Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Ten

What? Huh? Oh, I made it, this is day ten. I guess this means I can spend tomorrow watching these movies... or getting things ready for family.

Yeah, probably getting things ready for family.

So here it is, last chronologically, but not least in my heart. The most recent holiday movie on my list is:

Karroll's Christmas (2004)

You've probably never even heard of this movie, but it's a made-for-cable film that is based on the well-worn Dickens' classic, “A Christmas Carol”. As with most comic takes on this particular story, things get twisted up a bit in this telling. Think “Blackadder's Christmas Carol”, but not nearly so bleak.

Allen Karroll (Tom Everett Scott) is a nice guy, if a bit of a loser. After planning the perfect, and very public, way to propose to his girlfriend and getting shot down, very publicly, he's not feeling that great about the holidays anymore. As if the heartbreak is not enough, there's the matter of his grouchy old jerk of a neighbor, Zeb Rosecog (Wallace Shawn) to just make things all that much worse. Still, as down on the season as he is, he's still no Scrooge... or is he?

On Christmas Eve Allen is visited by the Christmas ghosts (Larry Miller, Alanna Ubach, and Verne Troyer) who quickly realize that there was a bit of a clerical error, and they are in the wrong house; they are meant to be visiting Zeb next door. Still, orders and orders, and the ghosts are not going to leave without showing Allen the error of Zeb's ways.

The movie is a bit syrupy at times, but it still has a sharp sense of humour, and is quite entertaining for a movie I just happened to stumble across in the middle of the night while channel surfing (if you're wondering why I bothered to stop, it's because of Wallace Shawn). I don't know if the fact that it makes my top ten is indicative of it being good, my being sleep deprived each time I've seen it, or if I just had that much trouble thinking of ten holiday movies that I actually like.

I wanted to post up some sort of trailer or advert for this, but I just cannot find one. I have found sites where you can stream or download the movie, but I'm not linking to those. If you want to find them you can use Google just as easily as I can.

So there you have it, ten days of holiday films for those of us who don't like are films sweet enough to make our teeth hurt. There's still a couple of days to go, so it's not too late to go and pick up a few of these while you relax in relief at the end of the season. It's almost over, folks, another Christmas come and gone... at least until June when all the merchandise hits the shelves again.

Happy Winter, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Nine

Did you know that Toys R Us is open twenty-fours hours this week? I kind of want to go at three in morning just to do it. I don't have anything I need there, but it seems like it would be fun. Of course this is completely off topic, so lets get back to the reason I'm writing this, eh?

Here we are on the ninth day of my favourite holiday movies; the penultimate day, if you will. We're going back to the world of animated features again, but not for kids (although not spectacularly adult either), and we're crossing the ocean to the shores of Japan for this second to last choice:

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

I love the late Satoshi Kon's work, like “Paranoia Agent” and “Perfect Blue”, and evidence of how much I like his work based on its own merits is that I loved the movie the first time I saw it without even knowing that it is one of his. Most of Kon's movies tends to be very adult, but this is a much softer film than works like “Paprika” without losing any of the art style or humour.

On Christmas Eve three homeless people, an alcoholic, Gin, a transvestite, Hana, and a teenage runaway, Miyuki, find a very unusual item while scavenging through the trash; a baby. Hana first views this as the answer to her Christmas wish to have a child despite the obvious reasons he could not actually be a mother. Soon the trio realize that they cannot care for this child, whom they dub Kiyoko (pure child), and they set off in an attempt to find out who Kiyoko belongs to using clues found in the bag that the baby was in.

The quest to track down Kiyoko's parents finds the homeless protagonists caught in the middle of an attempted mafia hit, a kidnapping, a car chase, and even a death-defying leap from the roof of a building, all the while being guided and protected by God (or just Deus Ex Machina, if you prefer). As well as finding the truth about who the infant belongs to, the trio may also discover the truth about themselves and the decisions that they made that led them to where they are now.

Even though I am not ranking the films on my list, this may well be my favourite one. It's funny, exciting, and a little sad at times. The only bad thing about it is that I've never been able to find an English dub of it (there is, supposedly, a dubbed version done for Animax, but that dub is not on the DVD). I'm not one of those “dubs suck” kind of people, I usually prefer dubbed films over subtitled ones because I rarely devote my full attention to any one thing, but even if I was a dub-hater, the problem with this not being available with an English voice track means that a lot of people who might really enjoy it will never give it a chance. This is especially sad because Kon's work is fantastic, and this is probably the film that would be accessible to the type of people who would find “Paprika” or “Paranoia Agent” incomprehensible.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Eight

We're closing in on the day now, have you got your shopping finished yet? Yeah, me neither.

