Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holidaze: 12/31/09

See you in 2010, cool kids.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alone in the Dark 2009

(No, this is not a blog entry about my sex life--though, given the title above, it could just as well be.)

Even with the economy floating at the bottom like a murder victim in a bad horror movie and a personal lack of readily available cash due to a cut in pay and increased prices for damn near everything, I still saw more movies this year than I ever had before. (Or, at least, I saw more movies than I had since I actually started counting several years ago.)

How did I pull that off? By going to a lot of matinees at a lot of discount theaters--like the Logan, where each show is $4 every day; the newly reopened New 400, with its very friendly staff; and my neighborhood house, the Davis, where I've seen more movies over the years than at any other theater in the city. (By coincidence, these are also among the oldest theaters still operating in the city, having originally opened in 1915, 1912 and 1919, respectively.)

Also? I took a pass on the popcorn and soda--regrettable, especially since that's how movie theaters really make their money (especially discount houses, who keep their admission prices low so folks will still have cash to load up on snacks once they're inside), but necessary. Had I enjoyed the buttery goodness of even a few medium bags or the effervescence of the occasional Cherry Coke, I'd have had less money for the movies themselves.

So what movie did I enjoy the most amongst the 31 I saw on the big screen in 2009? Honestly, I didn't have a particular favorite, though there were several that made me happy:

Adventureland: It's a shame this movie slipped in and out of theaters without much notice. It was sweet, funny, nostalgic and smart and made much better use of Kristen Stewart's acting talents than those stupid vampire movies do.

Star Trek: A very fun reboot of the movie franchise, with just enough winks to the longtime fans to keep us all giggly while not shutting out filmgoers who haven't a clue all about Kirk, Spock, Bones, etc.

The Girlfriend Experience: If every I had the money or the gumption to hire an escort (as I've contemplated before), I'd want her to be like Sasha Grey in this movie: Intelligent, intuitive, heartbreakingly beautiful and abundantly human.

Up: Pixar does it again--dazzle my eyes and and make them cry.

The Hangover: I love how all of the loose ends presented in the hotel suit the morning after the bachelor party--the missing tooth, the hospital wrist tag, the baby, etc.--were all tied up by the end of the movie. Except for the chicken. Nobody ever explained the chicken.

Jennifer's Body: More funny than scary, but a knowing throwback to the days of Carpenter and Argento with current snark-crackle-pop dialog. It deserved better.

Whip It: So did this movie, which had a great cast (Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore, who also directed) and a self-assured sense of fun. Maybe this film, along with Adventureland and Jennifer's Body, will find its audience on the home video market.

Zombieland: Also more funny than scary--and a remarkable lack of zombies--but it has the best Woody Harrelson performance in ages and a proper, abiding love of Twinkies.

Paranormal Activity: I admit it--I'm a sucker for faux-documentary horror films. I loved The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and I loved this one right up just before the ending, when it started telegraphing its punches and ceased creeping me out. Until then, though, it demonstrated how effective small details can be, like a door swinging on its own, a shadow on a wall where there's nothing to cast it, and a person standing in one place can be.

Up in the Air: I also admit to loving Jason Reitman. His three directorial efforts--Thank You for Smoking, Juno and this--are all funny, smart, observant, well written and perfectly cast. I don't think it's worthy of all the Oscar buzz it's getting, but left me smiling. That counts for something.

Of course, not every movie I saw this year left me smiling:

Drag Me to Hell: I wanted to like this movie. Truly, I did. I've been a fan of Sam Raimi for a very long time, and the idea of Raimi returning to his low-budget horror-comedy roots made me downright giddy. Then I saw the movie. It's not funny. It's not scary. And the lead character is so annoying that I was actively hoping that someone, anyone would drag her to Hell--or, really, anywhere far, far away from me.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen: Sorry, Michael Bay, but you'll have to do more than drape Megan Fox across the frame of a motorcycle (that has to be the most awkward position for detailing) to distract me from how hollow, vapid and undercooked this movie truly is. Note for Transformers 3: We Will Take Your Money and Run with It: if you have to have ginormous robots bitch-slapping each other constantly, at least frame the shots so the audience can see who's slapping who and why, instead of smashing closeups that show nothing but wide expanses of metal and sparks.

