“Come in! and know me better, man!”

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

If you don’t know the story of “A Christmas Carol” either you’re from some very far away place or you’re sick with a memory afflicting illness.  The Charles Dickens classic is the best Christmas story ever, a heart warming tale whose characters have become household names: Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  It’s a great tale I’ve seen in many versions.  I saw a play in college with Josh and Anna, I had a cartoon version that scared the shit out of me when I was little, and I also had the version I know and love best, 1992’s The Muppet Christmas Carol.

It was in one of those squeaky white plastic VHS boxes that all Disney movies came in, do you remember those?  I wasn’t even a particular fan of the Muppets, besides maybe a stuffed animal and seeing a few episodes of the Muppet Babies cartoon, but this movie was a great favorite of the childhood me.  I liked the snow (something so rare and exotic to a child of Georgia, land of the 8-month summer), I liked Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine as Scrooge, and I probably even enjoyed the songs, even though as an elementary school hard-ass I probably wouldn’t have admitted it.

Watching the movie now I appreciate it as one of those childhood favorites that turned out to be actually good, and I find so much of it endearing.  Being a fan of Hollywood studios and Cinecitta and those true “dream factory” type places, I really enjoyed that this movie was clearly a studio creation, with the streets of London and the outdoor scenes clearly recreated on a set.  There’s something magical about that to me, and I’m always reminded of Federico Fellini on the set of Amarcord, who reportedly pulled a set designer aside and whispered that he didn’t want a nighttime scene on the ocean to look “too real.”  He appreciated studio magic, and I agree that there is something special about a studio movie.  The Muppet Christmas Carol has all that studio charm and detail, and it just feels right for this familiar Christmas tale.

Image

Kermit as Bob Cratchit in a quiet, touching moment

I love the Muppets in this movie (especially Gonzo as the narrating Charles Dickens accompanied by Rizzo the Rat (as himself)), but it’s Michael Caine’s Scrooge who really makes the movie.  I mean, it has to be this way; any production of a Christmas Carol in which Scrooge isn’t the star is doomed to failure.  Michael Caine is perfect in the movie.  Who in their right mind doesn’t like Michael Caine?  He is awesome, and a really great Scrooge.  The ghosts are also very good in this movie.  The Christmas Past spirit is very creepy and cute at the same time, and the Spirit of Christmas Future is scary and silent.  The best spirit, of course, is Christmas Present, so jolly and good.  I enjoy his repeating “Come in! and know me better, man!” over and over, because it’s just one of those strange lines I like so much in the original story.

ImageScrooge and the ghost of Christmas Present on the delightfully artificial London streets



All in all, it’s a Christmas classic and a sweet triumph for Muppet and human-kind alike.

When Santa says “Ho Ho Ho!” is that his way of laughing?

Christmas movies.  I think it’s popular for people to say “Christmas movies suck!” for some reason.  I don’t really get it.  I think Christmas movies are good if they’re good and crappy if they’re crappy.  People who generalize about Christmas movies are probably dumb as dog shit anyway.  I’ll be writing about some of my favorite Christmas movies this month.  I like Christmas and Christmas movies. Humbugs go away. GET! SCRAM!

Image

Have yourself a Griswold Christmas

The Irish Living, the Irish Dead

The Dead (1987)

    I’m not even that old yet but I do notice how more and more Christmas is about cherished memories and such.  When you’re a child, and you’re in that pure Christmas fervor, there isn’t too much of this.  You’re always looking ahead, not backwards.  Marveling at the calendar, wide-eyed waiting while the red X’s over the days multiply in number until there are 24 little crosses and the 25th finally arrives.  But that kind of delight isn’t really possible for a grown person, unless you’re like Robin Williams in that movie where he graduates high school as an 18 year old geriatric.  Whatever, the memories abound around the holidays:  once I went to midnight mass, another I ate dinner with an Italian family, some holiday seasons I was away from home, others at home, sometimes I was in the holiday mood and others I wasn’t.  They’re all unique little Christmases and this time of year certainly brings up thoughts of the past.  Maybe it’s that we hear a lot of the same songs, see a lot of the same people, and eat a lot of the same seasonal goodies.  All these things are hardwired to stir up the old memories and hopefully, the vast majority of these are fond and wonderful.  

    Hollywood super-duper director John Huston’s final film is an adaptation of James Joyce’s classic short story “The Dead.”  The movie, like the book, is set at Christmastime (one word! I don’t know when I discovered this, but I love it. Maybe the first time I read “The Dead”?) in Dublin in 1904.  Anjelica Huston and Donal McCann play Gretta and Gabriel, two attendees of an annual Christmas party that is fancy dress and fancy food and nice songs and even some dancing.  It’s very atmospheric and lovely and warm.  The movie is full of sweet little moments and songs but also contains glimpses of disappointment, frustration and resentment.  You didn’t think James Joyce would get all sugary just because it’s the holidays?  

