NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! A DOUBLE FESTIVE MOVIE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

nativity 2

NATIVITY! (2009) and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! (2012) BOTH FILMS DIRECTED BY DEBBIE ISITT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I watched these two films as a double bill on Christmas Eve, and they weren’t half as excruciating as I was expecting ’em to be from what I’d heard, lol. In fact, my son and I were laughing out loud at times at the implausible but warm-hearted and well-intentioned silliness of it all.

In NATIVITY!, the original film, Martin Freeman (THE HOBBIT and about a million other things) plays an unhappy primary school teacher called Paul Maddens. He’s unhappy because his lovely bubbly blonde girlfriend Jennifer has left him and buggered off to Hollywood to become a film producer. ‘Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach primary.’

Now he’s embittered, cranky and seemingly incapable of having any fun. The kids in his class are definitely suffering under his tense and rigid play-everything-by-the-book rule. He’s become a bit of a Scrooge, frankly.

Paul is horrified one morning at Assembly when the headmistress of St. Bernadette’s, Mrs. Bevan (played by Pam Ferris), announces that he, Paul Maddens, is to take charge of the school Nativity play this year.

This will possibly be Mrs. Bevan’s last year as the Head, and her dearest wish before she retires is to have St. Bernadette’s take the five-star-review for their Nativity play from local critic and super-bitch Patrick Burns (‘That’s why they call ’em ‘Burns’ Victims…!”), played by Alan Carr. (Ricky Tomlinson from THE ROYLE FAMILY cameos here also as the local Lord Mayor.)

Normally the five-star-review goes to Oakmoor, the local posh school, whose Nativity is run by Gordon Shakespeare, Paul’s old friend from drama school and his fiercest rival. No pressure then, Paulie my man.

Paul is horrified at the thought of having to shoulder this new challenge/burden/responsibility/millstone, but never fear, Mrs. Bevan has lined up some help for him…

This help comes in the form of overgrown-schoolboy-type Desmond Poppy (played by Marc Wootton), Paul’s new classroom assistant who just so happens to be Mrs. Bevan’s nephew. Mr. Poppy is much more interested in playing the fool and having fun than helping the children to buckle down and learn anything.

Mr. Poppy is excited beyond measure at the thought of the Nativity play, especially when he overhears Paul boasting- lying- to his rival Gordon Shakespeare about how Jennifer, Paul’s old girlfriend who’s now a bigshot Hollywood producer, is coming to the Nativity play at St. Bernadette’s with a big fancy Hollywood camera crew.

This lie grows legs and is all over the school and, indeed, the town by lunchtime. Paul is in a quandary. He can either tell the truth about how there is no Hollywood production team coming to see the Nativity play, thereby making the school famous, and devastate the kids and their parents, or he can bloody well get on the blower to Jennifer in Hollywood and try to make it happen. Of course he can do that. It’s not like he’s still hopelessly in love with her or anything…

NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! is much funnier, I feel. Mrs. Bevan has not retired, and the fun-loving Mr. Poppy is still in situ. This time around, he’s terribly excited about ‘A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS,’ a talent show for schools that’s taking place in Wales this Christmas.

Mrs. Bevan says that they can’t take part because St. Bernadette’s has neither the time, the talent (cheek!) nor the transport to manage it. But since when have rules and regulations ever stopped the ebullient Mr. Poppy from doing exactly what he pleases? He throws himself into the singing auditions in true Simon Cowell-style, and before long he and the pupils of Class Seven have a song for the show.

One of the many flies in the ointment is the new Class Seven teacher Donald Peterson, played by Scottish heart-throb David DR. WHO Tennant. (Mmmmmm, David Tennant…!)

As a new teacher, Donald Peterson is anxious to play-everything-by-the-book and if Mrs. Bevan says that there’s to be no show, which she most assuredly has done, then that’s that.

So how come he suddenly finds himself aboard a presumably stolen amphibian bus full of eager kids, being driven to Wales by the irrepressible Mr. Poppy, who knows as much about navigation, child safety and the rules of the road as he does about the flippin’ Periodic Table?

