I’m one of those people who has no problem admitting that I adore Christmas, whatever it’s shortcomings. I don’t care if some people get all riled up at the mall (probably more myth than fact). I don’t mind that every television show and commercial is themed to the season. But there is one thing I do mind: shitty movies masquerading as “holiday classics.”

Every season, we are assaulted by all kinds of saccharine, syrupy-sweet Christmas garbage on TV. The whole thing is like Lifetime and Disney Channel had a particularly irritating baby. But DFE is here to help you out. Below is a list of my favourite awesome Christmas movies that get at the real meaning of Christmas: getting shitty with those you love and watching television. Without further ado:

DFE’s Top 10 Awesome Christmas Movies

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – A classic for a reason

A Charlie Brown Christmas, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesYes, you have to say it. Especially for us X-Gen’ers, there’s simply no quality Christmas without a visit from the ugly kid with the big nose, as Peppermint Patty would say.

This is one of those holiday traditions that I don’t feel the least bit bad about getting excited for as a grown-ass man. It’s got about everything you could ask for in a Christmas movie, plus to be honest, a bit more Christianity that I would have preferred. Let’s skip to the presents!

2. Die Hard – the anti-Christmas choice

Die Hard, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWhile some may object to citing Die Hard as a Christmas movie, it does absolutely qualify. Without the added drama of Christmas bliss, disrupted, would the movie be the same? I think not. If John was not visiting his lost love on the most sentimental of holidays, would the tension be as high? Clearly not. We could as easily discount it as an action/adventure movie because it is so clearly a Christmas movie.

And speaking of movies technically during the Christmas season…

3. The Poseidon Adventure – the Christmas of watery doom.

The Poseidon Adventure, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesHere again, we can make the argument for the anti-Christmas movie. Does anyone really get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the idea of people climbing (unsuccessfully) for their lives up an inverted Christmas tree? Perhaps, but those are the type of people we like to keep in special rooms.

The Poseidon Adventure is probably the best-done disaster movie of it’s era, yet another one in which a rash of similarly-themed movies came out. Poseidon benefits from a pretty high-calibre cast, including Earnest Borgnine and his character’s Hooker with the Heart of Gold, Stella Stevens. This will not be the last lady of the evening to feature in this list.

But again, the pathos of a Christmas celebration gone horribly awry is just too important to the plot to be ignored. Plus – hey – the Christmas tree thing is pretty bitchin. Amirite?

4. Planes, Trains and Automobiles – the Christmas prequel

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesThis one is really a Thanksgiving movie. But because the T-Day celebrations kick off the holiday season, I really feel like this one counts. Plus, this might be the funniest in a long line of hilarious John Candy movies. So funny in fact that it was completely ripped off just recently in the Galfanaikis flick Due Date.

Steve Martin plays a classically-80’s overworked business man who is trying to get back home to Chicago from yet another string of meetings and travelling when he runs into the obnoxious, hapless mess of a salesman played by John Candy. Candy’s character is everything Martin’s is not: unapologetically goofy and self-effacing. Through the classic “series of unfortunate events,” it becomes impossible to separate the two… however much Steve Martin might have preferred it.

5.  Christmas Vacation – our model of Christmas excess.

Christmas Vacation, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesHow does one blend the self-defined risk of Christmas light electrocution and the existential threat of feeling abandoned by the Big Boss at your second-rate job, then sprinkle in a healthy dose of an alcoholic Randy Quaid and a dash of sewer humor and make it all come out awesome? Well, it helps to be National Lampoon, but beyond that you’ll just need to watch the movie.

The continuing adventures of the Griswold family – featuring a young yet incredibly unchanged Johnny Galeki – take them back to their very own Chicago suburb home, where they will be serving up the Christmas dinner for the family.

6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas – the Whooville follies.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesAnd no. I do not mean that shitty John Kerry Jim Carey movie. The real, original version. With the one and only Chuck Jones directing. What makes this movie so kick ass is that you get to revel in the Grinch’s mean-spiritedness as much as in the “redemption” at the end of the movie. You even get to find Cindy-Loo Who’s crying kinda funny.

