Christmas Special Review- Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

If you need further evidence of the genius of Rankin & Bass, and their favorite writer Romeo Muller, I present to you exhibit B: Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer. The only thing I could really call this special out on, in my umpteenth viewing, was how silly Rudolph’s ostracism is, but that’s a given of the story, and ostracism is usually baseless and it’s really lampooned if it’s based on something so frivolous.

What really stands out in this tale is the characters and some of the things which are done with them. You have Rudolph’s parents who have differing opinions his mother sees no problem with the nose, his father, Donner; is embarrassed by it. You also have Santa Claus, of all people, being wrong about Ruldolph and admitting as much.

Typically, I do not favor didacticism in the arts, but there are exceptions to every rule, and many to this one; here it works wonderfully because it’s not overt. Kids see that even Santa can be wrong and learn not to judge a book by it’s cover, so to speak.

Yet, where this special really excels is in the original characters it brings into the mix, and the different wants they each have, and yet, most of them are also misfits. There of course is Hermey, who wants to be a dentist and not build toys. He and Rudolph are fast friends.

The cause and effect also works very well the Abominable Snow Monster chases them away and they run into Yukon Cornelius. A character who meets a very real fate, following a Disney axiom that you can scare kids if things work out in the end.

Then of course there is the iconic Island of Misfit Toys. All these pieces may seem disparate but the fact that they’re all sewn together in a coherent manner, and each are still original pieces that do not get homogenized, make this story work.

Advertisements

2012 Holiday Viewing Log

The end of the year for any movie watcher typically puts you in scramble mode. Regardless of what kind of movies your trying to watch: new releases, classic cinema or Holiday-themed films.

Therefore, rather than have both this month’s mini-review round-up run overly-long as well as next months capsule review log, I figured it’d be good to siphon off the holiday-themed offerings, as not only will I try and do more of these this year, but there are enough special reviews coming next month and one post should suffice for them. If any films are new and holiday they will link from the other posts to text here.

For a reference to what my ratings mean, go here.

A Chrismoose Carol

This is one of the films I picked up after getting a region-free player. I saw a trailer for it and it just seemed like the kind of thing too silly not to give a shot. What’s refreshing is that the film is playing comedy throughout. Yes, there are overtures of schmaltz and warm-fuzziness, it is a Christmas film after all, but it’s eminently more watchable and enjoyable than I ever thought it would be – and really should have any right to be. Part of this has to do with just a different perspective. Heaven forbid an American film try and get away with a Santa getting drunk and distracted, yet still trying to make a positive film, much less having it actually be Santa and not a mall employee or a psychopath. What the film deals mostly with is a thankfully practical and rather well-crafted Moose character (It seemed rather Falkor-like, I wonder if there is any connection to NES) and adds its own spin, and a rather cloistered tale that is neither a retread or earth-shattering in its repercussions as “disaster” is being avoided. A funny anecdote is that when I was younger I’d always insist on writing the original title of the film. However, seeing Es ist ein Elch entsprungen plastered on the box and being unable to record it to memory made me learn the English title, as silly and punny as it is.

6/10

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.

6/10

The Little Drummer Boy Book II

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

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.

8/10

The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold

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

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.

6/10

The Stingiest Man in Town

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

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.

5/10

Pinocchio’s Christmas

Pinocchio's Christmas (1980, Rankin/Bass)

Part of the appeal of this Warner Archive set was that I had never, or thought I had never, seen all the specials on this disc. No other film in this set gave me the feeling of déjà vu as this one. However, I cannot say of that is for real, and even if it is, I cannot guarantee I saw the whole film even if I did see it before. Out of all of these, this is the best example of the Rankin/Bass style the songs and lyrics, and vocal stylings are all top notch. It takes the Pinocchio lore and not only tells a Christmas tale with it but tells only part of the story. It’s an hour-long special that not only fits the allotted running time, but thrives because of it. There is also plenty of humor and wonderful sets. This may not be a household name special but it it on par with the best.

