Does Forrest Gump Have a Terrible Message?

gump

Like so many films adored in their time, Forrest Gump was bound to face backlash. In a year filled with fantastic and groundbreaking films like The Shawshank RedemptionPulp FictionQuiz ShowEd Wood and The Lion King, it was Forrest Gump that took home the 1994 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. To this day, some viewers believe it to be a flawless masterpiece, while others despise the thing both for being overly saccharine and for beating out whatever film they preferred that year. I admit that Forrest Gump is a wonderfully entertaining film to watch, with groundbreaking special effects and good performances all around (I find Gary Sinise’s performance as Lt. Dan particularly strong), but the more I think about Forrest Gump, the more I start to question if it’s all that great. Does it actually have a terrible message hidden under the light entertainment exterior?

Forrest Gump paints its hero as a man who just kind of stumbles into history, not taking a side on things but rather just experiencing them. On the surface, it doesn’t feel like a movie that’s trying to make a statement about anything, but in a way, isn’t that kind of making a statement?

bench

Forrest doesn’t join any political movements, protest anything, or seem to believe in much at all, yet everything works out wonderfully for him. He is successful in business, strikes it rich, ends up with the woman he’s obsessed over all of his life (albeit only for a short while), and is raising a son by the end. It is quite bizarre that with all of the huge world events that Forrest lives through (Civil rights, Vietnam, Hippies, Watergate, etc.), he doesn’t seem to care about any of them. Sure, he’s not intelligent, but he is shown throughout as a caring and kind person, so why wouldn’t he at least have something of an opinion? Being apolitical towards certain issues is absolutely understandable, but it gets to a point where indifference is in fact taking a stance.

Gump‘s issue with this political indifference starts right off the bat. Forrest begins telling his story to a stranger at a bus stop, and he tells her that he was named after his ancestor Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

hnks
He was the black sheep of the family, but he hated being called that.

Gump says his mother named him after Bedford Forrest “to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.” Never mind the fact that Bedford Forrest started up the single most dangerous and racist organization in American history—let’s just remember him as a good man who did an occasional bad thing. Even worse, the film has Gump telling this story to a black woman, who stays and continues to listen to his story for a while.

Obviously, Forrest Gump is not intelligent and might not understand the Ku Klux Klan on his own, but his mother is not portrayed as unintelligent. If she gave him this name, she clearly had mixed feelings on the founder of the KKK, and yet she is only portrayed throughout the film as a loving, caring person. The KKK is such a cut-and-dry issue that not taking a hard stance against it means sympathizing with it. There can’t really be a middle ground.

field
Have a seat, son. Just ignore the copy of The Birth of a Nation by the TV.

The Vietnam scenes are equally limp-wristed. After college, a recruiter tells Forrest he should join the army, and he agrees. On the bus, he meets Bubba, whose dream is to go into the shrimping business. This would be fine, except cooking shrimp is shown to be the profession of Bubba’s family since the days they were slaves. We only see a few seconds of this in flashback of course, but again, it refuses to make any kind of statement. The only major black character in the film is perfectly content doing the same line of work his family has for years, with the only difference being that it would now be a paid job.

On the positive side of things, the Vietnam scenes do take a darker tone than the rest of the film, as they should. On the negative, though, let’s look at how these scenes really paint Forrest and Vietnam. Forrest is only there for a short time, but he saves men and becomes a hero. Sure, his friend Bubba dies, and while Forrest is clearly sad about this, there don’t seem to be any long term effects.

bubba

Forrest seems to suffer absolutely no PTSD of any kind, and even his time recovering in the (ultra clean and not-at-all-gross) military hospital leads to him stumbling into his ping pong skill. Essentially, Forrest Gump goes to war, becomes a decorated hero, and suffers no lifelong issues from the horrifying warfare. See how making no statement is actually making a statement? A pro-Vietnam film wouldn’t really need to change anything.

Now, the more negative effects of war are touched on with Lieutenant Dan, easily the most well-rounded and interesting character in the film. After losing his legs in Vietnam, Dan’s life goes into a downward spiral, but as he and Forrest go into the shrimp boat business together, he begins to get better.

dan

It does kind of feel like Forrest “cures” Dan of his PTSD, but to be fair, it’s not shown as happening all at once, but rather over time. However, this ultimately leads to no anti-war statement being made, as Dan’s issues are painted as Dan’s alone, and not a greater effect of war. They appear to be curable, simply with time and nice people.

As Forrest seems to represent the traditional American experience (going to college, playing football, becoming a war hero), Jenny represents the changing face of youth culture. She tries to become a Joan Baez-esque folk singer, and joins the hippie movement and Vietnam protests. In spite of doing all these perfectly valid things, she is portrayed as always running and never content.

jenny

In fact, later in life, she is shown falling into dangerous drugs and contemplating suicide, as if these harmless things led to that lifestyle, simply because they were rebellious and non-traditional.

Oh, but it gets worse. What does this life lead to? A terminal disease, heavily implied to be AIDS. She reunites with Forrest for good to tell him that her son is his (from the one time they had sex), and they get married. Even though she is dying, these scenes attempt to show that Jenny is now content with this more traditional life after never wanting it before. It’s an attempt to give a hero some happiness after pining over the girl all of his life, but the way it’s done is sexist and demeaning, cheapening Jenny’s character for the sake of Forrest.

weddings
It’s as they’re saying “She still has part of her hippie-self. Look at the wreath on her head.”

Forrest as a character does not change over the course of the film. He doesn’t have to become a better person, because the film insists on portraying him as morally perfect, even though he is not all there mentally. Although the film doesn’t play it as straight as the weakest examples, it still feels like one of those “Good guy waits around for the girl he’s obsessed with” narratives.

Can a movie work if the lead character has absolutely no arc or development? Well, Forrest Gump was a huge success and won a boatload of Oscars, so obviously yes, but let’s look at some better examples. How about Mary Poppins? Both Gump and Poppins are adaptations with a character’s name in the title, both won Oscars for their lead performance, and both feature a title character who doesn’t really change throughout. However, who really is the protagonist of Mary Poppins?

albert
Clearly it’s about Uncle Albert becoming more down-to-earth.

It’s debatable, but most would argue it’s either the children Jane and Michael or their father George. All three of these characters grow because of Mary’s influence, and you can easily trace their development from beginning to end. George in particular goes from stuffy and strict, to far more fun-loving and open about his emotions. It’s not that he didn’t love his kids in the beginning, just that he didn’t know how to show it.

Similarly, it is debatable who the true protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird is. The story is told from Scout’s perspective, but the heroic actions are done by her father Atticus. Although the book is more about Scout’s life on the whole, the film focuses more on the trial at which Atticus is defending Tom Robinson. However, it is Scout who grows and develops, not Atticus. He causes her growth, but he does not really change as a character.

Now, who is the protagonist of Forrest Gump?

confused

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who argues it is any character besides Forrest himself. Lieutenant Dan has an arc, perhaps the only one in the film, but he’s a supporting character, coming in at the beginning of the Vietnam scenes and only appearing sporadically throughout Forrest’s life. He’s not always right there like Atticus Finch or George Banks. Jenny kind of just appears in and out of Forrest’s life as she sees fit, but she seems to exist mostly as the flip side of Forrest’s traditionalist coin. Therefore, Forrest is the protagonist, but does he grow at all?

The running montage sure seems to act like it’s attempting character growth—heck it throws some awkward dialogue into the voice-over so we know it’s character growth. Forrest says, “My Momma always said you got to put the past behind you before you can move on. And I think that’s what my running was all about.” Um… sure?

nike
This shoehorned attempt at character development brought to you by Nike. Like the screenwriter, just do it.

Absolutely no one would know this running was meant to symbolize anything without the film telling us, and it clearly was only written in the first place so the soundtrack could include “Running on Empty,” “Against the Wind” and “Go Your Own Way,” but let’s just throw in a line saying it represents his development. His running was all about running from the past? Is that healthy? What does have to run from? Memories of Jenny? Well that’s great, except she sees him running on television, and this is the catalyst for her meeting up with him again anyway! Did he just run until he had moved on? Well, since we can now move on in any way we see fit, moving on…

By the end of the film, the message of Forrest Gump seems to be “Do nothing, and good things will happen to you anyway.” History is constantly happening around Forrest, but he makes no stand whatsoever. Jenny constantly does make a stand for things, but apparently that’s rebellious and she’s dead at the end because of it. By doing nothing, Forrest ends up a multi-millionaire who never needs to work again. When he contributes to history, it’s unknowingly and unintentionally, like pitching John Lennon the idea for “Imagine,” teaching Elvis to dance, and accidentally spying the Watergate break-in. It’s a running joke, but it gets old fast.

Forrest Gump is by no means the only film to have a main character who does nothing and still falls into considerable luck, but no other film plays it so straight. Oddly enough, Hal Ashby’s Being There came out 15 years before Gump, but almost feels like a parody of it. In Being There, Chance (Peter Sellers) is a low-IQ gardener whose simple sayings are interpreted as political brilliance, and by the end, it’s suggested he may become President. In the final scene, he even walks on water, perhaps representing the Messiah everyone believes him to be.

sellers

Forrest Gump, however, just has Forrest go through life with success after success, as if this is the way to live.

