Blind Spot 24: We’re No Angels

It is very exciting we have reached my last Blind Spot pick for 2017. I hope you have enjoyed the 12 films I have reviewed this year and I look forward to picking 12 more for next year. If you have a blog I encourage you to participate in the series and finally check some of those films off your list you have been wanting to see.

Unfortunately it’s too bad I can’t end the year on a more positive note. My pick for this month is a supposed Christmas film called We’re No Angels. This is the original 1955 version not the 1989 remake. I know other people love this dark comedy but it was not for me. I honestly found it pretty hard to get through.

The story is about 3 convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov) who escape from prison just before Christmas.  They go to a shop and after spying on their daughter (Joan Bennett) they decide to steal from the family and then escape off of the island. Things get complicated when a snobby relative (Basil Rathbone) comes in and wants to take over the store.

I said in my 3 Billboards review that dark comedies are not my thing and it is true here. I know these men are supposed to be bad guys, convicts, but I found them uncomfortable, awkward, perverted and not the least bit funny. They literally are staring at the family and daughter through a window for a good chunk of the movie. They bicker and are cruel in ways that didn’t amuse me at all.

The only person who worked for me a little was Peter Ustinov who always gives a funny/strange performance. But even he couldn’t save this film because the writing wasn’t good and the characters are so unlikable.

Basil Rathbone’s character is supposed to be a character of ridicule but I frankly thought the 3 anti-heroes were much worse. They are manipulative, cold and worst of all boring. This movie is dull and sorely lacking in charisma or fun. It certainly has no Christmas charm or cheer.

I can see how those that like dark comedies will enjoy it but it was not for me. I really didn’t enjoy it and will never watch it again. The costumes were nice so I guess there is that but I can’t think of anything else to praise.

If this is a Christmas film you love please tell me why you like it. I just didn’t get it.

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Talking Holiday Films

My friend Joe and I got together and talked about our favorite holiday films.  It’s more of a podcast format but I think you will really enjoy it.

My favorites I mentioned

6. Arthur Christmas (got to do a longer review of that film one of these days)

5. Home Alone- My longer review go here

4. White Christmas-

3 A Christmas Story (need to do a longer review of this as well)

2. Christmas Carol 1951- My longer review go here

1.It’s a Wonderful Life- My longer review go here

I forgot to mention it on the podcast (so many great holiday films!) but I posted a review today on my channel of Nightmare Before Christmas.

Honorable Mentions I talk about on the broadcast

Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Muppets Christmas Carol, Die Hard and Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Joe has some great choices on his list including Polar Express and Charlie Brown Christmas Special..

Christmas Card 2015

I just wanted to share with you guys my Christmas card for 2015.  I took some inspiration from Inside Out in this year’s design.  I hope that you guys have a joyous holiday season whatever you celebrate. Mostly I hope that you have meaningful experiences and feel loved.   Thanks for making 2015 great and for talking about all these silly movies with me.  It’s been awesome. On to 2016!

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Bonus Holiday Review: A Christmas Story

a-christmas-story-2[1]Being Christmas and all I just had the chance to watch the annual favorite A Christmas Story (it is on 48 hours non-stop Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on TBS).

Well friends, I think it is worthy of such a marathon.  In fact, I think it is one of the best portrayals of childhood ever in the movies.  That’s right I will be that bold.

Yes it is funny but it has such heart and I relate to little Ralphie very strongly.

paker-family-christmas-storOne of the great things about it is it is a couple weeks in the life of an ordinary family in the 30s.  When you really think about it they pack a ton of story into one movie.  The main plot is of course Ralphie’s desire to have a red ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas and all the adults in his life telling him ‘you will shoot your eye out’.

ralphi eand gunBut the subplots surrounding the air rifle are many and varied. We have Flick and the ice, Ralphie and his theme, the snow suit, the decoder pin, Ralphie’s Dad and the furnace and dogs, the Chinese restaurant, the pink bunny suit, the major award, Ralphie f-boming to his old man, I could go on.

But my favorite part is a subplot involving Scut Farkus and Grover Dill, the local bully and toadie.  Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, is so good in this scene and as someone who was bullied pretty badly it always gets to me.

It’s a terrific child actor performance and really moving when you think about the kind of trauma such a situation really is for a kid. It is no small thing. I love that Grover says ‘I’m telling my Dad’.  That’s such good writing.

