Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Weekend - 12/1 - 12/3





I kicked off December 1st with the first two Home Alone movies (1990 & 1992). I do believe I made the right decision as if I waited longer I probably wouldn’t have felt as much of an itch to see them. I think the first film is perhaps must-see every December, but I have to say the second film (set in New York City) probably wouldn’t make the cut for me personally. It is just a bit too much. John Hughes went to the same formula, but on steroids. It is absurd what Stern goes through. Trying to take charity money from a children’s toy store is certainly worthy of scorn but three bricks (yes, three) hurled from the room of a to-be-renovated three-story building into the forehead, electrocuted when touching battery charged sink handles, smashed by powder cement from another floor (there’s a three second pause of tight rope loosening), falling through a hole from one floor to the basement below, slipping on glue and landing hard on his back, and being shot in the ass and nose by a staple gun (that doesn’t even cover falling a few stories to a sidewalk when a kerosene-soaked rope he was climbing down is lit and taking a direct punch to the face by a thrown metal pillar!) doesn’t seem to be worthy punishment even for that kind of reprehensible crime. Pesci is yet again suffering a lit skull from a blow torch, falls from slippery ladder to an alleyway street, and endures “explosive” toilet water when trying to put out his burning head! Before all of that, Pesci is slingshot from a board accidentally by Stern (set up by Culkin, of course), catapulted into the air, crashing into the roof of a car! Doused in paint, varnish, and bird seed, suffering cracking bones and smashed bodies, and attacked by pigeons, the “Sticky Bandits” (no longer The Wet Bandits) have much more than nine lives. Seeing Stern going for nearly a minute through electric shock to the point that his hairs stand on end and you can momentarily see his skeleton is Hughes’ way of telling us that he has abandoned realistic storytelling in favor of sight gags and outrageous violence.


The first film itself was ridiculous but the second film trumps it considerably. Getting hit in the face with paint cans, an iron, and slipping on tar and ice which ends in hard falls to the body are reason enough to just turn your brain off, but the addition of burning your hand on a lit door knob and having a blow torch set your head on fire (not to mention, stepping on Christmas tree ornaments and a nail!) just conclude the obvious…Hughes is completely throwing caution to the wind and giving in to filming all of this as if a Tom and Jerry cartoon. If Stern were chopped to pieces and came back together afterward, it would have fit perfectly within the violence of the second film. I like the simpler approach to keeping it in a Chicago suburban neighborhood and the slight outskirts when little Culkin must shop and his encounters with Roberts Blossom just have more dramatic impact with me that Pigeon Lady, Brenda Fricker and her Carnegie Hall digs (when not sharing most of her time with the pigeons in Central Park). Curry, Schneider, and Dana Ivey make as fun concierge hotel trio trying to figure Culkin out, enduring the funniest moment when the kid once again uses the film noir tommy gun shoot and quips on video to freak them out. Curry’s devious smile after the Grinch when he learns of Culkin’s credit card fraud is one my personal favorite highlights. The first film still remains a treasure to me, though. I do consider it a classic and the overall film has greater weight than the sequel which goes for broke a bit too preposterously.

Home Alone ****
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York **




I will say that I always recall the first time I watched Home Alone. It was during a “church lock-out” and all the cartoonish violence had us laughing so hard. A bunch of kids and their adult guardians just howling out loud and touched by Roberts Blossom reuniting with his family and Kevin realizing that he should appreciate his mother (and does miss his family even though, as my daughter says, they can be jerks). The sequel, I was taken with my two siblings by my aunt to see it in theaters in 1992. I do remember us laughing, but it wasn’t the same. Hughes, I believe, knew going into the sequel he would just up the gags to the extreme and load up the New York location shooting. I just prefer the 90 minute first film when it was all kept under some restraint. And my daughter always calls this the “hands to the face” film. Culkin would certainly be up for trying to commit homicide against the crooks even if they were robbing families’ houses on Christmas Eve.


I was trying to describe the plot of Reindeer Games (2000) to my wife and it was so convoluted she just walked away shaking her head. The heel turns for Theron alone and her betrayals, character shifts, and performance alterations are enough to just wave the white flag and forgo further reasons to care. I don't think there's a damn thing wrong with Frankenheimer's direction. He's damn good at framing faces and action, pacing this screenplay clusterfuck as best he can. How many times does Affleck have a gun pointed at him? He's got one hilarious scene where me must evade being discovered out of his captive room by Sinise's hoods through duck and cover, fleeing up stairs and opening/closing doors, eventually unlocking his room's door with a knife.





