Category Archives: Movies

Irish monsters, silent lovers and a controversial Velma

GRABBERS (2012) is an Irish ET Monster film in which a meteor storm deposits tentacled flesh eating horrors on the coast of Ireland; the one chance the local village has is that the creatures find alcohol as deadly as the aliens in I Married a Monster From Outer Space (the creators are aware the jokes write themselves but that doesn’t stop them cracking the jokes). This is a solidly entertaining film and for once the mass of tentacles doesn’t look like just overdone CGI. “It’s always the quiet places where the mad shit happens — just look at the paper.”

PAID TO LOVE (1927) is the earliest extant film by future Thing from Another World director Howard Hawks, a silent comedy in which a banker agrees to invest in a struggling postage-stamp kingdom if he and the monarch can convince the car-crazy heir to the throne (“He won’t even look at a girl if she doesn’t have eight cylinders and a carburetor.”) to find a woman and ensure continuation of the dynasty. The solution is to hire an actor to seduce him but on the way to court the woman falls in love for real with a man she thinks is but an ordinary member of the royal guard.

Like most of Alfred Hitchcock’s early films, nothing about this feels distinctive to the future great director, nor particularly entertaining. The most fun comes in early scenes such as a seedy but quiet Paris bar that fakes underworld brawls for the tourist trade. William Powell plays a lecher. “What he needs is a female alarm clock to wake him up.”

When HBO Max announced the VELMA animated TV series I had my doubts — a Scooby-Doo based series with no Scooby? — but there have been equally implausible prequels I’ve enjoyed. And I do think that diversifying the cast makes good sense (Velma’s Indian-American, voiced by show co-creator Mindy Kaling, and Daphne is Asian-American). However the story of how Velma brought the human members of the team together has the same kind of meanness I despise in Rick and Morty, generally unlikable characters, and the first episode felt blandly, generically edgy. Learning the second episode has a bad #metoo joke (Velma claims she says the truth without filters, “like comedians before metoo!”) killed what interest I might have had. If I get the itch for Scooby Doo material there’s no shortage of better out there. “Have you ever noticed how pilot episodes of TV shows always have more gratuitous sex and nudity than the rest of the episodes?”

I watched the first couple of episodes of the British 1966 TV series THE BARON recently and while not as distasteful as Velma, it’s not very interesting. American actor Steve Forrest plays John “the Baron” Mannering (he has nothing in common with the John Creasey series protagonist he’s nominally based on) a London antiques dealer who in the opening episode gets entangled in international intrigue. What follows is by-the-numbers TV spy stuff, though it does make a fascinating capsule of mid-1960s fashion, cars and Cold War attitudes. The second episode, by veteran Doctor Who writer Terry Nation, has a great opening and a wonderful weasel of a villain, but ultimately it’s more of the same. So I think my viewing time can be better spent elsewhere.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

The Three Faces of Dr. Jekyll: Movies

My novel Questionable Minds makes big use of Jekyll and Hyde, as I discuss in this blog-tour post. When I recently bought the 1931 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE on Blu-Ray, I decided to follow-up with two other adaptations, the 1941 remake with Spencer Tracy and 1960’s THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.The 1931 version opens with Dr. Jekyll’s POV — his elegant house, his hands on the piano, his servants — after which the good doctor (Fredric March) lectures to a crowd of fascinated students and disgruntled old farts about how science will someday separate the human and the animal that intermingle with us, creating a superior person free of base instinct, able to rise to the heights of intellect and virtue. It’s a common Victorian view and expresses director Robert Mamoulian’s concept of Hyde as an evolutionary throwback, hence his brutish appearance in the still below with Miriam Hopkins.Jekyll isn’t all about the science though: he’s passionately in love with his fiancee Muriel (Rose Hobart) which is the root of all his troubles. He’s clearly ready to get it on with her but that’s not acceptable for an upper-class Victorian couple and her stuffy, overbearing father won’t allow them to speed up all rites, rituals and waiting periods that precede a Victorian marriage. When he meets sex worker/music-hall entertainer Ivy (Hopkins) she’s obviously up for relieving his sexual tension but though he likes the idea, he’s too good to stray from Muriel. But if he were to liberate the lower half of his nature, take on a persona that doesn’t care for convention, that couldn’t be recognized … And so Hyde is born.

