“The Christmas Candle” is the new release from Rick Santorum’s studio
In case you didn’t know, Santorum has become the CEO of a movie studio. Really. Mr. Sweater Vest is the CEO of EchoLight Studios, a Dallas-based studio that makes “uplifting” films. That’s code for Christian-themed movies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: there is a Christian audience out there. Besides the few movies he has overseen, Santorum also marked his first few months as CEO by firing the 2 men who founded the studio. Then he sued them for “sabotage.” Not a very auspicious beginning. But Santorum seems to think that he can make Dallas “the Hollywood of the faith-and-family movie market .” Uh huh.
If EchoLight’s holiday release is any metric, that may be a long time coming. “The Christmas Candle” opened on November 15 to tepid box office and dismal reviews. The novelty of Scottish singer Susan Boyle in a minor role may give it legs for a few more days but it’s pretty much doomed. What with the new “Hunger Games” movie opening on the same day and the next entry of “The Hobbit” on the way, “The Christmas Candle” will likely soon disappear. If Santorum had any show business acumen (shhh… now, I’m trying to be nice) he’d have it ready to roll out on DVD the week before Christmas. Somehow, I am not optimistic. I admit it: the schadenfreude runs deep.
The critics agree: “The Christmas Candle” is no holiday treat
“The Christmas Candle” was not well-received by critics. I’m usually not one to listen to them much. One of my favorite critiques of the critics is that they are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s supposed to be done but are sadly unable to do it themselves. But, in this case, I think they may be right on the money. They all seem to agree, which one doesn’t see very often unless the film is abysmal. So…. well, there ya go.
Peter Sobczynski, who has taken over as the movie critic for the Chicago Sun Times in the wake of Roger Ebert’s death (wonderful man), is adept at mimicking Ebert’s style. Here is the opening paragraph of his review:
“‘The Christmas Candle’ is a determinedly retro-minded holiday saga that contains no foul language, gruesome violence indeed anything beyond the mildest suggestion of hanky-panky, and for a certain portion of the moviegoing public, these absences alone would be enough to warrant a recommendation. The trouble is that the filmmakers have also neglected to include such other elements as wit, style, energy or anything resembling a coherent narrative. The end result is the kind of vaguely distasteful Yuletide concoction that viewers normally find playing on cable channels that they don’t even realize that they have.”
To be fair, most of us know we have those channels, we just ignore them.
The critic for the New York Daily News, Joe Neumaier, had a short review. But, as they say, brevity is the soul of wit:
“This odd Dickens-meets-Sunday-school movie is as artless as the setup is muddled. Centuries ago, an angel apparently blessed a candlemaker’s handiwork, and now every 25 years, one sacred wax product goes out into the world for Advent. In 1890, residents of a humble English hamlet pray, while a former preacher (Hans Matheson) preaches, a lass (Samantha Barks) does kind deeds and televised singing contest winner Susan Boyle wanders in for her unawaited acting debut. It’s as if a little plastic holiday village came to life. Except that might be interesting.”
Roger Moore (not the one who played James Bond) of the Richmond Times-Dispatch called “The Christmas Candle”:
“… lovely looking but dramatically flat and emotionally sterile “The Christmas Candle,” a pretty period piece of a holiday fable that lacks only the wit, decent story and better dialogue that might have made it a classic.”
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Frank Scheck acknowledged the film’s religious theme but didn’t cut it any slack:
“Delivering its religious themes with a Dickensian flavor, “The Christmas Candle” is holiday treacle at its most old-fashioned. This 1890-set tale of a progressive minister who finds himself at odds with his new congregation’s belief in a blessed, miracle-producing candle certainly has a positive message about relying on good deeds rather than divine intervention. But its hopelessly stodgy execution will test the patience of even the most enthusiastic audiences for faith-based films. The presence of chart-topping vocalist Susan Boyle in her film debut adds a curiosity factor that might add to its box-office appeal.”
For another point of view, I went to Dove. org, which is apparently a Christian movie website. Obviously they liked “The Christmas Candle” (which I anticipated). But the review was rather awkward:
“This whimsical Christmas tale warms the heart and delights the eyes! A young minister named David struggles with his faith after a family tragedy. This story takes place quite some time ago and the long dresses and old horses and carriages add to the visuals. The movie has a definite authentic feel to it.”
While the dresses and horsies are interesting, they aren’t really the point of the film. Unless I’m missing something? Is authenticity in a period piece the defining attribute? Silly me, I thought that story and characterization were the priorities in any film. Then again, this reviewer may just be sticking to the “if you can’t say something nice” method. At least there was something good, and he or she found it. Actually, that was quite ingenious of whoever wrote it, knowing that a positive review was no doubt required. I withdraw my sarcasm.
Box office for the movie wasn’t much better
It wasn’t just the critics that didn’t give “The Christmas Candle” a warm welcome. The box office report for the film is dismal: a gross of $912,908 since November 15. Most of that was from its second week in release, when it expanded from 5 theaters (the first week was limited release). It did manage to raise its receipts 1,113% from week one to week 2, but adding 387 more theaters will do that. The real test will come in the next 2 weeks. But small films like this usually fall off in their third and fourth week of release.
Personally, I think “The Christmas Candle” would have been better off as direct-to-DVD. It would be a great gift for Christians and others who like feel good period pieces. If Santorum sticks to the usual DVD time-table, this won’t be available until Valentine’s Day or so. Not a very good marketing strategy. As an aside, I am gobsmacked that Sylvester McCoy is in this. The Seventh Dr. Who — Why?? Well, I guess the check cashed.
Rick Santorum’s new career may yet take off. I hope it does and wish him well. The movie business is a tough gig and has chewed up and spit out better men than he. But as long as he’s making movies he won’t run for president again. Right? Right??
Here’s the trailer for “The Christmas Candle”: