Thursday, December 15, 2016

What bigotry really looks like

This is a lie of the most despicable kind. This walking skid mark is deliberately slandering good people because of their goodness. What kind of person does that?

And it is a lie. (Thanks to my friend Katie-Lou for the link.) The Salvation Army believes that any sex outside the context of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a sin and they expect their members and especially their clergy to assent. That’s it. That’s the extent of their position on the subject. They also believe in giving and spend long hours for little or no pay running soup kitchens and shelters for the poorest of the poor, and they don’t ask those people about their sex lives. They’re consistently ranked among the most efficient of charitable organizations when it comes to funneling donations to the needy. They do enormous good with very little. As a member of another church that does a lot of charitable work, I’m in awe.

I don’t see sign-boy out there rubbing shoulders with icky, smelly poor people.  He just wants to take revenge on the folks who do because they don’t affirm him enough. And unlike the people he wants to deprive, he probably goes back after a hard day of standing there to a warm home and a full meal.  If the LGBT community wanted to convince the world that it was nothing but a pack of spiteful narcissists, the best way to do that would be to drag down Sally Ann.

Ghosts of “Christmas Carols” past

No Christmas season is complete without endless versions of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” We’re subjected to it so much it’s come to rival the actual Nativity story as the defining narrative for the season. Darn near everybody has taken a whack at being Scrooge: Mr. Magoo, Henry Winkler (his is excellent – see it if you can), Bill Murray... God help us, every one!

I know it’s not good form to put multiple embedded videos in one post, but I just don’t have it in me to stretch it out over three. So here’s a sampler. Leave a comment if you watch any of them.

The good

"Karroll’s Christmas" has a few surprises for a story that’s been done to death. The protagonist Allen (Tom Everett Scott) is kind of a schmuck, but could never equal his neighbor, Zeb Rosecog (Wallace Shawn) for sheer loathsomeness. This guy makes the original Scrooge looks like Mother Teresa. Allen’s relative harmlessness cuts no ice when the ghosts get the wrong address and drag him through time and space to review Rosecog’s inconceivable (I couldn’t resist) misdeeds. By the time he’s able to convince them that he’s not Rosecog, he finds himself sympathetic to the old coot and drafts them to save him.

The ghosts are brilliantly cast: Deanna Milligan, Larry Miller, Verne Troyer and Dan Joffre as a Rasta Marley. (Yes, really.) The ending is familiar and more sappy than necessary, but what the heck? It’s worth it alone for the cringe-inducing (in a good way) proposal scene. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean.

The bad

I started to review “Christmas Cupid” on its own and just couldn’t get through it. I’m not entirely sure it even qualifies as a Christmas Carol knockoff, as it has only one ghost. The shade in question is a train-wreck celebrity (Ashley Benson) who chokes to death on an olive in her drink and comes back to haunt her agent Sloane (Christina Milian). It’s just one eye-rolling Millennial cliche after another. Milian is okay, but she can’t redeem this stinkeroo by herself. Dear God, please make it stop.

The sublime

Everything becomes funny when you add Blackadder to it, sort of like fart jokes or LSD. This is perhaps the only genuinely original take-off I’ve ever seen. (Update: I found a better copy.) Kind, generous Mr. Blackadder is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Robbie Coltrane), who helps himself to the liquor and regales his target with tales of his despicable ancestors. The future sequence alone is brilliantly funny. I don’t think I really need to introduce the cast of the Blackadder shows to you; if I do, you’re reading the wrong blog. Some of the characters in the opening scenes are a little too annoying, but they're balanced out by Victoria and Albert (Miriam Margolyes and Jim Broadbent, respectively). For some reason I can't get past his Teutonic "Damn, damn, damn." And how they managed to get through the future scenes with straight faces, I cannot conceive. (A line that's used to good effect in the show, incidentally.) Watch it all and marvel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Finally, a good one!

Okay, “Trading Christmas” isn’t good good. But definitely a cut above the offerings we’ve had here so far. This may be because it’s based on a novel by an actual writer water than the stable of underpaid, toymaking-deficient elves that are evidently chained in the basement of the Hallmark Channel building churning out cookie-cutter plots. This one has actual characters, and actual dialogue, and although it’s predictable, it has an actual story line.

Three of them, actually, neatly braided together:

(1) In Boston, college student Heather Spengler (Emma Lahana) has always spent Christmas with her widowed mother, but this year wants to go to Arizona with her boyfriend. Knowing that Mom will flip out if she tells her the truth, she begs off and insists she wants to spend the holiday at school.

