Saturday, December 29, 2007

Review: "Juno"

Having just reviewed a film (“AVP: Requiem”) which should be used in film schools as an model of how not to construct a story, the sudden difference in following with such a well-crafted, heartfelt tale like “Juno” feels like being slung-shot from grade school to a Master’s level class in three seconds.

In the film, Ellen Page plays the uber-hip title character, a Minnesota teen who’s learned she’s newly pregnant after an experimental romp with her track running, orange Tic-Tac popping would-be boyfriend Paulie (“Superbad’s” Michael Cera) who is completely clueless as how to react to Juno’s news.

After briefly considering abortion, Juno cruises local classifieds with her friend Leah (Olivia Thurby) seeking adoptive parents. The couple Juno settles on, Mark and Vanessa Loring (played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), is well-to-do, tidy, and extremely suburban – but at the same time, couldn’t seem to be travelling in more opposite directions.

Nevertheless, Juno quickly agrees to give her baby to the Lorings with zero fanfare, anxious to get her delivery over with, and move on with life. Her father and step-mom (JK Simmons and Alison Janney), while taken aback at Juno’s pregnancy, are supportive enough to follow their daughter’s wishes to the end.

On its face, there are 10,000 ways in which “Juno” could have been a failure of a story.

Yet instead, it excels in its self-restraint – with Ellen Page (whom I completely forgot played Kitty Pryde in "X-Men 3") giving a marvelously keen performance, posing Juno as a girl terrified by her circumstances, but who hides her feelings with razor-sharp comebacks. Without this inner vulnerability via which Ellen Page balances her character’s emotions, Juno would simply be just another smart-ass from an “American Pie” direct-to-video sequel – stupid and unremarkable.

Thankfully, “Juno’s” supporting cast is just as strong – namely JK Simmons as Juno’s thoughtful, blue-collar dad (from whom she obviously inherited her sense of humor), and Jason Bateman whose character—an ex-rocker turned successful jingle writer--tragically seems to share more in common with Juno than his wife busily choosing colors for their new baby’s nursery.

The way in which everything comes together at the end of “Juno’s” efficient 92 minutes is sweet without being saccharine, poignant, funny, and best of all: intelligent.

Not a single scene or beat is wasted, nor is—at any moment—our time as the film’s audience taken for granted.

What a rare thing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It's Official

This (Amazing Spider-Man #545) is the worst, most gutless, most problematic comic book I have ever read.

In a literal deal with The Devil, Peter Parker erases his marriage and decades of narrative history to save his 167 year-old Aunt May who, y'know, never quite lived a full life.

Wow, have fun sorting out that Gordian Knot of continuity issues you've just created, Mr. Quesada.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Is The End

As the past twelve months come to a close I look back on the year satisfied—amidst profound changes, including my father’s sudden passing—that most of it turned out fine.

I changed jobs, earned more salary, travelled, blogged, dreamed, overslept, got a shiny new PC and a memorial tattoo, played lots of disc golf, helped charitable causes, hung with friends, saw both The Police at Wrigley and a ballgame at Camden Yards, marked the long-awaited death of Bill Wirtz with a celebratory fist-pump, and generally had an all-around decent year.

Yet I if I have any regrets it’s that I need to focus much harder on creative projects, and on self-motivation.

Honestly, this is inexcusable.

I have spent way too much time in front of the TV this year. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll always live for The History Channel, but everyone needs limits.

I also need to do more adult things like save for the future, and not regard every paycheck as an opportunity to score a new hockey jersey.

As for relationships, I have been out of a long-term one (about six years) since 2005, but am doing okay. Would I like a new girlfriend? Maybe. Just one under the right circumstances. I could write a book on the bad relationships I’ve seen friends and family languish under in recent years, and have no wish to be hasty.

But I also wonder if I’m so embedded in my quirks and domestic habits that no chick in her right mind would ever put up with me – I mean, Jesus, I have twelve tarantulas as pets in my bedroom closet.

Yes, twelve. Relax, they’re in terrariums.

Yet whatever the next twelve months have to offer I think I’ll be okay.

Bring it on, Mr. Destiny.

"Ah, yes. Here you are, Mr. might want to keep June 14th
open on your calendar. I'm reading something here about bad shellfish, and

a tumble out a sixth-story window."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Review: "Aliens vs Predator - Requiem"

As is usual on Christmas nights, after the activity of the holiday season is finally over, I partook of a movie yesterday at a local megaplex. The title I pick each year depends on my mood; last night, I was in the mood for sci-fi insanity.

So off to ”Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” I went, expecting little for my entertainment buck. And boy, was I right.

Packing a script filled with unremarkable characters—although I must admit, most who die deserve it for sheer stupidity—“Requiem” involves a Predator ship orbiting Earth as it is sabotaged by the Pred-Alien hybrid of the first “AVP” movie. Crash landing in Colorado, the ship breaks apart and releases the Pred-Alien and a cache of facehuggers into the local woods, where they immediately set about impregnating humans with Alien spawn.

Meanwhile, in the ship’s wreckage, an FYI signal is sent to the Predator homeworld altering them of the disaster, prompting a lone Predator to strike out to Earth to clean up the mess – as the Aliens quickly begin making their mark on a local town.

So where to start on all this?

Truthfully, although its script is a mess, there are little glimmers of promise in “Requiem” – in truth, however, most (e.g. art direction, music, sound) are taken from previous “Alien” and “Predator” films by freshman directors Colin and Greg Strauss who show little innovation — but plenty of shaky camera work during what would otherwise be decent fight scenes. The Strauss boys also take shortcuts with their plot’s timeline – for example, as in the previous “AVP,” chestbursters seem to mature into adult Aliens within minutes. So as a result, it is unclear how many Aliens are creeping about, but the lone Predator does eviscerate several in exotic ways.

As for “Requiem’s” cast, most are unknowns – the only recognizable faces being the lovely Reiko Aylesworth (“24”) as a US Army soldier, and little Ariel Gade who was marvelous in 2005’s “Dark Water” but has little to do here but mutter insipid lines like “Mommy, are the monsters gone?”

Both would have been wiser to pass on this project, which is not a horrible movie per se – just a frantic mess.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas. Now Hit the Road.

While I'm not much of a basketball fan, I have to give Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson a nod for having a complete lack of class and awful timing in deciding to fire (now former) head coach Scott Skiles today.

It's hardly news that the Bulls have been struggling all season, but to whack a coach on Christmas Eve (don't worry about Skiles - he'll get the salary owed him) is beyond the pale, plus the firing pulls sports journalists (local and national) who had previously hoped to spend Christmas with their families away to chase this fucking story.

I don't argue with Paxson's right to make personnel decisions - but couldn't he have waited 48 hours to pull the trigger?

Smooth, baby. Smooth.

Well, at least a certain caped crusader still understands the spirit of the season as demonstrated in Batman #219 where he pauses to sing carols with Jim Gordon’s boys amidst his endless war on crime.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Review: "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"

In a nutshell, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” is one big parody of the 2006 Johnny Cash biopic “Walk The Line” and the excesses of the music industry.

Is it funny?

Curiously, the mid-afternoon screening I caught was attended by only four people (including me), but I didn’t take that to mean the movie was bad. Only that I had caught it at a bad time. There is no mistaking that certain movies—typically thrillers or bawdy comedies--connect far better with a big audience, creating a rolling emotional vibe that everyone can share. “Walk Hard” is exactly this kind of movie, and as such, I think I would have enjoyed it better with more people around me.

But again, is it funny? Usually, yes.

John C. Reilly (who does his own singing) does a great job as boneheaded crooner Dewey Cox, who uses the tragedy of losing his brother in a childhood machete fight to launch a huge music career, sire dozens of kids, do enough blow to kill a horse, commit bigamy, go to jail, and destroy several bathrooms in a drunken rage. Along the way, Dewey also meets his soul-mate (played by the beautiful Jenna Fischer) only to lose her, and win her back again.

But do the plot details really matter?

Not really, as “Walk Hard” is designed as a self-sustaining, 96-minute engine of drug and sex gags co-written by director Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow – who can’t seem to make an unpopular movie these days (“Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”). And bully for him.

Yet at the risk of repeating myself, I strongly advise seeing “Walk Hard” with a larger audience. In fact, if I could go back and see the movie again for the first time, that’s precisely what I’d do.

