Tuesday, December 23, 2008

THE CHRISTMAS POST

It's time to throw down and discuss briefly my top five Christmas movies. I'll try to actually make these cohere to where I like them. In other words, if, for example, A Christmas Story were to show up on the list, and if I liked it more than The Santa Clause, then Ralphie would be discussed as #3 above Tim Allen at #4. But since neither of these are on my top five, this example is completely pointless.
You get what I'm saying. If you've been reading this site at all in the last year, you know that we don't always stick to the rules. But, since it's Christmas, and in celebration of the annual celebration of God coming to Earth to set things straight, I'll proceed in order of my preferences, without deviation. The tops are the tops, with no apologies.
***
NUMBER FIVE: DIE HARD


Why in the world is this on here? This is outrageous!

Calm yourself, loyal reader. You obviously haven't been paying attention while watching this gem. If you notice, it takes place during....a Christmas party. John McClane shows up in Los Angeles to win back his estranged wife, only to run into Alan Rickman in a German accent. The villans are totally stock, with the exception of Alan Rickman, who I like pretty much all the time. He'll make another appearance, so I won't go into too much detail here, except to say that Hans Gruber is more than just another thief. He's a thief with style.

Bruce Willis had a decent run in the 1980s, and I enjoy every installment of this particular series. But the first one is in its own category, I think, much like Rocky IV: you can talk about Ivan Drago with respect to the other Rocky flicks, but it's like talking about Willie Mays as just another baseball player. Bruce Willis, I love your smart mouth.Yippie-ki-yay, mofo. And a Happy New Year.

NUMBER FOUR: ELF

I didn't like this one nearly as much before dating Sarah, but after a year of her proclaiming its greatness, it has to make the list. Not only is this always a winner, but it's one of Will Farrell's finest. Of course, that's to say that it's Will Farrell playing a slightly loveable elf named Buddy who's really a human raised among elves, but throw in Zooey Daschanel, and you're good to go.
But what's really to like about this film is the narrative quality: it reads like a children's book, and isn't that what we really like in Christmas movies? A little conflict, not much ambiguity, and a clearly defined ending? Aside from rescuing elves from the realm of the 12-sided die and the creepy guys who show up for book signings in full Middle-Earth garb, it's a pretty good movie to snuggle up with a bowl of popcorn.
NUMBER THREE: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Jimmy Stewart is truly one of the last great actors of the 20th century, hands down. I still get chills when I see him climb on the desk in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And say what you will about pap, this film deserves to be watched annually, if only because it is a really thick triumph of joy over despair, that riches are to be found not in where one's bank account is, but in where one's heart is. Where you treasure is, and all that stuff.


My favorite scene is, of course, the one at the end of the movie when George comes racing into the house to embrace his wife and children, with friends surrounding him, playing that song that no one knows the words to. It's an emblematic moment of the rich pageant of life, where all of the loved ones from all corners of life are gathered together, and the world is perfect for a minute or three. My engagement party felt this way; the wedding will be more so--when all the pockets of my friends can be in one place, if only for a few hours.


NUMBER TWO: LOVE ACTUALLY

I feel a small twinge in my gut putting this second, because truly, this is one of my favorite movies of all-time, and bears no season. The interwoven plot lines is fantastic, and the best job I've seen at drawing together broken story threads since Magnolia. That, and they managed to find a way to bring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and Colin Firth all together in one film. You've got stunt porn actors, neurotic ad execs, a hapless prime minister, a failed novelist, cheating spouses and brothers, and an incredible performance by Bill Nighy as Billy Mack. I love this performance better than his turn as a zombie in Sean of the Dead.

This film nails the story behind the postcard of Christmas, that families are messy and that people are grosy, stingy, and selfish all the way down. People, Augustine says, love badly, and this love is what we call 'sin': the right pursuits in all the wrong ways. It is hardly done in a more comical and perfect way than in this one. I watch this in the middle of June.

