Tuesday, December 06, 2016

And Christmas movies

I think I remarked earlier that Freeform is currently beating TCM in the "accessible" Christmas-movie derby ("accessible" = on when I am home and able to watch).

Minty's front legs got finished last night (and the first back leg started) while I watched "Scrooged."

This is an interesting movie. It came out in 1988 and feels very much of its time even though it's a retelling of A Christmas Carol  (some movie channel, or maybe a theater, should organize a film festival of the different variants of this. And I would argue that in a way, It's a Wonderful Life is almost an INVERSE of the story, in that it's a man who has done good all his life being shown the impact his good has had, rather than a selfish man being shown how being unselfish could make things better for him and others)

Anyway. It centers on Frank (Francis Xavier) Cross, who brags he is the "youngest president of any network" - he runs IBC, a network (like Fox in its early days) heavily drawing on shock and shlock. The big project Frank figures will "make" his season is "Scrooge" - a retelling, of course, of A Christmas Carol but featuring Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, and it also has the Solid Gold Dancers. (Part of the fun of the movie for me - I came up during this era so all the names are familiar. And I haven't heard anything about Mary Lou Retton in YEARS. I'm hoping that means she's happily retired and enjoying her family or maybe running a chain of gymnastics centers or something).

And you know? The movie is pretty pointed parody. I can imagine a television network of the 80s doing something like that - casting wildly inappropriate people, playing fast-and-loose with the story, all in the name of getting eyeballs.

But of course, the real Scrooge story is Cross' story - at one point he jokes about the good thing about stepping on people on the way up means you get to step on them again on the way down.

And there are the requisite ghosts - Cross' old mentor (who is played by John Forsythe in some truly gross and terrifying makeup, as a rotting corpse). And Buster Poindexter (I SAID it was very much a movie of its era) as Christmas Past (a demonic cabbie), Carol Kane (my favorite of the three) as a deranged Christmas Present, and a scary combination of "special effects" as Christmas Future.

Cross' "Fred Crachit" is played by Alfre Woodard - a widow with numerous children including a little boy (Calvin) who stopped speaking after seeing his father murdered some years before (and therefore, he is the Tiny Tim of the piece). Actually, Grace's family scenes set a nice counterpart to Cross' life - it's a big, loving family, lots of kids, one of the kids wants to be a doctor, there's a Grandma to help widowed mom out.

At any rate, we see how Cross starts out - his grumpy, "those who do not work should not eat" butcher father (Played by Brian Doyle Murray - one of Bill Murray's brothers, and the one who has had the biggest career next to his, and Doyle Murray seems to often play those grumpy, selfish-businessman types). Cross then graduates to being a mailroom intern at the network during the tail end of the Mad Men era (the Christmas party - and debauched parties like that were probably ALREADY on their way out in 1988). And his "hippie years" living with Clare, and how he's gradually corrupted by the network to see his own career advancement as paramount, as more than any relationship he may have - more than his relationship with his brother (played by Murray's real-life brother John) and more than his relationship with Claire.

And then, the ghost of Christmas Present, where we see more of Grace's family, and we see Frank's brother (and their reactions to the gifts - cheap towels - that Frank sent to them).

And finally, Christmas Future. (And there's a gag that startled me - Frank makes some comment about "Am I under Trump Tower or something." Wow. Yeah.....I remember joking about how when it looked like it was going to be Bush v. Clinton in the election about how it was "back to the 90s," but maybe it's really "back to the 80s")

And along the way, there are other things - there's a smarmy new guy (played by John Glover, and again I can totally SMELL the 1980s wafting off this movie, and I mean that in a good way). And Cross fires little Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), who had the temerity to question a decision he had made.....

Christmas Future's scenes are actually pretty terrifying for a movie that is a comedy - there is Calvin, locked away in a hospital for some reason. And Claire turned into an over-made-up heartless "lady who lunches." And most terrifying - without being too spoilerish - a scene of Frank, after he has died (but of course, in the nightmare, he isn't actually dead) being sent into the crematory.

And of course, Frank decides - as Scrooge does - that mankind really IS his business, and decides to reform.

One jarring note, and what probably wouldn't be in the movie were it "rebooted" for today - Loudermilk showing back up reading to "go postal" with a shotgun. (There have been far too many workplace shootings for that to still be funny, I think, never mind that Loudermilk notes he's "blind, stinking, drunk" and therefore has no aim). But even Loudermilk is used in Cross' redemption - he is the "muscle" (so to speak) that keeps the control room from going to other programming while Cross has an on-screen "meltdown" (it recalls the "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not gonna take it any more" scene from Network, but with a very different spirit).

And yeah: it's a more "public" redemption scene (seeing as it is, presumably, nationally televised) than that of the original Scrooge, and Cross makes some interesting statements (quotes grabbed from IMDB):

"It's Christmas Eve! It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!...I get it now! Then if you GIVE, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It's not just the poor and the hungry, it's everybody's who's GOT to have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you. If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you'll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won't be one of these bastards who says 'Christmas is once a year and it's a fraud', it's NOT! It can happen every day, you've just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it's going to happen to me now! I'm ready for it! And it's great! It's a good feeling, it's really better than I've felt in a long time. I, I, I'm ready. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody."

I admit, I like the "you'll get greedy for it" comment, and I do think that's somewhat true. (But I would also crankily add that it's probably also a good idea to give money/give to food banks/volunteer time in April and June and October and those other months, because I KNOW volunteer places are often slammed at Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes have to turn would-be do-gooders away, but there are many less-festive, less-family months where they need people. 

Another thing: part of the fun of this movie is spotting the cameo roles (Miles Davis is there, as a street musician....)

Edited to add:

Another fun thing is that this very much was a movie from the era BEFORE movies were made mostly with an eye to distribution on vhs (or later, dvd) - at the very end, during the sing-along, Murray "talks to" people "in the theater" (encouraging one side to sing, then the other).....I don't know that a lot of movies do that kind of thing any more. (Or like the famous "GO HOME! GO HOME!" line from Animal in one of the Muppet movies).

And here are some fun facts. I kind of love Carol Kane even more now that I know she disliked having to be physically abusive to Bill Murray in her role as Ghost of Christmas Present. 

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