I certainly would feel like I got more of my money's worth entertainment-wise, which is hardly a bad thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ben, Ben, Ben...

Over on Ed Brayton’s “Dispatches” site, he’s posted a brief coverage of “Expelled” a new pro-ID (intelligent design) movie featuring Ben Stein – whose marvelously big brain apparently cannot grasp that ID (or any other theory that relies on immeasurable components) is not science.

Even the Vatican agrees.

At any rate, the producers of “Expelled” groan on and on how Darwinism is apparently driven a liberal, Christian-hating mob which intends to exclude ID from public schools.

And why? Yep!

Because (according to them) Christians are so persecuted, a sentiment which has never failed to baffle me considering Christianity is the dominant religion in America.

Time Warp

As my college days hit the back stretch, I can vividly recall how time seemed to move at a ridiculously fluid pace – as if the local environment helped speed the clock along from mid-morning (because who ever got up early at school if they could help it), to noon (“All My Children” – check), to afternoon (where time really flew) and finally evening for study and paper writing.

The reason I bring this up is that my recent days seem to be moving as quickly – maybe not as blindingly as in school – but my 24-hour segments truly feel like seams on a racetrack. Perhaps because the winter days are so much shorter? I can’t say exactly – but it feels disconcerting all the same.

Maybe a wormhole has formed under my house.

Dammit, there’s so much I don’t know about astrophysics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cheap Plastic Memories

For kids who’ve grown up in the Chicago area over the past few decades, very few can look back on their former—and current—childhoods without a fond nod to the inexpensive glory that is Mold-O-Rama.

To those unaware, Mold-O-Rama’s are futurist-looking (well, futurist, from a 1960s point of view) vending machines which create hot plastic-molded toys on the spot for nary a buck. These toys take various forms – but are usually cast as animals, vehicles, or the head of Abraham Lincoln.

Growing up, I have no idea how many Mold-O-Rama’s I had. But I do know they did not last long at my house, especially when used as bath toys, but that was the beauty part: freshly molded replacements—held upside-down after exiting the hopper to help cool them--were always at hand.

But happily, unlike most stuff we grew up with that today no longer exists, Mold-O-Rama’s are still available at certain Chicago attractions – typically, at Brookfield Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry – prompting former kids to renew their collections as adults.

I think I have an alligator around here somewhere.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Paranormal State" Follow-Up

I was surprised at the volume of negative feedback voiced on this blog regarding the premiere of A&E’s “Paranormal State” last week.

I knew the show was god-awful, but never realized how so many others out there agreed with me.

But should anyone will be watching, tonight’s latest adventure in ghostly melodrama features PRS assisting an exorcism – which as far as expertise goes, is like asking Ted Kaczynski to help supervise a controlled building demolition.

Oh, and don’t forget Ryan Buell is still being stalked by a demon. That’s important. We don’t want to miss anything about that.

PS: When it comes to ghost stories, this one looks far more intriguing – brought to us (in limited release on Dec 28) by Producer Guillermo Del Toro.

PPS: Against my better judgment, I watched last night’s bookended episodes of “Paranormal State” and saw no evidence of anything paranormal in either. Both subjects were struggling with domestic turmoil – one due to a floundering marriage, and the other from the sudden death of a loved one.

If PRS accomplished anything positive in either case, it was in (allegedly) helping each family find normalcy in their otherwise turbulent lives.

Maybe they should give Dr. Phil a run for his money?

PPPS: Here’s a short review of “Paranormal State” via the New York Times. “Go away, fly!” it says. In the meantime, I've scoped the net looking for a positive coverage of the show, and damned if that ain't harder than finding a bad review of "The Shawshank Redemption."

I don't think I've ever seen such a chorus of head-smacking incredulity aimed at a single TV show...well, with the exception of "Cop Rock" that is.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hello, Mr. Dick!

I’ve always been an animal lover, especially when it comes to whales and other deep-sea creatures.

As such, click here for an amazing (accidental) shot from an offshore oil drilling company using a remote video camera to inspect its lines – during which someone pops in to check things out.

Note: The footage is silent, so no: your speakers are not malfunctioning.

Did you play it? If so, that object that swooped into frame was a curious adult sperm whale.

