Friday, January 18, 2019

FLIGHT TO NOWHERE (1946)

In Honolulu, a man who has just attended a party is shot, and we see the killer remove some paper from his pocket. The man was an agent and that paper was a secret map of uranium deposits which foreign spies want badly, and which federal agent Bob Donovan is determined to get back. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, pilot Hobie Carrington (Alan Curtis) is hired by the Countess de Fresca to fly her and some friends to Death Valley for a weekend stay at a resort. Hobie is initially reluctant to do so, but after some half-hearted flirting and the promise of a free dinner, he accepts the charter. The motley crew includes the lovely Catherine Forrest (Evelyn Ankers); her brother Claude, a former POW; Jan Van Bush, who is sweet on Catherine; and the somewhat mysterious Gerald Porter (Jerome Cowan). Before the plane takes off, Donovan tells Hobie, a former wartime spy, that all his passengers were at the party in Hawaii where the agent was shot, and asks for Hobie's help to find out if any of them have the map. In Death Valley, the group meets up with a mining executive named Walker, and Hobie runs into his ex-wife Irene. Soon the question becomes who doesn’t have the map. Hobie sees an envelope with Japanese characters on it in the Countess' purse. He steals it, but the Countess retrieves it. Irene agrees to steal it back, and it turns out that Claude has been trying to sell it to Walker. Meanwhile Jan tries to force himself on Kathy and Hobie comes to her rescue. Porter is revealed to be a G-man, but is he really? Walker is murdered, and everyone—including agent Donovan—winds up in Las Vegas where a ring with an encoded secret about one of the group turns up. More deaths occur (someone is killed by a horse, another person blown up in a plane) before all is cleared up.

Typical for a B-action film, there is more narrative than the filmmakers can handle, leading to plot holes and unmotivated action. I was even confused about the moral status of Claude, the former POW turned traitor—he seems more weak and confused than evil, though he does get punished for his sins. There's a stray plotpoint involving the fact that the Countess is recognized by Irene as a fake—she's a former chorus girl—that comes to nothing. The fight scenes are awkward, and some dialogue glitches were left in (a fairly common B-movie happening). Still, at around 70 minutes, this is entertaining enough for B-movie fans. I wouldn't go quite so far as to say that leading man Alan Curtis is charmless, but he tends to fade into the background, especially with such a large cast of characters surrounding him. Ankers (pictured with Curtis) is fine, though Cowan, usually an asset, is not used well here until the climax. The rest of the supporting cast is OK. It appears that actual location shooting was done in Las Vegas (before it was a bustling town), so that's kind of fun to see. [YouTube]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

DAMON AND PYTHIAS (1962)

In 400 B.C., the city-state of Syracuse is under control of the dictator Dionysius. Currently, he is hunting down members of the Pythagorean cult, who believe in pacifism and the unity of all men as brothers, a view Dionysius sees as dangerous to his rule. When one fawning informer tells the nobleman Cariso that he is a friend, Cariso has him killed, saying "When a slave can call a master a friend, this world has ended." The roguish Damon (Guy Williams) plays both sides, accepting money to inform on the whereabouts of Arcanos, a Pythagorean leader, then going to Arcanos and telling his group to flee. In Athens, the leader of the Pythagoreans has died and Pythias (Don Burnett) is sent to bring Arconos back to replace him, though his pregnant wife Nerissa is upset to the point of illness about him leaving. In Syracuse, Damon robs Pythias, but then Pythias hires him to track down Arcanos. Though the two become friendly, Damon betrays Pythias to Cariso, but when Pythias gets the best of him in a fight, he refuses to kill Damon because of his pacifist beliefs, and Damon ultimately offers himself as a potential sacrifice. When Damon asks to be released briefly to visit his wife, Damon offers to be kept prisoner in his place, to be killed if Pythias doesn't return. Has Damon become a Pythagorean? Will Pythias keep his word? And if he does, will Cariso be able to delay his return long enough to have Damon killed?