Mr. Peterson is beside himself with rage and anxiety. He’s got a pregnant wife at home who’s due to give birth at any time, and Mr. Poppy has chucked his (Donald’s) phone out the bus window so now he has no way of contacting her. Nice one, Mr. Poppy…

The journey to Wales becomes utterly unbelievable at times. We’re expected to believe that a class full of kids, two adult males (Mr. Poppy and Mr. Peterson) and a donkey and a baby (don’t ask!) can casually climb up and down mountains that experienced hikers who’ve been planning for months would find hard to do. Just do what I did and say to yourself: It’s a film. These things happen in films…

A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS is hilarious and deliciously bitchy. Class Seven is not only up against their old enemy, Gordon Shakespeare and his little coterie of poshos from snobby Oakmoor, but against Roderick Peterson as well.

Roderick is the world-famous conductor who just so happens to be Donald Peterson’s identical twin brother (also played by David Tennant) and their father’s favourite, more successful son. There’s obviously a lot at stake here.

The songs in the contest are funny and witty and Angel Matthews, the celebrity soprano-cum-presenter, is an utter bitch who quite obviously fancies the terrifyingly ambitious Roderick Peterson, who represents St. Cuthbert’s School. (‘Inhale success, exhale doubt.’) Well, he’s even more of a bitch so they ought to complement each other nicely.

So, does Mr. Peterson win the contest and grab back some of his self-respect from the father (played by Ian McNeice) and brother who’ve spent his lifetime trying to erode it? Can the two brothers ever be friends after all the animosity and hostility that’s come between them in the past, and that their father has clearly encouraged in order to spur them into further competing with each other? It’s a surprisingly common method of parenting but not one, I fear, that yields the sweetest results.

Does Mr. Poppy keep his job after the Head finds out what he’s done? Can St. Bernadette’s come out on top for once? The kids certainly deserve it after the journey they’ve made, but will they be disqualified for breaking nearly all the rules of the contest? We’ll see…

The crowds of people arriving at the contest in their droves for St. Bernadette’s reminds me of CLOCKWISE. This is a comedy film starring John Cleese about the headmaster of an ordinary comprehensive school who’s travelling to a much posher school to give an address during a headmasters’ conference. CLOCKWISE is a genuinely witty and funny film. Watch it if you can.

The kiddie actors are great in both NATIVITY! films, by the way. There’s an especially cute little boy called Bob (played by Ben Wilby) who Wilby (will be!) a very good actor when he grows up.

NATIVITY! and NATIVITY 2: DANGER IN THE MANGER! aren’t exactly on a par with CITIZEN KANE but they’ll keep the kids busy- and in fits of laughter- while you peel the sprouts this Christmas. Job done.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

JINGLE ALL THE WAY. (1996) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

jingle all the wayJINGLE ALL THE WAY. (1996) DIRECTED BY BRIAN LEVANT. STARRING ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, JAKE LLOYD, RITA WILSON, PHIL HARTMAN, ROBERT CONRAD, SINBAD AND JAMES BELUSHI. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Ho-ho-ho and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and all that festive jazz…! JINGLE ALL THE WAY is one of those seasonal staples that’s as much a part of Christmas as getting pissed on bubbly while you’re waiting for the turkey to cook, and shagging the one person at your work’s annual Christmas do who’s guaranteed to put the snap you drunkenly allowed them to take of your ass up on social media. That’s not just me, surely…? Lol.

Anyway, I’d classify JINGLE ALL THE WAY as a Christmas comedy on a par with THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, HOME ALONE and all those other favourite Crimbo films we all love to unearth at this time of year. Parents will identify with it (painfully so, I’d say!) and kids will laugh their heads off at it.

It stars the Austrian Oak, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he’s in a much more perilous situation than any fix he’s ever had to face in his TERMINATOR or other action-packed movies. He’s a Dad at Christmas who has failed, repeat failed, to pick up the toy his son wants for Christmas in advance of the big day. Boo…! For shame, Howard Langston, for shame. That’s his name, lol.

He is a bad father. He should be tied to a chair and pelted with tofu balls while Cliff Richard’s MISTLETOE AND WINE plays on repeat on the sound-system. Too harsh, you say? No, I’m sorry but the penalty stands. It has to stand, if the world order isn’t to collapse under a weight of wrapping paper and festive ribbons and bows.

There’s no crime worse than failing to buy Little Timmy or Tammy Snotnose exactly what they want for Christmas. Money equates love, see? The bigger the gift, the more you love your kid. Simple. And buy two of everything. The little brats won’t wanna share. And for Chrissakes, remember the bloody batteries…!

