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Christmas movie binging begins!

But before I start the constant flow of Christmas treacle into my brain, I caught a few other items Thanksgiving weekend:

A young couple become something RICH AND STRANGE (1931) when a relative’s gift of money lets them travel around the world, only to find themselves pulled apart en route by everything from seasickness to romantic rivals (a dignified veteran falling for the wife, a golddigging fake princess preying on the husband). This Alfred Hitchcock film has some striking visual moments including the husband’s silent-comedy style evening commute and its frustrations and a moonlight walk across a ship’s desk that focuses entirely on feet and floor. However the film’s story is trite and uninteresting, even though The Hitchcock Romance considers it a masterpiece. “The thing about beautiful women like you is that you don’t want enough.”

I had much more fun with ROADSIDE PROPHETS (1992) whose biker protagonist strikes up a new friendship only to have the guy die minutes later. The biker impulsively pays for the cremation, then sets out to scatter his buddy’s ashes at the place in Nevada he requested — assuming the place is findable. Along the way the protagonist meets the usual array of road-trip oddballs including a hero-worshipping teen, a vagabond stripper, a terminally ill couple, an officiousmotel clerk, John Cusack as a dine-and-dash petty crook (“It’s entrapment — the sign said ‘free buffet’!”) and David Carradine, Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie and Abby Hoffman in cameos. Self-consciously quirky, but a lot of fun. “I didn’t get to be a management trainee by breaking rules!”

And now the Christmas stuff — CHRISTMAS PERFECTION (2018) combines the premise of 2007’s  Snow Globe (the female protagonist is magically transported to the perfect Christmas village) with William Dean Howell’s short story Christmas Every Day, in that the village never stops celebrating Christmas. No surprise, the protagonist is soon sick of perfection and thinking her imperfect male best friend is looking much more attractive. This is too sugary and low-key to work for me, and there’s something unsatisfying in her BFF/love interest (like they carefully calibrated the soft spot between “conventional” and “too oddball to be sexy.”). “This is some kind of reality show where they gaslight the children of divorce with happiness!”

SNOW GLOBE (2007), by contrast, seems to be turning into a Christmas perennial for me. Christina Milian is really likable as the lead, a Brooklyn baker who’d love an old-fashioned Christmas but her Italian/Cuban family are so loud and obnoxious and green lasagna is their traditional Christmas dinner — but then Milian stumbles into a world inside a snow globe where everything Christmas is picture-perfect. Part of why I like this is that where the preceding movie buts the blame on the protagonist (too much of a control freak to tolerate imperfection), Milian has valid reasons for getting fed up with her family, even though they all work it out in the end. Rewatching, I do wonder about how the magic works — the village is literally in the snow globe, but it somehow has an independent existence — but like wondering how Santa’s sleigh gets around the world so fast, it doesn’t stop me enjoying.  “Aren’t you having an existential crisis right now?”

I’ve had the soundtrack of RAGTIME (based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel) on my iPod for a while and love it, so I plunked down the money for TYG and me to catch a local production. It was money well spent as 1906 America deals with Emma Goldman, polar exploration, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini and a Ragtime pianist who retaliates for his true love’s death from a police beating with a wave of terrorism, all set to music. Powerful, though downbeat (reminding me of the book American Movie Musical‘s argument that where musicals traditionally showed music bridging strife in the community, modern productions no longer see the rifts as bridgeable). The production was minimalist in design (you can see the set above, though parts of the show took place on the risers above the audience) and used modern dress but effective nonetheless. My only complaint is the way the script paints Nesbit, a rape victim, as some kind of publicity-seeking adulteress. “When you’re trapped/And destruction seems imminent/Look to Houdini/The ultimate immigrant!”

#SFWApro. All rights to poster and set design (photo is mine) remain with current holders.

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Danes, Detroit and a Lost Girl: multiple media viewed

Franco Zefferelli’s HAMLET (1990) may not age well, given that star Mel Gibson’s image is now “anti-Semitic loonie” instead of “talented actor/director” (it’s telling that the two special features are both Gibson-centric) Which is unfortunate because Gibson does very well as an intense Hamlet fuming over Gertrude (Glenn Close) marrying Claudius (Alan Bates) so soon after her husband’s death; said rage, of course, turns murderous after the Big Reveal from ghostly Paul Scofield. Watching so soon after the Derek Jacobi version, I can see where the cuts are (Fortinbras, and Hamlet’s advice to the players). What really stands out are the women’s role: Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia is much livelier and more active than most that I’ve seen (and Gibsons deliver “get thee to a nunnery” less as an insult and more as “girl, get somewhere out of the line of fire while you can.”). And Close’s Gertrude is a wonder, clearly excited about her new husband, but just as loving to her son; there’s a great bit early on when Claudius is telling Hamlet to stop being so mopey and Gertrude is wordlessly trying to reconcile her two men. Worth seeing if you’re okay with seeing Gibson; Ian Holm plays a windbag Polonius. “I show you how a king may progress through the guts of a beggar.”

Playmakers’ follow-up to the Robin Hood play Sherwood was the much darker SKELETON CREW (by Dominique Morisseau, who recently received a McArthur genius grant). This one is set in 2008 in the break room of a dying Detroit auto plant as a fiftysomething lesbian, her surrogate son/supervisor, a single expectant mother and borderline gangsta all contemplate how to deal with a looming plant closing. The first contemporary drama I’ve seen on stage in a long time, this was well done though a lower key, less downbeat ending than I expected. But that fits well about the themes of struggling to stay afloat and pondering what “afloat” really means. “There’s no way to fight without jumping on the goddamn grenade.”

The final season of LOST GIRL was an improvement over S4, but that’s not saying much. This time the Big Bad is the Olympians (“The most powerful fae of all time.”), particularly Bo’s father Hades (Eric Roberts), who it turns out has big plans for her, and not pleasant ones. Lacking Kenzi most of the season really hurt, and the Tamsyn/Bo/Lauren triangle didn’t work at all. However they did pull off a first-rate season ender — the showrunners definitely knew ahead of time this was their last hurrah (Dragoncon’s Lost Girl panel said they had a different showrunner for every season, which explains a lot). “Great, I’m going to die next to a girl wearing gingham.”

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

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