The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Christmas in the Clouds (2005)
Directed by Kate Montgomery
Rated PG
Starring: Tim Vahle, Sam Vlahos, Maria Tosca, M. Emmet Walsh, Graham Greene and Sheila Tousey

Review by Ben Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
Native American Ray Clouds-On-Fire had a successful stint as a “hotshot” (his dad’s description) in the corporate world, but heartbreak has driven him back to the “res” where he’s taken over as manager of Sky Mountain Resort. He has big aspirations to bring the modest, little-known vacation spot out of obscurity, and when he gets wind that an important travel writer will be visiting to review the resort for a book he goes on an all-out mission to get a good rating. Problem is, there’s no sure way of knowing which guest is the reviewer. Thus the stage is set for a comedy of errors in which mistaken identity and faulty assumptions lead to all kinds hilarious misadventures. As Christmas Eve approaches, a massive snow storm puts one more twist in the plot that just might ruin the hopes of every character in this ensemble cast picture.

Beneath the Surface:
The carefully layered plot line of Christmas in the Clouds relies on complex, subtle synchronicity between characters, and this subtle richness give the film its quaint, satisfying quality. Like any good Shakespearean comedy, the energy of the story comes from the audience/character tension. We, the watchers, know “the truth” but are completely powerless to correct the misperceptions of the very human characters. The most endearing of these misperceptions has to do with the elder Joe Clouds on Fire (Ray’s father and the chief), who has developed a rather heightened, if not steamy, pen-pal relationship with a widow on a reservation in New York. There are two important facts we are privy to that Joe isn’t. First, Cristina, the pen pal “widow,” is a young, attractive thirty-something (Joe has a boyish personality but is pushing 80). Second, she has secretly planned a trip to Sky Mountain Resort for a face-to-face meeting, but keeps her identify secret even after arriving.

You can already imagine the mix up. Cristina arrives and mistakes the young Ray Clouds on Fire for her pen pal. The young Clouds on Fire mistakes Cristina for the travel writer. Miscues and perpetuating syncronicities only fuel the scenario…

This is just one of many parallel narratives, however, and a film that tries to weave too many threads into its tapestry runs the risk of spreading too thin. Just as a movie like Love Actually (see Jeff Koch’s review) has to sacrifice the depth of certain storylines in its final cut, Christmas in the Clouds does leave a few sub stories underdeveloped. The characters are so darn endearing here, however, that you just kind of trust the depth of their stories. Graham Greene, for example, marvelously plays Ray’s vegetarian chef. Ray does convince him to cook meat in hopes of impressing the travel writer, but the way he roams the dining room “educating” patrons about the previous lives of their meals (like how “Kevin” the buffalo loved taking pictures with the tourists before he became buffalo burgers) is wonderfully hilarious.

Another admirable quality of this film is its subtle approach to Christmas. While most Xmas movies juice every bit of that inevitable Christmas chemistry, it remains a secondary consideration throughout. With the exception of one scene that includes a stirring rendition of Silent Night in a Native American tongue (I wish I could tell you which), Christmas in the Clouds is nearly devoid of cliques and sure-things.

If you want change of pace this year from the emotionally heavy or sappy Christmas fare, this light-hearted romance with intelligent comedy and a faith in synchronicity might be just what Santa ordered.

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 7 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 7 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 8 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 8 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 7.5 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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