Initially almost childlike — there’s a great scene where Hyde feels rain on his face for the first time and delights in it — Hyde stakes out his claim to Ivy fast. She’s intrigued to have a wealthy man to keep her, turned on some by his swagger … but before long the darker side of our buried self emerges. Hyde becomes an abusive gaslighter (if that sort of thing is at all triggering, neither this nor the 1941 film is the movie for you) and it’s obvious Ivy’s taking a long walk on a short pier. As for Jekyll, he’s ready to return to Muriel but Hyde is now too strong to restrain …

While this isn’t a faithful adaptation (which is good: Stevenson’s book is not cinematic), it captures the essential element that Jekyll wants to be Hyde; cutting free from respectability liberates him, though some of what gets free he’d prefer to keep caged. March, a Broadway leading man in light comic roles, wasn’t Paramount’s first choice for the role — they wanted John Barrymore, who played it in a 1920s version — but he’s marvelous, snagging the only Oscar acting award for horror until Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins is also very good as the tragic Ivy and the rest of the cast does solid work. Being a pre-code film, it’s also highly suggestive; this Blu-Ray restores several cuts made to please the censors on re-release, and also to trim it for length. “Do you want your eyes and your soul to be blasted by a sight that would stagger the devil himself?”

 

When Spencer Tracy took the role (according to the 1931 Blu-Ray’s commentary track) he wanted to play Jekyll as an ordinary man who succumbs to drink or drugs and starts living a wild life; that was too raw for MGM so they bought the rights to remake the 1931 version instead, then kept the earlier film from re-release for decades to avoid competition. The 1941 take is better than I remembered but still inferior to the March. The opening comes off almost like an attempt to refute its predecessor: rather than Spencer Tracy’s Jekyll giving a lecture, we have a clergyman (C. Aubrey Smith) celebrating Queen Victoria and how she’s helped England triumph over “gross sensuality.” Society’s prudery isn’t the problem, it’s Jekyll giving in to that gross sensuality that destroyed him.

This reflects the Production Code being in play but also MGM’s house style, which requires everything be classier and glossier than at other studios: where Ivy is a low-class woman in a low-class music hall, Ivy (Ingrid Bergman) here is a barmaid in a much more elegant venue. In any case, Jekyll’s initial issue is less sex than classic mad science complaints: nobody approves or supports his research into the boundaries between good and evil in our soul — the very fact he thinks science can tackle the soul is an outrage! His prospective father-in-law is an old-fashioned chap, shocked by the PDAs between Jekyll and his fiancee (Lana Turner, bland as usual), but he’s one of the good guys, not the stuffy, overbearing marplot of the first film. However, when Jekyll grows frustrated it occurs to him there’s one way he could become friends with Ivy without anyone knowing …

Unlike the first film, there’s no makeup change between Jekyll’s two identities. This is effective at times, such as Tracy’s facial expressions after his initial transformation, but the complete incredulity the two men are one and the same becomes baffling. However Tracy does deliver on a creepy, less overt abuser, constantly talking in a whisper when he’s Hyde but intimidating nonetheless. Bergman’s Ivy mostly doesn’t work: she can’t quite pull off the fun-loving working girl (her more tormented party girl in Notorious works better) and her accent is way off. However she’s amazing in the later scenes when a friend’s suggestion they go out for some fun is met by terror: what if Hyde sees me? What if he disapproves of what I’m doing? It conveys “abuse” without anything overt. Overall, though, not a patch on the 1931. “Your ideas are different than mine — it will be a charming experience to change them.”

Hammer took a shot at the story with THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960), starring Paul Massie as a Jekyll so obsessed with his research into human behavior he’s neglecting his wife Kitty (Dawn Addams) who’s consoling herself with Jekyll’s spendthrift friend, Allen (Christopher Lee), who has no qualms with banging Jekyll’s wife while also begging Jekyll to cover Allen’s gambling losses. In the best traditions of mad science, Jekyll tests his personality altering drug on himself and becomes Hyde (his beard disappears, then reappears when he turns back). A smirking, self-indulgent prick, Hyde flirts with Kitty and becomes a friend to Allen, who initiates him into the wild side of London life. However Jekyll’s smoldering resentment when he realizes Allen is cuckolding him soon becomes Hyde’s plan for revenge …

Wolf Mankowicz wanted to write this as an indictment of Victorian hypocrisy (which he assumed was a new take on the material) but the director wanted a different take and the disagreement (according to the book The Hammer Story) tanked the film. Backstage conflicts aside, I think that having made the love triangle the core of the film, they don’t explore that angle: what if Hyde makes a serious play for Kitty? Was Kitty always a bad girl or did she hook up with Allen due to Jekyll’s neglect? Instead the triangle just makes a distraction from the story rather than enhancing it. “That’s what your kind of woman wants in a man, Kitty — complete and utter freedom from shame.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders. You can buy Questionable Minds as an ebook or paperback.  Here’s an excerpt with my protagonist confronting Edward Hyde.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Dioscuri movies and more!