I also just LOVE his mother in these scenes played by Melinda Dillion.  When she smooths things over with Dad and squeezes his arm it is such a touching moment between mother and son.

ralphie upset

Like Home Alone Christmas Story is a movie that takes children seriously.  Perhaps it is partly the dry wit yet warm narration that endears us to the story, helps us get inside the head of Ralphie but he is never treated like an idiot for being a kid.  In fact, he is often the smartest one in the room.

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There’s a real innocence to the picture that I love.  I mean who can’t relate to betting your friends to do stupid things or that first time your parents catch you saying a naughty word?  Most of us can.  Most of us had Mothers who bundled us up too much for the winter and fathers who had their eccentric ways. christmas story stickI feel like a modern movie would put in a lot more silliness and be less grounded.  We’d get strange pets and falls into swimming pools (and that slapstick can work as we see in Home Alone so it just depends).  But Christmas Story has such heart and it at least rings true for the childhood in me.

soap christmas storyIt’s so well written too.  The narration is done by Jean Shepherd who wrote the book the movie was based on and I have to tell you I’ve read the book and not near as funny or endearing as the movie. But his commentary is very well written and exactly what an adult would say when looking both cynically and nostalgically at his past.

But there are lots of little moments in the script that are brilliant.  For instance, Ralphie is approached by The Wicked Witch while waiting to talk to Santa.  He looks at her and says ‘go away.  I’m thinking’.  That is totally the kind of kid I was.  I was social.  I had friends just like Ralphie but I also had a contemplative, independent streak.

ralphieI also love the moment when Randy is upset over the bullying incident and the Mom finds him hiding in the dresser set.  That’s just the kind of thing my sister would have done (My Dad was a total softee but if something big like that had happened she would have hidden away).  I love that the Mom brings him his milk in the cubbard and let’s him stay there. Perfect.

Old-Man-Admiring-Major-AwardThe major award also totally rings true for me.  My Father is a very passionate excitable guy.  If he won a major award he would probably be equally excited.  It’s those simple things in family life that can be the most humorous when looking back on them and that’s essentially what the narrator is doing.  It’s hilarious and just lovely.

ralphies-bunny-suit-pajamas-from-aunt-clara-4The pink bunny suit is also hilarious.  How many of us also got that one gift from a distant relative that we didn’t want to wear?  I certainly did.  It’s a funny well written scene that most of us can empathize with. Love it.

I love it is Father who gets him the air rifle.  It shows he is listening all along and shows a tenderness we hadn’t gotten since then.  What a lucky kid Ralphie is to have such a wonderful family!

christmas story parentsFinally, I love this movie because it is set in Indiana and shows the tough but sweet side of my Hoosier friends.  Even Ralphie’s fantasies feel like the kind of daydreaming a kid would actually do.  It all just works for me.

I love it.  It makes me cry throughout and laugh.  It is a wonderful movie and I’m glad it gets seen by so many every Christmas.

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Overall Grade- A+ (Great writing, acting, heart, humor. Perfect)

It’s amazing it was directed by Bob Clark who helmed such classics as Baby Geniuses 1 and 2 and the Porky’s movies which are so lame and crass.  I guess it’s the 1 hit wonder of directing.  Wonderful job!

The abhorrent sequel recently produced one of the Nostalgia Critics best reviews.  (language warning)

Bonus Holiday Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

wonderful life title cardWell, I didn’t want to leave off Christmas with a grumpy post and AMC really ticked me off this morning with their colorized Miracle on 34th Street.   Thankfully I was able to have a positive experience at the movies today (and it was definitely NOT COLORIZED!!!).  Cinemark has what they call Cinemark Classics and 3-4 times a month they air a classic movie usually for just a day or two on one of their screens.

This year I was able to see Ghostbusters in September which was a delight and today I saw the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Check out the website for all their listings and participating theaters.

http://www.cinemark.com/cinemark-classic-series

It was such a neat experience to see one of my favorite movies on the big screen and I found it more emotional in the theater.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because I was completely focused on the movie with no electronic or otherwise distractions.

I think most people know the story of It’s a Wonderful Life so I won’t go deep into it. Basically it’s a about a man played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart who has never gotten to choose his life (or so he feels).  Life presented him with the right and wrong thing to do and no third choice, so he is left to dream about adventures and freedom.

wonderful lifeThis picture was actually taken at the theater (don’t worry I was very sneaky and had the light on my phone completely off).  George has seemingly always make sacrifices others did not have to make and we get to see his entire life story as told to his guardian angel Clarence played wonderfully by Clarence Odbody.

