Archive for the ‘12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies’ Category

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: A Christmas Story

December 25, 2010

You knew it was coming.

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983).

Ralphie has to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that a Red Ryder BB gun really is the perfect gift for the 1940’s.

(the imdb)

I think this movie, with rare competitors like Stand By Me, might be one of the best depictions on film of the weird mix of the jaded, the melodramatic, and the credulously bittersweet that encapsulate experiences that comprise childhood.


A Christmas Story is a 1983 American Christmas comedy film based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author and raconteur Jean Shepherd, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. The film has become a holiday classic and is known to be shown numerous times on television during the Christmas season.

(the wiki)

Man, whose leg do you have to hump to get “and raconteur” appended to your primary job description? That is sick as hell. I think I’m going to start referring to my friendohs like that. “This is my old friend Ben, chef and raconteur.” “I’d like you to meet noted drafter and raconteur, George.” “Will executive assistant and raconteur Dre be joining us?”


Three of the semi-autobiographical short stories on which the film is based were originally published in Playboy magazine between 1964 and 1966. Shepherd later read “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid” and told the otherwise unpublished story “Flick’s Tongue” on his WOR Radio talk show. [Director] Bob Clark states that he became interested in Shepherd’s work when he heard “Flick’s Tongue” on the radio in 1968.

(the wiki)


(crying) Daddy’s going to kill Ralphie!

Daddy is not going to kill Ralphie.

When we’d first moved to a large city and I was very small, we had a neighbor who told her children, in front of me, that if they didn’t stop screaming when they played, she was going to cut off their hands and bury them in the backyard. What made the threat chillingly genuine was how batshit insane this poor woman was. Like, unhinged, so’s as a child can see it in thirty seconds of conversation. I could not get out of that house fast enough. It was not even up for debate — I ran out the door, and the only issue on which I was torn was whether to run to my own house or to the police station.

I remember sitting in the bathtub after telling my mother, who assured me soothingly that Rich would never let Debbie cut off the children’s hands, sure that the next time I saw my friends, they’d have stumps at the end of their wrists. Kids know when grown-ups aren’t fooling around. She used to wear ankle weights to her doctor’s appointments so he’d think she was eating, and crowed about only needing a training bra. She told me I had “real potential” as a ballerina, but I couldn’t start talking to boys. That’s when everything would go south, she warned.

Once, when my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up (before the backyard hands-chopping thing) I told her, “I want to be just like Debbie.”

Whenever I think of her, Debbie is thin and fabulous in our community swimming pool, resplendently 80’s-riffic and prepubescently cocaine-and-gin anorexic in her hot pink and black bikini, sporting mirorred Ray-Ban knockoff sunglasses and a super-long Virginia Slim. Debbie would pitch nickels across the kidney-shaped pool and let them settle at the bottom, and then I would kick-launch off of her sunscreen-slicked thighs from the shallow end to claw frantically for the coins ahead of her daughter: I wanted so desperately to impress her. I hated to see my reflection in her super-cool shades, so imperfect with my lanky, boy-pixie-cut uselessness. She would ruffle my hair and call me Miz Liz. I thought she was sensational but terrifying — so pretty, so “different,” and so. danged. crazy.

She’s dead now. Brain tumor. When we were caught up by a neighbor we ran into at a grocery (we’d left that neighborhood many years before), the neighbor said, “Sad. It was enormous when she died; I guess she’d had it for years and it had just been pressing on her brain.” My father said, “I wonder if that’s what made her —” then turned and looked at me and said, “Um, you probably don’t remember her, but she was a little … erratic.”

No fucking shit, I thought.

Miss Shields is depicted as the Wicked Witch of the West, standing beside Ralphie’s mother, Mrs. Parker, in a jester outfit. Later, the kid with the goggles in line to see Santa tells Ralphie, “I like The Wizard of Oz. I like the Tin Man.” The Wizard of Oz was released in August of 1939, which has become part of the chronology fans try to pin on A Christmas Story to make a definite timeline for when the events are supposed to take place. (Waste of time: the writer and the director deliberately kept it vague.) Kind of funny though since both movies received middling critical acclaim at their release and went on to quietly become classic frequently-aired favorites.

Tedde Combs returned as Miss Shields in the sort of sequel, My Summer Story, making her the only original cast member to reprise his or her A Christmas Story role.

It’s a major award!

Both [author Jean] Shepherd and [director Bob] Clark have cameo appearances in the film; Shepherd plays the man who directed Ralphie and Randy to the back of the Santa line and Clark plays Swede, the neighbor the Old Man was talking to outside during the Leg Lamp scene.

(the wiki)



You used up all the glue on purpose.

The infamous leg lamp, the Old Man’s “major award,” was based on an actual lamp, in the shape of a logo for Nehi soda.



The character of Red Ryder, whose name bears the BB Gun Ralphie is desperately trying to acquire, is a real comic book (and radio) character that existed in the 1930’s-40’s, akin to popular western heroes like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger.

(the imdb)

But of course here he is fighting Black Bart.





The Red Ryder BB gun was available beginning in 1938 and for many years afterward (and indeed, still is), but never in the exact configuration mentioned in the film. The Daisy “Buck Jones” model did have a compass and a sundial in the stock, but these features were not included in the Red Ryder model. The compass and sundial were placed on Ralphie’s BB gun but on the opposite side of the stock due to Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) being left-handed.

(the wiki)


The film was written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark. Shepherd provides the movie’s narration from the perspective of an adult Ralphie, a narrative style later used in the dramedy The Wonder Years.

(the wiki)

Which is exactly why I always ascribed to Fred Savage and Peter Billingsley an adult intelligence and wisdom that is developmentally unlikely for their ages as child stars. But I couldn’t help myself. The kid from Sandlot too. They just sounded so smart.

You simply cannot swing your arms without hitting someone who has run in to this guy at the grocery or the library or a blindfolded furry party. By all accounts he is a rad dude, but I need to say, Enough with the accounts. We get it: he is a man, who is affable and does not have yellow eyes, and he prefers haricorts verts to cut green beans. No, please, continue to regale me with your riveting story of how you briefly encountered a person who exists. He likes puppies? No way. How about oxygen, does he breathe it? He does?

Aw, I’m fronting. I’d totally tell you if I met him. Unless it was at a blindfolded furry party. What happens at Paws Off* events stays there. Except the staph infection. That, unfortunately, comes home with you. Sorry.




In 2008, two fans from Canada released a fan film documentary that visits every location used in the movie. Their film, Road Trip for Ralphie, was shot over two years and includes footage of the film makers saving Miss Shields’s black board from the garbage bin on the day the old Victoria School was gutted for renovation [to be converted in to a women’s shelter], discovering the antique fire truck that saved Flick, locating all the original costumes from the movie and tracking down the real-life location of the movie’s Chop Suey Palace in Toronto.

(the wiki)


He looks like a pink nightmare.

I don’t really feel the need to catch you up on what all the cast members are up to these days, because it seems like the news outlets run a “Where are they are now” story on the A Christmas Story cast, like, every single December. But you can easily look it up, some of the stuff is pretty fun.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and may all your holiday wishes be granted! Try not to shoot your eye out.






*Rejected blindfolded furry club names:
•Chasing Tail
•Pussy Ga-whore
•Bible study
•Bad to the Boner
•Call of the Wild (I know, not even funny, right? now you see why it was rejected)
•Fur Balls
•Charlie Sheen’s house on Wednesday nights

Got any more?

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Ghostbusters II

December 24, 2010

Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989).



The discovery of a massive river of ectoplasm and a resurgence of spectral activity allows the staff of Ghostbusters to revive the business.

(the imdb)




The sequel had the biggest three-day opening weekend gross in history —

What a record, what an achievement! Nothing can break their stride!


— a record that was broken one week later by Batman ($40,505,884).

Wikipedia is tearing my loyalties apart.





