On the twelfth day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: A Golden Christmas, starring Andrea Roth and Nicholas Brendon as Jessica and Michael, who met as 9-year-olds one summer and fell in puppy love, only to part ways and not see each other before each marrying someone else, having a child, divorcing, and deciding to move back to that small town of their childhood. Jessica and Michael were introduced by a golden retriever who Michael followed into the woods to where Jessica was playing; Michael adopted the dog afterward. More importantly, they seem to have never told each other their names.
Jessica, who knows that her parents have wanted to sell the family home for some time, thinks it would be a good idea to surprise them at Christmas with the news that she is going to buy it and live there with her son. Unfortunately, they have already found a buyer in Michael, who is trying to sell his own house nearby and move in with his daughter and golden retriever. Jessica pleads with Michael to let her have the house, because it is so important to her suddenly as she remembers her idyllic childhood summer, but she does not go so far as to explain that her fond memory is of a boy she met and his golden retriever. If she did, it would have been a very quick movie.
Instead, Jessica schemes to cheat Michael out of the house one way or another, going so far as to thwart the sale of his own house to some interested buyers, which is quite a dick move. Meanwhile Michael is led by his dog to the old childhood meeting place in the woods where he and Jessica buried an old tin lunchbox as a time capsule. Both the lunchbox and the dog are remarkably well preserved considering that they should be at least 25 years old. When Jessica sees the lunchbox she puts two and two together, more or less, and tries to make it up to Michael.
The film slowly draws to a close on Christmas as Michael celebrates the sale of his house and reconciles with Jessica. The magic golden retriever has puppies and leaves them immediately in the care of Michael and Jessica’s children, running off into the woods like The Littlest Hobo, having finally accomplished her mission and left behind what can only be her magical do-gooding spawn. And indeed, there is a Golden Christmas 2 on Netflix, which apparently stars Jessica’s parents after they move to Florida, helping another estranged couple rediscover love through the healing properties of dogs.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: Amy Acker in a film directed by Jason Priestley that has one wildly inappropriate moment after another. Dear Santa is the story of spoiled rich girl Crystal, who is threatened with being cut off by her parents if she does not find some direction in life. As she admires some new shoes in a shop window, a nearby mailman drops a child’s letter to Santa, which is carried on the wind by fate itself and smacks against the shop window.
Crystal reads the letter, a plea from a child called Olivia (Emma Duke), who misses her late mother and wants her dad Derek (David Haydn-Jones) to be happy again. Rather than do the sensible thing and drop the letter straight back in the mail, Crystal makes the first of many terrible, inappropriate decisions and drives to the child’s home. She then follows Derek to his workplace, a soup kitchen that is short of funds, and volunteers in order to get to know him. She quickly befriends the chef of the soup kitchen – a man so stereotypically gay that he wears pink chef’s whites – and confides in him. Again, rather than do the sensible thing and tell Crystal to leave Derek the hell alone, the chef gives her the lowdown on his boss.
There is an obstacle in Crystal’s way: Jillian, an old school girlfriend of Derek’s who intends to regain his affections and, as she puts it, get the ring on her finger. Derek doesn’t seem to be into her that much, but as he explains to Crystal in one of the most horrifying scenes, Olivia does need a mother, and his own happiness has to take a backseat. The rivalry between Crystal and Jillian leads to several cringeworthy conversations and conflicts, culminating in Jillian finding Olivia’s letter in Crystal’s purse and revealing the truth to Derek.
Everyone involved in Dear Santa deserves a lump of coal in their stockings. Even by the low standards of holiday movies, it’s pretty terrible.
On the tenth day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: a surprisingly thoughtful film about the true meaning of Christianity, instead of the usual platitudes about the true meaning of Christmas. I was hesitant to watch this because it was made by a Christian film company, and my experience with Christian-backed films is that they tend to be more concerned about proselytizing than telling a story; but the script for Christmas With a Capital C is not about preaching to the converted.
Which is not to say it is not intended for a Christian audience; it clearly is. It is the tale of Dan, a prideful mayor (Ted McGinley) who resents the sudden intrusion of an old school rival (Daniel Baldwin) who returns to his small Alaskan town complaining about the presence of a nativity scene on the grounds of the town hall. This leads to some hard feelings, especially on the part of Dan’s brother, who has little patience for non-Christians in America.
Fortunately, the film gives equal time to Christians at different points on the spectrum, most notably a minister who observes at one point that the nativity scene shouldn’t be what is important; it’s just wood, and the mayor shouldn’t make an idol of it or of traditions. The mayor’s own wife says that maybe Christians should be less concerned about their rights – especially ones that don’t exist, like imposing one’s religion on a civic venue – and more concerned about doing good for others.
I have to say, I am so used to negative media portrayals of Christians, thanks to politicians and self-appointed representatives trying to further their own agenda in the name of Christ, that watching a film like this is a real breath of fresh air. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, and there are some clunky moments, but I was pretty impressed with Christmas With a Capital C. I hope that a lot of Christians and their opponents take the time to watch and think about it.
