Movie Report: Ma and Pa Kettle Back On The Farm (1951)

Book coverAfter discoursing, briefly, on films that piss on Missouri, I popped this film in right away as I thought it was set in Missouri because Ma and Pa Kettle are yokels, and the Ozarks hillbilly was entering the popular culture about this time. But I was mistaken; apparently, the films are set in Washington state for the most part (although one later entry is The Kettles in the Ozarks). So this is not a piss on Missouri movie at all. And it’s funny, the passage of time; I would have sworn I just bought this film, but it was almost six months ago. Man, I am not watching movies as fast as I’m buying them.

At any rate, this is the first Ma and Pa Kettle movie I watched on purpose and all the way through. I say this because, gentle reader, well… pull up a chair and hear about the Olden Days. When I was a kid, before cable, the UHF stations on the dial and sometimes the VHF stations, would play two or three movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. These tended to include old black-and-white war movies and comedies from series, including the Ma and Pa Kettle movies and Francis the Talking Mule (a couple of series I remember). As a pre-teen boy, I tended to only get into monster movies on the creature feature show. So although I would have had the chance to watch probably everything in this series, I didn’t.

So: This is the third film in which Ma and Pa Kettle and their kin appear. In The Egg and I, they’re secondary characters to the main characters who move from the big city to the farm (and for which Marjorie Main was nominated for Best Supporting Actress). Then the films focus on them with various vagaries (my rigorous research indicates). In this film, the Kettles are living in a modern house with their son who graduated from college and invented an improved chicken egg incubator (the premise of Ma and Pa Kettle). Their son and his eastern wife are about to have a baby, and the in-laws show up, and the domineering mother-in-law takes over, driving the Kettles back to their farm which lacks the modern conveniences they’ve come to appreciate. Prospectors think they’ve found a vein of uranium on the Kettles’ land leading to their presumed chance at wealth. And the mother-in-law eventually drives the new parents apart.

In a series of humorous set pieces, everything is set aright.

I chuckled at a couple of the things. But I don’t know if I’ll order other films in the series. If I see them, I might pick them up–odds are better to find them here than elsewhere, perhaps. Especially for a buck or fifty cents at the book sale or antique mall.

And I don’t even think this would count as a pissing on kind of movie because it’s light-hearted comedic poking at archetypes. I count pissing on movies as earnest, this is how those lesser people really are kinds of films. Or perhaps I just slap the term around arbitrarily and without being informed about what I’m talking about. This is a blog, after all, and hot takes are often also spit takes.

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Movie Report: Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994)

Book coverIt seems like I just watched the first two films in this series, gentle reader, but I watched Highlander last January and Highlander II: The Quickening last May. And I watched the series of them in recent memory, recent being within the last decade. Seems I see them priced to move somewhere together and I buy another set of them, and I put them in my unwatched cabinet (or on it). You know, of all the media libraries, the VHS and DVD library is the smallest, so it has a slightly greater chance of being organized some day rather than the LPs, CDs, or books do, and I might learn how many copies of each of these films I own.

At any rate, this film ignores the contents of the second, rightfully so. In it, Connor MacLeod has traveled after his first wife dies in Scotland to Japan to study with another immortal, a Japanese sorceror played by Mako. The sorceror helps the Highlander to fashion his katana and to learn to fight with it. But Kane, a Mongolish looking immortal played by Mario Van Peebles arrives and kills the sorceror who tells MacLeod to run. Because he has booby trapped his lair so that when his head is taken, presumably by Kane, that it collapses, burying Kane and his fellow bad guy immortals.

In 1994, an industrial dig of some sort–the set is, of course, a generic industrial set–unearths the legendary cave of the sorceror and frees Kane. Of course, a beautiful archeologist played by Deborah Kara Unger is on hand to be a love interest after discovering the secret of MacLeod’s past. In northern Africa, the Highlander senses that another immortal is afoot and returns to New York, where Kane heads himself for the renewed Gathering. A couple of set pieces and cinematic sword fights later, Kane and MacLeod face off on another conveniently located generic industrial set of steam pipes and metal stairs and catwalks. Well, the last piece is set in New Jersey, so maybe it’s all like that.

So it’s a grand fun film to watch, especially Mario Van Peebles having the time of his life chewing up the scenery as the bad guy. The budget for these films must have been pretty low, as they didn’t spend a whole lot on set lighting or custom sets, but they’re still more fun to watch than modern action films costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

And in the Highlander film, I mentioned how both Roxanne Hart, as the then-modern Brenda, and Beatie Edney, as MacLeod’s first wife, were pretty. But, boy howdy, Deborah Kara Unger.

Continue reading “Movie Report: Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994)”

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Movie Report: Collateral (2004)

Book coverThis film came out back when we still went to films in the theater–we were still in Casinoport. I had just started working as a consultant for the digital agency, starting my own consulting company and working from home for the first time. Basically, I’ve worked from home ever since except for a year or so when the agency hired me and had an office downtown. Perhaps that was not a film-filled summer–I was not only working full time for the agency, but I’d picked up short contracts with previous employers for in-office night work and white paper writing. So I had knowledge of the film when it came out and since–Foxx was something then, ainna? His Oscar winning turn as Ray Charles would come out a couple months later–and Cruise was in the mid-career doldrums, although his doldrums tended to move better than actual doldrums.

At any rate, the plot: Foxx plays a cab driver who picks up a blond Cruise at a courthouse after dropping off a prosecutor planning for a big case. Cruise has a couple of stops to have people sign papers for a real estate deal, so he engages the cab driver to drive him to all the stops. But, at the first stop, a body flies out the window and lands on the cab, and Max (the cab driver) learns Vincent (Cruise) is an assassin on a mission to… well, it develops, take out witnesses and the prosecutor in a case targeting one of his clients, or related organized crime figures.

Along the way, Max and Vincent develop a bit of a rapport. Vincent shakes Max out of a bit of a habitual, rote existence dreaming of better things (owning a limo company) and gets him to man up and demonstrate some confidence–one scene has Max going into a nightclub, pretending to be Vincent. But, in the end, the rapport is false, and Max has to protect his mother (whom he visited in the hospital with Vincent) and the pretty prosecutor who rode in Vincent’s cab earlier.