Image

Anjelica Huston, Donal McCann and John Huston on the set of The Dead

    Late in the movie, Gretta pauses on the stairs while listening to a song.  She’s experiencing some kind of deep remembrance, when the memories come back so strong that you just have to stop and you’re no longer even in the present moment.  Her husband sees her like this and can tell by her face that she’s somewhere else entirely.  She is so deeply affected by this memory, and when they leave the party and are back in their hotel for the night Gretta tearfully recalls the past events that the song brought back to her mind.  It’s very emotional.  As the title indicates, The Dead is not 100% good cheer, but what Christmas ever is anyway?  It’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about the power of memory, and I think The Dead is one of the most successful literary screen adaptations. 

Image

Gabriel and Gretta at the party

    I cannot resist.  Here’s the final haunting paragraph of “The Dead” probably the greatest short story of them all:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Always Ingrid

Notorious (1946)

    When I was 14 I remember going with my dad to Best Buy to get a VHS copy of Casablanca.  I had seen it on tv or rented it maybe, and I needed to own it.  I had fallen in love with Ingrid Bergman.  She was the best woman I had ever seen; I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  When the newspaper came I would look through the TV listings to see if her movies came on that week; if they did, I would tape them.  One year I read a biography of her, and to this day it remains the saddest book I’ve ever read, because Ingrid Bergman gets sick and dies at the end.  She was the first movie star I really went nuts for.

Image

My favorite movie star

    Notorious is the best Ingrid Bergman movie.  Well, we can’t count Casablanca; it’s too perfect.  It’s not in the running.  So, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 masterpiece Notorious is the best Ingrid Bergman movie.  The movie is a tale of espionage, intrigue and Nazis up to no good in post WWII Brazil.  The plot doesn’t need explaining here.  Trust me, it’s fucking awesome and you just have to see it.

    The pedigree on this movie is unmatched in Hollywood history.  Hitchcock, who was in the zone since coming to America a few years earlier, was at the height of his powers when he directed Notorious.  The screenwriter, Ben Hecht, is not as famous as the legendary director, but he may very well be the greatest screenwriter in the history of Hollywood.  In the late 1960s Jean Luc Godard said that Ben Hecht “invented 80 percent of what is used in American movies today.”  Hecht wrote a ton of screenplays, many of them legendary, and a few, Notorious among them, are perfect.  

    The stars of the movie are the best.  Cary Grant is definitely on the short list for greatest leading man of all time, and I personally think he’s tops.  Here he plays it very cool as Devlin, an intelligence agent who finds himself falling for Alicia (Ingrid Bergman, duh), a beautiful playgirl whose father was a high profile Nazi.  I don’t know if there is any other role where Cary Grant is so tense.  Devlin’s not sure if he should love Alicia, and his torrent of emotions are kept in check by tight-lipped professionalism.  That is, until he and Alicia wrap each other in one of cinema’s most passionate, desperate embraces.

Image

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman

    Ingrid Bergman is so fantastic in this movie it is absurd.  I don’t know how she didn’t win an Oscar for this; it is her best performance.  Alicia is so in love with Devlin she’s going crazy, and she is so hurt when he acts coldly towards her, I almost want to punch Cary Grant, which I would never ever do.  It’s hard to think of any of the other great female stars ever having starred in a movie as good as Notorious, and Ingrid was in her absolute prime when she did it.

    I love a lot of actresses.  The list is long and includes women from all over the world.  But I never fell for any of them the way I did for Ingrid Bergman.  Maybe it’s because I was just 14, but I did not merely love the Swedish actress, I was in love with Ingrid Bergman.  I still am.

Two Jeannes Singing

Video

Once I lived with three girls, one French, one Italian, and one Swiss. This is a true story! They were fantastic roommates and all very sweet girls. One time I was watching Jules et Jim with the French girl, Jeanne. She was nice enough to have the English subtitles on; what a nice gesture! Well, when we were watching the movie something happened that I’ll never forget. When Jeanne Moreau began singing “Le Tourbillon” little Jeanne my roommate began singing along. Maybe it was a big deal because I’d never been so close to anybody singing in French in person like that, or maybe what made it special was that both girls were named Jeanne. I don’t know what it was, but it was a special moment that I’ll always cherish in my memory.

The Double Deuce is Now Hiring

Road House (1989)

    When watching movies, there is the inherent need to suspend disbelief.  I mean, if you couldn’t do this at all, you’d just be yelling at the screen, “why doesn’t Will Smith say something about all the cameras!”  You have to believe in the movie you’re watching, at least a little bit.  And honestly, this isn’t hard.  Just watch the movie, try to enjoy it.  Don’t get caught up in “did he fire seven bullets and not reload?”  For really great movies, the suspension of disbelief usually just isn’t a problem.  The story is good, the actors execute, and the whole thing is satisfying.  No need to nitpick.  Other movies make it harder.  There’s one movie I know that defies logical thinking and is completely devoid of any kind of credibility.  It bears no resemblance to reality, and in every scene, pretty much at every single line, you could say, no, scream, “THAT WOULD NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN!”  This movie is 1989’s barroom brawling cult classic and Swayze star vehicle Road House.  It’s one of my favorites.  If I’m drunk as shit, it’s my very favorite.