Am I reading too much into it? Well, what about that feather the film begins and ends on?

feather

It backs up this message perfectly. Like Forrest, the feather just kind of floats along with no control over anything, but everything turns out just fine. If director Robert Zemeckis didn’t want this message to come across, he shouldn’t have begun and ended the film on this image.

Look, I can’t deny Forrest Gump is an entertaining and heartwarming film, but a lot of the themes, both explicit and implicit, really bog the thing down when you think about it. Oh, and one more thing…

lindt

Flip the box over. You know exactly what you’re gonna get.

HOME

Advertisements

7 Worst Game and Reality Shows Ever Aired

the seven

Game shows like JeopardyWheel of Fortune and The Price is Right have been around forever, but what about the ones that weren’t so successful? Today, I’ll be taking a look at 7 of the worst, least-inspired, blandest and most repulsive game and reality shows to ever hit airwaves. Brace yourselves. (If you dare, episodes of all of these excluding #3 are available on YouTube.)

7. Set for Life

In the wake of Deal or No Deal, game show producers started to think they could take a format that involved little-to-no skill whatsoever, find overly-excitable contestants, and still have a hit. This led to some terrible flops like How Much is EnoughTake it All and the William Shatner-hosted Show Me the Money (albeit that one had some trivia). None was as bad or as lazy, though, as Set for Life.

sfl

Let me see if I can explain this format concisely, because it’s complicated. There are 13 light sticks on stage. Pull a white light, your money goes up. Pull a red light, your money goes down. The game ends when you find all the whites, all the reds, or quit. That’s it! It’s almost an SNL-parody of overly simplistic game shows.

OK, so there is one twist and it makes the show even worse. The contestant has a “guardian angel” (a friend or relative) watching the game’s progress (but not the contestant), and can stop the game at any time. However, we don’t find out until after the game is over if the guardian angel has stopped the game. THIS IS JUST PADDING!

The title comes from the fact that the contestant is playing for an annuity instead of a lump sum, meaning the money tree shows the amount of time for which the contestant will receive a monthly check for a pre-determined amount, with the top prize being 40 years.

months

How is this amount determined? In an off-stage game before the show of course! Look, I don’t know what this offstage game was, but I’m sure it couldn’t have been more boring than “Pull a light stick.”

Jimmy Kimmel was clearly under contract to host this thing, as he slogs through it like the bore-fest that it is. Thankfully, ABC said “Lights out” to Set for Life after a mere seven episodes, meaning the forced catchphrase “Four red and you’re dead” never caught on.

6. Are You Hot?

are you tho

A talent show that involved absolutely no talent whatsoever, Are You Hot? is exactly what it sounds like. According to robotic host JD Roberto, the producers had spent months scoping the country for the sexiest people in America, and now they were ready to show them off.

The show would start with the 32 contestants walking onto stage one at a time, trying to look as sexy as possible. The judges had already pre-determined whether they were hot or not, so it was absolutely pointless to air this portion, but the “hot” contestants stayed and the “not” contestants left, as JD tried to come up with 32 different ways of saying “What did the judges say?” So what gods of sex appeal did they get to judge this thing anyway?

rhs

Because who knows who’s hot like the woman who married Rod Stewart? Alright, she’s a supermodel, so I get it. Who else?

duke

The rejected Dukes of Hazzard brother played by Danny Bonaduce?

lamas

That’s the best sexy TV actor you could get, ABC? A washed-out soap star?

The remaining contestants would then re-enter the stage one at a time in their bathing suits, and the judges would give them scores on their face, body and sex appeal. The contestants with the highest scores, plus whoever the home audience voted through, would move on to the finals where the best looking man and woman would be deemed The Sexiest People in America. Thankfully, this one got canned after its first six-season episode. I can’t imagine one home-viewer sat through a whole hour-long episode of this drivel.

5. The Million Dollar Word Game

milliondoll

In the wake of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, the Canadian network America One gave us the misleadingly-titled Million Dollar Word Game. Well it was a word game, and technically you could win $1,000,000, but it was near-impossible. Hosted by the antithesis of charisma Ian Jamieson…

ian

The game was a series of 14 word puzzles, starting out relatively easy like re-arranging a few letters to make a word in 30 seconds.

stop

No money was guaranteed to the player until level 5, at which point the puzzles were already challenging. For just $1,000, this contestant had to make four four-letter words out of these letters in 30 seconds!

foru

In addition, the contestant has no lifelines, no free wrong answers, and the clock is never shown on the screen! The host takes forever to explain the rules of each round, spends an excruciating amount of time talking to the contestants, and is a slow talker to boot. This contestant missed the puzzle and left with nothing, even though her game took up half of the episode!

If the contestant somehow managed to make it through Level 14, they would win $1,000,000… Nah I’m just kidding. They would get to pick one of the 24 numbered boxes behind Ian, one of which contained $1,000,000. One episode is circulating online, but viewers recall another where one contestant made it to level 14 but lost when they could not unscramble the word BICENTENNIAL.

As if this wasn’t enough, the producers put up an online version of the game where one player could win $10,000,000. Yeah, it was easy. All you had to do was put up $100 up front, and the winner had to go to the Caribbean to claim their prize. Nothing fishy at all there. Somehow this thing lasted 40 episodes.

4. Shopper’s Casino

shopp

Did you ever watch QVC and say to yourself, “Yeah but what if we mixed this with gambling?” Well if you did, Shopper’s Casino is the show for you. Hosted by Miss America 1983 Debbie Sue Maffett and Jeff Maxwell of M*A*S*H fame, Shoppers Casino was one of the cheapest game shows ever produced.

In addition to the chintzy set, there’s one glaring thing you’ll notice right off the bat—Jeff Maxwell is clearly drunk. He stumbles over his words, he laughs at random times and in odd ways, and he makes some hilarious faces.

jeff

The game features contestants playing casino games for worthless overpriced items that of course you can buy from home, like a cookware set and Coca-Cola pins. Seriously. A set of Coca-Cola pins was a prize on a game show in the 1980s. Even the announcer stumbles over his words as he claims its “value” is $499.95.

At one point, Jeff and Debbie Sue “call” a home viewer, who is obviously in the corner of the studio speaking to them. You can even see Jeff trying not to look too long at the spot where the “caller” is.

The winner gets to spin the Big Wheel for an actual prize.

pin

That’s not a Big Wheel! That’s just a regular wheel. Anyway, this contestant won a trip to the Virgin Islands, which I suppose isn’t bad, but since the announcer never described it, we don’t know the accommodations, how long it’s for, or even if it’s round trip! With this show’s budget, this guy might still be there.

3. The Swan

swan

Did you ever watch The Twilight Zone episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” miss the blatant social commentary, and instead think it would make a great reality show? For those who haven’t seen the classic episode, it’s set in a future society where at age 18, everyone undergoes a transformation to look like one of a small pool of models.

The premise of The Swan is basically that. Women who never felt beautiful are given a complete plastic surgery overhaul to look conventionally attractive, and the best makeovers move onto the final Swan Pageant, where the “winner” is crowned The Swan.

mirrors

This is of course in spite of the fact that the title comes from a Hans Christian Andersen tale where an ugly duckling realizes it was a beautiful swan all along without changing itself. Whatever. Shocker, this show led to complications from extensive surgery and made already-present mental health issues even worse. It’s like if Are You Hot? said “No, and let’s fix that.” It doesn’t warrant any more than a few paragraphs. Next.

2. 3’s a Crowd

3s

The Newlywed Game was controversial in its time, sure, but this one makes it look like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In 1979, Chuck Barris gave us this clunker that asked the question “Who knows a man better—his wife or his secretary?”

First, the three men would be asked four questions, but gone were the innuendos of Newlywed. For example, in one episode the questions included “Is your secretary in love with you?” and “If you were single, what would stop you from having an affair with your secretary?”

ques

Everyone seemed to be under the impression that all of the husbands and secretaries were one step away from sleeping together (if they weren’t already), as the contestant above answered the latter question with “I could fall in love with her.”

The secretaries were brought out and got one point for every match, and the wives then did the same. The team (wives or secretaries) that matched more answers won $1,000… to split.

This one was so disgusting, both to conservative audiences for its raunchy nature and liberal audiences for its blatant misogyny, that some theorized Chuck Barris was tired of producing game shows and was intentionally self-destructing. Let’s just say it’s possible.

How could anything be worse than a marriage dissolving in 30 minutes for a little over $300? I mean, the only way to top that would be putting someone’s life in danger…

1. The Chamber

chamber

In 2002, FOX gave us the worst game show of all time—The Chamber. Deciding that audiences were sick of just watching contestants answer questions, they decided that we should watch contestants answer questions from within a torture chamber. The only chambers we saw on the show involved extremely hot and extremely cold conditions, but the show promised insect and water torture chambers in the future!

The show was hosted (barely) by Rick Schwartz, who was basically just a color commentator, as a robotic voice would ask the questions within the chamber.

rick

Two contestants played a preliminary game where they listed items back-and-forth to see who would enter the chamber, and the winner signed a release saying they knew the dangers they were about to forego.

