Friday, December 13, 2013

Humbug!: The Nightmare Before Christmas

I don't know about any of you, but I, for one, am sick of Christmas.  So to share my annoyance, all this month I'll be complaining about some of America's favorite Christmas movies.  Should be funny? We'll find out!  I'll start the month out by making fun of movies I actually like, and work my way to the crap that I really loathe.

Today's entry: The Nightmare Before Christmas!

Alright, so this film is a rare opportunity, as it is both a Christmas movie AND a Hallowe'en movie at the same time, and that is all kinds of awesome.  But I can't let that prevent me from criticizing it.  Lucky for me, the film's two main protagonists are a bored, thieving celebrity and a clingy child.  And no, I'm not referring to Lock, Shock, or Barrel.

What do we know about Jack Skellington, our supposed protagaanist in this animated motion picture holiday spectacular?  He's referred to as both "the King of the Pumpkin Patch" and "the King of Halloween" in the film.  He's clearly the most popular- and therefore, most powerful- person in the city.  Literally EVERYONE loves him.  He's the head coordinator for the town's Halloween festival, which is also the chief driver of the local economy.  Jack Skellington is absolutely the most powerful person he himself knows.

And all he can do is whine about it.

Because he is a person of privilege, he can't see how great his life is.  How he became so awesome is never revealed- maybe he once was a poor local boy who brought himself up by his bootstraps, or maybe (I'm resisting the urge to say "probably") he was born into his privilege.  "Kings" are, by an large, a familial title, so it's not unlikely that his own... skeleton dad (or something) was the previous king.  Ultimately it doesn't matter, because whatever his origins, Jack's privilege blinds him now. His life as an awesome celebraty has grown boring and stale to him, and he wants MORE.

So, what does he do when he accidentally stumbles upon a new and different culture, with it's own rituals and leaders?  He uses it to fill the void he feel inside himself.  "This time, Christmas will be ours!" probably should be read more like "Christmas will be MINE!". Without even meeting Santa Claus in person, Jack decides to take his place, kidnapping him and conveniently forgetting about him until the whole thing blows up in Jack's own face.  Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

"But I never intended all this madness" Jack laments after being exploded out of the sky.  Well, guess what, Jack?  Intentions don't mean shit.  Everything that goes wrong in this film is your fault.  All of it.  On top of that, you might also be a weird pervert.  See, I know we're supposed to feel sorry for Sally whenever Dr. Finklestein is treating her like an ungrateful child, but consider this:  What if she really is just an ungrateful child?  Sure, she's in the body of an adult... rag doll.  But we have no idea how long ago she was created by the good doctor.  She certainly has child-like qualities.  Maybe she is only 12, emotionally speaking?  I know this is all guess work, so I don't want to accuse Jack of hooking up with some jailbait, but then again... I can't prove that he didn't do that, either.

And just how is it that Jack Skellington, possible sex offender and general all purpose jerkwad, could hold such sway over all of Halloween Town?  I don't want to go out and say that the entire town is run by morons, but.... the entire town is run by morons.   I mean, clearly.  The mayor openly admits to being incapable of make decisions.  There doesn't appear to be any form of city council, and there is literally a shack on the side of town where things go to get murdered.  That seems to be a well known part of City Lore, and no one has done anything about it. Ever.  Speaking of....

What's the deal with Oogie Boogie, anyway?  Like, I get that he's a sentient colony of bugs with a hive mind, that presumably feeds on other creatures to properly function.  Its weird as hell, but I read comics, so I get that stuff.  But exactly what is his legal status?  Even in a town of sentient skeletons and draculas he is especially feared, the only thing to actually be scared of in this town full of scary things.  Yet, he also has three children that he's, what, the foster father to?  At the very least, they are publicly known as his employees, despite the fact that they are minors and he is a notorious murder monster.

Still, the town seems to mostly be fine with that.  They tolerate Oogie's existence.... Until Jack realizes that he's a damn moron and Santa and Sally are in danger.  He murders Oogie, but not for being a sadistic asshole.  For being a sadistic asshole to HIS friends.  "How dare you treat my friends so shamefully!" is what he says before getting all murdery on him.  Its an inherently selfish statement; these are MY friends.  You don't eat MY friends, because they are MINE.

But is Oogie truly evil?  He's sadistic, obviously, and he enjoys playing with his (live) food, but so do cats.  I don't pretend to understand the biological process of a sentient insect colony, but if he's a monster in a basement (that everyone in town knows about) that regularly has live creatures sent down to (for his consumption), then the real villains are the snot nosed kids who sent Santa down there in the first place (even though Jack specifically told them not to).  And those little brats get off Scot-free.

