5,000 to attend, AP reports. The proceeds will go to Make-A-Wish Foundation, Oneness and E Ai Como E Que Fica, a Rio de Janeiro organization that provides food, clothing and medical care for poor children.
Reeve Honored for Research Efforts
Actor Christopher Reeve will receive a public service award from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for his "perceptive, sustained and heroic advocacy" for medical research and disabled people in general, AP reports. Reeve was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1995 and since then has championed research on spinal cord injury, creating the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. "He has demonstrated great courage in a truly bleak situation, finding a way to exert tremendous power even though his body has lost much of its vigor," the board told AP. "He ... has transformed himself from one type of Superman into another."
MacLaine Recovers From Back Injury
Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine is recovering from a slipped disk that caused her "terrible pain," her publicist Dale Olsen told AP. The actress was following doctors' orders to rest and remain still for several days until the injury repaired itself, Olson said Friday. "It's not really serious," he added. "Painful but not serious."
Stamos Heads to Broadway
John Stamos will replace leading man Antonio Banderas in the Tony Award-winning Nine starting Oct. 7, Reuters reports. "I was a little leery about replacing someone again because I've done that in the past and I kind of wanted to create my own thing, but this show is still so fresh and has so much energy behind it that I thought, 'How can I not be a part of this show?"' Stamos told Reuters.
Harrison's Guitar Auctioned
George Harrison's fabled "Let It Be" guitar, used in the last public performance by the Beatles, sold for $434,750 in a public auction Saturday, a press release announced. "The guitar is a custom-made Fender Rosewood Telecaster,'" said Bill Miller, president of Odyssey Auctions of Corona, California, a division of Collectors Universe, Inc. Odyssey Auctions conducted the sale in Hollywood and on eBay.
Deauville Film Fest Hands Out Honors; New Festival in Two Rivers
France's Deauville Festival of American Film gave two dark films about teen girls top honors, Reuters reports. What Alice Found, a drama about teen prostitution, nabbed Grand Prix for Independent Film, while the Jury Prize went to Thirteen, the indie gaining momentum for its depiction of teen angst. Meanwhile, the Two River Film Festival in Monmouth, New Jersey, a charity fundraising film festival, will start its inaugural run Oct. 10, with Jim Sheridan's semi-autobiographical In America starring Samantha Morton, kicking off the event. The festival will present quality cultural programming in addition to raising the funds to support them.