The chamber consisted of seven 1-minute rounds in which the contestant was asked as many questions as they could answer. The conditions in each level grew more uncomfortable, but the answer value did not! That’s right, whether it was round 1 or round 7, the contestant only got $1,000 for each right answer. If a contestant thought the chamber was too much, they could leave the game with half their money. If a contestant got two consecutive answers wrong, they would leave the game with half their money. If the on-set doctors declared the contestant unfit to continue, they would (you guessed it) leave the game with half their money. The only way to win all of the money you earned was to make it through all seven levels. There was no bonus unless you answered 25 questions right though, in which case your money was tripled.

As if this wasn’t enough, there were all kinds of problems on set that made it to air. Due to the extreme nature of the chamber, it was often very difficult for the contestants to hear the questions being asked. One contestant even mentioned one of his earpieces had fallen out, but game play continued as normal.

con1

Another question was about the astronaut John Glenn, and even though the contestant shouted “Glenn” twice, she thought her answer was not being accepted, so she shouted “Armstrong” out of despair. The producers judged her answer as “Glenn Armstrong,” and the game was over.

con2

Only one contestant in the three aired episodes, Scott Brown, made it through all seven levels, answering 20 questions and leaving with just $20,000 for his troubles. (The clip of this episode shows that they were now letting Schwartz actually ask the questions.) Brown eventually received a nice bonus of $100,000 though… when he settled out of court with Dick Clark Productions for long-term damage!

I still cannot believe this show got past the developmental phase. Sportscaster Matt Vasgersian (who is actually personable) turned down the show because he found the premise repulsive, and I guess Rick Schwartz had access to so few emotions that he was the only one they could get to host. There was a similar show on ABC called The Chair, which was based around keeping your heart-rate down, and while it wasn’t good, no one’s life was in danger. The Chamber was just sick.

HOME

 

Final Thoughts: Worst Christmas Special 2

FINALTHOUGHTS

I’ve gotten through ten more examples of the worst holiday trash ever put to film, and now it’s time to wrap up with my final thoughts. Will it be a religious or a secular special that takes the crown this year? Let’s start with…

Worst Narrator

It wouldn’t be a cheap Christmas special without a narrator, would it? How else would the audience figure out every last thing going on if not having it overly explained to them at every turn? Well, among the worst we have the bizarre choice of Burt Reynolds in The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, Marshall Teague’s ridiculously hyper-masculine intro to Last Ounce of Courage, and the forced narrator in Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny who just tells us that Santa’s sleigh magically appeared back at the North Pole at the end. However, the worst is Jay Leno’s insincere narration of Christmas is Here Again. What were they thinking? At one point, he actually says “magical sack of boys and girls.”

Best and Worst Supporting Character (Non-Villainous)

Again, since there are so many bad guys in these specials, I’ve separated the supporting characters into villainous and non-villainous. I’ll even concede that there are a few good ones here. I don’t even know if the Ice Cream Bunny counts as best or worst, but his appearance out of nowhere is hilarious, and the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future are fine in Christmas Carol: The Movie. Somehow, against all odds, Dorian Harewood as Mr. Gregory in The Christmas Shoes manages to give a heartfelt and convincing performance, and he takes this one.

dalton

As for the worst, there are so many to include that I’ll barely skim the surface. There’s the Nazi principal from The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, Rotten and Malicious from The Gift of Winter, Buster the constantly-changing-sides-fox from Christmas is Here Again, the completely nonsensical appearance of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, the comic relief friend who isn’t funny in Last Ounce of Courage, and the slow-witted friendly beasts from Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America. Nicolas Cage’s bizarre accent and performance as Jacob Marley almost takes it, but the flamboyant caricature of a theatre director in Last Ounce of Courage angers me more.

direct

Most Pointless Subplot

Sometimes you need to fill a special to reach an hour or 90 minutes, but instead of developing what you’ve already got, you just throw in filler. Last Ounce of Courage and The Christmas Shoes throw about 100 of these subplots at us apiece, including a newscaster quitting her job and Rob Lowe’s mom dying. Principal Pankley’s rise to power in The Legend of Frosty the Snowman takes up an absurd amount of screen time that could be spent on… well, Frosty the Snowman, but I think we all know where this one is going. Although it almost doesn’t count as a subplot because of its run time, Santa stopping dead in his tracks to recite the hour-long story of Thumbelina in Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny has to take this one.

dsntas

Dumbest Name

For some reason, bad Christmas specials seem to always have characters that don’t match the names given them. There’s Tilly the Angel from Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, all of the characters (but particularly Bazooey) in The Gift of Winter, and Bu the Little Troll Prince. Of course who can forget the ridiculously on-the-nose Christian Revere from Last Ounce of Courage or that Ms. Velma sounds more like a brothel owner on a ’60s TV western than a strange woman who performs stage shows to no audience? There’s the titular Ice Cream Bunny from Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, but ultimately it has to go to the elf named Paul Rocco from Christmas is Here Again. Paul Rocco? PAUL ROCCO?!!

rocco
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a toymaker.

Worst Line of Dialogue

Will it be “I didn’t want to be a spinster by my own choosing” from the Thumbelina portion of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny? The sign saying “Yar Boo” from The Gift of Winter? The out-of-left-field “It is said that Frosty the Snowman always goes where he is needed most”? No it has to be that weird line from Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America: “I looked for the elders, wondered where they could be/They were beating their wives beneath the big tree.” It speaks for itself. That brings me to…

Worst Speech

Some of these specials decide that just one bad line of dialogue won’t do. They need to have their characters self-aggrandize for minutes. Ms. Velma feels the need to list every state and say “This is Christmas in America. God Bless America.” after every few, and Principal Pankley gives a long hammy speech invoking Hitler in The Legend of Frosty the Snowman. Nothing is as horrible as Bob Revere’s self-righteous, victim complex speech in Last Ounce of Courage, though, and I broke that one down in great detail in the original review, so I’ll spare you here.

cross

Worst Villain

Nothing says bad Christmas special like an over-the-top villain who really doesn’t need to be there. Krad from Christmas is Here Again is basically Satan for kids, while Old Joe in Christmas Carol: The Movie really doesn’t need the expanded role he gets. Warren “The Hammer” Hammerschmidt from Last Ounce of Courage is a cigar-chomping smarmy lawyer in a film where Bob Revere should be the real villain, but it’s Principal Pankley from The Legend of Frosty the Snowman who wins this category. This character is utterly pointless to a simple story about Frosty, but it feels like the creators cared more about him than Frosty.

princa

Oh wait sorry, that’s the principal from Last Ounce of Courage…

mayorh

I swear they’re the same person.

Best and Worst Song

Hey, “Down from the Mountain” from The Little Troll Prince isn’t awful. That wins by default.

mountain

Hoo boy. To be fair, I’m not counting “The Christmas Shoes” here, as the movie is based on the song and not the other way around. I could pick any of the tuneless songs from Christmas is Here Again, Roger Miller’s confusing “Don’t Laugh and Make Somebody Cry” from Nestor, or “Woe is Me” from Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (My predicament lacks its usual cheer?), but ultimately it has to be one from Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America. There are so many bad songs in this thing from “Joy to the World” on a Speak and Spell to a version of “Silver Bells” where the singer forgets the words, but nothing is more unpleasant than all of the screeching animals clanging away at once to “Away in a Manger.” It’s like that scene in Event Horizon where they get a brief glimpse of Hell.

Worst Lead

As much as I hate The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, it can’t even decide who its own lead is, so that’s out by default. Santa from Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny is just awful, and Rob Lowe can’t decide on a consistent character in The Christmas Shoes, but there are still worse ones. I’d like to give it to Bob Revere, but actor Marshall Teague is really just doing what the writers want in Last Ounce of Courage, so I have to give this one to Ms. Velma as herself in Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America. I know this sounds odd, but at one point she forgets her own lines! She stumbles over the word “here.”

velmas

Worst Scene

Almost every special has at least one scene that cracked me up, confused me, or outright made me pause the movie at how bad it was. Nestor has the titular reject’s old friends welcoming him back for no reason, Christmas Carol: The Movie has Marley’s premature haunting, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny has… well all of it, and The Christmas Shoes has the weird dead goldfish gag. Again, unsurprisingly, it comes down to this year’s bottom 3. Interrupting the play to show video of a soldier dying in Last Ounce of Courage is horrible in every way, but it’s only the third worst scene. For the winner, I have to call a tie for the first time in Movie Match-Up history. I just can’t decide between the “Hit him with the vegetables” scene from The Legend of Frosty the Snowman and the Native American Christmas Celebration from Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America. Both are utterly confusing and utterly hilarious.

Worst Story

As much as I hate Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America, it really can’t even qualify for the story category as it’s a stage show. Last Ounce of Courage has a terrible plot, but it does tell a story from beginning to end. Frosty is similar as it’s a disaster, but again, it has a beginning, middle and end. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny on the other hand takes about 30 minutes to get Santa off the beach and an hour telling the boring tale of Thumbelina. There’s no question that takes this category.

Let’s see where that puts us.

worstfinal.png

So Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America is this year’s Worst Christmas Special!