My friend Ross has often used the term “dioscuri” — the Greek name for the heavenly twins, Castor and Polyneices — to refer to twinned fiction characters such as Kirk and Spock, Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. They fit together. They’re each other’s missing puzzle piece. And that applies to some of my recent viewing.

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road films had them cast as vagabond Dioscuri entertainers, always united until it came to figuring out who gets the girl. ROAD TO RIO (1947) was in a two-movie set with Road to Bali but it’s much better. After enraging a few too many fathers by hitting on their daughters, the guys head south of the border where they end up helping Dorothy Lamour, whose aunt Gale Sondegaard is hypnotizing her into a marriage for mysterious reasons. A lot of fun, though having a happy ending arranged via hypnosis doesn’t age well at all; parodies both McGuffins (“The world must never know.”) and last minute cavalry charges (“It didn’t amount to much but it was exciting.”). “Blood is thicker than water — and this is not the time to prove it.”

JULES AND JIM (1961) is Francois Truffaut’s story of two Dioscuri, one German (Oskar Werner) and one French (Henri Serre), who meet and bond deeply in the years before WW I and remain friends despite fighting on opposite sides (their biggest fear being injuring or killing each other). But when Jules falls in love with the mercurial, restless Catherine (Jeanne Moreau), who also fascinates Jim, it sends their friendship and their lives in an unexpected direction. I clearly remember being underwhelmed with this when I first saw it but for the life of me I can’t figure out why, as it’s excellent. Along with being well-made, the casual attitude to sex and love must have stood out from Hollywood’s films back when it debuted. “I’m slowly renouncing my claim to her — and all that I love in the world.”

In ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) attorney Albert Finney doesn’t think of working-class mom Julia Roberts as much beyond an annoyance. Then she takes an interest in some old case files involving a small town, a whole lot of health problems and a utility covering up its polluting track record and they become the team they were destined to be. Steven Soderbegh directs an excellent based-on-truth film with supporting performances by Marg Helgenberger as a victim, Conchata Ferrell as a secretary, Aaron Eckhart as Brockovich’s biker boyfriend and Peter Coyote as a lawyer.  “Before you go off on some sort of crusade, you might want to consider who you’re dealing with.”

And now the more — I picked GLASS ONION (2022) as my and TYG’s December date night film and it was an excellent choice, even though TYG, contrary to my memory, swears she hasn’t seen Knives Out. Daniel Crag once again plays Benoit Blanc (TYG gives his accent thumbs up) who somehow winds up invited to tech billionaire Edward Norton’s isolated Greek island along with politician Kathryn Hahn, airhead model Kate Hudson (“How was I to know ‘Jew-y’ was offensive to Jews?”), YouTuber Dave Bautista and others — and wouldn’t you know, death is in the air? A traditional set-up — an isolated mansion, a murderer among us — but enlivened by director/writer Rian Johnson’s skewering of the rich (pretty much the perfect moment for it too). While I think Knives Out worked slightly better as a mystery, this may be a better film overall. “I think it’s dangerous to think speaking without thinking is the same as speaking the truth.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Black filmmakers, a black filmmaker and Black Adam: movies viewed

IS THAT BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU? (2022) would double bill well with This Changes Everything as black film critic Elvis Mitchell points out that despite multiple black stars and directors proving their ability to generate profitable box office, neither their careers nor black film in general takes off the way they should.

While Mitchell looks back at early filmmakers such as Oscar Micheaux, the focus is on the 1960s, the blacksploitation era, the various stars (Harry Belafonte, Ivor Dixon, Sidney Poitier) and Mitchell’s own love/hate relationship with white film (“When a white man donned a bow tie and a dark jacket he was headed out for a glamorous evening, a black man was dressing for work as a servant.”). There’s a lot of debatable but not implausible speculation on how much blacksploitation affected white work, for example whether John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever amounts to “another Elvis Presley” (i.e., copying black style to advance a white career). Well worth the catching. “For most of the history of movies, studios have been content to leave black money on the table.”

I loved Jordan Peele’s Us and Get Out! so I was delighted his NOPE (2022) was streaming on Peacock. Not so delighted when I sat down and watched it … After a rain of objects from the sky (making me wondering if Peele is a fan of Charles Fort) kills a black rancher whose family provides trained animals and stunt work for films, his son and daughter struggle to keep the business a going concern. Then they sight what appears to be a UFO and set out to get conclusive film, confident a money shot can turn things around for them (based on my reading for Aliens Are Here, I’d say that would take a miracle shot, but I can believe they believe it).]