Are there actually still people who believe the world is ending in 2012? Have not all the times the world hasn’t ended convinced you yet? We all think we live in the endtimes. It’s so vain. We can’t picture the future without us. Let me give you a timeless hint about the future: there is a point where you’re not in it. I’m sorry but it is a plain fact. There are also no zombies, no vampires, and no endless life. (I’ll give you pirates: there are pirates.) It sucks, but them’s the breaks. You end and the world doesn’t. Internalize it, embrace it, and live with it. Make your time matter and stop hollering about extinct cultures whose soothsaying abilities self-evidently did not include calculation of their own demise.


Hey, it beats the ectoplasm sample from the first film. Wait, no it doesn’t, at all.


Though Wilhelm von Homburg physically played Vigo, his voice work was all dubbed by living fucking legend Max von Sydow. Sorry for the king-sized cuss but it’s in his contract that he be introduced that way.


Swedes are so super-weird. For several years in the mid-1970’s, Ingmar Bergman paid a man to act like a cat and live in his home. Very awkward when he watched you shower. Bergman, I mean. I kept expecting to accidentally break down and flash back to coldly sitting beside my father’s deathbed, thinking with quiet despair of my secret lover instead of focusing on my dad’s mortal illness. It’s like, “You are totally ruining my shower, Mr. Bergman.”

That thing about Bergman was just story-tellin’. I never met the guy. But it sounded possible, didn’t it? That’s the power of Swedish weirdness.

Look, it’s Santa outside the museum! So holiday-y! This is actually the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House on Battery Park. There is no Manhattan Museum of Art. The museum at which Dana works is sort of a conflation of several actual museums in the city. The Customs House used for the exterior shots is currently home to the American Indian Museum and a United States Bankrupty Court.


They used the last name of the twin boys cast as Oscar, Deutschendorf, as the computer’s dredged-up surname of Prince Vigo. Cute. P.S.? My monitor still looks almost exactly like that. Who would like to be Santa and send me a slick flat screen?



Scotty and I used to say this to each other in lieu of “of course” as often as we could remember.





The twins who play Oscar are John Denver’s nephews. I don’t know if I could put down a blood relative of John Denver. He was just such a good person. I’d picture him in Heaven, making a sad face and shaking his head, like he’s sorry that I apparently am so mean that I just can’t be reached. I don’t want to make John Denver bummed out in Heaven. Do you?


For me, this is the cleverest line in the movie.



Annie Potts is doing just great. Not that you asked. Jerk.

No, seriously, she’s like a professor in residence at her old college and does all kinds of acting and cool stuff. She really is doing great. Pretty neato stuff.


Bill and Brian Doyle-Murray in a fun onscreen moment together. Even though they pop up in each other’s movies from time to time, they don’t often share scenes.


Funny story about how Peter MacNicol got the part of Janosz Poha: I have no idea. He’d been in Sophie’s Choice, which is the bummer movie to beat all bummer movies. You think Beaches is bad? Throw in the Holocaust. Now you’re in the big leagues, right? and that’s not even striking distance of how gigantic a bummer Sophie’s Choice is. That’s only the alley behind the theater putting on an off-Broadway production based on the Nobel Peace Prize winning book of how much a bummer that movie is. He does a super-fun job in this, though, right?


Cannibal Girls is a Canadian Comedy horror film directed by Ivan Reitman and stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Ronald Ulrich.

Thanks, wikipedia! Have you donated yet? Pony up, man, it’s changed the way we think as people. Nothing is unknowable now.

Cannibal Girls was a low-budget Canadian flick released in 1973 to not so wide fame. It actually was shown at Austin’s big-ol’-look-how-cool-we-are-and-PS-we-are-vegans South by Southwest festival this year in March. Could this spell an Ivan Reitman renaissance for the near future? Fingers crossed, loosely sketching maple leaves in the air.


My name is Bookman. I’m a library policeman.

Psst, it’s Ben Stein. Pass it on.



Cheesiest, most glorious part. Lord, how corny and marvelous.


So what is the deal, you are asking, with the new Ghostbusters movie rumors? Deal is, everyone’s up for it (why wouldn’t they be?) and the cast could include the old team’s new super-cool comedy friends like the Wilson brothers, new SNL cast members, and maybe finally some effing Steve Martin up in this piece!

(Good advice for everyone at all times. I love this line.)

The most cheering and interesting thing I’ve heard was Bill Murray talking about it while he was supposed to be promoting something else, when he suggested they get a girl Ghostbuster in it. He dropped Tina Fey as a name, but I think Poehler is better suited for the uniform. I can see Tina in a different, more straight man or even blocking antagonistic role. They need the loose madcap shenanigans of Amy Poehler to fit with the dynamic of the team itself. Am I crazy? Please don’t answer.



There will be plenty of slime. Not just plain old slime, but good slime and bad slime. Although no one will explain the distinction, it seems that the citizens of New York will be implicated. According to Mr. Reitman, ”Our theory in the film is that when people are mean and nasty, it creates a negative psychic energy.” Mr. Ramis adds, ”Slime is our metaphor for the human condition.”

(JEannie Park. “Slime? Don’t Worry! The Ghostbusters Are Back.” December 25, 1988. The New York Times.)

Oh, dude. Way deep.


Holy cannoli, like can you even handle it? The Cutest. What ever happened to Rick Moranis? Did Americans tar and feather him and run him back to Canada on a rail after Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves or what?


Yes, you can get this as a tattoo. Please do it, actually. Nickel in the mail if you do. Pictures or it didn’t happen.


Dan Aykroyd is a firm true believer in the paranormal. Harold Ramis thinks it’s highly unlikely. Ivan Reitman’s own kid is the one who, at the beginning, tells Ray and Winston at the birthday party, “My dad says you guys are full of crap.”


As for the possibility of a Ghostbusters III, Mr. Ramis says, ”I doubt it very much. It’s so hard to get everybody together. And we’re so much older. There’s a lot more hair dye being used this time. When it’s face-lift time, we’ll have to quit.”

(Ibid.)

Let’s see if time tells on that one, Doctor Spengler.

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Twelve Monkeys

December 22, 2010

The Freedom For Animals association on Second Avenue is the secret headquarters of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. They’re the ones who are going to do it. I can’t do anymore, I have to go now. Have a Merry Christmas!

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995). All-time favorite film, all-time favorite director.

In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.

(the imdb)


So as I said, this is my favorite movie of all time, in any genre — all other comers are just vying for second — and I screencapped the everloving Gilliamic crap out of it last week.


Filled with glee that this qualified as a holiday picture, I innocently thought, “Surely everyone who ever planned to see this film has seen it by now, so it’s okay for me to put up all my pictures.”

But if the internet has taught me anything in the past year on this here thought experiment, it is above all else that it is possible for people to get mad at you for anything, so, at a certain point, this post will have a jump/cut. You will be able to click and be taken to a standalone page with only this entry, so that those sensitive surfers who I think must actually go searching pop culture blogs specifically for spoilers will not be able to yell at me for said spoilers. I’ll also be able to prove why this is a holiday movie.


That point is now. Click below to go to the full-page entry, with trivia, analysis, lines, and tons more pictures.

“I am mentally divergent, in that I am escaping certain unnamed realities that plague my life here. When I stop going [to Ogo], I will be well. Are you also divergent, friend?” Click here if you qualify for bunny slippers at the monkeyhouse. (Be honest.)

edit: I took the jump out. Screw the small minority of spoiler-haters. Sorry, guys. Rail away if you must.

Still with me? Great!



Telephone call? Telephone call? That’s — that’s communication with the outside world. Doctor’s discretion. Uh-uh. Look, if all of these nuts could just … make phone calls, they could spread insanity! Oozing through telephone cables, oozing into the ears of all those poor, sane people — infecting them! Wackos everywhere: plague of madness.



