The ground is frozen and snowless, the House GOP just shot down the stimulus checks here in American on freaking Christmas Eve and…yeah. Sorry! My Christmas cheer is a moldy froth beneath my bath mat right now.
But I did hear the owls last night. That means it might snow or something! Yes, I base all my weather predictions on nocturnal predators with feathers. It might possibly snow tomorrow. A lot of possible. I checked my phone, it gave a big number for a percent. I have no hope left but that the sky relents and gives up a bit of snow for this corner of Eastern Oregon. That’s the one thing I actually wish, dear Santa.
I’m not even sure who or what to pray to for snow. Easter Bunny, June Duck Monster, Statue of Liberty?
It seems this December will never end. But it will. Praise Lady Liberty and Peter Cottontail, hallelujah, woot woot, it will end!
My grandmother had a Santa figure rather like that in that pic up there, except the coat was red. She would have served something like that [maybe a Jell-O mold?] as well back in the day. She also would have been eating herring and making those Scandinavian cookies called rosettes. She had the irons and everything. And the same old decorations would be up, with grandpa slurping down Manischewitz Concord Grape wine and all those good smells in the very air the minute we walked through the door…!
Ah. There’s a bit of Christmas nostalgia for y’all.
However you celebrate or don’t, happiest of days to you. Don’t let the bastards get you down, as my mother used to say.
Breakfast was so gross. Rice, leftover gravy, eggs and insanely spicy hot dogs chunks. Oh gag me with a spoon already. So! Let’s purge that plate of Not Ever Gonna Eat That Yuck with a talk about a version of a Christmas Carol I happened to catch on FX.
It stars Aussie Guy Pierce in the role of the rich curmudgeon. And there’s this odd sexual smolder going on? Um? Have I wandered into some weird mashup of CC and Jane Eyre?
Maybe. Because this three hour plus offering also descends into actual horror movie territory, with the ghost of Jacob Marley thrusting his severed jaw back into his face, watching a child drown and the general overly dreary settings. Scrooge’s house is kept so dark and shadowy I kept waiting for Game of Thrones characters to wander through drinking mulled wine and speaking of their sexual conquests or why they deserve the Iron Throne.
Basically, it does follow Dickens’s storyline. We meet Scrooge, who’s a real awful craptoad, hellbent on making everyone around him suffer because money is king in his brain. Orphans and widows and beggars can all suck it, yeah, same ole shtick here that’s, um, oddly relevant right now, or always. Charity never seems to actually do anything at any time in history; okay, Dickens, yeah, we know this already.
Pierce can’t hide that he’s a sexy dude, even when frosted with age makeup a bit. I haven’t yet found a production or a movie where Scrooge is, um, sexually active or could be some sort of Victorian era stud. Kind of weird at first and then it descends into HE’S A RAPEY POS FUCK HIM kinda reaction. And we get the backstory about the school, and how his dad basically sold Ebbie into some sort of sexual slavery with the headmaster and…Not even kidding. I just…mm. This was to save money. See where Scrooge gets it, my lovelies???
Mary Cratchett goes to Scrooge for money to get the operation to save Tiny Tim. Now, was it just me or was Tiny Tim about the creepiest thing in this entire three hour plus retelling??? I…damn. He looked like one of those haunted dolls who goes about at night with your sharpest butcher knife clutched in his doll fist. His dialogue was also unnatural and stilted, compared to the actors around him. That might have been Dicken’s fault but still. Make him sound like a kid, not some killer doll who sucked helium from the balloon that will be used to strangle you as you bleed out from the butcher knife stabbings…
Where was I?? Oh yes. Mary, who usually doesn’t get much to do in this story besides bake a goose or shake her head over how mean Scrooge is…goes to the steely-eyed sexy master of Thornfield Hall for a loan. Sorry, no, that’s Jane Eyre! Anyway–
She posits this as a loan, where two shillings gets subtracted from her husband’s salary. Scrooge, cruelly good at math, calculates this all up, adding interest even, and figures, ha ha, it would take about six years for his employee to pay off a thirty pound loan, plus something like 4% interest. This is of course not a good scenario for smoldery slinky Mr. Scrooge! We then get subjugated to about the most gulp-inducing WTF, is this a Christmas movie?? scene where Scrooge offers Mary the money outright if she…lets him do whatever he wants to her. On Christmas Day, no less. She can earn the money on her back is the gist of that scene and she, being desperate and not wishing to watch her child die, agrees to this. As Scrooge taunts her, in that quiet slithery way Pierce can deliver so well, about what a good wife, mother and Christian she is. It’s…it’s unredeemable. There isn’t a coming back from this. I don’t care…it….fuck.
So here Mary returns, and Scrooge toys with her, then tells her he doesn’t want a thing to do with her. As she stands there nearly naked. He’s more interested in torturing people because he’s a scientist at heart or some such unjolly shit. She’s still violated and demeaned, she takes the money because it’s her kid and there’s no way she can get the money otherwise. She also curses Scrooge, telling him she’s a woman and she has the power to call spirits…ah. Ah! Interesting.
So the spirits.
The main spirit of Christmas is played by Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame. And yes, he knocks it out of the ballpark. We get to see a lot more of the spirits and Marley outside of their usual show up and spook Mr. Scrooge bits. There’s this giant, visually stunning, bonfire. The main spirit, who also seems to be all the other spirits as well, has strange pale eyes, a wild Santa Claus-like appearance and speaks about how this thing with Scrooge is more of a game than…any actual effort to save him. Ouch. That it’s the challenge presented by Scrooge’s stony unfeeling heart, not any actual need to save the man himself from a hellish fate, such as Marley earned. That the gods play with us rather that love us is very much the theme here with the ghost/s.
Now, this is a new one to me. Scrooge displays kindness only toward animals. He draws a blanket over two carriage horses, who are shivering in the snowy air. He remarks about the ponies used down in mines, rather than the children he watched cough and choke with utter indifference. And then there’s this pet mouse his sister gave him, with a little gilded bell about its wee neck. The ghost of this mouse shows up and we get to see Scrooge’s horrific father cut its head off. We see this framed as a shadow but still. Just a jarring, take me out of it, why are you including this, moment. In a Christmas movie.
I guess this slight care toward animals is supposed to make Scrooge a bit sympathetic and redeemable? That there is something still, um, good left in this sadistic snotwaffle?
So the three ghosts go to work on Scrooge and the way this is done is quite okay. The ghosts change and morph and dig into his memories like surgeons. The mine disaster was especially hard to watch. The young Scrooge being almost dragged to an older man’s bed was surreal and the sister arriving to save him…as Scrooge admitted in perhaps the most gutwrenchingly honest scenes about child sexual abuse, far too late. The ghost of Christmas Future, the one who decides if Scrooge is ‘saved’ or not, seemed a zombie or some sort of undead victim of the Inquisition. Blue skin, lips obviously sewn together at one point, silent.
Here we get to watch Tiny Tim drown. He speaks the entire film about wanting to go skating. So this death of his is framed over the head of Scrooge and the ghost, who watch from below. As if both stand beneath the pond, looking up. The ceiling of the room Scrooge stands in becomes that treacherous ice sheath. Tim breaks through, weighted down by the borrowed skates and his clothing. He’s too weak to pull himself out so we watch him stop struggling and just hang there until a hook yanks him out and up and up…Such a well done scene yet so horrible.
Of course we get to the ending where Scrooge goes manic. He steals the gravel of an old lady, who’s been graveling the icy walkways, to make it so no one can skate on that bit of pond or river, then runs over to Mary and Bob’s to terrorize them with his manic promises that he’s changed and…yeah. It’s such a joyless, grim, abrupt ending. We also don’t get any reconciliation with his nephew. And we’re made to understand that maybe Mary is working with the Christmas ghosts? Wha…?