I know Jack might have learned his lesson at the end, about paying more attention to your clingy goupie and maybe you shouldn't just steal other peoples things and then expect them to thank you for the privilege, but consider:  This is a Christmas movie that basically ends with Santa Claus calling out the main character for his bullshit.  That probably tells you something about your hero's journey, right there.

Next time on Humbug!:  Die Hard!  Man, at this rate I might never make it to the list of Christmas movies that I actually hate.  Maybe that'll be my Christmas Miracle this year....

Previously on Humbug!...
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Batman Returns

UPDATE: There will be no Humbug! for Die Hard, after all.  Two reasons for this:  First, real life got in the way.  And second, I just can't.  I tried, really, but Die Hard is pretty much a perfect movie.   Even stuff I'd normally complain about (like how there is exactly one lady character in the entire movie) makes a lot of sense in the context of it being a late '80s action film.  And hey, Mrs. Holly McClane is pretty damn heroic, you know?  Her life was in as much danger as John's.  So yeah.  It's just too good to mock.  I'm disappointed in myself too, believe me, but I just couldn't do it.

That being said, Humbug! was a lot of fun, and I might do it again in 2014. Only this time, I'm going to go after the movies I ACTUALLY hate, because my beloved films have suffered enough.  You know what you did, The Santa Clause.  YOU KNOW.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Humbug!: Batman Returns

I don't know about any of you, but I, for one, am sick of Christmas.  So to share my annoyance, all this month I'll be complaining about some of America's favorite Christmas movies.  Should be funny? We'll find out!  I'll start the month out by making fun of movies I actually like, and work my way to the crap that I really loathe.

Today's entry: Batman Returns!

Ok, so... this is gonna be a weird one, because I have waaay too many feelings about this film.  Straight up, this is one of my favorite movies, ever.  On the flip side, it is terrible as a "Batman" film.  There are all kinds of themes going on in this film, about duality, class, madness, and penguins with rockets strapped to their backs (it should surprise no one that I love that stuff).  But also, it makes no literal sense, and operates solely on dream logic.  Which is fine, if you're into that.  But if early 20th Century German Expressionism in film isn't your thing, its pretty simple to pull this sucker apart.  And since that's the point of Humbug!, that's what I'm going to do.

To begin with, it takes like zero effort to say that the "hero" of the film is bullshit.  That's obvious, because Batman isn't really the central character in this film.  The movie does the hard work for me!  But seriously, here's what Batman does in this film:  After the Red Triangle Gang attack the city, he shows up and beats up some bad guys.  Then, when they attack again, he blows up a clown.  Then he makes out with Catwoman, throws her into a truck, and makes out with her again a little later.  He fails to stop the death of a model, then has his car taken over by Penguin's goons.  He saves the day, but looses the girl, and can't arrest either Penguin or Max Shrek, cuz they're dead.  The end.

Dude, that is a bummer.  This is the most depressing Christmas film I've ever seen.

So, aside from the barely-there "romance with Catwoman plot", Batman has no real character arc in this movie with his name in the title. That's because its not really about him, as the opening of the film proves: this is a movie about Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin.

In this interpretation of the character, the Penguin was abandoned as an infant by his parents for being a deformed cat-eating monster, who drools green goo and who has a pathological need to murder children.  I want to stress that this is not the traditional interpretation of the character.
 He's just a tad off-model, you see.

Penguin pretends he wants to learn who his biological parents are and stuff, but really its all a rouse to get access to the Gotham Hall of Records, to learn where every first born infant child in the city is, so that he can murder them on Christmas Eve.  The total lack of sense involved with this plan is lamp-shaded by spending half the movie focusing on Penguin being seduced by the notion of running for political office, but remember, that wasn't his real plan.  When Batman exposes him as not-really-caring-about-the-city (but not, it should be noted, for being a SERIAL CHILD MURDERER), he goes back to the "kill all babies" plan.  And when THAT happens to fail because Batman succeeds at something finally, he gives a (phenomenal) Patton Speech to a crowd of actual penguins, who go out to blow up the city.

To call the plot of this film "convoluted" would be overly generous.

Assisting/scheming against Penguin is secretly-evil business man Max Shrek.  The citizens of Gotham loves him, but every character in the film knows he's a dick, because Christopher Walken plays him.  So, you know, there's that.  There was probably a draft of this film at some point where "Gotham's own Santa Claus" got exposed for all the murders he's done, but that didn't make the final script.  So whatever.

The only person he kills on screen is Selina Kyle.  Except maybe he doesn't kill her?  Like, maybe she survives?  Or she really does die, but she gets magic extra lives from all those cats? (note: this is also not at all a thing from the comics)  Who knows, what you can be sure of is it makes her totally crazy.  And as any one in Hollywood can tell you, crazy = hot. She gets super extra hot great after getting pushed out the window a dozen stories.  And then at the end she makes out with her murderer/boss while using a taser as a sex aid.  It's... it's pretty weird, I gotta admit.
I was 7 in 1992.  And we wonder why so many people my age are into kinky shit.