So if you thought that yesterday's movie pick was a little dark, wait until you see my favourite holiday movie for today. We're jumping into the 21st century with:

Bad Santa (2003)

Probably the least family-friendly item on the list, this film is exactly what it says on the tin. Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, alcoholic criminal, who is everything a Santa should not be; he curses, he has violent outbursts, and he has sex with pretty much anything that will let him. Naturally he gets a job as a mall Santa, but this is all part of a bigger plan. With the help of his elf sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox), they plan to rob the mall blind and take all that Christmas shopping cash for themselves.

Of course things don't go quite as planned. Not only does Willie find himself more and more at odds with Marcus as to how the heist should go, but he accidentally finds himself actually caring about someone other than himself. After meeting a loser of a kid named Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), and falling for a bartender, Sue (Lauren Graham), he starts to rethink his life choices a little bit.

Aside from just being a really fun, if very dark and adult, film, it is worth noting that this movie is John Ritter's final live action film appearance (if he seems like an odd choice for the film, remember that he and Thornton previously appeared together in “Sling Blade”). If you want to laugh, and then feel a little bad about it, put the kids to bed, Irish up some coffee, and pop this film into the DVD player.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Seven

As I stated when I started this, I'm not a huge fan of the winter holiday season, and this list very nearly ended up being my nine favourite holiday movies because I simply could not think of a tenth movie, but then I remembered this little gem. You probably not only missed this movie when it was in theaters, I did too, but have probably never even heard of it. I only originally saw it thanks to it showing up on cable when there was nothing else on, but I'm glad I found it, or else this list would be ending a day early. I'm dreaming of a darkly humourous Christmas with:

Mixed Nuts (1994)

Phillip (Steve Martin) is having a bad Christmas Eve. His girlfriend is dumping him, his business, a suicide-prevention hotline, is about to be evicted so that the office may be converted into a condo, one of his workers is trapped in an elevator, there's a very pregnant woman locked in the office bathroom, a serial killer on the loose, and to top it all off, no one even seems to need to be talked out of committing suicide. What else can go wrong? How about Liev Schreiber in a dress?

This is another movie with a pretty impressive cast. Aside form Schreiber and Martin, the movie also features Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Juliette Lewis, Robert Klein, and Adam Sandler (he is playing the mentally deficient ukulele player he played on SNL, but it's a relatively small role, so don't hold it against the film too much). A rather obscure and unsuccessful film, it is still a fun holiday movie, especially for those of us who don't live in snowy areas, and get nothing out of those frosty winter scenes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Six

For day six we're going back to the creepy, but we're also going animated with a movie that has become something of a cultural phenomenon over the years (at least it is if you regularly shop at Hot Topic). This film is probably the most merchandised of all of the films on my list with toys, video games, board games, clothes, accessories, perfume, and even a theme park ride based on it. Check under your bed, and then check out:

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

It's a Christmas movie! No, it's a Halloween movie! No, it's two, two, two holiday films in one! When the inhabitants of Halloween Town discover the doorway to Christmas Town they find it impressive. Really impressive. So fantastically impressive that they decide to steal it. They kidnap Santa, and decide to run the holiday themselves.

Of course the ghoulish inhabitants of Halloween Town completely miss the point of Christmas (that would be secular Christmas, I'm sure the film would never have been made has it addressed the religious aspects of the holiday), and end up put their own hideous spin on it. Things go horrifically wrong when Jack Skellington decides to play Santa himself, and he realizes that maybe he's just not cut out for this whole Christmas thing, but can he free Santa an put things right again?

A great film for people who find “Gremlins” to be a bit too extreme for the young ones, but still like a little horror with the holly jolly. The stop-motion animation is fantastic, and the character designs are creepily beautiful. Throw on some really memorable songs and great voice acting and you have yourself a holiday(s) classic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Five

Day five! We're halfway through my list, which also means that this is the last weekend before the big day, and that shopping deadline is barreling down on you like a fright train... unless you did most of you shopping back in the fall. Once your done with your shopping you should pour yourself some eggnog and sit down to watch a holiday film that will make you realize how much easier your holidays are.

