"Four Christmases," aka "Give Me More Comedies About Unappologetic Jerks"

Y’know what bothers me? We don’t make many comedies about “iffy” people who STAY iffy anymore. Or at least it seems like we don’t. Lots of comedies about all-around good people, LOTS about bad-to-iffy people who turn good in the third act… but very few where the main characters enter AND exit the film as just-this-side-of-dickish.

The original “Fun With Dick and Jane” was about a pair of people who were attractive and witty enough that we ENJOYED them… but who were also shallow, vain, lazy and obnoxious. And it WORKED because that delicate balance allowed the film to achieve that old saw about the having and consuming of one’s cake: We enjoy watching Dick and Jane as they go through their adventure, but they’ve “got it coming” enough that we can ALSO enjoy circumstance conspiring to smack them around a little. The recent remake didn’t have quite the same balls, instead framing it’s leads as fundamentally good people stuck in a bad situation: a corporate raiding has left them unemployed and desperate, and they turn to crime as a last resort; while in the original they were a pair of pampered yuppie scum who turned to crime because it was easier than having to go get normal jobs. Unsurprisingly, the new version isn’t very good.

See also: Part of the genius of the first “Vacation” is that Clark W. Griswold NEVER actually learns “his lesson” or anything else: He begins and ends the film almost psychotically-obsessed with his perfect family vacation, with his ultimate triumph being the final surrender of his family, the local police and even the proprietor of Wally World itself into joining him in the surreal fantasy-land where his perspective makes perfect sense.

The fact that comedies generally don’t have those kind of balls anymore for the most part means that, when one goes to see a new comedy about “bad” or at least “socially unacceptable” behavior one must assume ahead of time that the film is going to turn – usually dishonestly – against itself in the third act… And it almost NEVER fully works, because most “bad behavior” comedies are at their core about letting the audience enjoy said behavior vicariously. See: “Wedding Crashers,” which would have been even MORE hysterical and edgy if it had allowed Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson to remain committed to their sketchy-yet-effective sexual hobby rather than having them “grow up.” Problem is, it’s harder than you’d think to really muster up the artistic guts to DO that when, at the end of the day, people LIKE their entertainment to ultimately reassure them that the basic mythology of “mainstream” cultural institutions (particularly ones they’re part of) is sound and desirable.

And so we have “Four Christmases,” which has a plot structure that allows four pretty-good setups for “dysfunctional family gathering” movies to be boiled down to their funniest elements and served together for maximum impact… but the same aforementioned lack of follow-through that finally renders it only 3/4ths of a good movie.

The central figures are Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon as an urbane San Fransisco couple who are philosophically opposed to marriage, have no interest in becoming parents and are – this is important – completely and utterly in love. They ADORE one-another, spend as much time together as possible, and for all the world just can’t be happier. And, for a moment there, it seems like the film might be more interesting than it seemed: Here are two characters SOMEHOW managing to live a life outside the social-strictures of “how relationships are supposed to go” who AREN’T poorer or flawed for the experience. But, you know it can’t last: It’s a modern American comedy, so you know ahead of time that the film will eventually contrive to punish their frivolity and cheer the triumph of Glorious Conformity. But they’re fun while it lasts.

Understand, for the record, that I’m not griping about the film’s message in and of itself – just the execution. The IDEA that these two people’s rejection of the traditional holiday mythos represents a personal and relationship flaw that MUST be corrected… fine, no problem. Sure, it’s trite and predictable, but nothing ultimately WRONG with it. The film just doesn’t do a good job SELLING the premise: What we see of the relationship is perfectly functional, and the supposed “rifts” essentially boil down to their failure to reveal past family-related traumas.

Both characters are the children of messy divorces between colorful parents whom they make an annual ritual out of avoiding for the Holidays. But when circumstances collide forcing them to miss a vacation flight AND appear on TV looking guilty, they resign themselves to a marathon visit of all four eccentric households on Christmas day. This includes his boorish father (Robert Duvall) and roid-raging cage-fighter brothers, her born-again mother (Mary Steenburgen) and “cougar den” of sisters and aunts, his hippie mom (Sissy Spacek) and much younger boyfriend and finally her father (Jon Voight) the final uninteresting stop because thats where the “lessons” have to be learned.

The first three sketches, at least, retain a degree of the edge hinted at by the first act as, one by one, the various sacred cows of the American Christmas get trotted out for a swift kick in the ass: The kids aren’t sweet and wonderful – they’re brats. The babies aren’t magical – they’re loud and smelly. The Church nativity play isn’t heartwarming – it’s plastic and repellant. The thought ISN’T all that counts. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! It’s all very funny and spectacularly cathartic if you can just forget that you’re being set up for a “lesson” – especially the parts focusing on Witherspoon, who’s natural I-practically-shit-fresh-baked-apple-pie All-American persona is here used to great ironic effect. She has a scene involving the improper holding of an infant that I actually felt a little bad about laughing so hard at, and several others involving her phobia about children. You haven’t had this much fun watching a blonde chick whack the stuffing out of little kids since “Narnia.”