An additional note worth mentioning: the film is inspired by and takes its name from a song by a Christian music act called Go Fish. The song is much more strident about the issue and could even be seen as a rallying cry for the “War on Christmas” people. The movie is NOT like the song, which unfortunately is played over the credits and is pretty terrible.
On the ninth day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: the sequel to a movie I’ve never seen, starring Jenny McCarthy (!) as the daughter of Santa Claus (!!). Mary Class (pronounced Claus) is a high-powered businesswoman in New York as the film opens; her husband Luke (Dean McDermott) is a postal worker who breeds and trains sled dogs. On the verge of closing a big deal with Colin Nottingham (Kris Holden-Reid), Mary is called home to the North Pole shortly before Christmas because her father Chris (Paul Sorvino – !!!) has decided to retire.
Santa Claus has essentially abandoned his job, leaving it in the care of a production manager called Teri (Kelli Stables) who has a hidden agenda. Mary tries to run the place at first, but the elves take their cues from Teri, at one point organizing and striking for better “wages”, which amounts to cookies with sprinkles on both sides instead of one. Concerned that her business deal is in jeapordy, Mary washes her hands of it and leaves Luke at the North Pole with his dogs. Meanwhile, the conniving Teri moves to not only usurp Santa’s job, but to tempt Luke; which isn’t hard, because he’s not very bright.
In the end, of course, the status quo is restored and nepotism triumphs over Germanic efficiency. Which, I suppose, is the story of Christmas in a nutshell.
On the eighth day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: “a very special Christmas episode of The Twilight Zone,” which is how Liza McCann (Nicole DeBoer) describes it when she is called out of the blue to visit her estranged father in the small town of Hollyville. She brings her young son Mason, who is excited to see his grandfather and to spend time in a place that not only appears to be crazy about Christmas, but may be the base of operations for Santa Claus himself.
While Mason runs around spying on elves and the local mechanic fixing a certain sleigh, Liza tries to figure out what has happened to her type-A father who used to think that Christmas was a waste of time. The owner of the local diner where her father works, Kevin (Patrick Muldoon), tries to explain the local perspective.
This movie is like watching a holiday episode of Gilmore Girls from a parallel universe, where Rory is a largely unsupervised boy. It spends a lot of time and energy explaining how Santa’s workshop could really work in logistical terms in the modern age; as the snooping Mason discovers, it is a rather depressing Ikea-like warehouse with painted concrete hallways and a locker room where Santa gets changed. It’s an odd choice for a film that is about a parent rediscovering the magic of Christmas.
On the seventh day of Christmas, Netflix sent to me: another ABC Family Christmas movie starring Christina Milian. Needless to say, after the trauma of Christmas Cupid I was reluctant to press play on this one. This time she plays Angie, a streetwise New York deli clerk whose family doesn’t respect her space; you can tell she’s from New York by her Ratzo Rizzo accent.
Her family’s lack of boundaries are impressive, and catalogued in the span of a few minutes of film time: her parents own the building she lives in; they barge in to her apartment all the time to watch TV or make family dinners; her pregnant sister wants to trade apartments; and her parents have screened tenants so that a creepy new guy is her neighbour. Creepy neighbour (who also played a creepy forensics guy on Dexter this season) is opening a new bar when Angie’s parents aren’t inviting him to dinner.
Understandably annoyed, Angie is in the mood to escape her family; she gets her wish when a mysterious package containing a snow globe arrives. It’s a magical snow globe that, when shaken, transports her to the idyllic little town inside. Assuming she is dreaming, she plays along and introduces herself to the innocent village folk, then returns to her real life; only to return the following night, and again, and again so often that her family starts to complain about never seeing her. For her part, Angie adjusts to being magically transported to Pleasantville: Christmas Edition surprisingly quickly.
At least, she does until a guy from the snow globe follows her into New York and hijinks ensue. Compared to the last thing I saw Milian in, Snow Globe is an adequate holiday movie about a young woman who needs an escape, only to wind up in pretty much the position her parents wanted her in. If there are any feminist media studies academics out there looking for thesis topics, you might want to start here.
On the sixth day of Christmas, Netflix gave to me: an unlikely tale about ambitious mall manager Jennifer (Laura VanDeVoort), who hires a hot guy from the neighbourhood to dance and show his abs before sitting down to hear the kids’ wish lists; a little eye candy for the moms, as it were. The winning candidate, David (Nick Zano), wants to use his winnings to fund the legal appeal for his family’s business, a local pizzaria threatened with closure so that a new office tower can be built.
So, it’s basically The Shop Around The Corner with a six-pack, but it works. VanDeVoort is convincing as the woman who chooses her surrogate mall family over the Big Promotion. Zano is well-cast as the family-first good guy. Jennifer’s boss is ridiculously demanding, like he came from a production of Glengarry Glen Ross, at one point telling Jennifer that not only does she need to improve sales of her South Boston mall, she has to make sure that her mall’s sales are the best of the chain if she wants the promotion.