Though based on an Greek legend, this movie is clearly comparing the Pythagoreans to early Christians, presenting them as a persecuted group preaching peace and love, hiding in the shadows and using a symbol to identify themselves to each other (not the cross, but a five-pointed star in a circle). The film was marketed as a sword-and-sandal adventure movie but, though there are some chases and fights (and sandals), this works more as a movie about religious persecution, like SIGN OF THE CROSS without nudity or sadism. The fabled friendship of the title characters could use some beefing up. There's a scene early on in which it looks like Damon is going to invite his new friend to be part of a threesome with his girlfriend—but no, they just all go to sleep—but their friendship is portrayed as rather shallow, and it comes as something of a surprise when Damon makes his offer to be a potential sacrifice for Pythias. Guy Williams (TV's Zorro, though I know him best as the dad on Lost in Space) does a nice job as the rogue who converts to a believer in brotherhood; Don Burnett is less effective, a little wooden and passive. If you come to this looking for beefcake, you'll be disappointed; though tunics are worn, there are no bare chests and not much in the way of muscle—Williams would be better described as a little on the beefy side rather than muscular. Still, a nice change of pace for the genre. I was disappointed that TCM showed a pan-and-scanned print even though a widescreen version is available on DVD from Warner Archive. [TCM]

Thursday, January 10, 2019

OPERATION EICHMANN (1961)

In a series of shorts scenes set between 1941 and 1945, narrated by a concentration camp inmate named David, we see Adolf Eichmann (Werner Klemperer, at left) set the machinery in motion for a "final solution" to the Jewish problem. His plan is to destroy all six million Jews in the lands under the Reich's control in order to divert food to German soldiers. At Auschwitz, already a prison camp, workmen wonder why they are installing shower heads not connected to water, but we know that they will be connected to containers of Zyklon B, an industrial-strength pesticide that will be used to gas Jews to death. When the Nazis realize that disposal of bodies will be a problem, they install crematoria to turn the bodies to untraceable ash. In 1945, with the Reich collapsing, Eichmann, under an assumed identity, escapes with his mistress Anna (Ruta Lee) to Spain but soon realizes that he is being followed by Israeli agents—including a grown-up David (Donald Buka)—and makes his way to Kuwait and then Argentina. Some of the agents on his trail, notably David's friend Jacob, who managed to survive Auschwitz with David, want to assassinate Eichmann, but David spoils their plans because he argues for bringing him to justice. It's not really a spoiler to note that eventually, he is caught and tried in Jerusalem.

This B-film was rushed into production after Eichmann's arrival in Israel in May of 1960 and was released in March of 1961, a month before Eichmann's trial would begin, though the movie opens with an abstract shot of Eichmann in darkness except for a spotlight, making a belligerent statement in a courtroom. Unfortunately, the rush resulted in a rather static and undramatic picture. The acting is generally fine. There is the risk that baby boomer audiences will associate Werner Klemperer too closely to the comic Col. Klink on Hogan’s Heroes, but his solid performance carries no trace of Klink. John Banner, who was Klink's bumbling assistant Schultz, plays the relatively small role of Rudolf Hess, Commandant of Auschwitz. Donald Buka (ar right), as the grown-up Davis, is mostly just called upon to look stoic and solemn. Though I chuckled when I saw Ruta Lee's name in the opening credits, thinking she lacked the chops for role of the mistress, she gives maybe the best performance in the movie after Klemperer. Eric Braeden (of The Young & the Restless and The Rat Patrol) has a small but crucial role in the last half-hour.

