Worldfest low-budget review: Santa Stole Our Dog (USA…where else?)

Note: our friends Chen Zhongshi and Li “Esther” Guang, producer and director of the Remi-prize-winning documentary Home of Mephibosheth, have asked Helen and me to stand in for them at the Worldfest International Film Festival here in Houston. Helen has suggested that I make notes on the movies I watch, for Zhongshi and Esther’s benefit; so here we go.

I suggested we go to this one as a family, giving it as my before-viewing opinion that either it was going to be well done, in which case it could be very cute and fun indeed, or else not, in which case it was likely to be very stupid. In the end only Kai and I went.

As for whether my prediction was accurate…let’s just say I tried several drafts of this review.

First Draft

No. Just…no. [end of entire post]

Second Draft

My parents always said, if you can’t say anything good about something, don’t say anything at all. So, um, the little girl was very cute. [end of entire post]

Third Draft

Hey, Mom, Pop…do you guys remember The Return of the Black Stallion? Well, Kai and I had a great father-son bonding experience today. I’ll tell you all about it in a private e-mail so as not to hurt anybody’s feelings. [end of entire post]

Fourth Draft, and we’ll just go with this one

Okay, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings unnecessarily, and this movie was such a hot mess I don’t think any good would come out of my giving specific criticisms about all the many, many things that turned it into one of the great Unintentional Comedy experiences of my entire movie-going career; so let’s just say that it was so bad that Kai and I spent at least a half-hour on the way home laughing ourselves silly by reminding each other of one after another of the myriad ways in which it was awful. Seriously, Kai’s first two comments once we were out of the theater were:

“Yeah, that movie was so cringe.” (This apparently counts as English if one is fourteen years old in 2018.) He pauses, then adds, in the tone of someone desperately seeking the silver lining, “Well, at least now I know how not to make a movie.”

I really don’t want to forget all the side-splitting ways in which this movie was bad; so I will make a separate post listing all the things Kai and I laughed at on the way home. But I really don’t want to just blast away mercilessly at well-meaning people who have done me no harm; so I will keep that post private, as a pure journal entry for my future reference. I’ll give you just one delicious example, one of the many things that makes me suspect that not a single person even remotely connected with this movie has ever been more than fifty miles from Los Angeles.

At one point, the plot calls for the dad and kids to go see Grandma up in the Yukon Territory — this is, you must understand, during the last week of December. They are then going to borrow her car to drive to the North Pole. (This could have been made to work in a movie that knew the difference between “whimsical” and “stupid,” but this was not that movie.) As they walk out to the car to fire it up and head out, Grandma remembers that the driver’s-side back door window is missing, and that the hole is covered merely by having a piece of cloth duct-taped over it. She explains — unnecessarily — that it has been a long time since she drove it.

Well, this doesn’t stop Dad and Kids at all. They hop into this car — which, I repeat, in the Yukon Territory between Christmas Day and New Year’s, has a piece of cloth taped where the back window is supposed to be, and proceed to drive for hours through the night. Then the car breaks down. Dad gets out, fiddles under the hood, fixes the car in a couple of minutes, gets back in…and announces, “Man, it sure is cold out there.” The emphasis is mine; the scriptwriter, if he ever reads this, will no doubt be scratching his head and wondering why I saw fit to emphasize that bit.

But at least that broken window winds up playing a critical role in the plot, right? I mean, this ludicrous nonsense at least winds up serving some purpose, right? Um…no. Dad announces that his fix is only temporary and that they will have to find a mechanic at the next town. And then he says, “And while he’s at it, we might as well have him fix that window, too.” And that’s the last we hear of the missing window.

“So, wait” — I hear you cry — “what was the point of the missing window, again?” Um…beats the heck out of me. That’s the best I got for you.

I will say that I am sure that the movie was better than it would have been had Kai and I written, directed, produced, acted in, and edited it. But if I don’t stop writing right now I’m going to giggle myself silly all over again. I applaud the willingness of everyone involved to take a shot at making their dreams come true, and they did better than I could have done. And I congratulate the young man who played the surly teenaged son (Chase Pollock, maybe?) for having won the festival’s award for Best Rising Young Male Star. (“Wait a minute” — I hear you cry — “what was there about his performance that would make the festival jury give him an award for his acting?” Um…beats the heck out of me. That’s the best I got for you.)

And with that, I’m just going to stop.

Earlier Worldfest 2018 posts:

I mislead some nice Chinese girls

Worldfest low-budget review: Blaze (USA)

Worldfest low-budget review: Nine to Nirvana (China, Best Foreign Film co-winner and I will tell you in advance that this means the jury and I are very far from being on the same page about what makes a movie good or bad)

Congratulations to 陈忠师 and 黎光…

General observation on the Chinese movies at Worldfest

Worldfest low-budget review: Ayla, the Daughter of War (Turkey, screened but not eligible for an award)

Again, congratulations to 陈忠师 and 黎光… Platinum Remi!

Worldfest low-budget review: Fiddlin’ (USA, Grand Remi winner I think)

Worldfest low-budget review: Hidden Summer (Houston/China, Silver Remi winner)

Worldfest low-budget review: Grass Ring (China, Gold Remi winner, featuring Ma Liang, winner of the festival’s Best Supporting Actor award)

Worldfest low-budget review: Teacher in the Deep Mountains (China, Platinum Remi winner I think)

Worldfest low-budget review: A Pretty Little Fishing Village (China, Gold Remi winner)

Later Worldfest 2018 posts:

Worldfest low-budget review: Home of Mephibosheth (China, Platinum Remi winner)

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