Hence the agony of foreknowledge combined with the impotence to do anything about it. …

Surely there is very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race: proliferation of atomic devices, uncontrolled breeding habits, the rape of the environment. In this context, wouldn’t you agree that “Chicken Little” represents the sane vision and that homo sapiens‘ motto, “Let’s go shopping!” is the cry of the true lunatic?

(That last was Dr. “Actual Bad Guy” Peters. He says it to Kathryn after her lecture when he’s getting his book signed.)


The lion James sees at the beginning is echoed by the camel perched on the top of the hotel in 1996. The image also shows up in a frame of a statue of a lion atop a stone as they search for Goines, and by the giraffes running across the overpass in Philadelphia many frames down.

No detail is too small to be necessary to the mise en scene of this film. Kathryn watches this Woody Woodpecker cartoon as she waits for James to get back in 1996 to the Oasis hotel. In the asylum in 1990, the movie on the television in the background as Goines rants is the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business.



I get it! This is your old plan, right?

Plan? What are you talking about?

Remember? We were in the dayroom, watching television, and you were all upset about the–the — desecration of the planet, and you said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a germ, or a virus, that could wipe out mankind and leave the plants and animals just as they are?” You do remember that, don’t you?

Bulishit! You’re fucking with my head!

And that’s when I told you my father was this famous virologist and you said, “Hey, he could make a germ and we could steal it!”

Listen, you dumb fuck! The thing mutates — We live underground! The world belongs to the — the fucking dogs and cats. We’re like moles or worms. All we want to do is study the original!

Chris Meloni of Law & Order: SVU in a lovely little dickish part, a totally Terry Gilliam character: an individual given all the facts who refuses to acknowledge the possibility that the truth suggested by those facts could possibly be. Gilliam thrives on the absurd, and I think throws these Doubting Thomases in to the works to demonstrate how ugly a reception his credulous character constructions would receive in the world we all agree to be “real.”



Women will want to get to know you.

For me this is the creepiest Scientist line in the film. Even in the future, when the plague has driven everyone underground, a guy who considers himself “hep” will try to use the allure of poontang to bring a poor guy down. So unfair and underselling for the Cole character, like that is a carrot that can be held out before him in the face of what he’s endured.

Until I was screencapping, I never really noticed how much screen time the so-called “Apocalypse Nut” and true villain, David Morse playing Dr. Peters, Jeffrey’s father Dr. Goines’ lab tech, is given.



When I was institutionalized, my brain was studied exhaustively in the guise of “mental health.” I was interrogated, I was x-rayed, I was examined thoroughly.

Then they took everything about me and put it into a computer where they created this model of my mind. Yes! Using that model they managed to generate every thought I could possibly have in the next, say, ten years, which they then filtered through a probability matrix of some kind to — to determine everything I was going to do in that period.

So you see, she knew I was going to lead the Army of the Twelve Monkeys into the pages of history, before it ever even occurred to me. She knows everything I’m ever going to do before I know it myself. How’s that?


Who cares what psychiatrists write on walls?

I say this when a Thing matters and we are trying to diminish it.




Hey! Is that the police? I’m in here, I’m an innocent victim! I was attacked. By a coked-out whore and some fucked-up dentist!

I love how deranged Kathryn is in this scene, screaming at James to get Wallace’s wallet before they skedaddle. “We need cash!” But moments before, so tender when she touches his scalp with her curiously ugly hands. Madeline Stowe is the bomb.


Oh, hey, what’s a holiday movie? This is! Besides taking place during the Christmas season, we got some straight-up Santa action goin’ right here. Hope you can handle how very “holiday” this movie is.


James! James! It’s okay. We’re insane! We’re crazy! It’s a carpet cleaning company —

A carpet cleaning company?

No scientists — no people from the future! It’s just a carpet cleaning company. They have voice mail; you leave a message telling them when you want your carpet cleaned.

You … you left them a message?


Yeah, I couldn’t resist. I said, “The Freedom For Animals Association on 2nd Avenue is the —”

“— ‘is the secret headquarters of the Army of the 12 Monkeys. They’re the ones who are going to do it. I can’t do anymore, I have to go now. Have a Merry Christmas.'”


I’m not crazy.


I think I’ve seen this movie before. When I was a kid. It was on TV.

The Vertigo moment. This movie’s plot was inspired by Chris Marker’s La jetée, which also, in its turn, refers to the film Vertigo. While in the past, the protagonist of La jetée visits a Museum of Natural History with the blonde object of his affections, who points to the trunk of a cross-sectioned tree, the same way Kim Novak does in Muir Woods in Hitchock’s Vertigo, as shown in this scene from Twelve Monkeys. “Here I was born, and here I died. But it was only a moment for you — you took no notice.” Kathryn wears a blonde wig in this scene.

The lion I referred to further back, part of the recurring theme of wilderness which has been kept in captivity, let loose. Like the camel, like the giraffes, like the lethal virus, like James Cole released from his future underground incarceration to try and make time turn back and stand still.



It’s not just my dream. I was actually here! I remember now. … About a week or two before — before everybody started dying. I think you were here, too. But you — you looked just like you look now.

The exterior shots for the crucial airport scenes were done at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, while the interiors are from the Reading Terminal at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.



Today, you gotta take in to account your Army-of-the-Twelve-Monkeys factor.

Wh–what? What did you say?

The Twelve Monkeys, honey. … Bunch’a weirdoes let all the animals out of the zoo last night.

This cabbie’s name is Annie Golden. You can also catch her in the soon-to-be-justly-famous I Love You, Phillip Morris.


That’s what they were up to! Freeing the animals!

On the walls — they meant the animals when they said, “We did it.”

Only assholes write on walls.




Excuse me, sir. I’m going to need to have a look at the contents of your bag.

Me?



Biological samples. I have the paperwork right here.

I’m going to have to ask you to open this, sir.

Open it? … Of course.

The curious, diffuse wash that bathes these final scenes was acheived with Fresnel lensed lights. Fresnels, a favorite tool of Gilliam’s, are a beveled lighthouse-and-old-car-headlamp-style lens.

The entire instrument consists of a metal housing, a reflector, a lamp assembly, and a Fresnel lens. Fresnel instruments usually have a convenient way of changing the focal distance between the lamp and the lens. The Fresnel lens produces a very soft-edged beam, so it is often used as a wash light. A holder in front of the lens can hold a colored plastic film (gel) to tint the light or wire screens or frosted plastic to diffuse it. … The Fresnel lens is useful in the making of motion pictures not only because of its ability to focus the beam brighter than a typical lens, but also because the light is a relatively consistent intensity across the entire width of the beam of light.

(the wiki)


I remember reading a review when this film came out which criticized the inconsistency between Cole’s memory of this moment from dream to dream and what happened in actuality. The reviewer said it took away from the original inspirational idea in La jetée, where Marker’s narrator saw himself die as a child but, they felt, moved more definitely toward that moment as events unfolded in the short film. The supplanting of an unseen “Watch it” man in a yellow jacket with first Goines and then Dr. Peters was, the reviewer claimed, too foggy.


Well, excuse me, Mr. Super-brilliant reviewer, but the fogginess is kind of the entire point. The weirdly symmetrical plot of Twelve Monkeys is a cyclical rumination on the subjectivity of memory and identity. Put that in your cool-guy pipe and smoke it. Asshat.

I went to this film probably a few months after its release, when it hit the $2 second-run theater we had in town at that time, and I ended up going back almost every night that week, taking different friends. I remember very clearly that one of my friends said when it was over, “That’s so weird that in the future the insurance lady that sits by the bad guy on the plane is a scientist.”

“Um — I’m pretty sure she’s from the future in that scene.” Like, maybe it’s too late for Philly, but she’s going to stop Peters from going to San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, et al. She says she is in insurance. Right? I mean, we’ve seen her in 2035, looking exactly the same, a highly placed physicist. I sincerely doubt that in 1996 she was an insurance agent who planned to survive the plague and not age.