This is pretty to look at but it’s more a random collection of characters and ideas that never tie together: the story of a kid star and his freak experience with a chimpanzee is memorable but doesn’t connect up with the rest of the film. That could work in some films, but this is not one of them. “He’s right — that ain’t Oprah.”

Kahndaq archeologist Sarah Shahi summons BLACK ADAM (2022) back to life to save her son from Intergang, only for Dwayne Johnson’s Shazam-powered champion to spend most of the movie battling the Justice Society, including Pierce Brosnan’s Dr. Fate, before the real bad guy arrives for the climax. This is based on a plotline from Geoff Johns’ JSA plotline in the comics but it’s all wrong here, like introducing the Hulk in a movie and also introducing the Avengers as his antagonists with no explanation who they were. Some of Black Adam’s effortless super-stunts look great but they’re stuck in a mediocre movie. I discuss it more, and look at Black Adam’s comics career, over at Atomic Junkshop. “Life is the only path to death — well, that’s obvious.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Resident Alien, second season, with spoilers, plus seasons of other things

The first season of RESIDENT ALIEN ended with Harry (Alan Tudyk) flying home, knowing his people will eventually destroy humanity, only to discover Max (Judah Prehn) in his back seat. At the start of the second season Harry returns to Patience, Colorado and sets out to ensure that his friend Asta (Sarah Tomko) survives. She, however, pushes him to do more — can’t he convince his people to call off the apocalypse?Things get much more complicated when Harry makes contact with another alien from his world and learns the invasion has been called off: another race has laid claim to the Earth and his people don’t want to fight for it. It turns out the Greys have infiltrated human society via human/alien hybrids (shades of the X-Files) including General McAlister’s (Linda Hamilton) X-files-type black ops project. At the end, Harry’s joined forces with McAlister to fight for the Earth but can they succeed?

There’s a lot going on in the middle of all this: Max’s parents fight over plans for a new Patience resort, Darcy (Alice Wetterlund) getting back into skiing and getting hooked on pain meds, Asta’s relationship with the kid she gave up for adoption, Harry adopting an alien baby and more. If anything, the show got a little overstuffed on subplots, with some of them giving the actors something to do for a couple of episodes, then wrapping up way too quickly — though one subplot, involving Kate’s (Meredith Garretson) pregnancy, took a surprising twist.

The cast is great and Tudyk, as in S1, is amazing as the egocentric, selfish, but not unredeemable extraterrestrial. However the shift to a serious alien invasion plot (somehow when it was Harry’s people it was still more comedy than horror) doesn’t work for me, and I’m not sure they can pull it off, though the sitcom People of Earth managed it. I may not be alone in that: ratings dropped in the second half of the season and SyFy has cut the S3 order from 12 to eight. But if I’m wrong and S3 is awesome, I’ll be delighted.

The third season of MCMILLAN AND WIFE, by contrast, stuck true to form. Mac and Sally (Rock Hudson, Susan St. James) visit the McMillan ancestral home in Scotland (Death of a Monster .. Birth of a Legend), deal with a Satanic cult The Devil You Say), investigate a murder involving Mac’s old espionage team (The Man Without a Face), try to figure out how a man can jump out a skyscraper window and disappear (Free Fall to Terror) and in the season’s final episode have Mac impersonate the gigolo who impersonated him the previous season (Cross and Double Cross). The cast is enjoyable — seeing Mac and Mildred (Nancy Walker) dance the tango in Cross and Double Cross is a classic scene — and the mysteries are fun though often straining credulity (and the Satanic cult is about as cliched as you could ask for). On to S4!

I never caught the 1984-6 ROBIN OF SHERWOOD when it aired on cable here but since it’s on Britbox, I tried the first season. Michael Praed plays a Saxon whose village was butchered by the Normans; years later, the spirit Herne the Hunter summons him to become a champion of his people. In the two-part first episode, Robin pits himself against a sorcerer with very nasty plans for Marian (Judi Trott) but most episodes pit him against the conniving, cunning sheriff (Nickolas Grace) and the much less intelligent bullying knight Guy of Gisborne (Robert Addie. Praed’s good as Robin and the show has a scruffier, more down to Earth tone than Errol Flynn’s classic swashbuckler. On the downside, I watched it anticipating a sword-and-sorcery fantasy but despite Herne’s presence it’s mostly mundane episodes. However I did like the ending episode with John Rhys Davies’ Richard the Lionheart proving just as flawed a king as John, in contrast to the usual swashbuckler cliche that restoring the rightful king will fix everything.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

Bing Crosby singing White Christmas twice (and other Christmas stuff)

 I might have skipped WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) this year but it filled a morning when I was too busy with dogs to read. A fine piece of Hollywood craftsmanship, this has Broadway superstars Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby falling respectively for sisters Vera Allen and Rosemary Clooney, then staging a production of the guys’ hit Broadway show to save their former general’s Vermont inn from going belly up. Ethan Mordden’s Coming Up Roses makes me realize the kind of plotless musical revue Kaye and Crosby produced was a dinosaur by ’54 but it does give the film maximum freedom to throw in whatever musical numbers make for the most fun. So why fuss when it’s so much fun? “You’re happy for the wrong reason which is the same as being lonely and miserable, only worse.”