(2) Back home in South Woodbourne, Washington, Emily (Faith Ford) is terribly disappointed by this and decides to take the mountain to Mohammad and does a house-swap with writer Charles Johnson (Tom Cavanaugh) in Boston. The writer’s charming brother Ray (Gil Bellows, who apparently does a lot of these movies but whom I mostly remember from "Ally McBeal," and don’t ask me why I watched that show) happens by the house.

(3) Emily’s best friend Faith (Gabrielle Miller) is overcome with sympathy for Emily having to spend her first Christmas alone, and comes up from San Francisco to keep her friend company. When she arrives, she finds instead Charles, who is decidedly not charming, and is forced to impose on him for a place to stay until the next bus to Seattle, which just happens to come through South Woodbourne on Christmas. (South Woodbourne's location is pretty vague. It's described as being a hundred miles from Seattle, which coincidentally is almost the distance to Abbotsford, B.C. where it was filmed.)

Hilarity ensues and romances bloom. But we knew that.

I’ll be honest; I only watched this because Gabrielle Miller was in it. Her character on “Corner Gas” was just about the only thing that show had going for it (except for Lorne Cardinal, who’s not pretty enough to watch for very long). She doesn’t disappoint here. Bellows is his usual competent self and Faith Ford is clearly also a veteran of sappy movies.

Emily is clearly the first among equals in terms of character importance. Her widowhood isn’t just a plot trope; it’s clear that she clings to every shred of her old life through her daughter, who chafes at being conscripted as a surrogate for her late father. Charles, alas, is just a walking trope: the writer with writer’s block and a chip on his shoulder from an ex who done him wrong. But for Gabrielle Miller, I'll put up with that.

It’s clean and innocent, as Christmas should be. Enjoy. And leave a comment.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Why did I enjoy this movie?

Seriously, why? I’m still cudgeling my brain about what aspect of Crown for Christmas I liked. I don't mean to be overly hard on it. The film was sweet and pleasant and I came away feeling good for having seen it. And that's what a cheesy Christmas movie should do, right? Mission accomplished. I'm just trying to parse why it did.

It can’t be the acting (in general; more on that anon). That was textbook recitation more than anything. Courteous courtiers, jovial servants, a nasty spoiled aristocrat, a single father who just happens to be a king. They weren’t so much dramatic roles as cogs in a machine.

And for the love of heaven don’t get me started on the realism. By which I mean there was none. At all. Whatsoever. Not a setting, not a plot point, not a single syllable of dialogue was plausible. Kings do not have their marriages arranged against their will. Servants and royalty do not all speak the Queen’s English in the same accent. In fact, there are no English-speaking countries at all on the European continent (except the Duchy of Grand Fenwick). Hotel maids in New York are not (so far as I know) fired merely for making eye contact with a guest. And that’s not even getting into the actual fairy-tale elements of the story, which strain believability like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe on a hot day.

(Several IMDb commenters pointed out that the proper mode of address for kings is “Your Majesty” rather than “Your Highness.” Technically true, although they are sometimes styled as “highness” in other contexts. Anyway, my understanding is that today they tend to prefer “sir.” Believe me, that’s the least of the film’s credibility problems.)

So back to the original question: why did I enjoy a film with so many howlers? Because, in the end, I actually did. I think maybe it’s because Danica McKellar doesn’t seem to be acting. I don’t mean that she’s a really good actress, although she may be with other material. I mean that I’m not sure she actually knew that the whole thing wasn’t real life, like maybe instead of a script they gave her hallucinogens and just let her interact with the cast. Also, the little girl (played sparklingly by Ellie Botterill) was so charming and delightful that the rest of the cast didn’t really need to be anything but her props.

So, like Abraham’s ten righteous men of Sodom, for the sake of those two actresses the film can be spared from the flames. Behold!

(Check out my other movie reviews here.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A poetic interlude

Salvaged from the Crappy Poetry Corner at the now-defunct “Bob From Accounting” website. I’m not sure why I bothered to track it down; it just seems to fit with my newfound holiday spirit.

