Once again, we find ourselves in the final stretch — barreling towards the new year with plenty of entertainment options to spend your money on. Well, in between bouts of holiday shopping, holiday traffic and holiday recovering. Plan ahead everybody: It gets pretty brutal out there around 5 p.m.
The Fox Theater is doing their part by showing three holiday-themed movies —well, the second one by a technicality — throughout the month of December. Each are $5 and are (mostly) family-friendly.
Kicking it off this Saturday, is my personal favorite Christmas movie: the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy, “Elf.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. With all the quality Christmas movies out there, why settle for this goofy — and charmingly winning — (barely) grown-up fairy tale? Believe me, with “A Christmas Story,” and even “Die Hard” out there, there are a lot of contenders for the title of “Best Christmas Movie Ever.” But, for my money, this sweet, wonderful — in the truest sense of the word — and funny (it’s so funny) little movie is delightful — also in the truest sense of the word.
Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who was accidentally brought to the North Pole by Santa (Ed Asner) as a baby, adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart, so dry, his delivery could clean your suit) and raised among the elves there. Eventually, Buddy realizes that he’s human and not really an actual elf. So in a fit of self-determined purpose, Buddy leaves the North Pole for New York City in search of his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). There’s a bit of a problem, though: Walter is on the naughty list.
Yes, the elder Mr. Hobbs is a bit of a self-centered jerk (if he was an elf, would he be elf-centered?), but also with the potential for great kindness and warmth. It’s up to Buddy and all of his magically awesome elf-ness to help Walter get closer to his family while eventually reminding the entire city of New York of their own Christmas spirit.
Every character, supporting or otherwise, especially Caan, his wife played by Mary Steenburgen, and Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, is perfectly cast and completely tuned-in to the tone of the movie. This includes Peter Dinklage in a pre-"Game of Thrones" role as the most arrogant children’s book writer of all time who does not take too kindly to mistakingly being called an “elf" — especially an “angry elf.”
But, without a doubt, it’s the complete wide-eyed sense of wonder that Ferrell inhabits Buddy with that gives this movie its heart and soul: the warm, expanding feeling your chest gets when you’re singing Christmas carols with loved ones. When you’re filled with so much soul and spirit, even strangers are friends. This movie gets it and Ferrell translates it with 100 percent commitment.
“Elf" director Jon Favreau went on to helm “Iron Man” in 2008 and jump-started the behemoth Marvel Cinematic Universe that has dominated our modern pop-culture landscape. Here, his scope was quite a bit more modest. He ended up directing one of the sweetest, most perfect, heart-warming original Christmas fables ever put on film. My wife and I saw it the weekend it came out. It’s been a very-welcome guest every since. See it.
Also on the Fox’s roster is the 1984 horror comedy, “Gremlins” showing on Dec. 22. This qualifies as a holiday movie in that it takes place during Christmastime. Other than that, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy about this snarling, mischievous, mean little film. It was rated PG in its time, but, along with “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and its infamous heart extraction scene, was partly responsible for pressuring the MPAA to create a new ratings classification. One for movies that were too strong for PG and not strong enough for R: PG-13. So even though the film is technically rated PG, kids younger than 13 years old might be a bit traumatized by it.
“Gremlins” starts off with inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton), looking for a unique gift to give to his son Billy (Zach Galligan). He finds one in Hong Kong during a business trip: a cooing, mysterious little critter called a mogwai that Randall names “Gizmo.”
Oh, and Gizmo is the cutest little thing. All big-eyes, big ears and brown and white fur. But the adorable little mongrel comes with its own set of restrictions: don’t expose it to bright lights, don’t get it wet, and never, never, NEVER feed it after midnight.
Well, they don’t break the rules and live happily ever after. WRONG. Of course all the rules get broken. Getting a mogwai wet multiplies them and feeding them after midnight (which midnight? it’s always after midnight) turns the outwardly cudlly little creatures into dangerous, murderous, reptilian Gremlins. The most ruthless of them all? Their leader, Spike.
Oh my God, I loved this movie when it came out. Director Joe Dante, who had previously directed “Piranha” and “The Howling,” goes nuts with this film and the violence gets pretty gnarly at times (you get to find out what happens to a gremlin in a microwave). The film’s tempo gets breathlessly relentless towards the end, but it’s a heck of a rush. Beware!
Rounding out the Fox’s holiday film offerings is the 1947 Christmas classic, “Miracle on 34th Street,” showing on Dec. 23.
For the five people unfamiliar with the movie (wait, what? Make that two people), it’s about a department store Santa — named Kris Kringle, of course — who creates a whole lot of fuss by insisting that he’s the real deal. For little Susan Walker (played by a young Natalie Wood) there’s no question this jolly old man is the genuine article, but to the more practical, or borderline cynical, people, they’re not so sure.
What I really love about this movie is that it never definitively states one way or the other that Kris Kringle is really Santa Claus. It sure is alluded to, but even with the subtle little clues it drops — a foreign language here, a surprise walking cane there — it asks the viewer to incorporate a little faith and Christmas spirit of their own. If anything, the real hero of the story is the United States Postal Service. I mean, how often do you hear that about a movie?
Holiday movies at the Fox Theater, 2001 H St. (all showings are $5): "Elf," 1 p.m. Saturday; "Gremlins," 6:30 p.m. Dec. 22; and "Miracle on 34th Street," 1 p.m. Dec. 23.
Zoe Vox Fury, The Cretins, Some Kind of Nightmare (out of San Diego), The Withdrawals and DJ Evil Flynn, with light display by Mellow Doses, 9 p.m. Friday, Riley’s Tavern 1523 19th St. $5.
Pulley, The Lucky Eejits, The Last Gang and CallShot, all-ages show, doors open at 6 p.m., performances start at 7 p.m., Jerry’s Pizza, 1817 Chester Ave. $15 pre-sale, $20 at the door; eventbrite.com.
In an effort to expand the artistic mission of First Friday, show promoter — and Cretins’ lead singer — Pat Spurlock has put together a multimedia show happening this Friday at Riley’s Tavern.
Along with the four bands performing, there will be a light show put on by Mellow Doses. It’s a projection of oil and alcohol that makes you feel like you’re swimming in a lava lamp. Art will be created live as the show occurs, and also displayed on the tables in the east half of Riley’s. Project OH! magazine and Hectic Films will also be there to record the event.
Also, SoCal punk band Pulley will return to Jerry’s Pizza this Saturday. The band is promoting their 2016 album (their first in over a decade), “No Change in the Weather,” and is going to make the basement walls of Jerry's sweat just like the glory days of the mid-2000s.
Cattle Call Jam with co-host Michael Leasure, 3-7 p.m. Sunday, O’Hennings, 1312 Airport Drive. No cover; some instruments will be provided.
And finally, O’Hennings will be hosting its monthly Cattle Call Jam with a special co-host: drummer Michael Leasure. Leasure has played with such blues luminaries as Edgar Winter, Philip Sayce and Buddy Miles. He’s currently the drummer for Walter Trout’s band.
If you can hold a tune and play well with others, it would be worth your time to try and make it. These jams are a lot of fun and the people and musicians there are very accommodating. Amps, a keyboard and drums will be provided, so all musicians have to bring are their drumsticks and guitars. Whether you’re there to play, watch, network or just hang, the real treat is in seeing musicians stretch their musical muscles in ways that they sometimes can’t with their day gigs. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one up there playing with them.