Media Nerds Podcast

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12 films of christmas

Day 8 – The Muppet Christmas Carol

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I’m going to make this one short and sweet, because while I have no problem watching all of these movies in the evenings after the kids go to bed, this whole “blogging about each one” thing is pretty time consuming. I’ve got last minute shopping to do!

Anyhoo, The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of many, many film adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic novella. Since we’re all familiar with the story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge and his moral redemption via the visitation of three ghosts, I’ll skip the summary and just talk about why this particular adaptation is one of my all-time favorites.

Released in 1992, The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first Muppet movie to be released after the death of Jim Henson. It was directed by his son Brian (now Chairman of the Jim Henson Company) and stars Michael Caine as Scrooge, along with the usual Muppet suspects. I watched it with my kids via my cable provider’s on demand rental service.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jzsKJvWiEI&w=853&h=480]

Simply put, this is a fun and uplifting version of an age-old story. While other adaptations take a decidedly dark tone at times, this film does not, even during the Ghost of Christmas Future scene. The original “Muppetized” content, namely the songs, keep this film light-hearted and family-friendly. The music is awesome, in true Muppet fashion and the dialogue and side jokes (particularly between Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat) are very funny.

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And Michael Caine! Best. Scrooge. Ever. Without a doubt. This is only my second-favourite version of A Christmas Carol (Scrooged being #1) but it’s my favorite portrayal of the traditional Ebenezer Scrooge. Caine plays it perfectly and sincerely, as though he’s talking to real people instead of three-foot-tall felt puppets. He is what makes this film so good.

So give it a try if you’ve never seen it before, or re-watch it if its been a few years. The Muppet Christmas Carol is absolutely a film that will give you all the Christmas warm fuzzies that you can handle.

Next up, I go dark again with the Finnish film Rare Exports.

Day 7 – Bad Santa

Finally, a Christmas movie that properly conveys the spirit of the season – Bad Santa!

bad-santa-wideDirected by Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World), Bad Santa stars Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, John Ritter and Lauren Graham. Joel and Ethan Coen were executive producers of the film, and it was John Ritter’s last movie before his untimely death in 2003. I PVR’d it from the W Movies channel.

In this film, Billy Bob plays Willie T. Stokes, a safe-cracking con man who is pretty much a walking train wreck. He drinks, swears, pees his pants, has sex in public, screams at kids and let’s just say that personal hygiene is nowhere near the top of his list of priorities. Who better to work as a department store Santa during the holiday season? You see, Willie and his partner Marcus (Cox) run an annual scam in which they case major retail outlets working as Santa and elf, then they rob the store blind on Christmas Eve when the safe is crammed full of consumers’ cash. Willie spends the year drinking away the money he made from the job, and they repeat the cycle the following December.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_d8vLQKC1k]

This time around, Willie is worse than ever. His drinking, swearing and public sex make him the target of Store Manager Bob Chipeska (Ritter) who voices his concerns to store security chief Gin Slagel (Mac) in some of the best scenes in the movie. As I mentioned, this was Ritter’s final film, and considering that Bernie Mac also died prematurely in his 50s, these scenes were both hilarious and chilling to watch.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVWk6IfRuEE]

Things begin to turn around for Willie as he and Marcus case their latest target. Enter Sue (Graham), Willie’s love interest of sorts, a bartender with a serious Santa fetish. And enter the Kid, otherwise known as Thurman Merman, who believes Willie is the real Santa and befriends him in an annoyingly sincere way. As these two relationships grow, we start to see Willie change (albeit marginally) for the better. These two give him a reason to care about his life.

eb20fcc83115528f63edd8faa2000833dc08f6c4e6c4ea62043cf24baa3da54cI wasn’t kidding when I said that this film conveyed the spirit of the season – it absolutely does! If a complete piece-of-shit person like Willie Stokes can feel the Christmas spirit, anyone can. This movie is funny, disgusting and heart-warming all at the same time. The performances are outstanding (Billy Bob is really on his game here) the dialogue is snappy and interesting, and it’s just an all around good movie. Not for kids though. It’s not even remotely appropriate for children, and I include in that any pre-teens that may be in the household.

I just watched this movie for the first time last year, and I can’t believe that it took me 10 years to get around to it. Bad Santa is an instant classic, and it’s worked its way into my annual Christmas movie list. I highly recommend it.

Next up: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Day 2 – Go

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Let’s just say Simon’s trip to Vegas doesn’t exactly go as planned.

 

Go (1999) was Doug Liman’s directorial follow-up to Swingers, one of my favorite films of all time. It stars Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Taye Diggs, Scott Wolfe, Timothy Olyphant, and basically any other young up-and-coming star that 90s Hollywood had to offer. Screenwriter John August follows a Pulp Fiction-style, three-story plot line  following four main characters that interact with one another in a highly entertaining fashion. I watched it on Crackle.

