As the holidays loom in front of us, many of us might find ourselves with some spare time and looking to watch some movies at home (instead of going to see The Last Jedi).
I’d like to suggest some movies to consider for your copious spare time, beginning with a seasonal/perennial special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Why should you revisit this movie? Well, it has a lot to distinguish itself from the pack – first, it was originally broadcast in 1964. It’s been telecast every year since, making it the longest continuously running TV Christmas special in history. The soundtrack music was all written by Johnny Marks. Marks was the brother-in-law of Robert L. May, who wrote the original Rudolph poem back in 1939. May wrote the poem on assignment for Montgomery Ward, a mail order / department store started in 1872. Ten years later, Marks wrote the song in 1949, and Gene Autry made it a #1 hit on the US charts. So many, many people were familiar with the basic story when the television special came out. The music is one big reason to re-watch – besides the title track, there is at least one song that has become a holiday classic after the TV show: “Holly Jolly Christmas.” And see if these song titles jog any memories: “Jingle Jingle Jingle;” “We are Santa’s Elves;” “There’s Always Tomorrow;” “We’re a Couple of Misfits;” “Silver and Gold;” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” (you might also recognize another Marks hit, “Rockin’ around the Christmas tree” which can be heard briefly as an instrumental when Rudolf appears for the Reindeer Games)
Besides the music, the movie is interesting for its highlighting of misfits and outcasts. Examples abound: Santa being pressured to gain weight, Rudolph and his nose, Hermie the elf wanting to be a dentist, and of course the entire Island of Misfit Toys (“No child wants to play with a Charlie in the Box!”) – where none of the toys are outwardly acceptable (even Dolly, the seemingly normal girl rag doll, whose problem was psychological – she was depressed at being abandoned by her owner). With the modern day awareness of bullying / “othering,” this movie does not seem dated at all. Give it another look – you might agree.
For a science-fiction film, I like to re-watch “Serenity.” Why, you might ask? Well, for uniqueness – it may be the only movie based on a failed (cancelled after less than one full season) TV series. The TV series was called Firefly, and was set 500 years in the future, featuring an ensemble cast of anti-heroes (the scoundrel captain, the courtesan, the mechanic, the crack pilot, etc.) crewing a spaceship named Serenity; the movie focuses on one of the crew whom the bad big-government Alliance has tried to turn into a psychic and killer puppet and instead turned into a nearly psychotic misfit (there’s that word again). The movie both pulls apart the crew (two regular cast members from the series are not even on the ship to start the movie) and brings them together (the two missing crew are accounted for). There is lots of humor (albeit a little dark), lots of action, good acting, good quotes, and sorrow. In the end the good guys (the crew of Serenity) “win” but not without a high price paid. Like Rudolph, it’s a story of misfits who triumph.
My next suggestion for a re-watch is “Silverado.” If you are looking for a Western, you have many choices, but there aren’t that many good ones filmed in the last 40 years that are not re-makes (like the Magnificent Seven). Silverado was an original, an ode to the classics, and it featured four unlikely heroes (dare I say misfits?): the recently released convict, the ex-bad guy, the crazy little brother, and the good but discriminated against African-American. How they all meet up to save a wagon train, redeem a town gone bad, and defeat their individual nemeses is classic Western fare. Plus the music is a wonderful re-invention of the stirring classics Westerns used to serve up. The acting is stuffed with big names: John Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner in the starring roles. But it also features a supporting cast of Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and Linda Hunt. The plot is both typical of the genre but with enough twists to keep your interest.
If you would like to see a WW2 movie, I’ll recommend “Kelly’s Heroes.” While the “Oddball” character is wildly anachronistic, he’s so much fun to watch (a v. young Donald Sutherland) that it is bearable. Other names include Clint Eastwood (as Kelly), Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, and Carroll O’Connor, and even the secondary characters are comprised of the likes of Harry Dean Stanton and Gavin MacLeod. The plot involves stealing German gold for the personal enrichment of the “misfit” Americans, but eventually all the partnerships necessary to pull off the caper ends up including even the Germans. The movie is deemed a comedy, but several scenes (the initial rainy downpour, the walk through the minefield) will stick in your memory as examples of what fighting war outdoors was like in WW2.
Last but not least is a movie I think is very underrated: Dead Again, starring Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh (and directed by him too), Robin Williams, Andy Garcia, Wayne Knight and Derek Jacobi. The film is simultaneously an amnesia mystery, a thriller, and dealing with reincarnation and past-life hypnotic regression. The acting/casting is great, the plot twists are extremely well done, the cinematography excellent (shooting all the scenes taking place 40 years earlier in black and white), and the overall story comes together very well.
Hopefully at least one of these very watchable movies stirs your interest. Let me know what you think!