NUMBER ONE: NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION

THIS MOVIE above all other movies is the one that puts me in the Christmas spirit. I don't really care that much for the other National Lampoon flicks: Family Vacation is kind of worn, and European Vacation is just stupid. Don't get me going on Vegas Vacation. But this one hits all the right spots. You have Chevy Chase in the prime of his funny, Randy Quaid in all his dickie-wearing glory, burning cats, septic tanks, passive aggression, and snooty neighbors.

It. Is. Fantastic. Like Love Actually, I watch this one irrespective of season, but don't feel like I have to hide out for fear of someone thinking I'm watching a chick flick. If you're looking to win points with me, this is always a great suggestion with a mug of hot chocolate. There are a few movies that are always funny, no matter how many times I see them--Jackass, Grosse Point Blank, Bill Cosby Himself, Sean of the Dead, Tombstone--and this one. Chevy Chase is of the old school of comic timing, where it's about 15% what is being said, and about 99% how he's delivering the line.

Staple my head to the carpet, Martha. It's Christmas time.

See you in the New Year.

I'VE GOT ABOUT THREE FEET OF SMALL INTESTINES I'M NOT USING AT THE MOMENT


let's just get to the quick of this. i tend to enjoy films that the majority of my friends despise. also, i usually give thumbs-up to films that the professional reviewers poo-poo. it's a great relationship really: when they say nay, i run to the ticket window with unfolded bills; when they say yay, i turn to my growing cache of b-flicks (growing in thanks to john barber).

with this is mind, i will stage my argument against SEVEN POUNDS. i'm feeling rather listy these days. here's a smathering of what i did not like.
- predictable: the plot is spilled out in the first ten minutes
- woody harrellson: haven't loved him since CHEERS
- rosario dawson: she cat-fights well, that's the nicest thing i've even been able say
- the music: somebody should be punished for this much sappiness
- emotional manipulation: there were moments that pushed too hard
- gas: i felt a little bloated towards the end, maybe due to the french onion dip.

however, with all that said, i still easily give SEVEN POUNDS 4.7 dj jazzy jeff's out of 5, and all for the following reasons:
- predictions excused: the transparency of the plot is made up for by the sincerity of the performances. i believed these people. there stories resonated with something in me. particularly will smith, whose quest for redemption, though overly misguided, soundly remarkably familiar. sure, dostoevsky probably could have explored guilt on a deeper intellectual level, but SEVEN POUNDS dives into the humanity of remorse.
- will smith: the man can do no wrong. even when the screenplay sucks, he always makes me believe it. 
- rosario dawson: the lady plum blew me away. didn't see this coming. great. beautiful. pure lovely. i wanted to personally give her someone's internal organs. who knew rosario dawson was a heart attack waiting to happen? she convinced me.
- cinematography: regardless of what tito says (and i realize he's a professional), the film is visually stunning, shimmering on all edges with that carpe-diem flavored majesty - which i easily fall for at times.
- jellyfish: i just like them.

the official hamsterian verdict: the yays far outweigh the nays here. guilt and redemption are sticky, difficult themes to explore, and God forbid doing so without heavy doses of honest melodrama. anyone who has ever teetered on the edge of self-forgiveness or destruction knows the constant wash of tidal emotions that propel the process. the greatness of SEVEN POUNDS is not found in forms of literary genius or cinematic tricks; rather, it steeps from the deeply human conflict of man vs. self and the ways such a battle can possibly breathe life.   

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I AM . . . . FIERCELY HAMSTERIAN


i am . . . . how can i put this gently . . . . completely bonkers about beyonce's newest record, I AM .... SASHA FIERCE. heck, i'm listening to it right now, and i've got goosebumps. see, right there on my arms, all the little hairs sticking out like i just got struck with a major bolt of static electricity. see that? but i didn't just get struck with static electricity; no sir, i got struck with beyonce's "halo", track two on disc one. shazam! goosebumps everytime! 