10/10

Help for the Holidays

Help for the Holidays (2012, Hallmark)

Here’s another holiday-themed film not only with an Elf element, but also with the now ubiquitous conquering-the-loss-of-Christmas-spirit problem. While the end result is predictable enough, as is some of the early path, there are enough wrinkles and well-timed moves to keep it rather enjoyable in the middle. The issues, and ultimately downfall are due to a few narrative inconsistencies, the unintentional casting of a creepy Santa and the redundant uninspired score which assails your ear throughout the entirety of the film.

5/10

The 2002 BAM Awards

Introduction

As those who are my friends on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter know, in December I am gearing up for my annual film awards (The BAM Awards), and that only partially explains my recent reposting of all past winners.

Since these are picks made by one person, the nominating process is even more important. Aside from the the past years, the full slate of nominees from all years past was not public knowledge.

This is because the first time I did them, in 1996, I created them by myself, for myself. At the time, I knew a lot less about how these decisions are made, campaigning, the year-end barrage of contenders and the like, such that the releasing of the Academy Award nominees was more frustrating than it could be otherwise. Rather than just bemoan it I decided to create an award slate based on what I had seen.

Back then I was ticket-stub pack rat, at the time it was the only way I had to track anything. So I created the list, picked winners and printed it out. The fact that I stuck with hard copies and no back-up created issues later. However, it was just for me at the time.

I called them the BAM Awards because I needed a name. I suppose I came up with Bernardo Academy of Movies because I was being reactionary to The Academy. How one man by himself can be an Academy I didn’t fully consider. I thought it was kind of a silly name, even at the time, so eventually it just became the BAM Awards.

Slowly, the awards widened: soon I emailed a select group of friends (that created eventual storage issues), a few years ago when I was on the Site That Must Not Be Named I decided to really take it public. I didn’t think about it ahead of time, it just occurred to me roundabout late November of ’09 that I could.

The publication was an exciting and unnerving process, regardless of how many or how few people would actually care to see them. While there are a two categories (which I now and again consider ending, and have skipped on occasion) which are negative, it is a positive emotion that brings me to these announcements. I want to at the end of the year share what I thought and why, and all winner announcements come with some explanation, and I do belabor them and struggle with them.

So it is heartening that last year, for the first time, the actual honorees, be they nominees or winners, on occasion acknowledged it. Now that may seem like a self-aggrandizing statement, but what I liked was knowing the news reached them, and other people, and they were pleased to hear it. The design of these awards are to cement what performances, works and films most affected me, I make no bones about that, and sharing that felt like a gamble, but it’s been rewarding for that and many other reason.

Of course, if you see a film missing from any year you may inquire, and there is room for intelligent discourse, but the above statements are true: trolling or disrespectful comments aimed at those chosen won’t be tolerated. Your own awards are just a blog post away.

I apologize for even needing to insert that statement but I did have cause to make similar points last year. Anyway, with how much I enjoyed last year’s and how much I’m looking forward to this year’s awards, I thought it’d be a good idea to put all I have out there in a “reverse” countdown, a count -up if you will.

So here goes…

2002

-This year features some revisionist history I was able to successfully reverse. There are two categories with only three nominations, which in revision mode I filled out to 5. I was able to trim it back to three, thus making it back to what it was 10 years ago.

-In another revisionist note, this was the first year where I started splitting the screenplay award in the year where I wrote them. I did when I revised the past awards create both categories from 1996-2001. This was the first time I did it live.

-Lagaan was the first film that was nominated for Best Picture only.

-In one of the quirks of the BAM system, Hugh Mitchell who had small roles in both Harry Potter and Nicholas Nickleby, earned two nominations, and one win, for being in both casts.

-Harry Potter is Lucciesque anew setting a new nomination record, Star Wars takes the most trophies.

-This was another year that illustrated that I needed not only equality in categories, but also a top 10 or more list because there are many great films this year not in Best Picture.

-Comedic performances are prominent once again.

-Nicholas Nickleby is another multiple actors in same category film.