So the film has some depth in exploring the relationship between the men and how it evolves, mostly in Max drawing strength and confidence from the psychopath’s influence and ultimate his testing.

However, some of the plot turns are just that, plot turns, and not actual evolution of the situation. I mean, Max could have gotten away on several occasions before Vincent knew about his mother, but did not. And they’re driving around in a damaged cab with a body in the trunk as though they have nothing to worry about–although they are stopped by police at one point, saved only by the coincidence that the police are just then called to the scene of one of Vincent’s earlier crimes. So the plot as played out detracts a bit from it.

The film also features a young Mark Ruffalo as a police detective on their trail and Jada Pinkett Smith as the pretty prosecutor. Wow, she was pretty back in those days. Now, not so much. Not so much because she has aged–everyone has except my beautiful wife–but because her (Jada Pinkett Smith’s) character has been revealed to be reviled.

So an okay film. Not one I will watch over and over again, and not something that entered the cultural zeitgeist to be remembered or quoted much twenty years later.

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A Quiz, Sort Of

The Web site of the Springfield News-Leader has a tile that presents it as a quiz:

However, the title gets more to the point: These 16 television shows, movies are set in Missouri — but were they filmed here?

The majority of the series [Ozark] is set in the dark, ominous Ozarks, but critics didn’t hesitate to point out that hardly any of the episodes were filmed in Missouri. The majority of the series was filmed in Georgia, according to IMDb. As for the lake scenes, most of these were filmed at Lake Allatoona, a reservoir similarly shaped to the Lake of the Ozarks about 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta.

In recent years, “Ozark” may have been at the top of people’s minds when it came to how Missouri was showcased by Hollywood, but there have been several other award-winning television shows and movies set in the Show Me State — some of which, like “Ozark” weren’t actually filmed here.

Perhaps the journalist is disappointed that she does not have the opportunity to see stars on location, but the article points out that Georgia ladles tax breaks and incentives on production companies. One wonders if this is supposed to serve as a call to action for Missouri to also ladle out tax money so Shia LeBeouf can fly in and film for a couple of days before flying out.

However, since it was presented as a quiz, I must ask myself: How did I do? The sixteen from the article are:

  • The Act
  • Sharp Objects
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri
  • American Honey
  • Gone Girl
  • Switched at Birth
  • Winter’s Bone
  • Up in the Air
  • Waiting for Guffman
  • Road House
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • Paper Moon
  • Meet Me In St. Louis

I’ve seen five of sixteen.

The list skews to recent and to piss-on-Missouri stories and includes a number of entries where a scene nominally appears in Missouri in a larger travel film. Coincidentally, the latter overlap a lot with the films on the list I’ve seen.

The journalist does disclaim:

Note: There have been countless television shows and movies set and filmed in Missouri. This list is not exhaustive.

However, if one goes to the AUTHORITY (the Wikipedia entry Films set in Missouri), one sees this pretty much is the pattern: Piss on Missouri or just passing through. Guardians of the Galaxy? Deep Impact? I have seen these films, and they might have a scene in Missouri, but to say they’re set in Missouri is a stretch.

I am glad to see One Night At McCool’s is listed. But Larger than Life is not. The latter falls in the “Passing through” category, with a scene in Kansas City, and something that was filmed in St. Louis–Mike and Todd, both veteran actors of The Courtship of Barbara Holt, were extras in a scene that did not make the final feature.

At any rate, I’m not much into movies, books, or articles that piss on the heartland or where the writer is from (after the writer has moved to the big time). So I probably won’t watch Winter’s Bone (although I did just check movie accumulation posts to make sure I hadn’t already bought the DVD somewhere) but I do have the book in the stacks somewhere (I ordered it from ABC Books during the LOCKDOWN).

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Movie Report: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Book coverAfter completing the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, I took the opportunity to pop in some films. I was in the mood for this one for some reason, one that I thought maybe I could watch with my boys when they were old enough, but they’ve gotten too old now. Jeez, when did I pick this film up? Before I was enumerating film acquisitions on this blog, gentle reader, so a long time ago that was not so long ago.

I did not see this film when it came out, but it was a big deal at the time; the film blends animation with real characters and a sense of neo-noir, if you can circle that square. The film takes place in the late 1940s in Hollywood where cartoon characters exist and work side-by-side with humans on animated films. The film’s cold open features an adorable baby character, played by a fully grown toon in a baby body, whose mother leaves him in zany Roger Rabbit’s care. But Roger Rabbit blows the scene when he produces stars instead of birds when given a blow to the head. The head of the studio thinks Roger Rabbit has lost his head in jealousy over his wife, Jessica Rabbit, and rumors of an affair. So he (the studio head) hires a detective to get pictures of the cartoon woman in adultery with the owner of a factory and benefactor of Toon Town, the residence of the cartoon characters. Bob Hoskins’ detective gets the photos, and when the factory owner winds up dead, Roger Rabbit is the suspect. The detective discovers that it might be a frame job and looks to discover…. well, who framed Roger Rabbit and why. To do so, he’ll have to confront his greatest fears–a return to Toon Town and to confront the toon that killed his brother.

Still amusing, albeit silly and not cress. Because it’s fantastic and a retro/throwback film set before the 1980s, the film has aged well. It remains as fresh as it would have been in the last year of the Reagan administration and in the early days of the Internet, before the World Wide Web, when one could discover naughty pictures of Jessica Rabbit on bulletin board systems and newsgroups. Or so I heard.

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Movie Report: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (c’mon, man, it’s not Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Book coverWell, since I just read the novelization of this film, of course I was going to rewatch the series. Well, the real Indiana Jones movies. I picked up a VHS box set from the turn of the century (it looks like the commentary is copyright 1999). Which is why the videocassettes call these Chapter 24, Chapter 23, and Chapter 25 respectively; the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a two season series plus four television movies, comprise the first 22 chapters of the story. And as far as the 21st century entries into the film canon go, well, we will not speak of them again.