I AM .... SASHA FIERCE is a double cd set, you see. two discs. and each disc has a theme. the first disc (I AM...) is all slow, dramatic ballads. like the "halo." or like my other favorite track "disappear." it's playing right now. wait, here it comes, the build, the chorus, "when i think about it", and there go the hairs again. see? right there? all of them standing up. they do that everytime.

and then the second disc (... SASHA FIERCE) is all real catchy dance tunes. you may be familiar with the "single ladies" song, which just happens to be, as of 7:36 this morning, my new cellular telephone ringtone. these tracks appeal to beyonce's on-stage alter ego, who she affectionately refers to as "sasha fierce." i've got one of those, too. an alter-ego, i mean. only my "hamster" can't do that little booty shuffle thing that put beyonce on the map back in the day.  but, with this new ... SASHA FIERCE disc on repeat, my hamster is working on it.

personally, i'm only a little bonkers about the ..... SASHA FIERCE disc, but i'm hella crazy nutso bonkers about the I AM.... disc. i mean, don't get me wrong, i love the dance tracks off beyonce's B-DAY as much as the next guy; however, this time around, i'm feeling the ballads a little more. i'm right there with beyonce on her personal exploration of her own diva-ness. i've been on those treks myself. they can be dirty at times, even dramatic, and i applaud the lady for laying down her trek on these I AM... tracks. i'm telling you: goosebumps. 

alright, alright. i realize that i'm way off base here. this is a film site, not a record site. john and myles and i built this site as a place to talk about the movies that have shaped or not shaped the midnight hours of our life. we did not build this site to talk about records. and so, with that in mind, i will review beyonce's newest music video: "if i were a boy."

(sorry about the quality here. all the better videos had disabled embedding, by request. here's a link to a higher quality version.)



this is a great music video. and what i love most about this music video is its return to the dramatic story-telling structure, like in some of the better music videos from yesteryear. listen, i'm a simple man. i live a simple existence. and i live simple stories. thus, i need music videos, like these, that tell the simple stories of my life. these videos resonate with me. the stories they tell ring a bell of truth in me that i can relate to. for instance, i deeply connect with the new beyonce video in major ways: i drink coffee; i wear hats; i ride in cars; i've shot guns; i've been arrested; i pull my shirt over my head just like beyonce did in the beginning of this video. see, me and beyonce are not so dissimilar. 

also, i do think that beyonce gives us some great acting in this video. there are moments where we actually believe, according to beyonce's performance, that this beautiful black woman could actually fall in love with this skinny white guy. (again, autobiographical resonation - shazam!) but then, flip the coin at the end, and beyonce's performance takes us to a deeper place of hurt and rejection, particularly in those very simple headshots where she looks into the camera and, with darkened eyes, mouths the words into the camera. after having seen the video, i cannot help but see those darkened eyes everytime i listen to this track in my car. it's a masterful performance that proves haunting in its simplicity and raw emotion.

and, okay, i'll traverse this ground here with all of you. the role reversals in this video are shocking. purely shocking. there's something unexpected and unsettling about a woman skeezing her man, especially a good man who sits around fantasizing about the jewelry that he wants to purchase for her (resonation again). this is a far cry from earlier beyonce videos where the skeezing was a blatant action of the man (also a masterful performance, particularly when she pushes his forehead). and this typical male skeezement is what we expect, what we are - shall i say - comfortable with in pop artistry. therefore, depictions of a woman holding her partner's gun, turning off her cell phone at dinner, and having the audacity to get up on her man when he just saw her backing up on that white dude is beyond shocking: it's borderline repulsive. of course, as we see in the end, the skeezing was not on the part of the lady (beyonce would never skeeze), but on the part of the man who laughs in the face of her suspicions. that dude be a bitch. 
 
the gratuitous bra shot in the locker room is totally unnecessary, but welcomed. 

i give beyonce's "if i were a boy" music video 5 black dereon dresses out of 5. with singles like this coming off of record like that, we can only expect bigger and better things from beyonce knowles in the future.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

