Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post Christmas Blues Get Better With Action (& Cop Dog)

Sure, decorations may be half priced and Santa still nursing that milk hangover, but just because it's December 28th is no reason to believe Christmas is over! To keep that yule log crackling--and to postpone the inevitable impossible decision I face in crowning a winner or two for the Infinite Giveaway Contest Extraordinaire, allow me to direct you to an audio stocking stuffer. Over at the Action Attraction Podcast, host with the most Metal Mikey has been hard at work throwing Skype parties with such main courses as Masters of the Universe and Die Harder for his guests to ravage like a bag of chestnuts. I saved my ravaging for the best:

You know it. On the latest episode, you can hear Mikey, Silva & Gold's one and only Doctor Zom, and myself discuss the 1996 Christmas classic, Santa With Muscles, a forgotten cubic zirconium starring after-his-heyday Hulk Hogan, before-her-Black-Swanning Mila Kunis, post-Chocolate-Chip-Charlie Garrett Morris, The Most Annoying Child Actress of All Time Who Eventually Had a Line In The Muppets, and When Is He NOT In His Prime? Clint Howard, all directed by Jim "Cop Dog" Murlowski. The movie is fairly--SPOILER ALERT--awful, but our 2+ hour conversation does cover rarely touched topics including:

-Hidden head cheese secrets of Hair Club For Men

-Kuma the God, aka star of Cop Dog


-What pumpkin ice cream and Clint Howard's semen have in common

And believe me, all are far more horrifying than you can possibly imagine. Head to iTunes or visit this link for a very merry Christmas indeed!

Or just go watch Cop Dog.

Your choice.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Brenda Walsh In Your Stocking: Christmas Caper

Christmas Caper marks the end of a powerful trilogy of films: made-for-TV Christmas fluff starring former Beverly Hills 90210 actresses. We've seen Kelly Taylor fall in love with the help of her talking dog and Donna Martin learn the true meaning of the holiday thanks to William Shatner and Gary Coleman. It's only right that we continue with Brenda Walsh's transformation from bitchy cat burglar to bored family gal.
Quick Plot: Brenda plays Kate, a thief-in-training who sports a dull look and black spandex as she steals a diamond before being betrayed by her partner. Before you can say Happiness Hotel, Kate is on the run with her angry Lindsay Lohan-in-five-years mug plastered on Most Wanted posters.

But where does a moody city gal run to? Conveniently enough, Kate has an older sister who's trapped in the Bahamas with her husband due to bad weather. With Christmas one week away and nobody in town wanting to care for two unruly brats, Kate heads back to her hometown to babysit and lay low until the next big score.

Much like Beverly Hills without Brenda Walsh, Christmas Caper simply has no bite. Kate's history of kleptomania is played for mild laughs, but shouldn't SOMEONE acknowledge the fact that it might be a serious illness? Even if we look past the fact that this woman has been stealing since she was in puffy paint t-shirts, the character is supposed to be a big city bitch who sneers at the suburban way of life, yet all it takes is a few days of car pooling and lame milkshake dates with her high school sweetheart to melt her snobbery like the snow that inevitably falls on Christmas morning.

Say what you want about Shannon Doherty, but she's a capable actress with a little more natural presence than most of her teen bop peers. It makes Christmas Caper a little more watchable to the man-on-the-street, but far more boring to connoisseurs of moldy cheese. It's perfectly average and really, that's a terrible, terrible thing.
Lessons Learned
Life doesn’t work like having life just so (or something)

Small towns are often victim to plot points that involve unread faxes
Pantsing mall Santa never gets old, even when you're well past the years of Donna Martin Graduating

Token Slapstick
Not too horrid, although we do get a few snaps of Brenda, her nephew, and ex-partner having some physical difficulty learning the trade
Montage Mania
The first bucks the trend as we see Kate loiter around a mall to verbally convince townspeople to buy expensively stealable items. An expected "Let's all team up to decorate for the big holiday party!"  follows, but bonus points for ending on a clapper

Sass Factor
How I wish it came from Brenda. How I wish it existed in this flavorless piece of pie

Stocking Stuffer Or Stuffed With Coal?
Christmas Caper is a perfectly competent, perfectly forgettable comedy that's not really funny but unfortunately for people like me, also not so bad it's funny. I guess its appeal is reserved for those who loved the premise of The Ref but could've used less cussing or actual humor. In other words, your grandma if your grandma is lame. And yes, I just insulted your grandma. 