Is this even up for debate? I’m serious, does someone have an alternate interpretation of that scene?

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

December 21, 2010

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989).

The Griswold family’s plans for a big family Christmas predictably turn into a big disaster.

Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — Male Kalikimaka.

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you from the land where palm trees sway
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way to say Merry Christmas to you!

Randy Quaid said that he based a lot of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms and delivery on a guy he knew growing up in Texas. Also, wearing the extremely obvious black dickie under his white sweater was Randy Quaid’s wife Evi’s idea.

Even more exciting fact about Randy Quaid: He went to high school with Brent Spiner! (That’s Data, if you are not a dork and have one of those “lives,” or whatever you people call them. And if you are still lost, Data is a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and may I add that it is weird that you are even reading this blog because you are way too cool for this school. I assume you are here for soft-core porn and nothing more.)

John Hughes, departed King of the Eighties, wrote but did not direct this modern holiday classic, in which the star-crossed Griswold clan takes a stab at Christmas. He based the screenplay on a story he wrote for National Lampoon magazine in December, 1980.

That story, “Christmas ’59,” was his follow-up to “Christmas ’58,” his story from the previous year, on which National Lampoon’s Vacation was based. “Christmas ’59” is referenced in the movie when Clark goes up to the attic. As he goes through old tapes and reels, he passes a box that says “Xmas ’59.”



What are you looking at?

Oh, the silent majesty of a winter’s morn. The clean, cool chill of the holiday air. An asshole in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer.


You set standards that no family activity can live up to.

Wha– When have I ever done that?

Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays, vacations, graduations…


The scene where the cat bites on the Christmas lights cord and gets electrocuted was nearly cut from the movie. Prior to the first test screening. the studio execs wanted the scene taken out, fearing that it might offend some viewers, but producer Matty Simmons begged them to leave the scene in, and they eventually gave in to his request. After the first test screening, the test audience had scored the cat electrocution scene as the No. 1 favorite scene throughout the entire movie.

(the imdb)

I’m not the least surprised: test audiences are notoriously bloodthirsty.

I’m not sure from where they pull these twisted test audience members, but it’s a super-prevalent problem. As an example, it was a test audience who suggested that scene where the witch is drinking horse blood from a hollowed out hoof be left in My Little Pony: The Movie.

All the houses on the street in the Griswolds’ neighborhood are on the Warner Bros. backlot. The house in which the a-hole yuppies live is the Murtaugh house from the Lethal Weapon film series. The housefront in the home movie when Clark is upstairs in the attic was first used in Bewitched and then in the 1980’s in The New Gidget.


I am not a fan of defining gals by the dudes they’ve notched on their belts but I do bring it up if it’s as noteworthy as this case. Beverly D’Angelo has had a very, um, varied love life that includes marriage to a duke who is a descendant of Lorenzo de’Medici, Al Pacino, director Neil Jordan, and Anton Furst, who committed suicide after their separation. She’s got twins with Pacino and will be seen next year in Nailed, a David O. Russell picture also starring Jessica Biel, Kirstie Alley, Jon Stewart, Tracy Morgan, and Catherine Keener. Juts a bunch of super-cool funny guys. No big deal.

This was all brand-new news to me. I’m pretty surprised. I guess I did not know shit about Beverly D’Angelo.

The film is aired every Christmas night in Australia on the Nine Network. In America, it has a more tortured television history involving corporate games and censure. And let us not speak of the Cousin Eddie Island Adventure sequel.


Bethany is played by Mae Questel. The former mimic and vaudeville sensation is probably most famous for providing the squeaky voices of Olive Oyl and Betty Boop. This was her second to last role: she retired from show biz and died of complications related to Alzheimer’s in 1998.


As the unsinkable Clark Griswold of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Chevy Chase survives a holiday season that would try Job’s patience. His dreams of “the most fun-filled old-fashioned family Christmas ever” soon give way to the realities of bulbs that won’t light and a pine that’s too big for the living room.

(Kempley, Rita. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” December 1, 1989. The Washington Post.)



Never mind. Clark’s faith in family tradition is Rockwellian, his spirits up there with the mistletoe. When the yule log smolders and the turkey explodes, this avowed family man counts his blessings, such as they are.

(Ibid.)

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas

December 20, 2010

The third and final “Tim Burton” film in the 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movie countdown is The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993). The guy has two favorite times of year and we all know what they are.


Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t quite understand the concept.

(the imdb)

Regarding just how much of a Tim Burton film it really ended up being, Mr. Selick told Sight and Sound in 1994,

It’s as though he laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn’t involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like “a Tim Burton film”, which is not so different from my own films. …


… I don’t want to take away from Tim, but he was not in San Francisco when we made it. He came up five times over two years, and spent no more than eight or ten days in total.”

Be that as it may, Burton had conceived the project while still working for Disney back in 1980. It was originally a narrative poem. He began toying with the idea of making something of it. Disney agreed, and they discussed a short film like Vincent, or maybe a televised holiday special.



He shared his vision with friend Rick Heinrichs in the mid-1980’s, and the two worked up some concept art, storyboards, and even early character sculptures. By the time Burton actually had a budget for the movie from Disney, he was overextended across the board with Ed Wood and Batman Returns. He brought in his friend Mike McDowell, with whom he’d worked on Beetlejuice, but they couldn’t agree on a direction for the screenplay.

Burton reimagined the story as a musical and put together the bare bones of it with Danny Elfman’s help, also collaborating on most of the music and lyrisc. Then Caroline Thompson, who Burton worked with on Batman Returns, came in as a writer. She has also written The Addams Family, Edward Scissorhands, and Corpse Bride. Caroline first came to Tim Burton’s attention because of a short story she wrote in the early ’80’s called First Born, in which an abortion comes back to life.


Director Henry Selick said in that same Sight and Sound article where he dissed Burton, “there are very few lines of dialogue that are Caroline’s. She became busy on other films and we were constantly rewriting, reconfiguring and developing the film visually.” Okay, Henry. We get it. You did it all, buddy.

In all honesty, the guy is an artistic auteur, with the attendant talent that entails, and it probably sucks for him to have to rely on other people so much in a project. And he probably did do more than anyone else. Hence: director.

In vino lepidopteras.

The stop-motion animation was produced by a crew of over 200 animators in San Francisco, headed up by Joe Ranft and Paul Berry. The production yielded some cool new inventions, including a silent alarm that went off if a light failed to go on during a shot.


For just one second of film, up to 12 stop-motion moves had to be made. Can you imagine this being done today? When even the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is done with CGI? I feel like there is an aesthetic suffering accompanying the automated innovations in the direction that film has been heading. I can’t see a production like The Nightmare Before Christmas, with the meticulous labor and attention to craft it requires, being approved and given a budget by Disney today.

Although that’s not totally fair, since they’ve been doing that 3-D re-release thing. I guess I should not be quite so cynical about The Mouse Who Sold the World. I just really, really dislike that company.

On the other hand, sourpuss Mr. Selick is something of a dear and mercurial curmudgeon to me. He has continued working in stop-motion since The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I have a deep respect for the artistry in his body of work.

He has directed Coraline and James and the Giant Peach, and worked with Wes Anderson on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Although I find it curious that he seems to have had nothing to do with Fantastic Mr. Fox if Life Aquatic was Anderson’s first foray in to stop-motion (which, once you see Fantastic Mr. Fox, you feel like it should have been his exclusive genre all along: the static stiltedness of Anderson’s compositions, against which his wildly inventive dialogue is such a perfect foil, are absolutely born for stop-motion).

I’m guessing from the stories about the rest of Mr. Selick’s projects that they probably stopped seeing eye to eye on something and Anderson went his separate way.