That’s what is missing from this adaptation. Joy. That redemptive joy of someone who decides to change who they are for the better. We saw this in Scrooged, with Billy Murray’s version bringing us to tears with his speech at the end, because he meant it, he had experienced an actual revolution within himself. Here, in this Guy Pierce led shadow-filled morality play, we get a grim character with very little or no redeeming values sort of…not be so awful for a bit. Will it even last the day? I’m not sure it will. Someone peeing on your gravestone is not really a life-changer, not for someone like Scrooge who went to court to make sure the families of those who died in his mine never got a ha’penny for those deaths.
Dickens wrote about a man who got a wake up call, so to speak. Who learned and grew and changed, due to three spirits, his old business partner and his own sense of conscience, guilt, shame and remorse. And how it was the light in his heart that got kindled toward others that made him over into a better version of himself. That light lit by his own willingness to face his past, what he had done to others, what he had allowed himself to become.
We do not see that so much in this version of Scrooge. This is a horror story, not a Christmas tale. If the goal here by the main ghost was to destroy Scrooge’s sense of self, then leave him with nothing much after that, then…hey, well done?
It was a well done production. Acting was first rate. The ghosts and other supernatural elements didn’t seem jarring or out of place or not to fit this Victorian setting. Making Scrooge into a rapey creep…just took me out of this and I could not wander back in with any sort of ability to care about Scrooge in any way. Too many women face this sort of crap, yes, I get it. It gave Mary real motivation and explained, maybe, the ghosts. She was able to see Scrooge when he and the second ghost, his sister Lottie, visited the Cratchett house. Get out of my house! might be my new go-to anthem when things get terrible, dark and twisted in my head.
But I think this production also missed the joy, love and light that are so rewarding in more traditional retellings of this well-known Christmas staple. It’s famous for a reason. I don’t want a gritty reboot of this one. No thanks. I admit it. I want a silly, happy, joy-filled, bedizened ending that fills me with happiness after watching a somewhat horrible man, a stand in for most rich people, let’s be honest, ahem, learn that others suffer and can’t get the help they need so often. So he can help the man who works for him and reconcile with his nephew, cause family family Christmas, the end.
Sorry, this was long. But the movie was long. And I wanted to write this all up while it was still fresh in my head.
I’m exhausted as the year draws to a shaky close. I see everyone else seems drained and hollowed out as well. The world seems determined to end itself in a flash of nuclear fire, yee haw.
So here’s an excerpt from a story set in and around Christmas from my book, Oregon Gothic.
I went to Nora’s side of the room. ” Nora? Something to read?”
Nora shook her head. “Not today, Marianne. Look at it snow. Christmas should always have snow.”
“Yes, I guess it should.” I said.
“You haven’t been here for a while.”
“Oh I had things come up, ” I said as vaguely as possible. I had never really discussed or opened up about my disease to anyone here. It was boring to hear an ex-drunk drone on about being an ex-drunk. No, I was just a drunk who’d put down the bottle. I’d never not be a drunk. One could be cancer-free but one could never be not an alcoholic. Blah blah, boring. And I had always kept to myself, it was, sadly, easier that way. I was just doing my time left on earth. Just surviving day to day…as I had told Fran not days before, as Fran sighed a little too loudly and shifted way too many times on her cheap office chair. Fran had put a small fake tree up in her office. ” I’m back now, though.”
“I see,” Nora kept her cloudy eyes on the solid steel and white sky outside, the ground now almost all white. “They think I’m crazy.”
A sick little thrill went through me. Yes, Nora, they do. But I carefully went stupid as a bowl of pudding. “Who does?”
Nora sat up, careful herself. Emmalou kept her head down over her Sunset, but she was listening. But who would Emmalou tell about all this?
“Everyone. There’s nothing wrong with my hearing. They think everyone here is deaf.” Nora said with a great deal of asperity. Emmalou nodded slightly. I decided this might take a bit so I sat in the bedside chair, prepared for a long listen. ” I’m not. I’ll be dead soon. My heart. There’ll be no warning.”