But this footage reminds me of a story I heard on a recent Discovery Channel special on right whale pods off the coast of North Carolina. Sadly, after the 19th century, these whales were decimated by hunters and due to their slow reproductive cycles, and still struggling to come back from the brink of extinction.

Anyhow, on this special a researcher told a story about him scuba diving one day in a shallow area where right whales are known to frequent, and hovering off the bottom hoping to spot something. For almost an hour, nothing happened – prompting the guy to pack it in, and head back to the surface when suddenly something shoved him hard from behind.

It was a right whale that had bumped into him by accident.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Review: "I Am Legend"

Although it takes major liberties with its source material, “I Am Legend” is a taut, surprisingly strong sci-fi tale with a good lead performance by Will Smith as Robert Neville, US Army scientist and survivor of a global plague that wipes out 5.7 billion.

Three years later, Neville is mostly comfortable in his Manhattan home, hunting deer in sports cars, killing time with his beloved dog, and researching a plague cure in his fortified basement lab, research on human plague victims who versus dying, become rage-filled creatures who hide from the sun, but run loose at night.

As far as he knows, Neville is the last man on earth – protected from the plague by a natural immunity – but via a repeating AM radio broadcast, constantly seeks out other survivors, waiting for them each day on a lonely pier above the Hudson River.

Please, sing along: "To beat those monsters, 1-2-3...."

This is the jist of "Legend's" story; revealing anything further would spoil your experience.

Yet it’s significant breaks with author Richard Matheson’s original 1954 novel (which applies an extremely bleak ending) aside, I must give “I Am Legend” credit on several levels: it’s a smart, sleek, clever product which uses restraint in establishing both perilous and soul-numbing moments drawn from Neville’s endless days – this, versus subscribing to the Michael Bay theory of “Explosions, Saturated Filters = Good Storytelling.”

If I have any real problem with “Legend’s” final product, it’s that the end is indeed too rosy, too Spielbergian (see “War of The Worlds”) for my taste. Still, is it this conclusion enough to kill the movie’s stronger elements?

Not quite. But I’ll take what I got anyway.


PS: By the bye, if the seven-minute “Dark Knight” teaser which preceded my screening of “I am Legend” is any indication, Heath Ledger is going to make an incredible Joker. The leaked trailer (due for formal release on Dec 16) is also fantastic. I have to give Chris Nolan a world of credit here - his interpretation of the Batman mythos has the potential to make all preceding examples (from Tim Burton onward) look like bad student films.

Finally, while cruising the net for other info on this stuff, someone noted that in both "TDK" previews at no time does Harvey Dent (AKA: Two-Face, played by Aaron Eckhart) show up - which is a good clue he will do so for the spring "TDK" trailer to run before summer movie season begins in May 2008.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Farewell Lin

Earlier this week, I decided to ring up an old friend I met at a part-time and summer job I had between 1986-1989.

The job was for my local street department (in suburban Chicago) where I performed a zillion tasks ranging from washing trucks and bathrooms, to landscaping and road work. The friend in question was named Lin – a departmental secretary who could be sweet as pie one moment, and caustic as acid the next.

But for some reason, Lin and I bonded – and I eventually became one of her honorary kids (nicknamed “The Weasel” – don’t ask me where it came from; I have no idea).

So long story short, I got a call tonight from Lin’s husband Jim informing me that she passed in 2006 of lung cancer – which was sad, but not surprising considering that Lin smoked heavily. In fact, I recall encouraging her to quit when I first got to know her, and Lin replied with some B.S. that her doctor recommended it.

Either way, it irrelevant now -- as Lin has passed onto a place that undoubtedly resembles a heavenly sports bar where she can smoke, drink, laugh, and play video trivia all until the end of time.

Goodbye, mom.

Midnight Madness, or Foolishness (Take Your Pick)

Generally, I don’t attend midnight movie premieres very often. In fact, tonight’s screening of “I am Legend” will be my first, if memory serves.

However, despite my interest in the story (written by Richard Mathesson, and long condemned to Development Hell) I admit I’m truly going to check out the first seven minutes of “The Dark Knight” (shown only on IMAX venues) in addition to the film’s teaser.

Yes, it’s a school night, but since I’ve begun working from home my commute has dramatically fallen from 25 miles to 25 feet (or the distance from my bedroom to my home office), so I think I can swing the time out.

