Christmas Stories: Elf (2003)

Em took yesterday and today off so we could get ready for Christmas. I really hadn’t realized that Christmas was only a week away. Luckily, we’re pretty well set up. All our presents are coming in from Amazon, most of the decorations are up and we’ve got our tree. We just need to wrap presents, decorate the tree and make the food for when the parents come. While putting lights on the tree today, we turned on Elf, which is one of my two favorite Christmas movies from the last 10 years (the other is Love Actually).

I first saw Elf in college and it really helped me get in the holiday spirit thanks to Will Ferrell’s infectious naivete and joy with all things Christmas. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it’s got Zooey Deschanel singing my favorite Christmas song of all time “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” so that helped. Christmas time during college was always a bit weird for me, you’re trying to get in the spirit and have a good time with holiday parties and what not, but then you’ve got all these exams looming over you and travel plans back home. One of my favorite parties every year was the post-exam Christmas party. Everyone, even the most intense students, seemed to just cut loose and have a good time at that one.

So, I was really glad when I saw Elf and it got me in the spirit. The story follows Ferrell, as Buddy the elf, but he’s not really an elf. He was an orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s sack and stowed away to the North Pole. Now, he’s 30 and discovers that he’s not actually an elf and wants to meet his dad James Caan (his mom passed away). So, Buddy heads to New York City and finds his dad married (to Mary Steenburgen) with a kid. Ed Asner plays Santa and Bob Newhart plays Buddy’s adoptive dad Papa Elf. Buddy explores NYC, meets his jerk dad who thinks he’s crazy and becomes part of dad’s family. He also falls for Zooey and they start dating. It’s all very festive and sweet. I know a lot of people are probably sick of Ferrell’s man-child routine (Step Brothers, Old School, Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro, pretty much everything he’s done, really), but it really serves this movie because he’s not playing it with any meanness or irony (like there is in Fred Claus). Buddy really is one of the happiest, nicest people you’ll ever see on screen.

I give a lot of the credit for this goodness to director Jon Favreau. The first 10-20 minutes takes places in the North Pole. There’s just such a great, fantastical consistency to the place. It feels classic and up-to-date at the same time. The difference in size between Buddy and the elves is really well done and outside, you’re treated to several claymation-like characters. Even the snowflakes look big and cut-out and fun. It’s little touches like that that really impressed me about Elf and gave me a lot of hope back when Favreau was announced as the Iron Man director and everyone was freaking out. I actually like this movie so much that it’s not filed away with all the other Christmas DVDs, it’s in the binder with the rest of my pre-moving collection (which quickly filled up once I started working 15 minutes away from a Best Buy). So there you have it, my thoughts on one of my favorite Christmas movies.

Time Travel Shenanigans: Time After Time (1979) & The Time Machine (1960)

I’m a sucker for a good time travel movie, as readers of the first Time Travel Shenanigans will remember. So, when I saw Time After Time and The Time Machine on the NetBox, they were no-brainers for a double feature.

It seems like I’ve been hearing about Time After Time for a while now. It seems to pop up anytime people talk about time travel movies. “Have you seen the one where H.G. Wells goes back in time to capture Jack the Ripper?” So, when I saw that it was available for instant watch, I had to check it out. And you know what? It’s not as weird as it might seem. You’ve got Malcom McDowell playing Wells and Mary Steenburgen as his modern day (in 1979, mind you) love interest, so you’ve got some recognizable face, plus, the story is played very straightforward and completely avoids camp. The elaborate on the plot a bit, Jack The Ripper turns out to be in Wells’ circle of friends. They discover he’s the Ripper, but it’s too late, he’s already traveled to the future (1979). Wells heads after him and lands in San Francisco where he meets Steenburgen at a bank. There’s the usual round of “what manor of beast is this?” when our hero encounters a car or whatever, but Time After Time mostly just goes for the straighforward love story between the two stars and then the chase trying to grab Jack. It feels more like a TV show than a movie actually. I was kind of hoping there would be more sci-fi elements, but overall it’s a pretty good movie. I’m not sure if I would watch it again, but it was fun for a one-time viewing.

Now The Time Machine doesn’t disappoint when it comes to sci-fi goodness. I have never read The Time Machine, but the movie does use elements from the book like the futuristic Morlocks and Eloi. What I like most about this movie and the time travel that goes on in it is that the machine stays in the same place while traveling through time. So, he sits in it in his study and then turns it on and can see the neighborhood and specifically a mannequin in a shop window across the street. This means that as he travels forward through time, stopping in 1917, 1940, 1966 and finally in 802,701, he’s seeing the immediate effects time has on his surroundings. Usually these things don’t span such a great period of time or follow those same kind of rules. I guess, technically, Back To The Future does, but his time machine moves. This whole thing takes place over the equivalent of a city block. Again, I’m not sure if that’s how it was done in the book, but I liked the usage here. With each stop, Wells (again, our main character) gets more of a story that, at first mirrors reality, with mentions of WWI and WWII, but by the time he stops off in 1966 history has taken an interesting turn with ongoing fear of the atomic bomb. In the far future, the human race has split between the underground Morlocks who keep the beautiful, but stupid Eloi around for food. Wells can’t handle that kind of nonsense, so he does all he can to put a stop to it. I was also impressed with the special effects. There’s a volcano at one point that encases the time machine in rock that’s pretty impressive and even though everything looks like a set, the future looked lush and full of interesting characters. I do highly recommend checking this one out if you’re jonesing for a time travel movie featuring H.G. Wells as the main character. This is also a good one for fans of The Big Bang Theory who remember the episode “The Nerdvana Annihilation”  in which they accidentally purchase a full-size prop of the time machine from the movie. That’s really why I added this one to my queue and I’m glad I did.