I saw Santa in the mall last night. Target has their plastic Christmas trees and icicle lights taking up about half of the store (next to the discounted leftover Halloween candy). The restaurant bathroom has “Joy to the World” pumping through its shitty speakers. Yes, Christmas is already here… two weeks before Thanksgiving. So I guess we might as well start thinking about the ones we love and what they’d like for Christmas. To heck with that! It’s time to shop for myself and Wal-Mart seems to already have my attention with five and ten dollar Blu-ray titles.
Looking at the ad (may vary by location), I can see Paranormal Activity, Get Him to the Greek, Boondock Saints and Fight Club all for just ten bucks each. If you’re a real Scrooge, some Blu-ray titles are just five bucks: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Superbad and Gran Torino. And these are just a few of the 60+ titles on special. Not to mention specials on players and hello(!): ten dollar copies of Infamous and Uncharted 2 for PS3. I’ll be there man.
Director: Frank Capra
Writers:Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Producers: Frank Capra
Starring: Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Gloria Grahame
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 130 min
Christmas is finally here and I may’ve saved the best of this Christmas movie watching project for last. Over the past twelve days I’ve watched films on Christmas murders, Christmas wars, Christmas past lives, Christmas ghosts, monsters, the abduction of Santa Claus and even Christmas on another planet. But when all is said and done and Christmas Day is finally here, it turns out that director Frank Capra and a good old fashioned morality tale with the most recognizable of all Christmas symbols, an angel, provides what is really the best of the holiday spirit films. It’s easy to understand why this is the quintessentail Christmas movie that is played in households around the world year after year on this day (though our household prefers Darren McGavin and the Scut Farkus affair).
Everyone pretty much already knows the story of George Bailey and is slow fall from grace after a financial accident. But when an angel appears to show George just what he means to this world and how important he is to everyone who’s ever known him, George changes his tune quickly and is reminded that moeny isn’t the answer to your prayers; it’s friends and family.
Interestingly enough, the movie’s strength really isn’t the final 30 minutes or so in which George is learning his lesson. Sure the climax is touching, but watching George struggle and become the man that he is seemed to me to be the most compelling. Fixing every issue and solving everyone else’s problems and making everyone’s life that much better by fighting off the greed and mean spirit of the local Scrooge. George does all this at the expense of his own happiness. Ironically and unbeknownst to George, helping people is exactly what makes George the happiest. Even if he doesn’t know it yet.
Jimmy Stewart is one of the biggest stars of all time and with It’s a Wonderful Life it’s more proof as to why. Though younger, he exhudes charm and more personality from his left pinky than most stars had in their entire career. Stewart is 90% of what makes this film so captivating and fun to watch. Donna Reed was quite a looker in her day too. Hubba hubba.
Well, it’s Christmas evening and I have my own family to attend to, so I’ll cut this one a bit short. It’s been a long and stressful year, but it’s also been a lot of fun here in the third row. Here’s to another great year and best wishes and Merry Christmas to all of you. Thanks for reading and discussing and debating.
I just wanted to wish everyone here a Merry Christmas.
In the spirit of giving I give you all my wish list:
- The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky (Box Set)
- Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Box Set)
- Bourne Trilogy (Box Set)
- Sukiyaki Western Django
- Monty Python Holy Trinity (Monty Python and the Holy Grail / Monty Python’s Life of Brian / Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life) (6 discs) (1975)
- .net magazine
- Yes Asia Website for Asian DVDs
- Indigo Books
If you are in a giving mood you can either send me one of each of the above or just for fun put up your wish list in the comments and in the immortal words of Clark Griswald:
Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Director: Seth Kearsley
Writers: Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs, Adam Sandler
Producers: Adam Sandler, Allen Covert, Jack Giarraputo
Starring (voices of): Adam Sandler, Jackie Sandler, Austin Stout, Kevin Nealon, Rob Schneider
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 76 min
Since my plan to watch Christmas Evil fell through due to too many sick souls trying to rent it from Netflix this year, I had to settle for the only Christmas themed movie left in the store where I work: Eight Crazy Nights. That’s right; an animated Adam Sandler movie for the holiday season that surprisingly has very little to do with Hanukkah. But I remembered that most Sandler movies in which he doesn’t have some stupid voice are usually tolerable; sometimes quite funny (Happy Gilmore) and sometimes even fantastic (Punch Drunk Love). Since he basically plays it straight with this one and it must be somewhat subversive as it is rated PG-13, how bad could it be I thought? As it turns out, pretty friggin bad.
Davey Stone (Sandler) is a drunk trouble maker that hates the holidays (and people in general) so much that he makes Ebeneezer Scrooge look like Santa Claus. He intentionally ruins festivities, breaks kids’ hearts and creates general havoc by just harrassing the crap out of everyone. After on particularly bad drunken outing, the judge finally sentences Davey to either spend ten years in prison or rehab with the local youth basketball coach. In other words, he has to learn to play basketball again or go to jail. Totally plausible.
The referee turns out to be a short, leprechaun looking guy with a very high pitched, annoying, Mr. Bill-sounding voice. And he’s played by, you guessed it, Mr. Sandler. It’s awful and putrid and the only thing keeping me from switching off the television was my promise to the loyal readers of Row Three, 12 days of Christmas films.
First off, is this movie for kids or adults? I should’ve realized that PG-13 doesn’t mean subversive and it doesn’t mean pushing the envelope. It means half-ass. In other words, there is just a little bit too much swearing in here to allow the kids to watch this, but nothing that’s overly raunchy or even very funny for the adults. It tries to be funny but falls flat at every turn. I suppose a 10 or 11 year-old kid might find a few things in here (the burp and ass jokes) chuckle worthy. But it just made me want to punch Adam Sandler in the kidney. Also Rob Schneider doing the narration should have been a clue right away that this thing was not going to be even slightly amusing.
The animation is one step up from a Saturday morning cartoon that’s about to be canceled and the voice acting is not only awful, but with this basketball coach getting a lot of story time, it was mostly just annoying and unfunny. Sure it has a nice message (be nice to people and cry when you need to), but so does the back of my cereal box of Fruit Loops.
In an attempt to capitalize on some of his song writing skills, Eight Crazy Nights has about 6 or 7 musical interludes as well that are supposed to entertain and make the audience giggle. Again, these songs were just grating and made my left ear bleed.
Enough. Boring and unfunny, stay away – far away – from these Eight “Lazy” Nights.
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Arnaud Desplechin, Emmanuel Bourdieu
Producers: Pascal Caucheteux
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 150 min
Year of Release: France
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I left the theater in the middle of this screening with an hour left to go in the theater. So this post isn’t really a review, but more of an op/ed piece. If you’d like a full review, you can check out Marina’s review (of which I totally agree for what I saw). Me leaving the theater wasn’t entirely the fault of the film itself. In fact, I was sort of starting to get into the spirit of things by the time I decided it was time to leave. Normally I’d never review a film without seeing the entire thing (hence, this is an op/ed and NOT a review), but I’ve recently been convinced by certain readers of this site that leaving a movie in the middle says just as much about a film than seeing the whole thing through. But again, giving the film poor marks because I left the screening early isn’t really fair as there were extenuating circumstances to my abandoning.
Interesting enough, this movie reminded me very much of my favorite movie of the year (so far), Rachel Getting Married. An entire family is getting together for a significant event (in this case Christmas) while no one is looking forward to the black sheep of the family (Henri) to arrive. This black sheep is played by Mathieu Amalric (Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum of Solace) who has been banished from his family for basically being a jack-ass. As part of a court order, in which Henri receives a lot of money from his sister, he must not have any contact with her (no phone calls, no letters, no family gatherings, no holiday events; nothing). But five years down the road, the mother develops a sort of cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant. Since she has a very rare blood type, it turns out that Henri is the only one who is compatible to donate for her. So he is invited to spend Christmas with the family and… get ready to donate I guess?
So here’s the thing: it had been a long day. I was tired, I was hungry and after 2 hours, this movie really hadn’t gone anywhere. While I compare it to Rachel Getting Married in a superficial way, it isn’t one tenth as compelling or interesting. None of the characters (aside from Henri) have much emotion or energy. It’s like they are completely removed from the rest of the movie. There are pockets of interest here and there, but they never seem to lead to anything that will advance the storyline or compel the audience in any sort of captivating way.
After looking at my watch and realizing that there was still an hour to go, both my sister and I decided that the movie isn’t all that bad, but we just had better things to do since we weren’t all that interested. Luckily, our sponsor had already paid our admission. Had I actually paid the ten bucks for the film, I likely would’ve gutted it out and stuck with it. I’m sure that a little bit more drama and intrigue would’ve ensued. But from what I saw, there wasn’t anything interesting about any (again, except Henri) of the characters, the dialogue was boring and the mood wasn’t even all that concrete. Was I supposed to be laughing or was I supposed to feel touched? In either case, I don’t think the intent was for me to feel as indifferent as I did.
My intent here isn’t to bash the movie. My point is just that the movie doesn’t hold enough interest for a tired, hungry male aged 33 at 8:00 pm on a Sunday night for nearly three hours of which I have to read subtitles. I think this may be the first film that I’ve ever walked out of before. And again to be clear, I wasn’t angry, offended or even bored. I just wasn’t into it and all I could think about was how I wish I was down the hall with all the mesmerized people experiencing Rachel Getting Married. Hence, no star rating for this one as that just wouldn’t be fair.
Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Tim Burton
Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi, Don Hahn
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 76 min
Year of Release: 1993
Keep in mind the fact that through these past nine days of Christmas film viewing, not a one had I seen previously. So is also true with today’s lesson in how to make a great film. Taught by director Henry Selick and writer producer Tim Burton. Fully expecting for this film to be just so-so, I was enamored from start to finish with the richness in detail, storytelling, characters and most surprisingly the music.
The movie starts off with a bunch of ghouls and ghosts and other frights of the macabre all singing and dancing about the joys of Halloween. When the celebration is over, the organizer of the successful event, Jack Skellington, feel somehow empty inside; like there should be something more. Later, while exploring through the woods, Jack finds himself presented with some mysterious doors in the forest. For the audience, these are obviously marked to represent different holidays. Jack finds himself leaving Halloween land and entering Christmas world where he finds a whole slew of new, interesting, bright, joyous and fascinating ideas and wonders. He then takes it upon himself to bring the idea of Christmas back with him to Halloween land where no one can quite understand or even comprehend the idea of cheeriness as fun.
What got me right off the bat (within just the opening minutes) was the unique look to this strange land. Obviously the creatures are odd and the stop motion look of everything is different that most any other films released today, but what struck me was the meticulousness to which everything was paid; particularly the lighting. What makes the land of Halloween and Christmas work so well is the different methods of lighting the scenes. Whether it be from a strange green light from a mysterious cauldron, the yellow/orange (even black) hues and color blends of the moon, to the straight up use of a spotlight aimlessly wandering through the picture. Everything is gorgeous.
This gorgeousness can also be attributed to the strange and wonderful creatures Burton has come up with. Every known creature of the night and frights (spiders, snakes, vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches and even clowns!) come alive with so much expression and amazement that it was hard not to actually pause the DVD at times just to get a longer glimpse. Of course there are odd, unknown creatures utilized as well. Ones that although charming, would certainly have scared the pants off of me as a young child. So yeah, while this is a kids movie, I would certainly recommend keeping the younger ones away until they are able to handle a little bit more scarier elements. Think “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” on acid.
And speaking of everyone’s childhood favorite’s, the animated “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, one can’t help but make some more “Seussian” comparisons with The Nightmare Before Christmas – even down to the songs. Yes, The Nightmare Before Christmas is actually a musical. And while I normally am turned off by the musical numbers in children’s films, I found myself quite enjoying these songs. Musically they aren’t particularly memorable, but the lyrics and fun and bouncy; not to mention extremely creative. I was hinged to every word.
Again, the look of the movie is what steals the show here. Even beyond the aforementioned lighting, the use of differing techniques in animation is obvious but not distracting. The use of stop-motion animation (or what appears to be anyway) coupled together with a little bit of CGI and even a delightful sprinkle of standard, hand drawn animation to spice things up just where it needs to be is absolutely dynamite (actually, I wish there had been a little bit more of the traditional animation). The attention to detail is amazing and the amount of time and effort that must have gone in to this production is unfathomable.
So the question stands, is this a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? If a gun as put to my head I think it tries to capture the spirit of Christmas and a viewing seems better fit in this last month of the year. Having said that, it’s no wonder that for the past few years it has been released in limited screenings around the country during October as well. It fits both seasons perfectly and while I did see it on the big screen this weekend, I can’t wait to get get a glimpse of the 3-D version that plays at the IMAX next Halloween. Only 270 days and counting!
While it may be cliche to say, this is truly great entertainment and fun for the whole family. While mainly a kids movie, some of the humor and visual are aimed squarely at adults. Though again, this is most certainly NOT for the little ones. When most people talk about great achievements in children’s animation, Pixar studio is immediately what springs to most people’s minds. While this is a Disney film, Pixar’s logo is nowhere to be found and it’s quite refreshing to see something that is this visually unique and stunning coming from someone other than those Toy Story guys. And maybe most fascinating of all, is that this film is over 15 years old! If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t have any reservations about believing this film to be released in 2008. Wondrous!
Director: Christian Carion
Writers: Christian Carion
Producer: Christophe Rossignon
Starring: Diane Kruger, Natalie Dessay, Benno Fürmann, Rolando Villazón
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 116 min.
Year of Release: 2005
Country of origin: France, Germany, UK, Romania, Belgium
An anti-war movie on Christmas? Might seem a bit of an odd choice of a film to watch on Christmas, but of course anti-war is exactly the kind of film that should be watched in the true spirit of Christmas. And Joyeux Noël is exactly that; a film that takes the most brutal place on earth in that particular time and shows us that we are all human and we all long for comraderie and love.