I’ll post my impressions of the “DK” footage and teaser this weekend.

Until then, huzzah to you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Mid-Week Magic Bag

Picked up a small gaggle stuff at my FNCS over lunch, and the following two items caught my eye straight off:

"It Ate Billy on Christmas" by Roman Dirge and Steven Daily (Dark Horse)

This is one of those comic store purchases I made on a lark. No questions asked. I just loved the title, plus at a mere $12.95 any tale combining Christmas and moppets going down a monster’s greasy esophagus can’t be beat.

Secondly, based on my personal conviction that Alan Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” is the finest comic book ever written, I had to check out this would-be sequel in Booster Gold #5 (co-written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz) featuring BG going back in time to prevent Barbara Gordon from being paralyzed by the Joker.

But unfortunately, despite Booster’s superior powers, the rescue turns out to be far tougher than he expected – in fact, ridiculously tough.

My compliments to Dan Jurgens and Norm Raphund for doing a capable job of replicating Brian Bolland's original artwork.

God in Spandex

Whether one believes in the viability of global warming or not, it is baffling to see how some on the extra far-right try to justify their beliefs that climate change is a creation of the United Nations or liberal politics.

Yesterday over lunch, I heard Rush Limbaugh summarize his version of the “mainstream” conservative position on global warming quite well (paraphrasing here): God controls earth’s weather; therefore, climate change is a falsehood because the Almighty will never allow it to happen – which is like saying 9/11 is impossible because God favors America above all nations.

This is what I like to call the “God as Superman” myth – which is not say I am an atheist, or that I snub my nose at prayer, but rather that when awful things are barreling down humanity’s turnpike, it’s up to us to bail our own asses out (or not).

In other words, if one is camped out on a train track and the 8:30 express is closing fast at 50 MPH, God is not coming to rescue you. You need to stand up and leave the track yourself.

But beside Limbaugh’s take on this question of action, and its relation to warming, over on WorldNutDaily Chief Editor Joseph Farah triumphantly seconds Rush’s notion of God as divine superhero:

While few can argue with the biblical mandate to be good stewards of the planet, the "Evangelical Climate Initiative" [created by a growing Christian movement calling for environmental safety] calls for both individual action and immediate government action to curtail carbon dioxide emissions. This despite the fact that man-caused carbon dioxide emissions represent only an infinitesimally small percentage of CO2 present in the atmosphere. This despite the fact that there is no evidence [CO2] levels in the atmosphere cause global warming.

And this despite God's promise in Genesis 8:22 that He alone controls the world's temperature and climate, not man: "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."


So I guess that makes NASA’s most recent report on climate change the product of a gang of left-wing whackjobs out to brainwash America’s kids, right Joe? Because, y’know, those NASA guys – they’re right up there with the Heaven’s Gate Cult and Charlie Manson on the crazy yardstick.

And those environmentally-minded Christians? Boy, do they need a reality check!

But people like these and NASA are not alone in their extreme right-wing irking conclusions; the hard data which points to bad things for earth’s climate again and again. But never mind the facts; in America’s current-day, Karl Rovian society – reality only matters if it favors your campaign contributors.

Otherwise, never you mind about that massive asteroid hurtling towards earth – both God and George W. Bush will protect us.

Hey, you two. This is God. Be careful, there’s a train coming.
I said there’s a train coming! Move your ass! Hey! Is this thing on? You’re about to become
coyote meal in 30 seconds! Hello? Oh, Jesus….why do I bother sometimes?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Review: "Paranormal State"

For some reason—most likely due to the success of Sci-Fi’s “Ghost Hunters” series—cable television has seen a small boon in programming on the paranormal – some of it average, most far below that mark.

Yet last night’s much-hyped A&E premiere of “Paranormal State” hit a new low for “reality-based” ghost television on most every conceivable level.

But before I haul out the cleaver, a little data on the show’s concept – based around a group of Penn State students (the Paranormal Research Society, or PRS) who offer their services to persons living with invisible houseguests. Leading PRS is Ryan Buell, the group’s extremely serious director who chimes with “notes” on current cases including one featuring a boy who may be chatting with the spirit of a young man who died close to his property.