“Nora, why do you…”
But she waved her rough hand at me. Her hands were gnarled as old tree branches, her joints outrageously swollen and gigantic. “Hush. I know you think so, too. You’re young yet.” Her calling me, at forty-three young…! I was vastly old, far older than some mountain ranges I knew. “She comes to visit me and we play a game. She pretends I’m her grandmother. It’s a ghost. Or whatever it is. Angel, demon, ghost, but she comes to visit me. She likes to play with my dollhouse. And we pretend we’re getting ready for Christmas. If it were near Easter, we’d pretend to get ready for Easter. Or Halloween, we’d be making popcorn balls and decorating for a party, all pretend, of course. We’re just pretending.”
Ghost. Ghost? Oh no, not crazy at all.
“Okay,” I replied to all that. Nora looked at me and then she hunched up her shoulders. “Well…who is the little girl, then?”
Emmalou nodded, I saw it from the corner of my eye. Go along, Emmalou seemed to advise, go along.
“She won’t say. I think…I think she was someone who died, nobody wanted her, she died alone, like…like a cancer patient over there in the hospital.”
Which was just down the road about five miles. No trouble at all for a ghost to travel, even during rush hour. “I thought ghosts stayed where they died.” That was it for my knowledge of ghosts. Classical literature said they stayed put where they had been murdered or so forth. Or they looped, like a film, in one place, replaying some tiny portion of their existence until that energy dissipated. Or…well, nobody knew, exactly, what ghosts did or did not do as nobody could actually confirm or deny that there were ghosts. Or spirits or demons or phantoms, gods, devils or mermaids, pretty much any of the supernatural folks hanging out in nightmare or dream.
“Perhaps they get drawn to things they wanted in life,” Nora said very, very carefully. “Like a grandmother, a dollhouse, someone…someone who cares. She’s tiny and very thin, cancer or some big illness that ate her up.” Nora’s voice caught and sputtered, she kept clearing her throat or coughing. “I don’t mind if Emmalou hears this. The ghost only comes when Emmalou isn’t here.”
We both glanced over at the other occupant of the room, who had not turned a page for ages now. Emmalou shrugged at us both, whether to keep her out of it all or as agreement, I didn’t know then and still don’t know.
“Happens? Well…she walks right in and…and the room changes, it started changing.” Nora struggled to explain, as people who are not natural storytellers do. “It’s…it’s this big old-fashioned kitchen. There’s a counter, there’s a big stove. Knives and onions and gingerbread. I can smell. Everything. And it’s warm. There’s a smell of sage and onions and gingerbread. And cinnamon. She sits at the table and we shell walnuts. I crack the nuts and she gets all the walnut stuff out. There’s a bowl of oranges on the table, and I know I’ll use them in the frosting somehow.”
” That sounds nice. ” I said and meant it. It was like a Christmas scene as if written by Charles Dickens or Louisa May Alcott, something vaguely Victorian. Something someone would write who was having a bad life.
“And I can see into other rooms. I can see there’s a Christmas tree. With big glass balls all over it. And. And ribbon, red and silver ribbons. And presents. Wrapped. Big presents that would make a child so happy to shake and guess what’s inside.”
I had never had anything like that at Christmas. I had a feeling Nora had not had anything like that, either. “Maybe you’re dreaming all this, Nora.” I had to say it, I had to say the flat, logical assumption. But she shook her head at once.
“No. I never remember my dreams. I don’t remember dreaming much at all. I’m not…I’m not that creative or…or anything like that. It’s not a dream. I can smell the cinnamon. I can see the decorations and the little girl who calls herself my granddaughter sitting at the table, trying to get the walnuts out of their shells. So we can make cookies with them, so we can put those walnuts. In the cookies.”
“What’s her name?”
