Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
The following correspondence between various writers at RogerEbert.com was initiated by Donald Liebenson and inspired by the upcoming Christmas holiday. I always love reading the discussions between our wonderful group of contributors, and always find new films to seek out. Here's wishing you a season of happy movie viewings! My contribution is a more recent movie, "The Preacher's Wife," with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. —Chaz Ebert
Holiday greetings from Chicago:
It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas--from the song of the same name--and I've got my usual watchlist of beloved holiday films lined up. But I was thinking it might be fun to shake things up this year. Not that I am Ralphie'd and George Bailey'd out exactly (and I never get tired of "Shop Around the Corner"), but I imagine there are under-the-radar holiday films that haven't gotten the love or exposure they deserve. That's where you all come in. In the spirit of Brian's call last Halloween for underrated horror movies, how about doing the same for Christmas movies? I have a couple ("Comfort and Joy" and "Mr. Soft Touch" come to mind), but I'll wager that many of you, nay, all of you have favorite holiday viewing traditions that are off the beaten track. Care to share?
Hee-haw and Merry Christmas.
CRAIG D. LINDSEY
Have you seen "Tangerine" yet?
As a kid, I used to love the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and always watched that as well as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and "The Sound of Music." As an adult, another adult ruined the Seuss classic for me by calling me a Grinch because I didn't celebrate Christmas.
Where I used to live, there was a tradition of having a singalong presentation of "Fiddler on the Roof," but I've never been able to get tickets. My husband likes "Die Hard" and "Love, Actually" while I prefer "A Nightmare Before Christmas."
Hello, long-time listener, first-time caller.
My first thought is, of course, selfish: last year, I co-programmed a series of Christmas cult films at the IFC Center. Here's the line-up.
My second thought is of a trio of films that I wanted to program, but that we couldn't screen for one reason or another: "Cash on Demand," "Day of the Beast," and "The Proposition."
Anyway. Yesterday evening was the last night of Hanukkah. I hope you are all looking forward to (and ultimately enjoy) a fine holiday ahead.
In my native Poland, the biggest Christmas hit, played religiously on TV on Xmas day and scoring record-breaking ratings annually, is "Home Alone". My compatriots' love for this movie must be baffling to an outside observer, but I can fully understand it (and I do partake in it). The movie opened here in 1990, one year after the fall of communism. The fantasy of suddenly unbridled access to consumer goods was something we could all relate to -- in a way, Kevin McCallister's sudden freedom from parental presence and economic control mirrored our own freshly regained freedom. We gorged ourselves on the sudden influx of Western junk, which we could only crave beforehand. Moreover, the idea of defending one's household against a pair of malevolent crooks also strikes a chord in Polish souls (imagine being stuck between Germany and Russia for centuries). Overall, Kevin's pluck and resilience -- as well as the absolutely fabulous wealth of his palatial suburban home, which seemed near-surreal to our eyes back then -- made him into a beloved figure, and the movie into an enduring classic.
"Home Alone," like the other Hughes movies, was filmed near where my husband and I grew up and when Kevin runs away from the drug store, he runs by the house my husband lived in. Michał, next time you come to the US, we must arrange for you to see the home Kevin and his family lived in. (And the wedding in "Sixteen Candles" is in the church where I had my Girl Scout meetings.)
I would absolutely love that! Let me add as a side note, that when I watched the movie (repeatedly) in 1990, I became obsessed with the color and design of the detergent bottle Kevin uses in the laundry room scenes. Years later, I was genuinely thrilled when -- on my first visit to the U.S. -- I actually laid my hands on a bottle of Tide myself.
Wow...the power of product placement!
Here's a question my SO and I haven't managed to resolve: is "The Nightmare Before Christmas" a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie?
Christmas. Because it's one goth's quest to brighten his Christmas spirits in the only way he knows how: by making it more like Halloween. Not entirely relatable (pour moi), but understandable.
I'd got with both...particularly when you live near the original Disneyland and your FB friend list is like cosplay central.
Ernst Lubitsch's "The Shop Around the Corner" is often overlooked and underrated when it comes to Christmas movies. It's such a charming little gem. Every Christmas I look forward to a James Stewart double bill at home: "It's a Wonderful Life" & "The Shop Around the Corner."
I love those movies, too. And am especially happy that the Borders in Pasadena is now gone, but the independent store Vroman's is not. I DO miss Cliff's Books in Pasadena. Celebrate your local bookstores during the holidays!
MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
That one I’ll look for. Anthony LaPaglia is invariably so good. An underrated actor, IMO.
There are so many classics I love revisiting each Christmas, though I equally cherish more recent titles for their diversity as well as their holiday spirit. One prime example would be "The Preacher's Wife," Penny Marshall's wonderful 1996 remake of the Cary Grant/Loretta Young perennial, "The Bishop's Wife," starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance.
SCOTT JORDAN HARRIS
An lesser-seen Christmastime movie, but one I know means a lot to Olivia (and I think quite a few Canadians!) is "The Dog Who Stopped The War." It’s a remarkable film in several ways. Does it get seen outside Canada much?
That's a good one, Scott. "La guerre des tuques" is a classic, especially in Quebec. And of course, Canada being a small place, I once worked in an office with the actress who played the love interest. She hasn't acted since that movie, but she's heavily involved in the arts still.
Just so happens my girlfriend and I are launching a podcast next week called Christmas Movies, Actually, a year-round show about this very topic. You're all giving us great ideas for future episodes. We're looking for guests, so let me know if you have any interest.
Here's my Letterbox'd list of some of my holiday faves.
I grew up watching no less than four versions of "A Christmas Carol" every year: Edwin L. Marin's 1938 American adaptation featuring the most endearing Cratchit family (headed by real-life couple Gene and Kathleen Lockhart); Brian Desmond Hurst's much darker 1951 British classic starring Alastair Sim as the greatest of all Scrooges; Abe Levitow's 1962 special, "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol," featuring songs infinitely superior to those written for the Broadway musical "Scrooge"; and Brian Henson's "The Muppet Christmas Carol," a flawless blend of humor and heart.
As for "Home Alone," that is the only film I've completely memorized, having watched it countless times in my youth, so I will gladly accompany Nell and Michał on their journey to Kevin's old home. In fact, I recently interviewed Ann Whitney, the great Evanston-based actress, who played the clerk at the drug store where Kevin steals the toothbrush. Here is her priceless recollection of filming that scene...
“In my scene, when I call over the pharmacist, Herb, the focus is really on Macauley and the guy from next door with the bandage on his hand. As you’re watching that, Herb and I are having a little improv. I ask Herb, ‘Do you know if this toothbrush is approved by the American Dental Association?’ He says, ‘I don’t know—tell him that it is!’ And I say, ‘Your father and I are not gonna bail you out of another lawsuit after lying to a customer.’”
You know I share your deep love for "A Christmas Carol" and agree that these are the four essential versions (MGM has the best Fred, closest to Dickens’ description, but Sim is the best Scrooge). But I saw "Home Alone" under the worst possible circumstances — as the mother of an eight year old boy who was at the time home, not alone, but still not with me and the fact that it was shot where I grew up made it, well, just too close to home.
Has anyone mentioned "Edward Scissorhands"? I first saw it over the holiday break while I was still in junior high, and it's kinda been a tradition ever since. It isn't even about Christmas per se except for a tiny bit near the end, and the falling snow stuff, but it's still a Christmas movie.
Related: I think I may actually be goth.
Just wanted to thank you for your suggestions. Some real surprises ("Period of Adjustment"???) that I look forward to adding to the watchlist.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A tribute to Doris Day.