In his life he is constantly saving people.  He saves his brother from drowning as a boy and he sacrifices hearing in one ear.  In an especially touching moment he saves his employer Mr Gower from accidentally poisoning a patient when he is grieving over news.  Mr Gower slaps him hard and the child actor is very good in the scene, really showing the pain in his ear and the love he feels for this man.

mr gowerGeorge gives up his trip to Europe when his Dad dies.  He gives up college to keep the villain and town Scrooge Mr Potter from taking over the Savings and Loan operated by his benevolent father.  He gives up leaving again to get married and then he gives up his honeymoon to save the Savings and Loan from the run on the bank.

potterLionel Barrymore is excellent as Mr Potter who actually gives reasons for his unfeeling ways.  Reasons you might hear in politics and business today but on a small town level George knows people need a home and a chance and he sacrifices again to give that to others.

But once we get caught up to the date middle aged George’s stupid uncle has lost the deposit all $8000 of it.  This means bankruptcy and possible warrants for embezzlement. It’s all too much for George and he has a breakdown and wonders if he is ‘more valuable dead than alive’.

video-undefined-1A466D7F00000578-219_636x358Stewart is completely convincing as he unravels and reaches that point of no return.  As someone who has had a nervous breakdown (but not suicidal) it feels totally authentic.  The sense of panic and fear in his voice I totally buy.

Just then Clarence comes and decides to teach George what life would be like if he had never been born.

clarenceIt is true that the alternate reality of life without George is pretty stark but it is a fable and I can grant it some dramatic license. (I have pretty healthy self esteem but I don’t think if I hadn’t been born that my hometown would be a den of sin and debauchery…ha).

pottersville2pottersville_470The filming of director Frank Capra and cinematographer Joseph Walker does not get enough credit. The starkness and grittiness of Pottersville verses the light and warmth of Bedford Falls is gorgeous.

Stewart is so good in the many roles he is required to play. In one movie he is young, a dreamer, tough, panicky, frustrated, angry, desperate, drunk, joyous, an engaging father, annoyed, in love and everything else.  And he is equally convincing in every scene.

Its-A-Wonderful-LifeHim and Donna Reed have wonderful chemistry and the dialogue between them is as good as any romantic comedy at first and then confrontational while deeply caring later.  It feels like a real couple.

bedford fallsIt’s just such a joyous picture.  It reminds all of us that we are not alone and that more people love us than we realize.  It can be easy to feel alone in this world but I think if we all got a picture we’d be surprised how many people are praying and worried about us.  And if we are alone we may be Ebeneezer Scrooge’s and not letting them in (It’s a Wonderful Life is kind of the flip side of Christmas Carol when you think about it).

It’s easy to feel cynical about movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Modern life can seem so much more complicated with texting, facebook  e-dating and all kinds of impersonal relationships. But this year I saw Boyhood and found myself thinking about It’s a Wonderful Life while watching that movie.

patricia arquette What moved me most in Boyhood is kind of the same thing that moved me in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Like George Bailey, the mother character Olivia played by Patricia Arquette, never really has a moment to commit to her life.  The Ethan Hawke character gets a chance to go to Alaska and decide to be a father and to live a particular kind of life.  Olivia has 2 kids and just has to live and like George she isn’t given a lot of choices, and sometimes the ‘lesser evil’ proves to be a nightmare.  At the end her son is moving away to college and she starts to cry and says ‘my life is over’.  It feels like a similar moment to George Bailey realizing all the sacrificing has been for what to be left alone.

But there is redemption, maybe not as dramatic as in Wonderful Life but she has lived a good life.  She has raised two great kids and done the best she could and realizes she has friends, if only in her children.    I was really moved today when I saw the note from Clarence to George.

failureI think that is the message from Boyhood and It’s a Wonderful Life- no man is a failure who has friends and has loved people as best as he or she can. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true.

At Christmas those who believe in Christ’s sacrifice and life recite the scripture ‘greater love hath no man than this that he lay down His life for His friends’.  That is the message of It’s a Wonderful Life, of Boyhood and of Christmas.  Life is precious because of who we can love.

