Archive for white christmas

Attend…a REALLY GOOD tale.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, FAITH, FAMILY and FUN, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2014 by erikball123

I believe the role of a Lutheran teacher is to foster a relationship of trust and mutual respect with a student so that they (collectively) can take advantage of academic, social and religious information, skill sets and opportunities to the fullest. It is then the Lutheran teacher’s job to provide an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their understanding of the topic through practical application or performance.

Enter drama teacher, stage left.

The school where I teach and direct will offer SWEENEY TODD as part of next year’s season. The musical by Stephen Sondheim (American theatrical composer, and arguably one of the most influential composers of the last three decades) and Hugh Wheeler (book writer) is one of the most celebrated musicals of all time, garnishing a veritable trunkful of top honors including the Tony Award – Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award – Best Musical, and the Olivier Award – Best Musical (a feat that not even the likes of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA or LES MISERABLES could accomplish.) It is a tale of a Victorian-era, London barber, Benjamin Barker, who is incarcerated for life under a false charge, so that a tyrannical judge may covet his wife. Barker, now 15 years later and a pale fragment of the man he once was, escapes back to London hoping to find a loving wife and child, but finds, that the city has changed, in much the same way he has. Finding out through an accomplice Mrs. Lovett, who owns a meat pie shop under his old barber shop, he finds that his wife is now dead and his daughter is being held as a ward in the same Judge’s care. Focused on revenge, Barker, who adopts the alias Sweeney Todd, seeks revenge, and cooks his victims in Lovett’s meat pies…and through a course of sub-plot twists and turns, finds that in the end, love and the cruelties of this world have blinded him. It is a poignant, humorous (oddly enough), telling and relatable tale that audiences love to be a part of. (Much in the same way 13 year-old boys root for the bad guy during a WWE wrestling match. Macho Man Randy Savage was always my favorite.) There is a savageness to the elements of the story….but we all know that wrestling is fake.

sweeney and lovett

George Hearn and Angela Lansbury in Broadway’s SWEENEY TODD.

 

It’s a ghost story, make no mistake about that. This generation probably won’t be so anxious to sit down to the George Hearn and Angela Lansbury broadway version, because a much more accessible Johnny Depp version (with 3D blood effects) is much more attractive. That particular version is a box-office wonder, no doubt…and I enjoyed it. But Hollywood is not the stage, and movies are not theatre. They can be theatrical…but the human element of creating a stage production is ever present that in order for Sweeney Todd to work, it absolutely must have an audience….like a courtroom full of jurors ready to put to trial this man who will plead for a second chance throughout two acts. I hope the audience judges this show. This is a “musical thriller” that invites audiences to “attend” the tale of Sweeney Todd. Not listen, not observe….”attend.” Become a part of the story. The story itself is masterfully written. I regard it as living, breathing poetry for the stage. It controls, with masterful precision, dark humor and caricatures which would appear to be as superficial as Dicken’s Ghost of Jacob Marley, and yet as real as any neglectful, self-serving icon of today’s media world. Sondheim’s music, which any theatrical scholar or theatre-lover might argue, is nothing short of genius with four-part harmonies (and a one-point, overlapping four-parts of melodies) interweaving themselves into a tapestry of a time we’ve only ever thought about. It’s twisted in the same way our perception of that particular time might be.

So, why, then? Why SWEENEY TODD?

I would argue that the ugliness of this secular world and human nature in general is quite evident in nearly every musical. It’s essential to the conflict and plot resolution. When we presented INTO THE WOODS (another Sondheim classic) we presented questions regarding infidelity, sacrifice, death and greed. In ROMEO & JULIET (another show, well-received by audiences at my school) we examined suicide, betrayal and nearly every other character died a bloody death. In DRACULA (yet another thrilling offering) found us identifying with a monster, who sucks blood and turns into a bat at night. These offerings are not unlike Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS where one theatre patron was moved to comment that the “I Love a Piano” song was all about sexual innuendo. (?!?!?!) I reeled for a bit in disbelief, as I thought WHITE CHRISTMAS to be as innocent as the driven-snow (or in this show’s case, lack of snow) and then remembered that every patron has the right to an opinion.

How theatre is perceived is very interesting to me. There are those that won’t bat an eye at a production of GREASE. (Heck, a year deosn’t go by when our 8th graders don’t perform a lip sync competition to “Greased Lightning!”) One might argue that this seemingly innocent story is a stereotype of a “rebel without a cause” era and therefore “good clean dirt.” I argue, any story “without a cause”, even one that goes against morality, is bad storytelling. Even those hardened atheists out there would have a very hard argument against the fact that the Bible contains brilliant parables about morality.

