Christmas and aliens: some movie/TV reviews

While it’s not as well known as their “I thought turkeys could fly” Thanksgiving episode, the “Bah, Humbug!” episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI is every bit as entertaining. Station head Mr. Carlson is stiffing everyone on bonuses so he can buy new equipment and impress his “Genghis Khan of a mother” with his business savvy. Then he downs one of Johnny Fever’s brownies and finds himself trapped in one of “those Charles Dickens Christmas Carol” dreams. While I intend to acquire the whole series in DVD, this time out I just watched on YouTube, which revealed the syndicated off-air rerun I recorded for annual viewing actually has some funny moments cut. “I want my grandmother to see Eight Is Enough on a color TV set just once before she dies.”

Rewatching HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS gave me fresh appreciation for how much Chuck Jones’ imagination adds to this classic. It’s a great story and Boris Karloff’s narration is amazing, but Jones makes it far more visually inventive than it needed to be. For example, the sequence in which the Grinch steels the ornaments off a tree by treating them like billiard balls and sending them ricocheting into a sack. “And then the true meaning of Christmas shone through — and the Grinch found the strength of three grinches plus two!”

MADAGASCAR was a Christmas special spinning off from the movie. When King Julian’s forces shoot down the red-clad sky demon who pelts Julian with Cole every December 24th, the zoo animal protagonists realize Santa is lying in front of them unconscious. Can they take over his route and save the day, despite the longstanding Cold War between penguins and reindeer (“Santa operated out of the South Pole until they tempted him to the Arctic with offers of low-wage elf labor!”)! Cute. “Everyone wept tears of joy when they beheld the wonder of the infant Julian.”

Despite some glowing reviews, I found myself bored by THE VAST OF NIGHT (2020), a 1950s SF drama in which a radio DJ and a switchboard-operator-cum-science nerd discover a mysterious signal. Calls to the radio show claim there’s something up in space, manipulating and controlling us, so off our heroes go to investigate … I really like the female nerd but otherwise this felt somehow recycled from bits of better stuff. And the trick of introducing it as an episode of a Twilight Zone-style anthology served no purpose. “In the future, everyone will be assigned a phone number at birth, for life.”

LIQUID SKY (1983) isn’t good but it’s certainly not boring. This SF drama mostly focuses on backstabbing, feuding and relationships in New York’s punk scene, complicated by aliens showing up and killing one model’s lovers mid-sex to drain their pleasure hormones. I described it to a friend as “the kind of movie you’d have enjoyed watching stoned in college.“In the beginning, aliens were spotted in areas with large amounts of heroin.”

Back to Christmas — HOLLY STAR (2020) is the tedious story of a young puppeteer who returns broke and jobless to her home town and becomes obsessed with unearthing a treasure she’s convinced she saw Santa Claus bury when she was a kid. Didn’t work for me.

JINGLE JANGLE (2020) didn’t particularly work for me, but I may have just been too frazzled to enjoy it. A black cast, headed by Forrest Whittaker, tells the musical story of the eponymous genius toymaker who ages into an embittered recluse after his assistant betrays him and steals his designs. Years later, however, his granddaughter appears, determined to put right what went wrong and reconnected her grandfather to the human race. I’ll try this again next year.

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