I know it is just a blog and I know it is just movies but I hope you have sensed my love for stories and life.  Roger Ebert said it best:

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

So in that spirit Merry Christmas friends and fellow-journeymen in life and a Happy New Year.   It is a wonderful life.

Scrooge Month Conclusion

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I posted the last of my Scrooge month reviews a few hours ago with the review of The Muppets Christmas Carol.  And I just wanted to share with all of you what a wonderful experience it has been.  Have I seen a few clunkers?  Yes, but not many and even less successful adaptations still had parts I liked (only 2 I really hated).

I think it says something to the power of what Charles Dickens created that I could watch the same story 30 times and still get choked up today on watch 30.  There’s a reason it was a massive hit in Victorian England and has never gone out of print.  There is a reason it turned Christmas into the holiday it now is . There is a reason it has been tackled by everyone from Mickey to Alistair Sim.  I believe the reason is it is a story about hope.  We all want to believe in the goodness of our fellow humans but sometimes it can seem hard to see.  Christmas Carol tells us that even the worst have hope and the ability to change.

Being a Christian I love the idea of conversion, which comes with recognizing hope, but even if you do not believe in Christ the desire to change within ourselves is sometimes hard to find. It can feel overwhelming when hate and bitterness overtake our souls, and we cannot forgive others for hurts that feel Goliath in size. There is something about Scrooge’s story that gives us hope that we can change even if others seemingly cannot.

In a world that grows increasingly cynical by the moment it has been heartening to spend this Christmas season focused on hope and I thank you all for allowing me to prattle on and read my silly thoughts.  It means a lot to me and has been a wonderful holiday I will always treasure.

It has also been a ton of fun.  In some ways it’s like a whole classroom was given the same writing exercise and in the end produced wildly different responses.  I’ve had the chance to review franchises I was not as familiar with like Flintstones, Barbie, Smurfs, Looney Tunes and even the BlackAdder. I had the wonderful adventure of exploring silent films, something I do not do nearly enough.  I watched cheesy made for TV movies and giggled at the hokiness and camp value.  And I rediscovered versions like Patrick Stewart and the Disney version were even better than I remembered.   After spending November writing a novel it has been a wonderful experience to see so many takes on someone else’s creation.

So people will probably want to know what are my favorites? (I’ve grown weary of late of making lists). Honestly I don’t have a favorite.  Alistair Sim 1951 is probably the most well made and acted, but they all have their own unique appeal.  So I would just challenge you to look at the reviews themselves and see what strikes your fancy.  Aside from Ghost of Girlfriends Past and All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol, you’ll have a good time at the movies and be reminded of the hope of Christmas.

And like Tiny Tim says God Bless Us Everyone!  Merry Christmas Friends!

Make sure to check out the Index for links to all the reviews

Scrooge 30: Muppet Christmas Carol

Muppet_christmas_carolI was planning on waiting till Christmas Eve to review the Muppet’s Christmas Carol because my family and I will often watch it on Christmas Eve. But I finished earlier than I expected and this is my last Scrooge review and we are ending with a real winner.

I am well aware that readers of this blog do not share my attachment to Muppet Christmas Carol and I respect their opinion but it has no effect on mine . I love this version and it battles Alistair Sims and George C Scott as my favorite.

Am I blinded by nostalgia?  I don’t think so.  I do love The Muppets.  They are so cheerful it is hard for me to imagine people not liking them.  To me it is like Looney Tunes, Winnie the Pooh or Mickey and Friends they are a part of my childhood but the writing and joy in the stories transcend childishness and become entertainment for all.

That said, I certainly do not give Muppets a free pass in all their films.  The writing has to be there just like with any other artform or entertainment franchise. In fact, this year I included Muppets Most Wanted on my worst of the year list.  The Great Muppet Caper is another less successful entry in the Muppet world.

The key to making a Muppets movie work (or most any film for families) is the human characters, the grownups, have to play it completely straight like they would if they were acting with any other human actors.  When Steve Martin acts with Kermit and Miss Piggy in the original Muppet Movie he plays it just the same as he would if it was Chevy Chase and Jane Curtain.

Muppet Christmas Carol is the best example of playing it straight.  Michael Caine does not change his performance an inch because he is acting with Muppets.  I love his version of Scrooge.

