Monday, December 19, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

2011, Tomas Alfredson

More than, I think, any other genre, I'm fascinated by espionage stories.  Not playboy spy stories, which is what the Bond films have largely pushed the public perception of the genre into (though I like those too), I'm talking about stories of secret agencies (largely British ones) and the people that work for them, the intricate inner workings of these organizations and the political landscape that surrounds them, set against the backdrop of the Cold War and the heated paranoia it led to.

Beyond simply an awareness of its existence I have no familiarity of the 70's BBC mini-series (starring Sir Alec Guinness) spawned from John le Carré's novel, but during the first half of Tomas Alfredson's cooly adapted big screen version of the story I longed for the decompression that I know a BBC production would provide.  That's not to imply anything negative about Alfredson's deliberately-paced, and highly intuitive picture,   except to say that the material could use a bit more time to breathe and allow the many players involved a bit more time to gel with an audience.

As it is, the director of "Let The Right One In" affirms his assured directorial hand by providing another film that rewards the audience's intelligence rather than insulting it.  For much of the film, as with his last effort, Alfredson trusts his actors to, well, act, rather than exposit.  The script from Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan uses language in a natural manner, characters having conversations with each other rather than explaining things to the audience.  As such, attention must be paid to both the words, finding subtext within, as well as looks, glances, reactions, and lack thereof.

Set firmly in the early 1970's, the film stars Gary Oldman, always a most understated leading man, perfectly cast as George Smiley, a disgraced veteran agent forced into retirement after an operation gone wrong, but secretly called upon once again to investigate the claims of a mole in the bureau from an active agent  returning after a long, mysterious absence.

The film has numerous flashbacks woven into the process, all relevant to the task Smiley has been charged with, but also, in many respects, relevant to the profile of his own character with such subtlety that it can easily be lost amidst all the chill.  The production team recreate the early 70's aesthetic beautifully, the visual impact of "high-tech" 70's spy organizational procedures, providing its own curious allure.  Along with the details, Anderson's frosty lens breathes life back into the Cold War.

The cast is rounded out by a veritable "who's who" (or "who's that") of UK actors, including Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke and Tom Hardy, each bringing something decidedly unique to the proceedings.

The film is a complex array of characters, names, details, actions and reactions, thus immersion is a must.  This isn't passive viewing, but it's told smartly enough that even if you can't process all the details as they're introduced, you eventually come to see how all the pieces fit.  It's a success in storytelling, but easily perceived as a flaw to a modern audience not used to being challenged.

Ultimately the only real flaw of the film stems from the nature of its story, which revolves so intently around deducing the identity of the mole that once revealed it potentially depreciates the film's rewatchability (and yet, my desire to view the BBC series now is pretty high, so perhaps not).

Friday, December 9, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Rare Exports

2010, Jalmari Helander

So, you have seen these Rare Exports video shorts, right?  This one and this one?  If not, give a few moments for them and then be tremendously amused that they gave the idea a feature film.  Yep, the hunting down and capture of a "father christmas" was made into a full length movie.  And if this doesn't qualify for being an Xmas movie, I don't know what does.

So, the premise of the movie is that some Evil Americans are digging in a very unnatural mountain in northern Lapland, seeking something ancient buried below.  I am pretty sure the mountain is a very real one but it does look incredibly manmade.  What they end up releasing is the source of modern Santa Claus, or at least the hundred or so, thousands of years old, naked old men that are purported to assist Old Saint Nick. Our group of heroes, seasonal reindeer hunters, realize the danger of these creatures, as well as the incredible danger of their 20' leader, and make to capture them all; and to make a profit from it.