But only the uncool one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday! (celebrate)

As you break out the sexy holograms and singing Bea Arthurs for the big Life Day celebration, allow me to do the following:

1. Wish you a Merry Christmas

2. Wish you a happy everything else that doesn't start with a capital C

3. Remind you that to win SUPER SWAG (including DVDs, CDs, signed posters, and magic beans) tell me your favorite Christmas movie and tell me fast! The clock is ticking!

4. Leave you with something that reminds you this is actually a horror blog:

We've got one more week of Christmas sugar, and then it's a chilly sleigh ride into January complete with the annual best-of and lessons learned lists, all to celebrate the big fat third birthday of this little Doll's House. Thanks for hanging in for this 90210-heavy December. Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Surprisingly Tasty Breakfast Club Cheese In Your Stocking: Cancel Christmas

Is it possible that in the midst of all my cheese mining, there actually exists a made-for-TV Christmas movie I like without irony?
And it stars Judd Nelson?

As Santa Claus?

Quick Plot: We open quite suddenly on an empty  courtroom setting where a humorless 'board member' breaks the bad news to Santa: due to the increasing materialization of Christmas, Santa Claus will not be delivering gifts to children this year...UNLESS...

Cue Challenge!

The old man can convert two spoiled rich boys and a moody paraplegic to discovering the true meaning of the holiday without revealing his secret Santa identity. Conveniently enough, all three brats/kids attend the same ritzy private academy in Califor--

NO! What's this? A cheaply made holiday film NOT set in snowless & sunny LA? Can it BE?

Well sort of. See, the spoiled rotten Farley, his lackey Stephen, and Adam The Wheelchair Kid all live in the snowless & sunny... Atlanta. 

Which apparently looks  a lot like California, but comes at a lower budget.

Ah well. At least the film has a fairly original premise. Santa (played by Judd Nelson with the same creepily forced old man voice used by Corey Feldman in Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys) takes a job as a school janitor with his chief elf Randall in tow. The Bert & Ernie-ish pair also rent a room above Adam and his single mom who oh-so-serendipitously teaches Farley and Stephen. Oh, and Farley's dad is ALSO oh-so-serendipitously single. Some people don't need cute talking dogs to be matchmade.

Broom in hand and aging Judd Nelson disguise in place, Santa slowly works his magic on his charges. The refreshing thing--and I'm being weirdly serious about this--is that these kids genuinely DO start to open up but not necessarily to the creepily enthusiastic janitor and his assistant (who aggressively laughs in a manner as terrifying as anything in Clownhouse). When Adam's teacher mom confronts Stephen about his follower status, the boy thoughtfully evaluates his actions and takes a stand for himself. Farley starts off as a token rich kid, but the film lets us see that he's really just still recovering from the loss of his mother in a way that's not overly trite. Meeting Adam helps to bring out the best in him not BECAUSE Adam is in a wheelchair, but more in a way that these two angry middle schoolers simply enjoy one another's company.

I don't mean to say Cancel Christmas is on par with Wings of Desire in its humanism, but considering so much of the sentimental tripe hauled out for the season, it's genuinely sweet. I don't know that I'll seek out more work from director John Bradshaw and writer David Alexander, but I'll be quite happy if I see their names pop up on something like this in the future.

Especially if, like Cancel Christmas, it involves a star wipe.

High Points
There's a kind of wonderful sequence where Santa steals an hour working as a mall Claus in order to get a feel for today's youth. Instead of having the kids recite their shopping lists, Santa asks them what they're giving their own parents this year. This subplot develops a little more and in all scrooge-less honesty, it's absolutely refreshing

Aforementioned star wipe. This film has a star wipe!

