Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas on TV: The Worst of the Worst (With Honors)

By now it should be apparent that I don't mind kitschy movies. Particularly in the made-for-TV Christmas category.

But I'm here to tell you that even I draw the line somewhere. Some movies are just too bad to watch. And unfortunately, most of these are the ones available on Hulu. I have started at least three movies on Hulu in the last few days that I just cannot get into. And I tried.

For instance, I just clicked on The Santa Trap, somewhat skeptically, because this one is less in the romance-for-the-holidays and more in the let's-prove-Santa's-real sub genre. It's also one of those Christmas movies clearly filmed in the middle of the summer. This one's not even trying to hide it; instead, it opens with a voiceover of "this is going to be the hottest Christmas Eve ever, hardy-har-har." You didn't fool me, people.

I thought this could had potential when I discovered the star power, but it quickly turned south. Shelley Long as the mom is at her worst; it's one of those Shelley Long roles that makes you forget that she was ever considered good on Cheers. Corbin Bernsen plays the villain town sheriff locking up all the potential Santas. You know this type of villain: all foolproof plan followed by dunderheaded failure. Basically every Power Rangers villain ever was of this type. Even the cameo appearance of that girl from Motocrossed (a movie I happen to love) couldn't make this watchable.

The lynchpin? When I scanned my mouse ahead in the time scroll along the bottom and realized that the climax would feature a scene with pseudo-spy elves. Um, no. It may have worked in The Santa Clause but only because of a perfect premise and a great soundtrack to match.

Another movie I don't recommend sampling is A Christmas Romance, which again features some fairly big names in the cast but still falls very short of producing a satisfying made-for-TV Christmas experience. Even Olivia Newton-John and that one guy from everything (Gregory Harrison, see below) can't save this one.

The comments on the bottom of the Hulu page are spot on. One reviewer calls it "a boring, hollow attempt at recreating A Holiday for Love," and I couldn't agree more. Olivia plays the single mother (this time with two daughters) down on her luck and out of her money, and Gregory plays the heartless banker coming to evict them on Christmas Eve. Naturally, a snowstorm causes him to get trapped on her farm where they inevitably fall in love. Ultimately, Newton-John and Harrison just lack the chemistry and warmth of Melissa Gilbert and Tim Matheson.

Another Hulu commenter writes, "I got so sick and tired of the kids yelling 'Emily Rose' that I switched to something less painful." Too right. One of Olivia's daughters gets lost in the snowstorm, and I'm fairly certain there were five solid minutes of "Emily Rose! Emily Rose! Emily Rose!" with wind intermingled. Do yourself a favor and avoid this one.

Trust me, based on what this blog says, I'll have plenty more to say on this subject. By the end of the season, I hope to crown the worst made-for-TV Christmas movie of all time.

Christmas on TV: "A Holiday for Love"

As made-for-TV Christmas movies go, this one is fairly quintessential. Let's just say if you were going to write the stereotypical made-for-TV Christmas movie, you would probably arrive at this one. If you were lucky. Because it's actually pretty good.

Here's the formula.

Take one widowed single mother in a small town in the Midwest.

Give her daughter an unimaginative yet holiday appropriate name, such as Noelle.

Add one single, secretly troubled corporate executive on a business trip to said small town.

Remember that widowed single mother has been engaged to the town sheriff for who knows how long, but will not commit to a date.

Have the executive get trapped in a snowstorm that causes him to spend his first night at the widow's home.

Add appropriate amounts of romantic banter, gently falling snow, glowing firelight, and almost kisses.

As the romantic tension between widow and executive builds, make sure he doesn't revealed his top-secret business plan to downsize the main tractor factory in town so there will be additional conflict.

Mix for thirty to forty-five minutes, until well jumbled.

Reveal said top-secret plan immediately after widow realizes she is in love with executive.

Have executive move return to the big-bad big city and express his last-minute, Christmas-spirit change-of-heart to the evil board of corporate executives.

Have executive return to small town on Christmas Eve, just in time to reveal his new plan to save the factory, find his long-lost father, and reveal his love to the widow.

Make the widow just stubborn enough to not accept his first admission of love.

End with a kiss in the lightly falling snow.

As Christmas on TV goes, it doesn't get much more formulaic than that. But with that said, I think the acting level in this movie and the excellent pacing counteract its utter predictability. After all, people watch these movies because they want to watch something predictable. At least, I know I do.

So if you're looking for a snuggly holiday movie, look no further than A Holiday for Love.

