Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Requiem For A Jolly Red Fellow

Some links before I get started today.  Parsnip had a mix of photos at her blog. Cheryl has been looking at a local island in her area, in part one and in part two. Maria had a chicken soup recipe. And Krisztina had a food idea.

Now then, I'm returning to my occasional series of funeral eulogies, one of those dear God did I actually write that things. This one is going to ensure that I corner the world market on coal in my stocking this year.

"We gather here today to remember a great and a good man. He was our boss, our leader, and our friend. He was beloved by everyone who knew him. He was the grandest of grand fellows, and it falls on us to mourn his death and celebrate his long, long life. It's not everyone who can walk this earth for centuries, after all, but he did. At least until... well, what happened that fateful night four days ago. He was known by many names, in many traditions, but everyone trusted him. I was asked to give the eulogy... well, because his wife asked me to. She said, Rumples, there's no one else I would trust more with this great task. At least that's what I think you said, because you were crying and bawling your eyes out. And so here we are, all gathered together in the workshop. The beloved widow, the elves, and the reindeer. Because our big guy is gone. Santa Claus is dead.

We can only think in this time of sadness and tragedy of the effect this must have on millions of children. Waking up on Christmas morning to find no presents. The news about the tragic death of Santa. The gruesome details. Parents having to explain why Santa had died like that. After all, wasn't Santa immortal and everlasting? Now those dreams and hopes and wishes of children have been shattered for all time. This will leave emotional scars on so many children that they'll be in therapy for decades to come.

It's true that he'd been around for centuries. We all knew that. Mrs. Claus... Bernadette as Santa called her... had been married to Santa for eleven hundred forty seven years next May. They took regular vacations together all over the world, and could be found snorkeling with dolphins in the Caribbean, or climbing in the Alps, or frequenting cafes in Paris. We elves were never quite sure how the business model supported all that travelling around. I mean, we were giving toys away for free, no sponsorships, nothing that would even suggest a regular source of income.

I'm getting off track. Sorry. That tends to happen.

Santa was ahead of his time, always had been. He was able to get around the world, delivering presents to millions of children, in a single night. On a sleigh towed by reindeer. It involved the sort of technology the world still doesn't understand. Santa could generate artificial stargates enabling him to get from place to place that much faster. He had transporter technology to replenish the presents on the sled in flight. State of the art organization and logistics support. And teleportation devices that allowed him to get his three hundred pound frame down chimneys and into houses carrying bags full of presents. It sometimes alarmed sovereign nations, having this light-years ahead of them jolly red fellow employing all that technical knowledge on his yearly excursions. I mean, Senator McCarthy once suggested Santa was a communist deliberately sabotaging the American way of life. And we all remember Christmas Eve 1987 when a couple of stray F-16s nearly lit up the sleigh over Idaho with AMRAAMs, right? That took a lot of diplomatic yelling over the phone to sort that blunder out.

You know, we're trying to come to terms with what happened here. It's a shock to all those kids out there, yes. Even more of a shock to their parents, who thought all these years that they were deliberately lying to their kids about Santa being real and worrying that when their kids found out the truth, they'd resent Mom and Dad forever. I'm sure lots of parents were shocked to find out that, well... Santa actually was real. Emphasis on was, because he's dead, otherwise we wouldn't be here having this funeral with this really big coffin containing what's left of the big guy. 

Maybe it's time we talk about what happened that night. Get it all out in the open. You know what I mean?

So there he was. December 24th. Christmas Eve. Ten thirty four PM Eastern. In the skies over New Hampshire. He was bringing the reindeer in for a landing, coming closer to the ground. It was snowing, things were getting rough out there. Rudolph said afterwards that even his bright red alcohol fueled nose couldn't pierce the snow. But they'd flown in rough conditions on plenty of Christmas Eves before, remember. This was something they could handle. Or so they all thought.

No one could have known there was one of those remote controlled drones in the air that night.

The FBI has told us that the drone was the property of one Harry Carruthers of Claremont, New Hampshire. Harry is a thirty three year old claims adjuster. He lived alone, it turns out. Not very popular with the ladies. Hey, it happens, what with being socially maladjusted, bitter at the world, and blaming everyone else for his own miserable personality. If things had gone differently, he might have been a good candidate for a reporter's position at FOX News.

Well, Harry hadn't had a date in eleven years. So he tried to make up for it by developing a habit of becoming a peeping tom. Spying on whatever woman caught his eyes. Drones were his lifeline, a godsend. He could send them out to hover outside their windows, taking video footage of them doing, well... pretty much anything. Harry has turned out to be a pretty disgusting pervert, actually, and he's currently being held in the local jail for his own protection. Not only do you have dozens of women angry at him for the peeping tom thing, but you have millions of children shattered forever by the fact that Harry Carruthers killed Santa Claus.