And then you get to get the “aww!” at the end of the movie and let your friends know you’re not that mean. No, really.

7. Trading Places – Ophelia the Christmas Hooker

Trading Places, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWhat could be more Christmasy than a tale of deception, character assassination, social darwinism, racism and of course, the Hooker with the Heart of Gold? If there is such a thing, I don’t know if I could handle it.

Besides which.. whose been putting their Kools out on my rug?

Actually, I’d call this movie much more of a Christmas movie than any of the aforementioned non-Christmas movies, because in this case, Santa plants drugs in Billy Ray Valentine’s office desk drawer. And hey: isn’t that what Santa’s all about? Leaving presents for all the good little boys and girls? I thought so.

8. Elf – Does Santa know you left the workshop?

Elf, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesLet’s just say this and get it out of the way: every Christmas movie in 20 years has gargled dead monkey balls except this one. If that seems harsh, you’re wrong.

Will Ferrell’s guileless, child-like elf Buddy is a pitch-perfect reproduction of the Larry Roemer / Rankin and Bass television shows that dominate all our childhoods (Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, etc). But in the context of a heartless publishing house in midtown Manhattan, his innocence brings everybody around him (save for one 27 year old ex con) to the brink of madness.

It’s just a hysterical romp (if I can say that word) that I’ll gladly watch several times between now and Christmas.

9. Scrooged – because real greed has an American accent.

Scrooged, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesWe get that Ebenezer Scrooge is supposed to be a bit of a jerk. But honestly: being a jerk in Elizabethan English is a lot less impactful these days than it used to be. What we need is an updated Scrooge that speaks to what greed and heedless cynicism looks like. We need someone who shows no real compassion or empathy for his fellow humans. Someone who only treats humans as statistical slaves to their baser emotions.

What we need is a television executive.

Enter Bill Murray as “Lumpy” Scrooge, the once-loved, twice-dejected television executive with a drive for ratings and a complete disregard for the well being of his rodent actors. Lumpy is doing what a lot of us do during the holiday season, and burying his memories of a happier past under mountains of work. But this year, three ghosts, one woman and Bobcat Golthwaite will not let him forget.

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Carol Kane.

10. The Ref – familial dysfunction is funny.

The Ref, DFE's Awesome Christmas MoviesThis one is the movie that only I seem to remember. It was a flop. It died an untimely death. And I will make it my mission to bring it back to cultural life, because any movie that stars Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacy, Judy Davis and the inimitable Christine Baranski has got to be worth a watch.

I’m probably showing off my generational roots by loving this movie. It’s about as 90’s as it gets, with all the mean-spirited falseness of that decade on display. The movie’s hero is a crook. The Sancho Panza to his Don Quixote is a shiftless alcoholic Baby Boomer named Gus. The antagonist is all the dysfunctional ugliness of a family that might seem to have everything as they slide by in their SUV. And the conflict is a family trying to act casual while they are prisoners to two jailers: Dennis Leary and their insufferable relatives.

Everyone believes that who they are is not entirely reflected in what other people see. Whether that feeling compels us to do more or whether it makes us feel like we’re trapped in Marcel Marceau’s invisible shrinking box is a moment-by-moment affair.

But for superheros, that normal, smaller life is the one they usually want. They are not allowed by fate to have it, however hard they try. Superman renounced his powers to marry Lois Lane, but in the end, his exclusive power to deal with forces of evil drag him back into the role he was destined to play.

It looks as though the same basic arc will follow the second installment in the Kick Ass series. Color me surprised that there even is a second in this series, since the first was frankly a bit of a downer. Now it looks like Kick Ass will be joining some sort of highly-nerdy Justice League:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KffX3GbR338[/youtube]

Think Mad Max: Beyond the Freezer Case. The newest sci-fi action flick starring Lawrence Fishburn and Bill Hendrickson Chet Wallace Bill Paxton features a view of the world after Global Warming leads to a global freeze. As colonies of humans attempt to eke out a life in island-like underground bunkers, a distress call from one colony to another leads to.. you know.. something shit-your-pants scary:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZENI7UC3WQo[/youtube]

Looks like your classic case of hero imperative versus survival instinct, with Bill Paxton playing the role of survival advocate. And of course, like every episode of Star Trek ever filmed, they put the two most important guys in the same field mission like there’s nothing wrong with that.

