Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Monday, January 03, 2011

Holiday Viewing Diary 12/21-12/30

At the Kuersten Xmas is a time for marathon TV watching and (for some) drinking. The commentary from the couch flows fast and free, and eloquence gets waxed like a candle burning at both ends. In my brother's Arizona house there's a big screen but it's not plasma and it's not anamorphic, so you have zooming and stretching instead of correct aspect ratios. My dad and bro both get wicked pissed if I change the size of the screen; neither cares if everyone looks wide like a house or thin like a bee or has their heads cut off, so it can get exasperating. Still, that's family, right? Imagine if you will the family dynamic, slightly shuffled of LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (same amount of siblings), so that the older brother is the gloomy poet and the father isn't cheap, and the mom's a Christian Scientist and not a junky, then come with me now as we blaze through a rundown of what was watched in between football games:

This got a lot of fun poked at it by my now drunk family, and my dad's along enough in years that Raquel Welch's stunning fur bikini draws no moans; I was the only one salivating over her and the Harryhausen dynamation dinosaurs, and the Martine Beswick catfights. I reminded my dad that this was a favorite back in the 1970s when he and I would watch Saturday afternoon horror films on UHF local TV and try to make each other laugh with our dry, witty quips, and that my childhood was thus well planned to suit this blog, but to everyone but me the dinosaurs here were like plastic toys, and Welch only a babe, not the true goddess she is/was.

BAD SANTA (2003)
Terry Zwigoff was no fool making a film like this, as Christmas movies have a long shelf life if they have some kind of a hook, such as badness. Films like A CHRISTMAS STORY and SCROOGED play almost nonstop alongside IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and so forth this season, so here it was again, my brother's attempt at an Xmas tradition. This film tries a bit too hard to be bad (see my coverage of OBSERVE AND REPORT below for a truly 'bad' film) as far as acting goes, it's impeccable. Lauren Graham is a hearthrob for the working man and Thornton a loveable, genuine roustabout.

Ho bloody ho. Where's my blasted beard?
Because nothing says Xmas at the Kuersten house like a pair of junky brothers futzing over wombs in Canada. Image quality was bad, but the acting was solid, you had to continually remind yourself Jeremy Irons was playing both roles because the editing was so seamless you'd forget otherwise. Still, the icy clinical aspects kind of throw off the dynamic, which happens at times with Cronenberg. But am I complaining? Uh uh. More than anything, this film made me want to go deeper into the world of pharmaceutical enlightenment, even if the whole gynecological instruments for mutant women thing seemed tacked on, like Cronenberg thought he had to weirden it up for the fans, to make sure it got included in the lucrative midnight movie horror section instead of dreary old drama. 

Aside from my mom we're all pretty much heathens at the Kuersten house, so we cheered and danced and lit the fire when it became clear to the first timers what was happening to poor old Richard Attenborough. Edward Woodward. Too bad the IFC formatting was off and the print lousy and the reception foggy and the nude witches stretched to obesity. Still, the message was clear enough and holiday revelry ensued amongst we Kuerstens as the flames soared higher amongst the pigs and chicken.
David Johansen rocks as the ghost of Xmas past, but damn that loooong ending of Bill Murray lecturing the TV audience on holiday cheer carries less and less emotional catharsis as the years go by. Now he just looks like a self-centered prick who thinks the whole world should stop and celebrate the fact that his head's finally out of his ass. Dude, they all knew how to celebrate, it's you who were the problem. Go lecture to the mirror! This need to convert the already converted is what starts holy wars and makes people call you an ass behind your back. You can respect a prick, he gets the job done, but an ass is just that and no amount of cheer can change it. You don't know how much smarter and more holy your audience is than yourself, give them the benefit of the doubt. Then again, it was the 1980s. 

Hadn't really seen this all the way through before. Got the DVD for my dad as he kept ranting about it and how much he wanted to show it to us. Then he kept ranting about how great each performance was all through the movie. I agreed with him about Monty Clift's jaw-dropping performance as a sterilized laborer -- his sheer intensity made my eyes well up with admiration, but I felt like spray painting "Why so Serious?" on Spencer Tracy's guest room wall. And my dad's comparison of the film to Picasso's "Guernica" was repeated in great Wellesian tones three nights in a row, with the same cues of admiring laughter, until I told him he'd said the same thing earlier, and he got sulky. But I still love him!

