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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Silver Screen Surprises Christmas Grab Bag

Jews Hate Hanukkah, Santa Kidnaps Kids, and Other Christmas Lessons

By Chris Sabga

I admit it: I am a sucker for Christmas movies. No matter how cheery or cheesy they are, I just can't get enough!

Everyone knows the classics of Christmas cinema, but here are a few you may not have heard of...

Switchmas: A young boy, Ira Finkelstein, hates being Jewish and wishes his family could celebrate Christmas instead. Well, okay, he only hates being Jewish during Christmas season. Either way, he's obsessed with Christmas trees and Jingle Bells. He dreams of a White Christmas, but he's a California kid who has never even seen snow. To make matters even worse, his parents want to ship him off to Florida – also bereft of the sticky white sludge – because they'll be too busy with work to celebrate Hanukkah. At the airport, poor Ira meets another boy who lives in a snowy climate and would love to spend Christmas in the sun. So, you guessed it, they switch places This well-worn device is actually more logical here than usual because both kids' relatives haven't seen them in years. One of the grandparents is played by the incredible Elliott Gould, who makes the most of every movie and role he's in. In this case, he's the best Jewish grandpa ever. "Switchmas" is hardly great art, and it may not ever make anyone's top ten list of Christmas movies, but it's a fun flick with a nice message. The highlight: finding out who really wrote all of those famous Christmas movies and songs. My mind was blown by the revelation!

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: Santa Claus is a jolly fat man who climbs down chimneys, wolfs down cookies, sucks down milk, and throws down gifts for all the good little boys and girls in the world. Someone forgot to let the folks in Finland know that. There, Santa is an ancient evil who kidnaps and kills little kids. As dark and depressing as that may sound, "Rare Exports" is actually a delightful little film. It's one of the most original – and twisted – Christmas movies I've had the pleasure of celebrating the yuletide with.

The Heart of Christmas: Is there such a thing as Tragedy Porn? Because "The Heart of Christmas" is it. I honestly can't comment on the merits of the script or the quality of the performances. I just don't know. All I do know is that the true story of Dax Locke, a toddler struck by cancer, makes for one of the most gut-wrenching films I have ever seen. Your heart is made of stone if you can get through this without wiping your eyes. Is it emotional manipulation at its finest? Probably. But it works.

The Sons of Mistletoe: A small town foster home for boys has been sold by a big city executive (played by "Touched by an Angel's" Roma Downey). The man running it (portrayed by the warm George Newbern) actually grew up there himself. Featuring touching performances and a sweet story, this is one of the nicest, gentlest holiday movies you'll come across. Despite being a staple at any Walmart or K-Mart bargain bin, "The Sons of Mistletoe" is worth far more than the asking price.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear: I hesitate to even mention this all but forgotten Christmas TV movie from 1984 because it's still not officially available on DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming – and even VHS copies fetch a premium price. But if you were around back then, you undoubtedly remember this heartwarming holiday classic starring Mickey Rooney and Scott Grimes about a grandfather who comes back from Heaven to spend one last Christmas with his grandson in New York City. It is still my favorite Christmas movie of all time. 

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