Category Archives: Movies

London: ground zero for the apocalypse! Movies viewed

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) was the third film adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s TV scientist Quatermass; happily where the first two films starred a very miscast Brian Donlevy as the tart-tongued, crotchety rocket expert, this cast Andrew Keir, a much better choice. Just as Quatermass is feuding with the Army officer (Julian Glover) appointed to militarize space research, they’re both distracted by a strange unexploded bomb found in the London Underground. Only it turns out to be a rocket, and the long-dead occupants weren’t human … and they wield a power that may not be dead yet. This is a first-rate film, though with a couple of flaws (yes, Quatermass is brilliant, but I can’t see how he figures out so much about Martian society); the cast includes James Donald as another scientist and Barbara Shelley as his assistant. Originally released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth. “So that’s your big theory — that we owe our human condition to the intervention of insects?”

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961) has burned-out, divorced reporter Edward Judd trying to get the government to explain why the weather has been so freaky lately. As the government becomes more and more cagey while the weather gets freakier and freakier, he begins to suspect something big’s going on, and starts returning to life — but surely science reporter Leo McKern can’t be right that twin nuclear blasts have disrupted the Earth’s rotation … can he? This is a first-rate newspaper movie (as I’ve mentioned before they manage to get the perfect balance of SF and real world elements) which might double-bill well with All the President’s Men for another pair of reporters cracking government secrets. However Judd’s pursuit of government office girl Janet Munro is really pushy by today’s standards. “What is the nutation of the Earth?”

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) is the new Coen Brothers film (direct to Netflix which says a lot about streaming’s clout), a Western anthology film in which a singing cowboy meets a rival, a hanged man learns he doesn’t get a do-over and stagecoach passengers debate ethics. Unfortunately this felt like A Serious Man in that the point is mostly “life is shit and then you die” (and without the absurd humor that infects the similarly pessimistic Burn After Reading) which isn’t that good a point. In the singing cowboy yarn, for instance, it shows him effortlessly defeating every foe (while singing) until he goes up against a gunfighter who kills him. That’s pretty feeble. “I challenge your credentials, madam, for assessing human worth.”

THE NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS (1935) is based on one of Thorne Smith’s novels (he’s best known now as the author of Topper) in which an eccentric scientist uses a stone-to-flesh (and vice versa) ray to animate statues of the Olympians and introduce them to modern life. This movie version stars Alan Mowbray as the inventor but devotes most of its screen time to his obnoxious screwball family rather than the Olympians running wild — and that’s just a hallucination (unusually the film telegraphs this in advance instead of revealing it later). Amusing enough though. “But I came here to be alone — that’s what being a fugitive means!”

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Women in dance, in New York and in peril: this week’s movies

Due to a slightly crazy last weekend, everything I watched was what TYG was viewing while doing some non-demanding work:

FLASHDANCE (1983) stars Jennifer Beals as a hard-hat/dancer who dreams of crashing the ballet, but hasn’t yet found the courage to audition of even take classes; can sexy boss-man Michael Nouri give her a dose of badly-needed confidence? This didn’t work for me first-run and hasn’t improved, mostly because Beals, while pretty, has no screen presence, can’t act and can’t dance — seriously, why not just hire a dancer? This would make a logical double bill with Coyote Ugly for Piper Perabo’s similar struggling dreamer, but that movie was more fun and Perabo’s a better actor.  “You loved her once, didn’t you?”

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) adapts Truman Capote’s novella to give us Audrey Hepburn as free-spirited but shallow Holly Golightly, with George Peppard as the novelist come gigolo (he’s being kept by Patricia Neal) who falls hard for her but can’t seem to catch the elfin adventuress. This has a good cast including Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam and John McGiver but for some reason it’s never worked for me, neither as a light-hearted rom-com or the dramedy some of its fans argue it is. And of course, Mickey Rooney is painful to watch as a yellowface comic-relief Japanese neighbor (about on a level with Sixteen Candles for cringeable racism). “I’m not his wife, he just thinks I am.”