One problem is in the staginess of the movie, confined almost completely as it is to studio shots on sets that range from adequate to cheap, and the tone which comes close to exploitation. The film is well shot but lacks tension or gravitas. In a startling scene early on, we follow the first batch of Jews into the gas chamber and watch as they begin dying, a moment that even Spielberg couldn't quite bring himself to include in SCHINDLER'S LIST. The most effective scene in the movie is in the middle, when Eichmann is trying to get one last load of prisoners (including the young David and Jacob) transferred to Dachau before he flees Germany. His driver rebels, saying, "To call you insane is a generosity" and Eichmann orders a slaughter of the prisoners with soldiers shooting through the slats on the trucks. Afterward, a handful of survivors slowly exit the trucks, all of them children. The ending, as the agents chase Eichmann on the streets, is rushed and ineffective. But the movie itself is worth seeing as an interesting novelty. The same historical incidents are dramatized in the 2018 movie Operation Finale. [TCM]

Friday, January 04, 2019

ANOTHER FACE (1935)

Infamous gangster Broken Nose Dawson, a rather ugly chap, is wanted for murder but he arranges with a plastic surgeon to have his looks altered and comes out looking downright handsome. But once a gangster, always a gangster, and Dawson kills everyone who knows he had the surgery, even the doctor, except for Mary, the nurse, who, disgusted that she was forced to be a part of the whole thing, leaves town before the killing starts and heads out to California to be with cowboy star Tex Williams, who fell in love with her when she treated him after a fall from a horse during a show in New York. Coincidentally, Dawson also heads west, under the identity of playboy Spencer Dutro, with plans to become an actor. Arriving at Zenith Studios, he tries out for a gangster part only to be told he's not the gangster type. But PR man Joe Haynes thinks he can make a success of Dutro by marketing his playboy background. Soon, Dutro is treated as a rising star, but one day, Mary recognizes Dutro as Dawson and troubles ensue.

This is an uneasy blend of comedy and drama, unusual for its day, and it doesn't quite come together successfully, partly due to the character of Dawson, played by Brian Donlevy. Had we seen Dawson become more civilized and more sympathetic, the mix might have been more palatable. Or if someone like James Cagney had played Dawson, he probably could have had us rooting, to some degree, for the bad guy. But the characterization is flat, as is Donlevy's performance. The de facto good guy is Wallace Ford as PR man Joe and he's fine, but again his character is fuzzy and occasionally unpleasant, as in the long sequence in which Joe keeps Mary locked up in his office closet to protect her from Dawson while he tries to work a PR angle around the situation. He's wooing an actress, played by Phyllis Brooks, but she's another bland and unfocused character. This leaves Mary, the put-upon nurse (Molly Lamont) and her cowboy Tex (Jack Randall) as the two most sympathetic characters, but they really have all that much screen time, so the upshot is that we spend most of the movie with folks we don't really care about. What I enjoyed most about this movie was seeing Erik Rhodes; he's mostly known for playing comically exotic foreigners (THE GAY DIVORCEE, TOP HAT) but here, he's as American vanilla as they come, and it's fun to see him playing against type. Best line delivery: Hattie McDaniel, maid to Phyllis Brooks, hears Brooks tell someone on the phone about her upcoming marriage to a "publicity director," and she disgustedly mumbles, "Press agent." [TCM]

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

LAZY RIVER (1934)

Bill (Robert Young), Tiny, Gabby, and Armand are prison buddies. Armand, a Cajun, implies that his family runs one of the biggest shrimp fishing businesses in New Orleans, and his mother knows nothing about his current circumstances. When a breakout goes bad, Armand is killed and the other three are given early release for not participating in the action. The three head down the Bayou, hoping to connect with Armand's family and make some easy money, but the reality is that Armand's mom, known as Miss Minnie, is widowed and is just days away from losing her choice dock property (and therefore her business) to a shady Chinese man named Sam Kee. Ambrose, an old moneyed friend of the family, arrives in the nick of time, the night before her dock is to be auctioned off, and promises to give her the money she needs to hang on to her land, but Kee and his men kill Ambrose that night and the auction goes on. Suspecting foul play, Tiny sneaks onto Sam's boat, breaks into his safe, and steals enough cash to allow Miss Minnie to keep her dock. Things seem to sort themselves out nicely: Bill is sweet on Armand's sister Sarah (Jean Parker), and he and his friends help get the family business back on its feet. But let's not forget slimy Sam Kee who needs the land for his illegal smuggling of immigrants and is plotting his revenge. And, oh yeah, it turns out that Bill has a wife…