We're sticking with laughs for day five as we move chronologically through my list. I remember seeing this film when it first came out in theaters (alone, I should mention, as the family members who brought me went and saw something else). So, without anymore generic prattle: on the fifth day of holiday movies, Munashii gives to theeeeeeee:

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Clark and Ellen Griswold (Chevy Chase, Bevery D'Angelo) are back with a new set of kids for a new vacation. Traveling has not worked out so well for them in the past, so this time they are staying home and letting the adventure come to them in the form of Christmas with the family. It's too bad for Clark that Finagle's Law is in full effect, as everything that can possibly go wrong will, spectacularly, and at the worst possible time.

Clark W Griswold is one of the world's great optimists; he does not let anything get him down, and takes every new problem on with a smile and a laugh. He is a man that turns even the sourest of life's lemons into lemonade; very, very tart lemonade. Sure, Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) may be pumping raw sewage into the storm drain in front of his house, and maybe the Christmas lights aren't working right, and maybe his Christmas bonus has been replaced by a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club, but that is not going to stop him from having the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Four

My next pick came out the same year as “Die Hard”, but is a little more traditionally considered a holiday film. Lets step away from horror and action and back to mostly straight comedy with:

Scrooged (1988)

Charles Dickens' classic is brought into the 1980's with Bill Murray cast in the Scrooge role as Frank Cross, a cold-hearted jerk of a television executive who has been tasked with putting on a live broadcast of “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve night, but soon finds himself being visited by the ghosts featured in the classic tale.

“Scrooged” is probably the most star-studded (depending on how you want to define that term) of the films on my list, featuring appearances by Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Karen Allen, Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, John Houseman, and even Olympic medalist Mary Lou Retton. So come on, put a little love in your heart with this holiday treat..

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Now Playing: Dax Plays Faire

Big news, ladies and gents, to me at least; I've gotten a story published. As part of their Broken Mirror Story Event, "The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine" has recorded my short story, "Dax Plays Faire" for their podcast, and it sounds great (there's even a rockin' soundtrack to it).

If you are not already subscribed to this podcast (and you should be) then you can check it out directly from The Dunesteef's website, or just subscribe to it in iTunes or whatever podcatcher you happen to prefer.

This is the first time anyone has actually given me money for a story, so this is kind of a big deal for me. Please check it out, blog about it, tell your friends, your enemies, and that strange little troll of a person who works in your office, but no one knows exactly what they do.

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Three

Welcome back, and lets move on to day three. Yesterday we went into the realms of holiday horror/comedy, today lets testosterone things up a bit with:

Die Hard (1988)

Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) has crashed the Nakatomi Christmas party, and only one man can save Christmas, shoeless John McClane (Bruce Willis). Assisted via radio by Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), McClane delivers lots of small lead presents to the naughty boys while spouting one-liners, and just generally being a badass.

Even though the “Die Hard” series has gotten progressively worse with each passing sequel, the original is still one of the best action films of its era, and it proves that action stars can be in holiday films without them being crap **cough**JingleAllTheWay**cough**. So settle down with some cocoa and check out this bit of awesome.

Yippee-Kai-Yay, motherf***er!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day Two

Well hello again, and welcome to day two of my top ten favourite holiday movies. Yesterday was both the oldest, and one of the most traditional of the films on my list, today we're getting a little bit darker with a movie that you might not immediately think of as a holiday film:

Gremlins (1984)

Sure getting a puppy for Christmas is a lot of responsibility, but what about a Mogwai? You remember the rules, right? Don't get them wet, don't expose them to sunlight, and never ever feed them after midnight. Of course Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) manages to pretty quickly screw up two out of the three, and before you know it, Kingston Falls finds its Christmas being ruined by vicious little green monsters. Can Billy save his girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) and his hometown from catastrophe?

Even though this movie was sort of promoted as a family-friendly film, it is actually quite violent and graphic in places (kitchen scene, anyone?). That did not stop it from not only being very successful in theaters, but in merchandise as well. I remember having my own plush Gizmo as a kid. I guess the reason this film got a pass from a lot of people was a combination of the cuteness of Gizmo, the fact it was a Christmas film, and the fact that there was a strong element of humour diluting the horror.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ten Days of Holiday Movies: Day One

You may, or may not, know that I am not a humongous fan of the various winter holidays. I think they tend to bring out the worst in people, even more so since the start of the “War on Christmas” crap. Given the previous, it will likely come as no surprise to you that I am also no fan of sickeningly sweet holiday films either, but that does not mean that I do not like any holiday movies.

Now I could just post a big long top ten list like everyone else or, in an attempt to make it look like I blog more than I do, I could split it into ten separate posts spread out over ten days. So without further fanfare, here is day one of Ten Days of Holiday Flicks.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Who cannot relate to this timeless tale of a child's holiday wish? We've all had that one thing we wanted more than anything for Christmas, so even though I did not grow up in the age of radio shows, never had the neighbor's dogs eat Christmas dinner, and never suffered the indignity of wearing a pink bunny suit, I still feel that young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) is a little bit of an every-man, er, every-kid.