THE BIRD BOX (2018) has Sandra Bullock and two small children boating down a river blindfolded, then flashes back to explain they’re among the survivors of an apocalypse brought on by an unseen horror that either kills those who see it or turns them into fanatical acolytes (“You must look!”). Not a horror classic (and I’m told it’s a knockoff of an earlier film, The Quiet Place), but I thought it was good. John Malkovich plays a ruthless survivor. “It taught me there are two kinds of people — assholes and the dead.”

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Two franchises, only one success: this week’s movies

Who would have thought AQUAMAN (2018) would have been the DCEU’s big hit? Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry, “the aqua-man,” as a blue collar guy who’s willing to use his powers to help people but has a chip on his shoulder about Atlantis, due to them kidnapping his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) back to the city in his childhood. Now, though, the princess Mera (Amber Heard) tells Arthur that his half-brother Orm intends to unite the undersea kingdoms and wage war on the surface, unless Arthur can claim the throne himself.

Visually this is gorgeous; I don’t think I’ve ever seen DC or Marvel show such a vibrant, memorable Atlantis (TYG was displeased with the visuals; i.e., we didn’t see as much of Momoa with his shirt off as the trailer suggested). Although the story is, as I mentioned Wednesday, as much Sub-Mariner as Aquaman, and I’ve always preferred Orm as a human half-brother (Peter David retconned him to Atlantean years ago), it’s still a good yarn, entertainingly brought to life. And I really love Atlanna; they’ve done more with Aquaman’s mom here than the comics have done ever. “A king protects his people — a hero protects everyone.”

JOHN CARTER (2012) was Disney’s big-screen adaptation of Burroughs’ sword-and-planet hero, and a massive box-office bomb. The failure may be why I didn’t get around to seeing it until now, but it’s actually fantastic. Taylor Kitsch plays ex-Confederate officer Carter (while they downplay this aspect, I wonder if they’ll keep it at all whenever someone adapts this again, rather than make him, say, an abolitionist or something), transported by a strange amulet to Mars, or as the inhabitants know it, Barsoom.

There he falls in with the six-limbed, green-skinned Tharks and makes his first friends, Tars Tarkas (voice of Willem Dafoe) and his daughter Sola (Samantha Morton). Meanwhile, Princess Dejah Thoris of Helium (Lynn Collins) flees an arranged marriage only to fall into Thark hands and meet John. Can they join forces to defeat the cruel prince who plans to marry and murder her and the sinister alien Therns backing him (rather than Burroughs’ corrupt priesthood, they’re some kind of alien world-wreckers).

Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars is a very loosely plotted, heavy-on-exposition novel but the creators did a marvelous job adapting it and giving it more shape. They keep way more of it than I expected, such as the set-up in which a bemused Edgar Rice Burroughs learns he’s inherited his Uncle John’s estate, with some curious codicils (like a tomb that can only be opened from inside). The changes they do make are good ones, such as Dejah Thoris (who gets little to do in the original other than be brave in the face of death) being presented as both a skilled scientist and a capable fighter (one of the speakers on the DVD track describes her as the woman he’d want to marry as an adult rather than the woman he fell in love with reading as a kid).

And like Aquaman it’s visually fantastic. Everything looks right, from the Tharks to the elegant, feathery Barsoomian fliers to Woola, John’s giant, sort of reptilian dog.

Nevertheless, this was a complete flop, killing plans to follow up with Gods of Mars and Warlord of Mars. Was it, as my friend Ross ponders, that to anyone who doesn’t know the books, this looks like an imitation of countless later stories instead of the source that inspired them? Was it bad marketing — John Carter, as a title, hardly speaks of SF and swashbuckling adventure. Either way it’s a shame this turned out to be a one-shot and not a series. “A princess of Mars? How about that.”

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Behold Prince Namor, the Sub-Aquaman! Or Is It Arthur, the Aqua-Mariner?

I really enjoyed Aquaman, which TYG and I saw this weekend (I’ll get the review this weekend). But as a Silver Age kid, it struck me as being as much Marvel’s Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner as it was DC’s Aquaman.

In the Silver Age, Aquaman and Prince Namor had a lot in common. Both started out as solo acts (well, Aquaman did have Aqualad) who despite being human/Atlantean eventually became rulers of their respective Atlantises. At the same time, they were very different in style and tone. Aquaman was a straight superhero who happened to be a king. While he fought off threats to Atlantis in several stories, he battled plenty of surface-based villains: O.G.R.E. (Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement), Ocean Master, Black Manta, the Fisherman, the Awesome Threesome, the Huntress, and the dimension-shifting city of Necrus.