Christmas in New Hampshire

by Debby, Roanoke, Virginia

The snowy white of Christmas
Basking together in the warmth
Of an electric space heater
Gazing at the twinkling lights
Of a Douglas fir

Then begin the lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
Come out of your mouth
Thick and heavy like home fries

No hot tub action for you
Big man with wavy hair
I wanted an engagement ring
You gave me a Chia Pet
And a coupon for a Brazilian waxing

The eggnog flows
Like your Lies
Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies
The electric heater drops into the water
As you bathe alone


A little light housekeeping

So it turns out that leaving my blog untouched causes a lot of dust bunnies and mouse turds to collect in the corner. My kids’ ages are up to date and I’ve bid a fond farewell to some of the blogs in the sidebar that aren’t posting anymore. I’m usually really reluctant to do that, but some of them just pure down don’t exist and others will probably never know. If you (O hypothetical reader) own one and wonder why you’ve been removed, let me know and I’ll put you back.

(I refuse to remove Villainous Company no matter how stubbornly Cassandra away. Someday she’ll come back. I believe with all my heart.)

(I also won’t remove Strange Spanners. That blogger was an old friend who died a day or two after his last post. He never married and had no children and his blog and Facebook page are all that remains of him. Memory eternal.)

I’m also dumping Disqus for the native Blogger comment system. The only reason I ever installed it to begin with was a a workaround to try and import my Haloscan comments when the latter shut down. The import to Disqus didn’t work anyway. If anyone ever figures out how to import them directly into Blogger I still have the files.

Oh, and I changed the icon of St. Expeditus so he wouldn't be so pixellated. I don't know who painted it; I found it through a Google image search on some Pinterest page. I couldn't find out more because I don't have an account and I'm durned if I'll start yet another social media thing I'm never going to use. If the owner of the image ever sees this, I hope they'll let me know whether to credit them or take it down.

Also, since I'm reviving Cheesy Christmas Movies, I'll be going through and fixing broken video links a few at a time. Some of them I just can't find; others I just haven't gotten to yet.

I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment so I know I’m not just shouting into an empty blogosphere.

The funniest English Spaniard ever to come out of Germany...

... now travels in elephants. I didn't know he'd actually gotten hurt playing slapstick on Fawlty Towers. A professional indeed, and apparently well loved in real life.

Adios, auf wiedersehen, cheers!

Speaking of Christmas, here’s a turkey

Actually, I fear that may be a slight to the noble and tasty fowl. Upon finishing “Snowglobe,” I was ready for a bit more along those lines. When it comes to Christmas movies, I tend to prefer the ones with a little magic in them, as opposed to the ones that are just straight romance or syrupy familial dramas. (I’m not running those down; there are some good examples of both. But on the whole, I like a dash of fantasy in my Christmas fare.)

So the plot of “Christmas Do-Over” seemed like a good fit. Sure, it’s derivative, but let’s face it, there’s darn little originality left in the genre. How bad could it be?

Put it this way: If you took “Liar Liar” and “Groundhog Day,” mashed them together like Play-Doh, and then somehow extracted every bit of sympathy or humor, this is what would be left.

Jay Mohr, an SNL alum from one of its less-funny eras, plays Kevin, a divorced father dragooned at the last minute into spending Christmas with his ex-wife Jill and her parents, who make no secret of their dislike of him. Bad enough, but also joining the festivities is Jill’s new boyfriend Todd, who bought her a car for Christmas and is going to propose. Not having time to shop, Kevin accidentally bought his son an Easy-Bake oven, while Todd got him a train set. No opportunity is missed to rub our face in Kevin’s overall inferiority like a poorly-trained puppy.

You know where it goes from here. Every morning Kevin finds himself back on his outlaws’ doorstep, holding the same stupid girly-toy. Poor schmo doesn’t even have time to buy something else. So he resorts to some dirty tricks to try and get his wife and son back, culminating in a fight where he beats up Santa Claus and gets his butt kicked by Jesus. Yes, really.

Eventually, of course, he has a change of heart and redeems himself in the eyes of his son and ex-kinfolk. But it still leaves an aftertaste of defeat.

There are a few fun spots. Seeing Todd slip in dish soap and hurt his back over and over is strangely satisfying. (By this time you’re actively rooting for him to be injured.) The lecherous tipsy grandmother is a kick too.

But nothing, I repeat, nothing can possibly justify the climactic scene with Mohr rapping some version of “Silent Night” dressed as a snow pea pod. Nothing. There is no forgiveness in heaven or earth for that sort of abomination.

Watch and be appalled.

Note: there are a couple of short spaces where the sound cuts out. I assume that's to keep the all-seeing eye of YouTube from noticing that it's under copyright.