Howard is horrified to discover on Christmas Eve that he has neglected to purchase the toy which his son Jamie has asked Santa for this Crimbo. The must-have toy-du-jour is Turbo Man. I love the way the people in the toy-stores all laugh maniacally at him when he asks for a Turbo Man. Any self-respecting parent worthy of the name knows that that particular toy has been sold out for months. Hah!

The scenes of chaos in the toy-stores in the film on this Christmas Eve are terrifying, but not at all unusual. A family member had the misfortune to work in a Dublin toy-store last Christmas and she still hasn’t forgotten the misery. The stampeding, the screaming and bawling, the abuse, the recriminations, and that was just the staff. Never mind the pushy parents or the marauding kids.

She sits in her chair at home every day now, not talking, just continually rocking back and forth, and when she closes her eyes she can still see the shells falling, smell the awful smell of burning flesh and put her hands into the pile of goo that used to be her best friend’s face… No, wait a minute. That was ‘Nam, wasn’t it? From what I hear, though, there’s not much difference between the two…

Anyway, Howard finds himself in some extraordinary situations as he races around town looking for a Turbo Man doll in time for the Christmas Parade later in the day. Followed everywhere he goes by a manic mailman looking for the same toy and a pissed-off copper who likes to give out parking tickets, he encounters a group of crooked Santas (crooked in the sense of corrupt, not askew!), chases a small girl through a crowded shopping mall, breaks into his neighbour’s house with theft in mind and pretty much terrorises the host of a radio show.

This is all in the name of finding the doll and proving to little Jamie and his wife Liz that he’s neither the screw-up they seem to think he is nor a neglectful, emotionally- and physically- absent parent.

What the kid and the wife don’t seem to realise is that the reason that Dad is away so much is because he’s working his butt off to keep the ungrateful pair in the style they’ve obviously long been accustomed to. And what a style! Their house is fabulous.

As this is an American film, they’ve really gone to town on making the film look as magically Christmassy as possible. I’ve always maintained that the Americans know how to keep Christmas well, as old Scrooge might say.

The houses and snow-covered gardens and streets are all decked out in full festive regalia, the shops look gorgeous and there are real carollers singing in the open air in proper Victorian garb. Charles Dickens, the writer credited with inventing the true traditional Victorian Christmas by putting it all down in his books for posterity, would be proud to see how wonderfully festive it all is.

Arnie is funny and handsome throughout, especially when he’s all togged out as Turbo Man for the parade. I love the way his wife says ‘Howard…!’ in surprise when she realises that she’s actually sexually attracted to her husband in the super-hero suit. Well, it’s a very snug-fitting suit, ahem. I wouldn’t be in any rush to take it back to the costume shop myself…

Phil Hartman, the voice of both Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure from THE SIMPSONS, does a real star turn here as the obnoxious Ted, Howard’s annoying, know-it-all next-door-neighbour who always has to go one better, much to Howard’s irritation.

It’s a lot like THE SIMPSONS, with Ted as Ned the pious and virtuous neighbour who gets his son’s TURBO MAN weeks in advance of Christmas and Howard as Homer who forgets it completely until- you guessed it- the last minute.

Homer, however, would have forgotten it because he was more interested in boozing at Moe’s Bar than in preparing for Christmas, something he’d perceive to be Marge’s territory. Howard only forgets because he’s genuinely snowed-under at work. Snowed-under, geddit? It’s funny ’cause it’s Christmas.

Anyway, the housewives all adore the newly-divorced Ted, and Ted has his sights set on Howard’s missus Liz, probably because he’s actually jealous as hell of the muscular Howard. I love Ted’s line to Howard which reveals all Ted’s own insecurities and petty envy: ‘You can’t bench-press your way out of this one…!’ See what I mean? Jealous, jealous, jealous.

The film is good clean fun, if a tad far-fetched and, at the end, the commercial message it’s been sending to viewers all throughout the film (to buy, buy, buy and then buy some more) gets turned completely on its head, which is nice.

Keep watching those end credits as well, because there’s a cute little twist right at the very end which impatient viewers, anxious to switch off and get the little horrors to bed, might miss. Aw, kids. Kids are great, aren’t they? You can’t live with them, you can’t donate them to charity. Well, that’s what the woman in Oxfam told me, anyway, and she’d know…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

jingle all the way