Robert Young (way before Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby M.D.) was a comely youth and his fresh-faced appeal is the main reason for watching this predictable melodrama. But his buddies, played by the stalwart character actors Nat Pendleton (Tiny) and Ted Healy (Gabby), are fun, and I ended up feeling like I knew them as well as I knew Bill. Parker's character is not especially memorable, but I enjoyed the support of C. Henry Gordon (as the villainous Sam), Maude Eburne as Miss Minnie, and Irene Franklin as a fun-loving cook who flirts with Gabby. There is a very cute scene of Young and Parker floating up, yes, a lazy river, while she serenades him. Watchable for those in the mood for an old-fashioned romantic drama. [TCM]

Monday, December 31, 2018

CHRISTMAS BELLS ARE RINGING (2018)

I guess I have time for one more Hallmark Christmas movie. This one manages to be thoroughly average in general while being below average in at least one area and above in another. Emilie Ullerup works as a freelance photographer, but she is hoping to get a regular gig at a Boston newspaper by winning a competition for best Christmas photo spread. It is suggested that she "find something we've never seen" and since she's heading to Cape Cod for her widowed father's marriage, she decides to make a Cape Christmas her theme. Though she is 100% behind her dad's new relationship, she is still dealing with grief over her mother’s death, especially when Mom was a gifted photographer and several of her photos still line the walls of a local gallery. She also comes to realize that she is conflicted about the promise of the Boston job—she would be settling down but might find herself creatively stifled. And finally, one last problem arises: the presence of a former summertime boyfriend (Josh Kelly) who lives on the Cape working in his family's real estate business but is considering a move to London for a new career.

This pretty much embodies the Hallmark template: successful woman facing a life change leaves big city at Christmas, goes to small town and finds guidance with family, new friends, and hunky down-to-earth guy. But this also illustrates how tired the conventions get, especially when Hallmark has produced 37 new movies this year—technically new, but mostly very familiar re-workings of the same old plot and character beats. Everything feels just a little too tired (yet another unrealistic Christmastime business competition rears its ugly head) and undeveloped, and the writer and director can't find anything new here except the Cape Cod setting—and already some viewers have expressed dismay that the movie was obviously shot in Canada and not the very recognizable real Cape Cod (though this didn't bother me). There is one new Hallmark aspect: an interracial couple is featured briefly, but not long enough to really register as an important plot point. I am of two minds about another problem: the lack of any real melodramatic conflict. On the one hand, it's a bit refreshing that the conflicts that exist are fairly low-key and there's no last-minute romantic obstacle in the form of a former boyfriend or girlfriend. On the other hand, the lack of tension makes the last half-hour go by awfully slowly to the inevitable happy ending. The main pluses here are the two leads. I'll watch Josh Kelly in almost anything—he has the sweet, non-threatening masculinity thing down pat. I'd never seen Emilie Ullerop before but she is right in the mold of the blond Hallmark heroine and she and Kelly have good chemistry. It's an odd note on which to end the holiday season: I feel lukewarm about this movie but I'd recommend it as a good intro into the Hallmark Christmas movie mindset. And, you know, Josh Kelly. [Hallmark]

Thursday, December 27, 2018

THE CHRISTMAS TRAIN (2017)

