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.

5/10

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.