But the fun DOES have to end, and end it does at the doorstep of John Voigt – who may actually be MORE insufferably treacly and heavy-handed here than he was in “An American Carol”… and in THAT film he was playing the Ghost of George Washington haunting the wreckage of 9/11. The guy’s still a great actor, but he’s allowed typecasting to turn him into a one-note effigy of The Repentant Boomer. I’m not sure how much of the goodwill the man garnered from his much-lauded 70s films and the much-appreciated fathering of your wife/girlfriend’s secret gay crush he has left to throw away in these treacly cameos.

It’s not a bad film, it’s just a miss. And I just couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to just follow through on that initial energy, kick the crap out of Holiday Cheer and leave the uplift to the other three billion Christmas movies.

New OverThinker episode…


“The Politics of Gaming,” or “Bob Asks For Trouble By Trying To Divine – Even As A JOKE – What The Political Leanings Of Various Game Characters Might Be.” The line to hurl invectives at me for “slandering” your favorite mascot by suggesting their theoretical politics might align differently from yours forms to the left, behind the angry man dressed as Dixie Kong.


I don’t know which makes me feel like a bigger attention-whore: The constant self-promotion or the tactlessness of double-posting it into both blogs. BUT, that’s the game.

ScrewAttack.com has informed me (and, I presume, many many many others) that I am elligible to be nominated for their Gaming 1337 (“leet”) awards. So… if y’all dig my stuff, howzabout voting for me? 😉

Here’s how it works: Go to this page: http://screwattack.com/Nominations Where you’ll find a form with multiple fields in which to nominate folks/projects by their name and website URL for various awards. “Game OverThinker,” for example, would best fit into the “best independent gaming show” category. Fill out each field (or only the ones on which you have an opinion) with the name and URL (my URL here is http://gameoverthinker.blogspot.com/ and the name is “Game OverThinker” remember,) then your name and email below and click “submit.” Apparently you can do this once a day… I bet that would be a fun thing to do 😉

Thanks again for the support.


I’m hoping against hope that I get to review what is apparently the most successful work of Mormon Vampire Abstinence Porn ever produced “officially” under different circumstances, but let me offer a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • Joss Whedon is a fucking genius. I know I’m late to the party on this, but honestly I was never MASSIVELY into Buffy at any point. Just not my thing. But now having seeing what “teen-angst vampires in high school” looks like as executed by people without the first clue at what they’re doing? WOW. I never knew how good I had it.
  • Lead heroine’s name is “Bella.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Wow, I’ve got WHIPLASH from the sheer force of how clever that is.
  • This movie IS the Love Story of our time – as in the MOVIE “Love Story.” And much like that earlier film, this one will be loved FIERCELY by it’s audience and make a ton of money but less than a decade from now they’ll all be pretending they knew it was lame all along and NO ONE will be able to explain why it was ever such a big deal.
  • Just about everything you need to know about the mental-stability of the folks working the teen-abstinence/”purity ring” movements is that they’ve largely embraced THIS franchise – the story of a sullen, antisocial teenaged girl who instantly subsumes her entire being into a relationship with a much older manic-depressive creep who behaves (to put it charitably) like a full-blown stalker and worries about getting too close to her because he might lose control of the urge to rip her throat out – as presenting a healthy view of romantic relationships to young girls.
  • Things this movie “removes” from the vampire mythos: bats, coffins, fangs, garlic, stakes. Things it “contributes” in their place: Vampires like to play baseball, but they have to do it during thunderstorms because their super-powered bat-cracks won’t be noticed; and instead of bursting into flames in sunlight, vampires’ skin spontaneously sprouts a layer of Body Glitter. Sparkly, baseball-playing vampires. I never thought I’d miss Wesley Snipes so much…

Three brief thoughts

Seeing “Twilight” later tonight. Y’know what’s already bugging me? I get that the lead vampire guys all look like the Jonas Brothers because it’s mainly a movie for teenaged chicks… But how do they get all their man-makeup and hair gel properly applied without reflections? Or is this another “everything you know about vampires is wrong” thing? I dunno. When was the last time there WAS a vampire movie where all the ‘rules’ were in place, to begin with?

