The Nativity (1978) (religious/drama) (PG) (color, 98 min.):
Madeleine Stowe stars as Mary of
Meanwhile, Mary is betrothed to Joseph, a soft-spoken carpenter with whom she is very much in love. But one day, when gathering water by a river, she has a visitation from an angel who tells her she will conceive and give birth to the Son of God. She says yes to will of God, even though she knows it will cause her much pain. The news of her pregnancy causes Joseph to become disillusioned and causes Mary's parents great anxiety. However, Joseph eventually has a visitation of his own, convincing him to take Mary as his wife. As her time to give birth draws near, the couple is forced to journey to
I enjoy this interpretation of the First Christmas Story very much. The relationship between Joseph and Mary is portrayed with sensitivity and a touch of gentle romance. She is shown as obedient to her parents’ ultimate decision, yet brave enough to bring up her preference for Joseph as well. He is shown as making her a small gift before the betrothal as a token of affection. They are shown doing the traditional Jewish betrothal dance and enjoying the fullness of the celebration. Also, when she lays back to give birth in the cave, Mary lovingly grasps Joseph's arm and he caresses her. I like these very human insights which bring these larger-than-life figures to life.
Of course, there are some inaccuracy problems that pop up. For example, Herod did not call the census in order to search for the Christ Child to kill him; it was called by the Roman Emperor Augustus, who was famed for calling various censuses throughout his reign. Also, there is no evidence supporting the fact that Joseph had secret sympathies with the zealots. Then are the issues of "probability". For example, the idea that Mary should seek to marry before the prescribed time seems highly unlikely in that period. Nonetheless, watching this well-crafted movie is an excellent way to bring your mind to focus on the real "reason for the season" and why we celebrate it.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (inspirational/drama) (PG) (black & white, 130 min.):
Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, a man with big dreams about exploring and changing the world. However, his plans take a turn when his father dies and he is forced to stay in the sleepy little town of Bedford Falls to run his late father's business, the Bailey Building and Loan. Harassed by the greedy businessman, Mr. Potter, George labors to get decent housing for the financially strained residents of the town. He eventually marries his childhood sweetheart, Mary, and settles down to raise a large family.
But George is still deeply unsettled, yearning for the dreams that have been stolen from him by circumstances. He becomes frustrated by his simple life, and envies his war-hero brother and childhood friends who achieved "great" things in his eyes. When his absent-minded Uncle Billy misplaces a large amount of money and the Building and Loan is threatened with bankruptcy, George finally snaps. Convinced that the world would be better off if he was never born, he plans on throwing himself in a river. But a visitor from Heaven prevents him, and gives him a chance to experience what the world if he had never been in it.
This film is a Christmas classic because it combines light-hearted comedy and romance with forays into a world of darkness, despair, and inner conflict. For most of the film, the storyline is based on realism and being relatable for the average viewer. Then it takes a twist and becomes a Twilight-Zone-like, supernatural encounter tale with a touch of humor to alleviate the dark content. But the change in mood is executed deftly, and even the more fantastic scenes hold a sense of haunting realism.
While the film is theologically inaccurate about angels (they are spirits - not deceased human beings!), it still poignantly demonstrates the workings of the angels and saints in our lives. Also, the story reveals that God was working through George's life the whole time, even though he felt that his life had no meaning. He affected more people than he realized and changed the world for the better. This should go a long way to demonstrate that no life is worthless. Director Frank Capra worked magic with this film, and the world is indebted to him for his contribution to the art of movie-making.
A Time to Remember (1987) (inspirational/drama) (G) (color, 88 min.):
Ruben Gomez stars as Angelo Villano, an Italian-American boy in the 1950's who dreams of being a singer like his idol, Mario Lanza. But his father, who labors as a factory-worker every day to put bread on the table, thinks that singing is for "sissies" and would much prefer to see his son take an interest in football like the other boys. But Angelo finds support with his tough yet loving grandmother, Mama Theresa, and his local parish priest, Fr. Walsh. When Fr. Walsh introduces Angelo to a famous singing teacher who starts giving the boy voice lessons, Angelo's father becomes increasingly annoyed by his son's interest and eventually has him stop attending the lessons.
Meanwhile, the local neighborhood boys bully Angelo for his interest in singing and his Italian ancestry. Fleeing one such encounter, he runs into the street and into the path of an oncoming car. Although he survives the accident, he loses his voice as a result of trauma. Also, his beloved Fr. Walsh has a fatal heart-attack, leaving the boy feeling more isolated than ever. But then on Christmas Eve, a cruel prank by some neighborhood bullies results in an unexpected miracle that restores Angelo's voice.