Low Points
While the ending is earned, there's something about the execution of Cancel Christmas' final scene that feels incredibly rushed and sadly lacking the cheer I was hoping for, almost as if the budget was star wiped out by the time they filmed it

Lessons Learned
You know you have an absentee dad when only the butler knows how you take your steak

That Kipling dude could write

If you go to or work at a private school, you will have no discernible accent, even if you live in Atlanta

Perpetuity means forever (and ever)

Montage Mania
Stephen fundraises the only way one can: montage

Sass Factor
The nearly insufferable Randall gets the zingers AND the chance to dress in drag, which naturally means a wacky complaint about wearing heels

Token Slapstick
Absent! It's a Christmas miracle!

Cool Cat Alert
It's kind of hilarious how relevant and hip Cancel Christmas tries to be. For starters, Santa is handed a cell phone that will ring when his tasks are completed, as if someone behind the screens realized there's no better way to look current than have your Santa Claus hold a cell phone. Even better is the forced "teen jargon" spoken by Stephen. Really the only words he uses are 'dude,' 'stellar,' 'stoked,' and 'off the hook,' but it's all spoken with such pointed scriptness  and constantly commented on by 'old' people

Stocking Stuffer Or Coal In Your Stocking?
Cancel Christmas feels like the kind of film your friend's good-intentioned but a tad behind the times dad might make. It's sickenly earnest, but until its final scene, the saccharine is far more tolerable than it should be. Perhaps I've just grown so tired of career women being schooled or quirky antler-wearing singletons finding love that this kind of movie--made with no irony and save for an opening shot of a Hallmark Christmas village, seemingly no cash grabbings--just feels oddly fresh and...well, NICE.

Okay, and a little sentimental but I'm only human.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Very Christmas Lightning Swap: Love Actually for...AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

You know those awkward Christmas gift exchanges where you get something small for a friend, not realizing they’re going to go all out and commission a painting of your favorite pet or find the finest silk robe just to make that cheap hot cocoa set you got on the clearance rack of Marshalls look that much worse? One could kind of consider that an analogy for this month’s swap with my pal T.L. Bugg of the The Lightning Bug’s Lair. My favorite South Carolinean assigned me the oh-so-hard job of discussing one of my favorite Christmas movies, the sugary love-dipped Alan Rickman-talking-in Love Actually.
I made him watch The Nutcracker In 3D.

Man am I on the naughty list! Head over yonder for his thoughts on what might actually be the worst Christmas movie ever made, at least in the last ten years. I hope he survived.
And now onto my secondary intro:
“I hate horror movies!” says the snob who will argue that it’s okay to like Silence of the Lambs because it’s a ‘thriller.’

“I hate musicals!” moans the horror fan who will argue The Wicker Man is in no way of that classification, despite featuring original songs sung by characters in the movie to further the plot.

“I hate romantic comedies!” or twice with knowing hypocrisy.
Blanket statements are a common flaw when it comes to cinema talk. People love to hate, say, ‘everything Tom Cruise has ever done!’ only to mumble disclaimers on Magnolia and Tropic Thunder. No matter how dire a record someone or thing bats onscreen, it’s hard--nay, impossible--to stay at zero.
I bring this up because like many of you, I’m guilty of distancing myself from a subgenre out of snobbery and pride. The majority of romantic comedies makes me want to find the nearest physically attractive, well-dressed couple and smash their pretty heads together, maybe ending the night with a See No Evil eyeball pluck.

Now the important thig to know here is that I don’t feel this way out of romantic bitterness. I’m currently in a wonderful relationship (you know you’ve found a keeper when he treats you to a fresh copy of Santa With Muscles) but even at past times of heartbroken hurt, the contrivances of the genre made me more annoyed than upset. It’s the forced cuteness, the lazy wish fulfilment, the thinly veiled chauvenism so prevalent in romcoms that make me want to scream. 
Love Actually isn’t necessarily innocent on any of these counts. A cynic could easily tear apart virtually any of its dozen love stories to find flaws (all females being too pretty, TWO slightly backwards Cinderella stories, a prime minister with extremely confused priorities) and yet, like almost everyone I know, I actually love Love Actually.
Some reasons why:
1. Emma Thompson