You know about Crampus, right?  Google it.  When I was a kid, we had a few stories of Black Peter, Santa's European helper who captured kids in his sooty old sack and punished them.  I was from a coal mining town so that mineral wasn't really a punishment, was it? Anywayz, apparently Crampus is the source of him, a nasty looking GWAR (again, google it) like monster that not only punishes kids but eats them. They actually have Crampus parades, like we have Santa Claus parades, only not as many crappy floats.  So, in the movie, I am pretty sure the nasty 20' creature frozen in the ice is an original Crampus.  Unfortunately, we never really see it get fully released before the Laplander reindeer hunters blow it to bits.  Still, given my love of origin stories and mythos, even twisted, creepy versions, this movie was a heck of a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

Pure Henson magic.  I have always been fond of detailed environments for small talking animals.  The Richard Scary books were some of my favourite as a toddler and when I first saw the commercials for this special coming out, I was enthralled, despite probably being far too old to be of the age market for it.  I  think.

This was one of Henson team's few attempts at doing full puppets instead of focusing on our favs, the muppets, with marionette and bunraku style being used along with the traditional hand puppet.  i would have thought, after all these years, the magic would be taken away as I could see the strings. Nope, I was just as enthralled and wrapped up in the story. As well, these were some of Paul William's best songs for a Henson production making me giggle and listen intently.

As a Christmas story, it just works so well following the Gift of the Magi (O. Henry) story as the crux of the tale of selflessness giving.  But really it is the characters and the songs that make the show.  It really warms your heart to watch such nice little creatures doing their best for each other.  Yeah, I am a softy despite all my grumpiness and this one just did it for me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Eureka and Warehouse 13

Nothing like the two shows you watch, which are on hiatus, each having an Xmas special !  I think the idea was stolen from Doctor Who which has an Xmas special every year since 2005, despite the wonkiness of British scheduling.  And with American shows adopting the same wonkiness (Community anyone?!?!) I think they are more than making up for it with an Xmas special.

Eureka calls this one the first episode of the final season, season 5.  Some of the gang have gone into space, on their way to Mars, while the rest are left in Eureka in the same altered timeline with which we started season 4.  Now, to start we have the night before Xmas and Jack wants it to snow.  Wait, isn't this Oregon?  I thought it snows everywhere in Oregon?  Only the mountains?  Poo.  Anywayz, while Jack is trying to get snow again, the kids hack into a power source for a holotoy and BOOM, all of Eureka is a cartoon.  And not just one cartoon but many styles!!  From Hanna Barbera with talking cars (Sheldon's a jeep?!?!) to stop-motion animation (Taggert should have been a yeti not a polar bear) to anime, it was all hilarious.  Most of Eureka is like eating too much candy but this one was peppermint flavored and perfect!

Meanwhile Warehouse 13 took it's cue from It's a Wonderful Life or more accurately, The Greatest Gift, the original story by Philip Van Doren Stern.  Pete is replacing an artifact in Aisle Noel (Christmas Island?) when he gets wammied by a brush from the origin story.  He is effectively wiped from reality. And the rest of the story is him grabbing all the regulars of the series together again for a touching reminder of what they mean to each other and what they do for each other, and the warehouses. Of course, I imagine Pete's ego was pumped up by the idea that without him, things pretty much fell apart.  Great episode but I definitely need an itemized list of artifacts in that aisle.  I suppose zuzu's petals would have been too obvious and probably copyrighted.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Gremlins

1984, Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling) -- download

Yes, Gremlins is definitely an Xmas movie.  It takes place during the holiday period and the whole point of the arrival of the mogwai was as a present for Billy.  So yes, this fits in perfectly.  But I completely forgot how complete the slaughter of the town was in this movie.  Well, at least the downtown core.  Not a movie for kids but more one for teens and up.  And surprisingly, it actually still stands up today.

Don't expose them to bright light ("light bright light bright"), don't give them any water (so, the beer and booze they drank didn't count?) and definitely don't feed them after midnight (but until when? isn't every minute of the day technically after midnight of some day?) are the three mantras of owning a mogwai.  Other than that, the progenitor mogwai is still the cutest thing ever but child mogwai are troublesome bastards. They sing, they speak to you (man, do they learn English fast, considering it was raised on a Chinese dialect) and absorb whatever is going on around them pretty damn quick. I actually think they were intelligent enough to be a completely sentient species that we, well we treated as a pet.  Oh... humans.