Perception is often based on an individuals’ relationship to this world. But, you see that’s what’s so glorious about the theatre: people bring their own feelings, relationships and personal insights to the venue. It’s what works within them as they contemplate the story and character’s dilemma. It’s what motivates them to come to conclusions at the end of the show as to whether or not they enjoyed the production. I’m sure there will be some people that won’t categorize Sweeney Todd in their top ten. But it’s this same personal insight that also influences them to choose Fruit Loops over Bran Flakes in the cereal aisle. Fruit Loops are better…and that’s their choice and opinion…and they’re not wrong for feeling that way.

These offerings are essential to the Christian high school student looking to learn more from or make a career in the theatrical arts. I would argue that in the secular works of this Darwinistic world, these are stories worth telling, as they challenge our sensibilities, asking us to decipher good from evil, truth from fallacies and right from wrong. As artists (in design offstage and as performers onstage) it is essential that we find God in our work. As a theatre teacher and director, it is my privilege to put in front of the students productions that I believe will be well-generated examples that would serve this purpose well. Shows like JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, while a wonderful, engaging (and successful) theatrical offering, guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even those who sit in the back pew on Sunday, on the flip side, from a content structure standpoint, it’s a flawed show (in my opinion), as it doesn’t reflect on God’s saving grace, and leaves those who are unchurched little connection to the ultimate goal, which I would assume is to invite an audience to attend the tale of a lost man who is wronged. In that particular story, all ends happily with bright-sparkly jazz hands. Does this make it a show “not worth doing?” Not necessarily. Rather I might argue it is worth the investment, as it provides an opportunity to learn more. As a teacher, it’s a win-win opportunity.

The value of a ghost story about another wronged man that ends tragically and with the villain (which we find ourselves strangely a bit sympathetic with) meeting his end due to his naivety, is equally important. It’s the same reason the Bible story of Job is valuable. (He maintains his love for the Lord regardless of all that happens to him.) In the case of SWEENEY TODD, we challenge the audience to think about what would happen should “Job-y Todd” lose his faith…and instead run from the deliverance of evil in hot pursuit of a revenge he believes he needs.

The world of theatre is an escape from reality and will always be presented as a means by which to discover anew the value of one’s mind, heart, soul and faith. It interrupts the artificial sensibilities we possess, that of a hot-bed media conglomerate, wrought with agenda that interrupts our perception of how and who we should be according to our faith. In the end moments of Sweeney Todd, the ensemble sings “To seek revenge may lead to hell, but everyone does it and seldom as well.”

SWEENEY TODD is not unlike any other theatrical production. It’s a love story about a man who was wronged and hopes only to return to a reality he once new in the comforts of the only love he had. He’s a killer yes. (So is Dexter, Dorothy Gail from Kansas, nearly every Shakespearean protagonist, David, Sampson, Cain, etc.)  These wonderfully relatable characters serve as foils for deeper meaning. In Sweeney’s feverish pursuit, he forgets that sometimes the blessings we so richly are afforded by a loving God, are right in front of our faces. (“Don’t I…know you…mister…?”) *For those of you who know the show…you know what I mean. For those of you who don’t…you’ll see what I mean.

I look forward to producing this musical. But, more importantly, I look forward to providing an opportunity for my students to practice (through their own skill-sets and sensibilities) delivering a thrilling story that will charge an audience to think about the world around them and their station in it. I will ask them to find God within the work and demonstrate an understanding of why there might just be a little bit of Sweeney in all of us. (“Isn’t that Sweeney there beside you?”) It is my hope that the audience might be able to relate to elements in the story, much like I hoped that we might relate with two estranged ogres last year (more fictitious characters). The brandishing of a razor…the flouring of a meat pie….the trapped song bird….that’s all beautiful, symbolic elements of a love story set to the stage and served up with a bit of a jolt. (Like the feeling one gets when they ALMOST has a fender-bender in the afternoon traffic.) I hope patrons leave thinking “Thank God.” We should be so lucky to have a loving God that we can trust in when we are awoken to the dangers of the world.

I appreciate, more than words, that I have an administration that trusts that our production of SWEENEY TODD will be presented with artistic and creative integrity and a clear vision that would challenge students to look beyond the opportunity to merely “play a bad guy”. I hope you’ll attend.

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Frequently Masked Questions

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by erikball123

Today I mourn with hundreds of Faith students, parents and teachers at the tragic, unexpected passing of one of my students. She died in an accident while on vacation. We just started the new school year…and already my heart is heavy and I’m kinda mad at myself, because I find myself (in my efforts to make sense of all of this) questioning my own mortality. I suppose that’s a natural knee-jerk reaction. But, I’m mad because I feel like “how dare you focus on YOU at a time like this!”I suppose when tragedy occurs, the coming together of friends and family is what gives us peace. It centers our focus so that we may commiserate together. I look forward to a tough Tuesday as we head back to school.

