The Christmas Binge (2021 Edition)

Christmas, Christmas time is near, time for toys and time for cheer. We’ve been good, but we can’t last. Hurry Christmas, hurry fast. Want a plane that loops the loop. Me, I want a hula hoop. We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas, don’t be late.

Sleigh bells, reindeer and snow. Let the binging begin!

(A work in progress.)

  • 8-Bit Christmas (2021) – Formulaic, but surprisingly sweet. Bonus Steve Zahn!
  • A Christmas Carol (2009) – I’ve never been a Jim Carrey fan, but this was better than I expected. (See also: Marley)
  • The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – Kurt Russell is in my top-five Santas. Edmund Gwenn tops the list. Followed by Ed Asner, Russell and Billy Bob Thornton. The number five spot is currently occupied by the puppet Santa in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Step it up human actors.
  • The Polar Express (2004) – Every year. Several times a year and not just at Christmas.
  • Jingle All the Way (1996) – My first time watching this one. I was bracing myself for awfulness. It wasn’t. A little over the top at times, but sweet.
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) – I had no idea Hooray for Santa Claus came from this movie. Now I know and knowing is half the battle.

By the Numbers: Coming soon.

Honorable Mentions: Prep & Landing (2009), Prep & Landing: Operation: Secret (2010), Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice (2011), Phineas & Ferb Christmas Vacation (2009)

Pieces of April

Every Thanksgiving morning. Every year. We’ll save Planes, Trains and Automobiles for the afternoon.

Happy turkey day, ya’ll.

Vanishing Point (1971)

And there goes the Challenger, being chased by the blue, blue meanies on wheels. The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric centaur, the, the demi-god, the super driver of the golden west! Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver. The police numbers are gettin’ closer, closer, closer to our soul hero, in his soul mobile, yeah baby! They about to strike. They gonna get him. Smash him. Rape… the last beautiful free soul on this planet.

It’s funny, when I was a kid a movie from fifty years ago meant something from the 1920’s or 1930’s. Nowadays, it means a movie from the year of my birth. Vanishing Point is only six month older than I am. The difference is, I will eventually die. Vanishing Point will live forever.

Vanishing Point is lean protein. No fat. No extra calories. It is pure viewing satisfaction. That is the secret to eternal life, cinematically speaking.

Vanishing Point occupies that wonderful rarified air where from all outward appearances – the hair, the mood, the film stock – the movie obviously dated. And yet, it is timeless. See also: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Star Wars among so many others. That’s damn fine company to keep. The Golden Age of cinema isn’t about a particular era, instead it plucks out the chosen few throughout history. Think the aliens in Toy Story. The claw! Every movie dreams that one day they too will be chosen.

Vanishing Point is Easy Rider on four wheels. It’s about freedom. Freedom and horsepower. Kowalski is everyman. He is Howard Beale in Network. He is Butch Cassidy and he is the Sundance Kid. He is Bo “Bandit” Darvelle. He is you and I. What we know about his history, we know from flashbacks. They provide bullet points to Kowalski’s life and little else. They are short and sweet and practically perfect in every way. And why would you want to know anything more.

The seventies were the glory days of the less is more approach to filmmaking. Backstory? We don’t need no stinking backstory. Let’s hit the ground running and let your imagination fill in the rest. Michael Meyer’s was just some crazy kid who killed his family. Got it. That’s all I needed to know. That’s all I want to know.

I like to watch remakes of movies I dig. Call it professional curiosity, call it background, or – more likely – the annoying habits of a film nerd. I pulled up the 1997 version of Vanishing Point starring Viggo Mortensen and – of all people – Jason Priestly. The Priestly factor is made even more bizarre when you realize he’s taking over the role originated by the late, great Cleavon Little. (See also: Blazing Saddles) To paraphrase Mojo Nixon, Jason Priestly has no Elvis in him. What he does have is diamond balls. I give him credit having the testicular fortitude to step into those shoes.

Viggo makes a pretty good Kowalski, but then again, he’s good in everything. (See also: Captain Fantastic) Though for some strange reason I kept mistaking him for a young Denis Leary, which is not a mix-up I make very often. Imagine Denis Leary as Aragon.