So, while I think the cute animatronics of the mogwai stood up to the CGI cuteness of today, there are so many other things that they did so badly.  It's winter in a mid-west town, right?  So why are all the trees deciduous with full heads of leaves?!?  They just took whatever California backlot it was filmed in and spray-snowed the bejeebus out of the town.  It looks soooooo fake.  There are also some scenes with the gremlins themselves which look like rubber toys on strings but considering the chaos of those scenes, I don't think we were supposed to notice.  And don't ask me about the stop motion, crowd of gremlins scene.  Of course, that is all made up for by the fact that the little buggers were able to find tons of clothing that fit them, to be worn in the bar scene.  Heh.

Inception, briefly

2010, Christopher Nolan -- DVD

I spilled a few thoughts about Inception back when I first watched it and have had a debate or two with friends over it in the interim.  I won't staunchly defend the film because I don't love it like I love some movies (it's far too cold and calculated a film to fall in love with) but I enjoyed it the first time around and I believe I enjoyed it even more the second. 

To my surprise, it holds up incredibly well upon second viewing primarily because the Nolan brothers have crafted a labyrinthine story, like a maze made out of a spiral.  It walks you through the puzzle, and even shows you how it was constructed, but for all the conceptualizing (and it's a seriously hard sci-fi concept that's actually deceptively simple) the journey working your way through it is remains thrilling.   I want to say Nolan's films -- Following, Memento, Batman Begins, the Prestige, The Dark Knight and this one -- are thinking-man's films, but that's not exactly accurate.  They are instead just incredibly and thoroughly well thought out films, calculated and calibrated like a Swiss watch.  They may be a little cold, emotionally, but they're exciting and engaging.  Even though I have the least fanboy reaction to Inception, after rewatching it, it might well be Nolan's best film, technically and conceptually.

3 Short Paragraphs: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

2002, Chris Columbus -- download

This one is my least favourite of the series, and the last one by the director of the first.  It is also the most stand-alone of the series, following on the coat tails of Harry's first defeat of "he who cannot be named" and during a short period when Harry believes he must be destroyed.  But of course, the legacy is still there and the danger very apparent.  The movie is really about adding to the milieu of the series, introducing us to details of the story that will continue for the rest of the films, but without much explanation. While I love the elements, I found the directing lackluster and was glad it was Columbus's last one on the series.

At the beginning, Harry is shown back at his Aunt & Uncle's house but now he actually has a bedroom.  I guess his muggle family is a little worried about pissing off the new wizard in the family, but not so much to stop treating him like a servant. Then we meet Dobby, an elf (man, this series does not treat it's non-human species prettily) who wants Harry to not return to Hogswart.  It's dangerous y'know.  Of course Harry refuses which causes no end of trouble. Of course he goes back to Hogwarts and of course there is danger and of course Harry and his friends cannot help but get mixed up in it.

The "episode" is all about the danger that lurks within the halls of Hogwarts, something that is presented not only in the lurking shadows of Voldemort but also in seemingly random elements of the school itself. Magic, whether light or dark, seems to come with a dangerous element that cannot be avoided. Things are discovered and deemed dangerous, but not destroyed or removed, just controlled and/or hidden. Also, this movie introduces the idea, which gets worse and worse, of the political involvement in Hogwarts and wizard affairs. Not shown as dark or light, they are meddlesome, controlling and insidious in only a way politicians can be. It seems, even in a world where Dark and Light can have capital letters, politics is its own form of evil.

Monday, December 5, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: A Pinky and the Brain Christmas

1995 -- download

Narf !! 

Well, I think so, Brain, but 'apply North Pole' to what?

