The Stingiest Man in Town (1978, Rankin/Bass)

Mini-Review: The Stingiest Man in Town


This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Stingiest Man in Town

This is yet another rendition of Charles Dickens’ eternal classic A Christmas Carol. Not only is it another adaptation, but it’s also another musical version. Even removing non-diegetic elements that bother me like comparing it to other adaptations or how the characters are really caricatures of the actors playing them, there are many things just off about this version. The songs are inconsistent at best both in lyrical and vocal quality, as is, surprisingly enough, the voice acting; though that could have something to do with direction. The story is also oddly structured inasmuch as there is a lot of denouement. Scrooge has seen the error of his ways and the tale just lingers; removing the impact of the change in his heart. I could go on, but these are the main objections I have.


The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (1981, Rankin/Bass)

Mini-Review: The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold


This film continues my going through Warner Archive’s great new Christmas special set by the masters of the subgenre. Here again they have Romeo Muller back to script the tale, and it’s a good thing they do because his acumen is about all that makes this tale float. What’s good about it is that it gives me a little more banshee-related info than I had prior, but it is a most odd tale indeed. The elements mixed in of leprechauns, banshees and wayward sailors are those or darker tales and mystical tomes, but the tone is the same as their other works, yet the Christmas element is more secular than ever, if not downright pagan. This is not a moral judgment, it just makes the balancing of tone harder but the tale manages. It’s an enjoyable, odd little entry in their canon.


The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976, Rankin/Bass)

Mini-Review – The Little Drummer Boy Book II



This is the first of four Rankin/Bass specials that are included in a new release from Warner Archive, which collects four lesser-known Christmas-themed releases from the most famous, prolific producers in this niche. Firstly, in terms of restoration this film is in much better shape than the version of the original that I have. What is fairly refreshing story-wise is that it literally picks up immediately following the first special, and tells the tale of how the news of the fulfilled prophecy is to be spread, and what obstacles must be overcome. The music (the choir-work in this one uncredited) is chillingly good. The narrative is a bit thinner, the songs a bit more filler than the original, but it is a worthy follow-up with some surprises in store. It’s also fantastic that Greer Garson is once again the storyteller.


Christmas Story (2007, Attraction Distribution)

Mini-Review: Christmas Story (Joulutarina, 2007)


Christmas Story (2007)

Not to be confused with the American Christmas standard, Christmas Story is a well-intentioned, surprisingly mature take on how the legend of Santa Claus was built. Telling the story of Nicholas from childhood to old age we see how the events of his life inspire his mission. It’s a story that kid’s who have cut their teeth on Disney films and some of the more honest family films will likely be able to enjoy.

For parents who may have to partake in the viewing experience with their kids there are some things that will need to be toughed out. The first being the obviously lamentable, but ultimately understandable decision to present this film in North America dubbed. In the past I have come to the defense of dubbing and have seen well done dubbing. However, this is not one of those occasions. It’s not as destructive as the dub track to House by the Cemetery (I beg you watch it with Italian audio, it’s worlds better) but it’s still no help.

Which leads neatly into the next problem. Some of the early writing and performance, from a then-antagonist is highly tedious and then the prescribed change of hear comes after a turn on a dime.

The cinematography and sets are among some of the highlights in this film.

If your holiday-viewing diet consists of holiday appearances by animated characters, Hallmark films, and other such fluff than this is definitely a more substantial take than that. However, even in the very small true-tale-of-santa-claus subgenre it’s ultimately a bit lacking in the end.


Home Alone: Holiday Heist (2012, 20th Century Fox)

Review – Home Alone: Holiday Heist

Now, I for one have written on this franchise on this site on a few occasions, once in theory and once when news broke. Similar to the way in which some can engage in auteur criticism, I feel that series and/or franchises can burrow out their own niche and create their own sort of scale. After all, when judging a film for what it’s trying to be the fact that it’s an installment in, or a continuation of, a series factors in.