So, Raiders of the Lost Ark: In the cold open, Indiana Jones is in a South American jungle, looking for an idol in a lost temple. When he reveals a map, one of his partners draws a weapon, only to have Jones whip it out of his hand. Native bearers flee when they reach the temple, and Jones and his remaining partner, Doctor Octopus, enter. Jones seemingly discovers the booby traps and swaps the idol for a bag of sand, and he must flee a final trap–the rolling boulder–and a betrayal from Doctor Octopus, and….

Well, never mind, gentle reader. You already know the story, and if you do not, you should definitely watch the movie and not read a recap. So I will just jump into my normal commentary on the film(s).

I did not see Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theaters, and it was some years after it came out on home video and cable that I saw it. I was familiar with the story, though, as I had one or more comic books telling at least part of the story. For some reason, I think I saw this in school, maybe in high school, eventually, and I’ve only seen it a couple of times since then. However, Indiana Jones was part of the zeitgeist in the 1980s, and it probably more than anything else popularized the archeologist/treasure hunter archetype that had a healthy go of it in the era–see also Firewalker, the Allan Quatermain movies King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold, and the Romancing the Stone/Jewel of the Nile movies and so on.

Sometime around the turn of the century, about the time I decided to ditch the gas permeable contact lenses and wear glasses instead, my beautiful wife decided that I looked like Toht, one of the bad guys in the film. So I asked her to write a JavaScript clickable image carousel for me, and Toht Or Not was born (and originally hosted on Geocities).

I posted that on Slack where I work (for the nonce), and those kids were not familiar with a lot of the concepts therein, such as dial up connection and certainly Hot or Not, which was a thing in 2003.

At any rate, Lucas and Spielberg put together a rollicking adventure that moved very well.

Oft quoted lines:

  • “Top. Men.”
  • “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?”

As I suspected, the book is paced a little differently than the book and includes several scenes which were not in the movie, particularly in the beginning of the film when the Nazis decide to go for the ark. It differentiates and elaborates on the German chain of command in a way that is lost in the film. And although Marion in the movie says that she was a child during her earlier affair with Jones, we’re left to imagine what that is. 18? 19? In the book, she goes on and mentions she was fifteen. No telling on whether that was in the script, filmed, and/or cut or if the novelizationer added that in.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Book coverThis film, the events of which take place before Raiders of the Lost Ark, has a cold open where Jones has recovered the remains of a Chinese emperor for a gangster who does not want to pay and double-crosses Jones. Jones escapes with his life and the singer at the gangster’s nightclub, and although they (and Short Round, the annoying young sidekick) think they’ve gotten away, they’re passengers on a plane owned by the gangster–and the pilots bail out while Jones and crew are sleeping. Their narrow escape as the plane crashes in the Himalayas brings them to a village in India where the home stone has been stolen, and Jones decides to help return it. Which leads them to a fortress and a renegade rajah and a cult, including the cult leader who rips out still-beating hearts during rituals. Which is the gross-out moment in this film (akin to the face-melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark).

The film features some callbacks and in-jokes–the gangster’s club is Club Obi Wan, and at one point Indiana Jones faces not one, but two swordsmen who twirl their swords before attacking, and he reaches for his holster–but unlike in Raiders, he finds it empty and says, “Heh.” So already there’s a touch of fan service.

But the mine cart chase scene. Boy, howdy, did that go on for too long. Indiana, the nightclub singer, and Short Round hop into a mine cart to escape the bad guys from a–well, it’s not a mine, it’s a dig for the remaining Macguffins–and bad guys pursue them in other carts. Man, I don’t know if they were grabbing onto a height of roller coaster fame or if they had visions of future theme park attractions dancing in their heads, but the sequence is a bit over-the-top ridiculous.

It has gotten a bit of a bad reputation as the red-haired step-child of the Indiana Jones movies (before the delinquent foster children came along), but it’s not a bad sample of the genre. According to the Wikipedia entry, they set the film before Raiders so they wouldn’t have to make Nazis the bad guys again. If only they’d stuck with that. But in the 21st century, that’s the only real evil the world has seen, so it (and, perhaps, Republicans) are the only allowed villains in these simpler times.

Oft quoted lines:
Well, none, really, although maybe I will start saying, “Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory,” to change that. Although my kids are not really kids any more.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Book coverI saw this film in the theater, gentle reader, I think. It seems to me that my brother and I came into a windfall that summer when the owner of my father’s favorite tavern at the time hired us to load a roll-on dumpster with junk stored in the three- or four-bay garage attached to the saloon. We worked two days and got sixty dollars each, and, gentle reader, we could do anything we wanted. So we went to see this film instead of UHF because this film had been out for a while and would likely be ending its run, and UHF had just opened. Well, as it happens, UHF also closed before this film. But we saw it at the first run theater on Mill Road, not the second run theater which was across the street. We had a wealth of options in the world; I guess we have a wealth of options now in our homes, but it really isn’t the same.

At any rate, this is the film with Sean Connery as Indiana’s father who goes missing when searching for the Holy Grail. Prior to going missing, he sent his diary of clues home to Indiana, and when an industrialist asks Indiana to continue the search for the grail, Indiana takes the job to search for his father. Along the way, he meets a headstrong Austrian doctor, Elsa, who helped his father as well, and unknowingly brings the Germans the diary, which they wanted to get from Jones Sr. So when Indiana frees himself and his father, they have to race to Berlin to recover the diary and then beat the Nazis and the industrialist (working with the Nazis, including Elsa) to the temple in the canyon of the crescent moon.

The film has some throwbacks, including an escape via plane where Jones Sr. asks Indiana if he knows how to fly a plane and Indiana says, “Fly, yes. Land, no,” which hearkens back to the plane scene in Temple of Doom, and a convoy fight scene where Jones has to rescue his father and Brody from a tank definitely throws back to the ark convoy scene in Raiders.