WINNER

velma

So in this religious smackdown, were the religious or secular specials worst? Well, the bottom two were both religious, but so were the top two. I guess they had the highest highs and lowest lows, while the secular ones were consistently awful. I’d say the religious ones were slightly worse, but then I think about the horror of watching The Legend of Frosty the Snowman again. Eek.

Now for the final question: Is Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America worse than last year’s winner The Star Wars Holiday Special? I have to say yes, it is. I have finally found something weirder than a fifteen-minute intro spoken solely in Wookiee. Merry Christmas everybody!

MATCH-UP HOME

HOME

The Little Troll Prince

trolls

  • Year: 1987
  • Director: Ray Patterson
  • Starring: Danny Cooksey, Vincent Price, Jonathan Winters

Here we are at the last special of the Match-Up, the 1987 religious special The Little Troll Prince. Made by Hanna-Barbera (long after their ’60s heyday) with the backing of the International Lutheran Laymen’s League, The Little Troll Prince calls itself “A Christmas Parable,” which is an inaccurate subtitle, but we’ll get to that. Let’s take a look at The Little Troll Prince.

trollp

With our judges Kirk Cameron, the Mayor from The Christmas Tree, and Winterbolt from Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.

pasnle

The opening of this film is quite nice, as we see get this really pleasant, easy going score playing over a few scenes from the special. The backgrounds in this thing are really well-done too, even if the character designs are anything but beautiful.

opening

Let me just take a moment to appreciate the fact that someone is putting some creativity into one of these specials.

ice skating

The opening minute or so is dialogue-free, as our hero Bu (pronounced Boo) is setting up for Christmas.

boo

Look, Christmas specials don’t have to be masterpieces. Just give us some nice atmosphere and pleasant characters, a good song or two and some holiday cheer, and it will probably be just fine. This one is succeeding so far… and then he talks. Bu (Danny Cooksey) breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience saying, “To me, Christmas is the most exciting time of the whole year. I love everything about it.”

torll

Why do I feel like I’ve seen this before somewhere?

kirk

Is this a prequel to Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas?

Well, what do the Little Troll Prince and his animal friends put on top of his Christmas tree? I’m guessing since this is a religious special, it’ll probably be an angel.

bible

A Bible? On top of the tree? First of all, how is he supposed to read it from up there? Second, how is this even practical? What is it standing up by? “Hang a shining Bible upon the highest bough” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Anyway, Bu is now a gnome, but a year ago he was a troll. Apparently there’s a difference. He wasn’t just a troll though, he was the titular Little Troll Prince. His father, the two-headed king Ulvik, ruler of the Troll Mountain, is surprisingly voiced by Vincent Price and Jonathan Winters. I mean, unfortunately Ulvik doesn’t really have funny lines, but still, it’s Vincent Price and Jonathan Winters! What’s really weird is Vincent Price just does his normal voice, while Jonathan Winters seems to be going for Baloo by way of Patrick Starr.

heads

As if the talented cast wasn’t confusing enough already, the Queen Troll (who has only a handful of lines) is voiced by Cloris Leachman!

chloris

Prince Bu is looked down upon because he has a short tail, a short nose, and worst of all—only one head!

boopic

At Sinister School (because nothing’s subtle here), he learns the Troll Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do it unto you.” It seems that a lot of the trolls are bad at being mean and cruel to everyone though, as some of them at recess merely ice skate or toss snowballs as if playing catch.

skate

Also, the music playing over the scene is eerily similar to “Prisoners of Love” from The Producers. Make your own assumptions about what the movie’s trying to say about itself there.

The evil trolls think Bu is unworthy to be the future troll king, so they plan to kill him and frame it on the people who live nearby in the cleverly-named People-Land. The trolls are scared of people, because they’ve never met them, even though they have no proof the people mean them any harm.

On the way down the ridiculously steep Troll Mountain, Bu sings “Down from the Mountain,” which is actually a pleasant and catchy song. Again, it’s nothing brilliant, but compared to the other stuff I’ve sat through in this Match-Up? I’ll take it.

mountain

The other trolls hope he’ll die crossing the troll bridge, which I’m presuming a billy goat lives under, but he makes it. Instead, they go all the way down to People-Land where they have Bu go “investigate” what’s going on.

He sees a family preparing for Christmas, which includes the mother baking gingerbread cookies.

rerolls

This leads Bu to believe that the family is cooking trolls, and the wreath on the door is a symbol of that. I have to admit this actually made me laugh a little. I mean, it’s stupid, but it knows it is.

The evil trolls tie him to a tree, which kind of defeats the purpose of having him go “investigate” when they could have just done this in the first place. Of course, this is the tree that the family cuts down for their Christmas tree.

treecut

Seriously, it’s like the animators spent all their money on the background animation and had their kids sketch these characters at the last minute. I mean, at least the animation is half-good, but it clashes horribly.

The family then sings one of those “Here’s some stuff that happens at Christmas” songs, featuring creative lyrics like “The snow is snowin’.” At least it’s still somewhat catchy and is played over some really nice images.

ice

Just take away the people and you’ve got a gorgeous Christmas card there.

Anyway, Bu meets the family’s daughters who tell him about the true meaning of Christmas and give him a Bible to read. The only thing is Bu said earlier that trolls have no word for “love.” Well alright, so how does he know what it means when he comes across it in the Bible?

What confuses me about this special isn’t that it includes these overt religious themes (It is kind of the name of the holiday), but the ham-fisted way in which they’re thrown in. We’re more than halfway into the movie, with God only being mentioned in the framing device, and now all of a sudden this is all about converting trolls. You could have swapped out Bu learning about Jesus with Bu learning anything about the people in People-World that his fellow trolls would disapprove of.

When Bu’s father causes a crazy winter storm because his son has gone away, Bu goes back to the Troll Mountain, where he is forced to stand trial for not being troll-ish enough.

trials

As he begins to quote the Christian Bible instead of the Troll Bible, his tail disappears, and his nose and ears get smaller.

buears

Because of this, he is kicked out of the troll kingdom and is disowned as the heir to the throne. He goes back down into the world and comes across a lawn ornament

gnome

This gnome, voiced by William Christopher in what may be the most perfect casting of all time, tells Bu that he’s a gnome, not a troll. I mean, I don’t think this movie is trying to tell us that Bu was a gnome the whole time (It’s Lutheran, not Calvinist), but he always kind of looked like this. What if an ugly old troll converted? Would he still change to look like this?

Also, if a troll prince turns into a gnome, does he grow up to be the Gnome King?

rock

Of course, Bu gets to move into the house of the same family he visited earlier where he lives happily ever after. None of the other trolls are mentioned again, which is kind of refreshing. You’d expect a movie like this to either have the trolls be defeated or all converted or transformed or whatever, but nope, they still exist not too far away. That’s actually gutsy for a kids’ Christmas special. There’s always going to be evil in the world, and the magic of Christmas can’t make it all better.

While overall this is far more tolerable than everything I’ve watched this year, the straightforward delivery of the biblical themes really clashes with the fantastical nature of the plot, as if someone just shoved two random ideas for a Christmas special together. Worst of all, the thing calls itself a parable, which it isn’t! A biblical parable takes the teachings of Scripture and tells a simple story to convey them. This is a story about a troll who comes across Scripture. Unless this is some kind of parable within a parable (parable-ception), it’s not a parable—it’s just a story…unless this thing actually is a metaphor for the life of Kirk Cameron.

Think about it. It starts with him having some Growing Pains. Everyone abandons him, and he’s effectively Left Behind. He tries to tell everyone about how great his new life is, but no one takes him seriously until he finds a new group of like-minded people who give him a life where he can simply stare at a camera and tell people how much he loves Christmas. Maybe this is a parable after all.

kirk3
I just never looked at it that way before. Wow.

Alright, let’s see what our judges have to say. We’ll start with Winterbolt.

wbj

I must conquer these trolls and rule their mountain/I will tear it down and construct a fountain.

Do you have a score?

I cannot judge this film and give a ranking/I want to kill these trolls and become their king.

Does everything have to rhyme? Let’s move on. Kirk?

kirkcoc

Where did Kirk go?

mugs

Oh… I may have been on to something.

Mr. Mayor?

2bags

I’m just glad we got rid of that guy. If we had to watch his backstory in the process, so be it. I give it 2 bags of money out of 2.

So I’ve gotten through 10 reviews, and without a doubt, The Little Troll Prince is the closest thing I watched to a good special this year.

final10

Well, there it is. The final ranking is locked in. I’ll be discussing all my thoughts tomorrow on Christmas Eve, as always. See you soon!

MATCH-UP HOME

HOME

Best Christmas Song: FINALS

finL

(1) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis vs. (5) Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee

Well, here we are. It’s the final round, and only two songs remain. Will it be the melancholy standard from Meet Me in St. Louis or Brenda Lee’s rock-and-roll classic? You’ve got 36 hours to vote for the winner.

TOURNAMENT HOME

HOME

 

The Christmas Shoes

shoes

  • Year: 2002
  • Director: Andy Wolk
  • Starring: Rob Lowe, Kimberly Williams, Max Morrow

“The Christmas Shoes” is the worst Christmas song ever written. You will find very little argument against that, but is the movie based on the worst Christmas song the worst Christmas special of all time? Let’s take a look at The Christmas Shoes.

xmasshoes

With our judges Kirk Cameron and The Mayor from The Christmas Tree (You think I’m making a third person suffer through this one?)

judgespanels.png

Starring Rob Lowe at what is surprisingly not the rock bottom of his career (He was doing West Wing at the time), The Christmas Shoes feels like the Hallmark network ran a Write In and Win contest, with the winner getting a “movie” made out of their “screenplay.” Oh yeah, and considering this screenplay, I think there was only one entry.

The film starts with Rob Lowe… his character is named Robert, so even this movie doesn’t want us to differentiate between the actor and the character. Anyway, the film starts with Rob Lowe visiting a grave on Christmas Eve.

CAREER

Yes that joke is too easy, but the movie put it right there for the taking. I’d have my movie-reviewing license revoked if I didn’t make it. Sorry, they’re the rules.

Actually, this is his mother’s grave, and while there he sees this guy.

urin

Is that guy doing what I think he’s doing?

urine

Seriously, frame this shot differently! Anyway, this reminds Rob Lowe of something that happened to him 15 years earlier.

snow
You thought I was going for a sex tape joke, didn’t you?

15 years earlier, Rob Lowe is a successful lawyer with a wife Kate (Maria del Mar) and daughter Lily (Amber Marshall). He also looks exactly the same.

lowe

I know that Rob Lowe is aging at a slower pace than most people, but at least make an effort to age him in the future scenes. He’s probably 40 in these flashback scenes, so that’d make him 55 in the framing device. How bad could a little old age makeup look?

drew

EEK! I take that back! I was kidding! (Yes, that is Rob Lowe playing murderer Drew Peterson in a 2012 TV movie.)

Rob is helping defend some farmers in a case that isn’t related to the plot in any way, and he’s also fighting with his wife, because he wants her to get a job so they can buy a house. He’s basically a jerk to everyone, except the farmers he defends.

We get equal focus on the Andrews family, who have endless connections to Rob’s family. When Maggie Andrews (Kimberly Williams) and her son Nathan (Max Morrow) are throwing a football, it gets in the way of Rob’s car, making him act like a total jerk for an innocent mistake. Also, Lily goes to school with Nathan, Kate takes over for Maggie as choir director when she falls ill, and Rob gets his car worked on by Maggie’s husband Jack (Hugh Thompson). Of course Rob is being built up as the narrator of “The Christmas Shoes” song, who sees a little boy trying to buy shoes for his dying mother, so why do they need to have all of these prior connections? It makes no sense that the dad is the one who works on Rob’s car, except that they didn’t want to hire another actor to play a mechanic for one scene. It doesn’t add up to some big conclusion where the pieces from all of these meetings come together or anything, either. It’s just filler.

Nathan wants a dog, but his parents say it’s too expensive and he’s not responsible. As proof of this, his dad brings his goldfish bowl to the breakfast table, showing that he’s left the dead goldfish in the bowl for two weeks belly up. They’ve just let their son keep the dead fish? It’s a weird scene.

fishs

I’m just glad there isn’t a scene later where they refuse to bury his mother. Beyond this scene, the dad seems a pretty decent and not weird guy, so I don’t get this.

One day, Rob is walking to his car when a passing truck accidentally drops a pair of hideous shoes on the road.

shoess

He tries to alert the driver of the truck by standing in place yelling “Hey” and waving a shoe in the air as the truck drives away. Yeah, that’ll do it. To be fair, Rob does drive to the department store they were en route to, showing he’s not all bad.

The movie acts like Rob coming across these shoes is part of some God-ordained scheme for Nathan to get them, but they would have gotten to the store anyway. Whether or not Rob had them for a few hours, they would have been there waiting when Nathan purchases them later. Again, it’s just filler!

One day at school, Nathan’s teacher Dalton Gregory (Dorian Harewood) reads a book about a girl who had a special pair of shoes. Maggie is there for… some reason, and she of course tells the class that she had a pair of dance shoes as a girl that she loved. Hmm.. I wonder if Nathan will buy them for her at the end.

I don’t know how they fooled Dorian Harewood, but he seems convinced he’s in a good film.

dalton

On paper, there are no interesting characters in this thing at all, but Harewood manages a good performance regardless. Honestly, it’s almost a miracle, because this movie is awful, but I was actually invested when his character was on screen. Dalton kind of acts like a third parent to Nathan, and he’s also Rob’s mother’s neighbor (she also bonds with the boy), because everyone in this story has to be connected in 100 ways. Dalton doesn’t have an interesting arc or anything, but I genuinely believe he is this wise, kindly father figure. In a movie that is trying way too hard to be a tearjerker in basically every scene, Dalton’s scenes are actually (I cannot believe this) subtle and organic. Harewood will give looks that say more than the rest of the dialogue in the film combined. We later learn that his wife died a decade ago, which explains his bond with Nathan even more. I’m shocked that I’m saying something positive about the movie based on “The Christmas Shoes,” but yeah, he’s genuinely good in this.

One of the movie’s pointless plots involves Lily’s choir concert. Of course Rob is a deadbeat dad and misses it, but he promises to be there next year… even though there’s another one coming up in a few weeks. Oh, and what song does Lily sing at the concert? Why that Christmas classic “America the Beautiful.”

velma 2

Is Ms. Velma directing from behind the scenes? Why do some many Christmas movies throw in patriotic songs?

The next concert is going to take place at the town tree lighting, but it’s changed to Christmas caroling through the streets, because it will ham-fistedly be tied in later. Look, here’s the problem with making a full-length movie out of a four-minute song, worst Christmas song ever or not. You have to get to the events of the song at some point, because it’s an adaptation and that’s why people are tuning in. In the case of The Christmas Shoes, the events of the song happen over the course of a few minutes, but they don’t happen until the end of the film. The rest of the movie is just a run-around to get to that encounter. In the song, the narrator obviously didn’t know the kid, but here they have to connect the stories up to that point somehow, or we’d just be watching two separate movies. A lot of the movie we get is spent with the sick mom at the hospital, which is pointless, because we know she’s going to die at the end, or at least be at the point of death when the events of the song happen.

kim
Better to burn out than marry that guy who sings “Accidental Racist,” I guess.

I can’t believe I’m even making this comparison, but it suffers the same problem as Rankin-Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer.

rudo

I know that’s a beloved classic, but it’s almost all filler… granted it’s much more enjoyable filler than this. The 49 minute special is a based on a one-verse song where just two important things happen 1) Rudolph is shunned 2) Santa asks Rudolph to guide his sleigh. There was an enjoyable 8 minute cartoon made in the ’40s that covered the whole thing.

noses

You can’t really stretch that source material out on its own, unless the first half hour is merely Rudolph constantly being picked on by other reindeer, and most viewers of Christmas specials aren’t gluttons for punishment (You can form your own opinions about me). The more specific the story is in the song, the harder it’s going to be to make a special out of it. Arguably, it’s why Frosty the Snowman works, because the song is just 1) Frosty comes to life, 2) The kids have fun playing with him, and 3) He goes away, promising to come back.  You can build a story around that, not just on top of it like Rudolph or The Christmas Shoes does.

Anyway, as we draw closer to the events of “The Christmas Shoes,” Nathan finds out that his mom loved that one pair of shoes growing up and vows to himself that he’ll find a pair just like them. He can’t ask his dad for money, because dads who don’t allow their sons dogs also don’t allow them to buy gifts for their dying mothers.

Since he’s too young to get a job, Nathan decides to start collecting bottles and cans for 5 cents apiece to recycle. Yes, that’s right. The kid in “The Christmas Shoes” has the same plan as Newman did on the Seinfeld episode “The Bottle Deposits.” In a scene that I would hate if it wasn’t for Dorian Harewood’s performance, Nathan’s teacher leaves a whole ton of cans in a place he knows Nathan will look, meaning he ends up with around $15.

Before the scene from the song, Rob’s mother dies… because he’s at a gravestone in the framing device. Rob’s grief adds nothing to the plot, except he finds a note from his mother encouraging him to be a better husband and father, which he’s going to be by the end anyway because of the little boy whose shoes he pays for!

We finally get to the events of the song, as Rob Lowe pays the extra five bucks that Nathan needs for the shoes. Aren’t you glad that the whole movie was building to a retail transaction? For some reason, the cashier is an absolute prick who seems to hate all of his customers and openly insults the little boy trying to buy shoes for his dying mother.

cashier

What’s the point in this? There’s a difference between stressed on Christmas Eve and just being horrible. Also, even though these customers arrive right before the store closes, there is still a fairly long line to see Santa. So closing at 9 really means closing at 11?

If you have any hope that you might go the whole movie without hearing the titular song, I’m not sure why you’re watching, but your hopes will be quashed when Nathan runs home with the shoes, and that over-sung disaster plays over the scene. The part where the children’s choir joins in plays right as he runs past the caroling choir, suggesting they’re singing “The Christmas Shoes.” That’s kind of dark. Hey, let’s sing that song about the dying mother right as the boy with the dying mother runs by. What’s next “I’ll be Home for Christmas” as we pass a homeless shelter?