Bing Crosby first sang “White Christmas” in 1942’s HOLIDAY INN (1942) after his character loses his woman to Fred Astaire, then retires from the showbiz rat race to open a country inn that only opens holiday weekends. But when Astaire shows up (the woman having dumped him too) and puts moves on Crosby’s leading lady, will romantic history repeat itself?

I’ve often thought how lucky it was that the minstrel-show numbers in White Christmas weren’t in blackface and this movie confirms it: Bing blacks up for his Lincoln’s Birthday number about Honest Abe freeing the slaves and it’s not pleasant to watch at all. The movie, in any case, is much less entertaining, with a weaker supporting cast, weaker female leads and a much weaker plot so I’m not missing much if I never see it again. It is of historical note that while the original lyrics to “White Christmas” set it on “a lovely day/in Beverly Hills LA” (you may have heard them occasionally on some cover versions), when Bing sang it for this film without that opening, Irving Berlin had his publisher strike the opening off the sheet music — it worked better without. “What a girl — always seeking greener pastures and ending up with spinach.”

CHASING CHRISTMAS (2005) once again has Tom Arnold as the target of “the annual Christmas guilt trip,” which leaves stressed out Christmas Past (Leslie Jordan) disrupting the time stream (“If you talk to your past self we could return to a present ruled by giant apes!”), Arnold falling for Christmas Present and Present discovering how easy it is to steal a car in 1965 (“Nobody locked the doors and here’s where everyone kept the spare keys.”). A fun one I’m glad to add to my Christmas perennials list “Were you not listening to the dead fish guy?”

KARROLL’S CHRISTMAS (2004) apparently didn’t click with most viewers as I didn’t turn it up anywhere but YouTube. But I enjoy the story of pissed-off greeting-card writer Karroll getting saddled with even more dour Wallace Shawn’s ghostly Christmas Eve visit (“Couldn’t you pretend to be him? It’d make the paperwork much easier?”) even though it’s pointless for Karroll to go through it — and he certainly doesn’t have any Christmas issues to work out, right? With a black Jacob Marley (“My ancestor spent some time on his family’s Jamaican plantation, mon.”), a Jewish Christmas Present and Vern Troyer as Christmas Yet To Come; Arnold’s ex in Chasing Christmas plays Shawn’s estranged daughter. “He’s suing them on Christmas Eve — wow, I just realized that makes it a Santa suit!”

I haven’t watched THE GREAT SANTA CLAUS SWITCH (1970) since I first saw it and apparently not many people do (it’s another one I only found on YouTube). This Muppet special starts Art Carney as both Santa and the conniving sorcerer Cosmo Scam, who plans to replace Santa Claus, then rob every home in the world on Christmas Eve — but will his monstrous Muppet lackeys go along when they learn about the magic of Christmas? This feels like a dry run for stuff Henson would be doing better later (Cosmo’s familiar is physically the prototype for Gonzo) and Carney’s performance doesn’t match The Night of the Meek, but this did make for a pleasant time filler. “I made a vow to leave this Earth just a little bit worse than I found it.”

Like White Christmas, CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) proved a good choice while I was busy with dogs as I know it so well. Barbara Stanwyck plays the homemaker/columnist who can’t cook, Dennis Morgan kisses married women, Sidney Greenstreet puts words in Stanwyck’s mouth (“I felt like Charlie McCarthy.”) and Una O’Connor and SZ Sakall debate the difference between Irish stew and goulash. Always a pleasure. “You don’t understand Mr,. Yardley — we meant to get married.”

Rewatching NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) confirmed it doesn’t make my personal perennial list (I have friends who adore it though) but the story of the Griswold’s dysfunctional family Christmas with William Hickey and Randy Quaid among the gather relatives is watchable enough to fill time.