Well, there it was. A drone in the snow. Santa never saw it coming.

It somehow missed the reindeer. Which is the only reason Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, and Blitzen are alive today to attend the funeral. Sorry, guys, I know the trauma's just as bad for you as it is for the rest of us. I mean, you were right there

The drone hit Santa square on. And it collided so hard that it decapitated the great man. His head went one way while his body stayed in the sleigh. Search dogs later found his head in the snow, being gnawed on by raccoons. Apparently it wasn't a pretty sight. Hence the whole closed casket thing.

And the sleigh capsized. All those presents at the time fell overboard. And by some strange twist of bad luck, they all fell into the back yard of a boy named Robbie von Rottenberg. An eleven year old boy who has since proven himself to be the most selfish, despicable, greedy little bastard the world has ever seen. He refuses to give all those presents back. He's invoking the finders keepers rule. And playing with all those toys in front of other kids from Claremont they were meant for. They're crying and he's laughing about it and playing, even with toys he doesn't like.

Well. Santa wouldn't like that one bit. You know it. I know it. We all know it. We've tried to be reasonable with Robbie, but he won't listen. He won't do the right thing. So it's up to us. We have to take those presents back from that greedy little bastard. He has it coming, am I right or am I right? Of course I'm right.

It's time to rise up, fellow elves and reindeer! It's us against Robbie von Rottenberg. That little ****er deserves the beatdown he's going to get. To arms! For Santa! For glory! For the Sacred Order Of The Gingerbread House!

And when we get back, we can light the big man's coffin on fire. Santa would have wanted a Viking funeral."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Once Upon A Time.... In A Strange French Castle

Some links before I get started with things today. Yesterday having had been a Sunday, we had a Snippet Sunday post at our joint blog. Krisztina had a holiday gift idea at her blog. Lorelei had various thoughts at her blog. And the Whisk had a knock-knock joke at her page.

Today I have another film review, something rather different from my last one. While it really has nothing to do with Christmas... well, there's snow in some of the film, and it seems oddly fitting for this time of year.

"As the years passed he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?" ~ Narrator

"Enchanted! Ha ha ha! Who said anything about the castle being enchanted? Ha ha ha.... It was you! Wasn't it?" ~ Cogsworth

"When she comes in, give her a dashing, debonair smile. Come, come. Show me the smile." ~ Lumiere

"Were you in love with her, beast? Did you honestly think she'd want you when she had someone like me?" ~ Gaston

"Well, you shouldn't have been in the west wing!"  ~ Beast
"Well, you should learn to control your temper!" ~ Belle

After a number of years in creative purgatory, Disney's animation studios had hit a renaissance with The Little Mermaid in 1989. Two years later, Disney released Beauty And The Beast, the thirtieth animated feature in the company's history. The film took on the classic fairy tale story from France, bringing together a wealth of creative talent in a film that was critically and publicly acclaimed, becoming a true classic. It earned Oscar nominations and awards, turned the conventional Disney animated film into new directions, and appealed just as much to adults as to children.

The story opens with backstory, told in a stained glass window sort of motif, with an arrogant young prince turning away a beggar woman seeking shelter. She reveals herself as a beautiful enchantress, and punishes him for his cruel indifference by transforming him into a monstrous beast (voiced by Robby Benson). There is a way out for him- to earn the love of someone else- but given the circumstances of what's happened to him, he gives into despair and hopelessness. After all, who could love him the way he looks?

The story moves forward some years, and we meet Belle (Paige O' Hara), a young woman living with her eccentric father Maurice in the countryside near a small village. He spends his time inventing things without really knowing if they'll work- hence the eccentricity. She feels out of place among villagers with no imagination and no creativity, and spends much of her time with her head in a book. She's also the subject of unwanted attention from the alpha male in the village, Gaston (Richard White), an oaf and idiot who's rather full of himself, is fond of shooting any animal in sight, and thinks women shouldn't be reading- sooner or later they get ideas and thinking. He'd much rather Belle pay attention to him, while remaining oblivious to the fact that she finds him rather obnoxious.

Maurice is off on a trip (apparently inventors in France at the time had plenty of opportunities to go off hawking their wares, gadgets, and contraptions). Things go wrong in the woods, he falls from his horse, gets chased by wolves, and ends up in a castle in the middle of nowhere. The servants are all enchanted under the same spell (come to think of it, that enchantress might have been overreacting). They have taken on the look of ordinary household objects, and happen to include Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). They seem to have taken things in stride as to their present state, and Maurice's presence is quickly discovered by their master... who's unhappy to see the intruder. The Beast, being surly and bitter and probably feeling like scratching an itch somewhere in his fur, imprisons Maurice.

Back at home, Belle's busy fending off an unwanted marriage proposal from Gaston. The horse returns home, worrying her, and she sets off in search with the horse to find out what's become of her father. Sure enough, she finds the castle, locates her father locked away in the dungeon, and when confronted by the Beast, offers herself in trade for her father as his prisoner. Stockholm Syndrome, bantering back and forth, and true love ensues. 

Disney had been musing on an adaptation of the fairy tale going all the way back to the 30s, but for one reason or another hadn't gone through with it. Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise were brought in to helm the film, which adapted the screenplay by Linda Woolverton (from a story with multiple writers involved at one point or another). The other creative element involved was the partnership of the lyricist Howard Ashman and the composer Alan Menken, who would compose the songs for the film. The animation teams would end up mixing together traditional hand drawn work with computer generated imagery for a film that is widely considered to be a masterpiece in animation features. I think it's the best animated film Disney ever made. 

The story also tends to turn convention on its head. We get ourselves a villain who for all intents and purposes looks like you might expect the traditional Disney hero to look. Gaston is handsome, sure, but the moment he opens his mouth he shows himself to be a boor. And as the film goes along and he transitions from egotistical prat to showing himself to be a monster, it's a radically different interpretation of a villain, whose looks in older Disney films would have had more of a sinister undertone. 

We also get that turning of conventions in the relationship between the two leads. Traditional Disney films would have the hero save the life of the heroine, proving his worth, and everyone lives happily ever after. Instead, yes, we do see the Beast save Belle from a pack of wolves (in spectacular fashion, it's a ferocious sequence with a lot of action), but she saves him too, something you wouldn't have seen with heroines in older films. Belle chooses to bring him home in the wake of that. She gives him a reason to become a better, selfless person. And she quite literally redeems him and saves him by loving him back. The fact that the story makes Belle a smart, thoughtful, and strong person is also a step forward. She values herself for herself.

The overall look of the film is wonderful throughout. The French village feels like something out of the 18th or 19th century, quite pastoral and content to let the world pass by. The castle, foreboding at first, filled with dark shadows and murky danger, gradually shows itself to be not so gloomy after all (I really, really, really want that library). The servants, all of whom are enchanted into the forms of objects and furniture, nonetheless have personality and distinct looks, all of which comes across in the way they're rendered. Belle is a beauty, but seems oblivious to that, and her general look by the animators tends to emphasize her personality- her intelligence, stubbornness, and spirit. The Beast himself has a formidable look, a combination of bear, lion, wolf, bison, deer, and gorilla.  He looks ferocious, yes, and certainly can be, but the facial expressions in time show us more as the story goes along- uncertainty, sadness, self pity, selflessness, humour, and mercy.

Howard Ashman died before the film was finished, and it is dedicated in his memory. His lyrics, written with his musical partner Alan Menken, breathe life into the story in another way, and the songs completely serve the story, never feeling out of place. Bear in mind that I generally hate musicals.... but this is the exception. The songs have humour when needed- the opening Belle, for instance, plays around with the gossip of the villagers, or the drinking song Gaston messes around with the raging ego of the character. Other songs bring out the softness, the romance, the humanity of the characters, such as with Something There or the title song Beauty And The Beast as softly sung by Angela Lansbury. Contrast that with The Mob Song, a hellish descent into Angry Villager mode led by the sneering Gaston, riling up the mob to go off and storm the castle (Angry Villagers tend to do that).

For all of the emphasis that gets placed on the songs when we think of the soundtrack, the score by Alan Menken is just as powerful and effective. There are soft, character based cues, romantic themes when appropriate, and humour that infuses his composition. And there are cues that have more of a ferocious, epic sound to them- the cue underlying the battle between the Beast and the wolves in the woods, for instance. He transfers this same energy into a dual cue, Battle On The Tower, which starts out sounding funny, since it accompanies the battle between the Angry Villagers and the household servants, who quickly send the Villagers running for their lives. The scene is funny, and Menken writes the music that way, but the cue quickly changes into a more serious, dangerous sound with the very personal battle between Gaston and the Beast high atop the tower. It reminds the audience that the danger is much more immediate. From there, Menken composes the utterly beautiful melody underlying the transformation, filled with poignancy, passion, and romance- it's probably the best piece of music he ever composed, and the songs and score netted the film two Oscars. 

The choices for voice casting were ideal. This was a time before we saw a lot of stunt casting of much better known Hollywood actors in animated voice roles (perhaps better, because I find I'm not listening to the character, I'm listening to the actor). Rex Everhart voices Maurice, who certainly does seem crazy, though Belle believes in him. He's loopy and eccentric, and more than a little odd, but we like him anyway. Jesse Corti turns up as Lefou, Gaston's abused sidekick, a rather pathetic and nasty person in and of himself, and yet some of the great humour of the film comes from his character. We wouldn't want to know this guy, but he still brings out a smile in us- perhaps no more so than when he glances back at a mud puddle while conducting an impromptu orchestra and finds Gaston rising up out of the mud with a pig where his head should be.

Gaston himself is a marvelous villain. Richard White voices the part, and he starts out as a man completely full of himself, believing everyone should fall down and worship the ground he walks on (did I mention the arrogance?). He's a narcissistic egomaniac, and he's not a terribly bright person. He spends his time hunting, shoots anything that remotely looks like he can mount its head on a wall, and thinks he's going to marry Belle (it doesn't matter that she has no interest in him). White brings that arrogance across in his vocal performance, and shifts it into even darker tones as the story goes along and Gaston becomes increasingly malevolent. There's defiance in his voice, and even, ultimately, at a critical moment, fear... when he realizes he's outclassed.

The household staff are voiced by numerous actors, but three of them particularly stand out. Mrs. Potts, having had taken the form of a teapot, is voiced by Angela Lansbury, who when she wasn't solving crimes (or committing them, because let's face it, Jessica Fletcher was the greatest serial killer in history) on Murder She Wrote, had a lot of experience in musicals and on stage. Her take on Mrs. Potts is a motherly, sympathetic interpretation, a bit no-nonsense, and not afraid to speak her mind. She's like the grandmother we'd all like to have. 

David Ogden Stiers plays Cogsworth the butler, transformed into a clock. He's extremely loyal to his master, and tries (and often fails) to keep his fellow servants following orders. Cogsworth is something of a stuck up fellow, the sort of person who you'd expect to volunteer for hall monitor duty, and doesn't have much of a sense of humour. He's often used for comic relief at his own expense (getting run over by tea carts will do that), but he's also a courageous clock... er, person in the form of a clock. His counterpart is Lumiere, as voiced by Jerry Orbach. If you're more familiar with Orbach from his days on Law And Order, it might come as a surprise that he did a lot of theatre throughout his acting career. Lumiere is the castle's maitre d', changed into a candlestick. He's a flirt of the first order, particularly where a maid turned feather duster is concerned, and is rebellious, overlooking orders from the Beast. Orbach plays these qualities to the hilt, and much of the humour of the film comes from him, particularly the constant bickering relationship Lumiere has with Cogsworth. 

Paige O'Hara voices Belle, and it's such a strong performance and character. She is a young woman of intelligence, curiousity, and dreams. She's kind and loyal, particularly to her father, and yearns for something beyond the place she lives in. Belle thinks for herself, sees the eligible bachelor in town for the oaf that he is, and treats him the way he deserves. At the same time, there's a selflessness and compassion in her that acts to save her father's life, not knowing what might lie ahead of her as a prisoner in a castle. And yet even faced with what seems to be a monster, Belle comes into her own. She's not scared of him, stands up to him- one of my favourite scenes in the whole film is that great turning point between them. She tends to his wounds, doesn't panic at his roars, and tells him he should control his temper... which leaves him speechless. It's a great show of her spirit, her strength of character, and a moment that moves her forward into seeing the Beast in a different way.

Robby Benson voices the Beast in just the right way. It's a character filled with rage and torment, his arrogance having had cursed him into a fate as a monster, and so when we first really see him, that rage is understandable. He sounds like a force of nature at times, gravelly voiced and brooding, but there's also a deep self pity beneath the rage, and only when faced with a woman who's not running off in panic does he moderate and start to change. The character's journey from arrogance and anger to becoming a better person capable of being selfless, kind, and decent, is the soul of the film, and as Belle starts to see the Beast in a different light, so do we. He's unsure of himself, a bit awkward as he finds himself trying to win Belle's heart, and he has to unlearn old habits and be better than he was. In becoming a better man, he's a far better fleshed out hero than any Disney leading man before him. This is a Beast with depth, just as the woman he loves has depth.

1991 was the year of Silence Of The Lambs, which swept several awards that year, including Best Picture. Beauty and the Beast, however, was among the other nominees, and it deserved that nomination. In a weaker year it might have even gotten the award. It's the best animated film ever made, a tale that appeals to children and yet works so well for adults too. It gives its leading pair a chance to get to know each other, to fall in love, and makes them such a compelling, ultimately likable couple that we can't help but want them together. The film is an animated masterpiece.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Another Christmas Eve, Another Terrorist Incident

Some links to see to first of all. Norma has the opening to her book Superhero In Training available at Wattpad, and the details can be found at her latest post. Yesterday having had been a Friday, Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday. Krisztina had some Christmas decorating ideas.

Now then, as to today. Last year I reviewed my favourite Christmas movie, Die Hard. Therefore, it was time to review the first sequel, which happens to also be set at Christmas time.

"I think Cardinal Richelieu said it best: treason is merely a matter of dates. This country's got to learn that it can't keep cutting the legs off of men like General Esperanza, men who have the guts to stand up to Communist aggression." ~ Colonel Stuart
"And lesson #1 starts with killing policemen? What's lesson #2? The neutron bomb?" ~ John McClane
"No. I think we can find something in between." ~ Colonel Stuart

"Murder on television. Helluva start to Christmas week." ~ Trudeau

"Next time you kill one of these guys, get 'em to enter the code first." ~ Leslie Barnes

"You give me this story and I'll have your baby." ~ Samantha Coleman
"Not the kind of ride I'm looking for." ~ John McClane

"McClane! I assume it's you, McClane. You're quite a little soldier. You can consider this a military funeral." ~ Colonel Stuart

"Oh, we are just up to our ass in terrorists again, John." ~ John McClane

After the success of Die Hard, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel (and three more after that at last check). Die Hard 2: Die Harder was the 1990 film directed by Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger) and bringing back Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia as John and Holly McClane, caught up in another terrorist incident on Christmas Eve. It is based on the novel 58 Minutes by Walter Wager, and weaves the characters created by Roderick Thorp into the narrative of that novel, which tells the story of an unseen terrorist taking control of a major airport's air traffic control system. It raises the stakes considerably from Die Hard, as sequels are often prone to do, and brings us a villain who's quite different from the first film's antagonist, but thoroughly ruthless.

Things open up in Washington on Christmas Eve, a year after the Nakatomi Tower incident. John McClane (Willis) is at Dulles Airport, having had arrived a few days ahead of his wife Holly (Bedelia) with the kids for a visit to his in-laws. He's picking up Holly, who's inbound on a plane, and the weather in the area is deteriorating as a major snowstorm is moving in. John's police instincts kick in regarding a couple of suspicious fellows, and an incident ensues in the baggage areas of the terminal. One of the men gets away, the other dies at John's hands, and John's suspicions are raised. His attempts to persuade the airport's chief of police, Carmine Lorenzo (Dennis Franz) of what might be happening go unheeded. Trudeau (Fred Dalton Thompson), the airport chief of operations, and one of his right hand men, an engineer named Leslie Barnes (Art Evans) are trying to cope with the weather and the chaos of holiday travel.

Which of course is when things go terribly wrong. McClane's suspicions are correct. Someone takes control of the airport systems remotely, including communications, declaring his intentions. An inbound military jet from South America is carrying one General Ramon Esperanza (Franco Nero), who will be facing drug traffficking charges in America. He sets down conditions for the General's release and warns the control tower not to interfere in his plans for the evening, or civilian planes will pay the price. McClane recognizes the sound of his voice from a chance encounter: Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), a disgraced former Special Forces officer with ties to Esperanza. With his wife's plane among those at risk in the snowy skies over DC, McClane goes on the hunt to find a way to thwart Stuart and his men.

The screenplay by Steven DeSouza and Doug Richardson took on some of the same elements of the first film- terrorist incident on Christmas Eve, antagonism with authority figures, ruthless villains, sarcastic hero- but then took them in different directions. In setting the story back east, but in a place not particularly his own (as would have been the case if the movie had been set in New York, as it is in Wager's original novel), it puts McClane out of his element, and in a situation where the weather is as much of an antagonist as the terrorists. The antagonism with authority figures plays out very differently from the first film, which was a wise course of action. Where McClane spends most of his interaction with Lorenzo in a state of mutual dislike (at least until late in the film), things are different with Trudeau, who's pragmatic and realistic enough to listen to the concerns of an out of town detective. This is very different, of course, from the first film, where we had Paul Gleason still berating McClane at film's end, and the FBI behaving like a pack of buffoons. 

Harlin has a good touch with action, and it certainly shows in this film, and would do so again in other work. He follows McClane's path through airducts and elevators, down frozen runways and in under-construction areas of the airport. Most of the film was shot in various locations such as airbases, and Harlin helms the film in the right way, showing a skill for ferocious action both at a distance and in the immediate up close and personal. He and his crew certainly convey the sense of weather being a factor in the story- anyone familiar with the Washington area knows what a bit of snow can do to cripple the city, and Harlin keeps the snow coming throughout the film, giving us a blizzard on just the wrong night for travelers, but just the right night for the intentions of his villains. He certainly knows how to film plane crashes- we get more than one here, and the sequences are spectacular. Harlin's direction keeps the pacing of the film going nicely; there's no real slowing down here. Instead we're caught up in the sense of the clock ticking down and the dread of potentially thousands of people at risk at the whim of a very dangerous man.

The casting choices are very well made throughout. We have a couple of other holdovers from the first film. Reginald Veljohnson reprises his role as Al Powell in a cameo, speaking with McClane by phone, the two partners keeping the mood light while dealing with a troubling situation. The energy between the two is much the same as with the first film, two men who have become friends and understand each other. William Atherton returns again as the sleazy journalist Richard Thornburg, who happens to be on the same plane as Holly, and who happens to have a restraining order against her (that whole thing with her hitting him at the end of the first film damaged his ego). He's still as self absorbed, irresponsible, and sleazy as he was the first time around, still believing he's destined for great things as a reporter. We despise him, naturally, which he surely has coming. Contrast him, though, with a new reporter, Samantha Coleman (Sheila McCarthy), who's a local reporter at the terminal looking for a story. McCarthy plays her as plucky and a bit ambitious, but with integrity that is utterly lacking in Thornburg. She even proves to be helpful where McClane is concerned, and McCarthy gives her a streak of humour and humanity.

Art Evans plays Leslie Barnes, the communications engineer who seems to be the smartest guy in the room, and who's an ally to McClane. He carries himself like a competent, efficient specialist, and we get to like him. Evans plays him as sympathetic and as a man trying to find a solution to a crisis. Though he's out of his element as a man under fire, he stays calm, and that's a big contrast to the airport's head of police, as played by Dennis Franz. Lorenzo is a profane, antagonistic walking temper tantrum (come to think of it, that pretty much sums up many of the roles Franz plays). He is completely dismissive of McClane (at least until late in the game) and seems to be five minutes from a heart attack (tempers can be such a trigger for those things). He's an unpleasant sort of person... and yet when things change as the story goes along, still a man who knows what his job requires, and does it... even while being terminally pissed off. The third member of the airport authority is the always reliable Fred Dalton Thompson (reliable at least when he's not going into politics). He gives Trudeau a gruff but sympathetic portrayal, another in the list of character roles he's played, and we can believe him as a man of his position. It's a pragmatic character, a man who's in charge and yet sees the control he usually has taken from him. And Thompson also plays the shocked horror the character must feel when a harsh lesson is inflicted on the airport by the opposition.

Franco Nero is an Italian actor with most of his credits in Italian cinema, but there has been work in American films as well in his resume. His General Esperanza reminds us of various Latin American dictators, a nasty, ruthless man who feels quite like we would expect a dictator to be: arrogant and aloof. Even in a fallen state, he's a man accustomed to getting his own way, and Nero brings these qualities across in his performance. 

John Amos gets a complicated role to play as an American Special Forces commander, Major Grant, sent in with his squad to take down Stuart. He has history with the Colonel, and when we first meet him, he's thoroughly believable as a military officer, tough and brash, disgusted by the situation, initially dismissive of McClane. And yet that shifts (and shifts again as we discover new things about the Major) and Grant's purpose changes. Amos really comes across as no-nonsense, something you'd expect out of such an officer. 

Bonnie Bedelia gets to spend most of the film trapped in an airplane, having to put up with the presence nearby of a dirtbag she dislikes. She retains the attitude, the spunk, and the spirit of Holly in her performance, and when she discovers what's happening on the ground, her actions to intervene in the irresponsible self glorification of said dirtbag (hello, Mr. Thornburg) are entirely justifiable. This was her last turn as Holly, and the character is grounded in what at that point is a healthy marriage to John- the two feel believable in their conversations by phone and their reunion late in the film. I've always thought it was a shame that the later sequels ended the marriage. 

William Sadler has played a lot of character roles down through the years, but his turn as Stuart is one of his best. In the tradition of good villains, he believes what he's doing is the right and justified thing to do... even if it requires doing horrific things. For him, civilian deaths are mere collateral damage, justifiable if it means success for the mission. He's a capable leader too, clearly having the respect of his men, a driven man who happens to be ruthless in his methods. All in all, Stuart comes across as a very dangerous adversary, and all of that comes from Sadler's performance.

Willis of course is good to see back as McClane. He brings back the attitude and the sarcasm from the original film. We can feel his exhaustion as the character is placed into life threatening danger time and time again, somehow coming out despite the odds- we might wonder how he manages to get through the film without a blood transfusion. Willis plays him as very human, not terribly diplomatic, and prone to getting annoyed at a moment's notice. He can take care of himself in a fight though, and we completely get what's driving him- both his sense of duty and his worry about the safety of his wife in particular and countless others in general.

The studio really should have stopped with the second film. It's not quite as fresh as the original film, but it's a well paced, tense action thriller that increases the peril and practically turns weather into a character in a film. The sequels that followed tend to have diminishing returns, both in making McClane regress into a screwed up single guy with family and personal issues and in their story pacing (not to mention having a son grow up to become not a terribly bright Jai Courtney). Oh well, such is life. Yipekayay, and pass the eggnog. Instead of watching It's A Wonderful Life for the fiftieth time, I recommend watching Willis and Sadler bludgeon each other instead. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vengeance Of The Destroyer Of Worlds

Some links before getting started today. Eve had a passage from her book Penniless Hearts. Parsnip had a mix of images at her blog. Shelly carried on with her Silly Santa story. Maria took a look at a Christmas cult classic. And Krisztina had this look at sugared cranberries.

Now then, today's post might not make a lot of sense if you haven't read this post first. And even then, it's a good idea to freshen the memory.

Producers Announce Second Version Of Peculiar Reality Show After Failure Of First Version

Los Angeles (AP) Jeff Probst and Mark Burnett, the producers of Survivor and other reality show drivel, made an announcement this week for a new program, picking up from the ashes of another reality show. Celebrity Hunt was an initiative from former producer Ryan Seacrest, currently serving a life sentence for his role in a plot for world domination undertaken by several entertainment journalism titans. The concept behind the show was to drop several washed up former celebrities on a deserted island, introduce a deadly hunter into the mix, and let nature take its course. The series never really got off the ground, however. It was reported that twenty minutes after the celebrities were dropped off on the island, all remote cameras in the vicinity were taken off line. Only one survivor, Joan Rivers, was found, floating in the Pacific Ocean and babbling about the demonic hound from hell. She never really recovered from the ordeal, passing away earlier in the year.

The remaining contestants have never been found, and the island itself was quarantined. Four members of the Kardashian family- Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Kris- were among their number. As were Hulk Hogan, Johnny Knoxville, Tom Arnold, Billy Ray Cyrus, Snooki, JWoww, The Situation, Jaleel White, and Michael Bolton. In the months since, not a word has been heard from any of them. Many would say that’s a good thing- a world without the Kardashians in it is much better.

Probst and Burnett appeared before the press, some of whom were real reporters, while others were entertainment reporters, and by extension, really, really stupid. Probst was spending time looking at himself in a mirror, reminding this reporter of the insufferable twit director Michael Bay. Burnett was looking smug and sanctimonious. His T-shirt read: I’m Married To Roma Downey, So I’m Right And You’re Wrong.

“It’s taken a lot of negotiation, but we’re going to be launching a new version of Celebrity Hunt,” Probst told the reporters. “It means going back to the island and finding out what really happened. Now we could send out soldiers or something like that to sort that out, but why not send out celebrities instead, have them carry cameras with them, and broadcast it to the world? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Burnett shrugged. “It’s not our fault that Seacrest dispatched Fluffy, Destroyer of Worlds, onto that island to hunt the first batch of celebrities. How was he to know what would happen? I mean, the dog looks so harmless and cute, right?”

Probst nodded. “And besides, we’re not sure Fluffy really was behind whatever happened. We don’t really know what happened. All we know is that the cameras went offline and no one’s heard from anyone there since. I mean, for all we know they could be having an orgy.”

“Hey, watch what you say about that, Jeff,” Burnett told his creative partner. “I mean, I’ve got a whole lot of audience members for my religious miniseries work that would take exception to any mention of that sort of thing, you know.”

“Mark, lighten up,” Probst remarked.  “I mean come on, we’ve both produced Survivor, and that’s included naked butts of cranky players.”

“Good point,” Burnett admitted. “Anyway, so our idea, what with Seacrest being in prison... I mean, seriously, Ryan, what were you thinking, trying to take over the world? Our idea was to figure out the truth and film it with a cast of all star celebrities being dropped on that island.”