Of course, the boy’s mother dies and Rob Lowe reconciles with his family. The other man at the graveyard in the framing device is a grown-up Nathan visiting his mother’s grave. I suppose the graves are arranged chronologically then? Good luck getting a spot near your loved ones.

There is no point in telling this story. I mean, it’s no worse than the song, but minus one decent performance, it isn’t any better. Let’s see what the judges think.

Kirk?

kirkcocoa.png

“The Christmas Shoes” is one of my favorite songs. It shows that you should do anything to make someone appreciate Christmas, even argue with them in their car or kill their mom. I give it 4 Empty Mugs of Hot Chocolate out of 5.

Mr. Mayor?

mayor1.png

The whole movie revolves around Rob Lowe giving a kid $5. That’s not how you help the poor. You hand the head of the orphanage bags of money and let them take it from there. I give it only 1 Bag of Money out of 5.

So let’s see where it ends up on the list…

shoeslist.png

It’s about what you’d expect, which puts it somewhere in the middle of this list. Dorian Harewood’s performance bumps it up a slot or two, but that doesn’t make it good or anything. It’s just more forgettable than say Last Ounce of Courage.

We’ve got just one special to go until I decide on this year’s Worst Christmas Special. Join me again tomorrow.

MATCH-UP HOME

HOME

Best Christmas Song: Final Four

final 4.png

Just like that, we’re down to 4 songs. Which two will move on to our final round?

(1) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis vs. (3) Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love

An upbeat title with downbeat lyrics, or an upbeat melody with downbeat lyrics? Both pop up in endless Christmas movies but never get old.

(4) Winter Wonderland by Richard Himber and Joey Nash vs. (5) Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee

One song praises the fun of nature, the other the fun of partying with friends. Which one is good enough to make the final showdown?

 

TOURNAMENT HOME

HOME

Ms. Velma’s Christmas in America

velma

  • Year: 1985
  • Director: ?
  • Starring: Velma Jaggers

Sometimes in life, we come across certain mysteries like rock formations, crop circles or Tommy Wiseau that lead us to believe that we are not alone in the universe. In fact, just this week it was confirmed that the government was at one point involved in a UFO investigation. However, if you want proof that there exists something created by someone clearly not of this world, look no farther than Miss Velma’s Christmas in America.

america

With our judges: Kirk Cameron, The Mayor from The Christmas Tree and Bob Revere from Last Ounce of Courage.

judgespanel

Presented by Velma Jaggers aka Miss Velma, Christmas in America is a recorded stage show that gets progressively weirder with each sketch. Very little is known about this special, and it only exists in a low quality video online. However, it’s a Christmas special and it’s bad, so it counts. Enough evidence exists to prove that Velma Jaggers was in fact real and that her Christmas special was intended as non-ironic entertainment. Good enough for me. So who is this Ms. Velma? Let’s see what our opening narration tells us.

Ms. Velma, who is famous the world over for her beautiful dramas, and called by fashion designers one of the twelve best dressed women in America…

Alright, known the world over? I suppose if she’s visited one foreign country and told people who she was, she’s technically “famous the world over,” but what’s with that second part? Does she know a fashion designer who told her this? Why “one of the twelve?” Is this a joke because of the weird costumes she wears or does she genuinely believe she’s on a Best Dressed list? The people making this are delusional.

We start with one of everyone’s favorite Christmas songs—”My Country Tis of Thee.” Doesn’t that just get you in the yuletide spirit? Alright, I suppose it is Christmas in America, so one American song is understandable, if not a little awkward. She follows it with a Christmas song right? Nope, she has everyone rise for the National Anthem! The only thing is there’s no studio audience. She’s on a stage, but there is no audience! During the anthem, Ms. Velma is dressed like a red, white and blue torch.

velma

Do you need a costume for everything? What was it like to live with this woman?

Husband: Honey, we’re going out for dinner.

Velma: Chinese or Italian?

Husband: I don’t know, whatever we see when we’re driving.

Velma: Come on, you know this affects my outfit.

Ms. Velma begins a lengthy speech about what it means to be an American, defining it as everything but “one from America.” She talks about the rights of minorities, but then uses the phrase “white or colored,” which kind of goes against the message.

When the speech ends, we get that classic Christmas song “America the Beautiful.” Come on! What is this—Ms. Velma’s America in America? Thankfully that nightmare “God Bless the U.S.A.” hadn’t been written yet, so they couldn’t sing that one!

We cut from this (painfully) to Ms. Velma’s Christmas Tree, an awkward poem about a tiny tree that wanted to grow tall and be a real Christmas tree.

velmas

So it can only be a Christmas tree if it grows tall? Great message. It also includes the phrase “That it might spend Christmas with folk that it know.” I know you’re desperately trying to rhyme, but come on, Ms. Velma. You know this grammar is obviously wrong. Even worse, the poem is recited very slowly as an out-of-tune rendition of “O Christmas Tree” plays in the background. At least it’s a Christmas song. The poem says that Velma was “Quite excited by the tree,” which is a weird way to word things. Seriously, way to make yourself the hero of your own poem, Velma. Eventually, the tree grows to be 17 feet tall! How will that even fit in your house?

Next, Ms. Velma invites a singer on stage to sing a version of “Silver Bells.” It sounds like she calls the singer Robin Leach, but seeing as how the creators of this are anything but rich or famous, I’m guessing it’s Robin Lee. It’s hard to tell if Robin is male or female, as the outfit, voice and name are relatively androgynous, but I think it’s a guy.

robin

Male or female, Robin can’t even manage to get the lyrics to the song right. Alright, I’ll be fair and assume they were changed for this special, but why would you change some of these? I get the “Christmastime in America” part, because of the special’s name and all, but get a load of these.

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style

In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas

Children laughing, people passing greeting smile after smile

And on every street corner you’ll see

Red bells, White bells, it’s Christmastime in America

Ring a ling, hear them ring, soon it will be Christmas day.

Children laughing, people passing, this is Santa’s big scene

(Chorus again)

It starts out correct, and then veers off as if our singer totally forgot the lyrics. “On every corner you see”? I mean, sure you see bells, but the point of the song is that you hear them! It’s like saying you smell cake. Of course you do, but eating it is more important. Why change “silver bells” to “red bells, white bells”? Is it the Christmas in America theme? Robin also sings “blue bells” later, so I guess so. (The correct lyric is also “ring-a-ling, hear them sing,” but if I nitpick every little issue, we’ll be here all day.) We have more evidence that the lyrics have just been forgotten when Robin sings the “Children laughing, people passing” line again and merges it with “This is Santa’s big scene” from the second verse, even though none of the second verse is sung beyond that!

I’d like to say “Here’s where it gets weird,” but we haven’t even scratched the surface. The next segment involves the friendly beasts from the Nativity telling their side of the story. Alright, that sounds harmless enough. We start with the donkey who carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

nestor
Um, excuse me?

Nope, this one’s not Nestor. It’s a super nasal, slow-speaking (alright everyone in this thing is slow-speaking) donkey who kind of sounds like a drunk Ted Cruz trying to do a Roger Miller impression. (Apparently Ms. Velma did watch Nestor.) As stupid as this is, at least there was likely a donkey at the Nativity. You know what wasn’t there?

raccoon

A RACCOON! I know Ms. Velma is trying to say that the American animals paid their respects to God at the same time the Nativity was happening (just go with it), but the raccoon claims to have swept the stable before Mary and Joseph got there!

Just as the camera pans over to a manger scene and we think we’re done, we get to meet the purple and red cow who gave up her manger to the baby Jesus.

purple

We pan back over to the manger scene again, so we’re done… NOPE. We have to meet the bull!

bull

According to this sequence, bulls make a sound that resembles someone stretching as they get out of bed. I’d make a joke about this being a bunch of bull, but that’s far too easy. So what did the bull do? Apparently he rang the church bells on the night Jesus was born. WHAT CHURCH BELLS? Jesus was born sometime in the early first century! Church bells are very much a symbol of the Christian church, you know, the one that the teachings of Jesus led to the creation of! Also, how on earth is a bull ringing church bells? Is he just ramming into them? Well no, they’re usually in the belfry. Why isn’t it a bat? He also carried the wood to the stable, because he can do two things in one night. At least the second one is a thing a bull could have done in the first century!

We get a recap of all the animals we’ve just seen, because apparently Ms. Velma doesn’t realize that these horrific images will stay in our brains forever. There’s a turtle in this recap, even though we didn’t get a turtle scene earlier. What did the turtle do—slowly bring word to the Three Wise Men so they didn’t show up until two years later? This segment closes with all the animals singing “Away in a Manger,” which sounds like it’s being performed by Simon and Theodore as they’re brutally murdered by Alvin.

We’re treated to another musical performance, this time by the Ms. Velma Singers. You’re not one of the singers, but you named them after yourself? Really? Anyway, the Ms. Velma Singers perform lip-sync to “Snowflakes Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which unlike the earlier bastardization of “Silver Bells” is the B.J. Thomas song with only one word changed. The sound quality in this whole special is sketchy and not professional at all, but out of nowhere, the singing of just this song is incredibly clear. Why didn’t you edit the whole thing in post instead of just this song? It needed it.