Moving on to new stuff — A NOT-SO-MERRY CHRISTMAS (2022) is a Mexican comedy (it’s the first time in years I’ve watched something dubbed that wasn’t anime) in which a man learns his sour attitude towards his family, Christmas, and his family at Christmas has cursed him with amnesia for the other 364 days of the year. Effectively time-jumping from Christmas to Christmas leaves him as bewildered as Adam Sandler in Click until, of course, he learns What Really Matters. A “talking lamp” but one of the better ones I caught this month. “Have you never seen a Christmas movie? I’m not going to spell it all out for you.”

A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY (2022) is another good one, a very Nancy Drew tale as the daughter of a small-town sheriff stubbornly starts investigating when her BFF’s father is arrested for stealing the town’s lucky McGuffin (bells supposedly fallen from Santa’s sleigh!); in the process, she brings together not only her own family but heals a couple of others. Sweet and winning, with even the bad guy’s family getting a sort-of happy ending; Beau Bridges plays the worried mayor. “I’ve learned a lot sitting at the police station doing my homework.”

YOUR CHRISTMAS OR MINE? (2022) is a British rom-com where a young couple pull a Gift of the Magi by crashing each other’s family Christmas, leaving the guy stuck with the girl’s lively, loud family (and the fiancee he didn’t know she had ) while the woman winds up dealing with his icy aristocratic father in a fusty old mansion. This worked better for me than most Christmas romances but suffers from their respective discomfort not balancing out, just as the reveal the female lead is a former street magician pales compared to the guy having abandoned his family’s military-officer tradition. “Let me put it this way, a lot of people would have to croak for me to get the crown.”

THE NOEL DIARY (2022) is also better than average, but not as much to my taste, as a woman hunting her birth mother and a guy grieving his own mother’s death find themselves bonding. “You know that saying, time heals all wounds? It doesn’t.”

I BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS (2022) was. by contrast, a flat rom-com in which a woman who hates Christmas discovers she’s fallen for a Christmas-holic — which wouldn’t be so bad to watch but the plot took so long to get going, I gave up.

As always TYG and I wrapped up the Christmas viewing with A CHRISTMAS STORY (1984) in which Peter Billingsley writes the perfect theme for his teacher, Darren McGavin misses his shot at Christmas turkey, a boy’s tongue sticks to a flag pole and Billingsley worries he really has shot his eye out. I was amused that having ended this on HBO Max last as the credits rolled, the system remembered and started there again (I rewound, of course). Always a delight. “It’s a leg — like on a statue.”#SFWApro. Rights to all images remain with current holders; Witching Hour cover by Nicholas Cardy

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

Is Christmas Eve the night of the meek — or the night the world exploded?

The TWILIGHT ZONE episode The Night of the Meek is a Christmas perennial for me, though the permutations in streaming offerings mean that instead of watching it on Hulu or Netflix I wound up buying the episode on Amazon. Ar Carney plays a drunken department-store Santa (“I either drink or I weep, and drinking is so much more subtle.”) fired on Christmas Eve, returning to his poor, miserable tenement neighborhood … and finding a sack that enables him to give everyone any gift they ask for.Serling was a master at giving tormented losers a happy ending and the show makes the miserable, rundown setting look genuinely miserable, giving the miracle that much more punch. And Carney is a better dramatic actor than I think he usually gets credit for. “Yes I’m drunk — intoxicated with the spirit of Yule!”

Ordering and viewing that episode took longer than expected so I wound up watching THE NIGHT THE WORLD EXPLODED (1957) to fill the time. When a series of disastrous earthquakes rock the world (literally — we’re told the world is tilting on its axis, though little is done with that aspect) a brilliant geologist and his lovesmitten assistant discover it’s due to a mineral that grows and explodes when exposed to air  (“There are 111 known elements — I think we’ve found 112.”), reminding me of the superior Monolith Monsters. Unfortunately this movie is a slow, talky production with lots of disaster stock footage, though running little over one hour forces it move faster than 1965’s talky Crack in the World. “We’re faced with the greatest emergency man has ever known — we don’t have time for red tape.”

The CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS SPECIAL is apparently not a perennial for most people as I couldn’t find it anywhere but YouTube. But I love the dramatization of multiple Christmas carols, the search for the meaning of “wassail” and the fact it’s a Christmas special narrated by two dinosaurs. The ending scene with the California Raisins was meant to cash in on their popularity back when they were a new advertising gimmick; while they’re now otherwise forgotten, they fit perfectly with the rest of the production. “I told you there was a Christmas song about snacks!”

The first time I caught JINGLE JANGLE: A Christmas Story (2020) I didn’t care for it but thought it might have been my mood at the time (I don’t remember whatever was harshing my mellow though). Apparently it was, because I rewatched it and thoroughly enjoyed the story of genius toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whittaker) losing his career, his family and his love of his craft thanks to scheming automaton Ricky Martin; when Jeronicus’ granddaughter comes to visit, can she turn things around? Charming; Phylicia Rashad plays the grandmother narrating the story. “The square root of possible is the summation from one to infinity.”