This film is also a holiday favorite for my family. Since we have a fair share of Italian blood in our veins, it does hold a certain amount of fondness for us. Religion and family are portrayed as the bulwarks of the small American community, and various cultures are shown gradually becoming a part of the great melting pot. The storyline itself is very touching, especially the apparition of the (very Italian-looking) Holy Family and when Angelo sings "Ave Maria" at Christmas Mass.
I find it interesting how Angelo is shown being hit at the exact same time that Fr. Walsh collapses from a heart-attack. The film flashes back and forth from one scene to the next several times to draw the parallel and almost indicate that Angelo's voice was intricately bound up in the encouragement of the priest. When he was gone, the boy's voice left him as well. As far as Mama Theresa is concerned, I do wish they had toned her down a bit, since she came off as quite pushy and rather hard to love at times. But I suppose that was all part of accurately portraying different aspects of Italian culture!
White Christmas (1954) (musical/romance/comedy) (G) (color, 120 min.):
Bing Crosby stars as Bob Wallace, a captain in the U.S. Army fighting overseas during WWII. He puts on entertainment for the 151st Division with the help of his soldier buddy, Phil Davis, and the consent of their tough yet beloved commander, General Waverly. When their Christmas show is interrupted by an enemy attack and a wall nearly falls on Wallace,
Agreeing to see their "Sisters" act because their brother was their old mess sergeant, Wallace and Davis find themselves smitten by the beautiful and talented young women. Before long, they find themselves involved mix-up involving a stained rug, an angry landlord, and a sheriff, that results in them joining the girls on a train bound for
A holiday classic from yesteryear, this film has a variety of attractive qualities. It has music, comedy, romance, and a touching display of loyalty between the 151st Division and General Waverly. Also, the setting of the Vermont Inn is charming as are the mix of quirky characters with good intentions. Many of the songs are vividly imprinted in my mind, especially "Sisters", "The Old Man," "The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing", "Snow", "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep", "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army", and of course, "White Christmas."
Unfortunately, there is a down side to the film as well. Show girls dressed in appallingly skimpy attire, immodest dances, thinly-veiled sexual innuendos, etc. make the otherwise wholesome production somewhat tarnished. It's a real pity, since it always makes me pause before endorsing the film completely, although it has been a favorite since I was very young. I would suggest fast-forwarding some of the long dance numbers, especially for family viewing. Other than that, I really think it's a fun holiday musical that continues to get laughs and tears out of my family year after year.
The Sound of Music (1965) (musical/romance) (G) (color, 174 min.):
Julie Andrews stars as Maria, a young Austrian novice who decides to emerge into the world once more to discern her true calling. She takes a job as a governess for the widowed Col. Von Trapp, earning the affection of his seven motherless children and endowing them with a love of music. The austere Von Trapp in initially put off by her methods of handling the children, who he previously reared with military-like discipline. But soon he begins to warm to the vivacious young women, even though he is simultaneously planning to marry a wealthy baroness.
Just in time, however, Von Trapp realizes that his heart truly belongs to Maria, and the two are married. The family then forms a singing group which gains much acclaim in
This film is one of the most beloved musicals of all time and one of my personal favorites. Not only does it have abundant charm, but it also has a twist of danger that lends a sense of reality to the tale and makes viewers feel for the Von Trapp family all the more. Also, the romance between Col. Von Trapp and Maria, as well as the rekindled relationship between Von Trapp and his children, is heart-warming. Classic musical numbers, such as "The Sound of Music", "My Favorite Things", "I Am 16 Going on 17", "Edelweiss", etc., abound, and the majestic scenery shot on-location in Austria is gorgeous. While this is not a Christmas film per se, it has a very festive feel to it, and my family often watches it over the Yuletide.
One of the main issues with this delightful film is the way historical facts are tampered with to make a good story. The real Col. Von Trapp was not the austere character depicted in the movie; in fact, his children have verified that he is the one who first taught them to sing and love music. Also, while the Von Trapp Family Singers did indeed flee from the Nazis, they didn't cross the
I'll try and catch up with the times by rounding up some romance flicks for St. Valentine's Day in February.....;-)
|A Scene from the Film The Nativity|