Also: Now that “Captain America” has a director and two writers (Joe Johnston and the Narnia scribes, respectively, in all three cases ALARMINGLY good if on-the-nose choices) thoughts now innevitably turn to casting. Let me weigh in on one of the bigger sticking points right off the bat: I think Captain AMERICA should be played by an AMERICAN actor – not because of some notion of patriotic symbolism… I just know it’ll be annoying as HELL to have to hear that particular question-and-stock-answer come up in every damn interview for the next year and half.

“Casino Royale” had no jokes, no inside-references, no gadgets, no henchman, no nicknamed bad guys, no funny-name Bond girls, no SPECTER, no hideout, etc. “Quantum of Solace” has a couple jokes, one inside reference (to Goldfinger, and cracking well-done by the way,) a couple sorta gadgets, a sorta-henchman, a bad who’s kind-of nicknamed (mock-environmentalist named “Greene,”) one possibly funny-name Bond girl, the SUGGESTION of a very SPECTER-like ‘Quantum’ society and something almost resembling a hideout. My question: At this rate, is it going to take two or three more sequels for James Bond to turn into James Bond instead of a slightly-less whiny-bitch version of Jason Bourne?

I’m on Internet TV again!

Hey, lookit that! “The Escapist Show” is airing another of my reviews, this time for “Max Payne.” What swell guys.

Check it out here: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-escapist-show/421-Episode-Four-Mirrors-Edge

I’m in there at about 6:05, but you should watch the whole thing because they’re good guys doing a good job. It’s a little intimidating, to be honest, to be sharing vid-space with even a TRAILER for Zero Punctuation. I mean… who the hell am I, right?

As before, if you dig me doing this, let The Escapist know you’d like to see me more often:

Alphabet Meme

Aw, crud…

I really don’t like these things, but the burden of Internet psuedo-celebrity is that if someone calls you out and you don’t respond people notice. FINE…

For the record, I got “tagged” for this by “Dirty Harry,” the increasingly ironically-named right-wing movie blogger who – to his credit – is pretty decent about letting me treat his comment threads like a combination shooting-gallery, stress-relief ball and Free-Range Nutcase Game Preserve all the time. Yes, I know, he’s being dippy about anti-Prop. 8 “McCarthyism” and I don’t know that I’ve ever been called a “dolt” before… (http://dirtyharrysplace.com/?p=5652#comments) but c’mon, folks – Republicans are about to have a REALLY long, REALLY sucky four-to-eight years; you’ve got to expect a little snit-fit here and there. Be understanding with the poor little darlings – like you’d be with a small child or a Cubs fan.

Anyway… the fellow “tagged” me for a movie-blogger meme, which apparently originated over at Blog Cabins (http://blogcabins.blogspot.com/2008/11/alphabet-meme.html) by which your supposed to list various movies alphabetically. Well, easy enough… and I do need to post more. So here goes…

Beast From 20,000 Fathoms
Dark Backward
Frankenstein Conquers the World
Hunger, the (anyone who tells you they liked more than about ten to fifteen total minutes of this is probably a liar.)
It Came From Beneath The Sea
Jigoku (see “Hunger, the”)
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Last Dinosaur, the
Monster That Challenged The World, the
Night of The Lepus
Orochi: The Three-Headed Dragon
Planet of Dinosaurs
Q: The Winged Serpent
Rabbit-Proof Fence
Ultraman: The Next
Valley of Gwangi, the
War of The Gargantuas
Yog: Monster from Space

Proposition 8

This is NOT a political blog.

(It’s a blog run by a thoroughly irresponsible guy who can’t remember to update often enough and overcompensates by making “comeback” posts about hot-button news topics, but NOT a political blog.)

Which is why I generally don’t do political posts unless they have something to say “on topic.” But, given that the major political story of the moment is now starting to spill over into the entertainment/film biz, I think I have some wiggle room to say something on this that doesn’t sound like just me using my soapbox to foist my opinions upon my readers/visitors. Although – and listen carefully here – I’m not going to give you MY opinion on this matter, because I’m not really interested in the philosophical debate… I’m interested in the very REAL clash thats going on in the wake of it.

Just so we’re all up to speed: Earlier in the year, the California Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples had the right to enter into legal marriages in the state. A contingent of anti-gay activists, primarily backed up by the financial clout of the Mormon Church, lobbied successfully to get a constitutional amendment which would effectively ban such marriages – thus eliminating the newly-legalized right – added to the ballot in the recent elections. In a close vote of 52% to 48%, the measure passed banning same-sex marriage in the state.

Anyway, as one can imagine people are pretty heated about this on both sides, and this week it started getting REALLY ugly. Protests outside of churches are turning aggressive, and enterprising activists have taken to “outing” supporters of the ban. That last part has begun to hit the entertainment industry hard since, let’s face it… Hollywood ain’t a place where you want people to know you’ve got something against gays.