For the record, this young lady was a student in my class…a hard-working, creative, clever, fun-loving beam of sunshine in my every day. I loved that she considered herself unique and had a will of steel. She was determined, she loved her friends and she never hesitated to stop me in the hall for a hug. On top of all of this, she loved her Lord, and I can sleep at night knowing she’s with her Father in heaven right now.

I remember when I was a freshman in college and my parents got divorced…I got so angry. I prided myself in having a great family life and this particular bomb, just blind-sided me. I couldn’t forgive my father for walking out. “This decision was obviously fueled by a mid-life crisis situation and a desire to find happiness”…I kept telling myself. How dare he be so selfish. I have always said, and I will continue to say, you create your own happiness. I was so angry at my dad for giving up on us.

Flash forward to today and the current tragedy…I continue to struggle with the question “why?”…I find myself in a similar spot. I’ve always said (from an ignorant Lutheran’s point of view) that it is okay to question God. It’s okay to go to God in anger, fear, resentment, frustration and sadness. Questioning is okay…so long as you DON’T STOP looking for the answer. That’s why I love God’s style. It’s a selfish man who demands results RIGHT NOW…but a caring, contemplative man who is willing to wait for the answer to unfold over time. God’s blessing of free will and patience is something I take for granted, especially when I want something. I want answers about this young lady’s death. The same investigative mind-set is snooping Facebook searching for details. (I had to physically shut my computer off in order to knock some sense into myself.) The bottom line…this tragic accident shouldn’t have happened to such a wonderful person, and I’m angry. At first I thought…you know what, it’s out of our hands, it’s God’s will. But you know something. That’s not right. God’s will does not include brilliant 16-year to die a tragic death. In Genesis, God didn’t want people to die. It wasn’t until Satan stuck his nose into things that the first tragedy occurred. It’s NOT God’s will. I’ll tell you what it is….it’s God’s PROMISE, that no matter what the devil does to us…no matter what tragedy befalls us…if we trust in the Lord and we know with our mind and our hearts that Jesus is the only way to heaven…then we will be saved.

There’s a cheesy moment in the movie “White Christmas” when Bing Crosby and what’s-her-face is sitting around a fireplace guzzling buttermilk and singing about how we should all count our blessings. I’ve never tried to actually sit down and count my blessings. I tried. First and foremost…hand-writing a list is something I haven’t done in a while! (Welcome to the age of technology!) I got to about #54 before stopping and thinking….this could go ON AND ON! There is a never-ending amount of blessings that we should all sit back and think about. Little ones, like my dog, the roof over my head, my car with working air conditioning, a job to look forward to every day, clothes on my back, food in my stomach and an amazing wife who I get to share life with. There are blessings we forget about…like my friend Joel in NY, who throughout all his schooling and travels and spunky, care-free nature, still takes time to reflect how none of it is possible without the Lord. He’s what I call a “secret witness.” Or even, the beautiful children being born every day! Or the beautiful people of this world who so desperately want to have children, but cannot. Silly things, like television shows that make us laugh. That songs we play over and over again on our iPods that makes us feel “normal” again. The feeling of peace and quiet that moment just before you fall asleep at night. The hot shower that soothes your aching, aging bones. The friend who does something nice for you (like, bringing you a Starbucks!)…or that Grandparent who still drops a letter in the mail for you every now and then.

I could go on and on. I cannot begin to tell you all the things I have to be thankful for…that I take for granted every day. Walking the halls of Faith Lutheran, I look into the eyes of hundreds of students. Students with goals, and dreams, and hopes and fears. I guess what’s hardest about all of this, is the fact that God’s plan is not necessarily laid out for us to interpret. I suppose it’s not expected of us to understand God’s will.

I think I need to study up. I feel myself confusing God’s perfect will with something else…a “Just Do It” or “Trust No One’s” soceity that tells us…”oh well, it’s God’s will.” God has bigger better plans for us. Those plans do not include accidents that claim people’s lives. I can trust that this young lady’s faith in Christ has delivered her to her Father, and that the devil has lost this one.

I guess that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m a power-hungry, control freak…who has to trust in God enough to relinquish control of this situation. To put this (like all my doubts, fears and frustrations) in God’s hands. I’ll try.

