December 24, 2008

ThreeGeek Presents: Watch These Movies On Christmas!

I must admit, I've not seen many of Christmas movies, especially older ones, and the ones I have seen tend to fall between "A family-fun-filled holiday romp" (a.k.a. boring shlop) or "An adult take on the holidays" (see also: crude shlop) So, Sherman has a one-up on me here... and I would not be surprised if Thad does as well. That being said...

Richard's Holiday Picks:

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989) -- 4/5

"Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, fore-fleshing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is. Hallelujah. Holy shit. Where's the Tylenol?"

This movie has all you could want in a comedy: sight gags, falls and tumbles, witty dialog... and it's just crude enough to be funny without turning into a Farrelly Bros. film.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) are hosting the extended Griswold family Christmas. This means bringing in their parents (the stellar John Randolph and Diane Ladd as Clark's parents and E.G. Marshall and Doris Roberts as Ellen's), senile Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) and snarky Uncle Lewis (William Hickey) as well as the lovably dysfunctional Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family. It also features the third set of kids to play Russ and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis), and top it all off with the snobbish neighbors played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest.

In typical old Lampoon fashion, little goes according to plan. Christmas trees burn, turkeys fry and Santas fly through the air in a blaze of methane glory. And yet the comedy comes from how true-to-life most of it feels.

Besides a great Christmas, filled with enough lights to cause a blackout, Clark wants to surprise his family with news of a new pool he will be installing thanks to his Christmas bonus. He and his family count down the days to Christmas (and the bonus) as the family arrive. Yet life, and family, throw them a curve.

I can't pick a favorite moment from this film. Is it the sled racing across hill and highway and into the shack? Or perhaps the squirrel running rampant in the house? And there are always the Christmas lights, and Clark's eventual meltdown near the end...

One thing is for sure, this movie is funny the whole way though.

"Die Hard" (Dir. John McTiernan, 1988) -- 4.5/5

"Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."

Fuck yeah, "Die Hard!" What Christmas list would be complete without the greatest Christmas (and Action) Movie of all time. I could go into detail about the plot and the actors... but why? If you haven't seen this movie, you fail as an American. And, beyond that, as a human being.

John McClane (Bruce Willis, for all of you dirty, unAmerican pinkos out there) is the greatest action hero to ever live. Why? Because he is. This cop flies back from working the streets of New York City to spend time with his ungrateful wife (Bonnie Bedelia), who would rather have a good job than be with this baddest motherfucker of all time. Still, John misses her and the kids so he goes to her lame corporate Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza. Little did he know that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) plans to fuck all kinds of shit up in one of the most elaborate heists of the 1980s.

As Hans and his crew start to fucking murder Japanese businessmen and cocky cokeheads, does John run away? No! He drags his shoeless ass through miles of ventilation and kills him some terrorist thieves.

John McClane is a real man. He is not invincible, like some pansy "I'll be back" action heroes, nor does he feel the need to jump out of a helicopter while shooting a tripod mounted gun or yelling "It's ok, I don't shop here!" to supermarket bombers. HE FEELS PAIN, AND HE PUSHES ON. Why does he do it? To save his wife? Because he is a cop? NO! He does it because if he doesn't some German asshole gets away with countless millions in bonds as well as killing a building full of chumps.

Watch Die Hard. DO IT NOW! Then try to tell me it is not the greatest motherfucking Action/Christmas/Love Story ever told.

Jeremiah's Christmas Cavalcade:

“It's a Wonderful Life” (Dir. Frank Capra, 1946)

This holiday classic is loved by millions and stands as a television staple this time of year. It's one of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra's most celebrated cinematic offerings. In addition to that though, it just so happens to be one of the greatest American movies ever made.

"It's a Wonderful Life" is considered by todays' cynical masses to be "too corny," while simultaneously being hailed by a select few as a dark portrait of failure and repressed rage at life. Personally, I think the former are not giving the film the credit it deserves, while the latter may be reading to much into bad acting by some of the side characters while also misreading the main character's reaction to and towards certain others. Still, that's why I love movies... and art in general. We all saw the same movie, yet we all interpreted that movie in different ways.

In this reviewers' opinion, it is an amalgamation of the two theories. I believe it is a dark portrait about failure and repressed rage -- rage at the injustices one believes were unfairly dealt to us. At the same time it is corny... wait, no. No, it's not. And I'll tell you why: “It's a Wonderful Life” is sincere, through and through. It actually believes in the precepts put forth to the viewer.