So eight years after the initial movie, the original trilogy wraps up in fine fashion. I guess Lucas started planning the fourth installment which sounds a lot like The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in the early 1990s, but it would be fifteen years before that appeared. The cold open features a young Indiana Jones, played by River Phoenix, which laid some groundwork for the television series.

Quotable lines?

  • “It belongs in a museum!”
  • “We named the dog Indiana.”

I dunno. Not as prominently quotable as the first, and by that time the genre itself was starting to wind down, although examples of the genre have always been there (the Tomb Raider game came out in 1996, and the films in 2001 and 2003).

I spent $2 for the boxed set here (which did not include the television series, presumably available separately) and three evenings reviewing the material. Time and money well spent, or at least better spent than how I sometimes spend the evenings. It also makes me want to revisit some of the other listed examples of the genre even though I have seen Firewalker with my boys sometime in the last decade or so and Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile sometime since I bought them again in 2015. The material and setting (at least of the cold opening of Raiders) remains fresh as I listened to part of an audio course last summer (and will probably revisit it soon) and because the news headlines have been full of new archeological finds in the Amazon and the highlands of South America. So one could imagine stories like this being told today with some technological updating.

And I’d like to just reiterate something I’ve noted in book reports from thrillers from the 1980s about the use of Nazis as bad guys. In the 1980s, Nazis were the bad guys in a lot of books because World War II was still in living memory and because some of the younger people would have grown up with the World War II movies where the Nazis were the bad guys. In the 1980s fiction, it was always old Nazis putting into motion their decades-old plots to start the fourth Reich. The trope was aided by the fact that actual German World War II Nazis were found or dying in South America and whatnot. However, now in the 21st century, the use of Nazis as the bad guys is just a photocopy of a copy, as the only experience modern film makers and authors have of Nazis is from the popular culture. Which is why the stories and films have a sort of washed out and faded sense of plot. Photocopies of photocopies.

And in a sad personal side note, I saved these films for watching with my boys until I thought they were old enough to handle the gross-out scenes, but I guess I waited too long, as the boys no longer want to watch movies with me. They’re too busy working and dating (the older boy) and building an ephemeral legacy in Minecraft (the younger). So no telling how much they would have enjoyed the films even though they’re about the age I was when I saw them.

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You Didn’t Have To Tell Me

From the story Five things you may learn from those who have actually seen the first Super Bowl broadcast:

Fred Williamson went on to a lengthy post-playing career in movies

Williamson, who was interviewed for the podcast, is still alive at age 85, and though he’s not a Hall of Famer like teammates Len Dawson, Bobby Bell, Johnny Robinson or Emmitt Thomas, he might have had the most notable career of any player on that Chiefs team.

The Hammer went on to a career in “blaxploitation” action cinema, following in some of the same footsteps as NFL legend Jim Brown. His numerous list of film credits include movies as recently the 2020s.

Ackshually, you wouldn’t have learned that by watching the first NFL/AFL championship game. But you would have learned it if you watched all fifteen movies in the Urban Action Cinema Collection, a full 1/3 of which are Fred Williamson movies.

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Movie Report: Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

Book coverWell, gentle reader. Well, well, well. For starters, I watched this film last month and it has lingered on my desk that long. To be honest, I’ve been fairly busy with the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge to watch or even think about movies this month so far. I must get through the categories therein before I return to my regularly scheduled occasional film watching.

I picked this film up last September in a burst of profligacy. I watched the first film in…. Well, in ages past, before I decided that movie reports were content for the search engine algorithms to ignore. I mention it in The 80s R in 2018, so that must have been about the time when I rented the DVD from the video store. Six years? Not quite closer to the film’s release than now, but close. But, oh, how I dwell on the passage of time outside my unchanging world.

The film takes place a couple of years after Kick-Ass and is less brutal than the original. Kick-Ass trains with Hit-Girl, and they’re both not really active but are training. The son of the big bad guy in the first film takes control of his father’s criminal empire and the family fortune and assembles a squad of super-villains hoping for revenge. Meanwhile, Kick-Ass discovers that a group of people in costume has gathered to fight crime as well, and he teams up with them. But the bad guys group starts killing members of the good guys group and Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl have to put a stop to it.

Less brutal, and it has some teen movie themes to it as Hit-Girl, in her secret identity, has to navigate high school. And she and Kick-Ass come to determine they’re more than friends.

A bit of deconstruction on the superhero films that were still gaining steam in that era. An amusing bit of watching, but not for younger viewers. And it can probably stand alone enough if you haven’t seen the original. Or, if you’re like me, and you’ve seen the original “recently” as understood by more seasoned readers, where “recently” can stretch back a decade or so.

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Movie Report: Corky Romano (2001)

Book coverAh, gentle reader. I took my beautiful wife to see this film in the theater. We were young, and we went to the movies often, apparently, and I not only made her suffer through not only films based on Saturday Night Live sketches, but also films starring Saturday Night Live alum. For some reason, we thought this would be a funny film, but she was not impressed.

Twenty-one years later (somehow), I picked the film up at a book sale and popped it into the DVD player. And I enjoyed it enough for what it is: a silly comedy.

Chris Kattan plays the title character, a happy-go-lucky veterinarian, basically a Chris Kattan character, whose father and brothers are mobsters. When their father is indicted, the family calls in Corky to impersonate an FBI agent to steal the evidence that the FBI has on them. So he does, impressing the other agents by resolving situations using his special methods–often frantic and panicked flailing of some sort–as he tries to win the heart of an agent (played by Vinessa Shaw).

It’s lightweight, and I might have enjoyed it a little more this time without worrying about how much my wife was not enjoying it.

You know, for a brief period there around the turn of the century, Chris Kattan was a movie star–well, all right, he was also in A Night at the Roxbury and Undercover Brother, both of which I saw in the cinema, so maybe Chris Kattan was just in movies that I went to–but lately (and by lately, I mean for the last almost two decades), he’s had guest starring roles on television and in other films, so he’s kept busy. Hopefully on his terms.

So: An amusing little bit if you’re in the mood for some slapstick and some late 1990s sensibilities. Not as crass as films that come later and a bit better-spirited, but it does have some drug humor and whatnot (but not the trope where the main characters purposefully get wasted to get into whacky situations or let their true selves shine).