Few actresses can deliver dry humor so well, but mostly, it’s the fact that woman deserves an Oscar just for the way she makes a bed
2. Airport Olympics

Way back in 2003, my friend and I were going to see a movie and had 20 minutes or so to kill. Like any responsible cineastes, we decided to sneak into another theater until ours opened. That theater turned out to be one hosting Love Actually, and the moment we entered, little Sam surged through the airport to say goodbye to the fellow 5th grader he loved. We knew nothing about this movie (remember it turned into quite the sleeper hit) but dangit, we were so sold on that one scene that we came back to see it the very next night.
3. Alan Rickman Speaking

That in itself is always a high point
4. The Poetry of Airport Arrivals
As much as security measures have tamed their emotional ease, I still agree with Hugh Grant’s opening narration that airports are a mecca of love and affection. The ‘real’ footage used of families and lovers finding one another with baggage never fails to wet my eyes.
5. Rated R

It’s not that we need raunchiness for a Christmas love story to work, but darn does it enhance the film’s humor! I’ve seen TV cuts overseas where the entire porn stand-in romance is simply edited out, and while it doesn’t kill the rest of the flow, the story is there for a reason, just as Natalie's penchant for using fowl language earns genuine laughs.
6. Bill Nighy’s Dance Moves

And also, everything that comes out of his mouth. Come to think about it, between Nighy, Rickman, and that old goat Liam Neeson, Love Actually is oozing with handsome middle-aged man candy
7. There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus

Inevitable Scroogish Low Points
I love Hugh Grant’s distracted world leader’s courtship of a tea girl as much s I love Colin Firth’s pursuit of a Portuguese maid. I just also wish--and here’s where the cynic pops up--that the film found some way to balance out the rich man/poor but pretty girl trope with a tad more feminine prowess

Between Aurelia’s sister and Natalie’s thighs, there is a strange and slightly mean level of chubby girl humor

Lessons Learned
January Jones is capable of showing some form of emotion. Who knew?

Britney Spears is rubbish in bed
One can learn how to play the drums in the same short amount of time it takes to learn rough conversational Portuguese 

Never ask for anything in England gift...wrapped

Stray Observation
I understand and accept that Love Actually is a British film and that we beat them in the Revolutionary War, but how much do they hate our country that they have to present the epitome of American beauty as Shannon Elizabeth sporting the worst southern accent since Jessica Simpson in Dukes of Hazard and even worse, her sister DENISE I HATE YOU RICHARDS as her...totally non-Southern sister. 

Love It Actually?
Look, I love this film, actually. It’s manipulative and gooey but you know...Hugh Grant dances while controlling a country. Emma Thompson makes a paper mache lobster costume for a nativity play. It’s a ridiculous and indulgent piece of sugar, but once a year, it makes me smile, cry, laugh, and realize I don’t hate romantic comedies: I just wish they were all as good as this one.

And now gear up the reindeer and hop on your sleigh! T.L. Bugg survived (I hope) Elle Fanning fighting Nazi rats with the help of Albert Einstein (seriously) and you should go make sure he's okay.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Virgins In Your Stocking! A Carol Christmas

There's a reason why Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol remains the most popular holiday themed novel, local community theater play, and plot outline for sitcoms come every December. It's a brilliantly appealing story that can be applied to any subject in any medium, be that a newspaper comic strip or Halloween Roseanne episode.

You start with a villain that demands hatred, say, a man who tosses cute bunny Muppets into the snowy streets of London or an executive that fires a family man on Christmas Eve. We have to DESPISE this person (or animated duck) as much as we pity the poor but kind Bob Cratchit.

Hence, who better to cast in such a role than Tori My Daddy Got Me A Lot Of Work Then Disherinted Me From His Will Spelling, otherwise known (to me, forever) as Donna Martin. A Carol Christmas (get it?) is yet another Hallmark stab at Dickens' novella, and since anyone alive today knows the story, allow me to instead present it by breaking down the character list:
Ebenezer Scrooge = Carol Cartman, a talk show hostess in the vein of Ricki Lake (does that reference date me? Does it matter when I'm going to refer to Carol as Donna Martin Graduates for this whole review anyway?) who treats her employees with disdain.