Prince Namor, on the other hand, started as a noble villain and worked his way up to anti-hero. In the early issues of Fantastic Four he battled the team in revenge for his (supposedly) destroyed undersea race (who weren’t identified as Atlanteans until well after Aquaman had become an Atlantean) and to win the Invisible Girl as his wife. After he got his own series, he hovered around the anti-hero level, always ready to beat up surface men, but also dedicated to ruling Atlantis well and protecting it.

The kind of political intrigue in the Aquaman movie is much closer to Namor’s style than Aquaman’s. Heck the whole plotline of Arthur searching for the trident of Atlan to prove his right to the throne resembles a Silver Age arc in which Namor had to find Neptune’s trident to prove his right to the throne. Namor constantly had to fight off rivals such as Krang, Attuma and Byrrah; Aquaman’s rule was rarely challenged (I’ve been reading a TPB of Silver Age Namor, which I’ll be reviewing eventually).

Since then, Namor’s often been away from Atlantis, getting exiled or outcast on a semi-regular basis. DC has developed their Atlantis a lot more, with a great many more internal struggles and a lot more hostility to the surface. So it’s not as if the movie’s Atlantean elements were just whipped up when they started on the script.

But like I said, it’s noticeable how much the two fish-men have converged.

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Bad guys redeemed by the spirit of Christmas!

Although forger Humphrey Bogart insists that WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955), he, safecracker Peter Ustinov and rape-murderer Aldo Ray miraculously help shopkeeper Leo G. Carroll, spouse Joan Bennett and daughter Gloria Talbot have a very merry Christmas despite the malevolent presence of covetous relative Basil Rathbone. A charmer, except for the unpleasant running gag of Ray barely restraining his desire to rape Talbot. Tokyo Godfathers might make a good double bill. “If crime showed in a man’s face, there wouldn’t be any mirrors.”

THE CHRISTMAS SWITCH (2014) has street hustler Brian Krause accepting a million dollars from a mysterious spirit (“Call me Nick.”) to trade bodies with Natasha Henstridge’s dying father so the old guy can play department-store Santa one last time. Krause sees this as a chance to pull one really big score, but spoiler, he gets redeemed by the power of love! So-so, but still better than most of the new Christmas films I’ve caught this year. “And best of all, Santa has access to every child’s email address!”

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) stars Alastair Sim as the perfect Ebenezer Scrooge, cold and arrogant at first yet cracking almost immediately when confronted with what a waste his life has been. But like most people, he doesn’t want to change, even for the better, and so he resists to the bitter end … A great film with a stable of veteran British character actors, including Patrick Macnee as young Marley. “Christmas has a habit of keeping men from doing business.”

Annoyingly, MR. SCROOGE WILL SEE YOU NOW(2013) would have qualified for inclusion in Now and Then We Time Travel but I missed it. The film itself shows flashes of potential but doesn’t do anything with them: a year after the original novel, Marley propels Scrooge into the 21st century where Timothy Cratchitt VI is about to foreclose on “Belle Dickinson’s” diner, sneering at her for prioritizing helping the poor over profits. Can Scrooge turn Tiny Tim’s descendant around? Uninspired, but it’s nice to see a Christian film that puts such emphasis on caring for the needy and giving the beggar your coat rather than the right-wing issues prioritized in Time Changer. A last minute plot twist makes me suggest Sayles’ Lone Star as a double bill. “Here’s my plan: you distract him, I put two scoops of rat poison in his coffee.”

HOLIDAY CALENDAR (2018) is a slightly more magical version of Christmas Calendar in that the antique advent calendar Kat Graham (Bonnie on Vampire Diaries) acquires has actual future-predicting power, but as it doesn’t affect the story any, who cares? Graham is a twentysomething photographer struggling with the usual dead-end job and dead-end love life before her lifelong male bestie turns things around on both fronts. I do wonder if we won’t see a horror version of this gimmick soon (“The calendar shows snow — one of us will freeze to death today!”). “You smell of Cheetos and despair.”