Tom (Dermot Mulroney) used to be a war correspondent but now has settled down and writes human interest stories—on topics like he-and-she closets. Four days before Christmas, he is taking a train from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to be with his girlfriend Lelia. She's pissed that he isn't flying, but he's hoping to get a good story out of observing the people on the train. It's also clear that he isn't all that excited about seeing Lelia again. Also on the train: Max Powers (Danny Glover), a famous film director, and his faithful assistant and script doctor Eleanor (Kimberly Williams-Paisley); Misty, a friendly psychic; Agnes, an eccentric and occasionally nosy woman who is a regular train rider; young couple Steve and Julie who are planning a wedding on the train, despite Steve's parents objections; Higgins, an older, laid-off railroad worker; Kenny, a friendly bartender; and Kelly, a man still grieving his wife's death, trying to force himself to read Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." On the train, Max introduces Tom to Eleanor, hoping he can help her with a script about train travel, but it turns out that the two had a long-term relationship while they were both reporters; according to Tom, she left him in Jerusalem with no notice, and both still have scars from their shared past. Soon they seem to be striking sparks again, but the haughty and unlikeable Lelia joins the train at one of its stops, with marriage on her mind. Of course, other complications set in. Among them: a petty thief steals small but important items, like Julie's wedding ring, Kenny's railroad car model, and Tom's favorite pen; the minister who was supposed to marry Steve and Julie can't make it, and worse, Steve's parents are threatening to disown him; Agnes seems to be keeping a secret about her past. Then, on Christmas Eve, the train gets stuck in snow in the mountains, ruining everyone's hopes for a happy holiday. But can this delay actually help the passengers and their dilemmas?

This Hallmark Christmas movie is a little different from the usual. It's based on a book by best-selling author David Baldacci and it has slightly higher star power with the presence of Mulroney, Glover, and Cusack. Of course, the plot doesn't diverge too much from the Hallmark template: we still have the white upper-middle class couple who have to overcome their problems by Christmas day, the ethnic sidekicks (in addition to Glover, there's the African American psychic and the Chinese bartender), and plenty of snow and Christmas decorations. The plot is a bit quirkier than usual, with a twist ending that I liked at first, but later came to see as outlandish and a bit shoddy. The performances are good all around: the leading couple has good chemistry, Joan Cusack is amusing as Agnes, Anthony Konechny as Steve is a handsome All-American blond type, and Nelson Wong as Kenny is charming. Overall, a welcome deviation from formula, even if the formula reinstates itself by the end. Pictured from left are Williams-Paisley, Mulroney and Glover. [Hallmark]

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

CHRISTMAS AROUND THE CORNER (2018)

Claire (Alexandra Breckenridge) is a venture capitalist whose latest IPO for a company called Mistletoe doesn't launch well. It's almost December and she has a lot of vacation time stacked up so to relax and recharge, she decides to take the month off and head to a small town of Glastenbury, Vermont, famous for its Christmas celebration. Her late mother talked a lot about her visits to the town, but the two of them never got to go together. When she gets to town, she discovers two things: 1) the bed & breakfast at which she is booked is above the Fortenbury Bookstore and part of the arrangement is that she will work as a kind of co-manager with Mrs. Tumulty, the manager (Jane Alexander) while she's there; 2) the town council has cancelled the Christmas displays because of a catastrophic flood earlier in the year, and the small business owners are all feeling a bit depressed because of the lack of tourists. Claire, being good at marketing, starts sprucing up the dusty bookstore and trying to get the town back in the Christmas spirit, and she makes a third discovery: Mrs. Tumulty's nephew, who owns the bookstore building, is a hunky blacksmith named Andrew (Jamie Spilchuk). Sparks fly between the two until she makes a fourth discovery: Andrew is selling the building to the head of the town council who plans on getting rid of the bookstore. By now, Claire has a lot invested in the store and she puts up a fight for its future.

