Friday, December 21, 2012

'Tis the Season for Strange Movies

Like gifts and ornaments, food and decorated trees, the holiday movie has always been part of the Christmas tradition for me. This year, I've steered clear of my usual suspects and decided to watch some of the lesser standards that I'm not as familiar with. By "lesser standards" you can read "completely strange and bizarre movies." With exception of Micky Mouse's Christmas Carol, I've watched two really odd movies, ones that prove studios will make script if they think they can tie it into that Christmas cash that flows freely this time of year.

First up on the list is The Nutcracker, a rarely seen 2009 piece of surrealist cinema. I remember reading about this in Entertainment Weekly's Holiday Movie Guide a few years ago and thought it sounded great. The look of it reminded me of the Narnia movies and the idea of bringing this fairy tale ballet to the screen seemed really promising. So when I got a few free months of Showtime recently, I saw this on the schedule and recorded it. 

Words can't really describe this film. It was part family entertainment, part CGI mess, and a good dose of Terry Gilliam-esque weirdness. There were so many strange choices made in the editing room on this one that I found myself wondering what it was I was watching. It couldn't decide if it wanted to be a fairy tale or some twisted version of Pink Floyd's The Wall

Some highlights of strangeness include John Turturro's amazingly odd Rat King, Elle Fanning interacting almost entirely with computer generated characters, and Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein (yes, you read that right). There are two moments in the movie where his character address the audience for no apparent reason, and then it never happens again. Rat soldiers riding on motorcycles and talking in thick Brooklyn accents, even though the movie is set in Vienna. Alice in Wonderland-like size shifting, which loses all of its logic about half-way through the movie. And two out-of-context allusions to Freud being somewhere off screen, though given the Snow Fairy's scene with Elle Fanning, perhaps not so out-of-context after all.

This definitely isn't a good movie, but that said, I was thoroughly entertained. I can only imagine the confused joy that would have greeted me had I seen this in the theater, in glorious 3D.

The other movie I watched recently was the 1979 animated Jack Frost, done by the same makers the beloved Rudolph movies. I'd seen this as a kid and remembered it being one of the stranger ones. So naturally, I also recorded this off the TV.

The oddness hits right at the beginning. That's because the first several minutes make one believe they recorded the wrong movie because it's all about Groundhog's Day. But by a convoluted twist, we go back in time to a Christmas past when Jack Frost fell in love and wanted to be a real human. 

The most amazing sequence in this movie is the visit to Father Winter's kingdom in the clouds. It's modeled off of what I believe is every child's imagining of Heaven. There is an army of snow sprites and one old sprite named Snip who cuts all the snowflakes. Then there's Holly, who is a child for some reason, and the only female. 

From there on, it morphs into a more traditional holiday tale of overthrowing some evil Slavic king and the return of a crusading knight. There is also a bit about ice money and imaginary presents. Mechanical horses and soldiers round out the cast of crazy. Then at the end, we return to complete the Groundhog's Day connection with a conclusion that doesn't seem to take into account that our narrating groundhog must be hundreds of years old. Needless to say, I loved it.

Though both of these movies were strange, neither of them compare to the classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Sadly this wasn't on TV, and probably hasn't been in decades. But growing up, we had this on VHS and it's amazing.

The basic story is that Santa is kidnapped from the North Pole by Martians and ends up bringing Christmas to the red planet. I do believe nothing more needs said.

Though I've enjoyed my trip to surrealist Christmas, I think from here on in I'm going to stick with my favorites. Lots of hi-jinx, lots of laughs, and whole lot of holiday cheer.


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