Logue (applying the tried and true prick persona), Trejo (who slips in a punch to Affleck’s face in a diner just after he finishes his peCAN pie and hot-fucking-chocolate), Williams III (with that psychotic visage), and Sinise (laying the sleazy and depraved on so thick) are the crew but Theron is the wild card. Affleck weaseling out of doom over and over becomes ridiculous. Jacking a car as it is lit on fire by hiding a knife in his sleeve, cutting the binding around his arms, and taking out two of the last villains before giving all the stolen Tomahawk casino money to neighboring Michigan folks (leaving the dough in their mailboxes) was just the cherry on top of such a yo-yo plot that never knew when to quit…all the way to the end. Theron once again doesn't fear popping her bra and give over to another cold-hearted bitch characterization. Shot and set effectively in the wintry chill of Christmas, the gun-runners-turned-thieves, dressed as Santas, are either picked off by wily Affleck (who can also be very dumb) or foul-mouthed Farina trying to "bring Vegas to Michigan" using "pow wow" as a lot of bullets (or in the case of Williams III, flames to the face) tear apart bodies and casino.**


How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) typically gets what I consider a “prime time spot” during the month of December, often the final week. I think either last year or the year before that it was on the Telly on Christmas Eve. But it has been featured in the final week for a few years now anyway. Sunday, early afternoon, I just was in the right spirit for it so early December it is. Karloff’s narration just tickles this horror fan’s heart every time. He’s such a beloved figure to me. You have those icons that, even when the films are bad and undeserved of Karloff, I still find him so endlessly watchable. This time his rich voice once again gives us both the green heel looking to spoil Christmas for Who-Ville, while his poor little pooch is drug along for the ride, and tells us about those he wants to steal from, describing their joy and how the Grinch wants to take it all from them. And how the Grinch fails to do so with him learning the error of his ways and realizing just what the holiday is all about. All of that and Seuss, too, and with Karloff given his words, how could it not have been a success? And it has certainly stood the test of time. And when you watch the awful 2000 Jim Carrey version (nothing against him, but HOLLYWOOD OVERLOAD just takes all of the charm away), this television animation special just looks even better in comparison. The animation for the Grinch and his pet pooch as they plot and scheme, invade and steal, brings to life Seuss’ work, right from the page to the screen, and we just benefit from the riches. And Who-Ville with all its musical toys making their “noise, noise, noise”, colored so brightly and swell, while the Grinch grimaces and agonizes far away in a cave covered in snow makes for quite a difference that only concludes when he’s invited by them to tend their feast all the more special…he’s not isolated anymore and Who-Ville has opened their home to him. *****


Top Gun (1986), it’s been a little bit. In fact, it has been more than just a little while. Cruise, tied to Scientology, their poster child, I try to evade all of that shit and enjoy the movie star and the films I loved when growing up watching them. Yes, his character of Maverick is a cocky, all-smiles jock who even the very best fighter pilots such as “Viper” (Skerritt) would ride in the plane with. He gets the girls, of course, and that includes an astrophysicist (immediate chuckle, couldn’t help it…), played by Kelly McGillis who you’d think would run from not to. He’s full of himself, arrogant, sure of his pilot skills, prone to sing a jukebox ballad with his buddy, Goose, and go rogue when on mock missions in the air to prove his abilities, hoping to impress while also often pissing off the superiors considering him quite good if a bit reckless and dangerous. Iceman (Val Kilmer) and his “eyes”, Slider (Rick Rossovich), are a rival pilot team to Maverick and Goose, all eyeing to be the “trophy” pilots recognized “Top Gun”, as Skerritt and Michael Ironside’s “Jester” evaluate their performances in faux fighter missions. How they adapt to maneuvers, protect each other, and prove, through mental ingenuity and cunning while in the sky, they know how to combat the enemy and somehow make it out alive. Of course, during one of these, just right after we meet his wife (Meg Ryan, pre-stardom) and kid, Goose is killed during a freak accident that Maverick is cleared of…the ejection occurs during a hatch malfunction with Maverick left alone to grieve as his buddy’s wife tells him her husband preferred to fly only with him. Anthony Edwards does indeed steal the film and has marvelous chemistry with Cruise. Director Scott knows how to shoot his California locations, and sweat beads on faces. Yeah, the dogfights are the manna from heaven in this film, while the machismo will perhaps repel certain audiences of today. The “pro-military” message of “Be in the Navy and kick ass in the sky against the enemy” is certainly not subtle. I just thought Skerritt comes off well as the mentor with wisdom that could make Cruise quite the protégé. And the soundtrack (especially Loggins’ “Danger Zone”) always was a major attraction for the film. Those action sequences are exhilarating and pump the adrenaline. ****




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