Michael Caine The Muppet Christmas Carol

When he yells at the bookkeepers or throws cute little Beaker and Bunson out as the Benefactors there is no acknowledgement of their cuteness.  He is as Gonzo’s Dickens says ‘a covetous old sinner’.

beaker benefactor

Gonzo and Rizzo are our narrators and Gonzo is Dickens and so we get a ton of the actual text for a kids version, and the story plays pretty close to the cuff compared to other adaptations.

gonzo and rizzo

I think that’s great for kids to hear the old English and at the end they invite the children to read the book.

“Nice story Mr Dickens” says Rizzo

“Oh thanks.  If you like this you should read the book” says Gonzo as Dickens

I love that!

They also provide much of the humor in the story to help temper the scarier moments for kids.  Like when Gonzo lights Rizzo’s tail and he says ‘light the lamp, not the rat”.  I don’t know a kid that wouldn’t laugh at that (and me too!).

I’m also a big fan of Muppet Treasure Island which cast a brilliant Tim Curry who can ham it up more as a pirate than Caine’s Scrooge but I think both are strong at teaching kids about a classic piece of English literature in an approachable and fun way.

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Scrooge- As I already said I love Michael Caine as Scrooge.  I think he is tough but I love how we actually see Scrooge cry and early on too.  When he see’s his young self studying alone he cries.  When he see’s Belle he is visibly hurt.  He is one of the most vulnerable Scrooge’s on film and I love that!

When he see’s Tiny Tim he says ‘a remarkable child’ and it feels sincere even though it is a frog puppet.  I actually feel it is one of the better Scrooge/Tim relationships.

muppet past
Past looks great with an ethereal look to her that was created by filming the fabric inside a vat of oil according to the audio commentary. I also like when Past is a child

See the warmth in Scrooge’s eyes and this is at the very beginning of his journey.  Sometimes the transformation happens too late.  We don’t see any growth or tenderness until the 3rd ghost.  Not so in this version.

The songs do a great job telling the story instead of stopping it which many versions do incorrectly.  Like our introduction to Scrooge tells us everything we need to know and provides a few laughs along the way. To me the song Scrooge is kind of like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  Both songs are a character going through town and people telling us who they are what the story is.

In contrast think of I Hate People in the Finney version tells us Scrooge hates people after we’ve already established that.  The song is completely unnecessary; whereas, the one’s from Muppets tell the story.

Differences/Strengths-

Aside from the basic difference of being Muppets as the characters it does stay pretty close to the book.

The Paul Williams songs and Miles Goodman score are just lovely.  I have them on my rotation of Christmas Carols and definitely think they are the best Christmas Carol musical efforts.

Instead of just Bob Cratchit there are rats that are bookkeepers and they provide one great joke and help Kermit close up for Christmas with my favorite song of the film:

It’s such a warm and happy song.  Really spells Christmas out for me.

kermit cratchitAnother difference is instead of one Marley they have 2 brothers- Jacob and Robert Marley.  This is so the curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf could play them and it is all done very well.  I love the way they mock Scrooge, taunt and heckle him. That’s so S and W and feels like something 2 Marley’s might have done.

marleys 2

Again Caine plays the scene as if he was working with any human actors and it works very well. I love the singing cashboxes!

They take us to see Scrooge growing up and we get a good joke from Sam the Eagle.

MCC-Screengrabs-Sam-aBut we don’t get a Scrooge and Fan scene which is a shame because I think Caine would have been great with that.  Then we move on to Mr Fozziwigs who is of course Fozzie and they work in a lot of the other characters in the party scene.

fozziwigsWe then finish off Past with Belle and Scrooge.  Present is one of my favorites with a unique Muppet who is one of the few Presents to actually age. He and Scrooge have a real bond.

muppet present

It feels genuine when Caine says “I have learned so much from you. You have meant so much to me.  You have changed me” I love that example of friendship.  So many versions the townspeople and even Present can be kind of judgy and mean but here they were all aching to be friends with Scrooge.

We get another great song from Present.

And the interactions at Fred’s and at Cratchit’s feel like real families, not silly puppets.

cratchits muppetsI love that the girls are pigs and the boys are frogs.  That was very clever.

Tim sings a syrupy but nice Christmas song for the God Bless Everyone line and again Scrooge seems very moved by it.

Rizzo is also very funny in these scenes with some good slapstick.

rizzo gooseWe then get a pretty classic Future.  I really liked how they did the Pawn Shop scene with Old Joe as a spider. That was very creative.

old joe muppetThe other businessmen were pigs which I thought was a funny inside joke and then we see the Cratchit’s mourning over Tim and again Scrooge seems very upset by it.

muppets futureHe pleads with Future “Oh spirit must there be a Christmas that brings this awful scene. How can we endure it”.  That’s a lovely heartfelt moment. Makes me tear up.