Bob Cratchit = Roberta, Donna Martin Graduates' long-suffering single-mom assistant struggling to balance motherhood with her high maintenance, low paying boss

Tiny Tim = Little Redheaded Girl daughter of Roberta. No limp. No crutch. No accent. No bother.

Nephew Fred = Big sister Lindsey who does that annoying family thing practiced in Holiday In Handcuffs of reading Christmas tales out loud while wearing ugly sweaters

Jacob Marley = Aunt Marla, played by Dinah Manoff (lifelong free pass for Soap and being Chucky's first victim), Donna Martin Graduates' overbearring agent aunt who made sure her niece was always the star, even if it meant swiping the Virgin Mary role from a kid with a dead mom at the annual nativity play

Ghost of Christmas Past = Gary Coleman. And yes: I'm just as angry as you are that he's not playing Tiny Tim.

Ghost of Christmas Present = William Shatne moodily coasting as if the entire shoot was purchased on a Priceline deal that ended up costing way more than advertised with taxes and insurance

Ghost of Christmas Future = A limo driver, not unlike the creepy dude in Burnt Offerings

Ex-(Almost) Fiancee
Tall, good-looking and dull do-gooder who works at homeless shelters (i.e., Karren Allen but less interesting). That being said, he's played by an actor I recall from Days of Lives back in the early 90s and my goodness, the man hasn't aged a day. So bonus points for casting a vampire

If you're being reminded of a much better Christmas Carol-themed comedy about a bigwig TV executive, his neglected sibling, homeless helping ex, and put-upon single mom assistant, I assume you have a working brain. Yes, whoever wrote A Carol Christmas was clearly inspired by Scrooged and no, it's not anywhere near as Solid Gold.

Also, it does that obnoxious Christmas movie-on-a-budget thing by taking place in California, thusly sparing the crew from the hazards/annoyance of fake or real snow. How convenient. And lazy.
As far as the movie goes, eh. Tori Spelling has never oozed charisma, and her bitchy career woman shtick never truly captures the nasty spirit we look for in a proper Scrooge. What's worse is her after-the-ghost reaction, which should be bursting with the holiday spirit in a manner that's either joyous (think Michael Caine's soft smiles) or insane (BILL MURRAY WANTS YOU TO SING GODDAMNIT!). As Happy Carol, Donna Martin Graduates smiles a little more, gives her staff a vacation to Hawaii, and raises her assistant's salary while offering her second house free of charge. Oh, and in my favorite character decision of all time, Carol announces that after years of turning down lucrative merchandising opportunities, she will now put her name on whatever clothing or cooking product proposed and donate the proceeds to charity.

I really hope there's a sequel where Carol discovers said goods are made under sweatshop conditions. The Olsen Twins could play the child laborers! It'd be meta!

Instead, we settle for blah humbug.

See what I did there?
Lessons Learned
You look pale when you’re dead
Pop is the sound of Gary Coleman bursting your bubble

There’s not much work for a middle aged actor who’s too small to be a jockey. That should explain Coleman's career choices (including A Carol Christmas)
Montage Mania
Donna and Boy Karen Allen enjoy a foggy courtship complete with wine drinking, picnicking, roller skating, and donating goods to a homeless shelter, all set to country music because how else can a TV movie convey falling in love?
Token Slapstick
One of Carol's employees just can't stop dropping things. It's hilarious!
Coal or Candy?
A Carol Christmas isn't unwatchable, but I can't think of any reason to watch it when Scrooged is playing on AMC or 90210 reruns exist on youtube. Spelling doesn't embarrass herself, but the movie never commits to its self-aware Hollywooddom, nor does it have the energy to truly be a Scrooge reborn. It is what it is, and while it's probably better than ex-roommate Kelly Taylor's A Christmas Wedding Tail, it's also less hilariously bad, making it just kinda there.

I think I need to put a little love in my heart now.