To the parents of this young lady…God’s blessings to you. I promise I will continue to pray for you and your family. I will not, even remotely, attempt to try and understand the grief you are experiencing. But I will say this…your daughter was beloved on earth, as she is beloved by our Father in heaven. I will miss her terribly.

Just so you know…my dad and I did make up. It wasn’t too long before I thought to myself, “well, you can’t stop loving your father simply because you can’t understand or, rather get-over a situation.” We talked it out. (It was rough at first.) Down the road he remarried. She a very nice woman. (Her name is Chene…I call them “the old Ball and Chene!” He hates that. It makes me laugh.) But, we do talk, and he and I have a very respectable, loving relationship now. I may not ever truly understand why he decided to get the divorce, but part of life is taking the good and the bad…wrapping it up tight in your head, praying about it…and then attempting to generate something productive with it. I think that’s what God wants us to do.

I will continue to try and do that with both of these situations.

Everyone needs a father, especially in times of struggle. Rest peacefully, knowing that you always do…and He always has an answer…whether you fully understand the questions or not.

Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

TOP 20 CHRISTMAS MOVIES EVERYONE SHOULD WATCH

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, MY "TOP" LISTS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by erikball123

Before I get to the list…let me answer a few questions that are sure to come up in the attempts to spurn any potential backlash. I find that Christmas movies seem to be a personal staple to some people during the holidays and contain crazy things like “special feelings” or “nostalgia.” This list is not an attempt to smash your sugar plums or douse your red-nose. Merely an observation from a talky, simple, Lutheran Drama teacher who likes Christmas.

A few things to consider when reviewing the list:

  • One might perceive some of offerings on the list as “Christmas Specials” (more likely to be found on TV, rather than in the theatres or on DVD.) I say…deal with it. Anything that bring people together in one place at one time to enjoy something with a good message….that’s a MOVIE. (So, church is a movie, school is a movie…and anytime we eat at In-N-Out burger….a movie. Read the bottom of the cup.)
  • I do not have any Hanukkah or Kwanzaa films on here. Not because I don’t believe they deserve to be a part of a blog post like this…but because frankly, aside from “8 Crazy Nights” (which is a cinematic masterpiece!) I don’t know any!
  • I’m basing my choices on what my family and I ENJOY. So, feel free to disagree with me. I love commentary. Review your own list and challenge my views…but don’t say I’m wrong. These are opinions only.

20. MIRACLE ON 34th STREET


I like this movie. I do. But, not that much. It’s good…the drunk Santa on the float remains as one of the impressions I like to do at Christmas parties the most…and the scene where the little, bratty girl is acting like a monkey is so annoying you just HAVE to laugh at it. It certainly has stood the test of time and people sometimes go ga-ga over the movie, but I personally could never connect with the Santa. He’s kinda pushy at times. Granted he’s elderly and we should learn to be more patient with the elderly…but he’s also Santa, a man of great status. More status requires more responsibility…and a smidge more patience. Smacking people with canes…yeah…I betcha he beats the reindeer too. Rudolph’s nose is bloody red because he “accidentally fell down the stairs.” Abusive Santa. Sheesh. And that janitor guy with the thick accent (“trow it on da floa!”) Gimmie a break. This one remain a Ho-Ho-Hum for me. But….I’ll keep it on a White Christmas Noise as I bake cookies.

DUTCH GIRL / SANTA SCENE TRANSLATION:

Santa: I am happy you came!
Child: Ooh you ARE Sinterklaas!
Santa: Wlll yes of course
Child: I knew it, I knew you would understand me.
Santa: Of couse, tell me what you would like to get from Sinterklaas
(Missing from this clip is when she answers him ) I don’t want anything, I already have everything, I just want to stay with this lovely lady—
Santa: Do you want to sing something for me?
Child: SaintNicolas Little Rascal,
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!
SaintNicolas Little Rascal
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!

19. SANTA CLAUS: The Movie


You won’t begrudge me at least ONE “so bad, it’s good” movie entry, would you? This is a terrible movie, I’ll start off by saying that. However, it’s the only movie I like with Dudley Moore in it, and ANYTHING starring John Lithgow is gold. The movie’s beginning is actually quite clever in telling a unique tale of how Santa came to be. But plot lines rapidly misfire as soon as things are brought into the present. Homeless boys, lollipops that make you fly (with the help of reindeer dust, of course) and still, no one questions Moore’s silly accent. Lithgow is kinda funny at times and we all know he plays the bad guy REALLY good…but it’s one of those movies I tend to watch every now and then, because it’s so….I don’t know…inventive, at the very least. It’s a less-known movie, so subsequently people haven’t seen it. Tell me what you think.

