KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Well, it’s that time of the year, again. You know: when Hollywood celebrates our Savior’s birth with animated mice singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and the true meaning of Christmas is eclipsed by the obsession of owning an official Red Rider BB gun.
But here are a few new movies that celebrate Christ’s effect on mankind, with nary a reindeer in sight!
NEW ONES …
— “Noelle” (Rated PG for thematic elements and a fight). It opened in theaters last weekend and focuses on a priest who comes to a small village, determined to shut down the local parish. Before the priest, who has a secret of his own, even realizes it, he is allowing Father Joyce and his parishioners to stage a unique Christmas pageant –- a living nativity, in the hope of reinvigorating the congregation. But fate, and a mysterious little girl who keeps appearing out of nowhere, have brought these people together. Together they face repressed passions of love, fury and guilt, and learn to forgive others and themselves.
Writer, director, producer and lead actor David Wall infuses his film with humor, pathos and dignity of spirit. Looking and conjuring up mannerisms of a younger Robert Redford, Mr. Wall plays his part with conviction and earnestness. And though his script is a bit too talky and the limited budget gives the film more of a TV Hallmark Hall of Fame feel than that of a theatrical release, Noelle nonetheless contains the best element found in either television or on the silver screen –- good storytelling.
— “The Christmas Blessings” (not rated). New On DVD, this sequel to the 2002 CBS TV movie “The Christmas Shoes” tells the story of a man’s struggle with his own life choices. Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”) is a young doctor who loses a patient on the operating table and begins to rethink his career.
He moves back to his small hometown and in with his father as he tries to decide what to do with his life. There he meets a woman, whom he quickly falls in love with, and a young boy in need of a friend. He finds himself questioning God, fate and the fragility of life after he discovers that both these people are also searching for a Christmas miracle. Replete with themes concerning the loss of loved ones and looking out for others, it tells its story well, engaging viewers with fine performances and a savvy mixture of gentleness and sincerity. It shows reverence for God as scenes play out in a church. And in a way, it celebrates Christ’s loving nature, as several characters begin to place others before themselves. It becomes obvious that something spiritual is happening to these people.
Although unrated it has several minor expletives, but no harsh language.
— “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey” (unrated; I found nothing objectionable) — Also new to DVD, this movie stars Tom Berenger and Joely Richardson and spotlights a mysterious recluse who also happens to be the best wood carver in the valley. Slowly the woodcutter finds his world transformed by a young boy and his mother who have asked him to carve a yuletide scene. Berenger gives dimension to his role and the technical and artistic merits each blend together to give families an uplifting night at the movies. With positive messages, including a respect for God and Christ (prayers are spoken, church is attended and the main characters acknowledge the birth of Christ), and engaging performances, it is one of the best seasonal films I’ve seen in a while.
A GREAT ONE …
— “It’s a Wonderful Life” (unrated, 1946) — A man contemplating suicide is given the chance to see what life for others would be like if he had never been born. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey reminds us that we touch so many people and can have a real influence on those souls. Director Frank Capra has given the world a great gift with this Christmas classic. Paramount Home Video has just released a two-disc collector’s set, which includes a documentary on the making of the film and a special tribute to Frank Capra narrated by his son. Plus, the box set has both a brand new color version, as well as a restored black and white version (both in pristine shape).
EXCEPTION TO MY SANTA RULE …
— “Miracle on 34th Street” (PG, one expletive). Starring Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson, this popular remake one tells the story of manager of a New York department store who hires Kris Kringle to be the store Santa. Soon the old fellow has to convince the woman and her precocious daughter that he truly is Father Christmas. A delight and a rarity, as it is one of the few worthwhile remakes. Full of laughter, poignancy and charm, it is noteworthy for containing both visual and verbal Christian metaphors and points out that Santa is a symbol. It also contains a great visual: A cross lit in Christmas lights on the side of a building, centered in the screen with decorated trees outlining the tableau. What an image! It places the true meaning of the holiday at the center of the screen and the story. There’s even a Thanksgiving prayer — when is the last time you saw that in a Hollywood production? Although Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood have nothing to worry about, this newest Miracle is destined to become a classic. The scene where Santa communicates with a little deaf girl is worth the rental price.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective for previewonline.org, where complete reviews of these movies, as well as details about possible parental concerns, can be found. Editor’s note: An expletive is a mile obscenity: “d—” or “h—”