CRAZIER THAN GUANO IN MY HAT: FTT, Pt. IV

This is my second time to watch Part IV from start to finish, and I have to say, this was a decidedly more satisfying film to watch than the last one: #3 was guano in my bowl of cereal. I mean, seriously. But if that one was the poop in my food, this one was crazier than pooping in my hat. Jason comes after teenagers who spend the whole time being naked and watching old-school strip shows? Nonetheless, I remain committed. As far as the watching goes, here's the set-up and circumstances of the crime:

I came home to watch this one after deciding last minute to pick this up at Hollywood on the way home, the coup-de-gras to a day characterized by editing some lectures for a book I'm helping edit, digging through material on Christianity in 1980s Poland, and reading part of one of Dorothy Day's autobiographies at the pub over a Two-Below and some chicken-and-barbeque pizza. All in all, an entirely peaceful, pacifist, and utterly pacific day: lots of coffee, reflection, reading, and intellectual stimulation.

And I finished it off with a tale of blood, vengance, boobs, and pre-teen angst and murder. Coherence? Discontinuity? Sure.

(Editorial Note: this post was begun on a couch, and completed Sunday morning on "the throne". Appropriate, n'est pas?)


There's a lot to love about this one. When I say, "love", I mean the way that Jesse Jackson Jr. is feeling about Rick Blagojevich right about now. In other words, there's a lot to feel proud, yet morally conflicted and utterly disturbed about. It's not fair to hold this one up to the Oscar lights to work like this: this is not a forrested version of No Country for Old Men. Although, the possibility is intriguing....another time, perhaps.

Loving a film like this involves finding the highlights and clinging to them. I love my fiancee for many reasons, but she's not perfect. I love her laugh and her smile and her eyes; I love the way she hates the mall and the way she loves justice; I love the way she kisses. I could go on. In other words, you hang on to the great stuff, and leave the other stuff for private discussion between you and them.

So, in celebration of one of the best portions of this cycle of films, some highlights:

Gordon the dog--finally, a canine plays a central role

Twins--it was just a matter of time before the franchise pulled this gag out.

Walkmen--I really miss mine. I miss cassettes, for that matter.

Crispin Glover--thank you, McFly. You are still awkward and gangly, and I have no idea how you sustained a Hollywood career, but more power to you.

Button-down shirts tucked into gym shorts--a fashion trend I missed, thankfully. I still tight-rolled my jeans for a year beyond their expiration date.

Skinny-dipping--I reference one afternoon in Purdy, MO.

Crispin Glover bringing back the Aardvark mating dance--ah, this is why Glover continues on...

Non-commital slow dances--God bless middle school.

Rampant teenage insecurity, which leads to rampant teenage hormones, which leads to rampant teenage murder.--pscyhologically, this was a nice twist on the formula: it spells out the roots of what causes Jason to draw near: it's not just sin, but fear, which leads to whatever.

Once again, premarital sex kills, and falling in love while doing it will not save you--Again, a nice twist on the paradigm. The girl's confession to falling in love in the shower only leads to her getting the axe.

Slo-mo throwing of self out a window--self-preservation! It's not just for serial killers anymore!

Til next time.



Monday, December 8, 2008

Insert Monkey Pun Here



Here's the main review of SPACE CHIMPS on IMDB:
I just took my 4 year old boy to see this movie and we left shortly before it was over. We were not the only ones to leave early either. Only once was there any laughter from the audience. I thought most of the punch lines were aimed at the adult audience, but no one was laughing. I was very disappointed that there wasn't any moral to the story - if there was, it was vague. The characters were not all that likable either. I didn't feel any connection to them at all, nor did my son. I left the theater thinking that this was the biggest waste of time and money. Space Chimps is no Shrek. This has to be the worst G-rated movie I have ever seen. My son thought it was very boring and he usually loves action/adventure movies. The only thing he liked about the whole experience was the pack of Twizzlers I bought him.