Collaborator Joe Ranft, the one who headed up production in the City, the 415, the sparkly town where we leave our hearts, for The Nightmare Before Christmas, said that Selick “has a rock’n’roll meets Da Vinci temperament,” with bursts of brilliance and, occasionally, the passionate need for solitude.

Mr. Selick is presently working on an adaptation of the YA mystery-comedy Bunnicula, which makes me want to cry with joy. I only hope it is successful enough that they can do one of the sequels: The Celery Stalks At Midnight, which I have believed since I was seven years old to be the greatest pun ever written in my native tongue.

If you want more of the backstory on all this Nightmare Before Christmas production shenanigans, pick up a copy of the Frank Thompson book Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film – The Art – The Vision, to read all about it.




All photos via the Pumpkin Patch.

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Edward Scissorhands

December 18, 2010

Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990).

An uncommonly gentle young man, who happens to have scissors for hands, falls in love with a beautiful teenage girl.

(the imdb)

I showed this film to Patrico and Katohs when they were kiddos, and as soon as the interior shots of the castle began, Special K jumped up and said, “It’s the doctor’s house from Nightmare Before Christmas!” I’ve never sat with the movies side by side, but I think it’s true. I think Burton modeled the doctor’s laboratory-castle in Nightmare Before Christmas after the set from the Inventor’s house in Edward Scissorhands, probably as an in-joke/reference to Vincent Price.


But if you had regular hands you’d be like everyone else.

Yes, I know.

… But then no one would think you were special. You wouldn’t be on, on TV or anything.

No matter what, Edward will always be special.

Vincent Price, for whom the part was specifically created, was originally intended to have a larger role in this film, but his health was failing due to emphysema and Parkinsons’ Disease. He died October 25, 1993, of lung cancer.


Avon calling!

Johnny Depp had his “Winona Forever” tattoo altered to say “Wino Forever.” Love and booze make the world go ’round.


I tried to make Jim go back, but, you can’t make Jim do anything. Thank you for not telling them that we —

You’re welcome.

It must have been awful when they told you whose house it was.

I knew it was Jim’s house.

Y–you did?

Yes.

But — then, why’d you do it?

Because you asked me to.



Well, Edward, did you have a productive day?

Mrs. Monroe showed me where the salon’s going to be. … And then she showed me the back room where she took off all of her clothes.

This is an actual neighborhood in Lutz, Florida. It is a community called Carpenter’s Run. The street on which the Boggses live is Tinsmith Circle.


Tim Burton originally wanted to make Edward Scissorhands a musical. He said it felt like a “big, operatic” story to him. While it has not been revisioned as a musical, the film has been adapted as a ballet.

This scene could have been between Drew Barrymore and Tom Cruise. Both were in discussion for portraying the lead roles. Other Edward would-bes included William Hurt, Tom Hanks, and Robert Downey, Jr. I know it’s infantile because Hollywood is a business, and business is business, but that blows my mind. I cannot picture anyone else in the parts.


Edward Scissorhands is a tale of misunderstood gentleness and stifled creativity, of civilization’s power to corrupt innocence, of a heedless beauty and a kindhearted beast.

(The New York Times)

There is a lot of dust in here right now.

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Elf

December 17, 2010


Actually, I tolerate this movie at a rate of only medium, rather than “highly,” but I picked it over Gremlins because I had more to say about it, I’d seen it more recently, and I had found better screencaps. Plus there is Zooey Deschanel as a blonde. Singing. In the shower.

Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003).

After inadvertently wreaking havoc on the elf community due to his ungainly size, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole is sent to the U.S. in search of his true identity.

(the imdb)


Please answer the phone that way at least once this week. I plan to but, then, I almost always answer the phone weird, so I won’t have that element of surprise that you will. (My new favorite? Ask the person who’s calling you if they’re there instead of saying hello. Example: it comes up on caller I.D. as “Joe Brown.” Answer the phone, “Is Joe there? Can I speak with Joe Brown, please? Mr. Brown? You’re probably wondering why I’ve called …”)


That’s another thing. (sigh) Buddy, you should know that your father — he’s on the Naughty List.

Nooooo!

I remember thinking when this came out how odd it was that Jon Favreau directed it, but Buddy’s father Walter Hobbs, as interpreted by James Caan, is certainly what I would think of as a Favreauvian creation: a nasty, singleminded piece of work who needs the familiar but lonely high ground of distance from others, and congruent distance from the emotions intimacy might entail, above all else.

(Psst, it is Amy Sedaris. Woo-hoo!)

I think we should call security.

Good idea.

I like to whisper too!

Buddy is a nuisance to his own father not only because of his inconvenient bumblings, but also because he is a deviation from the norm. To confront a person who won’t let you push them away is to confront yourself, and people like Walter Hobbs seek to avoid that at all costs. I believe Favreau is a genius at whipping up these mean little slaves to the system, as an actor and as a director.

That said about a keen and critical eye for slaves to the system, the product placement in this film is almost beyond belief. One of the most blatant things I’ve seen since E.T. I do not count the scene in Wayne’s World II because they did that on purpose (albeit they got paid).



Zooey Deschanel: I don’t know about elves. I didn’t think much about elves because I was trying to think about the man in charge, the one that was going to bring me presents. I believed in Santa Claus until I was, like, 14. [I believed] if my parents think I do, then they’ll give me two sets of presents. And if Santa Claus really does exist, then he’ll appreciate my support.

(“Zooey Deschanel talks about Elf.” Rebecca Murray. 2003. About.com)


Make work your favorite. That’s your new “favorite.”

When the threads of this project were spun out of the distaff of Hollywood nothingness in 1993, Jim Carrey was originally attached to star as Buddy the Elf. I truly love the guy but I am pretty glad he didn’t get it. He’s got far too much pathos in his eyes and the film would have flopped. Will Ferrell gives Buddy an unblinking, irascible cheerfulness that you get the sense would not flag in the face of finding himself engulfed in flames, like a grip of Terminator robots grimly marching across the ocean floor in pursuit of John Connor. Oh, hey, marriage-made-in-heaven sequel idea? “Come wit’ me if yoo be-leaf in Santa!”


Now what can I get you for Christmas?

Don’t tell him what you want, he’s a liar.

Let the kid talk.

You disgust me! How can you live with yourself?

Just cool it, Zippy.

You sit on a throne of lies!

See? I told you Zooey Deschanel showers in this movie. She also eats top ramen. Tell a friend.

Yeah, pretty much. Where this film succeeds for me is in its treatment of the redemption of characters peripheral to Buddy the Elf: namely, his father, Walter, and Jovie, his would-be girlfriend. Grating as he is, if Buddy had changed to accept the new world in to which he thrusts himself, it would have been a cheap and deflating transformation à la Enchanted.*

To see people rise above themselves and protect a dumb, innocent guy is at least affirming. Buddy doesn’t have to change, because the world will always have burpy rays of sunshine: we need to change enough to take care of them, to share their optimism and deserve their devotion. I can hang with that.

Extra-tolerable bonus: Buddy’s supervisor at the North Pole is Peter Billingsley, of A Christmas Story. “You’re not a cotton-headed ninny-muggins, Buddy. You’re just … different.” Aw. Super-cool!





*Enchanted had nice music but, really, Giselle goes from being a full-throated maiden of the forest to Chi-ironing her hair and operating a dress shop in Manhattan. Conform, little girl! For all the posturing at positioning a new kind of feminist anti-hero that that script threw at us, in the end, it pandered to the same “princess-demographic” ideals it was purporting to rebel against. But, dang, that Amy Adams is cute as a button, yes?

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Scrooged

December 16, 2010

Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988).

A cynically selfish TV executive gets haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve.

(the imdb)


Why, it’s Lee Majors!

Santa, is there a back way out of this place?

Of course there is, Lee, but this is one Santa that’s going out the front door.


Seven o’clock. Psychos seize Santa’s workshop, and only Lee Majors can stop them … The Night The Reindeer Died.”