Still, the television remake focused too much on Kowalski’s backstory and that is where it went south for me. Let the audience fill in the blanks, that way instead of one movie, you’ve made a million. Each existing inside the viewers mind. That’s something that’s sorely lacking from cinema these days.

Is Vanishing Point the greatest car movie of all-time? Greatness is subjective, but I can tell you without a doubt it’s the greatest car movie I’ve ever seen.

The question is not when is he going to stop. But who is going for stop him?

Hunter S. Thompson

Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.

Dusty Rhodes

I don’t have to say a lot more about the way I feel about Ric Flair. No respect! No honor! There is no honor among thieves in the first place. He put hard times on Dusty Rhodes and his family. You don’t know what hard times are, daddy! Hard times are when the textile workers around this country are out of work and got four, five kids, and can’t pay their wages, can’t buy their food. Hard times are when the auto workers are out of work and they tell them ‘Go home!’. And hard times are when a man has worked at a job thirty years — thirty years! — they give him a watch, kick him in the butt and say ‘Hey, a computer took your place, daddy!’. That’s hard times! That’s hard times.

And Ric Flair, you put hard times on this country by taking Dusty Rhodes out. That’s hard times! And we all had hard times together. I admit, I don’t look like the athletes are today supposed to look. My belly is just a little big, my hiney is just a little big, but brother, I am bad, and they know I’m bad.

October 29, 1985

Cars (2006)

There are so few universal truths left in this world. Death and taxes. Coke is far superior to Pepsi. And Cars is considered one of – if not the – worst films to ever come out of Pixar Animation Studios.

I call bullshit.

Sure, if you consider Up or Wall-E or Toy Story 3 as the toppermost of the poppermost of Mt. Pixar, I can see you considering Cars and its two sequels as more valleys than peaks. But the worst? Au contraire mon frère.

If Cars has committed any crime, it’s that it has the unfortunate position of being sandwiched between The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Let’s face it, that’s a no-win situation for 99.99% of all the movies out there in film history. The Kobayashi Maru of cinema.

Still, Cars is the movie that made me into the Pixar true believer than I am.

Allow me to explain.

When Cars came out in 2006, I wasn’t even remotely interested. I wasn’t a hater, but I was surely indifferent. I had been impressed by Pixar’s track record so far – Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles – but I wasn’t a car guy. I don’t like NASCAR. I prefer station wagons and utility vehicles over sports cars.

(Though I do love Vanishing Point and The Cannonball Run.)

(See also: Hot August Nights in Reno, Nevada.)

I may not have been a NASCAR fan, but you know who is? Like a gazillion people. Your friends and neighbors. You know who also likes cars? Freaking kids. My oldest daughter was twelve when Cars came out. She wanted to see it desperately and I relented, certain I was going to fall asleep before the previews ended. I was confident it was going to be a total snoozefest.

A total snoozefest pairing Owen Wilson and Paul freaking Newman. What a fool I was.

As I said, this was the film that changed my view of Pixar forever. I went from casual fan to the born-again. I drank the Kool-Aid. And the Kool-Aid was good.

And let’s get this out of the way right now. I adore Mater. So, you know, screw you if you don’t.

And while we’re on the subject of confessions, I cry every time I see this movie. And to hell with you, you unsentimental bastard for judging me if I do. I’ve cried in every single Pixar movie and a great number of their shorts as well. (See also: Lava, Lou.) When Lightning McQueen forfeits the race to help The King cross the finish line, if you don’t at the very least well up – particularly when you see old Doc Hudson smile – then stay away from mirrors my friend, because you won’t see a reflection.

I’m comfortable in my masculinity. To quote Tom Waits, “I got hair on my chest. I look good without a shirt on.”

When my youngest daughter was born, I became a stay-at-home dad. I would take her out in her stroller to parks and stuff, but babies sleep a lot. I had a lot of time to kill. There are only two movies so far that I have watched three times in one day. I’m not talking a single twenty-four hour period here. I’m talking morning until falling asleep. Sixteen hours or so.

I didn’t want the background noise to her early years being The Departed or Reservoir Dogs, so I chose relatively harmless fair that wouldn’t crawl into her psyche and start doodling. It’s a feat I haven’t accomplished since. But damn, those were good years.

Obviously Cars is one of those films, otherwise I wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. The second?

My Cousin Vinny.