SZ Sakall, Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Una O’Connor and Sidney Greenstreet wind up spending CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) as a result of one nurse’s Hail Mary play to get war hero Dennis Morgan to propose. Along with its skating-on-the-edge-of-adultery aspect, the film is more relaxed about gender roles than I’d expect: Stanwyck’s complete lack of domestic talent isn’t treated anywhere near as harshly as Katherine Hepburn’s in Woman of the Year and Morgan is actually better with babies than she is. “John, when you kiss me, would you please not talk about plumbing.”

As usual we marked Christmas Day with A CHRISTMAS STORY (1984) in which Ralphie’s dreams of a Red Ryder BB gun run afoul of mom Melinda Dillon, a strict teacher and even Santa before the happy ending. Always a pleasure. “There was only one thing that could lure me away from the glow of electric sex.”

As TYG bought me THE GIRL ON THE BRIDGE (1999) for Christmas, I figured I’d watch it while she took a nap. This is an extremely quirky French drama cum rom-com in which suicidal Vanessa Paradis (“I never pick the lucky number.”) meets knife-thrower Daniel Auteuil, who convinces her as she has nothing to lose, she might as well work as his new target (“At my age, I’m not what I used to be.”). This proves to be a smarter move than either character anticipated, as together they turn out to be each others’ good-luck charm. This never quite goes where I expected, and it was definitely worth following the journey. “Focus on that sugar as if your life depended on it.”

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Enter: the Legion of Scrooges!

Continuing my immersion in Christmas movies and TV shows, with a particular emphasis on Dickens:

SHOWER OF STARS was a 1950s TV anthology show, and Amazon Prime streams their 1954 adaptation of A Christmas Carol with Fredric March as Scrooge. While March at his best is a terrific actor, he comes off more like a slightly grumpy relative than Dickens’ bitter miser; a bigger problem is that there’s a lot of time devoted to singing and while the voices are good, the songs are forgettable. It also annoys me that like Scrooged, the horror of Christmas Future is simply “you’re going to be dead!” Yeah, who isn’t?  “Days shall come and days shall go/but this is the day of mistletoe!”

THE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST is a commercial my friend Ross taped for me, in which the title spirit confronts a bad gift-giver with reminders of every rotten gift he ever gave (“Motor oil on a rope — for your mother!”). The solution? Shop at Meijer (a department store, I assume).

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2015) got my attention because it was Starring Colin Baker, but it turns out that means he introduces and occasionally narrates this bland direct-to-video version (about the level of a so-so community theater production) as Charles Dickens, rather than playing Scrooge. Nothing about it stands out. “This story could happen anywhere — even here!”

GEORGE BURNS COMEDY WEEK was an anthology show with Burns providing the introduction (“Dickens published A Christmas Carol in 1943 — I was 17.”) to Christmas Carol II: The Sequel, in which James Whitmore as Scrooge is so compulsively generous (“That’s the largest tip we’ve ever gotten — and you don’t even eat here!”) the Cratchitts (Roddy McDowell and Samantha Eggar) are slowly going corrupt because it’s so easy to suck money out of Ebenezer. Can the three spirits provide a course correction? A good one to revisit, with Ed Begley Jr. as Tiny Tim. “You will no longer refer to me as Tiny Tim — I wish to be known as Tiny Timothy!”

The classic WKRP IN CINCINNATI episode Bah, Humbug! has the station’s manager Carlson skimping on Christmas bonuses so he can impress the owner with his cost-cutting; after eating one possibly mind-altering brownie he finds himself trapped “in one of those Christmas Carol things” as he looks back at the early years, his current disgruntled staff and the bleak fate awaiting them all …Only it’s all done with real humor and warmth that makes it a pleasure to rewatch (the sitcom remains a classic). “Kids, grandmothers, that’s all very nice — but I’m in it for the bread.”

