Tag Archive: Christmas


BadSanta1

Barring It’s a Wonderful Life and, oddly enough, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, most supposed Christmas films don’t seem to understand the holiday they’re meant to be portraying. They’re commercial and trite, and if they do touch on themes of family and love, it’s in a bland, generic manner that’s been done to death a thousand times over. I’m an agnostic and fairly set in my lack of religious beliefs, but if you remove the religious aspect from the equation, I can appreciate the themes of love and unity that represent the modern meaning of Christmas. And, perhaps, that’s why it’s so odd that the best Christmas film, and the one most truest to the themes of the holiday, since It’s a Wonderful Life is the raunchy modern cult classic, Bad Santa.

What makes Bad Santa such a genuine and sincere tale of Christmas when, on the surface, it seems like the height of the anti-Christmas film? With a deeply unsympathetic lead (at first) and a story about a modern-day Grinch (a parallel that only struck me for the first time as I wrote that sentence), Bad Santa seems as if it should be intent on skewering Christmas with all its might. Yet, though the film is cynical, it’s never mean-tempered, and with a tale of redemption, friendship, and (in its own way) family, Bad Santa has more to say about what Christmas means in the 2000s than any other film of the last decade, and it also serves as an indictment of the crass commercialism that has come to pollute the holiday.

BadSanta2

Willie (The Man Who Wasn’t There‘s Billy Bob Thornton) is a sad-sack loser with no morals, no friends, and practically no reason to live other than the next fuck or his next drink. Willie makes a living, if you can call it that, posing as a mall Santa at Christmas time and robbing the department store safes with the help of his dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox), who poses as one of his elves. Willie’s an alcoholic and a jackass, and he gets less reliable at the job every year, and even though he swears to Marcus at the film’s beginning that that score was his last, come next Christmas Willie is broke and ready to head on down to Phoenix, Arizona to get to work again.

But, Phoenix proves to be the beginning of the end of Willie’s career as a safe cracker and department store Santa. As his self-loathing and alcoholism reach new lows, Willie stumbles into his only chance for redemption when he hooks up with a lonely barmaid (Lauren Graham) with a strange Santa fetish and move in with an odd but sweet kid (Brett Kelly) whose the object of bullying by other children and Willie himself, though Willie begins to grow fond of the possibly mentally challenged child. Willie’s life is complicated even further when his drunken antics gain the ire of the department store manager (John Ritter) who sets the mall detective (Bernie Mac) to try and figure out what Willie and Marcus are up to.

BadSanta3

First and foremost, I haven’t seen Sling Blade so I can’t say for certain if this is the best performance of Billy Bob Thornton’s career, but it’s certainly the best out of all of his films that I’ve seen. Thornton’s Willie is an especially loathsome creature. He drinks; he curses; he steals; he uses; he abuses; he fornicates. Yet, underneath it all, there’s a heart for the audience to latch on to. You begin, despite his almost endless list of character flaws, to grow quite fond of Willie. You want to see him improve himself. And, even at the depths of his despair and misanthtropy, Billy Bob Thornton reminds us that there’s something human still left in Willie’s core, and it’s a tricky tightrope act to conquer that Billy Bob Thornton does just fine. It was one of the finest comedy performances of the ’00’s.

And, besides Thornton’s brilliant comic turn, Bad Santa is unabashedly hilarious from start to finish. Yes, there are moments where the humor misses. Bits about a repressed homosexual Arab trying to rape Willie or Willie asking the kid if he’s a faggot are unnecessarily homophobic and not funny, but mostly, the movie hits all of the right notes. By stripping away the varnish of the “noble criminal,” Bad Santa is free to make Willie as miserable and pathetic a piece of shit as they can (as, a real life criminal could very well be), and through his complete lack of social graces and meanness, Bad Santa¬†scores endless laughs.

BadSanta4

Yet, despite the gross-out humor and the general rough edges of the film, Bad Santa impresses most of all because of how genuinely touching it can be. Because of the film’s devotion to character, Willie’s arc and growth throughout the film are rewarding. In realistic fashion, Willie doesn’t find total redemption Ebenezer Scrooge style. He’s still a crude, foul-mouthed asshole by film’s end, but he reconnects with his inner humanity just enough for the film to chart a winning emotional path. His relationship with the Kid (whose name of Therman isn’t revealed until the film’s climax) is rewarding even after multiple viewings.

Bad Santa is one of the only modern Christmas films that I consider part of the required Christmas cinematic canon. It’s dark and gritty enough for those who don’t generally enjoy Christmas films (such as myself) to find plenty of laughs, but it has enough heart to know more about Christmas than most of its peers. The occasionally homophobic humor is quite dated and sad, but if you can get past those moments in the film, you will find not just the best Christmas film of the last several decades, but also simply one of the best mainstream comedies of the last ten years.