But hey! Zombies or some shit. Sounds fun!

Video via Movie Trailers YouTube channel.

Happy Finally Friday! This week’s culmination happens to mark more than just the coveted end of the work week. It’s the last day of August (where the heck did this summer go anyway?), Killer Joe premieres tonight at the Little, and of course, there is the vaunted “blue moon” this evening.

For many of us, it’s the kickoff for a well-deserved long weekend. That’s right, folks, Labor Day weekend is just a mere few hours away! While a good majority of us can safely say we typically spend our work-free Mondays grilling and drinking beer anyway, that’s actually what this holiday is all about.  Cheers all around!

However, if beering and grilling your Monday away isn’t your preferred method of self celebration for your contributions as an American worker, you are festively in luck. Take 5 (and by 5, I mean more along the lines of 150 – minutes, that is) and indulge in a true iconic classic (albeit, not an American one, but stick with me here), Metropolis. Originally released in 1927, this dystopian science fiction film focusing on the plight of the workers, the thinkers, and a lusty hell-raising robot, will, if nothing else, have you truly appreciating your day off as well as whatever line of work you do – I promise. Plus, a good quarter of this film was lost for decades and only found and restored over the last four years; how cool is that?

The best part is you can currently find Metropolis streaming instantly on Netflix, just a click away on your computer or television in the comfort of the glory known as air conditioning. Sure, your grill-loving beer buddies will call you a nerd for opting to watch a SciFi movie on your day off instead of joining them for the true spirit of the season, but remember: they’re workers, and you, my friend, are a thinker. Just steer clear of robots, and have a safe a happy Labor Day weekend!

 

I’m not the betting type, however, thanks to the wonders of social media (Twitter in particular), I’m willing to bet I’m not alone when I say this week was one of those weeks.  You know – the kind of week where when you finally get home from work, you want to immediately kick off your shoes and collapse into a pathetic heap on the couch and not do another single thing until your alarm summons you the following morning.  Luckily for me (and us, if you’re with me so far on this week’s commentary), Netflix had some stand-up gems in store.

One specifically I knew I had to share the first 20 minutes in. It’s called Super 8, and I’m not exaggerating when I say this film has it all. Do you like zombies? How about vengeful aliens? Or soundtracks composed of classic rock anthems from the ‘70’s? Maybe military conspiracies are more up your alley? Or just maybe, the typical Sci-Fi realm isn’t quite your cup of tea and you prefer the pre-pubescent male bonding over traumatic events a la Stand By Me? Whether you fit into all, none, or a combination of these categories, do yourself a favor and throw this movie onto your weekend queue.

Also, it’s time to get excited! As I covered in an earlier post, there’s quite an overlap between the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror – and I’ll be the first to admit I’m a horror movie fanatic! That’s why when I first saw the trailer for Killer Joe, the gory thriller flick starring Matthew McConaughey as a hit man, I was both elated and disheartened. Elated, because this movie looks downright awesome, and disheartened because the film received an NC-17 rating, something we don’t see a lot of (I personally have never seen a movie rated NC-17, despite turning 17 a decade ago). Most theaters either can’t or won’t show movies with this rating, forcing the producers to make changes that will bring the movie down to a nice wholesome R rating – but the team behind Killer Joe didn’t budge, which left me with a “rock on!” feeling for them, despite my disappointment in knowing I’d probably never get to see it.

Never fear, horror/thriller fans – Rochester’s own Little Theatre is here! That’s right – starting next Friday, August 31, the Little will begin showing Killer Joe! Just one of the nice perks of having an independent movie theatre in our hometown, and you better believe I will be there.