Mom, where’s Dad? Shouldn’t he have been home by now?

Oh, Wally. If I know your father, he’s out chasing Beaver.

The head street caroler that Frank insults during the production scenes at “IBC” is played by Paul Shaffer. David Sanborn, Larry Carlton, and Miles Davis are the others.



“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love, L-U-V.”

It just blows my mind that David Johansen was in the New York Dolls and, like, randomly is this insanely talented Renaissance man. Buster Poindexter, voice work, Oz … and I totally forgive him for “Hot Hot Hot.” He doesn’t like it either. He said on NPR (apparently, I don’t know for certain because I do not like NPR) that the song was “the bane of my existence.”


A choo-choo train?

No, it’s not a choo-choo train. It’s five pounds of veal.

He’s only four years old.

All day long, I listen to people give me excuses why they can’t work… ‘My back hurts,’ ‘my legs ache,’ ‘I’m only four!’ The sooner he learns life isn’t handed to him on a silver platter, the better!



I’ve never liked a girl enough to give her twelve sharp knives before.

Who doesn’t love Karen Allen? Whoever you are, you’re a horrible person. Those shiny eyes, the determined little butt chin, the freckledy hands and toothy smile? The lady’s like Margot Kidder’s classy cousin.


When Carol Kane was beating up on Bill Murray during shooting, she accidentally tore his lip for real. They had to halt production for a couple days ’til his lip was better. Moral of the story is, don’t fuck with Carol Kane. Not ever.



In the future, all ladies will dress like geishas on Designing Women. Unless …


Break a leg, everybody. I feel real weird about tonight.

Psst. It’s Wendy Malick. And one of the friends at their party is Pete from Dharma and Greg. Pass it on.

But all of this is practically an aside, when the true main attraction is —

— Bobcat Goldthwaite as disgruntled ex-employee Elliot Loudermilk. Man, it is a little known fact, but I would leave it all behind without a second glance for Bobcat Goldthwaite. I especially like when he sells his blood. I tried to do that once with plasma, you know, the hard shit, but the snobs at the blood bank turned me down. Said my veins were too small for the needle used in the plasmapheresis process. So I stumbled to the bus and then walked home from my stop carrying my shoes. Lord, how I wish this was a fable.



How’s this for a deal? I hire you back, pay you twice your original salary, and offer you a vice president position. Would you like my office?

I don’t like your office.

Oh, that is so you.


[Elliot] Hello, IBC program room?

This is Rhinelander. Who’s the idiot that put that nut on the air?

Oh, Brice Cummings is the idiot, sir, but he can’t talk to you right now because he’s sort of … tied up. Yeah, uh-huh — oh, in fact, he just said that you were a flatulating butthead.

A butthead?

Mmm. He said he’s never felt this way about a man before, but you really look good in a suit.


In all honesty, the conversion speech at the end is not terribly heartfelt (it’s much easier to believe Bill Murray as the embittered cynic he portrays through the rest of the movie), but we knew it would end cheesey from the get-go and you sign on for the whole package: you have to love it, too. And the rest of the package is highly tolerable.

12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

December 15, 2010


It’s hard to believe it was just last Christmas that Harmony and I changed the world. And we didn’t mean to and it didn’t last long. You know a thing like that can’t.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005).

A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor.

(the imdb)


Look up “idiot” in the dictionary. You know what you’ll find?

A picture of me?

No. The definition of the word idiot, which you fucking are!


She opens the door, and she’s got nothing on but the radio. Yeah. She invites me to sit down, sits on my lap, fires up a spliff —

Geez. Really?

No! Idiot.



Merry Christmas, sorry I fucked you over.

No problem. Don’t quit your gay job.


She’s been fucked more times than she’s had a hot meal.

Yeah, I heard about that. It was neck-and-neck — but then she skipped lunch.


I peed on the corpse. Can they do, like, an ID from that?

I’m sorry, you peed on…?

On the corpse. My question is —

No, my question. I get to go first. Why in pluperfect hell would you pee on a corpse?



Hey, hey, hey! It’s Christmas. Where’s my present, Slick?

Your fucking present is you’re not in jail, fag-hag.


You don’t get it, do you? This isn’t “good cop, bad cop.” This is fag and New Yorker. You’re in a lot of trouble.

I think this is a killer movie and I don’t want to give away the plot, which is why these blurbs between the pictures are all quotes from the incredibly witty, breakneck script. Writer-director Shane Black’s screenplay is loosely adapted from the Brett Halliday novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them (real name Davis Dresser).


The title underwent many changes over the course of production, before, allegedly at Val Kilmer’s suggestion, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was finally settled on. It comes from the 1968 book by film critic Pauline Kael.

Kael heard that in Italy James Bond was known as “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and thought that was the most succinct summation of the appeal of cinema she had ever heard. She fell in love with the phrase. Though she heard it from an Italian movie poster, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” was in wide use, from Southern Europe all the way to Asia, as the vernacular for the Bond flicks.

The film is a blend of mystery, neo-noir, camp, dark comedy, and romantic comedy genres. The fourth wall is continually broken,not only by Harry, the narrator-thief-would-be-actor, but also by Gay Perry, the former cop turned private eye who the studio instructs Harry to follow for his upcoming role. The self-awareness works really within the genre, kind of scooping it away from the cheese into which it could descend, but the film still sticks with the noir genre at the same time, with duplicitous blondes, sleepless runs through L.A., and body counts galore.


Thanks for coming. Please stay for the end credits. If you’re wondering who the Best Boy is, it’s somebody’s nephew. Um … don’t forget to validate your parking. And — to all you good people in the Midwest? Sorry we said “fuck” so much.

You will never forget Val Kilmer’s turn as Gay Perry in this movie. That is a promise. Watch it today! Or tomorrow! Or at your convenience!

Movie Moment — 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Die Hard

December 14, 2010

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988.)

New York cop John McClane gives terrorists a dose of their own medicine as they hold hostages in an LA office building.

(the imdb)

This was the first action movie I ever saw. The second was Total Recall. I watched them both on VHS on the same New Years’ Eve day with my cousins. Absolutely no action film has measured up for me, since. How could it? Even though it’s made most other action movies pale in comparison, I still wouldn’t trade those four-or-so hours for the world.

The movie is based on the book Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Nothing Lasts Forever is a sequel to The Detective, which was made in to a film in 1968 with Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland, the McClane character’s original name. Originally, Nothing Lasts Forever was going to be adapted as a sequel to Commando (?!), but after hanging out in development hell for awhile, it was repackaged as a sequel to The Detective, and then eventually tooled as a standalone picture.


In 1975, author Roderick Thorp saw the film The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream of seeing a man being chased through a building by men with guns. He woke up and took that idea and turned it into the The Detective sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever.

(the wiki)



Best. Absolutely best.

In the source material, it is not his wife but McClane’s daughter Steffie Generro (not Genarro) who is in the building, which is the Klaxon Oil Company national headquarters. Also, instead of posing as terrorists while really planning a good old-fashioned heist, Gruber and co. in the book really are terrorists. They are specifically members of the Rote Armee Fraktion, or Red Army Faction (sometimes called the Baader-Meinhof group), a German terrorist organization of the 1970s through 1990s.

The change from Gruber’s group being legit RAF terrorists to only using terrorism as a smokescreen for their intended purpose, director John McTiernan says, came because he wanted the film to be lighter and have “joy” rather than dark political overtones.

Taped to the fuse box is a pinup of Pamela Stein, Playboy’s Miss November 1987. The crew stuck it up there as a joke and Willis’s reaction to it is allegedly the real deal, so the choice was made to leave it in. For more on Ms. Stein, she was an entry in my NSFW November project of 2009: read all about it.


William Atherton does what he does best in this movie: play an asshole. In this case he’s reporter Richard Thornburg. The king douche from Ghostbusters lays it on thick, even going to Holly’s house and telling the McClane children that their parents are going to die. Do they have any last words they’d like to share with them? Small wonder that the first thing Holly does when she sees the aptly named Dick is punch him.