Yet whether this kid is psychic or not seems to be glossed over by PRS, whose young membership (with one exception, the team’s psychologist) seems more enthralled by the romanticism of ghosts to understand their subject matter. Later, on another PRS case, Ryan Buell calls in Lorianne Warren to consult on a possible haunting – which for any ghost hunter worth his or her salt, immediately sets off alarm bells, as Mrs. Warren and her late husband Ed carry a long-earned reputation in paranormal circles as total crackpots.

An example or two: the Warrens’ steadfast involvement with the heavily debunked ”Amityville Horror” case, and their creation of a book on werewolves.

No, not mythical or Hollywood werewolves -- the real thing.

To this end, the tone struck by “Paranormal State” (and Ryan Buell, in particular) becomes so preachy and irritating that after viewing the first two episodes (which foreshadows a long-term story arc with Buell allegedly stalked by an evil force) I have zero interest in seeing anything further.

The show is that overdramatic – not mention insulting to anyone pondering the unknown with an ounce of skepticism or self-respect.

Thus, move on kids – nothing to see here.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Saturday Morning Flashback, Part II

Not to go all crazy old man on you here, but I think kids today—despite their hyper-edge game systems that make anything from the ‘70s (e.g. Atari, Odyssey, Intellivision) resemble a rock and stick—are missing out on a lot their parents enjoyed as kids themselves.

For example, and it’s a big one, Saturday morning cartoons are now nearly extinct for two reasons: a) networks cannot get advertisers for them, and; b) after the creation of Cartoon Network, et al., and DVDs animated shows are no longer restricted to airing during late afternoons and weekend mornings.

Therefore, the anticipation of Saturday cartoons once relished among ‘70s kids, is now pretty much dead considering modern-day moppets can dial up a cartoon at will. Call me coy, and I know parents will disagree, but I prefer the “old way” of cartoon distribution.

But all this aside, I think today’s kids are also missing out on several great toys circa the 70s which are largely not available today due to pesky government bodies like “consumer safety advocacy groups."

Case in point:

Check out Crazy Foam’s cool, mouth-centered packaging.
Who the hell can say they never said “Hey, look! The Hulk’s throwing up!
Whhhoouuuggh!” at least once during a 70s-era bath? That means you, Hef!

For those not in the know, Crazy Foam was essentially alcohol-free shaving cream which kids could use during baths to (in theory) clean up, make foam beards or hats, or mold into would-be cream pies (excellent for reenacting “Three Stooges”-style fights in the bath).

Ah, memories….

But unfortunately, my own Crazy Foam days were short-lived when my parents learned over time that despite the product being designed to slip down drains with bath water, that CF residue (sounds like a ‘Nam reference, doesn’t it?) was simply everywhere after uses – and made for a helluva clean-up job.

Too bad.

Still, these kids today - if they’d just take a moment between Guitar Hero riffs to stop and smell the pretend Hulk vomit every so often, we might all live in a future that was a lot nicer.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Not To Pile On Here...

But I can’t get a recent comment by “The View” co-host Sherri Shepherd out of my mind claiming that Christianity is the first religion in human history.

This is from the same person who claimed (also on “The View”) she does not believe in evolution (fine, it’s not illegal), and answered “I don’t know” to a question from her co-hosts asking whether the earth was flat or round.

Ordinarily, I might write off Shepherd’s first claim about Christianity pre-dating that of the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Africans, Native Americans, et al., as coming from the mouth of an ignorant kid who simply doesn’t know any better. But Sherri Shepherd is my age, almost forty, not some fresh-faced mope out of high school.

Here’s a tip, honey.

Put down your Bible for a minute, and crack open a history book. I doubt you’ll learn anything, but I figure it’s worth a shot.

Hello, Jeanie. Who's Bothering You Now?

Although I had not planned on seeing “The Golden Compass” this weekend when it arrives in theatres, I must admit the recent hang-wringing over the film from various Christian groups (whom claim it’s a vehicle for the author’s atheist beliefs) has my curiosity piqued: do these concerns have any basis in reality, or are they of the Helen Lovejoy brand of moral hysteria we’ve come to expect from corners of the Christian faith who also claim “Harry Potter” is a doorway to damnation?

Either way, I’m not sure I care.

Warning: Godless bears ahead!