Know of any other great sci-fi, thriller, fantasy, or weird ongoings in Rochester? Comment and let us know! We’d love to hear about them!

It’s been an excellent week for getting your Sci-Fi fix in Rochester! That is, if you know where to look.

For starters, it’s Shark Week, and chances are, you’re one of two kinds of people: either you hold countdowns and make an unnecessarily large celebration out of this week-long television special, or you don’t understand the hype at all and think it’s ridiculous. I happen to fall into the first category, but as fate would have it, I do not have cable television and found myself wondering if I could watch some quality shark attacks at a local watering hole the same way I do for football games. The answer is yes. MacGregor’s on Jefferson Road has been airing Shark Week all, well, week.  Drinks and sharks all around! (Sidenote: if you find yourself wondering how Shark Week qualifies as Sci-Fi, I present you with Sharkzilla and How Jaws Changed the World. You’re welcome.)

Need some cheap quality Sci Fi entertainment? Henrietta’s Dollar Theater has you covered. Your choices this week are The Hunger Games, the film adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’ dystopian coming of age and sticking it to the government series, or Prometheus, for those of you who prefer the traditional outer space and extraterrestrial type of science fiction film.  Both movies have received more than decent scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and hey – you can’t beat the price!

Finally, it’s Friday, and we all have the weekend on our minds. To wind down this fantastic week of Sci-Fi, head over to the Dryden to check out Steven Spielberg’s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another classic aliens-obsessed story from 1977 with epic special effects. Show times are tonight at 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.

Know of any awesome science fiction book clubs, movie showings, or any kind of Sci-Fi production in Rochester that I’ve missed? We want to know about them! Comment below so we can check them out, too.

 

 

One of my favourite haunts on the Internet is FlowingData.com, where Nathan posts some of the coolest charts anywhere on the Internet. As a political blogger, I’m very used to looking at trendlines for public opinion, economic indicators and the like. But when I get to use some of that – admittedly limited – analytical prowess to view completely different types of data, its a real treat. For example:

Visual evidence that movies are getting worse.

Nathan’s contention is that, because the polarization increases over the years, that means that the movies are getting worse. The theory being that if everybody loved it, the movie must have been better.

That would probably be true if there were no other factors involved. But I rather think that the price of the movie – and its attendant expectation level – is also a powerful driver of the division. If I get to watch a movie for three bucks on a Saturday afternoon, I’m less likely to require it to blow me out of my seat. But if I have to shell out eight bucks? I better get a fucking cameo.

Which brings up another big thing for me: comedies should be no more than an hour and a half, period. After that, you’ve just overstayed your welcome and played the joke out. But I think the pressure to make a movie worthy of the huge sums they make us pay compels directors to include more of the movie than should have been.

Inner Space Boy reports today about a group of German artists spreading mayhem in the advertising world of Berlin, defacing models and paying tribute to the immortal John Carpenter movie – entirely misunderstood and underappreciated by the non-geek set – They Live.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L86AAGZ9BBg[/youtube]

I share Jamie Piazza’s psychic pain when I read that they’re actually going to remake Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The remake will be done by the original producer, which elicits a certain “Bucket List” quality to the whole idea, only serving to make it much, much worse.

Here’s the thing about it: not to step on anyone’s aging second-childhood fantasies, or anything, but doesn’t anyone that the original was so great because it was so bad? That was the point.  Remaking it will only improve on all the things that made it worth watching.  That’s not good.

As for Jamie’s request for nominees for the Frankenfurter 2009, go give him some suggestions!  I’m getting mine in there right now.

My wife and I got tickets to see The Dark Night at Tinseltown last night.  No time to rest when I got home, it was straight out to get some running around done, eat a meal at Pixley’s in Gates (yum!) and into the packed theater to watch the latest incarnation of Batman.  What a way to end one of those horribly long weeks following a vacation.