Public Enemies: Like I said back in July, the period detail is just about right (except for the modern cables appearing on the sides of apartment buildings and other tiny things only a freak like me would notice), this movie is "kind of like going to the most finely appointed wax museum you're ever likely to visit"--all surface, no substance and characters who talk like they're reading transcripts.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Marginally better than Twilight, if only because the special effects are improved and there are more action sequences this time around. My question, though: Why do these two male models want to over this perpetual mope? Go find some woman who smiles once in a while. Or go off with each other. Don't go away mad, pretty vampire boy and hunky wolfman, just go away.

That's it for this year. Let's see if I can catch more than 31 movies in 2010.

holidaze: 12/30/09

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holidaze: 12/25/09

Christmas, circa 1986.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holidaze: 12/24/09

Various decorations from La Casa del Terror.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holidaze Review: Mr. Krueger's Christmas (1980)

For years, WGN-TV aired Mr. Krueger's Christmas, a half-hour holiday special starring James Stewart as an elderly, lonely man and produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, better known as the Mormon Church, but they aired it at odd times, often burying it in unpredictable timeslots (as if they really didn't know what to do with it) and making it difficult to find from year to year.

I had seen Mr. Krueger's Christmas a few times over the years and always found it an odd, even weird, program. (Not nearly as weird as The Star Wars Holiday Special, but nothing else could ever be quite that weird.) I last happened across Mr. Krueger's Christmas on a Saturday afternoon sometime in the mid-1990s and, luckily having a videotape handy, recorded it for posterity, or perhaps to prove to later generations that it existed at all.

As it turned out, that videotape came in handy a few years later, when I described Mr. Krueger's Christmas to a coworker who refused to believe any such thing had ever aired. Even after I proved the program's existence via its listing on The Internet Movie Database, she doubted that I had a copy of Mr. Krueger's Christmas. Now it had become a matter of pride--I don't just make shit up. Of course, it might have helped my cause somewhat if I'd actually labeled the tape. However, after about a week of determined searching through what must have been at least a couple dozen videotapes, I found my copy and presented it to her. She watched it and found it to be just as strange and unintentionally unsettling as I had.

Fast-forward to this Christmas weekend. I was to spend the Saturday before Christmas (technichally Christmas Eve Eve Eve) at JB's apartment for dinner, presents exchanged with him and Dee, and holiday movies. JB doesn't have as many DVDs as I do--I don't think anyone does, outside your local Blockbuster--so he asked me to bring along a selection of movies and TV specials to watch. One of the 10 or so DVDs jammed into my big burgundy shopping bag was Mr. Krueger's Christmas, now upgraded to a 25th anniversary DVD issued a couple of years ago by the Mormon Church. To my surprise, neither J.B. nor Dee had seen it before. So beneath the soft light of J.B.'s large white Christmas tree, warm and glowing in the gathered twilight, we watched this seemingly forgotten holiday oddity.

Stewart, a natural choice for a holiday special (having already starred in a couple of Christmas classics, The Shop Around the Corner and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life) plays the title character, an elderly building custodian. When we first meet Willie Krueger, he's just finished sweeping the lobby, only to have a resident trundle through the lobby with a Christmas tree, leaving pine needles in his wake. Mr. Krueger doesn't mind sweeping the lobby again, though--he loves the season, even if people walk straight past him without a word when he wishes them a Merry Christmas on the street. He stops beside a family looking in a toy store window and asks a young boy if what he sees in the window is what he wants Santa to bring. The mom, seemingly horrified by the vaguely creepy old man, drags her son away.