Star power: Melissa Gilbert from Little House on the Prairie, Tim Matheson (I definitely had a crush on him when he played the oldest brother in the original Yours, Mine, and Ours), Michelle Trachtenberg from Harriet the Spy, and even country "star" Travis Tritt
Use of made-for-TV Christmas conventions: villainizing corporate America with a small town, reuniting long-lost family members

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Coat Makes the Man

With colder weather coming on soon, I ended up wearing one of winter coats all day today even though in hindsight it wasn't necessary. Still, I like wearing my coats because for me it's like spending time with a celebrity crush. It's the same idea as wearing your boyfriend's letterman jacket in high school, except I'm not in high school and none of these guys are or ever have been my boyfriend.

But seriously. Most of my coats were purchased in response to movies or television personas.

For instance...

I bought a red puffy winter coat (the one I wore today) after Matt Damon wore a similar one during the first few minutes of The Bourne Identity. (At the time, he was stalking me in my dreams, so we were practically married.)

I bought a pseudo-vintage military-style jacket after Matt's best friend Ben Affleck appeared in Pearl Harbor.

I bought a thin khaki jacket during the height of my addiction to Tom Welling in Smallville.

As for future additions to my closet of men's coats, I've always wanted a coat made exclusively for an Olympic athlete (not that the athlete would be me, but my boyfriend/husband could be). Like this one...

The romance, the beauty, the world of men's outerwear.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas on TV: "A Golden Christmas"

This will be the first post in my holiday season blogging trend of the best and worst made-for-TV Christmas movies. I happen to be addicted to these things because (a) they are so predictable, (b) I know they will end happily, and (c) they usually have a VERY CHEESY romance involved. Love it. There's more to come about this topic in general, but I'd like to review one now that I just watched, because it's too good to pass up.

A Golden Christmas is a holiday romance about two adults who knew each other as kids and are brought back together by the dog they played with as children. The main female character is a big-time Grinch almost the entire movie, scheming and plotting and sabotaging ways to keep her male counterpart from buying her parents home that she suddenly wants. Of course, she doesn't realize that he wants it for the same reason she does: it's right next to the woods where they carved their eternal love into a tree as nine-year-olds and buried a time capsule in a tin lunchbox. Seriously, my roommate and I both kept saying that if we didn't know this woman was going to turn out good, we would have stopped watching. We kind of hated her.

But there was one element of the plot that cracked me up. Instead of telling each their real names as children, they pretended to be Han Solo and Princess Leia--and those are the names they carved into the tree! The best line of the movie was when the sister declared them to be "Star Wars–crossed lovers."

Of course, there were the obligatory children from previous marriages (the woman was widowed, the man was divorced) and sentimental speeches from well-intentioned family members (mom and sister on her side, daughter on his side), but I found this movie to be not as predictable as most made-for-TV Christmas fare. At least, I couldn't see exactly how they were going to get together, mostly because I couldn't see why he would want to be with her period.

If you're a die-hard like me, this is a must-see, but otherwise I recommend it only for those who (a) love dogs, (b) love movies with characters you love to hate, or (c) love contrived flashback sequences.

Star power: The supporting cast provides most of it here, with the mom from The Wonder Years, that redheaded chick from Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, and the real-life brother of Griffin from Party of Five.
Use of made-for-TV Christmas conventions: romance doomed for success, family conflict surfacing based on death of a loved one

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soundtrack of My Life: My Private Nation

This album is still comfortably in my top ten. The lyrics are so catchy they sometimes come back to my mind like lines of Elizabethan poetry should. This album will be forever linked in my mind with the year I was madly in love with Tom Welling's portrayal of Clark Kent, perhaps because the first single from the album, "Calling All Angels," was featured on Smallville, perhaps because one of the best songs is called "Save the Day." But after the Welling has faded, the lyrics have remained.

Half the fun with Train lyrics is the incorporation of pop culture references and sophisticated syncopation or rhyme. For instance:

From "All American Girl": My dad used to tell me I was lazy / I got dance moves like Patrick Swayze / I'm the leftover turkey for the world's mayonnaise / Yeah, the star next to the moon

From "Save the Day": I get the crowd goin' when I sing the hokey pokey / I shake it to the left and then I shake it to the right / What's not to love, man I'm on tonight

But in between all the lyrical fun, Train employs unique turn-of-phrase to be glad for people in our lives.

Also from "Save the Day": I know you don't see me like a movie star / But you're my favorite thing by far / That's gotta count for something

From "Counting Airplanes": I don't spend my time with anyone who doesn't think I'm wonderful

From "Your Every Color": You wear the day around you / Like it's yours to stay around you / Maybe I could stay around you, too / If that's all right with you

And later: You look like my first day of summer / When the spring is on the run

As a writer, there's one Train lyric that every time I hear it seems like it contains an entire story in just twelve words. Brevity is the soul of good writing.