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Rizzo and Gonzo (Dickens) bow out for ending which helps it remain the serious tone it should.

scrooge muppetIt is one of my favorite if a bit subtle Crazy Scrooge.  The Bean Bunny Scrooge throws out for singing is the boy in the window which is sweet because when he is at Present you see him shivering huddled with newspaper.

Then he meets up with Beaker and Bunson and Beaker gives Scrooge his first Christmas present a scarf and we get our final song. A lot of people are critical of Caine’s singing in this song but I don’t know I think he’s fine.

Weaknesses- Honestly I love this movie so I don’t think much is wrong with it.  I really don’t.  I guess if people want a by the book version than the humor might annoy you but I like it.

Some of the special effects are lame when Scrooge is going from one world to another or flying.

To me this does what you want a family movie to do.  It is warm, funny, sweet, good songs and a few scares. Plus, it introduces kids to classic literature by using lots of the text and being pretty faithful to the narrative.  It doesn’t dumb it down for kids.

I guess people that just don’t like the Muppets even at their best don’t like it but I try to be open minded to all styles and forms of movies. I know people who just don’t like anime no matter how brilliant and creative it might be and I think that’s a shame.

If the humor and style doesn’t work for you than so be it but I love it.

muppets cast2

Scrooge 25: The Worst Christmas Carol Movie Ever Made

ghosts_of_girlfriends_past02I know some of you out there enjoy reviews of bad movies and I would include myself in that group.  I’ve tried to keep these Christmas Carol reviews positive but I decided to take my hand at being witty and write about what is without a doubt the worst Christmas Carol movie ever made.  If anyone tries to defend this garbage I will be stunned.

Yes, this is even worse than the Tori Spelling Christmas Carol movie.  At least Tori had a little bit of fun with how bad they were.  This junk actually takes itself too seriously.  There are no jokes.  Nothing funny at all.   It’s even worse than All Dogs Go to Heaven Christmas Carol (although not by much) because it has way more potential to be good.

We are a talking about a The Ghosts of Girlfriend Past made in 2009 and starring 2 Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Michael Douglas.  Decent actresses of Jennifer Garner and Emma Stone and directed by Mark Waters of Mean Girls fame.  It was written by Jon Lucas who wrote The Hangover and Wedding Crashers.

All of that talent produced this junk!

Now I am a staunch defender of the romantic comedy.  We all experience romance.  It’s a part of life where other genres are not part of most of our lives.  When they are done right they are an important part of cinema and very entertaining for poor saps like me.

The Ghost of Girlfriends Past screams of a board meeting where people came up with a gimmick and then pumped out a movie using the latest flavor of the months.  They didn’t have an idea or a theme.  It was the ultimate in cynical film-making.  No effort, no attempt to do anything creative or different. It’s not even stupid funny.  It’s just 95 minutes of vanilla laziness.

So here’s the gimmick.  Matthew McConaughey is one of the least convincing photographers in movie history and the ultimate womanizer.  He is never condemned for these choices but actually applauded for them.  It is just time for him to settle down with the old friend Jennifer Garner now that he has sowed his wild oats…

jennifer garnerThe movie never stops to ask why a woman like Jennifer Garner would want a womanizing jerk like McConaughey?  She is merely the puppet that is waiting when he is ready to accept her.  This is after they dated as adults and he left her after a one night stand.  Groan.

She is even the one who started him on the path to photography by giving him his first camera.  Because we know all women in these types of movies are there for is either be frigid ice queens or adorable hags who can’t get a date.  Double groan.

Here’s the main problem with this movie (well one of many).  The whole point of a Christmas Carol is to show Scrooge how isolating himself from others and from the faith and hope of Christmas has made him a terrible, horrible person and hurt other people.  This is a new understanding for him.

In this film, McConaughey has used people too much so showing him people doesn’t show him something different.  It’s merely one in the same.  It makes everything that is intense and thought provoking in the original story feel crass, manipulative and incredibly stupid.  There is no reason to believe McConaughey’s change in the end because he hasn’t been shown anything different, certainly nothing worthy of a dramatic life shift.

