A Christmas Story: Why Angels Sing is My New Favorite Holiday Movie

Road Schooled by Joe Trey: AKA Adventure Hermit

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Stanley Market Place : Denver, CO Camp Christmas 2019: Photo by Joe Trey

New Favorite Holiday Movie

Everyone has a favorite Holiday movie. The one that gets watched each year, once to more. It's a toss-up between Elf and Tim Allen's, The Santa Clause for my daughter's.

I'm not going to lie; I love an excellent homonym mix up. It took until 1994 for someone to connect the "Santa Clause" and a "contract clause. Huh? It only proves there are plenty of ideas still left in the world! It's our job to go out and find them.

I am not a fan of predictable movies. The one exception is holiday movies. I love a good twist, and I tend to gravitate towards the more moody subject matter. At Christmas, I am okay with knowing the ending before the opening credits!

My favorite movie has always been "It's a Wonderful Life." Two years ago, Angel's Sing took over the top spot. I suspect the appeal comes from being a lifelong east coast cynic, that loves a happy ending. While Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB users may have written this one off, I LOVE IT!

The movie's basic premise has a family in need of a new home. After a bicycle wreck caused by a reindeer, the father buys a house on the famous Live Oak Lane. A fictional street in Austin, where the neighbors go all out with holiday lights. Surprise, the dad hates Christmas!

The movie doesn't try at all to hide its obvious trajectory. As expected, the father fights the light's tradition, even after promising to keep up appearances as part of the sale. By the end, through heartache and redemption, the dad comes to remember the joy of Christmas. 

What makes this movie different is the use of lesser-known Austin musicians throughout. Many show up on the family's doorstep. They come to sing and deliver lights for decorating. Dale Watson, Black Soot, The Trisha's, Sahara Smith, Carolyn Wonderland & Guy Forsyth, and many more make appearances.  

I discovered the movie as part of a yearly late November ritual — my holiday movie playlist. The more "Hallmark," the better. I put that in quotes because it does not have to be an official Hallmark movie. It must follow the formula, using at least three of these elements.

The FORMULA

  1. A once-popular actress you had a crush on or wanted to be as a child.
  2. Next up, a hunky but lesser-known leading man.
  3. The leads must survive in a Hallmark movie. So, the death or extreme illness of a lesser or rarely seen character must occur. 
  4. A made up town name — A place that sounds so cool you are desperate to visit. But alas, it doesn't exist.
  5. Something magical. A stranger or a "something" unexplainable sets everything right in the nick of time. This occurs, usually at about the one hour and fifty-minute mark, right before the final commercial in a typical two-hour made for TV movie.

I have mixed feelings about Hallmark. The stores and the media channel. On the one hand, I don't like the pressure of buying pet cards. A quick search of the Internet reveals no less than 3 pet holidays a month. Some months have over a dozen. Soon we will need shelters to protect the trees that are dying to produce these pet cards!

Yes, the thought of June 24th's Cat World Domination Day sounds fantastic. In my house, that's called any day that ends in "Y." Newsflash: My cats are not getting a card!

The bitterness of cards aside, I owe Hallmark Stores a partial debt of gratitude. Thanks to something of a "John Hughe's like scene." A moment where the male lead stops at nothing to "find the girl" and ask her out. In my case, I once went to half a dozen Hallmark stores to find a girl to ask her to a baseball game. In 2021, we celebrate 20 years of marriage! So, thank you, Hallmark Stores!

Yet, when it comes to Hallmark movies, the formula needs updating. Well developed characters to better reflect a diverse society. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Hallmark's failure to do so. In fairness, it's more than a Hallmark issue. One I plan to write more about at another time. 

Discovering Angel's Sing

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Movie Image Screen Captured from TV by Joe Trey

I didn't know it was a Hallmark movie when I picked it out. I chose it for the cast. It included Connie Britton, Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, Fionnula Flanagan, Kriss Kristofferson. The icing on the cake, Lyle Lovett! Saved to my favorites for a post-Thanksgiving viewing. 

Connie is a bit of a chameleon in her roles. An actress people always recognize from "that one thing." Such as Friday Night Lights, Nashville, or the very unHallmark, American Horror Story. I would call her off-the-radar, merely hard to pin down, and she definitely meets my crush criteria in #1.

Harry Connick Jr. plays her husband. Yes, he has an impressive list of movie credits. I loved him in his creepy turn as a serial killer in 1995's Copycat. I'm sure he's charming in 1998's Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock, but I never saw it.