The pluses of this Lifetime Christmas romance: Breckenridge and Spilchuk are easy on the eyes and have a nice rapport; the bookstore setting is fun (especially for me as I used to work in retail bookselling); two of the supporting characters are an Anglican priest and his African-American husband (and their new baby)! However, there are minuses: Jane Alexander, who I normally love, is wasted as her character is basically just an onlooker; the ending is rushed; and the plot is driven by what seems to me to be a ridiculously preposterous notion, that a B&B guest would be expected to help manage a retail establishment. I can't believe that the writer (Michael J. Murray), who seems to specialize in Christmas TV-movies, couldn't come up with a better plot device, like having Claire be related to someone (other than Andrew) at the bookstore. I had a hard time getting past this, but I admit the presence of the same-sex couple—who show up in several scenes and who would never make it into a Hallmark film—made me eventually warm to the movie. [Lifetime]

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952)

Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) is a widowed village vicar, aging and but still active, tended to by his eldest daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson, with Richardson at left). She is in love with local boy David and they want to marry, but he is about to be transferred out of the country for two years, and Jenny feels that she cannot leave her father alone—she hasn't even told him that she and David are serious about each other. This Christmas, for the first time in years, Martin will have a full house of relatives for Christmas Eve. His son Michael (Denholm Elliott) is in the Army and, despite getting in trouble for sneaking into his barracks late after a date, manages to wangle a 48-hour pass. His other daughter Margaret (Margaret Leighton), who has been out of touch for years, makes a last-minute decision to come, despite having a secret she is loathe to reveal and which has driven her to drink. There is also Aunt Bridget, a cantankerous spinster, and Aunt Lydia, a widow who is much more pleasant but also becoming more pessimistic about life—she has a lovely line about enjoying the holiday, especially the "dark green and glittering Christmas tree," but facing up to how much magic goes out the season as one ages. The last visitor is cousin Richard, friend and godfather to Margaret, the only person present who knows the agony which has caused her to isolate herself—she bore a child out of wedlock (who later died) and she feels she cannot talk to her vicar father about it without him being blinkered and judgmental. We discover that the family members, though they love the vicar, feel like they cannot be honest with him—both aunts are heartily in favor of Jenny asking Margaret to come and do her part caring for Martin—and the vicar remains oblivious to their concerns, in part because of his obligations to his congregation. After the long day's journey into Christmas Eve during which secrets come tumbling out, will Christmas morning help heal wounds?

This British film is difficult to find—it’s never been released as a region 1 DVD, or even on VHS as far as I know. I first saw it on cable back in the early 80s and remember being a bit disappointed that it didn't really feel like a Christmas movie. But having finally found it streaming online earlier this year (TCM also aired it this season), I must revise my opinion. Though the genre it most belongs to would seem to be dysfunctional family melodrama, it actually references Christmas quite a bit: a tree, sparse but realistic decorations, two lovely scenes of carolers (the "Good King Wenceslas" moment in particular is nicely shot as we see the serious faces of family members listening as they process knowledge that is causing them discomfort), and Aunt Lydia's observation noted above. There’s not a lot of humor here, and the funniest line is rather dark comedy; at one point, Richard says to a pouting Michael, "Cheer up, old boy, in a hundred years, we'll all be dead!" The happy ending feels in this day and age like a too-neat wrapping up of plotlines, but remember this was 1952 when an ambiguous or depressing ending would have been unique (outside of film noir or tragedy).

It's based on a play and does look and feel rather stagy, with most of the action occurring in rooms in the vicar's home, but it never feels closed in or artificial. The acting is excellent all around, with main honors going to Richardson (whose old-age makeup consists of an odd-looking white hair wig) and Johnson. Leighton is fine but her character could have stood more development. It's startling to see a very young and cute Denholm Elliott (above right), whom I know mostly from roles he played 25 to 30 years later. Though a relatively happy ending is in store for all, the bulk of this film is not exactly upbeat. One character is well on the way to becoming an alcoholic; two characters confess to being atheists, which would probably been seen as marks against them back in 1952. At least two of the central issues of the movie are still concerns today. The vicar is told that his children kept things from him because of religion, but he retorts that because of religion, he should be a more sympathetic listener. Whether or not he would have been remains an open question. Also, there is talk about the meaninglessness of life, how we fill our lives with events just to keep going even though we're ultimately doomed to fail. The vicar's response is rather more reflective of Eastern religions: the root of all evil is that we keep wanting. These kinds of discussions don’t feel very Christmassy, but still everything comes together for a very satisfying movie, watchable in any season. [TCM]

