Christmas movies have a special place in my heart, but not just any Christmas movie. Sure, I enjoy the sappy, heart-warming endings that most Christmas movies wrap up with (yes, pun intended), but I hate being talked down too, like a Hallmark greeting card. I want a bit of bite to my movies, a bit of angst, humor, and as in the case of my favorite Christmas movie, Surviving Christmas, some connection to the underground pop culture as well as loveable but totally wacked out characters.
Surviving Christmas came out in 2004 to horrible reviews and a 7% rating on the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes. It was considered a box-office bomb and was released two months later on DVD. Honestly, I wonder if critics even bothered to watch the movie. The reviews all echo each other claiming the film was a horrific waste of time, a movie with little humor and grace and to be avoided at all costs.
Featuring Ben Affleck as the eccentric millionaire Drew Latham who doesn’t want to spend Christmas alone and Christina Applegate as the snarky sarcastic daughter Alicia with James Gandolfini as the cantankerous father Tom Valco and Catherine O’Hara as his “so over it” wife Christine, the movie is hilarious from start to finish, with a stellar cast to boot.
Drew has avoided Christmas because of painful childhood memories and after his vapid girlfriend Missy breaks up with him when he presents her with first-class tickets to Fiji instead of bringing her home for Christmas to meet his family, he follows the counsel of her therapist and journeys to his childhood Chicago suburbs home to clear his heart and start afresh by writing his grievances on a piece of paper and setting them on fire in front of his childhood home, now occupied by the Valcos.
After Tom whacks Drew over the head with a snow shovel for displaying pyro tendencies, Drew bribes the family with $350,000 to be his family for the holidays, to which they readily agree considering the parents are getting ready to split up and have zero holiday cheer anyway. Drew sets about writing a script for the family to follow so it perfectly recreates his memories of his childhood Christmases past and pushes the family into re-enacting his demands with the threat of “breach of contract” hanging over their heads if they don’t.
Meanwhile, younger brother Brian stays sequestered in his room, watching porn on his computer. Look at the posters in the background of Brian’s bedroom and you will see Gearhead posters V/A Runnin’ On Fumes (the original art for this was featured also on the cover of Gearhead Magazine No. 19) and The Hellacopters Cream of the Crap (originally only available as an insert with the record but now for sale as a stand alone poster) as set dressing!
Coupled with a killer soundtrack featuring everything from Cherry Pie by Warrant and Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano Jingle Bell Rock by Chet Atkins, an off-key rendition of Oh Christmas Tree sung by Affleck and Gandolfini, and the classic Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses as well as a vintage cherry red Chevelle SS (guessing but not sure, 1970) the movie is not only smart and funny, but it has great pop culture references through out.
The script is well written, fast paced and just twisted enough to keep you laughing but not cringing. I honestly don’t know how this movie was trashed so badly unless the cretins writing about it were stuck in their own version of holiday hell. Maybe they hated it because Affleck is playing a pretty unlikable character. Or maybe because the movie doesn’t sugar coat the dysfunctional family dynamics brought out by the holidays. I have no idea, and I can’t really guess why they hated it so much.Everyone I have turned on to this movie loves it and thinks it's hilarious.
All I know is ignore the critics, track down this movie and enjoy some really funny clever moments with Surviving Christmas. And don’t forget to look for the Gearhead posters in the background!!
It was a cold wet winter day and I was feeling a little down. Not depressed, just not real motivated. Then I got the call from my boyfriend. He had just heard from a Facebook friend that Hellacopters guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist had died.
I couldn’t believe it. How could such a talented young man with so much ahead of him be dead? He was only 40, with plans for a new record and touring shaping this New Year. After confirming the truth of this rumor, I sat back and put on one of the two records I worked on with the band, High Visibility, and let my mind wander back to fifteen years ago first meeting Robert.
It’s pretty crazy when you’re working on a record. There are a lot of parts to manage, from the masters to the artwork. Usually there are one or two band members who one works with closely to get all the details sorted out and the record finished. Since I was working out most of these details while the band was in Sweden, I mostly communicated with their manager Patrick and drummer Robert via phone and email.
When the band arrived in town April 2002 to start their US tour promoting High Visibility, I was a little tongue-tied. I’d seen the band play once before, I think it was 1998, but had never officially met them or spent time with them prior to putting out the record. I was always one of those shy types, never feeling comfortable enough to talk to the bands I admired from a distance. They were cool for goodness sake, and I was just a geek who dug their music. I had to get over that for this tour though because I was handling all the distribution, sales and merch for the band and the tour, not to mention the production of their record. Talking to them and getting to know because I was the head of their record label was a must.
Much as myself, Strings was also shy, reserved and quiet. He hung in the background mostly talking in Swedish with his band mates. We chatted a little but I was never able to overcome my own shyness to really open up with him, and consequently, never really got to know him like I did Kenny, Robert or Nicke.
But that reserve disappeared when Strings got on stage. If I had super x ray vision, I would swear there were lightning bolts sparking off his fingertips when he played. He was focused and technically superior, but rocked with a passion and love that could color the notes flying out of his guitar with a fury and aggression that pushed the band to play harder and faster.
It strikes me as somewhat prescient that the band all have wings barely visible sprouting from their backs on the cover of High Visibility. I don’t know whose idea this was.
When they played they were in synch with a higher power, channeling passion and love and companionship through their music. Strings added a touch of American muscle to the band and on that recording, taking their sound into a more 70s classic rock approach, channeling the bands he loved like Kiss, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones into his playing and making their world his own.
I don’t know what happened to him. After the Hellacopters moved on to a new label, I had no further reason to be in touch constantly.
He was such a beautiful passionate young man in his prime, giving the world his love through his music.
My heart hangs heavy, my soul weeps for the loss of this brilliant child of the universe. I know his former band mates and the people who loved him are struggling to put their pain into context. For me, I celebrate the brief time we connected by listening to the records, sifting through the posters and sharing the few pictures I still have. I wish him Godspeed on this journey to the afterlife. Those airbrushed wings from the record cover are now real. I’m certain he is connecting with the rock and roll greats who left this earth before him, rocking the heavens with his glorious sounds.
Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist 4/16/76 – 2/3/17
Rock 'n' Roll/Automotive Journalist, Influencer, Editor and Publisher of Gearhead Magazine,