Winners are in BOLD and pictured.

Best Picture

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (20th Century Fox)

Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (20th Century Fox)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Equilibrium
Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones
Lagaan
La Pianiste

Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert La Pianiste
Fairuza Balk Deuces Wild
Amanda Bynes Big Fat Liar
Jodie Foster Panic Room
Emma Watson Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Best Actor

Equilibrium (2002, Dimension Films)

Benoît Magimel La Pianiste
Mike Myers Austin Powers in Goldmember
Christian Bale Equilibrium
Kieran Culkin Igby Goes Down
Hugh Grant About a Boy

Best Supporting Actress

Rachel Griffiths The Rookie
Toni Collette About a Boy
Beyoncé Knowles Austin Powers in Goldmember
Maggie Smith Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Lucy Tulugarjuk Atanarjuat

Best Supporting Actor

Edges of the Lord (2001, Nu Image Films)

Haley Joel Osment The Edges of the Lord
Rupert Grint Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Jamie Bell Nicholas Nickleby
Christopher Plummer Nicholas Nickleby
Ewan McGregor Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Best Director

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Kurt Wimmer Equilibrium
John Lee Hancock The Rookie
Burr Steers Igby Goes Down
Chris Columbus Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Best Original Screenplay

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

George Lucas and Jonathan Hales Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Steven Kloves, J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Michael Heneke, Elfried Jelinek La Pianiste
Robert Rodriguez Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
Kurt Wimmer Equilibrium

Best Adapted Screenplay

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson in Harry Potter in the Chamber of Secrets (Warner Bros.)

JK Rowling and Steven Kloves Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Michael Heneka and Elired Jelniek La Pianiste
Nick Hornby, Peter Hedges, Chris and Paul Weitz About a Boy
Philip K. Dick, Scott Frank and John Cohen Minority Report
Charles Dickens and Douglas McGrath Nicholas Nickleby

Best Cinematography

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

Roger Pratt Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Norman Cohn Atanarjuat
Walter Carvalho Abril Despedaçado
Janusz Kaminski Minority Report
David Tattersall Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

The following two (2) categories intentionally only have three (3) nominees.

Best Score

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

John Williams Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Ennio Morricone The Legend of 1900
George Clinton Austin Powers in Goldmember

Best Visual Effects

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams

Best Performance by a Child Actor

Edges of the Lord (2001, Nu Image Films)

Haley Joel Osment The Edges of the Lord
Nicholas Hoult About A Boy
Rupert Grint Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Amanda Bynes Big Fat Liar

Most Overrated Film

Spider-Man (2002, Sony Pictures)

Road to Perdition
Spider-Man
XXX
Insomnia
Abril Despedaçado

Worst Film

Spider-Man (2002, Sony Pictures)

Spider-Man
Insomnia
Get a Clue
40 Days and 40 Nights
The Santa Clause 2

Most Underrated Film

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones
Austin Powers in Goldmember
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams
The Legend of 1900
Igby Goes Down

Best Cast

Nicholas Nickleby (2002, United Artists)

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branaugh, Richard Harris and John Cleese Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Frankie Muniz, Amanda Bynes, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Detmer and Donald Fasion Big Fat Liar
Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Ryan Phillippe, and Jeff Goldblum Igby Goes Down
Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Christopher Plummer, Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Jim Broadbent, Edward Fox, Hugh Mitchell, Stella Gonot, and Romola Garai in Nicholas Nickleby
Mike Myers, Beyoncé Knowles, Michael York, Mindy Sterling, Seth green, Verne Troyer, and Fred Savage Austin Powers in Goldmember

Nominations

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 12
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 9
La Pianiste 5
Austin Powers in Goldmember 5
Equilibrium 4
Igby Goes Down 4
About a Boy 4
Nicholas Nickleby 4
Big Fat Liar 3
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams 3
Abril Despedaçado 2
The Legend of 1900 2
Minority Report 2
The Rookie 2
Atanarjuat 2
The Edges of the Lord 2
Lagaan 1
Panic Room 1
Deuces Wild 1