Media Nerds Podcast

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#12filmsofxmas

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 5 – Brazil

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Sam dreams of flying away from his dreary life.

Brazil (1985) was written and directed by Terry Gilliam (Tom Stoppard also co-wrote) and was his second non-Python feature film. Jonathan Pryce stars, and the movie is full of huge names in smaller roles. (Robert DeNiro, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, and Michael Palin, among others). I rented it on iTunes.

For the plot summary, I’ll once again defer to IMDB, because they’re just so damn good at it:

Sam Lowry is a harried technocrat in a futuristic society that is needlessly convoluted and inefficient. He dreams of a life where he can fly away from technology and overpowering bureaucracy, and spend eternity with the woman of his dreams. While trying to rectify the wrongful arrest of one Harry Buttle, Lowry meets the woman he is always chasing in his dreams, Jill Layton. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy has fingered him responsible for a rash of terrorist bombings, and both Sam and Jill’s lives are put in danger. Written by Philip Brubaker <coda@nando.net>

Brazil is one of those films that everyone should see. It’s 1984 for the 80s. Gilliam creates a world that is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time, and the film’s pace never lets up for a second. Again, it’s not a really Christmas-y film. Christmas is taking place in the background and I think it’s simply meant as a touchstone for us, to let the audience know that consumerism is still going strong (and in fact is one of the building blocks) in this dystopian society.


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As I mentioned, the film is funny, but it’s also dark and depressing and not a great film to watch during the Christmas season. Again, my own cleverness seems to have gotten the better of me as I wallow in the sadness that comes at the end of Brazil. (Kidding, it’s not that bad.)

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The “Information Retrieval” department.

But I have hope. I absolutely know that Trading Places will be full of Christmas hilarity. And Jamie Lee Curtis.

Day 4 – The Long Kiss Goodnight

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“This ain’t no ham on rye…”

 

Okay, okay I’ll admit it. I’m a little behind on this challenge. What does Jeff Goldblum say in Jurassic Park, “Life gets in the way”? No no, wait. It’s “Life finds a way.” Never mind, I’ll catch up on the weekend.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) was written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) and stars Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. It was directed by (unbeknownst to me) one of my favorite action film directors, Renny Harlin. The reason I say unbeknownst is because I didnt know that he directed this film, Die Hard 2, and Deep Blue Sea, all awesome action flicks. I watched The Long Kiss Goodnight on (get this) pan & scan DVD. That I had to buy. At HMV. For five dollars. C’mon New Line Cinema, there’s this thing called Netflix…

Anyway, I’m not going to waste time writing a summary of the plot here. Tony Fontana of IMDB has done a great job of it:

Samantha Caine, suburban homemaker, is the ideal mom to her 8 year old daughter Caitlin. She lives in Honesdale, PA, has a job teaching school and makes the best Rice Krispie treats in town. But when she receives a bump on her head, she begins to remember small parts of her previous life as a lethal, top-secret agent. Her old chums in the Chapter are now out to kill her so she enlists the help of a cheap detective named Mitch. As Samantha remembers more and more of her previous life, she becomes deadlier and more resourceful. Both Mitch and Charly proceed to do the killing thing, the bleeding thing and the shooting thing.

The film takes place in the few days leading up to Christmas – right about now, actually – and it does feel more Christmas-y than the last few movies I’ve watched. But it’s also a kick-ass 90s action movie, with kick-ass witty dialogue, and mediocre mid-budget action sequences (that green screen technology sure does date a film, hoo boy). I absolutely loved it.

One hidden gem in this movie is Brian Cox, who plays a former mentor to Davis’ Samantha/Charly character. Cox (who is always good) has some of the best lines in the film and really brings the scenes he’s in to life.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lx-Ui_Ontqg]
Sam Jackson is in top form as the wise-cracking Mitch Hennesey, and Davis is pretty good as well, although I prefer her innocent but sarcastic Samantha Caine to the supposedly cold-as-ice killer assassin Charley Baltimore.

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The one thing in this movie that isn’t great is the villain, Timothy (yes, that’s really his name!) played by Craig Bierko. You may remember him from such films as The Thirteenth Floor and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but he hasn’t done much since the 90s. He sure plays up the cheese in this movie, almost comically so. But I get the feeling that he’s trying to straight up play a menacing, eccentric bad guy here. He does a poor job of it.

Still, it’s a fun movie to watch and I’m glad I added it to this list. The idea was to replace the now cliche Die Hard with another action movie, and The Long Kiss Goodnight fills that slot nicely.

Next up, Brazil, which I know is not going to fill me with Christmas Cheer either, but I love it and I’m watching it all the same.

 

 

Day 3 – Life of Brian

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Life of Brian is the second feature film written, produced and performed by the Monty Python comedy troupe, the follow up to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s not actually a Christmas movie, having been released in August of 1979. Brian stars (of course) Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Michael Palin. I haven’t seen this film in probably 20 years. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember that at 18 years of age, I considered this to be my favorite Python film, and one of the funniest of all time. Today I rented it on iTunes, but the whole movie is also on YouTube for free. Who knew.

In order to move things along more quickly (and because I’m already behind a night!) I’m going to live blog this one. Here we go!

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– Opening Scene: the Three Wise Men visit the wrong baby, in the wrong manger. Terry Jones plays the mother of Brian, who is born on the same day and in the same village as Jesus, hence the confusion. Jones was always my favorite when they dressed as women. His falsetto is so false, it’s hilarious.

– “Blessed are the cheese makers. And the Greek.” – ha!

– Half an hour in and I’m amazed at how quickly this moves, and at how densely packed the comedy is. Every scene is a new sketch, with new characters.

– Spoke too soon. Now we’re into this “People’s Front of Judea” thing. Still funny, but not quite as quick-moving as the first 25 minutes of the film.

– Palin is. Just. Awesome. In one scene he’s an old crazy prisoner shackled to the wall, in the next he’s a speech-impeded Pontius Pilate, defending the honor of his friend Biggus Dickus.  Just awesome.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K8_jgiNqUc]
– This whole film is built on the foundation of Palin, Cleese and Idle, who all play multiple roles. Gilliam just has a few bit parts, Chapman plays Brian throughout, and Jones isn’t around much, as he was busy directing the film.

– I’m now at the part where they think Brian is the Messiah. Such clever satire. They make fun of Christianity without actually making fun of Christianity!

– Hey, was that George Harrison?

– It was! Apparently he financed the movie.

– And we finish up with Eric Idle’s classic “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” sung by him, Brian and the other crucify-ees. Perfect ending to an excellent film.

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Always look on the bright side of life!

 

The comedy of Life of Brian is timeless, and absolutely still holds up. It’s so smart for Python to set their first two films in a time and place that doesn’t exist in the modern era of film. Thus, a 35-year-old movie is just as funny and relevant as it was on the day of its release.

Still, not much of a Christmas film. I think my desire to choose “cool, clever and different” film titles for this list is having an unexpected side effect – I’m not really feeling the Christmas spirit! Maybe The Long Kiss Goodnight will change that.