Here’s where it gets weird No? I still can’t use that line? Well alright. We get an intermission halfway through an hour long special that tells us to stay tuned for the rest of the special featuring “beautiful staging” and “magnificent costumes.” We are promised a “beautiful Indian scene” during which Ms. Velma will shoot a gun on stage! Alright, I’m gonna take a wild guess that this won’t be very racially sensitive.

indian

Before even saying a word, Ms. Velma begins a stereotypical Native American tribal chant. Seriously, putting “What Made the Red Man Red” into this scene would actually make it less racist. Ms. Velma says, “Christmas in America would not be complete without the great American Indian tribes and the Indian people paying their respect to the birthday of Jesus.” WHAT? Is your headdress on too tight? Yes, the Native Americans, who had their own religions and beliefs, paid their respects to the birth of Christ. What history books did they have at your school, Ms. Velma?

Velma then begins to dance around in circles as more tribal chanting is played. A narrator tells us that since the Native Americans used guns and bows to kill animals, Ms. Velma will shoot some balloons on stage with a gun. One question. What does this have to do with Christmas? Alright, one more question. What does this have to do with anything? Oh, and apparently these balloons are 65 feet away from her.

balloons

I don’t know, this video quality is so bad that it could be screwing with depth perception. They don’t look 65 feet away to me.

The narrator promises that after Ms. Velma shoots a gun, she will play the hand organ. Alright, forget for one second how dirty that sounds. THIS is a hand organ.

horgan

THIS appears to be a Speak & Spell.

handorgan

So you mean to tell me that Native Americans celebrated the birth of Christ by shooting balloons with guns and playing “Joy to the World” on a child’s toy? Who would ever think this is history? I need to do a little research on this Ms. Velma to see what makes her tick.

There is not too much to be found on her, but according to the Universal World Church website (which is a tad biased in her favor), Miss Velma was in charge of ministering to the older people in her church. I’m assuming her strategy was to show them that it wasn’t worth staying on earth if this was what passed for entertainment. The article on the church’s wiki is written in a very bizarre fashion, featuring sentences like “Miss Velma has written no less than two books.” It also mentions that “her writings have been described as ‘the most wonderful revelations of truth ever presented to this generation’ and ‘masterpieces of unparalleled Biblical truth for this generation.'” Wow, apparently she wasn’t writing on humility.

There has to be a kicker though, right? Where could it be? “In 1957, Velma Jaggers married her first cousin, O. L. Jaggers at the World Church.” There it is! She married her first cousin, the founder and minister of the church. If you watch Miss Velma’s Christmas in America on YouTube and want to go down a rabbit hole, it should recommend a video of O.L. Jaggers preaching. He spends the first portion of his sermon talking about how important his topic is, followed by him reading through the entire genealogy of Christ and saying Christ was related to none of them. He also uses the phrase “billions of light years ago,” because were you expecting him to have a grasp on science? This guy is exactly the kind of cousin Ms. Velma would marry.

Alright, back to our Christmas special. What is Ms. Velma up to now? She’s introducing a group who sings a song to represent Christmas in Hawaii.

hawaui

It’s harmless enough, but apparently the cameraman gets bored partway through and starts panning around the stage randomly! Imagine these guys’ moms watching this special!

stages
Yeah I’m on the left… the far left… the super far left.

Next up, Ms. Velma dresses as an angel and descends onto the stage, quoting scripture about Jesus, with an awful booming echo on every single word.

angeldescend

We then cut to Jesus’ tomb, because apparently we’re bored with Christmas already, even though it’s barely been in this special! At one point, Ms. Velma forgets her lines, which seems like it could be fixable in a taped stage show with no audience! Even worse, the line is “He is not here.” She stumbles on the word “here.” I swear, this special uses backwards logic. Everything that should make sense doesn’t, and everything that shouldn’t make sense does.

What’s next? Does Ms. Velma dress up like Santa Claus and lecture the non-existent audience about the wonders of the US government? Look, I like to think I’m pretty creative, but I can’t make up the stuff that happens in this special. Of course that’s exactly what she does.

bus

She mimes over her own bizarre version of “The Night before Christmas,” about her bus and her singers. Then, out of nowhere, it becomes a poem about the US Government, because it’s Christmas in America, and we haven’t talked about America enough yet. She talks about that great phrase “E pluribus unum,” or as she pronounces it “younum,” which she claims means “In God we trust.” Actually, “E pluribus unum” is a Latin phrase that translates to “Out of many, one.” Well, I mean, she’s not the only one who doesn’t know that.

out of many

Santa Velma talks about how all government officials should honor Christ in their Christmas celebration, from governors to mayors. Is this a prequel to Last Ounce of Courage?

Here’s where it gets weird. Oh, I can say it now? Alright, well seriously, now it’s time for the weirdest line of the whole thing. In the middle of her rambling poem about Santa and government, Ms. Velma says, “I looked for the elders, wondered where they could be/They were beating their wives beneath the big tree.” The elders of what? The government? What is she trying to establish here? It’s never touched on again in the poem! Even weirder, she says the line with wonder, and almost like it makes her laugh. They were beating their wives beneath the big tree? Does that only exist for a rhyme? Why would it, when it’s rhyming with the pointless line before it?

This is a Christmas special right? Dressing up as Santa and talking about the government does not a Christmas special make. That’d be like tuning into the Oscars and seeing someone in an Oscar statuette costume reading from a psychology textbook.

Finally, it’s time for the grand finale. Maybe now we can get this thing over with. What Christmas song do we start this final bit off with? Why that classic holiday treat “God Bless America,” of course.

states

This is followed my Ms. Velma saying “This is Christmas in America” for like the 57th time, with her also throwing in one more “God Bless America” for good measure. She then proceeds to list off every one of the 50 states! She even pauses between every few to say “This is Christmas in America, God Bless America” again. She also calls Massachusetts “Massatoosis” for some reason.

The special ends with another patriotic song called “God Loves American People” and an actual Christmas song, albeit a generic one that was probably written for this. These are both played over video of the special we’ve just seen, because apparently Ms. Velma is out of ways to fill an hour, plus her spaceship is ready to take her back.

How is this a thing? I have no understanding of how this came to be. I do not say this lightly—this is the strangest thing ever put to film. I have never seen anything that comes close to this. My only guess at an explanation is that this was made by aliens trying to guess what Earth’s Christmas specials are like. I’ve got nothing.

Judges?

see no

Yeah, that makes sense. There’s a part of me that wants to recommend this just based on how fascinating the thing is, but this is still the worst thing I’ve seen in this series. I can’t say it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, because I’ve seen movies with worse messages, but this is bad to a point you may not know was possible.

worst port.png

Well, I’ve got two more reviews this week. Will anyone be able to top Ms. Velma?

MATCH-UP HOME

HOME

 

 

Christmas Carol: The Movie

car

  • Year: 2001
  • Director: Jimmy T. Murakami
  • Starring: Simon Callow, Kate Winslet, Nicolas Cage

Get a load of that title. This isn’t just A Christmas Carol, it’s Christmas Carol: The Movie. They’re acting like it hasn’t already been done 100 times. This is the only movie version of Charles Dickens’ novella—the others were just figments of your imagination. Let’s look at Christmas Carol: The Movie.

ccm

I couldn’t find a third judge, because apparently no one wants to see yet another version of a story they’ve seen done 50 times… except me. That means it’s just Kirk Cameron and Mr. Mayor.

judgess.png

For some reason, Scrooge is about 20 years younger than he’s usually portrayed. I guess it’s trying to do something different with the story… and I guess it kind of does. Most of all, it just makes the opening of the film more busy. Instead of the film introducing us to Ebenezer Scrooge, it introduces us to Scrooge, but also to Old Joe… and Tiny Tim… and Belle and her boss. In the novel and most adaptations, Old Joe is merely a peddler who buys Scrooge’s things in Christmas Future. Here, he’s voiced by Robert Llewellyn and is Scrooge’s enforcer, because apparently a businessman needs a gangster working for him.

joeface
What’s with his face?

Belle (Kate Winslet) works at an orphanage that needs money from Scrooge, but she drops off the letter when Scrooge isn’t there, so we’re left hanging for a while as to whether he’ll read it.

I honestly can’t believe that an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, a novella about a single character’s growth and development, is having trouble developing a protagonist! At times it feels like they’re building up Scrooge (Simon Callow) by introducing the other characters in his life, but nope, we’ve already casually met him.

For some reason, this film decides to have Marley haunt Scrooge right in their office before he locks up. Look, I love A Christmas Carol, but I understand that in almost any adaptation, there have to be changes to the text. However, I usually understand why they are made. I suppose this one might be due to the intro being so long, but I don’t even understand why the intro is so long. Are you making changes just to make them? It ends up telling the same story anyway.

Marley is voiced by Nicolas Cage, because he’s never had trouble with accents before. His accent in this sounds like his Southern accent in Con Air mixed with Keanu Reeves’ posh British one in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Also, he looks like a Scooby-Doo villain.

gmarley

Wait a minute, I think I know who’s under that hood!

old man marley
OLD MAN MARLEY!