Moving away from Dickens, BEYOND TOMORROW (1940) has lonely oldsters C. Aubrey Smith, Harry Carey and Charles Winninger befriend two young people on Christmas (hence the more marketable title Beyond Christmas); the kids fall in love but when girl loses boy, will the now deceased seniors’ ghosts be able to turn things around? Mostly shows sappy schmaltz about the season predates Hallmark Channel’s holiday rom-coms, and I could have done without Smith’s embrace of the white man’s burden (“What was Australia before England redeemed it from the Aborigines?”). “And now do you believe in the immortal spirit of man?”

THE CHRISTMAS CALENDAR (2017) has a small-town baker fighting a losing battle against the Big Box Grocery’s new bakery when an advent calendar dropped off by a secret admirer makes her store a media sensation. Forgettable.

HOOVES OF FIRE is a claymation special in which Rudolph’s son Robbie arrives at the North Pole to follow in Dad’s footsteps, only to find a vindictive Blitzen (why should Rudolph be famous for one ride when Blitzen’s been leading the sleigh for years?) out to destroy his career. The kind of thing it’s fun to catch every few years, but not a perennial. “I looked him up in the phone book under ‘Wise Old Mentors Who Can Save The Day.”

CLAYMATION CHRISTMAS CAROL is the delightfully inventive special in which two dinosaurs introduce animated versions of “Carol of the Bells,” “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while trying to figure out what “wassail” is. I’d have given this a pass this year, but it was right after WKRP on my off-air tape so I couldn’t resist. “There are no Christmas songs about snacks!”

As TYG watched COYOTE UGLY (2000) I wound up following along and enjoying it more than I expected. Piper Perabo plays an aspiring singer who while waiting for her big break winds up paying the bills by working at Maria Bello’s eponymous bar; too bad strutting her stuff on top of the bar freaks father John Goodman out, not to mention interfering with her efforts to find either an audition or true love. Nothing deathless, but watchable. “Stage fright DNA? That’s right, I saw that on E/R last week.”

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Skating along the edge of victory

So this week the only thing I worked on was Southern Discomfort. Well except, Thursday, when I was exhausted and spent the day working on my insanely ambitious goals for next year (I’ll get to that in a future post).

I wrapped up last week with slightly over 50,000 words. I’m finishing this week with slightly under 70,000. Given I have five work days left before 2018 ends, it’s possible I can finish, but I’m not quite as confident as I was last week. Especially as I’ll be working around other holiday distractions. But it’s conceivable I can make it.

I’d be better off, obviously, if I’d spent yesterday working on the book too, but cumulative insomnia finally left me worn out. Last night I took an Ambien, this weekend I should get some solid sleep in (I usually do when I don’t have to work the next day), so fingers crossed. If worst comes to worst, I can wrap it up first week of January without disrupting my other writing plans too much.

While I’ve had a lot of tidying up and cleaning up to do — making sure the reactions and conversations flow logically from moment to moment — I haven’t run into any major plot problems since last week. That’s good; hopefully it’ll stay that way as I work through the rest.

Wish me luck.

Oh, and I’ve had a couple of Christmas-themed posts up at Atomic Junkshop. One on the way Christmas sucks movies to it and one about A Christmas Carol as a story of loneliness

And the Science Fiction Research Association Review gave a great review of Now and Then We Time Travel (“Sherman has put in lots of hard work and produced a very useful reference that is fun to sample—open it to page 125 to find Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971 stop motion television special with the voices of Vincent Price and Danny Kaye) followed by Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). There are many similar delights of juxtaposition.”)

While I hope that leads to a few more sales, getting such a good review is a delight in itself.

And here’s a photo I’ve been meaning to post for a while. I batted a pillow at Plush dog but instead of chewing it as he usually does, he simply stared at me. And looked adorable doing it.

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Greedo, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and flawed heroes

Articles about how to write flawed or antiheroic characters usually focus on how to make them acceptable to readers: pit them against worse antagonists, show them transgressing arbitrary rules or challenging an oppressive status quo (I have some added suggestions). But I think it’s also sometimes difficult for us as writers to find them acceptable.

The classic example of this is Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope if you insist). Early in the film (as you probably all know), a bounty hunter named Greedo confronts Han Solo with an eye to collecting the bounty on him. Han draws a gun under the table and shoots Greedo, killing him. It’s not a gunfight; Greedo wasn’t attempting to kill him (though it’s obvious he was ready to) so Han shooting first isn’t self-defense as we usually define it. It shows he’s not a classic hero like Flash Gordon, who’d never have stooped to a dirty trick like that.