Friday, December 21, 2018

MISTER SCROOGE TO SEE YOU (2013)

On Christmas Eve, 1844, a year after the cranky miser Ebenezer Scrooge (David Ruprecht, at left) was visited by three ghosts and became a generous Christmas-loving man, Jacob Marley's ghost sends him, with no explanation, to the small town of New Britain, Wisconsin in the year 2013 to work some redeeming magic on Timothy Cratchit VI. The head of the Scrooge and Cratchit financial company, Tim (Matt Koester) has become a cold-hearted moneyman just like Scrooge was. When Tim and his associate Ron (David Koester) visit the Dinner Belle for a cup of coffee, they run into the diner's owner, Belle (Shannon Moore), who remembers Tim from high school. Their reunion is not a happy one. Tim's company is in the middle of a neighborhood renewal project and she is behind on her mortgage payments; he is there to let her know that he will boot her out if she can't pay up by the end of the year. Scrooge, out of his element, stumbles into the diner and Belle takes pity on him, giving him coffee and helping him to get current with customs and lingo (ordering elaborate drinks at the coffeehouse and saying things like, "I’m stoked!"). When he produces a partnership document from 1844, he takes it to Tim's office and claims half-interest in the company. Scrooge immediately begins making friends of the employees and changing the mood in the office from unpleasant to fun, much to the chagrin of Tim (though Ron actually warms to Scrooge and his influence). As it gets closer to Christmas, will Scrooge eventually figure out why Tim is so cold and thaw him out by Christmas Eve?

Like JOURNEY TO PARADISE, this is another problematic production from the sincere but overly ambitious Christian entertainment company Salty Earth Productions and director Steven F. Zambo. There are so many things wrong with this film that pointing them all out could easily take three more paragraphs. The low-budget sets look terrible (which the sets in PARADISE did not); the acting is generally poor—again, as in the previous movie, the Koester brothers (at right, David and Matt) excepted; the story is filled with so many plot holes that you pretty much just sigh and accept it as an almost hallucinatory avant-garde narrative: Why does Marley send Scrooge to 2013 without explaining what he's supposed to do? How has Belle stayed in business at all when she seems to be a terrible manager? There's a plotline involving a pastor and his homeless buddies who Belle feeds for free that really has no payoff and serves little purpose except to show that Belle's heart is in the right place. The biggest problem is a spoiler that involves the ending which I'll save for my last paragraph. The score is bland and the featured song by Michael Schroeder is awful (as it was in PARADISE). And once again, the Christian elements, mostly absent from the Dickens' original, feel uncomfortably added to the mix. In only one scene does Scrooge spout religion, and the actor's voice bizarrely drops to an artificially serious tone, which made me laugh out loud.

So you might ask, why go on at length about this shoddy film? Well, 1) the plot does have promise; as I've noted before, updatings of A Christmas Carol are always fun; 2) Matt Koester is a better actor than his material calls for; 3) the humor as Scrooge adjusts himself to the 21st century is cute; 4) I appreciate their attempt at multiculturalism by including a Latina character as Belle's friend and employee. As a fan of Christmas movies, I find this (and PARADISE) interesting for going against the Hallmark grain of vanilla romance stories, which leads me to the SPOILER: Belle and Tim were friends in high school but Belle keeps insisting that she didn't feel romantic about him. The reason, which comes out of absolutely nowhere in the last few minutes, is that Tim is Belle's brother! Better than that, they're twins! He grew up as an adopted orphan, but we are given no reason for why he would have been given up and Belle kept. In this case, a Hallmark romance ending would have been preferable. I hope if Salty Earth does any more Christmas movies, they give the screenplay a more thorough going-over for plausibility and coherence. [Amazon Prime]