INTERESTING FACT

Animal rights activists protested the movie saying that the “loop-dee-loop” scene was cruel to the reindeer. What they didn’t know is that the actual reindeer used in the film were computer-generated. In reality, the producers saved 15 reindeer from being slaughtered from a Dutch farm.

18. FROSTY The Snowman


As far as cartoons are concerned…this is simply not a well-made cartoon. I used to watch He-Man as a kid, growing up. I loved that stupid show…and recently watched a segment of an episode on the internet…and I thought to myself “why did I like this so much.” Frosty is kinda the same way. The story line is as delicate as a snowflake and offers a luke warm villain. (Kinda a cross between Disney’s Capt. Hook and an older Criss Angel in a bad tux.) The rabbit is funny…and the kid who wants to name the snowman “Oatmeal” is kinda funny…but aside from that, this is nothing more than a cartoon made from a popular Christmas song. It’s one of those shows that will be watched every year, as long as you keep putting them on television. I found myself watching it yesterday, in fact. The central theme of the movie is a good one, I’ll admit.

INTERESTING FACT

The Gene Autry cover of the song went to #7 on the contemporary charts the year is was released in 1950. In 2007, Kimberly Locke released a cover of the song and it bolted up to #1 on the US Hot Adult Contemporary Charts.

17. A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS


This is such a clever, revolutionary film that brought back the lost art form of stop-motion animation. Tim Burton is a genius and everything he touches turns to gold in my book. I love this movie and hope that it someday makes its way to the stage in some form. (Like Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.) This film earned a lower standing on the list only because it’s not a movie I readily think of when I think Christmas. It’s probably better suited as a stand-alone “good movie.”

INTERESTING FACT

Disney REALLY pushed Burton to allow the making of a sequel. They wanted to do a computer animated sequel where Jack visits Thanksgiving town. Burton responded quickly saying that computer animation would have never been an option, and that he’s very protective of Jack and the other characters. He felt that any sequels would cheapen the purity of the characters. I love Tim Burton.

16. HOME ALONE


Home Alone is one of those movies I could watch over and over. Not because I believe it is a cinematic masterpiece, but rather it falls into the same category as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters of Dirty Dancing. (I know…insert joke here.) But, every time it’s on TV, I stop and watch part of it. I say the reason the show is such a success has to do with the post Ferris Bueller genius of John Hughes and a wonderful comedic team of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (who is under appreciated, in my book.) The scene where a tarantula is placed on Harry’s face…I still say is the world’s BEST onscreen scream ever. Brilliant. But, I like this movie as a holiday favorite because of the scenes involving the mysterious old man who salts the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Kevin and the old man’s eventual relationship eventually brings forth a genuine moment later in the film when the old man’s family greets him for the first time in years, that ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes. It’s gold.

INTERESTING FACT

The movie Kevin watches in the film “Angels with Filthy Souls” pays tribute to the James Cagny film “Angels with Dirty Faces.”

15. SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN


Here we are. I have a feeling my wife will be slighting upset that this particular show is lower on my list. It has become nothing short of a tradition in my house to watch this movie curled up on the couch, covered with our pets, sipping cocoa and admiring the roar of our gas fireplace that I turned on with a festive flick of a switch. I do like the story and find myself singing “..put one foot in front of the other…” at the weirdest times…but it’s not exactly my favorite. Which is odd, because I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. The one thing it DOES have going for it…I hate the villain. Burgermeister Meisterbuger is just heartless and stupid (bad combo.) In the movie when they say “and the Burgermeister’s kinda died off…” I’m like WOOT! (And if you’re ever face to face with the biggest threat to Christmas or good will….just gift him a choo-choo, and life is good.)

INTERESTING FACT

Watch the kids in town square when the Burgermeister is burning their toys. All of them are crying…but the one who says “We’ll never play again” is smiling…and remains smiling. What the stink is that about?

14. GREMLINS


I might upset a few with this one as well. While I wouldn’t gather the kiddies around to watch this one on Christmas Eve, I would say that it’s one of the coolest of the “bad” monster movies. Great concept for a little monster set in the most innocent of settings. That creates instant mayhem. Keep in mind, I’m NOT a horror movie fan. Don’t like em. But this is just more of a creepy monster movie…and who can forget the infamous microwave scene?

INTERESTING FACT

There’s a plot hole at the beginning of the film. At the beginning of the film we have kids coming home from school. It’s Christmas Eve! Boy, school in that district must really stink!

13. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (George C. Scott Version)


There are a billion Christmas Carols out there. (Everything from a halfway decent Patrick Stewart version to a hyped-up musical theatre version with Kelsey Grammar to a Mr. Magoo version that’s boring after like two minutes.) One of my favorites has always been the George C. Scoot version. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it. It’s good, old fashioned storytelling at it’s finest, and Scott and darn good at playing the money-grubbing miser. The kiddies will find it boring, because anything in black and white is unwatchable, right? But, this is Christmas movie material to drink Egg Nog by, for sure.

INTERESTING FACT

Maybe I’m missing something…but in the movie Scrooge says that his father always held a grudge against him because his mother died after giving birth to him. And yet…he has a younger sister. What the….? The milkman?

12. SCROOGED


You gotta love Bill Murray. He’s a great Scrooge, and the contemporary take on the tale is exactly what the 80’s needed. It has all the elements. FUTURE: Murray’s career has certainly take a HUGE booster shot since those days and is considered one of the greatest comic/tragi-comic minds of our time. PRESENT: Rarely does a Christmas go by that I don’t watch the movie at least twice. It’s on TV all the time and is still very funny today. PAST: Look at the cast of washed-up comedians who at that time were considered forces to be reckoned with. Carol King, Buster Pointdexter, Bobcat Goldthwait….there’s even a reference to Mary Lou Retton!! Hilarious.

INTERESTING GOOF

In the movie when Claire gives Frank a business card it reads “Operation Reach Out.” When Frank visits the shelter, he walks by a sign that says “Operation Outreach.”

11. THE GRINCH


Jim Carrey as the Grinch seems like a perfect fit. Most people I talk to who are younger than me LOVE this movie. Most of the people older than me, hate this movie. I’ll agree that the plot is padded like a down-pillow to stretch it to two-hours. (I mean, does anyone REALLY care that the sex-pot Who winds up with the Grinch later? And, really…what’s the attraction?) The story revolving around Cindy Lou Who looking for the real reason to celebrate Christmas is a better choice and I would have been happy with just that plot line. (Any moment involving the “young Scrooge” which is obviously a little person in make-up….is just plain boring.) But every moment with Carrey in the cave…or interacting with Max…is very, very fun. (“Max! Pick out a bow!”) The one-liners are fast and hilarious…and I love watching it. I suppose every movie has slow parts, right?

INTERESTING FACTS

Carrey sat in the make-up chair every day for hours to get “Grinch-a-fied” and was known to hum Christmas carols in a “dream-like” state as it was applied.

10. RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER


All I have to say is “they can’t ALL be at the top of the list people!” People LOVE Rudolph. I do too. But, this particular stop animation has such a deep nostalgia (I would argue) because of the cheesy-ness of it all. I love the Burl Ives link (who I still think sounds a little flat when he sings. Just me.) and the credits at the beginning that lists all the songs that he sings. I betcha that was in the contract negotiation. Such a big name, Burl Ives…now he tours with Lady GaGa.

I like in the movie how all the reindeer are JERKS. I mean Comet is every P.E. teacher us wimps hated in high school. (You know who I’m talking about…the teacher that would side with all the jocks an make fun of the weaklings.) Again…we have a jerk of a Santa. Why people like this guy in this movie, I have no idea. He back-talks Mrs. Claus (and check out the food on the dining room table….grey. Ick.) He disses on the elves during choir practice and makes a big deal over his one-man musical number “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” (“I’m the King of Jingle-ling!” Really? Where’s your crown?) I’ve met several Kings of Jingle-ling…and they’re usually performing one-man musical acts too. (They’re more like Queens…but whatever.)

Gotta love Yukon Cornelius…”I changed my mind!” (I still shout that throughout the house sometimes!) The Bumble is a fascinating character and the only beast I’ve known to be stopped dead in his tracks because of swift dentistry. And….finally, let’s brake the ice on Hermie. Ah, Hermie. Where do I begin? Purists will refuse to hear anything remotely insinuative about this character. (After all, it wasn’t unknown to mock those light in the loafers back in the day…take a look at the Cowardly Lion, another character I adore more than words.) But, we LOVE how eccentric Hermie is and it wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t witness him fixing the doll’s teeth or performing amazingly bad pig impressions. God bless Hermie.

INTERESTING FACT

All the female reindeer in the show have no antlers. Reindeer are the only deers where the females also grow antlers.

9. ELF


Elf is one of those movies that came at the height of one actor’s career and at the time was lumped together with other silly movies like Blades of Glory, Bewitched and Wedding Crashers. At the time…was it funny, sure…but was it considered anything MORE than that? Absolutely not. Just take a trip back in time and see what I’m talking about. One-hit Christmas wonders, who attempted to make a long-lasting Holiday movies that just didn’t “stick” after its first go. “Fred Claus”-Vince Vaughn…”Deck the Halls” – Matthew Broderick….”Surviving Christmas” – Ben Afflick…and dare I go there…”The Santa Claus” with Tim Allen. The only reason this lump of coal got so many sequels and airtime is because of the attachment to Disney. For the love of all that is holy, have you seen how many AIR BUD and LAND BEFORE TIME sequels there are??