From "Lincoln Avenue": This feels like the place between what is and might have been

Finally, having saved the best for last, I'll admit that I had a hard time choosing just one lyric from the following song. To me, this song could be about an everyday relationship that's still going on, a long-lost love that never got started properly, or a requiem for a departed friend. The images and scenes it present are beyond words--at least beyond mine. They speak for themselves.

From "When I Look to the Sky": And every word I didn't say, caught up in some busy day / And every dance on the kitchen floor we didn't have before / And every sunset that we'll miss, I'll wrap them all up in a kiss / And pick you up with all of this when I sail away

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Break A Leg

I'm graduating from college in less than six months. It's kind of a big deal. Despite this short timeline, I recently added a second minor to my undergraduate education, Theatre Arts Studies. Basically, this means I go to a lot of plays. But even I'll admit that seeing my university's production of White Christmas two nights in a row is a bit excessive. But it sure makes for a great story.

Because of my minor, I'm taking several theatre classes right now, one of which is taught by the director of this production and another of which gives students insight into the production concept so we can evaluate if the performance lives up to designer and director desires.

For this show, the director wanted the audience to go on a nostalgic journey back into the world of the time period and the original film. Which means dozens of gorgeous vintage costumes and a set reminiscent of an old Hollywood soundstage, complete with moving staircases and pianos to be danced on.

The first night met all of my expectations and even exceeded many. I was ecstatic to go again the following night. But apparently I had White Christmas on the brain. On the night between the two performances, I had a dream about the show. Almost a nightmare, really.

I dreamed that during the second night of the show, one of the lead male characters--the Danny Kaye role--fell off the piano while doing his tap dancing routine and broke his leg. The show had to be cancelled after everyone's hard work because, as I vividly dreamed, a guy cannot tap dance or lift his dance partner or do toe touches with a severely broken leg. Believe me. In my dream, he tried.

The memory of this dream lingered with me into the next morning, feeling like an omen over the day. On a smaller scale, it was like imagining your dog dying. Even though you rationally know it's not real, you still feel the hurt of it.

I'm the kind of girl who dreams and tells, and as I recounted this night vision to a coworker the next morning the brilliance of the dream came into view and thankfully calmed my nerves (mostly) about the coming performances.

As I told her about this actor breaking his leg, I recognized that I had dreamed a pun. You know, that old superstition that you shouldn't say "good luck" in theatre: instead you say, "Break a leg." That's what happened in my dream. Freud would say that subconsciously I felt that the performance was so good that the performers had figuratively broken their legs.

All day I couldn't stop telling people about my clever dream. Even during my REM cycle I'm witty.

Rest assured, the actor did not break his leg (at least not literally) during my second time at the show either, although my friend can tell you I did screech a few times when I thought he was going to trip on the stairs or fall off the piano.

Also, I'll have you know I actually passed him walking home from class the day after the dream. I assume he was on his way to get ready for the show. He looked at me; I looked at him. And as we passed, I thought, "Break a leg."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Biblical Dating Tips: "Feed My Camels"

Today, I found this article putting forth one woman's theory about why some women have difficulty getting dates. It prompted quite a Facebook conversation between me, my mom, and several good friends. We really didn't agree with it. Really.

Immediately after that conversation, I went to lunch with a different friend, and we too were discussing the article and the short-sighted thought process behind it. While in line, we ran into a friend of hers.

And when I say friend I mean Polynesian college football player friend of hers.

So we sat at his lunch table. And without us even starting it, the conversation turned to dating. This is where it gets good.

Because Polynesian football player friend told us a story about a recent church meeting where his stake president compared seeking out your spouse to the story of Isaac's servant finding Rebekah to be Isaac's wife.

If you're not familiar with this biblical gem, see Genesis 24. The basic gist of the story is that Isaac's dad, Abraham, insists that Isaac marry within the family religion, but none of the local girls live the standards. So they send a servant out with a caravan of camels to find a more fruitful dating pool . When the servant arrives at a well, he makes a proposition to God that would go something like this in today's vernacular.

"Hey, I've got an idea. How about I stand here by this well of water with my thirsty camels, and the first girl who offers to water them for me will be the woman destined to marry Isaac. Kapeesh?"

And that's exactly what happens. Rebekah offers to water the camels and in exchange gets to marry Isaac and be the mother of many nations. (Looking at the picture, she didn't need to have God set her up with Isaac, though. Look at the feminine tilt of her head. Irresistible to men who need to feel needed.)