Image

“You’re too stupid to have a good time.”

    Road House.  Goddamn Road House.  To those who’ve watched it, they’ll never forget it.  If nothing else, Road House is memorable.  How could it not be?  Here are some choice lines from the movie: 


1. some chivalrous guy: “for twenty bucks, you can kiss ‘em!”  (referring to his girlfriend’s tits)

2. Dalton: “Pain don’t hurt.”

3. Wesley: “fire like that, nothing you can do (referring to the auto parts store across the way that just blew to hell).  (Now eyeing the bar) …Jack Daniels.”

4. Wesley: “Welcome to my trophy room Dalton. The only thing that’s missing…is your ass.”

5. Jimmy [ftw]: “I used to fuck guys like you in prison.”

This is just a sampling; pretty much every line in the movie maintains this level of awesome.  And there are all kinds of nice things to see in the movie.  Steve banging some underage girl in the supply closet, about to get fired, Dalton practicing tai chi in the yard, the shirtless guy dancing in the Double Deuce, completely unashamed, the shirtless woman dancing in the Double Deuce, completely unashamed, Dalton being sliced open by a knife and not even flinching, Dalton nailing the hot doctor in the barn where he lives, Wesley inexplicably arriving at his house by helicopter.  It’s pretty much all awesome.  

Image

Make no mistake, Dalton’s about to fuck this lady in a barn.

    I know there are certain people that may say Road House is “so bad it’s good” but I do not believe in this sort of theory.  If a movie is bad, really bad, it fucking sucks.  My friend Jeremy referred to this made for tv Robocop sequel thing we once watched.  We agreed it was the worst thing we’d ever seen.  It was bad, as in “so bad it’s terrible, worse than shit.”  I just don’t believe in “so bad it’s good.”  If I like something, there has to be something good about it, right?  I think so.  Road House is silly, it’s dumb as fuck, and the story is predictable nonsense.  But it’s good, too.  There are some undeniably good things about it.  One, the cast.  The three main dudes in the movie are played by Patrick Swayze, Ben Gazzara, and Sam Elliot.  Say what you will, these guys are all badasses and good, charismatic actors.  I’d watch Gazarra in anything, and I pretty much want to be Sam Elliot.  The other thing I like about the movie is it’s just so much fun.  It’s a classic drinking movie.  If you are of drinking age and temperament, value a little low class fun, appreciate the skills of a blind guy playing a guitar in his lap, well then it’s settled, you should crack open a beer and watch Road House.

“Don’t you know what happens on Halloween?”

Halloween (1978)

    When I was around 12 years old, Star Wars became uncool.  Not to everybody, but to me.  I’d watched my VHS tapes repeatedly for years and as I was entering adolescence, what was awesome to me as a child seemed lame as I approached being a teenager.  I was still enough of a dumb ass kid to want to watch a movie over and over again, but the Star Wars trilogy was out.  What movie would satisfy my now fully mature, 12 year old tastes?  I needed something more grown up, something that the ten year old me wouldn’t have watched.  I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but that movie turned out to be the 1978 horror classic Halloween.  I had a VHS in a plastic snap-case that and I watched it a million times.  I watched Halloween at night, in the morning, on rainy days and Sundays; I watched it on Halloween, but also Christmas, July 4th, Easter and Flag Day.  I loved that movie.  It was my early teenage favorite.  There was violence, some sneaky nudity, Donald Pleasance saying “Hey, Lonnie, get your ass away from there!” and my favorite, Michael Myers bringing the hammer of vengeance down on the sweet little town of Haddonfield, Illinois.

Image

Maybe my favorite poster ever

    The movie Halloween is just so Halloween-y and so essential to the fall season.  Watching it is like hearing the crispy leaves under your shoes as you walk along the sidewalk, having a little handful of candy corn (which will happen every Halloween season ever), seeing piece of shit costumes for sale at pharmacies, and feeling that first autumn chill as you go out to your car one morning.  I love fall; it’s my favorite season, and Halloween only makes me love it more.

Image

Michael Myers is here. My advice? Hide you kids, hide your wife, hide your kids, hide your wife

    Halloween is a really good movie.  I have fondness for the many sequels, but they all fucking suck; I think Halloween II sucks especially considering that Jamie Lee Curtis is in it and it’s set on the same exact night as the first one (and speaking of that, how did the Michaels Myers mask go from scary as shit in the first one to bland shitshow in the following movie? Unbelievable.).  But don’t let those inferior followers poison the original.  It is a legit good movie.  There are long takes and music cues that would impress anybody, and the suspense is real and spine tingling.  After watching Halloween constantly for a while, I put it up and didn’t see if for quite a few years.  I didn’t watch it again until I was nearly finished with college.  What  a delight that it holds up so well.  It’s a wonderful thing when something you liked when you were younger actually turns out to be good. If you haven’t seen Halloween PLEASE take the opportunity to watch it tonight.