Okay, so that's this Batman film, and as much as I love it, I'm the first to admit, it is terrible as a movie about Batman.  And at logic.  But why am I reviewing it?  Is this even really a Christmas film?  Well, once the film starts in the present, we're at a Gotham City Christmas Tree Lighting Festival.  And the film ends with Alfred saying "Merry Christmas, Master Bruce."  And Batman learns a lesson about... treating women with respect (I guess?), and also wow, his billionaire privilege can be a little overwhelming for a working girl, or something?  Whatever.  I say yes, because the winter/Christmas atmosphere is ever present in this film, even if it doesn't actually matter much to the plot.  Also, Batman has a long, storied history of Christmas specials, so I maintain he's a CHRISTMAS FIGURE.

Even if, you know, this particular Batman Christmas Special makes exactly no actual sense.

Next time on Humbug!:  The Nightmare Before Christmas!  After that I promise to move on from Tim Burton stuff, unless I find out he directed some late 80s Christmas Special I don't know about.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Humbug!: The Muppet Christmas Carol

I don't know about any of you, but I, for one, am sick of Christmas.  So to share my annoyance, all this month I'll be complaining about some of America's favorite Christmas movies.  Should be funny? We'll find out!  I'll start the month out by making fun of movies I actually like, and work my way to the crap that I really loathe.

Today's entry:  The Muppet Christmas Carol!

Okay, straight up, pretty much everything that I'm gonna say here I could say about any other version of A Christmas Carol.  But here's the thing:  Do any of the other versions of the story star the Muppets?  I submit that they do not.  So there.  Muppet Christmas Carol it is.  Eat it, Scrooged!

Now, don't get me wrong, "ghost Christmas story" is a rad concept.  I'm not berating that.  But lets be real about the central plot of this thing, okay?  Ebenezer Scrooge, a notorious miser and strong believer in laissez-faire capitalism, has a nightmare on the night before Christmas.  It's such a vivid nightmare that cruel, slum-owning Scrooge decides to give up being a miser and spread his wealth with his family and co-workers, for the first time in his miserable existence.  Just one bad dream, and he completely changes as a person.

Guys, that is preposterous.

Why would a man like Scrooge turn so easily?  Because he's feeling guilty about his past, because he hasn't lived the life he pictured he'd have as a young man?  Dude, that's called "real life".  You grew up, and things changed.  You ended up this way for a reason, a series of events made you into who you are.  And I'm not trying to say that there's anything wrong with personal renewal and change.  But a man like Scrooge?  Really?  His defining characteristic is that he's a miserable bastard to be around, and he seems perfectly content with that.  They literally sing a song about how he is just the biggest asshole the world has ever seen, and he seems to genuinely enjoy being a jerk to everyone.

And he has this big personal revelation because of fucking ghosts?  Ghosts he himself calls out as probably being bullshit!  Bits of cheese indeed, good sir.  I'm not saying ghosts are invalid as antagonists in a movie, but maybe you should encounter them more than once?  Isn't it just as likely something weird was slipped into your absinthe or something?  Because the simpler explanation is not ghosts, dude.  Trust me on that.

Also: why is Scrooge suddenly so worried about dying alone and hated?  Dude, that is straight up how you've lived your life, you can't honestly be that surprised at the notion.  He knows he's hated, but he just doesn't care.  But of course, because he turns to the light side through the power of the Christmas Spirit (blegh), we're told at the end that he didn't die, until he did, but at least now when he died he had friends.  Oy.

Speaking of characters and their untimely non-demise, exactly why is it that after Scrooge comes to Jesus, Tiny Tim doesn't die any more?  I mean, I understand the idea of rich people throwing money at a problem and it magically going away, sure.  But lets not kid ourselves, this is still a world before antibiotics.  What's Tiny Tim's got, T.B. or something?  He coughs a lot, so I'm going with T.B.  Yeah, no real reliable way to treat that stuff in the mid-Victorian era.  So that nonsense with living happily ever after?  Yep, no.  He dies.

Okay, alright, again, I actually really like this movie, but I'm on a mission, damnit.  And it doesn't take much effort to poke holes in this film's premise.  Plus, no Santa Claus or Batman in it.  If you're going to do a Christmas story, I feel it's inclined to include at least one of those cherished Christmas figures.  And don't give me any of that "The Ghost of Christmas Present is like Father Christmas, who is like Santa Claus" nonsense, because THAT is a facile argument, good sir or ma'am.  I do not accept it.

So yeah, whatever.  Next time the Muppets pick a Christmas story to retell, it should have Santa Claus in it.  Seriously.

Next time!  I take a cherished Christmas classic (to me, anyway), and I rip it a new one!  I call Humbug! on Batman Returns!