Watching Cars, inspired one of my many trips out to the Mother Road. I still haven’t made all the way from Chicago to LA, but I’ve put in some miles on Route 66. I have a shelf in my office filled with Cars cars. This movie has wormed itself inside my brain and refuses to leave. Call it a parasite if you will. I call it pure chewing satisfaction.

Torch Song Trilogy (1988)

Everyone has those movies, music or books that empower them. For whatever reason, the art speaks to them. Torch Song Trilogy – among others – is one of those films for me. I’m not homosexual, and while I often wore dresses in my punk rock days to piss people off, I’m certainly not a drag queen. But I was, am now, and will forever root for the underdog. The outsider.

Arnold Beckoff is one of my heroes. Harvey Fierstein a constant inspiration.

If memory serves, I saw the play first. Off-off Broadway on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. I was sixteen or seventeen years old at the time and how I wound up seeing that particular play at that particular time is beyond me. I went alone, I remember that much. As I said before, I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t even questioning my sexuality as so many folks do at that age. But there I was, sitting in a theater full of middle-aged men and I was completely enthralled. We were all there for different reasons, but we all left the theater a little more complete than when we walked in.

And here’s the thing. The queer struggle was my struggle. The African-American struggle was my struggle. We were all outsiders. Nobody gave a shit about any of us. I was a teenage anarchist (See also: Against Me) with a southern Baptist acolyte for a mother. Let’s just say tolerance wasn’t her forte. We had a rocky relationship. A rocky relationship that stayed that way until the day she died.

There’s one more thing you better understand. I have taught myself to sew, cook, fix plumbing, build furniture – I can even pat myself on the back when necessary – all so I don’t have to ask anyone for anything. There’s nothing I need from anyone except for love and respect and anyone who can’t give me those two things has no place in my life.

You want to talk about empowering? I’ve had this conversation with my own mother. Maybe not the exact wording. But the context? That’s familiar ground. I’ve been there. I get it. Some things are universal, regardless of who you choose to love.

It doesn’t hurt that Harvey Fierstein is funny. Naturally funny. It would be all too easy to portray Arnold Beckoff as bitter. And while he certainly has his ups and downs, his humor continues to lift him back again. That’s my kind of hero.

Matthew Broderick and Brian Kerwin play the two great loves of Beckoff’s life. Love that ends in despair, tragedy and begins again with a kind of resigned happiness. Anne Bancroft is a tour de force as Beckoff’s mother, full of rage, disappointment and trace amounts of redeeming love.

Cliché as it is, Torch Song Trilogy is one of the movies that made me.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think my biggest problem is being young and beautiful. It’s my biggest problem because I’ve never been young and beautiful. Oh, I’ve been beautiful, and God knows I’ve been young, but never the twain have met.

Halloween (1978)

I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no, uh, conscience, no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes, the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.

This is the movie that brought me to the dance. The gift that – unfortunately – keeps on giving, spawning a franchise that currently tips the scales at twelve movies with another one on the way. Such is the fickle nature of Hollywood where a good idea isn’t a good idea unless it can be endlessly replicated and destroyed. The first movie is amazing. The second I really enjoyed. The 2018 film appealed to my sense of nostalgia. But everything else? Meh.

I used to have an old paperback novelization of Halloween that I read incessantly as a pre-teen. The book went into Samhain and various subplots not mentioned in the film. Feeling nostalgic, I wanted to try and get my hands on a copy. Not so fast slick. A quick search revealed that copies of the paperback are going for upwards of $500.00. I think I’ll let my curiosity simmer for a while.

Halloween was my first introduction to scary movies. As well as my first introduction to John Carpenter; the beginning of a love affair of his work that continues to this day. For a slasher flick, there’s surprisingly little blood in the movie. It has an indie feel to it, a certain rawness. It is the product of its era – the seventies – with all the charm, wonders and feathered hairstyles that goes along with it.

Recently, I’ve watched Halloween three times in as many weeks. First with the commentary track featuring John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis. Once as a straight viewing and, finally, watching it with my kids for their first time. Desperate cinephile that I am, my wife and I are pretty strict about what our kids and cannot watch. Before Halloween, Aliens was likely the scariest movie they’ve seen. Of course, they are older than I was when I first watched it, but what is parenting if not controlled hypocrisy?