Speaking of why so serious, it was great to tune into on SpikeTV late Xmas night and find this, in HD and filling up Fred's screen like a shiny computer game. I find Hayden Christensen surprisingly inoffensive as far as pretty boys go--maybe it's his deep voice--and Natalie was a delight. Still, every scene was so full of fanboy detail it was first exhilarating, then exhausting, then annoying, then deadening. This film is clearly meant to be seen over and over again by the hardcore fans. Like the other two in the second trilogy, I got really into it for about 20 minutes, then lost interest, my eyeballs saturated, my dad gone to bed. It definitely helped coming into it halfway through, as I tried to watch it once before long ago and didn't get too far, turned off as I was by the queen bitch crankiness of Ewan's Obi Wan.

 TRUE GRIT (2010)
As a kind of apology to Fred for the joyous dysfunction of our family holiday, I kept repeating that line from the commercials for this film--played ad nauseum one very channel we watched--where Jeff Bridges looks down at the dying hombre and says, "I can't do nothin' for ya, son." The movie was good, too. The language was flowery and really well-gummed by ole Jeff (see more about the film in my top ten of 2010 list)

FARGO (1996)
The impact of TRUE GRIT inspired us to dig out more Coens. This was a big hit all around the Kuersten tree, with minimal commentary. We all agreed that Peter Stormare was our favorite --the Nordic ice truck killer most like our family. Now though I still have the voice ringing in my head of the dopey husband of the Sheriff McDormand saying: "I love you Margie" in that zombie infant voice...

The second film I saw in two days about a child following a one-eyed warrior into the unknown wilderness. While Fred's buddy came over to watch football, I sulked in my room and watched this on Netflix streaming for the second time to see if I could add it to my top ten list. I always try and keep my top ten manly and subversive and VALHALLA more than exceeded my expectations... great post-rock score! No women! Jim Jarmusch meets CONAN! 

I tried to explain to my dad how this was a 'modernist' meditation on THE BIG SLEEP times Nordic mythology, and he sneered, but then suggested I would have a lot to write about with all the weirdness in the film for my blog. I told him there was no fun to be had writing about Coen Brothers films since they come to you already deconstructed, and he actually understood that, and I saw my star rise a slot on the slick icy ladder of his esteem. Still, I wrote about one Coen Brothers film, for Bright Lights, here.
Of course that wasn't the end. I wound up stuck at Fred's for two more nights due to the east coast blizzard. What we watched aside from this film, I haven't a clue, but I knew Fred would love it as, like Ronnie, my bro is armed and dangerous and has a lot of love to give. Fred, you're the best. Here's a sample of some writing I did on this fine film from last year, comparing it to the aforementioned Thornton film:
OBSERVE AND REPORT is the film that Terry Zwigoff is too inherently decent to make; the highlighted tantrums of his BAD SANTA--a similarly mall-bound film--errs on the side of decency and thus undoes any attempt at genuine subversion. It's one thing to threaten children and then "come around," it's another to bash them into pulp with their own skateboards and then go even deeper into darkness from there. In BAD SANTA, we watch a man behave badly, but OBSERVE AND REPORT itself behaves badly. (A Travis for Our Times, April 13, 2009)
Then, on the plane home, I saw GET SMART with Ann Hathaway looking awfully hot. She's clearly meant to wear buckets of black eyeliner! The film was much better than it had any right to be, though maybe it was because I flew first class for the first time (the only ticket I could find after my initial flight was canceled). Worth a look if you have to entertain a diversified age group with no tolerance for subtitles, though the film prefers complicated and goofy stunts over everything else and Hathaway is stuck with maybe two sentences of dialogue in the whole film. Still, that eyeliner....


  1. That much Coen in one weekend definitely makes for some good marathoning! I saw and loved True Grit, then tried to take a friend and it was sold out. Bummer. Glad it's doing well, though.

    Still haven't seen The Wicker Man; it was on my October watch list but I didn't get to it. Next year. Which I guess is this year, now. Heh. Valhalla Rising is also near the top of my list. Gotta remember to bump it up in my Instant Queue.

  2. What a wonderful article. I almost can't believe that some people don't give a damn about aspect ratio, except that I've met several of them myself.

    I wanted to correct one detail: Richard Attenborough had nothing to do with "The Wicker Man". I believe you're thinking of Edward Woodward.


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