Later, though, George Lucas decided that he just couldn’t have one of his heroes do that, and edited the later editions so Greedo shot first. And claimed, falsely, that he’d always planned it that way. Apparently he got retroactive cold feet.

Steve Ditko was similarly uncomfortable with Spider-Man being a fallible regular guy. It was fine to have Spider-Man screw-up and struggle with doing the right thing when he was a high-schooler, but after that? Ditko wanted someone who’d fight for the right without question or pause, and wouldn’t get the wrong end of the lollipop time after time. Ditko was a devout objectivist; while apparently his concept of objectivism stretched to allow for Peter acting unselfishly, but (I gather) he wanted him to be more like the confident super-achievers of Rand’s novels.

Me, I think Greedo shot first. And Stan Lee’s take on Spidey was the right one. Even so, I suspect lots of writers, myself included, grapple with the same kind of questions as Ditko and Lucas. It’s not just about what will sell but what we’re comfortable writing. There’s a whole bunch of slurs I’m not comfortable using, even if it’s appropriate for the character speaking and for the era and situation (I have used them sometimes, but it’s an effort). When I reprinted The Sword of Darcy in Atlas Shagged I rewrote it to have Robert E. Howard Darcy a little less aggressive in the scenes with Elizabeth Bennett. Yeah, he’s Conan with the serial numbers filed off, but him grabbing her in one scene left me feeling like things were a little too non-consensual (I think rewriting got the balance right). I did the same for some of the sex scenes in Dark Satanic Mills.

What Ditko and Lucas was grappling with was more a sense of what a hero should be. Is it okay to fight dirty if you’re on the right side? To put your family first? To take a day off? To enjoy the adulation as much as the good you do? And what are the acceptable flaws? Overconfidence or arrogance work better than, say, writing a repentant racist.

This one of those questions where the right answer depends on who’s writing the story.

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Rogue Christmas spirits, forgettable Christmas films and more!

KARROLL’S CHRISTMAS (2004) is a fun Christmas Carol riff; Alex Karroll is a disgruntled greeting-card writer who hates Christmas ever since his ex-girlfriend shot down his proposal (in public, no less), only half aware of how badly he’s slipping into bitter depression despite having a new and better girlfriend. When Bob Marley’s ghost shows up (it seems Jacob spent some time in Jamaica as a young man; Bob’s a descendant), it turns out they’ve mistaken Karroll for his even meaner neighbor, Wallace Shawn, so he finds himself dragged into Shawn’s past life instead of his own. Of course the spirit of goodwill wins out, but not before some fun; in its own way as subversive of the conventions as Scrooged. “Your use of the word ‘lunatic’ is very offensive to me and to, well, lunatics.”

Having watched CHASING CHRISTMAS (2004) for Now and Then We Time Travel, I knew it would make a good double bill for the first film; Jack (Tom Arnold) is the Christmas hater this time, due to catching his wife cheating on him during their daughter’s Christmas pageant; unfortunately after Christmas Past (Leslie Jordan) drags Jack back into his childhood, Past snaps, feeling centuries of guilt-tripping people has been completely futile, and strands Arnold in 1965. And if Jack can’t get back to the present before Christmas Day, he’ won’t exist any longer … A fun one, as I thought the first time I watched it.  “I am not some mean old man — I hate Christmas for a reason and no amount of memory is ever going to change that.”

I also caught EVE’S CHRISTMAS (2004) for the book, but I had no memory of that when I decided to stream it. Nor did the first thirty minutes jog my memory as unlucky-in-love Eve gets transported back to right before the wedding to her hometown sweetheart that never happened when she left for a Big Apple job (leaving your home town and not marrying your childhood sweetheart are terrible, terrible, terrible mistake in rom-coms like this). Once I realized I’d seen it, I stopped (trust me, I wasn’t missing anything).

I can’t say THE SANTA CHRONICLES (2018) did any better for me. This made-for-Netflix programmer has two kids attempt to catch Santa result in Mr. Claus losing the hat that gives him his magic powers. Can kids and Santa recover the hat in time to save Christmas? Despite Kurt Russell as a somewhat grump Father Christmas (constantly annoyed that no matter how much he works out, people expect him to be plus-size), this wasn’t worth finishing either.