Think of how many memorable scenes this movie has. There's The Old Man (None other than Darren “Kolchak the Night Stalker” McGavin) and his “major award”, the flagpole incident, the realization that Little Orphan Annie is in league with Ovaltine, the bully incident, and of course who can forget the roadside tire change? Oh fudge!

Now this movie did not do all that well in theaters, and it is largely due to home video and cable television that this movie has risen to the modern classic status that it has now. Of course watching this trailer can make the lack of theatergoers make a little more sense.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vending Machines

I love vending machines; have ever since I was a little kid. There's something magical about getting something out of one of these contraptions. You put in money, press a few buttons, and out pops something great.

I think my love of vending machines started with my mother's workplace. Every so often her job would make its employees to do mandatory overtime, which would sometimes require her to go in on Saturdays. Seeing as I was too young to be left home alone, I would frequently go with her and camp out in the break room while she worked (it was a secured building, so the stranger danger was at a minimum). So there I would sit, watching “The Smurfs” on one of the break room televisions, and playing with whatever toys I brought along with me. Naturally I would get hungry during this, so my mother would usually leave me with a supply of coins to use in the vending machines.

I loved getting things out of the vending machines. The one full or chips and crackers where you would press a couple of buttons, and the shiny metal screw would turn and drop a crunchy treasure down for me to grab. The refrigerated machine with the carousel inside of it full of sandwiches and chocolate milks just waiting behind the little doors. Not only was pulling open one of the little doors to get the food out neat, but just making the machine turn so that you could see all of its contents was fun.

I suppose part of my love of vending machines also stems from my dislike of dealing with people. I love using ATMs instead of having to go and talk to a teller. I would much rather use the self checkout than be checked out by a cashier. I generally prefer deal with a machine instead of a real person as long as the machine works the way it is supposed to. I know, most people dislike this kindof thing, but not me, the less I have to make inane small talk with a cashier who would really just prefer I go away anyway, the better.

Given the aboce, it will likely not surprise you that I have not lost my love of vending machines as I have grown older, if anything it has grown, and I love finding new types of machines. It doesn't matter if the machine produces something new or unusual, or if it just serves its product up in a new way. I remember seeing an ice cream vending machine like this one at a Chuck E. Cheese:

Of course the thing didn't actually work, and everyone I saw use it had to get a CEC employee to come and open the unit up and get them their frosty treats, but I was still impressed with the idea.

Then there was when these drink machines started showing up:

I mean how cool is that? Rather than just bombing your soda down and getting it all fizzed up inside, it gently lowers the soda and almost hands it to you. Sure it's just a soda machine, but the delivery method is fun, and it means you can have glass bottles (Snapples, Frappucinos, etc) in them safely now.

Of course there is only so impressed you can be with your average chip and soda machines no matter how advanced they may be, which is why some people have stepped it up a notch. We're all used to seeing Redbox machines now (although how many of us ever saw the old, and much larger, VHS vending machines/buildings?), but what about other non-food items?

I'll admit that I was quite impressed when I first saw one of these in my local Macy's:

Not that I have purchased anything out of it, mind you, but it is still pretty awesome.

I also hope this catches on:

While not really a vending machine in the traditional sense, the Espresso could certainly be refined into having a vending machine-like interface, and it would be nice for anachronistic people like myself who still like to get our book on paper. Also, it would be nice for new authors in general; imagine being able to go into Borders and print out your own personal copy of “Mallville – A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse”.

As neat as things like that are, it was food machines that made me first love the vending machine, so how are people bringing food vending to the next level? How about a popcorn vending machine?

Or if you prefer cute over pure functionality, there's this lovely little number (from Japan of course, since they seem to truly appreciate the vending machine over there in a way we still do not):

Want something a little more substantial? Maybe some french fries:

Or pizza:

It's just too bad there aren't any of these around here. I know I would hit up the fries and popcorn machines often. On second though, maybe it is good that there aren't any around here. I don't need any more calories.

Ultimately what I would like to see is something like the old Automats:

but done with the current generation of vending machines. Can you imagine it? Going into a restaurant and not having to deal with a living being, but just put your money into the machine, tell it what you want, and in a couple of minutes your food pops out all hot and ready to do. It would be lovely, and someday it will happen. I look forward to that day.