If someone told my kid I was going to die and asked her what her thoughts on that were, they’d better consider themselves lucky if, once I got out of danger, I restrained myself to just a punch in the face.


The “yippie kai yay” phrase is a reference to the theme music for Roy Rogers, who McClane tells Gruber was his preferred screen idol growing up, in the face of Gruber’s disdain for McClane’s lone wolf heroics. The line made it in to the AFI’s top 100 list, coming in at 96 on the 100 Greatest Movie Lines of all time.

The contact info for the Nakatomi building is actually the numbers (at the time) for Fox Plaza, where the film was shot. The extended cut of the film also contains a short scene which explains a plothole: the FBI tries to cut power to the building once they take over the “terrorist” negotiations. In the extended cut, McClane, hiding in the men’s bathroom, asks Al what’s going on and he explains that the FBI is in charge now and it’s part of their operating procedures.

The building’s power getting cut does not work according to Gruber’s plans. He’d hoped that the power being out would help him to crack the seventh and final lock for the safe (remember, earlier on Theo had warned Gruber that the circuit for the final lock could not be severed locally, precisely to prevent their kind of activity); deciding to go back to the drawing board, Gruber has computer whiz kid Theo connect to the emergency power supply. This is why when the power comes back on without this short backstory in the theatrical cut, the first thing we see is an FBI agent, and it’s why later the FBI takes out the power to the whole block instead of only the Nakatomi building, which does deactivate the seventh lock mechanism.

The “yippie kai yay” line isn’t the only American Film Institute keeper: Hans Gruber was listed as #46 on their 100 Years, 100 Villains list. What is it with the AFI and lists? Pretty soon it’ll be all like, “The AFI’s 10 Greatest AFI lists,” and the special will show famous actors and directors somberly describing the first time they accidentally stumbled on a televised broadcast of the 100 Best Movie Songs and couldn’t find the remote, so they watched it all.


The filmmakers introduce a gratuitous and unnecessary additional character: the deputy police chief (Paul Gleason), who doubts that the guy on the other end of the radio is really a New York cop at all.

(Roger Ebert. “Die Hard.” July 19, 1988. Chicago Sun-Times. He only gave the movie two stars.)


As nearly as I can tell, the deputy chief is in the movie for only one purpose: to be consistently wrong at every step of the way and to provide a phony counterpoint to Willis’ progress. The character is so willfully useless, so dumb, so much a product of the Idiot Plot Syndrome, that all by himself he successfully undermines the last half of the movie.

(Ibid.)

Entertainment Weekly named this the best action film of all time, showing those uptight pinky-raisers at the AFI that anyone can make an arbitrary list. What do you call my 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies? Completely made up is what I call it, because I’m the one who sat down and made it up.


Gruber being dropped because McClane unfastens Holly’s watch totally stuck with me for life. I’m not saying that it is singlehandedly responsible for my vertigo, but it’s on my arbitrary list of suspects (running gag alert). Some of that surprise is genuine: director McTiernan had Alan Rickman dropped a full second early in the count in order to capture an expression of truly spontaneous shock and fear. Worked.

To wind things down with the dewy promise of what’s-to-come, I’ve got super-great news for anyone who likes news that is super and great: a fifth Die Hard film is in the works, with Willis attached, and shooting is expected to begin in 2011. Personally, I liked Die Hard With A Vengeance best of the sequels, but I would not kick Live Free or Die Hard out of bed. Your thoughts?

Movie Moment — 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies: Batman Returns

December 13, 2010


When a corrupt businessman and the grotesque Penguin plot to take control of Gotham City, only Batman can stop them, while the Catwoman has her own agenda.

(the imdb)


Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Ruebens and Diane Salinger, who was Simone in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, do the ol’ cameo-for-a-pal gig as the Penguin’s parents. Ms. Salinger has also appeared in Ghost World, Charmed, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.



[Screenplay writer Daniel] Waters “came up with a social satire that had an evil mogul backing a bid for the Mayor’s office by the Penguin,” Waters reported. “I wanted to show that the true villains of our world don’t necessarily wear costumes.” The plot device of Penguin running for Mayor came from the 1960s TV series episodes “Hizzoner the Penguin” and “Dizzoner the Penguin”.

(the wiki)


Something about the filmmaker’s eccentric, surreal, childlike images seems to strike a deep chord in the mass psyche: he makes nightmares that taste like candy.

(David Ansen. “A Gotham Gothic.” June 22, 1992. Newsweek.)




Burton’s given this borderline schizoid an equally unsettled love interest: Catwoman also has a double life. Formerly Max Shreck’s gawky, lonely secretary, Selina Kyle, she’s hurled out a window by her boss when he discovers she’s on to his nefarious scheme, and emerges from near death as the whip-cracking, man-hating avenger Catwoman.

(Ibid.)



Waters’s script never makes the rules of Selina’s back-and-forth switches into Catwoman clear, but what twisted, dirty fun Pfeiffer has with this role! …

They’re doomed lovers for the age of alienation, turned on by each other’s kinkiness.

(Ibid.)



Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.

But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.

Mmm, no. Not really. Ingesting mistletoe is way worse. You can check it out, but I’m pretty sure the numbers will back me up.


All damaged children in disguise (none of them heroic), the dysfunctional half-menagerie can’t help but understand one another.

(Rita Kempley. “Batman Returns.” June 19, 1992. Washington Post.)



Even back in the days when Batman lived in comic books, his world was a little darker than, say, Superman’s. There was a shade of film noir in Gotham City, in contrast to the deco 1930s optimism of Superman’s Metropolis.

(Roger Ebert. “Batman Returns.” June 19, 1992. Chicago Sun-Times.)


You said you were only going to scare the Ice Princess.

She looked pretty scared to me!


Let me guess — rich goody-goody type?



But when it comes down to it, who’s holding the umbrella?


Click to enlarge the note. It reads, “Dear Penguin, The children regret they’re unable to attend.” I would have definitely guessed that Batman’s chosen handwriting style was printing in all caps, but I could not have predicted the personalized stationery. He is full of surprises.


Two lives left. I think I’ll save one for next Christmas.

I wish I could hand out World Peace and Unconditional Love, wrapped in a big bow.

You can’t go wrong with Christopher Walken! Crank it up while you’re wrapping gifts.


via.

For a movie that almost didn’t get made, Batman Returns did well for itself. It is a commercial sequel, yes, but as an entertaining and visually delighting film it’s a supreme success which rises head and shoulders above the dross and dreck like “Shrek the Halls.” A highly tolerable holiday film.

Movie Moment — 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies, Inaugural Edition: Better Off Dead

December 12, 2010

Welcome to the inaugural edition of 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies, because Jingle All the Way and all its ilk should burn in hell. I’m kicking things off with a little Better off Dead.

Better Off Dead (Savage Steve Holland, 1985). Maybe some forgot this was a holidayish film, but I did not. How could anyone forget when you have the following scene?

“Chrissssstmassss!”



Lane, I think it’d be in my best interest if I dated somebody more popular. Better looking. Drives a nicer car.

(Beth Truss. And we’re all like that, each one of us.)

What do you do when the center of your universe walks away?

A teenager has to deal with his girlfriend dumping him among family crises, homicidal paper boys, and a rival skier.

(the imdb.)

Absolutely sick pyjamas. On the kid, not on David Ogden Stiers. Scooter Stevens, who plays the lineless younger brother, did some television roles and played “Bonnie’s Date” in She’s Out of Control. That’s his final credit, so I think it’s safe to say he went on to a life of education and handsomer-than-average anonymity.

