Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like... an opportunity to make up for neglecting your kid.

It's almost Christmas, and I just both started and finished my shopping. I don't dilly dally when I'm in a mall: it's a calculated attack. I know exactly what I need, I know exactly where to get it, I walk quickly while dodging all bad walkers and I was out of the mall less than an hour after I entered it. I imagine this is what Christmas shopping is like for Jack Bauer. It's possible to shop like this because there is nobody on my list asking for whatever unattainable Furby/Cabbage Patch Kid/ Tickle Me Elmo type thing is huge this year. However, I still got to go through the experience of trying to find that unattainable gift with a dear friend of mine named Howard, and we go through this experience annually when I watch my favourite Christmas movie.

Jingle All the Way is about Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is some sort of carpet king in Minneapolis. But being the king of carpets comes at a price. Howard often ignores his family in favour of business, and they seem to be getting fed up with it. His son Jamie, played by the always loveable and talented method actor Jake Lloyd, has a karate class the night of December 23rd, and Howard has promised he will make it. But, as anybody who has ever seen a movie before can predict, Howard doesn't make it, sending the Langston family into a fit of Christmas disappointment.

Howard comes home to find his son sitting in front of the television watching a show about Turboman, Jamie's favourite superhero. Howard is getting worried about how he is going to mend this situation, and after going through a number of embarrassing attempts to win Jamie over, he comes up with the foolproof American solution. Howard asks Jamie what he wants for Christmas, which gets Jamie out of his chair and performing a live dramatic interpretation of a commercial for the Turboman action figure. When Howard essentially promises Jamie that he will get this toy for Christmas, everything is suddenly okay and the father and son share a heartwarming hug. And then I weep.

Jingle All the Way is a Christmas movie, yes, but it is about the worst aspects of Christmas and in a way that I don't think is meant to be ironic. Everybody knows that Christmas hasn't been about Jesus in a long time, but this movie flat out says that Christmas is exclusively about getting whatever material product you want. Everybody needs to buy a Turboman doll, because if they don't, their kid will hate them.

The rest of the movie takes place on Christmas Eve, and documents Howard's day trying to track down a Turboman doll. At the first toy store he goes to, he meets Myron (Sinbad, who is somehow really funny in this), a postal worker who is stuck in the same predicament as Howard. They end up battling as a sort of Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner duo who are in competition all day, and this is the other interesting/upsetting element of the movie. Howard represents the upper class, while Myron is the lower class. We know that Howard has an incredible house in the suburbs, and that money is not a big problem for his family. Myron, however, is a working class mailman who likely does not live as comfortably as Howard, but is in just the same holiday predicament.

Myron mentions how he has to carry around letters to Santa (while the movie never comes out and says it, it does kind of acknowledge that Santa doesn't exist), even those from poor children who will not be able to get what they want because of financial issues. Myron knows that Christmas is about the "rich and powerful toy cartels," and that North America has come to accept this about Christmas. I am in no way calling for a return to Christian values here, I'm just trying to point out that this is possibly the most accurate Christmas movie there is. Obviously, much of it is absurd, but this movie is great for capturing what the modern Christmas is like.

Howard's quest for the Turboman doll is something he undertakes solely because it's the only thing that will get Jamie to forgive him, and that alone says more about North American culture than most "serious" pieces of media can. Jamie is a spoiled rat who gets what he wants, and Howard knows he can't just stop spoiling him now. When Myron says he never got the toy he wanted for Christmas, but his neighbour got it and went on to become a billionaire, Howard is even more convinced that Jamie needs a Turboman. Howard had better get his kid that toy, for otherwise Jamie will be condemned to a lifetime stuck in the middle class.

Towards the end of the movie, Howard ends up at the Christmas Eve parade downtown in an attempt to meet up with his family. He accidentally stumbles into a building that is apparently used for parade float preparation, and due to his muscular physique, Howard is mistaken for the actor meant to be Turboman in the parade. Howard is then put in costume, complete with a functioning jet pack, and goes up to the float where he has the opportunity to give Jamie a special edition Turboman doll. Finally, Howard has provided for his child (unless you count keeping him warm and fed in a gorgeous house, in which case he was providing all along).

BUT WAIT! Myron caught up, and is now in the costume of Turboman's arch-nemesis, Dementor! This leads to an incredible, over-the-top action sequence that features flying fists, flying discs, and flying people. After it's all over, Howard/Turboman has defeated Myron/Dementor, and Jamie has his Turboman doll. But, as Myron is being lead away by the police, Jamie realizes that this movie features no holiday spirit and makes a last ditch attempt to inject some by giving the action figure to Myron for his kid. Aw, how sweet. Myron says that it will make his son very happy, but I don't know how he'll give it to his son: by my count, Myron is going to be charged with attempted kidnapping, multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and theft. His son might get his Turboman doll this year, but he certainly won't have his dad home for the next few Christmases, and his family will have to learn to adjust to life without a father figure and his paycheque.

There is one quick shot during Howard's Turboman jet pack scene that sums up this movie and the modern Christmas frenzy perfectly. Howard loses control of his jet pack and flies through the window of an apartment building before flying out through another window on the other side. While passing through the building, however, he flies right through a family's dining room as they pray over their Christmas Eve turkey dinner, destroying everything. Turboman, and consumerism in general, has lead to the destruction of the religious and familial elements of Christmas, and he doesn't even care enough to look back once.

The title for this post is courtesy of my good friend Emma... thanks pal!

A NOTE ABOUT YEAR/DECADE END STUFF: You are probably currently being bombarded by top 10 lists from every critic, blogger, and nerdy friend for both 2009 and the 2000s as a whole. People like reading quick hit lists, but the real reason so many people write them is because they're fun as shit! I probably won't post a top 10 movies of the decade, but I will post something both movie and music related sometime in January. I will also eventually make some sort of list about my favourite movies of 2009, but not for another couple of months (I don't live in a massive city, so often I have to wait a while for a lot of good stuff to make it to town). I do already know what my absolute favourite movie of 2009 will be when all is said and done though, and you can expect a post about that in the near future too. If Santa's pending visit wasn't already enough to keep you from sleeping, this news must be!

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