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Movie Report: The Lost Swordship (1979)

Book coverAh, gentle reader, I picked up this film with a heavy heart. As I mentioned in July, I spotted a nice rapier in a cabinet at Relics and wanted to buy it, but I did not want to pay cash for it, instead hoping that I would get gift money somewhere and could return. So the week after Christmas, when I had to stop by Relics for a Christmas gift for friends for whom I’d hoped to make something but did not, I had Christmas gift money in hand to buy the rapier. And…. It was gone. The little cabinet that had been stocked with blades of all kinds was down to a katana, a couple sword canes, a bayonet, and a couple of knives. I was greatly disappointed, but I did not buy the katana as I was hoping for a rapier. So for three days, I hemmed and hawed and decided I would take the katana since I have space on my wall, and it was slightly less expensive than the rapier. And on New Year’s Day, and I went to Relics, and…. The katana was also gone; the cabinet only had a couple of knives and sword canes left. I am not even tempted to buy any of them.

So it perhaps was fitting that I popped in this film, which I bought at Relics with Christmas 2022’s gift card.

Natively entitled Piao xiang jian yu, this is a 1977 Taiwanese kung fu film. Surely this would not have made it to American late night television in time for us to have seen in on a Saturday night in 1981 or 1982 after Hawaii Five-O. If it was on Kung-Fu Theater in Milwaukee a few years after release, though, I might have seen it before. But unlikely.

At any rate, the story: A “Bishop” (according to the subtitles)–attacks a monastery or martial arts school and kills its members but the son of the owner(?) survives and vows revenge. Meanwhile, another martial artist finds his wife has been kidnapped or killed by the Bishop. He vows revenge. The other guy is her lover. One of them is impressed into the service of “the Bishop” to save her and the other goes looking for her. The one not in the Bishop’s service ends up being taught by two thieves to swordfight with special tricks like throwing the sword like a deadly boomerang. In the end, they team up and discover “the Bishop” was the wife/lover all along.

To be honest, I found the film hard to follow. The two male leads, the husband and the lover, both have long hair and wore it similarly, so I didn’t realize at first that they were different people. The subtitles didn’t help–they were inconsistently paced so that sometimes, short subtitles would be up for a long time, but other times, a longer block of text comprising a couple of lines would show and disappear quickly. So one watched the action on the screen at the risk of missing the plot points.

I didn’t find much on this film online–the IMDB entry and a couple of similar if not scraped Web sites–but on Letterboxd, other reviews indicate that the editing of this film made it hard to follow for other people, perhaps not just those of us dwelling on the subtitles trying to follow the plot.

So, yeah, kung fu theater. Okay if you’re into this thing, but not enough to make one forget the loss of a sword that could have been mine.

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Movie Report: Airplane! (1980)

Book coverWell, after I read Surely You Can’t Be Serious and watched Kentucky Fried Movie, of course I was going to watch this again (even though I just watched it in spring 2021).

I watched it without my boys this time. So I didn’t watch it with the will they get this? double-effect viewer.

And, as I said in reviewing Kentucky Fried Movie, these films do sort of represent a sea-change in what you could do with a comedy film. I mean, we’ve always had romps like Casino Royale, but the jump cut gag in there almost just for the purpose of the gag seemed to start with Airplane!. Or perhaps Airplane! had the benefit of being fresh when the home video market took off, which gave it more reliable playback and availability for cult-movie worship than you would get with a film relegated to repeated but widely scheduled showings on television or cable (whose existence predates the home video revolution, but whose widespread adoption occurred about the same time), which would lead it to being a more dominant memory than other films with similar pacing and philosophy.

It was a pleasure to rewatch it with Surely You Can’t Be Serious in mind. The book certainly explained the presence of the character played by Stephen Stucker, the wacky control tower guy, who was wacky when everyone else was playing it straight–he was an important member of the Kentucky Fried Theater troupe, and they generally just let him go nuts with improv on stage, so they sort of recreated that here.

You know, it’s been a while since I’ve seen Airplane! 2: The Sequel. It must have been on Showtime or something as I’ve seen it several times and don’t seem to have it in the Nogglestead library. Perhaps I should organize the Nogglestead video library. Certainly that would be a less daunting task than to organize the record library, the CD library, or, heaven forbid, the book library which was briefly almost organized–at least the reference and read books shelves were–about 1,200 read books ago. A project for anever day.

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Movie Report: The Sting (1973)

Book coverThis film came out the year after I was born, but I was aware of it and of the presence of “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin in it (I eventually learned it) and because I had a Cracked magazine parody of it at one time, which must have somehow meant I obtained an older copy of the magazine or that they were still parodying the film in the early 1980s when I would have been buying Cracked magazine at the little drug store next to the neighborhood grocery store. A neighborhood grocery store? How old am I? In one of my local newspapers, I read about a woman retiring from the local grocer after forty-three years, and she talked about having to memorize sale prices in the paper because they didn’t have scanners. You know, I came to work in a grocery store, a small almost neighborhood grocery store, in 1990, and we were just at the tail end of the scanners–we still had price sticker guns in the produce department for some applications–which means, mein Gott, I am getting old, and I can only tell you of the way things were in the last century. Younger people will hear, but not understand.

In the film, a couple of small grifters in Joilet, Illinois, roll a man using a scam to swap his money for a bundle of paper. They think they’ve made the big score, but they only got so much because it was a mob courier they scammed. When the heat comes down and his partner is killed, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) goes to Chicago to learn the “big con” from his former partner’s contact Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who is hiding from the FBI. They target the mob figure responsible for Hooker’s partner’s death, and the film details how they build a story that Gondorff runs an off-track betting parlor (betting on horse races), and Hooker is his disaffected henchman. Gondorff out-cheats Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) at cards on a train ride and sends Hooker to collect his winnings at Lonnegan’s, and Hooker indicates he’s willing to turn on Gondorff if Lonnegan will give him a good role. So he, Hooker, indicates that he has a connection who can give horse race results before they become available–an elaborate setup of having a fake announcer at the betting parlor holding race results for a couple of minutes so they can tip Lonnegan which way to bet. When they ultimately clean him out, they stage a fake FBI raid on the parlor and Hooker and Gondorff are shot during the raid. After a crooked cop leads Lonnegan off, Hooker and Gondorff walk off into the Casablanca fog extolling the beginning of their beautiful friendship (although I might be confusing that with the ending of another film).