Heh heh heh, I loved Pinky and the Brain when it was out.  I can honestly say that the show was one of the best things that had Steven Spielberg's name on it.  From Edward G Robinson "Brain" to the inexplicable british accent on Pinky, the show made me giggle constantly. So, in this one Brain's latest take-over-the-world scheme involves getting a toy made for every man, woman and child in the world. Who better to manipulate into doing it than Santa's elves?  Of course, getting there is half the fun. Pinky and Brain pretend to be Canadian elves and infiltrate the toyshop, getting caught almost immediately but leaving the plans to the nefarious Noodle Noggin toy behind.  In the end the toy is delivered and Brain is ready to hypnotize them all into submission when suddenly he is moved to tears by Pinky's incredibly articulate and moving Letter to Santa, shelving the plan for an Xmas wish. Sheer giggly brilliance.

P.S. Yes, we are including Xmas specials in this watching affair because, well, there are so many good ones and also because we do need the occasional evening free to actually do Xmas stuff like decorate and buy presents and such.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: The Santa Clause

1994, John Pasquin (apparently he is Tim Allen's director) -- download

When I was a kid, I loved any movie that explained more of the mythology of Santa. Give me more details on how he gets around the world in one night.  Explain the flying reindeer and sleigh.  How long has he been around? Chimneys? Fireplaces? Store bought toys vs toy making elves?  Explain everything to me!!  And as Kent knows, I am still pretty much that guy, loving all the background details to any fantastical story.

The Santa Clause asks the question you didn't know had to be asked, "What happens if Santa falls off your roof?"  You figgered  they would have covered that decades ago and given the jolly fat elf a bungie cord or something, but alas no. If he does and you are present, and you are nice enough to put on the suit, you are then bound by honor to be Santa.  What happens to the disappeared guy?  Honestly, I think that is how they get off the hook.  Been doing it for a few decades?  Fall off some poor slob's roof and this is your get out of jail free card.

So he falls off Tim Allen's roof, a single dad with the initials SC working for a toy company.  Scott Calvin is a bit of a dick pissed off at his ex-wife, neglectful of his son and a downright ass to his ex's new beau. When he assumes the mantle of Santa Claus he finishes the night with his son, who downright jumps in joy for the job.  From there a trip to the North Pole is made where things are explained. The elves (elfs?) are minute ever-children probably older than the last SC. They set the new SC straight and send him home for a year of ... evolving. Jelly belly, white hair and beard and an innate ability to know nice from naughty (wink wink) is his legacy but also his detriment because, you know, Santa's not real and Calvin must be going nuts. But of course, he begins to accept his new role and rebuild his relationship with his son and by the end he is SC for real, even being acknowledged by a whole neighbourhood of passersby. I would have loved to seen the news reports after that eventful Xmas eve.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Love Actually

2003, Richard Curtis -- Netflix

This movie makes even the old curmudgeon on me smile, laugh and actually shed tears.  I would say it's one of my favourite holiday movies but really, it's not Christmas themed -- it just happens to take place during the season. But we are including that concept in our choice, so it was an expected re-watch on my part. On that note, we are not including movies just because they happen to have a scene during Christmas, unless it plays a significant part in the plot of the movie.

So, this one is about love, actually, in all it's various forms. There is familial love, sexual love, obsessive love, romantic love, unrequited love, blossoming love but mostly, it's romantic love. It is set up as a bunch of interweaving stories where characters' paths cross and bump into each other, all as they prepare for the holiday season. The movie is charming, loveable, goofy and disarming but really, if you are a curmudgeon when it comes to romantic love, you should probably avoid.  It is a schmooshy gooshy lovey dovey flick.

