Tuesday, December 14, 2004

DVD: The Ref (1994)

A lot of the New York Times’ arts coverage isn’t worth reading. But Sharon Waxman’s piece on cynical Christmas movies is particularly dim. She heaps abuse on every holiday film made after NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION for mocking the season. I don’t know why she’s picking on Hollywood when the real world is having plenty of problems with St. Nick.

Waxman’s article is undermined by its own sidebar, on how Revolution Studios has turned CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS into a modest hit by emulating THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST’s marketing campaign. How can KRANKS be anti-Christmas if religious audiences are turning out for it?

Besides, anyone who has seen these movies knows what an utter crock Waxman’s argument is. These films all deliver the same traditional, even conservative message: a poor misguided soul learns the true meaning of Christmas. Granted, a few of these souls have further to go than others, as in BAD SANTA. But even Billy Bob Thornton learns to put others ahead of himself and ends up part of a (wildly dysfunctional) family. In truth, BAD SANTA’s story is very conventional. Apart from the rampant cursing, lawbreaking, alcoholism and wanton sex, that is.

I have very few holiday traditions, but one of them is watching a movie that Waxman doesn’t mention even though it fits perfectly in her paradigm. THE REF is the least likely Simpson/Bruckheimer production and my idea of the perfect yuletide movie. A bickering couple well on their way to divorce (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) is taken hostage on Christmas Eve by a thief (Denis Leary) trying to evade a police dragnet. Spacey and Davis have some hilarious and truly lethal arguments, but in the end their marriage and the spirit of the season are saved. I like to think of this movie as the cinematic equivalent of spiked eggnog. It’s not for everybody, but what holiday would be complete without it?

Video: Perry Como Christmas Specials

Just to prove that I do have a heart, I’ll admit that I watched two of these shows recently. EARLY AMERICAN CHRISTMAS, filmed in Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg, includes John Wayne in a ruffled shirt hoisting a flagon of ale. CHRISTMAS IN THE HOLY LAND features “special American guest star” Richard Chamberlain. Rosemarie and I have fond memories of a show Perry did in Quebec, but we don’t have that one on video.

The original songs are lousy, and Perry’s ultra-laidback style makes Dean Martin look like Jerry Lewis. But the shows hold up. They’re simple, well-produced, and try to give a real flavor of what the season is like in other parts of the world. When the only holiday specials made are tongue-in-cheek affairs like Nick and Jessica’s, Perry’s relaxed charm and sincerity come as a welcome relief.

Miscellaneous: Link

Then there’s the Times’ art coverage that is worth reading. Like this piece on a collaboration between Mexican crime novelist Paco Ignacio Taibo II and rebel leader Subcommander Marcos.