Dang, some people take their monkeys-in-space movies seriously.

Sam, Laney, and I sat down to watch SPACE CHIMPS last Friday night ('cause Friday night is Family Fun Night in the Barber house, dontcha know). A brief plot synopsis:

A wormhole in space is discovered, and because it's too dangerous to send humans through, they send the chimps. The chimps find a planet populated with with aliens that look strangely like the dude in EXPLORERS. There's an evil overlord, the chimps save the day, etc, etc.

I fully expected, as is my custom, to fall asleep at exactly seven minutes into the film. It was not to be so. Not only did I not fall asleep, I actually found myself laughing out loud at jokes about Axel Foley and David Bowie. So I started thinking about things I like in movies:

Monkeys... check.
Space... check.
David Bowie Jokes... check.

SPACE CHIMPS gets 4 Ziggy Stardusts out of 5.

Friday, December 5, 2008

BIGFOOT LOVES BOBBY: A HOCKEY MASK, INC. EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE BOGGY CREEK STAR: BOBBY FORD



Hamster: As a Hockey Mask, Inc. exclusive, I am very pleased to welcome to our Hockey Mask studios a man who I feel needs no introduction: Bobby Ford from The Legend of Boggy Creek. Bobby, on behalf of John, Myles and myself, thank you for taking time out of your busy fishing and squirrel skinning schedule to talk with me today.

Bobby: Mm, yes, sir. Glad to do 't.

H: Now, Bobby, according to the documentary by Charles Pierce, you were attacked by the Fouke Monster, a variety of the Bigfoot, twice. Is that right?

B: Mm, yes, sir. He grabb't on me twicet.

H: Remarkable, Bobby. I mean, for most Americans, the legend of Bigfoot is a tall tale, a campfire scare story to keep children from wondering into the woods. However, you not only saw a Bigfoot, you were actually accosted by one. You must feel pretty special, huh?

B: Mm, no, sir. I don't rightly feel special. Unless by special you mean that I can't pee standin' up no mo' cuz I still get the shivers real bad.

H: My gosh, Bobby, that is a special feeling. Could you tell us about the two Bigfoot attacks you survived?

B: Mmm, yes, sir. Well, you sees, firs' time he grabb't on me I was sittin' on my sister's couch over by the winder, had my arm up rest't on th' couch back, and he reach't right in that winder and grabb't my arm, right above th' wrist, you sees, like he's grabbin' fer my watch to check the time. That were th' firs' time he grabb't on me. Sec'nd time he grabb't on me I were out in the yard with my brother-in-law, he's married to my sister Sue, and he and his friend were tryin' to shoot that monster. I's holdin' the light fer 'em, you sees, and that monster reach'd up and slapp't me on th' back, just like momma did when I'd stick my fing'r in her apple pie fer it were done. Mm, yes, sir. That sec'nd time he grabb't on me, I woked up in Texarkana in th' hospital eatin' ice chips and banana puddin'.

H: My goodness, Bobby! That is quite a story! I bet you tell that story often, don't you?

B: Mm, no, sir. I don't tell it much. Gives me th' shivers when I do.

H: Speaking of the shivers, Bobby, there is something from the tape that I would like to ask you about.

B: Mmm, yes, sir?

H: Bobby, I noticed that Pierce included a very touching scene, a private scene of you in the bathroom. And I noticed that then, too, the Fouke Monster tried to, as you say, "grab on you." Is that right?



B: Well, yes, sir. That did happ'n. But, I's kinda hopin' you weren't....

H: And, Bobby, I noticed in the tape that when you came off the toilet that you already, in that one jumpking flash, had your long underpants pulled up?

B: Well, mmm, yes, sir.

H: It's as if, Bobby, you never actually pulled them down in the first place. As if you sat down on the toilet with your long underwear still pulled up around your waist. Is that right?

B: Mmm, well, sir, now I had just been grabb't on by that monster. I'm not rightly sure I's thinkin' straight.