It’s a period piece, a costume drama, and it features title cards and “bumper” music between acts for a little extra throwback flavor. Additionally, it’s clever in the heist’s execution and the dialog rings true. And one gets a bit of a sense who the characters are beyond their spoken lines. My goodness, gentle reader, was this the anachronism of depth in acting? I believe so. Of course, perhaps the modern shallow acting technique merely mirrors the expressive but brief and shallow emotions modern people, bred, educated, and conditioned by small screens, feel (citation needed).

I understand there’s a sequel, but I am not sure I’ve ever seen it in the wild. The copy I have is on VHS, which I presume means it was bought by a consumer before DVDs were popular. Most of the DVDs one finds in the wild come from films from the years after, what, 1986 (along with some earlier blockbusters/classics/Disney reissues)? So a 1983 lesser facsimile of a smash from 1973 might fall into that dead zone of eras. I suppose I could do some research on it and publish a paper, but to what end? I’d never become president of a major university based on my scholarship in twee and unimportant, impractical matters.

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Movie Report: Chasing Amy (1997)

Book coverIt took me three nights to get through this film which I have seen before and think might be Kevin Smith’s best film. I popped it in on an evening where my resolve to watch a film was wavery, and I only got a couple of minutes into it before deciding I wanted to do something else. The next night, I watched another couple of minutes of it before thinking that some of the sexual talk was a little more frank than I’d like my boys to see if they passed through the room while I was watching it. But on the third try, I gutted through and watched the whole thing. And I still think it’s Kevin Smith’s best film, or perhaps it’s the one that spoke and speaks most to me. But I guess we’ll get to that by and by.

The film deals with a comic book writer/artist named Holden (obvious, and played by Ben Affleck) who has a successful indie comic Bluntman and Chronic based on the adventures of Jay and Silent Bob. He works with his lifelong friend Banky, played by Jason Lee, and he meets an attractive fellow comic book artist played by Joey Lauren Adams. He thinks it’s going well, until he discovers that she’s a lesbian. So they become good friends, which strains the relationship with Banky (who might have homoerotic feelings for his friend). The relationship between Holden and Alyssa does blossom into love, and they become a couple, but his discomfort with her sexual history leads to the end. And maybe he learns something at the end of the film.

Yeah, brother, in 1997, I was steeped in the sexual culture of the 1990s, where anything went. I mean, I came out of a university’s English program, where the young ladies were often, erm, tarts. I was friends with Mike, and his exploits were then-legendary and then-fresh. But I was not an active participant in that culture because I guess I was the original “Yes, m’lady” fedora-wearing chump. So it was pretty much a given that anyone whom I met coming out of the English-degree or coffee house millieu that I wanted to get serious about would have more of a history than I did, and I would score myself against those previous lovers whose prowess I could only imagine. So, it hit me then right in the sexual insecurity spot.

But, twenty-six years later, it can still hit one in the generalized insecurity spot.

I don’t know if kids these days would understand–they’re relationships and world view are so much altered by the instanet, and Boomers had their own intra-personal courtship rituals from which we in Shampoo Planet Generation X (isn’t it funny that I’ve read one or the both of them, and I cannot remember their plots much but they’ve named a whole generation) were rebelling, sort of, in our slacker way. So maybe this movie only can appeal to Generation X, or as we can be thought of now, those eligible or about-to-be-eligible for the senior discount. I dunno. All I know is that I’ll rewatch Mallrats sometime, and Clerks. But not likely Dogma. And I haven’t seen anything from Smith since. No, wait, I saw Jersey Girl in the theaters, and it wasn’t bad. So I might rewatch it sometime. And I will probably pick up Zack and Miri Make a Porno sometime (although I could have had it this year for fifty cents). So maybe my relationship with Kevin Smith movies is complicated.

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Movie Report: Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Book coverAfter reading Surely You Can’t Be Serious, I went back into the Nogglestead media library looking for this film. I came up with Hamburger: The Motion Picture and hoped I had not conflated the two. But I recognized some of the descriptions of the skits from the book, so I kept on, and I found it. I probably watched it shortly after I bought it in 2007, but not since. I don’t rewatch and rewatch things frequently except for maybe Christmas movies these years.

I asked my youngest if he wanted to watch a film with me, and he demurred, and to be honest, I am kind of glad I did. For although I knew it had sexual humor to it, I had not remembered the sheer number of boobs this film contains. He would have been mortified. I would have been mortified. So, instead, I will leave it on the Nogglestead video library unhidden for them to discover. I am kidding–they are of a generation who does not watch films on physical media. And they’re remarkably uncurious–they have not even discovered that I have numerous gentlemen’s magazines. Maybe they’re of a generation uninterested in boobs at all. But I digress.

The film is a collection of skits that riff on evening news, movie promos/trailers, commercials, and even movies–the longest segment is a riff on kung fu movies called A Fist Full of Yen which I remembered a bit of (“Take him to…. Detroit!”). It features cameos by different recognized actors–including Bill Bixby and George Lazenby, more recognizable contemporaneous to the film than to today–which lends it a little bit of verisimilitude. Of course, in the last two decades of the 20th century, this material would seem a little familiar–the typical Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker fare appeared by then, as did imitator Amazon Women On The Moon, but this is the film rather broke the old mold and introduced some of the tropes.

I enjoyed re-watching it, but I’m old enough to know what they’re making fun of with their skits. Younger audiences would not be so lucky. And they might be shocked and appalled by the women’s upper carriages which were a staple of comedies of the time.

