Saturday, December 17, 2011

Whoopi Cheese In Your Stocking: Call Me Claus

A new development in my life is the weird amusement I’ve found from gooey holiday cinema. If there’s a lesson to be learned at the end, then by golly, I can’t imagine why it doesn’t fit the criteria for reviews on the Doll’s House!

Quick Plot: Little Lucy visits Santa on Christmas Eve in the 70s (not the miniseries The 70s, although that did have the same director) asking only that he brings home her father from Vietnam for the holidays. Despite the fact that her head illuminates the Santa hat with a foreshadowing magic, Lucy returns home to learn that pops has died overseas. 

Bah Humbug.
Flash forward a few decades to an adult Lucy, now played by Whoopi Goldberg like every character Whoopi Goldberg has ever played. Lucy works as a grumpy executive at a shopping network, the kind of late night TV crack that keeps stoners entertained and midwest housewives broke. With the arrival of December, Lucy has to hire a new Santa Claus to hawk red velvet lingerie, something that proves ridiculously difficult in LA, where apparently not a single actor exists that can even mildly deliver a ho ho ho. Thankfully for her, the big man himself (Nigel Hawthorne; yes, Nigel Hawthorne) has just arrived in town to start shopping for a new replacement.

See, in case you didn’t know, every 200 years, a new Santa is trained to take over the job of delivering gifts to Christian boys and girls. If this doesn’t happen, the North Pole melts and the world ends.

Hey, it’s a new theory of apocalypse!

Due to her earlier hat magic, Lucy is the prime candidate for job but this being a made-for-TV Christmas movie, there has to be a whole lot of anti-career woman propaganda to spout off first. Understandably embittered by Santa’s failure to, you know, not kill her dad, Lucy is resistant to take on the lifelong contract/enslavement. Thankfully for children everywhere--and apparently, THE PLANET--Lucy’s boss makes her realize that wanting to turn Shop-a-Lot into QVC is evil, evil, eeeeviiiiiiiiiiiiil.

And yes, every time you hear the words “Shop-a-Lot,” you have to first remember that no, they’re not talking about the Johnny Depp movie and yes, Shark Attack in the Mediterranean is back on Instant Watch and you should get to it.

So yes, Call Me Claus is no Shark Alarm, but it’s not an overly painful exercise in gingerbread syrup. Goldberg is working on autopilot, because when you’re Whoopi Goldberg filming a TNT Christmas movie, not much more is required. But hey, even lazy Goldberg has her charms, though some of the supporting cast’s mugging (Taylor Negron, you weren’t funny in Nothing But Trouble and that trend continues) and the script’s insistence on cramming in dated pop culture jokes certainly makes some parts grate. 

By some I mean most.
High Points
Some of the home shopping network humor packs some gentle punches

Low Points
It’s bad enough to cast Broadway dynamite Brian Stokes Mitchell in a non-singing role, but plain offensive when a film that stars a fantastic singer instead opts to use one of the worst covers of my favorite holiday song (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) instead of just forcing it into his contract to perform

Lessons Learned
James Brown is almost as good as Daddy

Hindu people don’t even celebrate Christmas

Goblins are what happens when gnomes and leprechauns get drunk on the beach at night. I guess trolls happen during the day?

The Winning Line
Allow me to set up:

After little Lucy’s trip to meet Santa Claus, her family returns home to find two U.S. soldiers waiting at the door. Anybody who’s ever seen any movie ever knows what that means. Lucy, of course, hasn’t seen any movie ever so when she asks her mother what the news is, the response follows:

“It’s Daddy. I’m afraid he really IS coming home for Christmas.”

Sass Factor
It's Whoopi Goldberg yo! Her very NAME is sassy.

Montage Mania
How else can we express Lucy's change of heart than with a montage that lingers on still photos and such?

Stocking Stuffer or Stuffed With Coal?
Call Me Claus is harmless holiday entertainment, which ultimately makes it fairly dull. As I said about the similarly innocuous Snowglobe, one could always do worse when it comes to pained Christmas cheer, but that doesn’t really mean there’s any reason to watch it. It’s there, on Instant Watch, and when you need your Goldberg fix or Bruce Vilanch cameo, you can queue it up without killing too many braincells. I’m not saying you SHOULD, but you know, if you do, that’s that.


  1. This was the very first holiday movie we watched this year. It may also be the only seasonal film I've ever seen that uses the threat of global apocalypse to force a happy ending - "Learn the true meaning of Christmas and we'll kill everyone on the planet" should be a more common theme in these message movies.

  2. Ha! It does make it pretty hard to say no, right? 'Come on Whoopie, just leave your high-powered job to bring joy to the world. Or else it drowns. To death.'...with a capital D

  3. Speaking of, last night my wife and I were invited to the local atheist group's annual holiday party. The invite said to bring a wrapped gift for a randomized surprise gift exchange. Of course I had to take a bootleg DVD of Cap C. I provided many dire warnings to go with it, but in the end, the group was even talking about MST3King it for their movie night. :D

    One more decent xmas film for you - "This Christmas". It's only on Netflix DVD, though. We had no expectations, but it turned out to be really enjoyable, in an insane family sort of way.

  4. Ha! I would love to go to an atheist movie party starring Christmas With a Capital C! That sounds like an incredible way to spend a Sunday.

    And I'll put This Christmad on Tge short list for next year. I still have to finish a few DVR'd tv movies and the Decemver clock I'd ticking too fast for Netflix to catch up!