By contrast UNACCOMPANIED MINORS (2006) fit my mood perfectly — I needed a talking lamp and the story of four kids running wild in a snowbound airport while the PO’d Authority Figure tries taking them down required nothing more than an occasional glance at the screen. And I didn’t give it that many glances, though in fairness, I am not the age to be the target audience.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holders.

1 Comment

Filed under Movies, TV

A Christmas sequel, an X-File and Mr. Magoo: Christmas stuff viewed

I suppose the sequel A CHRISTMAS STORY CHRISTMAS (2020) was inevitable, just as it was inevitable it wouldn’t measure up to the original. Peter Billingsley, the original Ralphie, cowrote the story of how Ralphie in the 1970s is a husband, father and apparently a failed writer (you will never ever guess what story he writes that finally makes him a success); when his father dies right before Christmas, the family has to decamp for Christmas in the Midwest with Mom (Julie Haggerty), giving Ralphie a chance to catch up with the rest of the original cast. Part of why this doesn’t work is that I never felt Ralphie’s dad was the magical Christmas figure he’s retconned into here. “The term ‘breaking and entering’ has always had an unduly sinister tone.”

THE X-FILES: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas has a lonely Mulder drag Scully out on Christmas Eve to investigate a haunted house where the ghosts appear on Dec. 24 and drive the occupants to suicide. Scully’s skeptical (of course), Mulder’s confident this’ll be a cakewalk but the spectres have other plans … with Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner as the ghosts, this sixth-season episode is one of their oddball ones, but more engaging than usual (though Scully comes off even more irrationally rational than usual).  “Mulder, is that a gigantic hound I hear baying on the moor?”

Back to my Christmas perennials — MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL has the nearsighted old geezer playing Scrooge on Broadway in a delightful musical, with heart-tugging moments with young Scrooge, and some really great songs. The most remarkable thing is that at 52 minutes they fit in almost everything of importance, leaving out only Scrooge’s nephew “Guineas and threepence and twopence and bob/Give them away and nobody can rob/You.”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holders.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

It’s the season for some more of those “Christmas Carol things”

As I’ve written before, A Christmas Carol works on multiple levels: a story of regret when Scrooge sees all he’s lost, a man cut off from humanity learning to reconnect, a reminder that business works better when the people in charge aren’t shitty human beings. That’s not to say all screen adaptations work, however.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST (2021) is a name-only rom-com (it would double-bill well with the superior Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) in which a fortuneteller warns a young woman at the office Christmas party that unless she makes it up to all those guys she ghosted on, she will never find true love. This is not a bad principle but as most of the guys she dumped were only at the tentative-online-contact stage of relationships, it doesn’t feel she has that much to atone for (as someone who’s been ghosted that way, it’s frustrating but not that big a deal). “Ghosting is a really strong word with harsh connotations.”

By contrast SCROOGE (1970) is a solid adaptation of Dickens (though my friend Ross is a Christmas Carol buff and can’t get into this one) that boasts the star power of Albert Finney’s covetous, joyless moneylender, Michael Crawford’s Cratchitt, Dame Edith Evans’ Past, Kenneth Moore’s Present and Alec Guinness’ Marley. I don’t normally listen to the overture (taken from the stage show) on the DVD but reading recently about how those became a thing on Broadway in the 1950s (a sign of musicals taking themselves as serious theater), I did (it samples from all the musical highlights). I’d say this shows how Scrooge’s intense emotional swings from isolation to joy fit well with a musical format … but keep reading. “To be visited by a ghost at one o’clock int he morning is hardly conducive to my welfare.”

Netflix remade SCROOGE (2022) for animation this year and it does not improve, or even compare, to its predecessor (most Christmas adaptations can wring tears out of me; this one always missed it). This replaces much of the score and rock concert-izes the numbers that survive, which doesn’t work at all for me; what works even less is giving the arch-miser (underwhelmingly voiced by Luke Evans) a dog — seriously, if Scrooge had a dog he’d be as mean to it as the Grinch is to Max. They do a better job giving Scrooge an origin — Dad lost the family fortune, Scrooge worked through childhood to support them, so he’s obsessed with financial security — but throw in that one of his early foreclosure gigs was on toddler Bob Cratchitt’s family, something that never pays off (other than being the point that Isobel realizes he’s not the mans he wants). Outside of making it clear that Tiny Tim is really ill (most versions don’t do that) this brings zero to the table. “Look friend, there really is no great secret to any of this.”