Willie continues down the street and looks into the window of a men's clothing store, where he sees himself, clean-shaven and sharply dressed, being attended to by store clerks and doffing his hat to a pretty young woman. Meanwhile, back out on the street and in reality, Mr. Krueger has taken his hat off, only to have a passer-by assume that Krueger is begging for money and drop a dollar in it. Even this can't dampen Krueger's Christmas spirit--he gives the dollar to a decidedly lackluster Salvation Army singer and continues on his way, buying a tiny pine tree for his apartment and looking longingly at the families shopping for their own Christmas trees.

Mr. Krueger returns to his apartment, greeted only by his calico kitty, George (named after Stewart's Character, George Bailey, in It's a Wonderful Life, maybe?). Willie puts down food for George, wishes a Merry Christmas to the photo of his long-dead wife, and puts on an album of carols sung by--who else?--the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Willie falls asleep in his chair as the album plays, leading to a dream sequence where he conducts the Choir, then goes out frolicking with them in the snowy country (a dream within a dream?), only to return to conducting and, at the end of the song, receive a standing ovation from them.

Mr. Krueger awakens to find that the album has finished, but there's still singing--live carolers are coming down the street. He hurries to his window and calls to them, inviting them in for some hot chocolate. The lead caroler, a middle-aged woman, isn't too sure this is a good idea, but agrees to come down anyway. Willie dashes about his apartment, winding garland around his little pine tree and slipping into yet another dream/vision/hallucination in which he's living in a mansion, welcoming the carolers (now dressed in Victorian finery) and kissing the lead caroler's hand. When he comes back to his senses, he's really kissing the lead caroler's hand, which she with draws with a look of horror before launching into a very awkward rendition of "The First Noel" in Willie's living room.

Willie notices a shy little blonde girl peeking from behind her mother and smiling at the old man. She sets her fuzzy mittens down and checks out Mr. Krueger's Nativity scene, lifting the Baby Jesus out of his place. Mom comes over and makes the little girl put Jesus back on the table, even as Willie protests that "I was gonna rearrange it like that anyway."

The carolers file out Willie's apartment, even as he practically begs them to stay. "Please don't go," Willie pleads. "I was gonna make some hot chocolate. I have a new Christmas album--wouldn't you like to hear it?" Guess not--the carolers move on down the snowy street, leaving Willie and his cat George alone again.

George walks around the underdecorated tree and meows at Willie. "I guess you're right, george," he says. "We'd better trim that tree. If we don't hurry, we'll be too late." So he starts to string lights on the tiny pine and, sure enough, another dream/hallucination kicks in. This time, Willie is decorating a huge outdoor tree (with the help of the help of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir) while dancers twirl around the tree and the little blonde girl is lifted high enough to place the topper on the tree and light the whole thing up brilliantly.

A loud clanging brings Willie back to reality, such as it is. "Mrs. McClain" is banging on her pipes, demanding more heat. "She'd freeze to death in the Sahara Desert," Willie grumbles initially, then concludes that nobody should be cold on Christmas Eve and heads off to stoke the furnace. When Willie returns, he discovers that the little girl left her mittens behind. He drapes them on the branches of his tiny Christmas tree, smiles and starts rearranging the Nativity scene.

Willie picks up baby Jesus and regards him for a moment. You know that that means--another dream sequence! This one isn't just a flight of fancy, though. This time, he's in a cave with a bunch of people dressed in Biblical clothing crowded around a manger...yep, Willie is now IN the Nativity scene, talking to Baby Jesus himself! "I'm Willie Krueger, custodian at the Beck Apartments...but you know that, don't you?" Willie quickly realizes that Baby Jesus is the only one who can see or hear him, and thanks Jesus for always being there for him, especially in those first few hours after his wife died. "I love you," he tells Jesus tearfully. "You're my closest, my finest friend, and that means I can hold my head high."