“And without further ado, let’s start bringing out our cast,” Probst told everyone. “Our first participants have a personal stake in all of this. They’re the other Kardashians, even if they’re not members of the Kardashian family. Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Kylie and Kendall Jenner!”

The two youngest daughters of the Kardashian-Jenner family came out and waved to the crowd. It’s been a rough year for the two, what with the mysterious disappearance of their mother and sisters, the grisly death of their sort of brother-in-law Kanye West, who died by fallen meteor, and their father becoming more and more mentally unstable. Regardless, they have continued to make their presence known in reality show circles, continuing to film the series Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Even if the rest of the family is gone. “Hi there,” Kylie called.

“We’re glad to be in on this,” Kendall exclaimed. “We have to find out what happened to Mom and Kim and the other two. Lots of photo ops left for all of us, you know. Plus Daddy seems to have broken into the liquor cabinet and gone on a bender.”

Burnett nodded. “Our next participant also has a personal stake in the matter at hand. Her father was one of the missing contestants in the first version. She’s had a lot of controversy coming her way in the last year, but she’s ready for a new challenge. I give you Miley Cyrus!”

Miley came out on stage, wearing what looked like a rubber bikini, sticking her tongue out, and waved to people. Then she twerked against both the Jenner sisters and grinned. “Eat your heart out, Liam!” she yelled, seemingly to her former boyfriend. “I’m gonna save my daddy and come back and they’re gonna give me a Medal of Honor for my performance!”

Probst and Burnett stared at her for a long moment, as if both were wondering if they’d made a mistake. Then Probst spoke again. “Our next participant has had some legal troubles across the world as of late, and needs something to occupy his time. We’re told he’s expecting to record a song for the soundtrack album of the series. Hopefully it’ll be less grating on the nerves than the rest of his music. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Justin Bieber!”

The mop headed cretin stepped out on stage, waving to the crowd. “Baby baby baby!” he called in that high pitched nasal drone of his. “I’m so glad to be in on this, and it’s something that’s going to make a big impact, and I’m going to get back to big album sales and everyone falling at my feet, and being the biggest star of all time. Hey! Stop snickering!"

“Justin, just stay calm,” Burnett told him. “Now then, we’ve got other players who are going to be part of it. You’ll remember our next player from such sterling television series as Baywatch. She’s really anxious to get some attention for herself, so give a big round of applause for Pamela Anderson!”

Sure enough, she stumbled out on stage, looking half dazed. This reporter wondered if Pamela had been drinking before she came out. “Hi there! What day of the week is it?”

Probst went on. “Our next participant has been trying to get his music career back off the ground again, but thought he might do well in this kind of environment. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Axl Rose!”

The former front man of Guns N’ Roses stepped out on stage, looking rumpled and hung over. “Hello, Miami!” he bellowed.

“We’re in Los Angeles, Axl,” Burnett told him.

“We are?” Rose asked.

Burnett sighed. “Rounding out our group of celebrities, he’s our main man, our touchstone actor. He’s famous all over the world for his music and his acting, taken seriously where ever he goes. You’ve seen him in such series as Knight Rider and Baywatch. You’ve seen him in drunken binge videos eating cheeseburgers. Ladies and gentlemen, David Hasselhoff!”

A groan of dismay rose up from the reporters. Hasselhoff came out on stage, waving, oblivious to their disdain. “Hello!” he called. “Of course you had to come out and see me! Nobody hassles the Hoff, after all! Not even Fluffy, Destroyer of Worlds!” He smiled in that vacant, not much going on between the ears way of his. No one has ever accused David Hasselhoff of being all that smart.

Probst smiled. “Ladies and gentlemen, the cast of Celebrity Hunt. These brave men and women are going to be going all out on our mysterious island figuring out what happened to the first batch of celebrities, and running for their lives from Fluffy, Destroyer of Worlds.”

Hasselhoff laughed as he and the rest of the cast left the stage with Probst and Burnett. “Oh, I’m going to be eating Fluffy for breakfast!”

Post Script: Three Weeks Later

The island now being called Isla Fluffia Destroya has been quarantined once again. Authorities have denied Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst any further opportunity to send more celebrities in. Nothing has been heard of the second set of celebrities. Flashes of video were uplinked to satellite receivers before going off line. David Hasselhoff being torn to shreds by a seven pound ball of canine fury. Screams of the Jenner sisters. And a flash of canine teeth lunging at Axl Rose’s camera. Beyond that, nothing is known. Bruce Jenner has released a statement declaring that he’s drowning his sorrow in hundred year old Scotch. Justin Bieber’s manager made a cryptic remark about being glad he had full access to the singer’s accounts.

At least we’ll never have to hear another new Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus single again.