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Movie Report: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Book coverI forget where I recently read that this film introduced the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (perhaps it was not on a blog, but on the front of the box). So I decided to pop in this film which I bought last month the night after White Christmas.

Okay, so it’s a little romance with singing (although it includes a dance number to “Skip to My Lou”). Judy Garland plays the middle daughter in a family of five children. The oldest son is going off to college; the oldest sister is hoping that a boy going to Yale is going to propose to her; the older younger sister is played by Joan Carroll who in the next year would have a meatier role in The Bells of St. Mary’s; the youngest is five years old and definitely gives off a creepy vibe as she says her dolls have fatal diseases and then has funerals for them and buries them. They live with their folks in a nice (real nice) house in St. Louis. And the bulk of the film is Judy Garland singing about the boy next door. Their father announces that he will be running a new New York office for his law firm, throwing the family in disarray.

The movie covers almost a year in the life, with a section for each season starting with summer 2003 and going to the opening of the World’s Fair in 2004. The winter/Christmas scene seems longest and does, in fact, serve up a wistful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as the youngest daughter laments leaving St. Louis. But, as a romance, it all wraps up with happy couples in the end staying in St. Louis.

Not an unpleasant couple of hours; probably better if you’re into the genre. You know, I lived in the St. Louis area for, erm, 20+ years on and off from 1983-2009, and World’s Fair memorabilia was still a thing at that time. The centennial was a bit of a big deal. But I was too young to get into it. I’m sure this film grafted some of that onto a new generation in 1944 and beyond. This film was a period piece when it came out; it’s doubly so now, being an artifact of its time as well as an idealization of the time it depicted. I mean, if they made period pieces now set forty years ago, they’d be set in the 1980s. Oh. But the times have not changed quite as much in the last 40 years as in the period between 1904 and 1944. But perhaps I am merely old enough to have that perspective, being that I remember not having cell phones and social media as normal in a way that kids these days would not.

The movie also introduces two new songs which have become American Songbook standards: “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song”. I associate them with Stacey Kent as they both appear on her album The Boy Next Door. Perhaps it’s the familiarity with Kent’s versions that make me prefer them over Garland’s.

Alright, alright, alright. Now, do I dig out The Bishop’s Wife or go right into the action-oriented Christmas movies? Stay tuned!

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Movie Report: White Christmas (1954)

Book coverWell, after watching Holiday Inn, of course I put this videocassette into the VCR the next evening. The label on the video indicates I paid twice as much for it as Holiday Inn, but they both look like church youth group garage sales. Probably different years. They haven’t had one of those sales in years, which explains why have accumulating boxes of “donations” in my garage.

This film starts with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire Danny Kaye putting on a show near the front in France, 1944. It’s Christmas Eve, and their division is about to move up, so they want to give the guys something pleasant before they do. And they want to honor their outgoing General Waverly who is being replaced with someone straight from the Pentagon. After the show, Phil Davis (Kaye) pulls Bob Wallace (Crosby) from a falling wall, saving his life. When they meet in the hospital, Wallace expresses his gratitude and offers to do anything for Davis–and Davis responds by showing him a song, which is a duet–although Wallace claims he works alone, he now has a partner.

A decade later, they are a successful act on tour with their show when they meet two sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes, a sister act whose brother served with Davis and Wallace. When the girls announce that they’re heading to Vermont (and have to get out of town fast), Davis gives the girls their plane tickets and stalls the local law while the girls escape. He then connives a trip to Vermont with Wallace with the girls, and they discover that the inn where the girls are to perform is owned by General Waverly. The inn might as well be closed: with no snow in Vermont this year, no guests are staying at the inn. But Wallace and Davis bring their show to the inn for rehearsals and then call their old service mates to come see it to support the old man. And finis!

Watching them on consecutive nights leads one to compare the two, and I definitely prefer Holiday Inn. The songs are better, and this film has a couple or three song-and-dance numbers just grafted onto the narrative under the pretense that they’re parts of the show being rehearsed. One, the “Choreography” number, laments that the talents of individual singers and dancers are being lost to the large song and dance numbers that are merely synchronized movements of masses. Crosby and Clooney share a good number that fits into the plot as does “Snow”, but they’re almost exceptions.

The film has Vera-Ellen in the role of the young attractive woman. Too young for Crosby’s character, she pairs up with Kaye. How does she compare to Marjorie Reynolds?

Continue reading “Movie Report: White Christmas (1954)”

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Movie Report: Holiday Inn (1942)

Book coverWhen it comes time to re-watch the movies featuring White Christmas, I must watch them in order: This film and White Christmas. Of the two, I like this one better. I mean, face it: Danny Kaye, the co-star in White Christmas, is no Fred Astaire. Full disclosure: I also own and enjoy A Couple of Song and Dance Men, their 1976 LP.

On Christmas Eve, a song-and-dance troupe is about to break up. Joe Hardy (Bing Crosby) is set to wed Lila (Virginia Dale) and move to a farm in Connecticut, but unbeknownst to him, she has decided she wants to keep singing and dancing and to marry their partner Ted Hanover (Astaire). Hardy moves to the farm and spends a year as a gentleman farmer in a humorous montage, but decides it’s too much work. So he decides to open an inn–a club more than an actual inn–which is only open on holidays. He comes to New York on Christmas Eve to hunt for talent, and his former booking agent passes this information to a part-time florist, Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) who auditions with Hardy at the Holiday Inn and joins him for the show.

However, on New Year’s Eve, opening night, Lila elopes with a Texas millionaire, and an intoxicated Ted comes to Holiday Inn. A humorous dance routine ensues with Linda keeping him on his feet in the spotlight, and everyone raves about his new partner–but he doesn’t know who she is. He and his agent vow to find out who she is whilst Joe tries to keep her identity a secret. Hijinks and musical numbers ensue until Ted and his agent discover her identity on Independence Day, when Hollywood men are in the audience hoping to scope out Ted with his new partner for picture. Linda breaks her engagement with Joe because he doesn’t trust her and goes to Hollywood with Ted, leaving Joe alone again. But at the prodding of his housekeeper, Joe goes to California to win her back.

Alright, alright, alright. I cannot deny that this is a musical with song-and-dance numbers with various holiday songs, including two renditions of “White Christmas”. But it’s Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, so it’s worthwhile. And as I mentioned, I watch it almost every Christmas season.

The film has come under fire in certain quarters because one of the subterfuges to hiding Linda from Ted is to perform a tribute to Abraham Lincoln in black face. Which is verboten now, but in reality, it’s only makeup, and the song and dance number does not look down on black people–it makes them sound grateful for the man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the more modern we get, perhaps that’s verbotener. And the housekeeper at the Holiday Inn is a black woman with two children, and her character is of the black housekeeper type. Which I chose to see her as an individual and not of a type and, again, the film does not look down on her nor black people in general, but once you start dealing with “types” you’re open to inchoate stochastic racism in the ether, which I didn’t find in the number, the housekeeper nor her children, but I am likely an old white racist. So there you go. I can watch old movies without high dudgeon anyway.

But enough about all that. Let’s talk about Marjorie Reynolds, who played Linda Mason.
Continue reading “Movie Report: Holiday Inn (1942)”

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Movie Report: The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

Book coverI pulled this film from the Nogglestead media library as a Christmas movie because I remember that it has Bing Crosby introduce his version of “Adeste Fidelis” which is on about 10% of the Christmas records at Nogglestead (or such was the case before I began buying new Christmas record in earnest about a decade ago) and that it has a related children’s Christmas program scene, but as it turns out, the Christmas scene is but one portion of the film. I might as well call Penny Serenade a Christmas film because it has a children’s Christmas program as part of it. Neither of these films is, technically, a Christmas movie. However, I watched it.

Bing Crosby plays Father O’Malley who comes to St. Mary’s, a church with a school that is falling into disrepair. He’s warned by the housekeeper that he’s in for a new experience surrounded by nuns, and he butts heads with Sister Superior (played by Ingrid Bergman thirteen years before Indiscreet and in full bloom) on a couple of topics. The film has three co-plots: A young girl raised by a single mother comes to the school and struggles to fit in; a boy has learned too well the “turn the other cheek” message of the school, but he needs to learn to box–and the tomboy Sister Superior is happy to help him learn; and a wealthy businessman is building a large office building next to the church on land they had to sell to him for repairs on the church, but they hope he will donate it to the parish even while he hopes to buy it from the church even if he has to have it condemned. Father O’Malley navigates these struggles and deals with a health issue that Sister Superior suffers from but that the doctor does not want her to know about.

The film has a rendition of “Adeste Fidelis” as I mentioned, but also a couple other Bing Crosby numbers. BUT IT IS NOT A MUSICAL. Don’t be hitting me with those negative waves so early in the afternoon, man.

The film is a sequel to Going My Way from the year before, for which Bing Crosby won an Oscar as the best actor. I’d be happy to find it in the wild, but old old movies are thin on the ground in the antique malls and book sales. It’s a bit of a testament, though, that sequels and “franchises” do not exclusively belong to the modern cinema.

Now if you excuse me, I am off to watch a Christmas classic.

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Movie Report: Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

Book coverThis 2004 film comes from a time where Tim Allen was at the height of his celebrity, returning to the genre where he saw his greatest success in films (the Christmas comedy, as The Santa Clause and its sequels were far better received than, say, Joe Somebody). It’s based on a book by John Grisham who was at about the beginning of the ebb of his bestselling dominance I presume–I can’t think of another book of his after Skipping Christmas, but that might be because not long after I stopped looking at the bestseller list to see how Robert B. Parker’s latest work was doing.

At any rate, Allen plays an accountant. His daughter leaves after Thanksgiving to travel to Peru in the Peace Corps, which will leave Allen’s Luther Krank and his wife Nora, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, alone for the holidays. Fearing being alone for the holidays, Luther accounts for the money that they spent on the previous Christmas and convinces Nora that they should not spend any money on Christmas and should take a cruise with the money instead.

So the first part of the story deals with how their co-workers and neighbors deal with them when they’re not decorating and whatnot. Dan Ackroyd plays the local neighborhood leader who tries to pressure them into decorating like all of the neighbors do. The Kranks cancel their annual Christmas Eve party, which upsets their friends who have been coming to the party for years. Co-workers start calling Luther “Scrooge.” Collectors for the police charity, played by Cheech and Jake Busey, don’t like being rebuffed in their collection efforts. But the Kranks soldier on, until their daughter Blair calls on Christmas Eve as they are packing for their trip: She has arrived in Miami with her Peruvian fiance, and she wants to show him how they celebrate Christmas.

So the second part of the film covers the Kranks who try to decorate and get something of a party together for Blair’s homecoming. When Ackroyd’s Frohmeyer sees them, he calls the neighbors to help out. Not to help out Luther, but to do it for Blair. So they try to decorate, find Blair’s favorite foodstuffs, and whatnot. And we get an ambiguous appearance of an umbrella salesman who seems to know everyone but whom nobody knows. Could it be… SANTA?

The film has its heart in the right place, but it falls a little short. I don’t know–somehow the film makes what must have been some long-term relationships with friends and family seem a little shallow. Maybe the film somehow misses a sense of Christmas in it–the film has the decorations and trappings of it, but not much of a sense of Christmas in spite of the change-of-heart gifting that sees Luther give the cruise tickets and package to a neighbors where the wife is suffering from cancer (the book was published in the Before Times, where tickets did not have names on them or something). Maybe that change was very subtle, because although Nora calls Luther selfish right before it, throughout the film, the character does not come across that way. Perhaps it’s shaded differently in the book. Perhaps I’m too fresh from viewing the hijinks in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation that some scenes–icing his lawn so carolers cannot stand out there and sing to him–might have been more mean-spirited in the book. Or maybe Tim Allen has played too many nice guy characters in the past so that we put the best possible spin on his behavior. I expect the book differs.

It’s entirely possible that I’ll buy the book sometime to hide in my stacks as an annual Christmas novel. But I won’t be pulling this out of the Nogglestead video library around Christmas too often.

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