Though his voice work in this film was dubbed by Rich Little, Yuji Okumoto, the Howard Cosell brother, has gone on to act his ass off. Seriously, you give that guy a spin on the imdb and he has a credit or ten for, like, every year since this movie was released. Very impressive. He was the one I thought was cuter. So I’m pleased. Brian Imada, who plays his brother, has done a crapload of stunt work and will be appearing in utility stunt capacity in the upcoming Green Hornet film, which is getting its own post soon as a “Hot Man Bein’ Hot” for the new Kato. Ow! I like Asian dudes. Blame Sulu and alert the media.

Featuring marvelous Curtis Armstrong as Lane’s best friend, the eccentric Charles De Mar. Doin’ whippits and trying to get a line on nosespray in a top hat.

Suicide is never the answer, little trooper.

Curtis Armstrong is so good at conveying the “cool” geek. Total old school unlikely G. In fact, I do believe he was the second subject in that category.



Steve Holland: That part when Lane does this in the garage is true. I went into the garage, and I put an extension cord on a pipe, and I’m on a garbage can, and I’m thinking, “Should I do this? Maybe this isn’t a good idea.” Anyway, it was a plastic garbage can, and my weight just, like, crashed through it, and I fell, and the pipe broke!

And it starts pouring water everywhere. And I’m basically in a garbage can, drowning. And my mom comes in, and my mom starts yelling at me for breaking a pipe, which is what any mom would do.

So I started writing down stupid ways to kill yourself that would fail after that, and I put them in sort of a diary. And that diary kind of became Better Off Dead.

(“Better Off Dead – Savage Steve Holland.” Awesome interview and article on The Sneeze.)


It’s got raisins in it. You like raisins.

Lane’s suicide stunts smack a little of Harold and Maude, but only a little. Certainly Jenny Meyer is worlds away from Vivan Pickles. Taking it down the very absurd road carries it far enough from Harold and Maude that it becomes apples and oranges (with raisins). Mainly.



Holland’s vision of the cafeteria as the intersection of absurd personal fantasy time and a rigidly enforced caste system is a standout in a decade that brought us dozens of shudder-inducingly accurate cafeteria scenes (I think of Sixteen Candles, when Molly Ringwold spots Jake Ryan, dumps her tray, and runs: “I can’t let him know I eat,” or Martha Dumptruck from Heathers).


Lane, I’m thinking about asking out Elizabeth.

R.I.P., Vincent Schiavelli. A great character actor and kickass chef.

Charles de Mar has a hand in a jar. Say it three times fast and Curtis Armstrong will appear! He currently voices Steve’s friend Snot on American Dad.

I love the animation Scooter Stevens brings to his role — it’s a shock to realize Badger has no speaking parts, yes? His eyes on the “Trashy Women” book … priceless.


One of the taglines for this film is: Insanity doesn’t run in the family, it gallops. This is a reference to Arsenic and Old Lace, where the line went, “Darling, insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.”

During a screening of Better Off Dead, John Cusack stormed out after twenty minutes, saying, “You’ve ruined my career!” He allegedly hated and despaired of the film, and told Holland, “I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me.”



I’m guessing that the mad science at Pig Burger was one of the scenes he found unpardonable, cause I guess if you are trying to be a cool cat, it could be perceived as kind of cheesey and out of place. But, hey, what a great anticipation of Igor. Who knew? Because that entire movie was insanely cheesey and out of place. I hold children’s movies to a very high standard and I don’t brook a bunch of shit, sorry.



And Cusack went ahead and allowed Hot Tub Time Machine to refer to the film, so perhaps time has softened his view. Or money. But most likely time, I’m just sure.


I have great fear of tools. I once made a birdhouse in woodshop and the fair housing committee condemned it. I can’t.

“I cannot do it” is your middle name. I think all you need is a small taste of success, and you will find it suits you.


[Lane’s] father is so stumped in trying to understand the confusing habits and behavior of his teenage son (and, at one point, is temporarily convinced Lane is using drugs) that he clumsily attempts repeatedly to interfere in Lane’s love life.

(the wiki)

For half a second, the q-tip face makes me like John Cusack and start to giggle, and then I remember all the reasons I’m mad at him and I wipe the smile off my face. Spiders in the mail? So immature.



It’s kind of an interesting phenomenon. Any actor wants to play the cool guy. So playing the role of a borderline mental dork in the movie is not necessarily your first choice as an actor, however, in a way you’re kind of creating it yourself.

It’s not like you’re being made fun of, you’re making fun of yourself by creating this persona. So it didn’t bother me a lot since I was playing a character who was so far away from me.

(Interview with Dan “Ricky” Schneider. The Sneeze.)

This is similar to the kind of present-giving I did one Christmas as a child. I wrapped up things we already had and was surprised when my parents were clearly feigning their enthusiasm. I think it was very zen: I considered all of our possessions to be gifts.


Savage Steve Holland: And every day we were going, “This is hilarious. Am I wrong?” And it was like, every day anything we shot was really funny. So at my first test screening… I’ll never forget it, the movie was like five or seven minutes longer, and the audience reaction was pretty good, but it wasn’t that good.

And I remember one guy walking out, and for some reason he knew me, and he goes, “Hey, better luck next time.”

And I’m like, “Oh shit, I’m doomed.” It really hurt.

The Sneeze: Do you know where he is today?

SS: He’s probably running Paramount with my luck.

The Sneeze: I was just hoping he was homeless.

SS: No, because mean people always get the good jobs.

(Aforementioned The Sneeze interview.)



I’ve been going to this school for seven years. I’m no dummy. I know high school girls.


You’ll make a fine little helper. What’s your name?

Charles de Mar!

Not you, geek. Her.



John will never talk about Better Off Dead, and One Crazy Summer, and I read something recently where he called me “the director.” He wouldn’t use my name, and he said, “the director wanted to do absurdist comedy and that’s just not the thing I like to do,” or something like that.

I feel like I let him down. And it totally surprises me so much because I have to say the most important person to me about that movie, was John. I really wanted him to love it as much as I loved it. And once he said that stuff, it was like a girlfriend who breaks up with you. You can’t fight with her. It’s like everything is so great, and then they say “I hate you!” out of nowhere. There’s really no argument you can have. I had my heart broken. That was the second time my heart was broken since that girl that Better Off Dead was about — honest to God.

(Steve Holland, Ibid.)



Truly a sight to behold. A man beaten. The once great champ, now, a study in moppishness. No longer the victory hungry stallion we’ve raced so many times before, but a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion.

That’s actually a line from one of the car race scenes, but it’s my favorite. Challenge: call someone “a study in moppishness” this week — to their face!


I really thought as time went by, [Cusack] might feel differently. But I read one other article that he got jailed for something. Somebody in his car had something, I don’t know what, but he got jailed for something. He said, “Jail sucked the most because everybody kept coming up to me going, ‘I want my two dollars!'”

(Steve Holland, Ibid.)

The buttrape, on the other hand, was “pretty okay”.



Look, Charles, I’ve got to do this. If I don’t, I’ll be nothing. I’ll end up like my neighbor, Ricky Smith. He sits around crocheting all day and snorting nasal spray.

He snorts nasal spray? You know where I can score some?!


So you won’t tell anyone?

What, that you’re a Dodgers fan?

I do love the wink, here. It always comforts me to know that there are other people on the earth who are as truly bad at winking as I am. Not a lot of other people, but a few.

Sure, you can park your Camaro on the lawn at Dodger Stadium. Happens all the time. Goddamn if that is not the most eighties-riffic thing I’ve seen all week. Ski rack, saxophone, mom jeans, and John Cusack: winner, winner, chicken dinner!



Hope you’ve found the inaugural edition of 12 Days of Highly Tolerable Holiday Movies enlightening. And now you’re armed with this very sad backstory of the dissolution of the friendship between the star and the director — because nothing says the holidays like, “You are dead to me.” So cue it up, grab your gelatinous raisin-riddled mass, and bask in Better Off Dead’s warm 80’s glow.