Think of that for a second: the sales of a mall in South Boston outperforming those in the affluent, easier to access suburbs? And then, when she somehow pulls off that impressive feat, what does her boss do? Tell her he’s closing the mall. Fortunately she turns the tables and finds a way to blackmail him into leaving Southie alone, allowing David to use his winnings for medical school instead. I suppose I should feel indignant as a feminist for her sacrificing her career for her new boyfriend’s needs (even if he will be a doctor with a six-pack); but considering what a dick her boss is, I guess it’s not much of a sacrifice. With sales results like hers, she should be able to land on her feet.
On the fifth day of Christmas, Netflix gave to me: one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Christmas Cupid is a painful and ultimately offensive remake of A Christmas Carol starring Christina Milian, whose career was looking so promising when she was in Torque. Here she plays Sloane Spencer, a PR executive and all-around control freak whose impending birthday publicity blitz for party-girl ingenue Caitlin Quinn (Ashley Benson, Pretty Little Liars) takes a dark turn when Caitlin chokes to death on a giant olive from her martini. Not to worry, though: Caitlin returns as Sloane’s personal Jacob Marley, presenting her with ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in the form of her corresponding boyfriends. “Change your ways,” warns Caitlin, unable to be more specific than that.
It’s good advice, because in many ways, Sloane acts like a sociopath. When someone in her elevator holds the door for another woman, she kicks the man’s briefcase out into the hallway so that she can have the lift to herself. She demands that all of her firm’s employees work on Christmas Day to plan the memorial service for Caitlin. I had to keep reminding myself that she is Scrooge in this story, and not just an asshole; probably because she is not the owner of the PR firm, just an ambitious agent hoping for a promotion. She even accepts a marriage proposal from her superior because of what she thinks he can do for her career.
As a conscience, the ghost of Caitlin is pretty terrible too. She’s a stereotype of a vapid young actress, drinking (or throwing her drink), making weird sex-related jokes; and in a scene that actually really angered me, she talks about how heaven has “an open bar” and includes a couple of actors who died young. Thing is, both of those actors killed themselves; one not very long ago, leaving behind a wife and daughter. This incredibly insensitive line made my jaw drop like I was in a Daffy Duck cartoon.
Sometimes watching a bad movie is fun; this is not one of those times. Everyone associated with this film should be ashamed, especially the screenwriter, who somehow failed to adapt one of the simplest, most resonant holiday stories of all time. I have seen junior high school productions with more wit, charm, and energy than Christmas Cupid.
On the fourth day of Christmas, Netflix gave to me: All She Wants for Christmas, a much less lighthearted holiday movie than we tend to expect. Monica Keena (Undeclared) is Noelle, the bookkeeper of a small town family company that makes Christmas decorations. The company is in trouble, she discovers, because the late owner had been subsidizing it from his own personal fortune; but with him gone, his heirs have arrived to decide whether or not the company should shut its doors. This would be a blow not just to the local economy, but also to the spirit of a town that loves Christmas only slightly less than Stars Hollow.
Meanwhile, Noelle is in an entirely different set of negotiations with Justin (Tobias Mehler, Battlestar Galactica), the secretive good guy that works in the warehouse; and James (Steve Bacic), who has come to town to assess its potential as a home for a store that is obviously Wal-Mart but called something else. That’s how small this town is: it doesn’t have a Wal-Mart, and Terry David Mulligan is the mayor.
For a Lifetime Christmas movie, All She Wants is actually fairly serious, spending a surprising amount of time debating the economic impact of the factory closure, the tradeoff of a big retailer coming to town, and so on. This is even more remarkable considering that the film was made in 2006, before the worldwide banking crisis hit, giving the film an extra (albeit unintended) gravitas. Still, it is a Christmas movie, and I don’t think I am spoiling anything when I say that things work out in the end thanks to Noelle and her accounting skills. It is, after all, what she wants for Christmas.
On the third day of Christmas, Netflix gave to me: an appalling idea for a holiday film starring Melissa Joan Hart and Mario Lopez. Holiday in Handcuffs is the story of underachieving artist called Trudie who is terrified of disappointing her parents (Timothy Bottoms and Markie Post), who need everything to be perfect at Christmas. Rather than admit the fact that she has been making up stories about a perfect boyfriend, she uses a prop flintlock from her restaurant job to kidnap an engaged lawyer called David. She takes him on a road trip to the secluded log cabin where her family will be spending the holidays, and somehow convinces them that if he protests, it’s just because he’s nervous and is trying to be funny. Meanwhile, David’s fiancee is trying to find out what happened to him.
This movie is just strange in a lot of ways, because despite its premise it is still a conventional rom-com where Trudie and David overcome their differences and find a sort of Stockholm-syndrome romance. Meanwhile, Trudie’s perfect family turns out not to be so perfect as it appears. Trudie’s hard-drinking grandmother is played by June Lockhart, and we are never really told what June’s problem is; perhaps she is supposed to represent the audience. At any rate, Holiday in Handcuffs is pretty messed up; so if you think you have a dysfunctional family, perhaps it will make you feel better.