Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas in the Clouds

2001. Theater and DVD release was 2005. 96 min. PG – squeaky clean, no language, adult consensual spending-the-night-over - in jammies - mild concern over a lost mouse

IMDB says... A romantic comedy with Christmas Cheer, "Christmas in the Clouds" is set at a tribally owned and operated ski resort in the Southwest. Memorably quirky characters make their way through plot lines full of mistaken identities and frustrated bingo dreams.

The73rd Virgin says... It comes with the dubiously hyped-up blurb, “’O’ Magazine’s Most Anticipated Holiday Movie!” and “WINNER – Austin Film Festival, Santa Fe Film Festival”. It never even made it to Netflix, but I got it for $4.50 from Amazon. Apparently some major distribution problems.

So how to sound not Scroogish, and yet not patronizing? Screenwriter/director Kate Montgomery has kluged together a comic romance centered on mistaken identity with elements of Cyrano de Bergerac; a light-hearted romp about an (American) Indian-run Utah ski resort trying to impress a visiting Zagat-style reviewer; the alcoholic reviewer’s broken relationship with his daughter; a few seconds of ham-fisted social awareness with bonus Christmas points; and – a bunch of other stuff. Long after the kitchen sink has been thrown in and begun to run over, Montgomery is still cramming it in into this 96 minute run time.

And yet, magically, it still seems long.

Sam Vlahos plays an aging retired chief named Joe Clouds On Fire of some tribe or another on a Utah “rez”. At one point he calls himself an old Apache, but later comes on as a code talker which I would have sworn meant Navajo, but maybe I missed the joke.

His hunky son, Ray, played by Tim Vahle, is a polished, Anglo-friendly, divorced businessman who has come home to run the tribe’s ski resort. Seems the resort has gotten word that “Worthington Travel Guide” will be reviewing the resort soon, and so Ray and his assistants are scrambling to figure out which of their guests is actually the reviewer. At the same time old Joe has been carrying on a steamy anonymous pen pal relationship with a young Mohawk woman from New York, known only as Tina. She decides to turn up the heat a notch and come see him sight unseen at Christmas. But she’s coming under an Italian name so he won’t know she’s there. Rita Coolidge cameos as worried Mom.

And so, of course, misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and attendant hilarity ensue, hopefully worthy of an English parlor comedy. Unfortunately, the movie is much funnier at the edges. Ray gets in a fairly wicked line about Anglo visitors on spiritual quests, and Graham Greene cameos in as a chef who has decided to go vegetarian and thinks all the guests should as well. He gets to make fun of his Dances With Wolves past.

I think even the Italian/Indian confusion is meant as a joke, as well as the Assistant Manager’s (Sheila Tousey) fondness for romance novels with lurid covers that feature oaken-chested braves with names like “Buffalo Thunder” ravaging willing white women. You would probably recognize Tousey as the rather hot female lead in “Thunderheart” all those years ago, and as Joe Leaphorn’s dying wife in the superior PBS adaptations of several Tony HIllerman novels. Here she’s quite funny with a big ol’ Anglo bouffant and schoolmarm glasses.

If this were an early 60s beach movie, we would get a guest-cameo from James Brown and The Famous Flames, or Peter Lorre, or Vincent Price, or Dick Dale and Del Tones. Here, it’s - who else? - Wes Studi in a kilt, running a bingo game. I must admit that when he comes into the bingo hall as himself and all the players begin chanting “Magwa, Magwa”, it is pretty sublime.

All this sounds funny and it is. But not surprisingly, Tina and Ray begin to hit it off even though they each think the other is someone else. Their scenes of boy meets girl, boy gets girl are loooong. Their scenes of boy loses girl are too. Vahle is a good actor convincingly slogging through Lifetime Network quality rom-com dialog. Mariana Tosca as Tina, isn’t.

Then there’s the story about the little girl who has lost her “warrior mouse”, and the resort reviewer’s inability to connect with his daughter, and Joe’s disappearance in a snow storm, and the search, and Ray’s old Indian tracking method of tearing around on a snowmobile and yelling “Dad!”, and one-by-one, the golden sheep fade to black. I will add one sheep back because the boy-must-get-girl-back mad dash through the airport has a twist. But we remain firmly in Lifetime/Oxygen network territory whenever Ray and Tina are on screen.

Most of the cast is Native American and it’s nice to see three veterans of “Pow Wow Highway” and other fine Native American movies together again. That’s probably patronizing at some level. IMDB doesn’t mention Vahle’s ancestry and indicates that Mariana Tosca is of Greek and Albanian descent. What, was Irene Bedard busy? She’d have been a better choice for a lotta reasons.

IMDB has the budget at 3 million, which seems like it would have been enough to use at least slightly different lighting in different scenes. Mid-winter Utah has never seemed so uniformly bright and television-ish, and the sound is occasionally rough, at least on DVD. It appears to have grossed maybe half a million between box office and rentals. Too bad. It’s a sweet, harmless thing, although the Christmas angle is a bit tacked on.

The credits thank various Hollywood royalty, including Gale Ann Hurd, Janet Leigh, and Big Bob Redford who let them use his Sundance Institute for filming. I hope nobody lost their shirt on this.

The closing song over credits is the amazing “NDN Karz” by Keith Secola and The Wild Band of Indians. The 1992 version in the movie appears to be impossible to find, but here’s a live version.

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