Halloween II picks up right where Halloween left off and I adore it so. It’s a little more bloody than the original, and Carpenter did not return to the helm to direct, but did write the screenplay along with Debra Hill. It’s a fun movie to watch and realistically, they should have stopped there. But then came Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which isn’t so much a bad movie as it is complete insanity. The first and only Halloween movie to not feature Michael Meyers. I still recommend it just for morbid curiosity.

As for the rest, take your chances.

Happy Halloween folks.

The Halloween Binge (2021 Edition)

I scream. You scream. We all scream for Halloween. The season is upon us once again where I binge watch Halloween flicks with my children. Spooky frights, schlocky schlock and plenty of popcorn to go around.

  • Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) – Kick the Can….always Kick the Can.
  • The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) – A City Screams in Terror!
  • Revenge of the Creature (1955) – According to the internets, this was Clint Eastwood’s film debut.
  • Salem’s Lot* (1979) – I had no idea the lead vampire was blue.
  • Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) – My absolute favorite of the Universal Monsters.
  • The Shining* (1980) – Talk about a movie that gets inside your head and just lingers.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) – I forgot how fun this movie was. Never saw the series.
  • Poltergeist (1982) – This movie scared me to death as a kid. My own children laughed. Turncoats.
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959) – More on this viewing later.
  • The Fly* (1986) – Gross perfection.
  • House of Wax (1953) – First time watching House of Wax. Wow. So good.
  • Misery* (1990) – Annie Wilkes. Annie Freaking Wilkes!
  • Teen Wolf (1985) – I managed to escape the eighties without ever having seen this.
  • Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) – Christopher Lee is the only Dracula with a five o’clock shadow.
  • Halloween (1979) – This was our kids first truly scary movie. They handled it like pros.
  • Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (2005) – Cedric Diggory dies at the hands of Voldemort only to come back three years later as a sparkly vampire.
  • Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – Enter Gary Oldman
  • It* (1990) – Far superior to the more recent remake in my opinion.
  • Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets (2002) – Now with 33% more witches and wizards. And giant spiders and an even bigger snake.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)  – Don’t think this qualifies as a Halloween movie? Au contraire mon frère. This movie has poison apples, an evil queen, old crones, creepy trees and plenty of spider webs. Snow White herself remains a perennial Halloween costume favorite. Mark it eight dude.
  • Repulsion* (1965) – Great name for a movie. Great example of my I’m not a fan of sixties flicks. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid excluded.
  • Love at First Bite (1979) – So silly. So good.
  • Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) – Witches, wizards, and a Halloween feast that would bring tears to the eyes of Hansel & Gretel.
  • The Hunger* (1983) – Did you know this was a Tony Scott film? Because I didn’t know this was a Tony Scott film.
  • The Return of the Fly* (1959) – The Fly is in color. The Return of the Fly is not. Discuss.
  • The Fly* (1958) – Practically perfect in every way.
  • Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) – The fastest – in terms of monster motion – of the Godzilla flicks. Shin Godzilla is still the best of the bunch.
  • Rosemary’s Baby* (1968) – Ruth Gordon makes everything better.
  • Night of the Living Dead* (1968) – They’re coming to get you Barbara.
  • The Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Punk rockers and zombies? Sign me up. Do you want to party?
  • The Blob (1958) – Best theme song of any monster/horror movie ever.
  • The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) – “Why didn’t they just use pesticides?” – My kids.
  • Young Frankenstein (1974) – My kids were hit and miss on this one…until Putting on the Ritz.
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) – Better than I was expecting.
  • I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) – Michael Landon goes through puberty. Found this on YouTube.
  • She-Wolf of London (1946) – This must have been the PETA-approved werewolf movie because there was no fur involved whatsoever.
  • Ghostbusters (1984) – Obligatory
  • Matinee (1993) – Surprisingly good. Surprisingly weird.

Honorable Mentions: An American Werewolf in London (Transformation scenes only. Kids aren’t ready for the full monty yet), King of the Hill: Hilloween (S2, E4) , Spookley the Square Pumpkin, Trick or Treat (1952), just about every The Treehouse of Horror Simpsons episodes

By the Numbers: Thirty-eight movies. Six instances of lycanthropy. Five cases of vampirism. Four instances of both the Gill-man and Vincent Price. Three human-insect hybrids. Two Polanski pics. One screen debut of Clint Eastwood.

* Watched sans short ones.