What is an intense realization of the life Scrooge could and should be enjoying becomes a clipshow of his greatest hits.

ghosts_of_girlfriends_past18Michael Douglas is the Marley character and it is an embarrassing performance.  He tells Conner that in order to not get his heart broken he should love women and leave them.  Yeah because that doesn’t lead to any heart break…I know he is trying to put on a Hugh Hefner persona but it comes off as cliched and stupid and insulting.  This is Michael Douglas’ grand advice for bedding women (this is the way this movie looks at women):

“So here’s a couple of tips. When you first meet a girl you give her two compliments above the neck. Yeah, tell her she’s got nice lips, nice eyes, nice hair… she’s intelligent, her moral ethics, whatever crap comes to your mind. Then just when she begins to thinks that you’re another – you know – vanilla nice guy that she can tool around with all night without getting naked… then you *insult* her! Flip the power dynamic and your let her know that you’re here to play”

Are you kidding me movie?

Then we get the usually delightful Emma Stone as the Ghost of Girlfriends Past and we get to see how Jennifer Garner was a surrogate mother figure for Conner and he didn’t ask her to the prom and all went to pot. Again, there’s nothing mind altering that McConaughey learns here, nothing that makes him wonder about his life.

ghosts emma stone For Present we get Noureen DeWulf where he learns that his friends make fun of him when he is out of the room…Wa, wa, wa.  That’s the kind of thing that makes someone really change their life.

There is also a scene where 3 of his former loves bond over the fact that he dumped them via a conference call.  Isn’t that hilarious…These women are also told by past to “Don’t be sad, you whiny bitches”…That’s right they had the chance to be with McConaughay so they don’t have any right to complain or have feelings.  They aren’t human beings but neither is he.  He is worse than a bad soap opera character.  At least those men have some drama to their past!

matthew_mcconaughey_and_noureen_dewulf_in_ghosts_of_girlfriends_past_2 And then finally we get Future by Olga Maliouk where he finds that Jennifer marries his friend Brad who is actually a nice guy.  Never good in a movie when we actually want the girl to pick the other guy…

About this time McConaughey says “Really? I mean, now a days being a single means, what? You’ve lost your way? That something is missing? Never mind that every night I swim in a lake of sex, and they fall asleep in each others arms, spooning. ”

And he is right.  There are of course concise and thoughtful answers to why his life is shallow and bad but in the world of this movie he is right.  There is no good reason given why he should be doing anything different.  No convincing case is made for him to change his life and like I said it isn’t even funny.

The movie just assumes, like it’s women, that the audience is too stupid to realize that.  We will just accept that he needs to change even though the plot hasn’t convinced us of it.  Instead we feel manipulated and unsatisfied with the ending for Jennifer Garner.

009GOW_Olga_Maliouk_001McConaughey wakes up in time to save his friends wedding and tell Jennifer Garner that she is the one for him.  Groan, groan, groan.

This movie sucks because the lead character is unlikable and stays unlikable.  The twisting of a classic story into this premise is insulting and stupid.  The writing isn’t funny.  The character doesn’t work because he isn’t shown anything different from his life?

He is not offered a new perspective or shown how he is wrong.  He is merely shown more of how he lives his life.  It’s like if Scrooge was just taken to various counting houses he’d worked at over the years.  Sure that would make him change and yet the  movie expects us to buy that?

Women are treated like objects to check off a list and then it tries to redeem itself by making the jerk a good guy and all the women readily forgive him as if we are all sheep and he is leading us off a cliff. And the dialogue for the women is insufferable.

There is no chemistry between Garner and McConaughey or any of the other women.  Nothing is funny.  Nothing is clever.  There is no skill in any of the movie making at all.

I saw this piece of junk in the theater- yes you read right I saw this in the theater with friends and it made me so angry I wanted to throw popcorn at the screen.  To take a story about ultimate redemption and turn it into a booty call is insulting.  What were they thinking?  I’ll tell you what they were thinking- they assumed we were all so stupid that we wouldn’t care that it had lazy characters, stupid story, pandering writing, stupid women and a story that doesn’t make sense.

Matthew-McConaughey-in-Gh-001So, that’s the worst Christmas Carol movie I’ve ever seen and will always be on my short list of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  It’s trash.  Complete trash.  Nobody was trying to make a good movie here.  There is no spark, no effort, no creativity.  Nothing. On top of everything it’s actually even kind of boring.  There’s just nothing. It’s an insult to the name of Dickens.

