Short Film Saturday: Gary Busey Reads “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”

It’s delightfully off-kilter until it’s just delightful. As opposed to his Amazon ad and other recent works its lacking in self-conscious quirkiness and just is. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

Kudos to the New York Daily News for making this one happen.

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Christmas Special Review: O Natal de Todos Nós

Introduction

I didn’t, as of yet, stockpile a bunch of new Christmas specials for this year so I am unsure how many of these reviews will be posted, and how many titles will be added to this year’s Holiday Viewing Log (to be posted soon) in addition to the first class.

O Natal de Todos Nós

However, I did see this short special through the year. It’s interesting that this universally loved group of characters in Brazil in essence did one special did kind of what I suggested in this piece. The film goes through short iterations where we see disparate characters, one-by-one, have their own Christmas preparations and they all coalesce in the end and join into one story.

The stories deal with the following characters: Horácio, Jotalhão, Mônica, Cebolinha, Cascão, Magali, Bidu, Franjinha, Chico Bento, Astronauta, etc. and is made up of shorts produced from 1966-1986. It includes a preponderance of voice over, emphasis on montage and stills. Techniques aside there are quite a few interesting thematic touchstones in it such as, mainly, the fact that there are dinosaurs and Jesus, thank you, Brazil! Aside from the co-existence of science and religion in the same special, which would be unheard of here; there is also fantasy and reality side-by-side such as acknowledgment of the true nature of Santa Claus and embracing it nonetheless. There are other aspects touched upon both universal (midnight mass) and culturally specific (trying wine with parental consent), more creative touches (a celestial Christmas tree and the Big Bang) and voice talent up the wazoo.

Perhaps what’s best is, that at least for the time being, I found it on YouTube (Sorry, I did not locate English dubbing or subtitles). Enjoy!

Film Thought: A Film For All Occasions

Not too long ago I was asked to participate in a medical study to gather information, and further knowledge, about a metabolic condition I am afflicted with. Part of the process which I was subjected to was a very long MRI. Any and all people taking this MRI were encouraged to bring in a movie to watch. This movie would be viewed in the tube through an angled mirror that would reflect the screen’s image in to you.

What this piece of information made me realize is that there really is a film for all occasions. With this situation I was thinking about what film had a hypnotic quality, that would keep me fairly still for an extended period of time. I also thought to pick a rather lengthy movie should the scan run long for whatever reason, which it did.

I chose Jeanne Dielman, which ended up working perfectly. I have since noted that there are films that, of course, have seasonal connotations such as Halloween and Christmas, but also those that are perfectly suited for other more idiosyncratic occasions. While I usually try to go to the movies on my birthday, those choices are particular to me and my tastes, there are even more obscure occasions that have movies that fit them. It’s all about finding the right tone and rhythm for you. What other odd occasions have movies that suit them perfectly, I now wonder, seeing as how I found the perfect MRI film?

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.

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

Christmas Special Review- A Garfield Christmas

A Garfield Christmas is the warmest/fuzziest of the three specials. I do not mean that to sound facetious, it does have its touching moments both with Garfield comforting Grandma and Garfield and Odie actually getting along for a change.

It does start off on a misfire with Jon’s song as they are driving towards his mother’s house. It is a prime example of original music in a Christmas special falling on its face, which is why sometimes Carols work better. What’s worse is that the music insists on staying in this special. However, to its credit the music is not the downfall of this story.

It is a fun little jaunt, I can’t say it’s the best of the Garfield holiday specials, but it is definitely a worthy addition to the trilogy.

This story opens in a dream that’s is quite funny and the transformation Garfield has from greedy glutton to understanding the true meaning of the holiday is gradual and rather invisible which is refreshing.

Review- Hop

Hop (Universal)

Hop is a funny and entertaining enough film that tries to assert itself as the go-to movie for the Easter holiday and for lack of any real competition, at least for the moment, it just may get to be that. In the end though I wish that considering the likelihood they’d take that mantle by default they tried a little harder to create more of their own inventions. Many of the affectations of the story are merely transposed from Christmas traditions and modified to fit Easter motifs. There certainly were other twists like chicks working in the factory and being underlings such that an egg sleigh with chicks flying it rings kind of hollow.

While it is an enjoyable journey and the ending is ultimately satisfying there’s also a bit of a cop out on the frame. If you think about it the film has to have the resolution it does but it just begs the question why create the frame in the first place? Why not just save that information and have it come as a surprise? It’s a case where simpler would work better.