Speaking of the Grinch, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS gives us Ebenezer’s rival as Christmas grouch, the Boris Karloff-voiced (Thurl Ravenstone provides the singing) recluse who, as we all know, conceives a scheme to deny those annoyingly perky Whos their loudly happy Christmas celebration. Chuck Jones does an amazing job bringing Dr. Seuss’s poem and sketches to animated life, making this a Christmas perennial for me for around half a century now. “And then the true meaning of Christmas shone through/And the Grinch found the strength of ten grinches plus two!”

WKRP IN CINCINNATTI‘s “Bah Humbug” episode isn’t as well known as the infamous turkey drop, probably because it has no one scene or lines as memorable as “The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement.” It is, nevertheless, excellent in its own right as Carlson (Gordon Jump) decides to stiff the station staff on Chrstimas bonuses (he’s going to spend the money on new equipment to impress his mother) but after he eats one of Johnny Fever’s (Howard Hesseman) brownies, he finds himself trapped in one of those “Christmas Carol things” and learns the true meaning of Christmas. A favorite of mine. “We can’t forget that Carlson has Genghis Khan for a mother.”

GHOSTBUSTERS: X-Mas Marks the Spot has the animated version of the team stumble through time, save some old Victorian man from three ghosts on Christmas Eve, then return home to find that Scrooge’s classic book A Christmas Humbug has discredited the Christmas spirit forever. Can they put right what they once put wrong? Well, of course, but it’s fun watching them struggle to do it. “No, Scrooge, don’t touch the magic window!”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV

Movies from Halloween to Christmas

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) has an aging Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) fretting that even with Michael Myers dead and gone, years of dealing with his attacks have warped her hometown of Haddonfield into a paranoid, fearful mess. Case in point, everyone’s convinced that a local guy whose babysitting charge died accidentally, years ago, killed the kid and got off; that leaves him enough of an outcast to bond with Laurie’s granddaughter but also with the ghost (I think) of Michael Myers …

Despite the film’s efforts to show Michael has joined the choir invisible, gone to meet his maker, become an ex-parrot etc., the implication he can possess others leaves them a path to Halloween: A New Beginning if they want to take it. That aside, this is a mixed bag for me. Curtis gives an amazing performance (“Did you really think I’d kill myself?”) but the babysitter’s arc doesn’t quite work. Still, getting me to watch another movie in this franchise (my last was Season of the Witch) is no small accomplishment. “Did Michael Meyers let you live — or did you escape?”

A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS (2018) kicks off my annual deluge of Christmas treacle with a mediocrity in which heiress Bianca’s scheming stepmother using hypnosis to erase the young woman’s memory, thereby ensuring she won’t remember to claim her inheritance before the stepmom gets it. The actors are weirdly self-conscious and mannered, like they couldn’t get into the story, not that I blame them. “It’ll be alright, Bianca — I have a hunter to help me.”

HAUL OUT THE HOLLY (2022) has a recently dumped woman stay in her parents’ home over Christmas while they’re in Florida, only to fall afoul of the homeowners’ association’s Christmas rules which penalize people for not getting Christmassy enough. And which are, of course, enforced by the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Man She’s Ever Met. Talking lamp material. “The first thing you do is think of tigers.”

CHRISTMAS ON REPEAT (2022) was more fun, even though it recycles cliches from all the other Christmas time-loop films I’ve seen, such as the protagonist playing matchmaker for her elderly neighbors. The protagonist hopes that if the time-loop keeps repeating she can meet the demands of both her boss and her family and make everything perfect — but is perfection what she really needs? I’ll give them a point for not having her simply choose family over job, though I’m also reminded of the complaint that showing the conflict as Love Vs. High Powered, High-Paying Job ignores that people often end up working 60 hours a week at very low-powered job. Still, this was pretty fun. “If you were up all night, why are you so perky?”The sixth and penultimate season of YOUNGER was enjoyable but feels a lot like shuffling pieces around the board. Last season Liza’s (Sutton Foster) relationship with Charles (Peter Hermann) firmed up but he wound up stepping away from the publishing company, leaving it in Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) hands. This season has Charles launch his own company before finally returning to Empirical, after which Kelsey leaves, then comes back. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) just wanders around pointlessly now that he and Liza are no longer together. The most interesting element was Charles’ ex freaking out when she learns Liza’s not a twentysomething (losing your husband to a younger woman is one thing but a woman your own age?) and exposes the truth. Overall, it’s probably a good thing there’s only one season left. “Ladies, there are bulging crotches in your face — please focus.”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies, TV