Skip to main content

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.


Santa Clause: I don’t go ho-ho-ho. That's a myth.

Bizarrely, this was dreamt up by David Guggenheim (Safe House, Designated Survivor, the forthcoming Bad Boys for Life) before being scripted by Matt Lieberman (various upcoming reboots including The Addams Family, Scooby Doo and Short Circuit, so I'm guessing, if he isn't feeling creatively fulfilled, his bank balance is providing the necessary solace). Maybe it featured more torture and heavy artillery in concept form?


Although to be fair, while you couldn't remotely suggest The Christmas Chronicles is hard-hitting, and works scrupulously to prove the point during the third act, it does allow the odd icicle of cold, harsh reality to intrude, common to many a chestnut-roasting, moral-spouting Christmas classic (not that this is a future one). An opening montage of festive camcorder footage charts the period from 2006 to 2017, upon which we discover this is the Pierces' first year without dad (Oliver Hudson). He was a fireman, while mom Kimberly Williams-Paisley – I can see she's barely been out of work since, but for me there's a near direct jump between Father of the Bride and this; well okay, maybe Father of the Bride Part II – is a nurse. Could there be a more socially upstanding couple? 


Teddy (Judah Lewis, young Johnny Utah in the shameful Point Break remake) is the oldest Pierce sibling, and a massive shit to little sister Kate (Darby Camp, young Patti in The Leftovers, which is more of a claim to fame, as is her role in Big Little Lies). Given how incorrigibly winsome Kate is, one might see this as entirely reasonable, but no, he is a shit, and what's more, he refuses to put up the Christmas tree and engages in car crime. What kind of terror won't put up the tree? He has it coming. Of course, he was a good lad only a year earlier, wearing the kind of Christmas sweater only a child bound for a life behind bars would. It was dad dying what done it, so while it's nice 'n' all that he rediscovers his inner nature, it's unfortunate that he had to become entirely anodyne with it.


Teddy: Don't you break into like, a billion homes a year? I mean, technically that's illegal too.
Santa Claus: Fair point.

The dynamics of their ending up in Santa’s sleigh are as unlikely as a ten-year-old still believing in the big guy, but as soon as Russell enters the scene, the picture peps up. He's an absolute blast, refusing any impetus to twinkle or offer flavourless inanities. This is clearly tailor made for Kurt, who gives it his best singing voice (he was Elvis, after all) and is more Jack Burton in drawl (although Santa isn't a doofus like Jack) than David Huddleston or Sir Dickie (and thank goodness for that). He takes exception to be illustrated as a "big fat slob" ("Yeah, well, billboards add eighty pounds, Freddie") and claims not to say "ho ho ho" until he does.


But when his sleigh crashes – it appears it can enter the Crimbo equivalent of hyperspace while flying – he inveigles the kids to help him sort out Christmas – by making it look like they've volunteered, the crafty devil reveals later – the spirit of the season factor falling incrementally as the night wears on as he gets more and more behind with not keeping up deliveries. That said, being Kurt, he doesn't seem overly alarmed at any point, even if he recalls how the Dark Ages ensued the last time Christmas came a cropper.


Santa Claus: So, who can give us a ride into the city so I can find my reindeer?

Various comedic vignettes ensue, coasting on the Russell charm. In a bar, he illustrates his precise knowledge of patrons' histories and responds in kind to the rude ones ("Hope you like coal") before making off with the bartender's stolen car (the latter, in finest tradition, does a Home Alone prat fall on slipping on some ice cubes): "Stolen by two kids and a very large man", the very large man commenting "Trading eight reindeer for 400 horses" before being caught by the fuzz.


Santa Claus: Why must they keep drawing me like that? I mean, does my butt really look that big to you?

Arresting officers Povenda (Martin Roach) and Jameson (Lamorne Morris) offer fine incredulous reactions to the genuine Christmas article, particularly the former during Santa's interrogation. He's shown the toys he wanted most as a kid (in pristine packaging, naturally) while encouraged to contact his ex. Once in lockup, Kurt makes the best of things by launching into Santa Claus is Back in Town with a makeshift band and obliging backing singers (hookers). No, there's never any danger of him pulling a Billy Bob Thornton, but this Santa is raucous enough to make watching him fun, and how true has that ever been previously of the genuine Saint Nick on screen?


Alas, there's a too lengthy spell prior to this number where it's just Teddy and Kate trying to retrieve Santa's sack – she gets lost inside while Teddy is accosted by a gang of hoodlums. Curiously, rather than stabbing him and letting him bleed out in the park, they take him back to their lair. During which, we're witness to Kate enjoying the avaricious utopia within the sack, a virtual world of sick-making Santanic excess. It's here that director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds) most clearly shows his animator pedigree, embarking on CGI overkill, complete with wannabe quirky funster elves. He was probably thinking Minions, but they fall completely flat and are wholly devoid of charm (that said, in a seeming homage to the Columbus-scripted Gremlins, at one point one of them does appear intent on cutting Teddy in half with a chainsaw).


Consequently, you can pretty much check out during the last twenty minutes. Pretty much. Its worth returning in time for Mrs Claus played by Mrs Russell ("So Nick, were you just a little bit naughty last night?") As for Santa's modus operandi, it appears there are limits to his abilities (no resurrecting dead parents) and he remains conspicuously silent on the world's homeless and starving – presumably only those with smartphones can send him a wish list and for the rest it's hard cheese – but I guess anything short of sentiment overdrive is a result.


The Christmas Chronicles is actually a lot more fun than it has any right to be, then; it's easy to knock off any old tat under the yuletide banner and guarantee a baseline ready and willing audience (Jingle All the Way, anyone?) There isn't exactly strong competition for best big screen Santa, on the basis of which Russell can be confident of the crown/red-and-white hat. As for why this is called The Christmas Chronicles, your guess is as good as mine. It makes it sound more like the first chapter of a dustbin-bound 1930s-set would-be fantasy franchise, rather than a relatively broad-playing contemporary comedy.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

It’s the Mount Everest of haunted houses.

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
(SPOILERS) In retrospect, 1973 looks like a banner year for the changing face of the horror movie. The writing was on the wall for Hammer, which had ruled the roost in Britain for so long, and in the US the release of The Exorcist completed a transformation of the genre that had begun with Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby; the realistic horror film, where the terror was to be found in the everyday (the home, the family). Then there was Don’t Look Now, which refracted horror tropes through a typically Nic Roeg eye, fracturing time and vision in a meditative exploration of death and grief. The Wicker Man, meanwhile, would gather its reputation over the passing years. It stands as a kind of anti-horror movie, eschewing standard scares and shock tactics for a dawning realisation of the starkness of opposing belief systems and the fragility of faith.

In comparison to this trio, The Legend of Hell House is something of a throwback; its slightly stagey tone, and cobweb…