Yet since it’s a moral imperative of mine to do anything—well, within reason—that irks the conservative right, I’ll be checking out “Compass” over the weekend.

Hopefully, it’ll be a nice palate cleanser before the month’s remaining flicks arrive including “I am Legend” on December 14th, which I am truthfully seeing only to check out the new “Dark Knight” teaser, in addition to the film’s first seven minutes at IMAX venues.

The notion of Heath Ledger as the Joker is beginning to grow on me. Too bad the film doesn’t arrive for seven months.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Back To Christmas Future

Every year I grow older, I find myself becoming less a fan of Christmas.

Not because I feel the day no longer has intrinsic value, but because it has become so wrapped up in commercial and political nonsense that the day’s original themes (e.g. goodwill, love, et al.) are lost in the greater noise – which brings me back to one of the holiday’s last traditional remnants: Charles Dickens.

To be fair, his classic “A Christmas Carol” is the only Dickens text I have ever read, and that is certainly my fault – as Dickens’ other works are so intimidating that I have never wanted to invest the effort to plow through them. But “A Christmas Carol”? It’s compact, accessibly written, and stuffed with brilliant elements.

Since the invention of film, “Carol” has been adapted a few dozen times – most in ways that turn Dickens’ characters into cheap Victorian archetypes, without bothering to explore deeper political themes the author sutured into his text. That said, for my money, the film version of “Carol” which hits closest to the mark Dickens originally intended is the 1984 adaptation with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge.

For one, the cast is stellar - with Scott playing a stripped-down Scrooge, Roger Reese as Fred, David Warner as Bob Cratchit, and Edward Woodward who is brilliant (and surprisingly edgy) as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But more refreshingly, versus every other film version of “Carol,” where those around Scrooge seem to automatically accept his overnight change of heart, in the Scott “Carol” most are skeptical about Scrooge’s transformation. Sure, they eventually buy into it – but in Fred and Bob Cratchit's initial reaction is a hint that they suspect Scrooge’s yuletide turnabout is a sick joke.

Yet all this aside, the single element I truly love in the 1984 “Carol” is how it presents one of my favorite characters in all of British literature – the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

Not only should this character not work in a Christmas-themed text (Halloween, sure – but Christmas?), but he works perfectly via Dickens’ understated use of the ghost as a mute guide of Scrooge’s tomorrows versus berating him like a judgmental preacher from Hell (as in one example to follow). But of course, I also love Christmas Yet To Come simply because he looks so damned cool – as best depicted (once again) in the 1984 “Carol” as a towering wraith whose only means of expression is that bony finger.

I mean, how would you react if you woke up to the following in your bedroom?

"A Christmas Carol" (1984)

Damn straight, you’d piss yourself, vow never to drink Goldschlager again, and set a land speed record trying to get out of your house all in one flat second (Ranking: Four Death Shrouds out of Four).

But let’s look at a couple of other versions of Christmas Future from other film adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” and how they rank versus others.


"A Christmas Carol" (1951)

Although most consider the ’51 “Carol” starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge to be the finest put to film, I disagree. It’s a fine production, but it feels dramatically lightweight. As for Christmas Future, it’s an interesting representation, if a tad plain (Ranking: Three Death Shrouds out of Four).


"Scrooge!" (1970)

In this musical 1970 version of “Carol” (retitled “Scrooge!”), Albert Finney plays the lead role and does a fine job. Surprisingly, the song and dance numbers work as well. But at the morally climactic scene where Scrooge is show his own gravestone by Christmas Future, the ghost is revealed as a cheap funhouse prop.

Then even worse, instead of Scrooge waking in a cold sweat (as occurs in every other version of “Carol”) relieved to find Christmas morning on his doorstep, “Scrooge!” adds a cartoonish segment where Ebeneezer goes to Hell, is greeted by Marley, and made Satan’s personal bookkeeper. I kid you not. Click here for the gory details. (Ranking: One Death Shroud out of Four).


"A Christmas Carol" (1999)

Based on his critically-acclaimed one-man stage play of “Carol,” the 1999 film starring Patrick Stewart is surprisingly dull and not well-cast. Even worse, Christmas Future (which I was unable to find a picture of online) resembles something from The Haunted Mansion ride at Walt Disney World. Uck! (Ranking: One Death Shroud out of Four).