“She won’t tell me. She pretends not to hear when I ask her.” Nora sighed, adjusted her dingy shawl. It cost her something to tell me this at all. To lay bare what she had thought she had seen. Or so I believed then. Because of course I did not believe her. “You can go, Marianne. I know you’d rather be anywhere than…listening to a crazy old lady.” Nora tried to make it a joke, but it fell very flat. I could see her waiting over a skimpy supper as her husband failed to return, as the hour grew later and later…Nora getting up to check on her sick baby, her husband’s car not coming up the road as she peeked out the window. To face such a betrayal, and such a death, and go to work and be so alone and thrown away…her and so many other women. So many. To end up here, so far from her birthplace, so far from security and light and hope and, yes, love. And still be able to make tiny, flat jokes and pretend life hadn’t handed her a sandwich full of shadows and toadstools.
“It’s all right. I don’t mind. So you sit with a little ghost and cook things for Christmas. What’s crazy about that? That’s rather nice.” I had somehow said just the right thing. Nora smiled, that rare real smile she had.
I’ve been perusing the usual holiday fare on the telly! Which is…Hallmark and now, the Lifetime Channel. The syrupy, always ends happily, tales of Christmas, and yes, I saw one advertised, Hanukah.
I even saw one with, gasp, gay people in it. I know! Hallmark is woke, y’all! Though, I have seen several with a gay sibling or a friend but those characters were very much side, seldom mentioned at all and generally kept off the main stage of shiny scrubbed lovers staidly hurtling toward love’s destiny. As the titles all run together in my head…Ah, okay, that was a Bride for Christmas. Her sister was gay, as played by the same actress who was in one of my all time Hallmark faves, Nine Lives of Christmas. Which features cats and firemen, hello! Kimberly Sustad is that actress. Brandon Routh was the fireman who got adopted by a cat, and she was a vet student…you’ve seen this one, right? Right?
Yes, there is backlash to all the ‘wokeness’ being inserted in the shimmery holiday fare. Mostly directed at all the GAY STUFF. Which is so absurdly tame and not at all cause for alarm. Surely, surely, you can just find another movie to watch, cause there’s the Up channel and Ion and AMC is showing holiday flicks and the ABC Family Channel which now has a new name and…okay. I’m SERIOUS here. You can flip over and find Elf 24/7 right now.
If you, um, watch television. I hear there’s some new-fangled stuff called streaming where you don’t have to flip channels or something. It’s just so futuristic. Yeah, I’m almost a Luddite. Yep. Back to the rambling–
I think the freak out was over the new one called the Christmas House, which features a gay couple trying to adopt a kid. Um? Thousand Karens Upset Enough To Call the Managers were clutching pearls over this. You just wanna…ask them why they can’t turn all that hot outrage toward an actual good cause. Like ending world hunger or save the bees.
I happened to flip to Lifetime, to check out their VERY SIMILAR, EERILY SO fare last Sunday. Six at night, it’s called something like Christmas Ever After or Christmas Happy Happy Nice Nice.
Okay! I’m rather charmed by the blond perky, not model thin and not runway in Paris looking, lead actress. I do mean perky with a capital P! She’s a writer! On her way to finish her book! In a very Christmas-positive place! She sees someone who resembles, or, hey, looks exactly like, the man on all her romance novel covers. As she writes a series of time travel romances featuring the same two characters. Got it? All righty.
Oh my, he’s rather handsome! She nearly runs him over, what an almost meet-cute this is. Usual opening to the Life-Hall oeuvre, and I am down with it, baby. Bring it on! Got my ratty purple blanket, the dogs are snoozing, the cat has her butt in my face, it’s a low key Sunday eve and I am determined to see how this ends.