My favourite two of the stories are: the Daniel (Liam Neeson) / Sam step-dad & son story and the Prime Minister David (Hugh Grant) / Natalie budding attraction story.  Daniel and Sam have just lost Sam's mom at the beginning of the movie, obviously from a long illness, a death they were prepared for. Rather unrealistically, Daniel is more focused on his son's feelings, setting his own grief aside. I say unrealistically because he is rather heroic in keeping his son's emotions bolstered, which of course is helped by the fact that Sam has a crush on a girl at school and Daniel is doing his best to assist in getting them together. As Marmy pointed out, either Sam's real dad was a dick or also passed away, as Daniel is given uncontested guardianship of Sam, making his role even more heroic. Meanwhile, David the new Prime Minister, is almost instantly attracted to his staff member Natalie. He knows his role is VERY public and the idea of a love affair in the household would be a bad idea but he cannot stop thinking about her. The American President tosses a wrench into the mix but in the end, it all works out, very publicly.

Friday, December 2, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: Scrooged

1988, Richard Donner -- download

Yep, one of my favourite Xmas movies of all time.  The Bill Murray take on the age-old Scrooge story is a mixture of fear, farce and holiday message, as well it should be.  We all know the story, about the business mogul who cares less than nothing about the "message of Christmas" and thus is visited by three ghosts (prompted by his dead business partner who knows what has been lost) who show him stories about Christmas past, present and future, hoping to stir his stoney heart.  This time we have Murray as a  TV network executive planning his own Scrooge story, to be aired worldwide on Christmas Eve. His idea is to make it so enthralling that no one would dare be attending family events for they would miss this once in a lifetime TV event.  The Ghosts interrupt this production.

I probably have watched this a half dozen times since it began airing on TV at this time of the year. While a little dated, there are so many things about that stand the test of time. Bill Murray seems to be ad-libbing most of his lines and reactions and carries off the half-mad mogul very well. Watching it this time, as he does his dab of Tab (does anyone remember that particular soda?) on his tumblers filled with ice & alcohol, I kind of wondered whether this whole movie was a massive alcoholic hallucination.  He has to be hammered through 75% of the movie.  But still, as he is able to see things that he would not have seen but for the intervention of a manically, cheerful and violent ball-breaker fairy (she strikes me as possibly being Luna's mom, from Harry Potter), there is some truth to his visions.

Along with the hilarious antics of Murray, there are some appropriately scary or touching scenes. The frickin' Ghost of Christmas Future in the elevator still creeps the bejeebers out of me.  And the final scenes with Grace's son still touch me as well as his speech to the world.  The idea of just calling some old friend or relative out the blue, on Christmas Eve, is a good idea.  And the idea of wanting the feeling we are supposed to have this time of the year, wanting the feeling to happen all year, is a good message. Of course, as I am always wont to say, having the funds to dedicate to being charitable all year is always helpful as Scrooge is in the position to do once he has his revelation.

3 short paragraphs: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

2010, Michael Apted -- Netflix

I know I read some Narnia back when I was a kid. This back in the days where we still said the Lord's Prayer after the National Anthem and pocket bibles were still distributed to all the kids in the school, so in that context where Christianity was somewhat thrust upon the us as youth, I doubt I realized the vague parable that the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe was playing at. I didn't really stick with Narnia once in my teens, or at least I don't recall the series at all very well, so I'm not really sure if the book version of Dawn Treader hammers the Christian analogy home as hard or as bluntly as the film does in it's waning moments, where Aslan the lion tells Lucy in her world "...I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

So, essentially the whole point of the Narnia series is to recruit kids into Christianity... Like any kind of advertising aimed squarely at kids, I don't like it, but even from a story standpoint, it's unnecessary, hokey and overwrought. Not that the film was terrific already, but it certainly didn't do it any favors. I do enjoy a voyage, a quest, the journey of a group who must accomplish a series of tasks in order to achieve their ultimate prize, and this hits all the cliches (hell it's a 50 year old story so it may have invented some). It feels too compressed though, obviously not having the time or budget to accomplish the novel in it's entirety, it feels like it squishes bits and pieces together, rather unnaturally.