The Batman “franchise” has undergone a surprising array of changes over the decades.  Where even most major comic heros either never extend beyond the ink or do so only sparingly, Batman seems to have caught our imaginations like a prism, extending from it’s dark roots through the campy seventies television show I grew up on, to Tim Burton’s graphic cinema-novels and the subsequent failures of imagination, and most recently, into it’s current incarnation, a dark psycho-thriller with rubber suits and explosions.

If that last description seems a tough series of archtypes to pack into a couple hours worth of movie, that’s because it is.  But Christopher Nolan seems to take a page from George Lucas to accomplish this, allowing the great sets, awesome toys and breathtaking stunts to take their proper place as setpieces for the characters to play with, rather than dominate the screen just because they’re expensive.

Thus instead of becoming yet another knock-down, drag-out adventure film, The Dark Night gets deeper into some of the subtext themes Tim Burton touched on – hinted at, really – but didn’t delve into.  At it’s core, this movie is not about good and evil as it’s been presented in some reviews I’ve read, but a much deeper and scarier conflict between order and chaos.  It is really along this border that most of our conflicts as humans truly lie, often putting us at odds with what we think is good and evil, and this movie goes to lengths to find as many ways to blur the lines between all four that it can.  For the first half of the movie, I began to wonder if this movie wasn’t one of those that apologizes for the popular political themes of the day, but not to worry: it doesn’t.

And of course, Batman’s role is more often than not on the side of chaos, much though he would wish it otherwise.  This is the real conflict in the movie.  What unfolds is a panoply of moral relativism where nearly every character finds himself on the side opposite his preference.  It’s a fascinating thing to watch; not at all an uncommon theme, but rare in this genre and flawlessly original in its execution.  You can see this sort of tension in many a Little Theater European production, but it’s especially entertaining when this whole psycho-drama plays out amidst great special effects and heart-pumping action.

If I have one complaint – and of course, I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this paragraph – it’s that the first half hour of the movie is edited surprisingly badly.  There is a frenetic pace to the cutting between scenes and camera angles that has nothing to do with the plot and only serves to make that all-important first few moments of the movie unsettling in the way watching television while someone else flips through channels is.  To some extent, it seems driven by the need to get a fair amount of back-story out of the way ahead of the rest of the movie, but it’s just sloppy.

And really, that’s just a quibble.  Beyond that, this is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking movie which takes it’s place in that oh-so rare pantheon: that of movies actually worth the bullshit prices they charge at the theater.  It’s another discussion, of course, but it’s gotten to the point where it makes no sense to see certain types of movies.  Who wants to risk $19.00 on a comedy – a genre always dancing on the edge of lame – when $5.00 gets you the same movie in high-def at home a month later?

And one more note, for those of you who actually need it: don’t bring your fucking toddlers to see this movie, please.  You would have thought people would have learned their lesson with the original Tim Burton Batman.  Nope.  But I guess it’s not about learning lessons, it’s about irresponsible parents whose personal entertainment is more important than their kid’s restful sleep for the next month.  Hire a baby-sitter, pawn the kid off on your parents, or stay the fuck home and watch the Food Network.  This movie isn’t for kids.  Sorry.

One really does need to think deeply before attempting any kind of “viral” or “guerrilla” ad campaign tactics:

‘Dark Knight’ Promo Goes Awry

NEW YORK A Dark Knight promotion, featuring a chocolate cake wired to look like an explosive device, prompted a San Antonio news station to call in the bomb squad earlier this week.

Echoing the Aqua Teen Hunger Force bomb scare in Boston in February 2007, the low-budget guerilla campaign delivered some unintended results for the Santikos Theater chain.

“Causing that kind of disturbance with the bomb squad and police officers was never our intention,” said Meghan Vincent, a rep for the eight-theater chain in Texas. “This was not exactly the kind of press we were going for.”

Ah, well. Good to know a terrorist incident wasn’t what you were going for. You just kinda over-shot, that’s all. . .

BTW, the wife and I have tickets to see The Dark Knight tonight at 7:45. I’ve not read an even marginally poor review of this movie so far. I’m totally stoked.