Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
REVIEWS of other Christmas movies
|Featuring:||Tim Vahle, Sam Vlahos, MariAna Tosca, M. Emmet Walsh, Graham Greene|
|Producer:||Alfred Lin, Anthony Hsieh|
In my state, we are rapidly going past fall and snuggling right into winter weather. So I had the pleasure of a toasty fire, a soft blanket and fresh home-popped popcorn. I curled up on the couch with my husband and watched “Christmas In The Clouds” as it should be viewed. There are some films that are just right for home DVD release and “Christmas In The Clouds” is one of them. A theater would have been too open and cold for this warm, slightly tongue-in-cheek holiday special.
You’ve probably heard lots of stories about American Indians riding around on horses shooting arrows, but this story is about now-a-days…
Sky Mountain Resort is not your average ski lodge. Perched high in the magnificent Utah mountains, with breathtaking views and rooms to match, it just isn’t attracting the customers they need to survive financially. When the lodge, run by a delightful “family” of native Americans with attitude, finally gets the opportunity to host a secret travel reviewer sometime around Christmas, the employees try hard to get out of their ‘so-what’ demeanor and “put on the dog,” as Mary (Sheila Tousey) the Front Desk Manager so aptly puts it.
Joe Clouds On Fire (Sam Vlahos) is the retired Chief of his tribe and is the owner of the lodge. Unbeknownst to his ‘family’ he has been pen pals with the widow Tina Little Hawk (Mariana Tosca) for over a year. Without ever seeing a picture, they have learned to love each other’s brilliant penmanship. Tina wants to see just where the man of her dreams lives, so takes it upon herself to visit under a different name, not to cause alarm in case the two don’t hit it off.
Joe’s son, Raymond Clouds On Fire (Tim Vahle), has come back from college and a failed marriage in the East to help manage the resort and bring it up to it’s full potential. When news comes of a most promising entry into the exclusive Worthington Travel Guide, Ray tries hard to set the employees on fire and to get the lodge in perfect order for a secret visit from this renowned travel critic.
Total mayhem ensues as Ray’s orders are all but dismissed by Earl (Graham Greene), his strictly vegetarian chef, his very unhandy handyman, Phil (Jonathan Joss), who is after all the snow bunnies, and Mary at the front desk who is living the life of her heroine in the current romance novel she’s reading. No one seems to be able to stay on task.
Then as the crunch towards Christmas sets in, the topper on the tree is no snow! A ski lodge, at Christmas with no snow rings with disaster already, then with the knowledge that a clandestine travel reviewer could be anyone and anywhere only adds to the insanity. No clouds, no order, no Worthington Travel Guide!
Tina arrives, and with her sleek beauty and false New York name, is mistaken for the secret reviewer and given all the perks to win her Five Star approval, while the real travel guide reviewer, the harsh and grumbling Mr. O’Mally (M. Emmet Walsh) is hardly noticed.
Things get romantic when Ray Clouds On Fire is introduced to Tina and she mistakes him for her secret pen pal. Ray in turn thinks she needs to be pampered, as she has to be his secret guest of honor. Clouds finally do roll in, and snow turns from gentle flakes to an all out blizzard. Everyone is snowed in for Christmas,
Love turns into misunderstanding when Tina and Ray can’t figure out the other’s odd behavior. Joe and Mr. O’Mally go out for the biggest Bingo game in that region’s history, and get lost in the raging snow storm. Fearing his father is injured, or worse, and rejected by the beautiful Tina, Ray jets out into the snow-covered mountains on Christmas Day to find his Dad.
Mr. O’Mally’s already gruff temperament gets worse and is not helped by Chef Earl’s description of all the “pets” he had to skin to cook his non-vegetarian delicacies.
Without giving away too much, a must-see is the scene where Chef Earl makes a reference to his tasty main course using a buffalo who was not just the star in his delectable dish, but also of a well known movie. It was hilarious.
Although, it’s obvious we all will be watching Graham Greene, there are others who deserve our attention. Kaesi Belen Soto as little Katie is a natural child actress who sets the stage for what Christmas is all about. Beautiful Mariana Tosca is perfection as the modern woman of Indian decent, who is not afraid to follow her dreams. And, although a bit over the top at times, M. Emmet Walsh turns in a tear-jerking performance of a man who has lived too much with his own selfish pride, but is given his family back at a time when he most needs them.
There is only one vulgarity (bulls**t). There is no blood or violence, with perhaps just one scene where we see a plucked, dead turkey in the kitchen, it won’t look much different than mom’s Thanksgiving bird, freshly prepared for cooking. O’Mally’s character drinks a lot, and we are made to feel sorry for him because he has alienated his family whom he misses and loves. So, based on that point, the audience is urged to condone his drinking, but the Christian parent should help young kids to know that drinking never heals the heart, only Jesus can do that.
The romantic characters who fall in love are depicted in a natural, loving way. The kisses shared between them are conservative, and I did not feel the uneasiness I sometimes feel when two characters kiss a little too passionately. Although, at the end, they spend a great amount of time getting to know one another before they commit, I must mention that Ray and Tina are shown in a scene where it is obvious they have made love, and are in bed and kissing. It sends the word to the younger viewer that having sex after knowing one another just a few days is acceptable and a show of true love. Parents will want to point out that chastity until marriage is the true way to show eternal love to the person you choose to spend your life with.
The game of Bingo is one part of the central theme and to some will be viewed as a vice, as gambling can become. During the game there is a comic reference to bingo ‘balls’ that will go right over the heads of younger viewers, but adults will get the joke and may be offended. Another place of offense is a scene where a mouse is stuck in the pocket of Mr. O’Mally’s pants and two girls mistake it’s wiggling around as some part of his anatomy. Although a short comic scene and meant to be harmless, I felt it could be omitted.
All in good fun, the character of Mabel (played by Rosalind Ayres) is taught a few colorful Indian expressions that she believes to be greetings such as “thank you very much” which she expounds throughout the film with great pride. In reality these expressions (which I believe are in Ute) are references to ‘farts’ and ‘dog poop.’ To kids this may be really funny, but parents may want to point out this type of practical joke is funny only within the confines of this movie and not in real life.
“Silent Night” sung around the Christmas tree in acappella and in Native American tongue was a sweet treat. The musical score of this film was terrific, and here is a little known fact for you: Some songs performed in “Christmas In The Clouds” are by “Walela”—a trio of women singers led by recording star Rita Coolidge, who also has a small role in the movie as Tina’s older sister, Ramona.
The Indian word ‘walela’ is the Cherokee word for ‘hummingbird.’
Filmed entirely in Utah on the unbelievably beautiful grounds of the acclaimed Sundance Institute and in the Sundance Resort, the landscapes are stunning and the pride of the Utah and Ouray Ute Tribes are evident.
I am reminded of a verse that very nearly sounds like an Indian proverb: “Stand in the way and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it, then you will find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
As in any good family Christmas story, they all live happily ever after, as Ray finally wins the affections of Tina for good and Joe finds love in the most unexpected ski lodge visitor. “Christmas In The Clouds” made me feel great, even though I knew the basic story line. It was delivered in a fresh, comfortable and warm way without forced comedy. All the characters became my friend, and I will watch this one over and over again.
“Christmas In The Clouds” is a very sweet-spirited comedy of mistaken identity, love lost and found, American heritage, sacrifice, courage, and finding human connection in the places of our hearts we never anticipated. Definitely for the PG crowd. Families, especially young adults, will love it.
Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor