By Garin Pirnia
What better way to ignore the six-week long brouhaha called The Holidays than with slasher horror films that take place during the holidays? Instead of sitting through the usual TBS twenty-four-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon or humoring your parents by watching the oldie-but-goodie “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” check out one of these great offerings available on Netflix and YouTube. It’s going to be okay. It really is.
“Gremlins” is usually filed under “family films,” but with gremlins being microwaved, blenderized and that horrific scene (“that’s when I noticed the smell”) where Phoebe Cates regales Gizmo and Billy with how her father broke his neck coming down a chimney trying to surprise them as Santa Claus, it’s pretty obvious that this is a horror film lurking in Mogwai clothes. Read the rest of this entry »
Rugged yet austere, the pioneer drama of “Meek’s Cutoff” is rich with rarefied satisfactions. Some audiences will get little from its apparent minimalism; others will find quiet, deep satisfactions. Like her earlier “Old Joy” and “Wendy and Lucy” (also written by fiction writer Jon Raymond), Kelly Reichardt honors the impulses shown in even her earliest films like “River of Grass” (1994). Simplicity, framed, slowed, kept to a mysterious and somehow ominous tempo. A Sundance 2010 debut, “Meek’s Cutoff” is a Western both otherworldly and somehow ordinary-seeming, set on the Oregon trail in 1845. Things could go wrong, couldn’t they? Something about the landscape, food, water. The female characters’ faces are kempt, restrained by bonnets, the fashion of the time. There’s a tempo of faces, including the remarkable Michelle Williams, emerging from confinement. The film moves less like a dream or nightmare than a trance: a slowed hallucination. The instructions of a Cayuse Indian (Rod Rondeaux) are not translated; the settlers don’t know the language, so we don’t either. “Meek’s Cutoff” is an original, and brave simplicity combined with a reverential sense of mystery holds ample reward. The loving, lovely cinematography is by Christopher Blauvelt, shooting in clear-eyed style in the classic, square frame of the “Academy” ratio of 1:33. Jeff Grace’s wonderful score is better heard than described. With Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Henderson. 104m. (Ray Pride)
“Meek’s Cutoff” opens Friday at the Music Box. A trailer is below.
Read the rest of this entry »
Christmas in Chicago brings to mind a lot of images—store windows on State Street, the tree in Daley Center—but for a lot of Chicagoans it’s singing along to Christmas carols with 750 of their closest strangers in an old-fashioned movie house and yelling at the screen during “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This Friday, for the twenty-seventh year in a row, The Music Box Theatre will be hosting its annual Christmas Show featuring carolers, sing-alongs, Santa Claus, “White Christmas” and, of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“It’s a living tradition,” notes Brian Andreotti, The Music Box’s Program Director. “You see the excitement as you talk to people who have been coming for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years, people that have left Chicago and fly back. What on paper seems like a simple event, people are pretty connected to it.”
Indeed, the event has grown so popular that the Music Box has had to keep adding shows to meet the demand. What started as a one-shot lark on a Christmas Eve in 1983 has gradually become a six-day extravaganza with seventeen performances, almost all of them selling out. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express,” “Back to the Future”) adapts Charles Dickens’ tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cheap mean old man shocked into decency on Christmas Eve by three ghosts who forcibly transport him from his bed to revisit his past, eavesdrop on his employee and nephew in the present, and foresee his miserable demise. CGI allows Jim Carrey to play Scrooge at four ages, as well as the three ghosts administering the radical short-term immersive humanizing therapy. Actually, the night terrors Scrooge experiences smack of alien abduction. He plummets and plummets and plummets through night skies. These nocturnal set-pieces, as well as a terrestial chase by snorting black stallions, evoke Hitchcock’s perverse panics. Carrey fans and Disney stock watchers may not expect the fidelity to Dickens’ prose in the dialogue, nor the morbid supernatural tone. It’s forty minutes of grim before Scrooge zooms through sunny London skies with cheerful music. The hybridized live-action amalgam creates a kind of actorized animation. Disney over-sells this 3D holiday product as “a multi-sensory,” although I only counted two: sight and sound. That’s all Zemeckis needs to remake a classic by taking nice risks. With Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn, and Cary Elwes. 96m. (Bill Stamets)
There’s always a world of hurt to heal on holiday screens. This off-the-shelf Christmas comedy, released two weeks before Thanksgiving, serves three boys with issues. One is an orphan (Bobb’e J. Thompson). Another never got over not getting a Superman cape from Santa. And the title character (Vince Vaughn) got a little brother who grew up to become Santa. The prologue to “Fred Claus” is indeed darling. It’s all about the birth of Nicholas Claus. As a tyke, ‘lil Nick creates the customs of Christmas with no Christ in sight. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” asks mom (Kathy Bates). After grown-up Nicholas is sainted, his parents, big brother and wife (Miranda Richardson) all get eternal life. Read the rest of this entry »