H: Bobby, we at Hockey Mask, Inc. just need to know one way or the other: did you or did you not sit on the toilet with your pants up to your waist?

B: I nearly crapp't my own britches that firs' time he grabb't on me...

H: Didn't look like it to me, Bobby?

B: Well, now, sir! I'm not rightly sure I 'ppreciate...

H: Bobby, it just seems strange that with all those pretty South Arkansas women in that house, that Fouke Monster came only for you. Three times he came only for you. Once when you were on the couch. A second time in the bathroom. And a third time while your brother was shooting at him with a gun, which resulted in your hospitalization. I think it would behoove the Hockey Mask audience to know, Bobby: did you have relations with the Fouke Monster?

B: ....... Mm ........

H: Bobby, the question is simple: were you and Fouke Monster involved?

B: .......

H: Bobby, this is a community of friends. You can tell us.

B: Mmm, yes! Yes, sir! I did love that beast! He were burly and rugged! He could carry a hun'r'd pound hog on his shoulder. My sister made me leave him. My sister Sue, that I's stayin' with, she wanted me to meet that other girl that had her cat took by my Foukey, but Foukey took that girl's speech. And I couldn't have no girl I couldn't hollar at. He were my love!

H: Thank you, Bobby. Thank you so much for the truth. We at Hockey Mask, Inc. greatly appreciate your candor and strength.

B: He were my giant love squirrel! And I lost his watch! He were just lookin' fer his watch!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

WHEN E SUE ASKED IF I WAS GOING TO SEE TWILIGHT:




e -

you ask if am i going to see the teeny bopper vampire romance flick, TWILIGHT? the vampire romance flick that sold-out 18 consecutive screenings at one theatre here in bryan, texas last thursday night at the midnight showing? the vampire romance flick where they do all those cool ass CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON kissing in the treetop bits? the vampire romance flick that has grown women filing down their incisors in their vanity mirrors at home? the vampire romance flick that looks like a teenage goth girl's greatest sexual fantasy come true? the vampire romance flick that looks like HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL forgot it's prozac? am i going to see that vampire romance flick?


um, hell and no.
i'd rather sit at home and chew my own hands.
- ks

Monday, December 1, 2008

LESS AS MORE, AND HOW TO BE A BETTER FATHER AT THE WORST OF TIMES


consider this review a recommendation for the film RESERVATION ROAD

at the onset, i can say that this film is not for everyone. it's simple. it's literary. it's emotionally stark and closer to the human experience than most of the bumble tumbling out of hollywood. plus, it invites the viewer into the drama in ways that disturb those normally approaching film for an escape. thus, i say this film is not for everyone. 

however, with that said, i really liked this film. i liked that the purpose here was not to wow anyone with pyrotechnics and movie making magic; the purpose was to tell a story, to explore people, to dig into questions that the average viewer hopes to never need a solid answer to. such questions are a hallmark of good art: bringing participants in contact with issues and ideas that are so outside our own reality the portrayal causes us to pause, to reflect, to be dug into.

RESERVATION ROAD explores two fathers' varied reactions to the same tragedy, particularly how these reactions bring their lives first into a shared orbit and then to a massive collision. the film also explores the toil of tragedy on a healthy marriage, as the viewers witness husband and wife initially clinging to one another and then, as the grief sets in, drifting apart.

for all the grittiness of the film's griefs and fears, RESERVATION ROAD does lead to a believable climax and honest redemption. not to mention, performances by joaquin phoenix and jennifer connelly are nothing short of heartbreaking. they took me there. they made me feel more than i was ready or willing to feel. i applaud them both.

the hamster gives RESERVATION ROAD 3.5 red sox pennants out of 5. it's a really good film - not great - that left me wanting more. honestly, that could be a good thing. many films make the mistake of giving us far too much. perhaps RESERVATION ROAD is a prime example of the old adage: less is more. in the case of grief and suffering, that may be all too true.