Right in the thick of the bloody trench warfare of WWI, Christmas Day approaches. Each of the countries participating in this particular skirmish (Scotland, France, Germany) prepares for it’s Christmas in different ways. With hearty meals, music or hundreds of lit Christmas trees in their trench. Even though an unwritten cease fire “rule” is in effect for Christmas, all sides are weary of the fact that the other side might initiate a surprise attack at any moment. When the Scots begin to play their bagpipes with a rendition of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the German side happens to have a very talented and famous tenor in their group who begins to sing along. Slowly but surely, each side begins to emerge from their trenches and the commanding officers organize a truce – just for one night.
As the men slowly get to know one another, it becomes laughs, drinks and stories of home. Even without knowing the other side’s language, the men quickly become friends and even are able to enjoy a midnight mass together. Now friends, each side finds it difficult to resume fire the following day and more fraternization between “enemies” occurs.
When word of this truce hits the men’s superiors back in their home country, of course none of it is understood or tolerated and each side must deal with the consequences from home of their actions in their own way.
The movie does take some time to get started, but all of the exposition is necessary as it really needs to explain the motivation behind the three or four men that the story mostly focuses on. While there are a bit of battle sequences, there’s nothing overly exciting or adventuresome that ever happens. Most of the tension comes from watching the distrust of these men slowly dissipate as they challenge themselves to trust in humanity and also the “enemy.”
For me, it was the music that finally got me invested in the story. Hearing the different cultures playing their songs to lighten the mood for the troops was really the international language that brought everyone together and was the catalyst for friendships that were bonded and bound to continue for years, even after the war was over.
While it’s hard to describe exactly why this movie works so well without just going through the story point by point and analyzing each man’s feelings, the movie does seem to have a lot to say about humanity and the nature of war and the power of love. It touches on the indoctrination of children (from all sides), the sadness and despair and ruin that unnecessary death can bring about and the insanity of fighting brother against brother. Even though it feels a little bit like an edited down version of an ABC mini-series, the production value is quality and the “true story” aspect of the story really hits home – particularly this time of year and the current state of the world.
Director: Chazz Palminteri
Writers: David Hubbard
Producers: Bart Rosenblatt, Howard Rosenman, Eugene Musso, Al Corley
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Robin Williams, Marcus Thomas, Sonny Marinelli
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 96 min
Year of Release: 2004
Alright I admit it. I picked up this movie for one reason and one reason only: Penelope Cruz is on the cover… looking very fine. But when I popped it in and started paying attention to the opening credits I realized, “there’s quite a decent cast of well known actors for this little known film.” Then the director credit: Chazz Palminteri. His directorial debut? Apparently, according to the IMDb. So I get a great character actor’s directorial debut and Penelope Cruz salsa dancing wearing very little to start the film. What could go wrong? Clark W. Griswold said that once too.
This is one of those multiple story line films that you think will intertwine somehow by the end. With Noel, the stories do meet up at one point, but it’s of little consequence and almost coincidental. It was two completely different stories running parallel encapsulated within 90 minutes. There’s not much depth here though so while admittedly not too hard to put together, Palminteri has structured the two stories surprisingly well. Susan Sarandon plays a lonely woman on Christmas Eve forced to take care of her dying mother and generally hating Christmas, but goes about her day as chipper as possible. Paul Walker plays Penelope Cruz’ fiancee who nearly loses her when his anger takes over with his misplaced jealousy. Meanwhile, a strange old man (Alan Arkin) claims that Walker is the re-incarnated soul of his dead wife. Tough guy Walker doesn’t take to this news very kindly.
This is really Sarandon’s film as she garners most of the screen time. Though she appears to be sleepwalking through the entire picture, it’s still Sarandon; so even a half hearted effort is still pretty decent. Everyone else is just kind of there serving their purpose. Nothing bad but nothing overly spectacular either. Just a bunch of A-listers seemingly just fulfilling a favor to someone.
The evolution of the characters is what is interesting here, but the emotional output is minimal so it was difficult for me to get very misty eyed – which was clearly the film’s intent. In fact, by the end of the movie I was so immersed in the overt melodrama that I wanted to roll my eyes. Still, there’s something sweet here that I sort of got into for some reason. Even if it does feel like somewhat of a prime time, network, holiday special from the mid-90’s.
In the end, the ridiculousness of the way things turn out and the little surprise revelations were too much for me nothing seemed to gel very well with the rest of the picture. It’s unrestrained and takes every little thing just over the edge of believability and it seemed like it was trying way too hard to invade my personal psyche. It almost works as I sat on the edge of the fence and then knocked me over with just a touch of too much sentimentality.
Again though, the fairly large cast of recognizable faces and watching a first time director weave his craft was enough to keep me interested. And I can admit that here and there throughout the picture I was sort of on board. It’s the time of year when one is supposed to believe in miracles and angels and happiness prevailing over everything else. And in some small way, this picture did give me something to smile about. It was heartening and sweet but just a little overdone with the charm. If this review were limited to one sentence review, it would be: “It was nice.”