The big-budget "Disney" (this one was distributed by Fox) Narnia film series, as a whole, has been kind of a bust, with Prince Caspian working the best (plus, Peter Dinklage) but still deeply flawed and financially succeeding the least. This, of the three is the weakest structurally, lacking a strong or even definitive lead will do that. Even as an ensemble it strains to work, the acting is not terrible but blandly adequate, as kids movies so often are. Narnia is a series that takes place across multiple eras with a disparate cast of characters, which makes it hard for an audience to connect with two hours at a time. I'm not certain the novels are unfilmable but perhaps they just shouldn't be filmed. Some stories are meant only to bet told in the medium they were created in.

The Dana Carvey Show

1996 -- DVD (2009)

If you look to the right-hand side of the screen, you will see the list of podcasts I regularly listen to. Most of those are comedy podcasts, if you didn't know already, and over an intensive 2+ years of listening to them I went from being an avid fan of comedy to an outright comedy nerd.

As a newly crowned comedy nerd, there's certain due diligence that must be done, and slowly I'm resolving those. I'm pretty well versed in the television comedy front but there are still a few nuggets that are out of my frame of reference. Besides the State and Upright Citizens Brigade, one of the most frequently mentioned titles on comedy podcasts that I have little to no experience with is the Dana Carvey Show, a short-lived, 8-episode (7 aired) ABC early-evening sketch/variety show which was home to some of the biggest names in comedy of the future.

Created by SNL veterans Dana Carvey and Robert Smigel, it housed over its short tenure Louis CK as head writer, Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert as writers and performers, and writers like Jon Glaser (Conan, Delocated), Dino Stamatopoulos (Conan, Letterman, Starburns), Spike Feresten (Letterman, Seinfeld), Robert Carlock (Friends, 30 Rock), Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show), and even Charlie Kaufman

Of course, despite all the talent behind the scenes, it was a show built around the guy in the title. Carvey is best known for his impressions, and a few notable characters like Hans (or was it Frans) and the Church Lady, all of whom are drummed out here like a modern day freak show. It's easy to understand the intent behind it, especially early on in the show's run, as it helps ease the audience in by providing them with what they're familiar, but as a whole package years later, it just seems awkward and a little cheap. It's certainly not the left-field late-night-comedy-in-primetime feel Carvey says the show will provide.

Much of the show, from a 2011 standpoint, is bogged down by it's "topicality", covering then-current events like the dissolution of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's marriage (including a downright misogynistic portrayal of Charles which obviously in hindsight is in incredibly poor taste, but I'm not so sure it wasn't in bad taste at the time) as well as coverage of the Republican primaries, and the Clinton v. Dole campaign, covered ad nauseum. There's a reason why shows like Python, Kids in the Hall and Mr. Show remain standard bearers when it comes to sketch comedy... topicality doesn't age well.

Sketches that included Carvey's impressions of broadcasters like Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Marv Albert, and political figures beyond Clinton, as well as any celebrities like Paul McCartney, Regis Philbin or Charles Grodin, often seemed in place merely to have Carvey do the impression, less with a comedic idea or any kind of joke, leaving it to Carvey to sell it, which across the 8 episodes was about a 50/50 proposition. (That said, Smigel sold Bob Dole as well, if not even better than Norm Macdonald did on SNL at the time)

A lot of the sketches as well hinged around a single idea, frequently they weren't fleshed out or honed, so they were toss aways. Certainly there were good ideas in many of them, like the "After Dark" Discovery Channel, Food Network, and C-Span which got in the requisite sexual allusion and got out. Something to be said for brevity in execution, but when the joke is so obvious from the on-set it needs to be pushed to another level.

A couple of reoccurring sketches were good ideas, but drilled into the ground. "Stupid Pranksters" found Carvey and Carrell paying for goods or services then running away before receiving them, laughing maniacally about their "prank" was funny the first two times but didn't have enough self awareness to remain funny long (the final one in episode 8 provided a nice capper to it). "Germans Who Say Nice Things", featuring again Carvey and Carrell found the two shouting in bad German accents kind phrases. Over and over again. It was SNL-style drilling-it-into-the-ground comedy.