I am forever connected to the movie. On the soundtrack, Garth Brooks sings the song "Make You Feel My Love." While I never saw the movie, I loved the version. I even serenaded that young woman from the Hallmark store with it when we started dating.

It's an odd song because Bob Dylan wrote it for an album of his in 1997. Then Billy Joel covered and released it before Bob's came out. A year later, Garth's version rules the airways. But it was Adel who blew it up on her Album 19. Her 2008 version had everyone entering a singing competition trying to perform it. By 2017 Adel's performance had sold a million copies. It was so big, people thought it was her song. But Garth's will always be my favorite.

Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, two of Outlaw Countries finest, handle #5 and #3. Willie brings the magic and Kris, plays Harry's father. Don't re-read #3 if you want to avoid any spoilers.

Fionnula Flanagan, like Connie Britton, seems to be in everything but can be hard to remember. A credit to her acting, not that she's not memorable. In this movie, I find it odd that everyone has some version of a southern drawl; everyone but Fionnula. She unapologetically rocks her native Dublin accent, with zero explanation! Some find this as off-putting as what seems to be a rug on Harry Connick Jr.'s head. I find it charming!

Rounding out the list of requirements is the town. Or, in this case, "a street" called Live Oak Lane. Oh, how I wish this place existed. But it does not. 

Lyle Lovett deserves special recognition for stealing nearly every scene he is in. He plays Griffin. Aka Lyle as a Christmas Loving Elf'n neighbor. He has excellent comedic timing and outstanding musical performances in ht movie. When he sings "Christmas Time is Here" with Kat Edmonson and Mitch Watson, it is pure holiday gold. Come to think of it, a quirky neighbor with a heart of gold should be part of the formula. Note to self, edit the formula.

Almost Meeting Kris Kristofferson

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Paramount Theatre, Denver CO: Photo by Beth Trey

The date was November 23, 2019. We were on our 3rd viewing of the movie for the season. As I watched, it occurred to me I'd never seen Kris Kristofferson live. On a whim, I checked to see if he was still touring. Not only was he still touring. He was playing in Denver the next night.

Our family had plans to attend the Hip Hop Nutcracker the next day, in the afternoon. I couldn't help believe Kris was coming to town. Kris Kringle. Kris Kristofferson? A Christmas miracle? Perhaps not. But a significant coincidence nonetheless. 

Logging on to the venue's website, I found two tickets right next to the sound guy. Often the best seats in the house for sound. I didn't hesitate. I bought two tickets. Then I broke the news to my wife. Two events in one day are not exactly her style. But she saw the excitement in my eyes and nodded her approval. My wife is the best!

It was like I'd received a card on March 28th. Piano Day, Celebrated annually on the 88th day of the year in honor of a piano's 88 keys. Why should pets get all the attention? She knew it was important to me. We made arrangements. As the curtain fell, we'd rush out of the Nutcracker. Grab an early bird special dinner, send the kids home with grandma, and head to the show. 

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Paramount Theatre, Denver CO: Kris Kristofferson Performing: Photo by Joe Trey

It was amazing. I was tearing up throughout as I watched a legend. Kris' voice wasn't what it once was, but his storytelling is still unparalleled. The legendary Merle Haggard's band, The Strangers, backed him up. Occasionally, Kris strayed or needed help singing. The Strangers slid in and out like they'd been HIS band for the last 50 years!

A young girl behind us, not more than 8, was at the show with her grandparents. We learned she was "friends with Kris' daughter." At intermission, she and her family headed backstage. I was so tempted to try and weasel a sympathetic invitation. But, I resisted. She returned for the second half of the show grinning from ear to ear. I was jealous but held it in.

One benefit of seeing an 83-year-old legend? The show was over by 9:00 PM. When we left the auditorium, I was still thinking about not trying to get backstage. There was only one thing to do. Go home with my wife and watch Angel's Sing. So that's exactly what we did! Did I mention that my wife's the best? #nbholidaycheer

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Joe Trey is known in certain circles as Adventure Hermit! A moniker fitting of his ambivert nature. Visions of rock stardom drove him to get a BFA in music from the University of Connecticut. Not long after, he abandoned his dreams of NYC and relocated to the Rocky Mountains! He has been known to "drink a toe." Don't ask. Or do! His work and love of travel have brought him nearly around the world. Writing, Hiking, Camping, Music, Motorcycles get him up and out each day. Hugging his wife and teenage daughters at night, bring him home! Not a tortoise, not a hare (but a bit hairy in all the wrong places), Joe only competes with himself. Through his writing and adventures, he encourages others to do the same!

Aurora, CO
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