Willie awakens from his revelry, wiping tears from his eyes and blowing his nose. Someone's at the door: the little girl, Clarissa, and her mom are back in search of the missing mittens. Clarissa thinks it's pretty weird that Willie hung the mittens on the tree, but then goes ahead and invites him to come sing with them after Willie gives Clarissa the Baby Jesus from his tabletop Nativity scene.

Mom looks fairly dubious at first, then grants that the group could use a bass and that Willie would be obligated to join them for a turkey dinner afterward. When Willie tries to protest that he needs to stick around and keep George company, Clarissa calls him out, point out that the cat is asleep on the couch. Willie concedes that George sleeps a lot, so he rushes to grab his coat and hat and heads out into the cold winter's night with his two new friends.

Outside in the snow, Clarissa looks down at the Baby Jesus, then back up at Willie and says, for no apparent reason, "I love you, Mr. Krueger!" Then a previously unheard narrator tells us, ""I love you.' That's what Christmas is all about. Clarissa said it to Mr. Krueger. Mr. Krueger said it to Jesus. And Jesus, in so many ways, has said it to all of us." The end.

It's easy to be snarky and cynical about Mr. Krueger's Christmas--see any (or all) of the comments above--especially with the dream sequences eating up so much of its slight running time (without the commercial breaks, it's just over 20 minutes long). It's not as easy, however, to dismiss Jimmy Stewart's performance. He approaches the role with absolute sincerity, and even when Willie retreats into fuzzy-edged fantasy, he remains entirely sympathetic because Stewart plays the part completely straight and wrings emotion out of the potentially silliness, especially in the hallucinatory "Willie talks to Jesus" scene.

Maybe I'm just being hard on Mr. Krueger's Christmas because it depicts what my life could very well be 20 years from now. Or 10. Or now.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Holidaze: 12/23/09

The other Santas at Kmart all looked inscrutable, like they knew something I didn't and weren't bloody likely to tell. This one, though, who had been tossed to the back of one of the higher shelves, seemed warm and generous: "You look like you could use a present. Here you go."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ho, ho...ho?

A few years ago, I was walking through one of the alleys in my neighborhood, as is my custom--you never know what you'll find there--when I came across a bag of discarded family pictures. (How immeasurably sad for someone's whole photographic history to be thrown away, as if they'd never existed at all.) Among the photos was the postcard above. I don't know if it's a picture of anyone from that family or just a random postcard that somebody in that family had collected, but it's one of the strangest holiday images I've ever seen. The little girl sitting on Santa's lap seems happy enough, but Santa himself is one sinister-looking character, and they appear to be sitting on a stuffed donkey. Not the image I'd want to send around to the aunts and uncles for Christmas--unless I wanted to give them nightmares.

Holidaze: 12/21/09

Found this Santa at my neighborhood thrift store. He's hand-painted onto a large, shaped plank of wood. And only cost $1.50.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holidaze: 12/15/09

Betty Boop has a present for you.

Bettie Page does, too.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holidaze: 12/9/09

The Cheshire Cat ornament given to me last year by Superbadfriend.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holidaze: 12/6/09

Christmas at La Casa del Terror, circa 2001.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holidaze: 12/5/09

From the tag still attached to his arm: "Cthulhu wants to visit you this Cthulhu-mas, and bring you tidings of despair."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Adoresixtyfour: The Lost Files, Vol. 2

As promised, here are more files that weren't transferred over when the old site was shut down. Today, they're all movie reviews.

In looking back over them, the temptation to rewrite is strong, but you know what? This blog has always been a "warts-and-all" kind of deal, so these old reviews (and the many to be posted over the next few weeks) are what they are. Enjoy.

Review: Urban Legend (1998)

Review: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Review: The Brainiac (1961)

Review: Maniac (1934)

Holidaze: 12/1/09

As one of my friends on MySpace said, "Nothing gets me into the holiday spirit but a fpes cut xma tree."