When I wrote on Home Alone continuing and/or rebooting the idea I was leveraging was the fact that this is now a conceptual series. The series of films is predicated on a kid or kids being caught at home, without their parents, having to defend their house, and ultimately themselves. It almost always had to be that way. Disregarding the fact that in part two Kevin is not home, the fact that he is separated from his family anew is a major challenge to suspension of disbelief. So it was always likely to, and thankfully has, become a series wherein its concept-driven. Thus, whatever the other challenges brought up to each installment how Kevin gets lost again, is no longer a concern. Horror franchises with iconic killers have that issue of trying to bring back their seemingly dead, yet ultimately immortal lead – this is a major encumbrance lifted.

When I wrote about it as a news item it was to confirm that one of my wild postulations was really coming to fruition. I do have a tendency to err on the side of positivity over cynicism more often than not, but I had a few reasons to be optimistic. Based on the casting and story news that came out it seemed like the upcoming film would return closer to the core of what these films are. The series went out on a limb in part three and broke said limb off in part four. This looked like a very promising restart based on early indicators.


So? Now, it’s aired, and I’ve seen it, what did I make of it? The short version of it is that there was room for this film to be much more than a decent, enjoyable restart had there been some shifts in focus, both story and production-wise. Having said that after the precipitous slope the franchise was on, this is welcome and refreshing course correction for the most part. It’s just that the potential existed for it to surpass even my modestly lofty expectations.

The best elements of the film are: the booby-trapping motif is introduced prior to the reality of burglary dawning on the characters, the in-jokes regarding the series are plenty good, the performances of Christian Martyn (whose turn in this archetype I’d rank as best barring Culkin) and Jodelle Ferland (whose inclusion and progression adds an interesting dynamic to the film), the dichotomy of Finn’s character and its slight, steady arching; and the presence of the seemingly random neighbor-kid (Peter DaCunha) who does occasionally add humor and plot functionality.

Where the film misses opportunities in narrative is that it tries too hard to shoehorn what it feels are mandatory elements of a Home Alone film such as a misunderstood stranger who befriends the lead and doesn’t have a place to go for Christmas. Yes, there are anticipated elements, but each narrative has its own set of dynamics and fitting molds or formulas at times restricts the tale at hand.


An example of not wanting to fit a mold is giving the crooks a lot more backstory and justification than is really necessary. The emphasis on name recognition for the triad of crooks (Malcolm McDowell, Debi Mazar and Eddie Steeples) I feel is detrimental to the film because they get over-exposed and over-wrought and the parents are under-written and under-represented.

The dialogue misfires quite a few times which is a shame when there are some good situations introduced, but there are the occasional good cinematic touches, which goes beyond the production design, there is the rotoscopic montage of the booby trap prep and some of the set-ups for the crooks are visually intriguing.

I enjoyed this film but what wass perhaps most surprising is that there were opportunities for it to be more than just a pleasant pastime and be a legitimately, unassailably solid upgrade to the sequels that had come to this series that could even serve as a springboard. Shortcomings are almost inevitable in any film, it just seems that they came in unexpected areas here and some harder elements were well-executed and some given less priority. However, it ultimately serves its purpose as a redemptive feature for the series, but could’ve been much more.



The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Five)

Seeing Great Works Begets Seeing Great Works

What is true of many great works of art is that it makes you want to see other great works of art that inspired it or that came from some of the same minds. One link that The Tin Drum inextricably has is with Apocalypse Now, which it tied for Palme d’Or. These two films, in part about the absurdities of war would make quite a harrowing double feature of sizable length.


This is, somehow, still the only Schlöndorff film I’ve seen to date. Both his other films and the books they are based on now intrigue me even more like The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, (The Confusions of Young Törless; as well as works that inspired it like Macunaíma, a Brazilian film starring Grande Otelo, which inspired Oskar’s birth scene; Fellini’s Amarcord, and Homo Faber.

Something discovered while watching the bonuses on this disc was that Schlöndorff cut his teeth working with Louis Malle, and that seems to make a perfect kind of sense and there sensibilities do have a sort of an overlap.


The film is also referred to at one point as Brechtian, which is especially interesting consider the fact that a Schlöndorff adaptation of Brecht’s Baal was produced for West German television and starred Rainer Werner Fassbinder. This is a film I must see and something Criterion should seriously consider looking into.