But back to our football player friend. He said that, according to his church leader, guys will know a girl is the one when she "feeds his camels." (Yes, he said "feed," not water. I didn't correct him. I was trying to create an atmosphere of trust. He also thought it was the story of Ruth and Boaz. I didn't correct him there, either. According to the article, men like to feel like women trust them. Even when they are wrong.)

I then straight-up asked this football player I met 15 minutes before, "So, how does a girl feed a guy's camels?" No answer. There weren't crickets in the background or anything, but he skirted around the issue with attempts like, "Oh, I don't know" or "It's different for everyone" or some such nonsense. I offered up possibilities: "Is she willing to do your homework for you? Is she cooking for you all the time? Does she give you backrubs?" Honestly, I just wanted to know what feeds a guy's camels. At the moment, he seemed like a more reliable source than the dating coach.

Finally, he escaped answering the question by turning it around on me. "Well, what about you? What feeds your camels?"

"A guy asking me on a date."

"But what about after that?"

"Him liking me and asking me on another date. And then liking me more and asking me out again."

I'm not trying to be facetious; I mean it. That's what feeds my camels (who haven't been fed or watered in several months, thank you). At this point and in this dating market, that's what I like. A guy who's willing to take the initiative and not make me feed his camels before he'll make the sacrifice of asking for my number or opening a door for me.

In case your wondering, no, this Polynesian football player friend did not decide to feed my camel and ask me out. But he did prompt what will prove to be a whole new goldmine of blogging topics. Come back soon for dating tips from Jacob and Leah, a couple who know that good things come to those who wait.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reaching a "Fever Pitch"

Confession: I have an unhealthy crush on Jimmy Fallon. Unhealthy because (1) I'm too old to have a crush on a celebrity who is (2) married and (3) a former SNL cast member. They aren't exactly known for their moral fiber.

It all started when I watched a super-old (from 2005) romcom this weekend, Fever Pitch, starring Fallon and Drew Barrymore. I usually identify with Drew Barrymore in romcoms because she has a more normal body type and quirky hair and isn't perfect. But I was not
prepared to like Jimmy Fallon.

Of course, in the movie, neither was Drew Barrymore's character. She had a flourishing career as a mathematical analyst in Boston and he was just a nervous high school geometry teacher. So beneath her, right? WRONG! And he has an unhealthy obsession with the Boston Red Sox. So ditch-able, right? WRONG! And her friends keep shooing her away from him. So they should be trusted, right? SUPER WRONG!

In Fever Pitch, Jimmy Fallon has all the charm of Cary Grant showering in a suit in Charade, but in a movie that perfectly integrates the modern shattering of the dreaded Curse of the Bambino. Let me tell you why:

1. The nerves he exhibits when asking for the first date. This is not a guy who is so self-assured he thinks women worship him, nor is he a guy who lacks so much self-esteem you wonder if he can even spell his own name without checking for approval.

2. The way he takes care of her when she gets sick on their first date. We're talking, she throws up everywhere so he cleans her bathroom and gets her Gatorade and rents movies to watch when you're sick. Talk about being a nice guy.

3. The scene where he gets down on one knee and asks her to go to opening day with him. I really have no words for this. Just know that I would totally fall for this.

I could go on, but basically I think this movie does a perfect job of playing with the romcom formula while still ultimately conforming to it. Fallon and Barrymore play the average couple who are surprised to find each other and surprised to find love with one another, in a way that I haven't seen in a romcom in a long time. Plus, this movie also ends with a Barrymore baseball field kiss. So there may be hope for me yet.

So, back to my crush on Jimmy Fallon. I recently joined Twitter for one reason: Jimmy Fallon's late night talk show has a weekly segment called "Late Night Hashtags." Every week, Fallon starts a hashtag on Twitter and the best responses get read on the show.


Yesterday, I submitted my first hashtag for #traveldisaster. I recalled a moment several years ago when I took a shuttle from my hometown back to my college town and sat next to an old woman who gave me acne advice for three hours. I noted, in the hashtag, that this was "Not helpful."

And now, thanks to the magic of connecting with complete strangers via Twitter, some dude tweeted me a link to help with my acne. Well, @guyIdon'tknow, that was also "Not helpful." Well-intentioned, but not helpful.

But the whole thing makes me wonder--just for a moment--what if this guy is my Jimmy Fallon geometry teacher?

And then I realize this guy is wearing a gold chain around his neck in his Twitter profile picture, and I proceed to judge him as NOT being my Jimmy Fallon geometry teacher.

Maybe he's my Joe Junior?