Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011: A Holiday Book and Movie Review Special by Robert Steven Mack (intitially published in students newspaper)

I was filled with a pleased satisfaction upon getting this article assignment; not only was I to write about holiday films and books, but it gave me an opportunity to revisit my old favorites. Starting Saturday, I pulled out a stack full of movies relating to my article and got to work. What a marvelous day! And I have to say, before getting down to business that I fail to understand why some people have branded Christmas a “bad” holiday just because of the over-commercialization it gets every year. How can it be a bad holiday when it brings happiness and joy to so many people? And while I admit that most of the books and films I selected will deal strictly with Christmas, many also represent the underlying common goal between mankind; peace, love, happiness, and the belief in the universal goodness of mankind and discretely show that it doesn’t matter what holiday you celebrate-whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim-what matters is the thought behind it.

While appreciating the newer films can be a good thing, we mustn’t forget the classics from which we can learn most from; I shall start with them. The Answer, a part of an old 1950’s anthology TV series, starred David Niven as an intelligent but down-on-his-luck playwright who meets a successful Hollywood writer returning home for the holidays to puzzle his life through. This mesmerizing story finishes with a thought-provoking exit of the two new-found friends having just discovered the true meaning of peace on earth; so simple and yet so powerful a story when watched. Another, Beyond Tomorrow is a soft epic telling of three successful but isolated business partners looking for company to share a Christmas dinner. So they throw their wallets out the window hoping someone honest will return the wallets giving them an excuse to invite someone in for dinner. The “honest” is made up of a modest young man from the west with a voice of sparkling gold and a young woman working at the nearby children’s hospital. Soon after uniting their two young friends, the three men, now full of life, suffer a fatal accident only to return as spirits when the handsome young cowboy is snatched by showbiz for his voice leaving him in a snobbish world while the three men try to restore him to the world and people he belongs with. This is a witty but heartfelt Christmas classic to be cherished and loved for all its timeless wisdom.

The classic musical-comedies White Christmas (1954) and Holiday Inn (1942) bring fun and music to the holiday season with witty plotlines, twists, and romance. Other holiday comedy classics are The Lemon Drop Kid (with Bob Hope) and Christmas in Connecticut (with Barbara Stanwyck) both of with I have yet to see, but have heard great things about. Another light-hearted comedy about the true meaning of Christmas, called Miracle on 34th Street, to this day remains one of the most cherished and witty classics of them all! It deals with the conquering commercialism of Christmas and how one white- bearded man, claiming to be Santa, is hired by a department store to play “himself.” Mr. Kringle’s unusual sales approach causes legal battles and business rivalry throughout the city.
In Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart plays a good-natured small town dreamer and civic-minded friend whose oppression from a greedy Scrooge-like banker causes him to think that the whole town would be better of if he had never been born. That is until an angel shows up in Stewart’s time of need to show him what the town would really be like if he were never born. This classic story is a haunting heartfelt blissful tale of Christmas and the power of friends and giving.

The next films are a way to celebrate the holiday season regardless to what holiday you celebrate. Santa Claus Captures the Martians (1964), a low budget sci-fiction family comedy from the ‘60’s will be equally enjoyable and fun to watch for Jews and Muslims as it will be to Christians-as it can be slightly made fun of. It contains somewhat cheesy effects as well as sets that look like they are made from painted card-board, but still have a fun plot.

Books, on the other hand, have been harder for me to select, so again I stuck with the classics. For those who like to read, Charles Dickens’s classic novella, A Christmas Carol is about a cold, greedy type called Ebenezer Scrooge who one night, on Christmas Eve is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come to change his view of Christmas and life. Dicken’s writing is crisp and whimsical and if you liked that, it was followed by the lesser known books: The Chimes, The Holy Tree, The Cricket on the Hearth, Household Words, and All Year Round. Each is available in a bookstore near you-though probably in a collection of Charles Dickens Christmas stories. The book had been adapted into countless films including the 1984 film with George C. Scott, a much older 1939 film and a ’35 film called Scrooge. A musical and surprisingly not bad presentation starring the Muppets (Muppet Christmas Carol), and the recent 2009 CGI animated 3-D film that added a much darker tone to the classic story than ever before. If you would like an idealistic approach to religion you may find Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Number the Stars to your liking. And of course, the book The Polar Express has long remained a favorite and perhaps even more so with the 2004 film based on the book which, like Miracle on 34th Street, deals with overcoming narrow-mindedness and prejudice. I suppose the best way to turn for a fun family comedy just right for the season would be Home Alone and its sequel Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Both movies are hilarious but at times quite painful.

Specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Year Without Santa Clause, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are cheerful and yet often quite meaningful celebrations of the true meaning of Christmas: the celebration of diversity, joy, peace, love, and happiness and no holiday season should be without them!.

In theaters now is a rather silly looking film called Arthur Christmas. But in fact, it provides a fresh up-to-date approach to an old legend. It’s a fun Christmas comedy about Santa that will pep you up for the holiday spirit.

These films along with many others will bring holiday cheers into your heart.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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