Elf on the other hand has legitimate staying power in my opinion. It successfully satirizes the stop-motion animation of the late 50s and 60s (down to the Elf costuming!) and it has an endearing plot with a semi-decent ending. (Plus it has about a BILLION one-liners that are said throughout the household time and time again. Someone in your house at some time has said “Buddy, the elf…what’s your favorite color?” I guarantee it.

INTERESTING FACT

Originally, Jim Carrey was signed to play the part of Buddy. Also, in the beginning scenes at the North Pole, the elf Ming Ming….yup, that’s Peter Billingsly who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”

8. MUPPET FAMILY CHRISTMAS


I’m surprised at how many people HAVEN’T seen this particular special. It follows the Muppet Show gang to Fozzie’s mother’s country home for an “old fashioned” Christmas. Of course there is a blizzard, and havoc ensues…but what is unique is that it brings together all of the Muppet worlds which, at the time, remained quite segregated. Doc and the Fraggles, along with Sesame Street favorites are all part of the festivities. It’s fun to see the Swedish Chef and Big Bird have a dialogue about Christmas dinner…and all the while the Chef is fixing to cook up the giant bird! (It’s also funny to see how alike Henson and Oz’s collective voices are when you put their characters in such close proximity. Ernie and Kermit…Bert and Fozzie….wow.) It’s a simple storyline filled with gags…and sure there isn’t much substance, but again it’s only 1/2 hour of merriment. It’s good fun, and I have to watch it every year.

By the way…this year “Muppets: Letters to Santa” came out and is available on DVD. Not bad at all! I really liked it! (I love PEPE LA PRAWN. One of my new favorites!) It’s a decent offering with a fun storyline. I recommend it. “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” however….skip it. New aged mumbo jumbo mixed with a healthy holiday dose of political correctness. Add Whoopi Goldberg…and you’ve got a taste in your mouth like bad egg nog.

INTERESTING FACT

This special has been riddled with edits since its original release. Entire songs of “Sleigh Ride,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Home for the Holidays” were cut due to complaints regarding music rights. While these cuts are unfortunate, this Christmas special remains quite enjoyable.

7. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Animated)


The Grinch is one of my favorite bad guys. He’s so upset and “heartless” because he’s forgotten about and isolated on a mountain top. That’s everyone’s biggest fear, isn’t it? Being alone. Especially at Christmas. I love how sympathetic this particular bad guy is and I’ve always had a connection to the story as a result. The narration is fun and Boris Karloff is brilliant. This, the original adaption of the book, focuses solely on the story of the Grinch only tying in Cindy Lou at one point. There’s something really okay about this in the sense that the later Jim Carrey version fails in having too much going on at once. I mean…who care about the Mayor in the Carrey version…and do we need another bad guy? This version is just right, and I cannot get enough of poor Max the dog. The shot of him as the Santa coat mannequin, clinching the pin cushion in his teeth is classic.

INTERESTING FACTS

The lyrics to the song “Fahoo Forays” were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.

6. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS


Everyone’s favorite blockhead always turns up around Christmas time in this whimsical special that follows the Peanut gang in their attempts to put on a pageant-like show. I love this show because the message is so very relevant and the characters (while little children) are still very much like everyone we associate with every day. There’s the domineering Lucy who has to be the Christmas Queen…Schroeder, the under-appreciated artist, Linus the one everyone’s quick to disregard, but the one with the most foresight, and of course, Charlie Brown…who can’t understand why Christmas has become so materialistic. I find the show charming, heart-warming and funny. (And my wife paid me the ultimate compliment the other night when we were watching the show and identifying the characters with our friends…and she said I’m Snoopy.)

Linus’ single-spotlit telling of the coming of the Christ-child is poignant and beautiful. One of the most magical, memorable moments from ANY Christmas movie and one I will cherish always. I fear one day, in a whirlwind of distraction, some executive will edit that part of the special out. At that point, my friends, from a media / commercial standpoint, Christmas will be lost.

INTERESTING FACT

During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites these words: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” which is from Luke 2:10.