While I’d planned to rewatch 12 Dates of Christmas it appears I gave that one away with many of the other time-travel DVDs. So instead I went with the old reliable WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) in which entertainers Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby put on a show to save their former CO’s Vermont Inn, and possibly snag dancers Vera Allen and Rosemary Clooney for themselves. As familiar as an old shoe by now, but there’s no denying the charm of the performances (particularly Kaye and Vera Allen in “Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”) and the gorgeous Technicolor look. I also found myself thinking of ways it could have gone horribly wrong, like if they’d done the minstrel-show number in actual blackface. “‘Wow’ is somewhere between ‘ouch’ and ‘boing!’”

Another perennial is TWILIGHT ZONE: The Night of the Meek with Art Carney as a burned-out, drunken department-store Santa who gets to play the role for real when he finds a bag that allows him to give everyone the present of their dreams (hmm, where do you suppose it came from? Why, that’s right!). Rewatching, I was struck by the episode’s generosity of spirit; the officious department store-owner is precisely the kind of character who usually gets coal in his stocking in some fashion, but here even he gets a merry Christmas. “Just once, I’d like to see the meek inherit the Earth.”

MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1962) stars the short-sighted cartoon character voiced by Jim Backus as a Broadway star, here performing in an musical adaptation of Dickens. This squeezes in a substantial amount of plot for under an hour, though dropping some details such as Scrooge’s family. Well done, with good songs, though I’m curious what millennials would make of the stylized, simplified style of animation UPA uses here (it was considered quite groundbreaking back in the day). “A hand for each hand was the way it was planned/Why won’t my fingers reach?/A million grains of sand in the world/Why such a lonely beach?”

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Let us sample some Christmas treacle

As anyone who’s been reading this blog for more than a year knows, I love immersing myself in Christmas movies. I spent about a decade of Christmas mornings alone before moving up here (family scattered all over the map) so I compensated by watching a mix of old classics and new TV movies until I was stuffed with Christmas cheer. Normally I’d have started right after Thanksgiving but with the weeklong stretch before December, it didn’t feel quite right.

As a result I caught FAME (1980), in which aspiring musicians, actors and dancers struggle to graduate from a performing arts school while also coping with family, teen angst, career struggles, insecurity and love.While I enjoyed the TV-series spinoff, I’d never seen the movie before; pleasant enough, and I absolutely loved one twist when a rejected dancer appears to be contemplating suicide. “Who cares if it wasn’t ready? They liked it!”

Next comes some new-to-me Christmas stuff, but even by my low standards it was disappointing. A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS (2017), for instance, plays like a TV spinoff special jacked up to a feature film. Original Bad Moms Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis struggle to stay afloat under the demands of being a Mom At Christmas, an effort made worse by their various mothers (wild child Susan Sarandon, overbearing diva Christine Baranski and insufferably perky Cheryl Hines) all showing up for a long stay. Despite some amusing moments (Hahn as the raunchiest mom has a lot of those), the themes about Christmas have been done before, and better.  “You should never have to watch your mom lick your boyfriend’s nipples!”

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS (2013) is sufficiently Christian that I was surprised the Wise Handyman who helps everyone out didn’t turn out to be Jesus.  Eric Roberts and Vivica A. Fox are the parents watching their kids cope with drugs, sex and petty theft before discovering Jesus and Christmas Pageants Are the Answer. Forgettable. “You’re going to write the script. We need seventeen speaking parts.”

I fear my iPad is finally expiring, which may be why CHRISTMAS CRUSH (2012) kept crashing when I streamed it. Fortunately a movie abouta twenty-something returning home for her high school reunion where she’s surrounded by her far more successful old friends, gets a shot at reuniting with her high school crush and fails to notice her male bestie still has eyes only for her probably isn’t going to surprise me any. Not that I require rom-coms surprise me (as I’ve said before, love is a cliché) but it didn’t interest me much either.

I think I may stick with the tried and true for the rest of the month. Because even fluff like 12 Dates of Christmas is better than that troika of treacle above.

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