I keep hoping it will all end badly and she will find out he’s a serial killer or a Trump supporter or some sort of conspiracy nut living out in the woods afraid of Bill Gates and Big Pharma. A perennial watcher of the Hallmark stuff can hope, damn it. One time they’re gonna slip there at the Hallmark factory and a gruesome awful ending is gonna escape in a shower of blood or even just a ‘not gonna work out, I choose my career which I’ve worked so hard for, over some small town diner owner in Montana’ finale. They part ways and both are relieved they didn’t have to do that awkward kiss that takes place in the last ten seconds before the credits roll in the usual…
What is…What? Is she…Is Izzi [played by Ali Stroker] in a WHEELCHAIR? And the entire story doesn’t revolve around the BRAVE LADY IN THE WHEELCHAIR OVERCOMING THE ODDS? WTF is going on? Did hell freeze over, Lifetime?? Brave new world of Christmas movie involving not-perfect people just living their lives, being all outgoing and sassy, coping with everything as best they can and…FINDING LOVE? What?
Seriously, did I slip into some weird alternate time dimension?
No. Decorating, cookies, Christmas contests, singing carols…the wokeness got me all woke for a bit.
Yeah, okay. We also did not get the backstory of how or why she’s in a wheelchair. She drives her own car, doesn’t have an aide or help of any kind and takes care of herself. We don’t see her do any of this, not really, but…it’s implied.
So the reason the guy, who’s the son of the owner of the place Izzi stays every year during the holidays, is on her covers is that…no no. No spoilers. But it’s actually not that far out in left field nor does it feel forced or ridiculous. Okay, it does, it’s very CONVENIENT AND NEAT, which is not what real life is like at all but if I wanted real life I’d watch documentaries on factory workers or something. Mm.
It’s a very sweet movie. I do mean sweet. Your teeth will ache after watching it. And the ending? Yeah. It’s exactly the ending you think it is but oh my, it’s so very…sweet. A wholesome earned sort of sweet, like a slice of punkin pie with a big dollop of hand-whipped cream.
I also like how this guy– names are not important for the guys, are they? They’re always something like Hal or Sam or James or Roman or Bucky the Wonder Stud– grew to like Izzi very much, then to LIKE Izzi very much. It was done quite well, I thought. Sure, it was the actual plot but the two actors seemed in the same space and accepting and…uh huh.
I also just watched one called Christmas Waltz, which was very much Hallmark Standard Fare. Lacey Chabert, playing a lawyer, breaks up with her fiancee right before her giant Christmas wedding, she’s supposed to take some dance lessons and…you guessed it, she falls for the dance teacher guy.
Now, I enjoyed the dancing, I am a sucker for a movie with dancing in it and the actor, Will Kemp, actually looked like a dancer. And could actually dance. That is my amateur take on the dancing in this movie. No, it wasn’t Gene Kelly standards or even Channing Tatum sexywrithing levels but it was passable. Hello! And the movie had moments of the two just dancing through snowy streets in NYC, which is always something that should now be in every Christmas movie made from now on. Rando dance scenes with snow falling down around the pair. Let’s do this, Hallmark and Lifetime and all those other channels churning out endless holiday hours of slight romantic fare!
Oh my, could we get Channing Tatum to appear in a Hallmark movie with one of their usual actress leads and the two could dirty dance to the shock and horror of the small town that lives for Christmas?? No? Not ever gonna happen? It was a stupid idea and I should be very ashamed of myself for all time?
Yeah, okay. Whatever.
We need a new dance movie to appear, don’t we? Magic Mike was a while ago. Dirty Dancing? Forty years? Oh!
Hallmark and the relentless happy ever after. I really do need it this year. I need some assurance that things do turn out well and fine and good. It’s why I watch those sad animal rescue videos. The puppy thrown in the ditch that’s skin and bones?? It get’s adopted by a royal family and lives the best life ever! I try to avoid the super-sad ones where the animal doesn’t make it.
Damn. I just have to pay the slightest bit of attention to the news feed to get all the sadness, grief and rage I could ever need.
And on that note! Aftermath:Boise, Idaho is available RIGHT NOW. Buy it. Right now!
Note: I am waiting for snow. It’s close. Like Lorelei Gilmore, I can sense it just around the corner…