  5. Silly movie, doesn't it know that Santa is an 8000 year old clone? haha!

    And L.A. not having anyone who can properly say 'ho ho ho' is probably actually correct. The villain in the Brandon Lee action movie Rapid Fire murdered the simple phrase! haha!

  6. Hey Emily, I though of a fun title for a christmas-themed horror movie-Kris Krin-kill! haha!

  7. You might want to skip Mrs. Miracle. :O
    We watched that last night. Oog. Cranky old angel comes as live-in childcare lady and hooks up two attractive young people. The only plus of the movie was that, with careful editing, it could be recut into a brilliant YouTube horror trailer.

    "So... what, you mean the employment agency has never heard of Mrs Merkle? But she listed you as the people who sent her here!"

  8. I never knew it was that difficult Chris! And yes, Santa mythology is very confused.

    Anonymous: love it!

    Trever: noted. I am going to give you a nudge towards Cancel Christmas, with Judd Nelson as Santa (!) who has to teach a few bratty prep schoolers the true meaning of Xmas. It's surprisingly sweet, and the matchmaking subplot (cause how can there NOT be one?) is minor.

  9. I can't find Cancel Christmas on Netflix at all. Off to search the seedier corners of the internets... Since I am unable to view Judd Nelson as anything but a psychopath, it should make for interesting viewing.

    Gah! I have about 11 holidays movies stacked up on DVD, another 6 or 8 in the streaming queue, and at least 7 AVIs to watch. And Christmas is next weekend. This project is giving me serious psychological issues about rosy-cheeked children.

  10. I DVR'd Cancel Christmas from the Hallmark Channel. If you get it, search to see if it comes on again. It's really not great, but I'd live to hear your thoughts so I can decide if it's as charming as I thought or if watching too many Gokden Christmas Wedding Taiks with Capital Cs has just lowers my standards so very far.

    Oh, and Judd Nelson might be the creepiest well-meaning Santa Claus yet...

  11. Bummer, we don't have cable, we just live off of Netflix. Judd Nelson just seems like the sort of Santa who would run around in his workshop late at night wearing the dried skins of his reindeer.

    We have to vary our movie styles because my wife gets sniffly. Tonight is Fred Savage learning emotional life lessons from a homeless Hume Cronyn. I may have to just pack her in tissues on the couch.

  12. It's weird, he does this crazy fake old man voice that's incredibly unsettling. And his elf is even creepier, if you can believe that.

    Hmm, I look forward to hearing the results of this Fred Savage weepfest!

  13. Well, we skipped that one in lieu of freshly-arrived DVD "The Christmas Caper", with Shannon Doherty as Catwoman. That was a very sad case of "Could have been a great movie if the Grinch had never learned her lesson". Shannon starts off the film as a spicy burglar in black leather who's on the trail of a diamond, but is forced to hide out in her sister's small cozy town for Christmas and babysit her two brats. There's a lot of great shrugging ("You kids want to stay up all night watching horror movies? Sure, why not?") and a cool caper plan when she sets out to rob every home of their Christmas presents while they're all at the big Christmas party. Alas, she learns the true wonder of home and hearth, and sheds her entertaining personality to become a homey mom figure in knitwear by the end. File under "Yet another Christmas movie where the bad guys/gals were a lot more fun and entertaining before they learned their moral lesson".

  14. Ah yes, The Christmas Caper, aka the final installment in the 90210 Xmas Ladies Trilogy! I'll have my thoughts on that one posted next week, worry not!

    And agreed: it's pretty dull, especially when it starts with such a nice bitchy Brenda Walsh. Once she breaks into a sweater, you KNOW the audience is screwed with a morally righteous ending. My favorite aspect of it, clearly, was the fact that she's so clearly a kleptomaniac but yet nobody thinks it's a problem. She totally could have built a psych defense on it!

    And yes, I also watch too much Law & Order...

  15. Mostly I just wanted to know how she managed to fit the entire town's pile of presents into the back of that one minivan. I kept expecting her to tie an antler onto the head of the faux-Tony Todd and fit him with reins so she could sit on top of the van and whip him through the streets.... Uh, that probably would have turned into a whole different kind of movie, though. As for mental problems, I was more worried about her perfect sister, who I could easily see sitting up in her room all night typing, "All work and no play makes Savannah a dull housewife" 500 times before going out on the town with an axe.

    I finally had to give up on reviews for each of these TV movies and have now started reviewing them in bulk 4 packs:

    It was the only way I'll have a hope of giving proper attention to my favorites. At least that set included an Olivia Newton-John Christmas movie...

  16. True, between Savannah and the other local blond, the perfection obsession amongst suburban women was kind of scary in itself.

    And good point about the van, especially when a montage made a very specific point in having her find out what people were buying, including skis, radios, and other not small things!

    This month of xmas viewing has been WEIRD. I changed things up with a good old fashioned horror film the other night and was genuinely unnerved. I can't tell if it was good or if I'm just out of practice. January will be an uphill battle!

  17. It's warped my perceptions too. And I still have "The Homecoming" (the original Waltons TV Christmas movie) to get through. I did start watching horror flick "Two Front Teeth" last night, though, and it's pretty entertaining for a shot-on-vidcam flick. I'm going to end up with a monster overflow of holiday movies to save for next year.

  18. I take great comfort in knowing that by next year, there will probably be another 200 family channel movies about puppies or jaded singles learning the true meaning of Xmas, and perhaps by then, the whole cast of the new 90210 will be starring in them.