This one falls prey to the trap that almost every Christmas Carol adaptation does—it refuses to humanize Marley. Most screenwriters and directors see the name “Ghost of Jacob Marley” and jump at the first half. Instead of making the character out to be the tortured soul of Scrooge’s old friend, they have to make him an over-the-top wailer who only exists to scare Scrooge. I almost never believe Scrooge and Marley were friends, with one of the only exceptions being Bernard Lloyd’s Marley in the Patrick Stewart film. This film, however, is the worst of all, showing Marley as a flying ghost who doesn’t even have anything resembling a human form.

After Marley leaves Scrooge’s office, the charity workers enter. When Scrooge is alone in his house after Marley leaves, it’s chilling. Here, it ruins any atmosphere by immediately having people show up. Also, this is the scene where Scrooge explains that Marley has been dead for seven years. Why would you have this after you’ve met his ghost? The first line of the novel establishes that Marley is dead, because Dickens wants us to have no confusion that Scrooge sees a ghost.

After the charity workers leave and Scrooge goes home, he sees Marley on the doorknocker anyway. WHAT?

marleyws

Why would you have him see Marley on the doorknocker AFTER he’s been haunted by him? Is it just that iconic of a scene that even if you don’t adapt the text right, you have to include it?

Accompanying Scrooge everywhere he goes are two mute mice.

mice

Do they serve a purpose? Of course not. At one point, they put a letter in front of Scrooge to help out Belle’s orphanage, but that’s it. He would have found it anyway. Are they funny? Of course not. Why are they here? Because it’s a kids’ movie, and kids love animal sidekicks. Never mind trying to make them funny or likable. Worst of all, and easily most confusing of all, Scrooge likes them! Yeah, Scrooge who pushes away everyone in his life, loves these mice and spoils them like pets. That’s a believable character trait.

The Ghost of Christmas Past’s appearance is very similar to the one in the book because we’re apparently following that now.

andgro

Alright, so the ghost appears to be female rather than male, and it obviously doesn’t keep changing its appearance like in the book, but it’s still closer than most.

The ghost invites Scrooge to walk with her, even though they fly. Scrooge doesn’t want to go obviously, saying “I am a mere mortal. I cannot go through the wall.”

the wall

Well I have good news, then. That’s not the wall—that’s a window! If you have a line in the script about going through the wall, have him go through the wall! If you have a line about walking, have the characters walk. It isn’t that hard.

Christmas Past (Jane Horrocks) then flies him over summery scenes, because apparently she’s the Ghost of Anytime Past.

rivers
Look, I drew these pictures for Huck Finn, and we’re going to use them.

The animation as the Ghosts travel seems to be very inspired by another version of A Christmas Carol—the 1971 cartoon. Directed by Richard Williams with Alastair Sim and Michael Hordern reprising their roles as Scrooge and Marley, the cartoon is just 25 minutes long but has an amazing style to it. The animation itself is rather simple, but there is some gorgeous flowing camerawork, coupled with almost dance-like character movements that make it a visual treat. Obviously, it is impossible to communicate this in screenshots, but it’s worth checking out. However, it is weird that Christmas Carol: The Movie seems to borrow so heavily from this short. It doesn’t just bother me that it tries to copy the style, even though that could be enough. First, this weird animation only happens when the ghosts are moving, meaning it clashes drastically with the rest of the film. Second, the animation is so cheap that the fluid motion isn’t fluid! It just comes off choppy and stilted. If you’re going for a style, go all the way or not at all.

We see a few more scenes of Christmas Past than usual, which has potential, but again it just comes off as pointless. Why do we need to see Scrooge’s father telling him he’s gotten him an apprenticeship and that he’ll only be proud of him if he succeeds? Look at the scene in A Christmas Carol 1984, where present-day Scrooge stares at the vision of his father.

fATHER

The coldness in Scott’s look says all we need to know about Scrooge’s relationship with his father. We don’t need to have Christmas Past travel to an extra place just to communicate this.

Now, that’s not to say that showing more past scenes can’t work. Just look at Scrooge 1951. We see Scrooge’s complete decline from moral and decent kid to ruthless businessman, and the additional scenes only add to Scrooge’s character. In Christmas Carol: The Movie, we get to learn that Scrooge met Belle as a kid. Thanks, that’s important to his overall development.

In a shocking twist, we learn that the band at Fezziwig’s party is only pretending to play their instruments! I mean, they’re not in sync with the music at all.

bands

This is Milli Vanilli level stuff… oh it’s just bad animation? I should have known.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is voiced by Michael Gambon, just making the list of famous actors inexplicably in this movie even longer. Like basically everyone here, he doesn’t add much.

The Present scenes try to incorporate the scenes in the book where the ghost spreads cheer to everyone in the world, instead of just visiting with Fred and the Cratchits. However, the animation is so poor, and the scene is so drawn out and awkwardly paced, that you’ll wonder if you’re on drugs and seeing things in slow motion. Maybe that’s the intended goal, I’m not sure, but it clashes with everything else in the movie. Suddenly we’re watching Yellow Submarine. You can’t just throw every animation style on the screen and expect it to flow.

present
Scrooge, you’re sad and angry. That makes you a blue meanie.

We see a very short scene of Fred’s party, where the party goers playing 20 Questions guess that Fred is thinking of Ebenezer Scrooge, when all they know is the answer is an animal. What a weird way to edit that scene down. It’s also confusing that in this loose adaptation with oddly specific references to the book, Tiny Tim never says his famous line “God bless us everyone.” I mean, that’s in all of them. He does say “Let our love eat away at his unjust soul” about Scrooge, so that’s a perfectly fine alternate that a young child would definitely say. I can’t wait to see that one on t-shirts.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is drawn in an impressionistic style, sometimes showing himself clearly while other times being very blurry.

fuutre

Don’t get me wrong—that’s a cool shot. It just doesn’t line up with the relatively straightforward animation of the rest of the film. I suppose if all three ghosts had similar animation styles in their movement, it could work, but even that isn’t consistent.

Worst of all, instead of Scrooge slowly wiping snow off his gravestone to reveal his name, a character just says “Ebenezer Scrooge,” and Scrooge knows he’s dead in the future. Come on! Have some atmosphere. You don’t need to do it just like the book, but at least be in the spirit of it.

After Scrooge wakes up, the movie decides we need a pop song (over an hour into a movie that lasts 75 minutes), because we haven’t thrown enough randomness at the screen yet. Kate Winslet sings “What If?” as Scrooge walks to visit Belle, but it’s not Belle singing! It’s just a song played over the scene, even though that hasn’t really been done in the movie up to this point (Christmas Past kind of had a song playing while she flew).

Scrooge of course helps out the orphanage and fires Old Joe, and Belle forgives him.

belle

The Scrooge being younger thing boils down to nothing, as Belle tells Scrooge he can be a better person, but there’s no real sense that they’ll rekindle their romance. Basically everything else wraps up in the traditional sense.

Why does this exist? There is not one unique or intriguing moment in the film… except maybe the design of Christmas Future. It acts like it’s going to do all new things with the text, and then it doesn’t. Why does Old Joe have an expanded character? I understand giving Belle more to do as it adds a main female character, but she’s ultimately just another good person for Scrooge to act better towards at the end. None of the voice acting barring Cage is awful, but the animation sure is. Let’s see what our judges say.

kirkhalf

It took out the line about God. I think you know where I stand.

Fair enough. Mr. Mayor?

budgets

It took out the line about mayors. I think you know where I stand.

There’s a line about mayors?

Look it up.

Well let’s see…

The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.

Well there you have it. A Christmas Carol has a line about mayors. I guess that’s two bags out of a thousand then.

Just skip this one, unless you’re trying to watch every last version of A Christmas Carol. It’s pretty unpleasant. I’d rather watch Nestor or The Gift of Winter again.

frames.png

Next week, it’s Miss Velma’s Christmas in America. I am beyond ready to check this weird stage show out.

MATCH-UP HOME

HOME

 

 

Best Christmas Song: Quarterfinals

quarter

quarters

All that remain are the division winners. Who will make the Final Four?

(1) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in St. Louis vs. (1) Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town by Bruce Springsteen

It’s the battle of the #1 seeds. One’s an iconic Christmas song from a classic Hollywood musical, the other’s an all-out rollicking interpretation of a kids’ song. Which will it be?

(1) Christmas in Hollis by Run-D.M.C. vs. (3) Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love

Is this even a contest? I think Run-D.M.C. has run its course.

(1) You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch from How the Grinch Stole Christmas vs. (4) Winter Wonderland by Richard Himber and Joey Nash

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an iconic special, but there’s just something about this song that pushes it over the edge into classic territory.

“Winter Wonderland” is one of those songs that’s just so light and pleasant, that no matter who’s covering it (there may be an exception or two), it raises your spirits a bit. Will that be enough for it to move into the Final Four?

(1) Silver Bells by Steve Martin and Paul Simon vs. (5) Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee

It won the Novelty division of the tournament, but is this comedic monologue funny enough to go all the way?

You’d called it the best Christmas song of the ’50s, but is this rock-and-roller strong enough to make the Final Four?

TOURNAMENT HOME

HOME