And additional great work is included as a supplemental feature. It is a dramatized reading of a sequence from the novel by Grass accompanied by the scenes from the film the prose describes.

German films could confront the past through the glorious Hollywood image, as Corrigan states, and this is one of the finest examples but there are certainly others out there worth looking into.


The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Four)


The Irrationality of German History

One of the most telling quotes from the bonus features is that this film sought to deal with the “irrationality of German history” much as the book did. That phrase is aptly stated whereas Germans as a people are known for order and efficiency their history is marred by actions and behaviors that seem to belie that. Thus, the history is irrational and Eddie Izzard’s joke about Hitler being unable to paint trees and deciding to “kill everyone in the world” is dangerously close to the truth.

The Tin Drum is a work of the German New Cinema, a name and approach that was created after a meeting that created the Oberhausen Manifesto.

Something had to be built out of the rubble, as Goebbles destroyed the film industry, and a Golden Age of German cinema in the Weimar Republic, before the war anyway, as cinema or a culture that saw no reason to look to its recent or distant past for influence and co-opted American mores as Wim Wenders put it “WWII created a hole in German culture and we tried to fill it with American culture as soon as possible.” This the influx of American distributors and the Marshall Plan created a love/hate relationship with the Hollywood cinema. And who doesn’t have one anyway?


The cultural colonization came to German after so-called “Rubble Films, melodramas with similar backdrops to Germany Year Zero but little else in common.

A nation now “Excluded from its own history” as Timothy Corrigan puts it seemed to scream, like Oskar seeking the protection of its grandmother’s skirts, and that protection cinematically seemed to come from honestly addressing some ludicrous histories. Yet, some films continued to act as flashpoints. The Tin Drum being one, and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List twenty-four years later was another noticeable one as it dealt directly with the Holocaust.




The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part Three)

Teutonic Reflections and Francophonic Refractions

Though the nomenclature of Roman Picaresque escaped me I have seen and been influenced by a picaresque before. The Roman Picaresque tradition is visible in Léolo. It is something, at the time, I could not name, but it is the ragamuffin, rapscallion at the center of each tale that drew me in and the confounding unreliable narrator that makes it so fascinating and easy to revisit.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)


This film was perhaps, with its plotless dalliances falling just short of vignettes, was one of the first I chose to theorize on. Simply state in my own mind “Oskar is Germany.” He stopped growth as the society did. It’s likely an over-reduction of the some of the complex representations of commentary in the film, but he is Germany of a certain time, of a certain generation. One that refused to grow and gave in to childish impulse and unbounded atrocity and aggression; one that told its sons “If you don’t want to grow, I’ll show you how it’s done.”


There are broad yet cunning satires of many aspects of Nazi Germany within such as the ostracism and elimination of homosexuals as detailed by the infamous Paragraph 175 (illustrated by one of the film’s suicides), the carnival act that was Nazi propaganda is here made literal and quite buffoonish for it. Yet, also, ironic as one of the dwarfs wishes Oskar “Mazel Tov” before his first time on stage (an allusion to Nazis playing loose and easy with rules of Aryanism; most notably Fritz Lang was terrified when he was told “We decide who is Aryan, Mr. Lang.”); Oskar’s affinity for breaking glass with his high-pitched scream can be seen as a parallel to Kristallnacht. Oskar’s involvement in propaganda can be seen as a parallel to Grass’ own divulged-late-in-life involvement with the Nazi party as a young man.


An involvement, by the way, that I don’t think makes Grass’ critics disingenuous. Surely, it’s not only those who never fell for the party line who can find fault with the fantasies and delusions they spread across Germany and the terror they inflicted across the globe.

The commentary on domestic activities are omnipresent and embodied in all characters both large or small. Oskar “die trommler,” borrowing one of Der Führer’s many monikers towards the end of the war is sought by the Gestapo for racial impurities – as his suspected father father (Cousin Jan) is Polish and not Kashubian – a self-professed borderland.

There is a frame created with the rise and fall of the Beethoven portrait. Hitler replaces him on the wall, when the war comes to an end so does Hitler’s exalted status. Beethoven returns to his rightful and immortal place “Beethoven there was a genius.”


