Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas On Film

Holiday movies are a cultural tradition in America. This is one of the rare film genres the viewer can rely on. Christmas movies are nearly always rather innocent with happy endings. The Hollywood trend of removing Baby Jesus started long ago. Remember Holiday Inn, The Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas? But all of these show rediscovered hope and wonder in humanity's goodness. It's A Wonderful Life never mentions Jesus Christ either, but it's theme of sacrifice hearkens to why Christ was born in the first place. More recent holiday films, like Home Alone and A Christmas Story, while light comedies, celebrate the love within families along with the challenges of those bonds. While there are so many favorites for Christmas, new holiday movies come out every year. I've found a few new ones, one classic and another released just last year.

I'll Be Seeing You stars Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton. Rogers plays a woman on furlough from prison. On her way to see family for Christmas, she meets a soldier (Cotton). He's recovering from battle in the pacific, with wounds both physical and mental. In black and white, the casting and acting is superb. The sadness and self-awareness in Ginger Roger's performance is matched by Joseph Cotton's unease and vulnerability. As the two fall in love over Christmas vacation, the tension grows. How long can Ginger Rogers keep her secret? What will happen when her soldier finds out? This movie is set during WWII, and the bittersweetness of that time comes through. Having already faced the fragile nature of life, you believe these two deserve some happiness with each other.

Fred Claus is an unusual look at Santa Claus. In most Santa Claus movies, there are all kinds of convoluted devices to explain how Santa works, how he's real. In this film, Santa is from the typical dysfunctional family, with Santa's brother Fred being overshadowed by and eventually resenting his famous, sainted brother. Fred is played by Vince Vaughn, with his usual fast-talking bad boy persona to hide his unhappiness. With a stellar cast featuring Paul Giamatti as Santa, Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Claus (in addition to Kevin Spacey and Kathy Bates), Fred Claus is at it's best with Vaughn's glib wit and lots of slapstick. It's not G, so parents should watch first to decide if it's right for their kids.

One of the little twists in Fred Claus is how it breaks Hollywood's rule about being immortal: one of the prices for everlasting life is that everyone you love dies, while you live on. As Santa is immortal here, so is his family and wife. So merry everlasting Christmas!