Friday, December 22, 2017

Hallmark Christmas Movies: A Brief Guide

Some day I'm going to write a 3000 word essay about the phenomenon known as the Hallmark Christmas movie, but not today.

The dog has been under the weather lately which means a lot of couch time for me and her. But what to watch while glued to the television? I've seen every rerun of every Law & Order there ever was or will be, and the Star Trek Channel (a.k.a. BBC-America) has worn me out. So flipping channels, I stumbled across the two Hallmark cable channels — Hallmark and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries — which show nothing but Christmas movies 24/7 from the week before Halloween through New Year's Day.


And not just any Christmas movies, but movies made by Hallmark for Hallmark. This year alone, Hallmark will wind up debuting thirty-three new movies.

So far, I've seen 24 of them.

Jeebus, do they turn them out on a lathe? As a writer and amateur movie historian, I had to figure this out.

After extensive research (passive bingeing), I can report that all of them can be distilled down to a single storyline: a damaged soul is made whole again through the redemptive power of Christmas and heterosexual pair-bonding.


There are lots of pretty young widows, single moms, career women, angels longing to be made flesh, soldiers returning home, children hoping for a second parent, burned-out writers in need of a Christmas goose and shop owners looking to sell out or stay put. Long lost loves meet again through a series of coincidences that would make Charles Dickens blush.

Santa Claus — the real one — shows up about one time in three, mostly to act as a matchmaker, but sometimes just to remind people that decorating an artificial tree can make all the difference.


Our heroine typically battles one of three great villains: cynicism, death and/or corporate capitalism, the latter a pretty interesting choice considering the source.

Spoiler alert: she will win with minimal fuss.

In the course of two hours, minus commercials, two good-looking B-listers will fall in love, kiss around the 1:58 mark and take that job or move to that small town that once seemed too quaint for words but turns out to be just perfect.


The movies star the likes of Mira Sorvino, Lindy Booth, Rachel Boston, Catherine Bell, Maggie Lawson and very occasionally a male lead as well-known as Dermot Mulroney.

Supporting work from everybody: Judd Nelson, Danny Glover, Joan Cusack, Shelley Long, Beau Bridges, James Brolin, Jewel Staite, Giselle Eisenberg, and on and on.


These movies are not in any sense great — there are no memorable lines or scenes or images or performances, and none of the emotions they tap into will resonate beyond the closing credits. In fact, they are so cookie-cutter, I image there's a template (or three) and the writers simply fill in new character names and a bit of explanatory dialogue and bang, done.

There's even one called A Cookie Cutter Christmas — how on-point can you get!


But like macaroni and cheese out of a box — or should I say sugar-frosted Christmas cookies hot out of the oven — predictable can be terribly comforting. Especially in terrible times.

Recommended, if you're in the right frame of mind.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bruce Brown (1937-2017)

Bruce Brown, whose documentaries helped spark America's love of surfing, passed away Sunday at the age of 80.

For my money, his 1966 documentary The Endless Summer is the best film about surfing ever made — and one of the greatest documentaries on any subject. Here are some words I wrote a while back about that great film:

Adrenaline is the drug of choice for most Americans these days (that, and self-righteous bile). And of the over-the-counter mood-altering agents, it's also the most overrated, a jangling noise that drowns out any quiet thought of our own mortality.

But Monkey, you may well ask, who wants to contemplate their own mortality? Nobody, admittedly. The end of everything — knowing death is coming — is our unique curse as a species.


But it's also our blessing. Do you think an animal is ever aware of a perfect moment, the fleeting in-between when the doing is done and we exist in harmony with the elements, and when, if you listen quietly enough, you can even hear the music of the spheres.

The world keeps turning, of course, and the perfect moment ends almost as we become aware of it, but because we're aware the moment will end, we know just how special, how precious, how fleeting those moments are.


In this time of constant distractions, there's something quaintly charming about the notion that a four-foot curl off the coast of South Africa was once thought of as the perfect wave. These days surfers ride fifty-foot monsters in the middle of the ocean, waves they can only reach at the end of a towline, and riding them is more akin to falling off a mountain than anything your father ever did on a surfboard.

I imagine The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown's 1966 documentary about an around-the-world search for the perfect wave, has as much in common with today's surfing scene as flying a kite does to space travel.

Maybe that's why I like it.


With Brown's passing, we speed a little bit faster into a future that has no time for perfect waves or perfect moments.