Final Score: A-

Advertisements

Call me the Grinch, but I’m not a fan of holiday specials. Outside of Doctor Who (which begins each season with a Christmas special), holiday specials almost universally seem like awkward fits into a season and more often than not, they bring any season long stories to a grinding halt. On Glee, last season’s Christmas episode was one of the worst episodes of the series (only bested in the bad department by “New York,” “Rocky Horror Glee Show,” and “Mash Off”). It had exactly one good (admittedly fantastic) moment which was Kurt and Blaine’s unprecedented and show-stealing duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, and the rest of it ranged from forgettable (a Wham! cover) to absolutely miserable (Brittany still believing in Santa, Sue dressing up Becky as a reindeer, 90% of the musical numbers). When I found out that Glee was doing another Christmas episode, I wasn’t surprised. I worked at a record store and I remember how many of the Glee christmas CD’s we sold last year, and I figure Glee has put up similar numbers again this year. While, on the whole, the musical performances this year’s Christmas special were a considerable improvement from last year (the awful original number and Band Aid cover excepted) and the scenes where they parody the Christmas specials of the past are hilarious, this episode didn’t do much to convince me that Glee wouldn’t have been better off by just continuing the main story of the Troubletones returning to the New Directions and the mysterious absence of Idina Menzel and Sugar Motta (not that I’m complaining about the latter) from the entire episode.

The only connection this episode has to any of the events of the season is the return of the Troubletones and Sam as well as the presence of Rory along with a throw away line by Sue referencing her failed Congressional campaign. Rachel is back to her diva antics after a mostly diva free season (or at least relative to the Troubletones). She provides Finn with a list of 15 expensive Christmas gifts and expects him to buy her 5 which he obviously can’t afford. Also, Kurt, Artie, and Blaine agree to help Sue out at the homeless shelter (this is the first appearance of human Sue all season as this is her first Christmas without Jean and she’s obviously having trouble dealing with it) on Christmas Eve. However, Mr. Schue arrives at the choir room letting the Glee kids know that they’ve been booked to put on a Christmas special at the local PBS station. Artie is directing and he wants it to be an effervescent and cheery throwback to the black and white Christmas specials of the past (as well as with nods to the unbelievably atrocious Star Wars Christmas Special. I wish I had the link for the xkcd comic strip about how bad that special is). Rory is homesick for Ireland, and he is taken under his wing by the equally lonely Sam, and it is Rory’s moral guidance that makes the Glee kids realize they should help out with the homeless shelter gig after all. Also at the end, Rachel realizes the error of her material ways and she and Finn use the money they had spent for Christmas for Charity and help Sam and Rory ring the Salvation Army bells.

There were nine songs this episode (I was exhausted by the Christmas spirit by the end and not in a good way), and I’m really not in the mood to analyze all of them. So, here are the highlights. Once again, Kurt and Blaine stole the Christmas show with their fun and up-tempo cover of Frank Sinatra’s version of “Let It Snow.” Those two almost always sound fantastic together and this song was no exception. However, perhaps my favorite number of the evening was Damian McGinty’s heartbreaking and mournful rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” Damian continues to be an under-utilized presence in the cast as his voice is simply angelic and he has a much more impressive vocal range than any of the other guys in the cast. Rory may not be the most memorable character yet as his schtick consists of being Irish and lonely (and possibly bisexual. Am I the only person who gets that vibe from him. Especially in that last scene with Sam), but Damian is a talented kid and if they give him time to grow, it should be interesting to see where this character goes (providing they keep him past his original 7 episode contract). The only other really memorable performance for me was “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Rachel did her best Julie Andrews impersonation and it was fun. The other songs weren’t bad (Mercedes did a good job covering Mariah Carey); I just really don’t enjoy Christmas music at all. I know; I’m a terrible human being.

I’m tired and I really don’t want to do another one of my 2000 word Glee reviews. So, I’m drawing things to a close early. The black and white segments were an absolute hoot. They were so intentionally bad and over-acted (and the line about Kurt and Blaine being “best friends” and “holiday roommates” had me in stitches) that you couldn’t help but find yourself enjoying it. The rest of it was the sort of mediocrity that happens during 75% of the Christmas specials I’ve ever watched. At the end of the day, this wasn’t a bad episode, and it wasn’t an especially good episode either. It was just what Glee is like when there’s no great stories or terrible stories (which is not normally the case for the show which will showcase one spectacular story an episode and then about three or four awful ones for good measure). I can’t wait until the second half of the season finally begins. We’re nearing the end of the time I’m going to get to spend with these kids, and the members of the New Directions have become a pretty big part of my life these last two years (I started watching Glee after the first season ended). Knowing that they’ll be gone soon is pretty sad and it will be akin to the sensation when people finally left the cast of Friday Night Lights (except Glee will never be close to being that good).

Final Score: B