The three “tales” of Go all take place on Christmas Eve. Story #1 centers around Ronna (Sarah Polley), a grocery store checkout clerk who can’t pay her rent and is trying to earn extra cash to keep from being evicted. At the tail end of her 20+ hour shift, Adam and Zack (Scott Wolfe & Jay Mohr – we’ll get back to them in a minute) approach Ronna about buying some ecstasy. You see, they usually buy from Ronna’s coworker Simon, (Desmond Askew in an incredible performance – I’ve never seen him in anything else) but she took his shift so he could go to Vegas for the weekend. Ronna agrees to try and find them some drugs; she figures it’ll be an easy way for her to get the rent money she so desperately needs. Ronna attempts to do this by bypassing the middleman and going directly to Simon’s dealer, Todd Gaines (Timothy Olyphant).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxgfSDgHGYw]
Story #2 is my favorite of the film, and somewhat simpler to boil down: is follows the misadventures of Simon and his friends on their trip to Vegas. I’m not even going to describe it further. It’s awesome. Watch it.

Story #3 brings us back to Adam and Zack, two soap opera actors who also happen to be a couple. This story crosses over a lot with Story #1, but depicts the events from a different point of view. William Fichtner and Jane Krakowski both give amazing and hilarious performances here, and Wolfe and Mohr hold their own as well. Whatever happened to Scott Wolfe anyway?

All three stories tie together at the end in a very satisfying way, including the film’s best line: “And then there’s the Family fucking Circus, bottom right-hand corner, just waiting to suck.” In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I love this movie. It’s up there on my all-time list and I’ve probably seen it 20+ times.

But I have to say, It’s not all that Christmas-y. Sure, you can tell that Christmas is happening around the characters. Even the rave (remember those?) that takes place has a giant, green Santa Claus front and centre.  But this film contains none of your typical Christmas themes. Family, generosity, goodwill towards all, there’s nothing. In fact, many of the characters have profound personality flaws and frankly deserve what happens to them. So, don’t watch this if you’re looking to get in a holiday-like mood.

But DO watch it if you want to see a film with great storytelling, amazing acting, hilarious dialogue, insane situations, and a killer soundtrack. It’s even got a pre-EVERYTHING Melissa McCarthy, who I’d completely forgotten was in this. So yeah, this one’s a winner in my books.

Next up: Life of Brian

Day 1 – Arthur Christmas

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Santa, the S1, and his thousands of elves (Arthur’s the one in the green).

Arthur Christmas is an animated film produced by the British Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit, Flushed Away) and distributed by Sony Pictures Animation. It stars James McAvoyHugh LaurieBill Nighy and Jim Broadbent as a multi-generational family of Santas. It has a fresh rating of 91% on rottentomatoes.com, and I watched it on Netflix.

Arthur Christmas begins with the question: “How does Santa deliver presents to children all around the world in just one night?” The answer? A giant spaceship-sized sleigh that can travel  200,000 mph, complete with an extremely advanced computer system and thousands of elves who deliver the majority of presents covert ops-style. Santa is largely a figurehead who delivers one token present per town, with a lot of help from the elves. He doesn’t do much else, as he’s getting on in his old age, and is somewhat absent-minded.

You see, this Santa (aka Malcolm Christmas) is the latest in a long line of Santa Clauses, as the responsibility of delivering presents on Christmas Eve is passed down from father to son over the generations. Malcolm has two sons: Steve and Arthur. Steve (big, strong, alpha male) is the one behind the technology, spaceship, etc and runs Mission Control back at the North Pole while Santa makes his rounds. Arthur (small, shy, clumsy, but with a good heart) works in the Letters department, answering children’s letters to Santa.

On this particular Christmas, Steve and his team are successful in delivering 2 billion presents to children worldwide. They are celebrating another successful completed Christmas mission when Bryony, an elf from the Wrapping Division, discovers one present left over on the sleigh. This, of course, means that one child has been missed and will wake up on Christmas Day without a present from Santa. Steve, who thinks in terms of numbers and percentages, doesn’t see this as a problem – this falls well within his margin of error. Arthur, on the other hand, feels that they absolutely have to find a way to deliver this final present before sunrise. Adventurous antics ensue.

I loved Arthur Christmas. It’s a fresh take on the Santa legend, with a good script and excellent voice acting from some of Britain’s best. This film explores how Christmas has changed over the years, but from the perspective of Santa Claus. The theme of “new vs old” is central to the story, with Steve and his newfangled technology on the one side, and “Grand Santa” (Bill Nighy) with his traditional sleigh and eight tiny reindeer on the other.

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Grand Santa shows Arthur how things were done in his day.

It’s a fun ride, my kids LOVED it, and I can definitely see this film becoming a part of our annual Christmas viewing tradition.

Next up: Go.