This sort of thing, of course, has thoughtful people – particularly thoughtful people who SUPPORT same-sex marriage, in this case – feeling slightly uneasy. Here’s Jeffery Wells of “Hollywood Elsewhere,” a vocal supporter of the cause, voicing his conflicted feelings on the story of Rich Raddon, the well-liked director of the FIND L.A. Film Festival who has found himself the target of a pending boycott after it was revealed that he donated $1500 to the “Yes on 8” effort: http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2008/11/turn_the_other.php

Naturally, a controversial topic is going to lead people to reevaluate their opinions toward folks they “thought they knew” upon learning that they differ on such a profound issue… but NO ONE worth taking seriously likes the idea of people being shunned at work or “outed” for political beliefs. It’s the sort of thing that brings to mind words like “witch hunt” or “McCarthyism.” And, of course, it goes without saying that the folks who are becoming violent or intolerant in their anger toward Prop8 supporters should be condemned ESPECIALLY if one agrees with their stance, since they do their “side” no favors by acting this way.

BUT… here’s the thing, and here’s where I come down on the matter: This ISN’T just a simple matter of people offering a different opinion. Proposition 8 WASN’T an opinion poll of how you feel on the issue of equal-rights-for-homosexuals – it was an amendment to the constitution. It changed a law. It had a real, tangible effect. If you voted for it, you did NOT merely vote to register your moral opposition to homosexuality… you voted to take something away from people. Right or wrong, people tend to get MAD when that happens to them. You would if it happened to you.

I’m not here to condemn you if you support Prop 8 either in actuality (i.e. you’re in CA and voted for it) or just philosophically. I don’t really care, that’s your business. What I WILL say to you if you fall into one of those camps and are now feeling bad that people are angry at you: Grow a pair. This ceased to be a nice debate among fellow citizens the moment YOU started spending money and effort NOT merely to voice your opinion but to literally take a right away from a fellow citizen. It’s unreasonable for you to expect that the people you worked to take a right from wouldn’t be angry at you. This is no longer about philosophy or academic disagreement – it’s about very real concepts of tangible loss and gain – it’s a FIGHT… and the principal consequence of getting into a fight is that you might get knocked around a bit. If that’s not what you wanted, you never should’ve put on the gloves, never should’ve stepped into the ring and NEVER should’ve punched the other guy first.

odds and ends

Don’t believe the haters: “Changeling” is a really good, intellectually-satisfying, quietly powerful drama. Working against it mainly are the misleading trailers and title, which both wrongly imply that the film is chiefly a melodrama about Jolie’s character and the “fake” son when in fact that story is just the “human-level” anchor for a multi-level, multi-storyline, multi-character True Crime saga revolving around a hopelessly corrupt police department. It’s not the best thing anyone involved has done, but it all works and you get A LOT of movie for you’re money: It’s at once a missing-child weepie, a women-in-prison thriller, a detective story, a crime saga, a social-activism fable and even partially a pretty grim horror film. It’s unfortunate that “I want MY SON BACK!!!” has become something like this years “I wish I knew how to quit you!!!” when A.) the actual scene, in-context, KILLS and B.) Jolie’s performance otherwise is a marvel of restrained, internalized acting.

“Madagascar 2” is about what you’d expect: Every funny bit from the first movie gets trotted back out to overstay it’s welcome (even the crazy old lady who got into a fight with the lion is back!) and the funny new material… isn’t very funny. It’s not bad, but it’s just a quick paycheck for everyone involved.

“Zack & Miri Make a Porno” is cute and, thankfully, hysterically funny in spots. It’s nice to see Kevin Smith SUCCESSFULLY branch out, though it does seem kind of perfectly appropriate that this newest “break” from his View Askew franchise is largely a story about, yes: a schlubby, bearded slacker who finds direction and fulfillment by shooting a no-budget movie at his workplace starring his buddies. There’s really no antagonist or much tension as to whether or not what we all know will happen will happen, but it’s good-natured. The big revelations are, in order… #1: The new ‘cleaned-up’ Jason Mewes actually CAN act and be engaging as a character that isn’t just a caricature of himself – in fact, he walks off with huge chunks of the film. #2: Brandon Routh? Good at comedy, alarmingly tall – alarming in the sense that you wonder “why didn’t they take advantage of that stature in ‘Superman’ where he always appeared to be of average height?” #3: Justin Long? Yes, he can be more than “a Mac” – he’s fantastic. #4: Real-life porn starlet Katie Morgan? Button-cute, funny as hell, solid comic actress and instantly likable (though those of you who’ve seen her various jokey HBO specials already knew that.) A mainstream comedy film career is hers, if she wants it.