Every time I watch “It's a Wonderful Life,” I cry. But not always at the same thing. Sometimes I will cry at the end, as most people do -- overwhelmed by the sheer humanity and sacrifice displayed. There are times, though, that I've shed a few tears during the scene where George Bailey defends his Dad to the board of Trustees and Potter, after his father's death. The monologue where Stewart rails against capitalism has moved me beyond words. Yet, still there are times where the tears come with George telling his father how he feels about him over supper on his last night home before college.

In short, “It's A Wonderful Life” is a masterpiece that I will review at length some other time. It's one of my favorite Christmas movies and, hell... it just may be one of my favorite movies, period.

“The Shop Around the Corner” (Dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

Many of you may have seen the less sublime, less witty, less human, and in all other ways inferior remake of this movie, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, known as “You've Got Mail.” Please be so kind as to ignore the movie altogether. There are better movies with Tom Hanks. There are better movies with Meg Ryan. Hell, there are better movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (my vote is for “Joe Versus the Volcano”), but I digress.

Lubitsch's film is not about two people who work together in a shop called Matuschek and Co., who start out hating each other only to discover they were made for one another -- well, it is, but that's not all it's about. Lubitsch dares to populate Matuschek and Co. with other employees as well and, furthermore, dares to give you glimpses into their lives as well!

These are not stock characters put in the movie to be the wacky and sage advice dispensing best friend, the tempestuous boss, the smarmy kid who fires off one liners whenever he's on screen, or various other cliches. That's who they are in other, lesser movies, but in “The Shop Around the Corner,” they are people with hopes and dreams and loved ones who live off-screen, but who we feel must exist because they makes us believe they do.

This movie has a very Altman feel to it. By that, I mean it feels like that we are merely peeping into these characters' lives, getting the gist of it and moving on . There are side stories -- in fact the Stewart/Sullivan romance doesn't even take center stage until the latter half of the film.

I have much more to say about this movie, but all that's for another time. Until then, take my word for it: this is a Christmas classic worth seeing.

Thaddeus's Technically-Valid Christmas Film Favorites:

"Lethal Weapon" (Dir. Richard Donner, 1987)

To be honest, I'd forgotten that the original "Lethal Weapon" took place during Christmas until I caught in on the tube recently. Maybe that's stupid of me, I don't know. Either way, it always makes for a good time. I mean, who doesn't love Buddy Cop movies?

North Africans, that's who. Heh... "It's just been revoked."

Yeah, yeah... I know. That's from the second one. But that's the thing about "Lethal Weapon" movies. They're like delicious potato chips: you can't eat just one*. One reminds you of things from the others, and on and on...

Watching the four-piece set has you following these characters through over a decade, all told (with rumors of more to come). Riggs (Mel Gibson) gets less crazy... kinda, Murtaugh (Danny Glover) consistently proves that, while he may sometimes say so, he is decidedly not too old for this shit and they transition from partners to friends to family. And isn't that some kind of heart-felt, holiday thingy.

It may start with a drugged-up hooker taking a high-rise nose-dive, but it ends somewhere far more special... Gary Busey getting the crap smacked out of him in a thunderstorm. Hallelujah!

"Ghostbusters 2" (Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1989)

If you've met me before, you may have picked up on the fact that "Ghostbusters" is my Favorite Movie of All Time and Through All Other Dimensions, Including Ones Where It Was Never Even Created. But its sequel's tenuous connection to the holiday season is not the only reason I meantion it here. "Ghostbusters 2" is a fine, fun and heartfelt film that deserves some holiday acolades, dammit!

Also, I used it to save myself from watch "A Christmas Story" for the googolplexth time when I was helping my mom wrap presents last year and she insisted we watch Christmas movies while doing so.

But enough of that. What I find so engaging about "Ghostbusters 2" is that, after the first film, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) did not get the girl (
Dana Barrett, as re-portrayed by Sigourney Weaver). Instead, their relationship eventually disolved and she had a son with some other guy, who we never see. One of the most important things, for me, is the scene wherein Venkman tags along with Ray and Egon (co-writers/renaissance men Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) to investigate Dana's possibly haunted apartment, only to share a moment with the baby, Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf/Henry J. Deutschendorf II):

"Y'know, I shound've been your father. I mean, I could've been..."

Then he shakes the little baby's hand. It's sweet, damn you! If you want to argue, I'll be hiding behind that thing Sherman said about art and perception.