5. CHRISTMAS VACATION


Chevy Chase. You either love him or hate him. Regardless of your feelings, one must admit that Christmas Vacation has earned a coveted spot in the traditional Holiday movie line-up. In my opinion, it’s the very best of all the Vacation movies (which, in hind sight, isn’t saying much….Vegas Vacation=barf) but it’s also very true to the burdens we all encounter from time to time in hosting family and tradition. Clark’s unwavering determination to make sure his family meets a “good old fashioned family Christmas” is nothing short of inspiring and in the end, (*spoiler alert*) while the Christmas miracle comes with a promise of a bonus check…and that’s about it…it still leaves you with a warm gushy feeling in your heart as abundant as cousin Eddie’s one-liners. A fast favorite for those who have never seen it. (It does have some swear words…but the name-calling scene is hilarious and rivals the swearing scene from “What about Bob?”)

INTERESTING FACTS

The only Vacation movie to not feature the Lindsey Buckingham song “Holiday Road” throughout the entire film. Also, the actress who played Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) was the original voice of “Betty Boop.” This was her last appearance in a film. She passed away shortly afterward.

4. A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL


Okay…I have a thing for Muppets! Seriously, though, this is a fantastic version of the classic Dicken’s tale. (Of course, featuring the famous Muppet craziness and charm.) The Henson writing team is very clever and how they wrap a story around their army of kooky characters. (Fozziwig…The Marleys, Robert and Jacob, played by Statler and Waldorf…and of course, if you’re going to have a telling narrator, who better than the great Gonzo.) The role of Scrooge being played by Michael Caine (who was BORN to play the role) is a great idea. I believed his every move…unlike some special guests to the Muppet specials who look like they’re just going through the punches. It’s a warm, classic retelling that I love more than mistletoe and homemade gingerbread.

INTERESTING FACTS

This was the first feature-length production in which Kermit’s voice was not provided by Jim Henson (who had recently died). Steve Whitmere took over the role. Also, Michael Caine to this day, considers Scrooge to be one of his favorite roles.

3. A CHRISTMAS STORY


Stand back! Prepare yourself. This movie remains to be the most quoted movie in my household and one of our favorite movies of all time! It’s a brilliant and simple story with iconic characters we can identify with nuzzled in a time somewhat forgotten by today young ones. It’s nostalgia personified. The Red Ryder BB Gun is always at the top of my Christmas list, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the thing if I ever received one. But, just like the “Christmas Story,” our narrated character lays it all out for us in the hopes that we may connect in similar plights in our collective family / holiday journeys. Randy is such a lovable little dolt, Mrs. Shields is everybody’s elementary school teacher and the Old Man…if you can’t find something about this character that reminds you of growing up with your own father, then maybe you need to watch the movie again.

INTERESTING FACTS

According to Director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget. Regardless, Clark says that Darren McGaven was still the better choice and was born to play the role.

2. WHITE CHRISTMAS


Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s offering is a brilliant old-school movie musical that never gets old. I love the off-beat shenanigans of Kaye, the droll set-ups of Crosby…and the goofy review-style productions they offer in grandiose fashion. The theatre geek in me would love to be transported back in time to just see the movie sets for these types of movies. Amazing, and a great story. True the buttermilk by the fire “counting your blessings” scene is cheesy…and I still get miffed at the nosey receptionist who misinterprets a phone call and turns events on their ears. But, what would an old-fashioned movie musical be without the sudden conflict and inevitable resolve at the end. The songs are some of my favorite of the season and I will follow this “old man” wherever he wants to go!

INTERESTING FACTS

The “Sisters” comedy act that Crosby and Kaye perform was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set and the director thought it was so funny that it was written in.

1. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE


I think Jimmy Stewart is so wonderful in this role, and this iconic story is one that will forever be the reason I get going when the going gets tough….look past the negative…and always be thankful for what I have in life. A bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but seriously, this remains my favorite film of all time. The sentiment in each moment and the warmth in George’s devotion to the company and his family and the resolve that find him literally saying grace at the head of the table with his family and friends surrounding him. It’s a beautifully filmed movie with a brilliant script. Clarence, although goofy, is still simple enough to be thought upon as what an innocent, on-looking being from heaven might actually be like if among us. And the villain…the crippled Mr. Potter…is superb. He’s horrible in his selfishness and with an air of Scrooge and a hoarse rumble of the Grinch…he helps to generate a character we can all relate to. We get behind George from the very beginning and rally him at the end. It’s one of my favorite traditions to watch this movie on Christmas Day. I love it.

INTERESTING FACTS

As Uncle Billy is leaving George’s house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene (“I’m all right, I’m all right!”) and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman

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Well, there you have it folks. I would encourage you to think about your top 20 Christmas movies (or top 10, or top 5) and post them here in the comments section. Maybe I forgot one or two, and the point of this blog post is to shine some light on some amazing movies that you and your family might enjoy this holiday season. I would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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