The very patriarch of the family who utters that line dies choking on a swastika – emblazoned pin that he is attempting to hide as the Allies descend on Berlin. Echoing film scholar Timothy Corrigan’s observation, Oskar and his younger brother Kurt end up fatherless reflecting the Fatherless Generation moniker post-war German wore whether they liked it or not.

Oskar knowing he is at a crossroads decides as a twenty-one-year-old orphan to bury his drum so that he may grow. As he buries that drum, Kurt (the younger generation) hits him with a rock. In essence Oskar has to face a sort of death before he is allowed to grown. It is commented upon by grandmother that he “Fell down stairs and stopped growing. Now he fell into a grave and wants to grow again.”

Perhaps the most poignant character as commentary is Fajngold. He’s a concentration camp survivor who comes to run the Matzerath grocery store. He still has delusions that his family surrounds him, in a way it’s a variation of a fatherless generation, but this time it’s a vanished generation that will never grace German soil in a significant way again.


The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part 2)

The Beat of My Own Drum

The Roman picaresque was a subgenre I did not know by name before embarking on this blogathon. So, having learned something, and wanting to chronicle a personal journey with a film, it was already a total success. Much like Mark Twain’s prelude/warning at the start of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “those looking for a plot will be shot” while watching The Tin Drum but that’s not to say there isn’t a point being made and a story being told anyway, the method is just unconventional.

I cannot remember how I first came to view this film exactly. It may have been a rental. I do know that the original DVD release from Kino is one of the first DVDs I ever had. It’s a film that inspired me in a lot of ways from the audacity of its making to the outrageousness of its protagonist. So much so that it’s one of a few films that inspired an online persona. Once upon a time I used AOL Instant Messenger screen names like TheDustFactory, named after a film, and the incorrectly spelled OskarDeTrommler. I was drawn to, and understood, the charms of this character lost amidst historical events, and it’s a wonderful symbol and creation of cinema even if the desire to be drumming, and the fascist leader that should be followed, are read by Schlöndorff; I agree with one can’t even deign to have that kind grandeur of self-regard without some motivation.

As a rebel, and defender of free speech, and an artist; I bristled at the notion of the Oklahoma ruling that it was child pornography. Schlöndorff having faced censorship troubles with the film in quite a few markets understood the trouble he was just baffled by it occurring ten years after the fact.


The cinematic realism with outrageous occurrences and types; the impartial point-of-view that visually transcribes a world; “Germany confronting its past through Hollywood images,” as film scholar Timothy Corrigan stated it; the fact that it’s really a contrarian bildungsroman starring an Anti-Peter Pan (he ages but his body does not – a version of Oskar that only exists in the cinema); are just some of the things that drew me to it. It’s a film that goes beyond overly-simplistic representations, like a Christ figure, and it goes where the camera usually does not, which I am always a fan of.

Through these myriad sections you’ll specific illustrations in image and text as to how all the layers of this film work ever-so-beautifully.


The Tin Drum: A Critical Ode in Picaresque (Part 1)

Statement of Intent

If one is not already rolling their eyes at the title of this piece, it is actually one that fits. So, what does the title mean? Mainly that The Tin Drum is a film I owe an homage, an ode, on this blog. It’s not a poetical one but a critical one, and much in the fashion of this film, it is one in a picaresque tradition.

When trying to ponder this blogathon entry, and how I would go about tackling something like The Tin Drum, I had a few different ideas. Prior to even joining the Grace Kelly blogathon, I thought of reading the play. Similarly, I considered reading Günter Grass’ novel theprior to writing this. I did not read The Swan by Ferenc Monár and I barely got into The Tin Drum.

I also planned on watching the definitive cut before this blogathon started as well as the supplements. With many recent blogathons I was ready well ahead of time. Not this time.


So, I will have to do what I did for Léolo, except I will start this as a series on the last day of the blogathon and will continue daily until I am finished. I am dealing with a leviathan much more unruly than what I allowed myself with Léolo.

I will use this post as an index linking to each individual post as they go live.

Thank you all for reading and bearing with me. I hope you come back, and as a teaser as of this writing I am planning on 12 parts and have so far written at least 3,688 words.

Unlike in the film, Santa Claus will come, not the gasman.