From a modern perspective, each episode is about an even split of funny to not, and a lot of that hinges on the modern viewer having a familiarity with the people in question whom Carvey impersonates. The standout skits are those that can distance themselves from headlines or are even weirder now that they've aged.

Under 5

Grandma the Clown

Waiters Who Are Nauseated By Food

Episode 7 was probably the best episode start to finish. Having dropped the "sponsored" title sequence and opening song and dance number (which were actually kind of cute) and minimizing the "host introduces the show/audience questions" it left more room for breathing. The opening sketch featured a Carvey impersonation of Newt Gingrich, but the joke is about the "practical modifications" to things like the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which holds up today and stands fine even if you don't know who Gingrich is. "World Leaders and their Baths" is a so-bizarre-its-funny idea while the epic NBA Finals Bulls vs. Heat is a spiralling array of impersonations, characters, set pieces and basketball jokes. Though the "Wizard of Oz: On the Cutting Room Floor" deleted scene and "Kennedy Memorabilia Auction" fell flat on their face, "Heather Morgan's FamousFirst Ladies as Dogs" is perhaps the funniest thing on the entire show, and the "Anonymous Interviews" is a brilliantly vague and madcap sketch that is perfectly executed. With this episode, one could see the direction the Dana Carvey show was taking, and I'm sure that had it had a full season it would have come into its own, and become something more akin to the legendary sketch shows.

The DVD features a good retrospective with Carvey and Smigel discussing what worked and why, ultimately it failed, as well as a host of deleted scenes, some of which were the funniest thing the show produced. I imagine a segment like Rockefeller Institute Animal Research Division wasn't cut because it was censored but rather because it was for a subsequent episode. While the "Onion News" (which was Colbert hosting a fake news program with stories pulled from the Onion newspaper) was most likely cut because it was an extended pot joke.

Fairly enjoyable, but certainly not essential.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

31 Days of Xmas: A Christmas Story

1983, Bob Clark -- download

People like this movie ?!?  I have been seeing bits and pieces of this movie for years, on TV and in reference to holiday film lists.  Everybody seems to have a favourite part or goes on about the bunny costume.  But I never saw it.  Even as a teen and young adult I avoided it, once it became a holiday TV staple, just because the kid annoyed me so much.  Then as I got older, I avoided it out of pure curmudgeon.  But with  this latest movie-a-thon of ours, it had to be part of the list.  Just like Die Hard has to be.

So, a movie made in the 80s about kids being brought up in Indiana in the 40s. Focusing on the narrator's retelling of how Ralphie got his BB gun, we are presented with a picture of the holidays almost completely from his perspective.  It's actually done pretty well, a warped viewpoint from the mind of an 8 year old. Too bad the 8 year old is an annoying little git. People like this kid?!? I guess my younger self saw what would annoy me about Ralphie my entire life.  The weird thing is that it actually hit holiday cult status when I was an adult, in the 90s.

The acting is so bloody atrocious but at times I was not sure if that was intentional, to show the skewed child viewpoint again, or just the directing of the movie.  The kids are bloody damaged with their neuroses and daydreams that probably would have been medicated today. The plot is jumbled, going from Xmas vignette to childhood vignette and back again. The parents are warped, from Dad's obsession with an ugly lamp to mom's enjoyment of her son's piggy antics.  If you don't want the dogs in the house, don't open the fucking door to them !!  And dad struck me as perpetually drunk but we didn't see him take a single nip, though once again if that was intentional (as the kids might not have caught it either) then kudos.  Only two scenes made us laugh out loud.  First there was Randy falling on his back in reaction to the bullies, because that was his only defense instinct.  Second was a reference to Ralphie sleeping, "next to me in the blackness lay my oiled blue steel beauty." I giggled madly at that one as I doubt an 8 year has his blue steel yet.  Blame the lingering virus I have.