What does work in this film is firstly the overall plot conceived by Carlos (Hank Azaria) a chick in the factory to try and usurp power. It works both dramatically and comedically thanks to Hank Azaria who is one of the best voice over actors currently working, due in large part to the fact that you don’t automatically know it’s Azaria voicing a role when you hear it.

Truth be told the same must be said for Russell Brand’s portrayal of E.B. I’d seen the preview probably a trabillion times and hadn’t figured out it was him. Thankfully, Brand allows the situations to create the comedy and just plays the character and is rather straight about it much of the time as well so it ends up being a choice that works.

In terms of the live action performances James Marsden turns in good portrayal of an unfortunately named character (Fred O’Hare). This name made even more frustrating by the fact that some of the family scenes were the better jokes and ideas are in the film. Many of these scenes were stolen by Gary Cole, who is hilarious as always.

What really stands out in the film is the animation work, more so on E.B than on the Pink Berets but particularly the combination of it and live action elements which there hasn’t really been too much of. It’s not necessarily a quantum leap in the subgenre but it’s definitely a most pleasant progression.

Hop is an enjoyable and passable way to kill some time even for an adult like me, which is not that much different than a kid, though kids may like it quite a bit more than I did.

6/10

The Movie Rat’s Manifesto

Welcome to The Movie Rat. This blog’s name comes from a term I came up with for a friend of mine when we went to the movies every Saturday for a matinee and at least one other film. We were like mallrats except we went to the movies eventually he lost interest but I kept on going.

So a new blog and infinite possibilities and here there won’t be any annoying restrictions such as trying to keep one of the most universal artforms in the world “localized.”

What does one do when one sets out to start a new blog. Well, for the time being anyway, whatever one wants.

However, I am starting with this manifesto to let you know a few things I plan on doing and conversely not doing.

So here are some things you can expect and some things I will venture to avoid, five things in each category sounds like a decent start…

I will:

-Be re-posting older articles slowly but surely.

-Do daily themes such as: Monochromatic Monday, Two For Tuesday, Weird Wednesday, Theme Thursday and Film History Friday. These may change. I also Plan writing longer more theory-based papers from time to time. I have ideas for both Metropolis and Zé do Caixão (Coffin Joe).

-Will offer “seasonally appropriate” reviews: For exampled, TCM is currently doing 31 Days of Oscar. From September 1 through October 31st there will be a glut of horror titles, from November 1st through Thanksgiving; foreign films and Christmas-themed (sometimes only slightly) in December.

-Always be looking for new and unique films as well as different ways of viewing and/or acquiring them and being a consumer advocate to an extent.

-Always write personally. No matter how informed one is I will not presume that my opinion is anyone else’s. I firmly believe in the assertion that no two people ever watch the same film and can only offer my views and interpretations and if I need to use a few “Me’s” and “I’s” to convey that so be it.

I will not:

– Discuss the MPAA here. Ratings exist for a reason but I personally do not care. The MPAA, if you visit their site (www.mpaa.org), will explain its reason(s) and other reviewers will give you their slant on the rating (I suggest: www.lights-camera-jackson.com – he is a kid who is also a professional critic and always includes how kid-friendly a movie is) but it is of no concern to me. I am not a parental aid I am only interested in aesthetics. I would not deign to judge what is and is not appropriate for your children that is a decision that all parents must make on their own based solely upon their values and what they believe their children should see, hear or can handle.

– Use the phrase “well-intentioned.” Few films, if any, have bad intentions.

– Avoid, at all costs, saying “it’s the best of its kind since such and such” for I am likely to have missed films of its ilk since such and such and you may disagree with my opinion of the former film and therefore I won’t adequately express my sentiments if that’s all I say.

– Since I discussed hyperbole above I will not say I am going to post something. I mentioned on more than one occasion on Examiner that I was planning on writing something about hyperbole in film criticism. And I was, but I never did.

– Confuse the person with the artist, or allow any other bias I may have, creep in without at least addressing it and letting you know that there is a grain of salt. Unless, it’s a first run or DVD review this will be a very positive site but unfortunately some movies are bad and it needs to be said, however, I do believe that in an overwhelming majority of them there is at least some redeeming quality.

I’m sure there’s probably more I can add. Suggestions would be more than welcome, for either category. Starting tomorrow the fun really starts.