And let's not forget that, in the end, it's the city coming together in the joy of the season that breaks through the wicked Jello-shell erected by Vigo the Carpathian (Also known as Vigo the Cruel, Vigo the Torturer, Vigo the Despised, and Vigo the Unholy... and Wilhelm von Homburg). There's your Christmas (or, y'know... New Year's) spirit -- weilding joy as a mighty weapon against an undead sorceror.

Happy Christmas (or whathaveyou)!

*Do not eat the movies.

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December 02, 2008

The Queen Nixon -- Double Movie Review

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" - Henry IV, Part II

That line is presented to the audience on a black screen, followed by Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) sitting for a portrait. The painter and the Queen have a little back-and-forth about the election that has just seen Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) elected to Prime Minister. After the conversation, the Queen looks the camera directly in the eye and the title flashes onto the screen.

This is the opening to Stephen Frears's "The Queen" -- a quiet film, with masterful performances. There were times when I felt lost, or a bit like an outsider looking in, but that's more to my being an American than the fault of the film. It's quite difficult to sympathize with the Royal family, simply because we've been taught that they are unnecessary. Yet, with that in mind, it is an interesting look inside British tradition and government.

Granted, the movie is not about either of those things. Instead, it's about England and the Royal Family's reaction to the death of Princess Diana. In reality, what we get is an astonishing portrait of how someone like the Queen handles grief. Not over Diana, for we all know how she felt about her, but for her grandsons who have lost their mother.

The movie swings between the Royal Family, Tony Blair's administration, and the varying reactions. Blair, in the beginning, is bemused and somewhat taken aback by the Queen's apparent stubbornness against listening to her public. By the end, though, he too begins to empathize with her. Being someone with great power, it's hard to decide when one should bow to the people's will and when they should stand up against it.

Mirren does a superb job at portraying someone who is alive and well and still in the public eye. She plays her without trying to imitate her, choosing rather to imbue her with a restrained humanity. And James Cromwell as Prince Phillip is pitch perfect as always. It is, after all, James Cromwell.

The images, both blatant and subtle, are no less than astounding at times. There are moments when the view is absolutely sweeping, as the camera glides through the acres of Balmoral, the Queen's private residence. If you're not careful you'll miss the instances where the movie will subtly symbolize itself. In one scene we see a picture of Princess Di in one of the papers. Later, we see a deer slaughtered and hanging, with the floor about it looking curiously like the background of the picture from the papers. Whether this was intentional or merely the fevered imagination of this reviewer, I can not say. But if it is intentional, then it's absolutely marvelous.

I also noted times, especially in scenes with Tony Blair, where the film quality changed for the worse. But while listening to the commentary, (yes, I'm one of those people), I heard the director explain that he used different film stocks to present the different classes. Brilliant! If what I've described so far interests you in the slightest, then I'd highly recommend this movie...

/ 5

If not, then perhaps the next film will be right up your alley:

“What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”- Matthew 16:26

From the crown to the President. Oliver Stone's “Nixon” is a bombastic Greek tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, with allusions to “Citizen Kane” sprinkled in here and there. In short, it's everything “The Queen” is not. "The Queen" is a great movie, but “Nixon” is a somewhat-flawed masterpiece. Where Frears is quiet, subtle and restrained, Stone is loud, blatant and totally unhinged.

That's not to say it's bad -- it's just American. And don't get me wrong, there are times where Stone is absolutely everything I credited to Frears... if that makes any sense.

Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) is portrayed as a man with the potential for greatness, with his biggest flaw being himself. There are moments where Nixon's paranoia and slow descent into madness is almost heartbreaking to behold. Hopkins, well... it almost goes without saying how good he is. Almost.

Visually, Stone never lets up. The editing is amazing -- when Nixon is giving his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Stone imposes newsreel footage over the set, to foreshadow the soon-to-be-broken promises throughout.

Filled with an all-star cast and a story of epic proportions, Stone proves a master of his craft. The story weaves in and out of chronological order, giving you a Time Lord perspective of Nixon's life.

After watching this film, one gets a little mad at Stone for not giving “W” the full Stone treatment. Sure, “W” was good... but not great and certainly not near the epic “Nixon” is. One wonders why Stone decided to try and finish “W” before the election, effectively dumping out a gutless biopic. Whereas in "Nixon" it's nothing but guts, as Stone asks you to understand this wounded soul.

Was Richard Nixon a crook? Undoubtedly so. But thanks to Oliver Stone, you also realize he was also a man cursed by his own psychosis. I can't think of a good way to end this review so I'' just leave off he--

/ 5

Yours Until Hell Freezes Over,

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