Scrooge 24: Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Products795589-1200x1200-929040This is why doing this kind of project is beneficial.  It forces me to watch things I would not normally watch and every once in a while I’m pleasantly surprised.  So is the case with Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece but it was way better than I thought it would be.

I will say this was my first introduction to Mr Magoo.  I have not seen the tv show or read any of the comics but as its own feature you didn’t really need to be familiar with any of the backstory so that didn’t matter.

I guess Mr Magoo is a controversial figure for how he portrays the visually impaired and I can see that but in this feature there aren’t many pratfalls aside from a crashed car at the beginning.  At first I was wondering how Magoo would see the ghosts and all of the things they were showing him but they kind of forget about the blindness for most of the movie.

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The animation was much better than I was expecting.  It was done by UPA animation who were behind the Dick Tracy cartoons and it has an Al Hirschfeld look to it.  It reminded me of the Gershwin segment of Fantasia 2000.

The songs are also pretty good by Julie Styne and Bob Merrill who wrote Funny Girl that launched Barbara Streisand’s career.

I found out in my research that Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol was the first holiday program produced especially for television.  Interesting right?

Trailer:  (It must have aired the same time as Snow White given this trailer)

Cast-

Jim Backus- Ebenezer Scrooge/Mr. Magoo
Morey Amsterdam- James Brady
Jack Cassidy- Bob Cratchit
Royal Dano- Marley’s Ghost
Paul Frees- Stage Director/Charity Man//Fezziwig/Old Joe/Undertaker
Joan Gardner -Tiny Tim/Ghost of Christmas Past
Jane Kean- Belle
Marie Matthews- Young Scrooge
Laura Olsher- Mrs. Cratchit
Les Tremayne- Ghost of Christmas Present

Scrooge- Mr Magoo is Scrooge.  The whole program keeps remarkably true to the story and that is true with Scrooge.  It’s a little confusing what Magoo can and cannot see.  Sometimes it seems he can’t see a person standing in front of him and others he can read his initials on a pair of cufflinks.

It is also a little hard to understand Magoo sometimes.  But other than that he is a pretty good Scrooge.

Differences- Like I said, it actually stays pretty close to the source material.

magoo theater actorLike the Flintstones Christmas Carol it is part of a play but that is more of a framing device where in Flintstones we go in and out of the play more often.  This Mr Magoo goes to the play and then we are pretty much watching the play the whole way through.

1962-magoo-presentThey also make the choice to have Present go first which is strange and I’m not sure why they did that as it doesn’t really do anything to the story?

Strengths- There were actually quite a few.  As I said the animation was pretty good. The backgrounds, colors and style of it I really liked.

mr-magoos-christmas-carol-billboard-600x300The music was also good.  We get Ringle Ringle, The Lord’s Bright Blessing, We’re Despicable, Winter Was Warm and Alone in the World sung by the young Scrooge.

The singing on all the songs is very good (it is supposed to be on Broadway after all). I particularly liked Jane Kean as Belle singing Winter Was Warm.

Also, the script is pretty straight from the book.  I was impressed they kept the decrease the surplus population and Tim talking about being a cripple and Jesus.  Often those sections are softened for kids.

magoo discpicable 1962-magoo-old-joeThe Pawn Shop scene is also fully included with Old Joe, the Char Woman, Undertaker and Laundress selling Scrooge’s things.  That was very well done with the song ‘We’re Despicable’.

Weaknesses-

Like I said, it can be tough to understand what Magoo is saying.  Also, the blindness is inconsistent and I guess it offends some people.  I didn’t think it was mocking in this version.  In fact, most of the time I forgot he was blind.

1962-magoo-tim-goneThe Ringle Ringle song isn’t my favorite abour Razzleberry dressing and the introduction as a play isn’t really necessary.  Why not just start it with the Scrooge story?

Also the moving around of the spirits seemed to serve no purpose and if people are expecting a comedy they might be disappointed.  There aren’t really any laughs.  It is played like a straight forward telling of Christmas Carol.

1962-magoo-mrs-fezziwigOther than that.  I really liked it.  I am surprised how much I enjoyed it.  The animation is pretty good, with good music and it stays pretty close to the feel of the book.  Aside from the Disney, this is probably my favorite animated feature length version I’ve seen.

It just goes to show with good writing any concept can be entertaining.