Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Celebrate the Holidays - TV Movie Style!

Seriously, you can put a Santa cap on anything and make it fun. Granted, these were fun already, but let me offer the below as two examples.

And have a great holiday, everyone!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Must See Streaming TV: An American Christmas Carol (1979)

I love Henry Winkler. Truly. Arthur Fonzarelli is one of the most lovable and enduring characters from my childhood. And I’m always pleasantly amused when someone busts out with an “Ayyye!” And that happens more often than you'd think! Of course, we loved Fonzie because of Winkler’s wonderful performance that held just the right amounts of machismo, over the top humor, with a little pathos thrown in to keep us on our toes.

A newspaper promo for An American Christmas Carol
However, I would be lying if I said I had seen a lot of Winker's non-Happy Days work. Oh, certainly, I've gotten a taste of his range, in movies like Scream, and his fantastically sinister turn as an abuser in the 1993 TVM The Only Way Out (a movie I’ve been dying to revisit. I have very strong memories of watching it when it premiered), but I’ve missed out on his more famous work such as Heroes and Arrested Development. So, I was eager to expand on my knowledge of Winkler’s filmography when I sat down the other day with An American Christmas Carol. This film is an obvious rift on the Charles Dickens’ classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, only now we are in Depression-era America, and Scrooge is Slade, a sinister old man who finds pleasure in repossessing important items from struggling customers on Christmas Eve. Ack. However, he’s due for a visit from a few spirits who hope to show him the errors of his ways.

A few years ago, I was in a class that concentrated on film adaptations. I chose to make a presentation on A Christmas Carol because it gave me an excuse to re-watch A Muppet Christmas Carol, and because I had never actually read the book. I had to watch quite a few Carol movies and enjoyed them all. The story resonates to some extent with just about every era, because as much as we want to wax nostalgic about the past, there is always some kind of struggle with inequality and indifference. Dickens’ reminds us time and again that we should always remember that compassion is free, so give it away, dammit! OK, he doesn’t get all extreme on the reader or anything, but indeed, it is a great story that teaches us that good will isn't just a thrift store.

So, we get that I love the story and relate to it, but what is Winkler and company going to do with this version of it? Ah, the million dollar question! An American Christmas Carol is both a gorgeous success and a bit of a bore at the same time. It’s never terrible, not by a long shot, but at certain points, it’s slow and, gah, even a bit dull. The pacing in the second half is almost too meticulous, and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open. And that was a bummer. That said, An American Christmas Carol is still a beautiful trip back in time. The costumes and sets are splendid, and the crisp cinematography of Richard Ciupka is stunning (btw, Richard also did the cinematography for Ilsa Tigress of Sibera. I think I’m in love!). The visuals alone make this a film worth checking out.

As for Winkler, I’ve read some across-the-board reactions to his performance. Many felt that the odd old age makeup hampered his abilities to fully flex his actor muscles. With regards to the outlandish makeup, I have to agree. Thirty years later, and Hollywood still hasn't gotten old people makeup right, so imagine what audiences were thinking in 1979! Otherwise, I feel Winkler does a good job as the older Slade, and I enjoyed that vigorous step he gets from the joy of taking from the underprivileged because it is turned into a sprightly bounce after he develops a compassionate outlook on life. Joy to the world!

It would seem Winkler felt that giving Slade a spring in his step was all part of the process. In an interview, the actor said the filmmakers wanted to put weights on his feet as a way to keep him slow moving. But, Winkler said, “I realized that the elderly want to be younger and so I took off the weights immediately after the first day of shooting and made him more spry.” Winkler also confessed that he spent a total of 96 hours in the makeup chair during the seven-week shoot! In the end, the actor was very happy with the results, although he was initially hesitant to take on the role because he felt the media was set on pigeonholing him as The Fonz. However, the consummate Winkler decided his career was all about risks. This has obviously paid off, and while An American Christmas Carol is not a perfect film, it does hit the holiday spot and is definitely worth a watch.

You can either buy An American Christmas Carol on DVD or you can watch it on Amazon Instant Video!

You can read more about An American Christmas Carol at Christmas TV History!

And if you want more holiday cheer check out:

Petticoat Junction: A Cannonball Christmas
Nestor, The Long Eared Donkey (written as a guest blogger on Christmas TV History)
The Gathering (written by guest blogger Joanna Wilson from Christmas TV History)
A Mouse, A Mystery and Me
Terror on the 40th Floor
Bernard and the Genie

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Must See Streaming TV of the Week: The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid (1990)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: September 20th, 1990

Life is funny sometimes. Back in my golden days, when I worked at a video store and the word VHS didn’t elicit the response, “Whoa, retro,” I couldn’t be bothered with romance movies. I was just discovering the fascinating world of cult films. And, while I still linger in that ether of all things dark and macabre, I also find that I like some things to be frilly and pink. Who knew, right? I’m not sure when the love bug hit me, but cupid’s arrow must have found its way to my heart during a viewing of something on Lifetime. It’s speculation now, all I can say is that I now hope every film seals itself with a kiss (romantic kiss or kiss of death, of course!). Still, while I possess no compunction towards the sentimental, I have also never really taken a shine to the big screen world of champagne wishes and caviar dreams. I’ll take the small screen schmaltz any day! And I say that without a hint of hipster irony, so please take that into consideration while I gush over The World’s Oldest Living Bridesmaid.

Apparently my gushing makes Donna uncomfortable
Donna Mills is Brenda Morgan, a high-powered attorney who may always win in the courtroom, but can’t seem to find as many victories in the bedroom. While she’s involved with a gorgeous dentist named Brian (Winston Reckert), any happiness she feels comes less from contentment and more from convenience. Things quickly go south when he wants her to give up her career for a life as his bride. Enter Alex Dante (Brian Wimmer with an oh-so-90s romantic hero ponytail). He is a sexy artist daylighting as a secretary to make ends meet. He becomes Brenda’s unlikely but strangely compatible lover. But of course, what good is a romance movie without a few wooing woes?

Is this a wooing Woe? Certainly not.
What I enjoyed most about Bridesmaid was that the film did not have a bad guy. While Brenda is definitely more on the serious side, she is a likable and even relatable character. Seriously, if there is a bad guy in this movie, it’s Wimmer’s ponytail, because it dampens the romance just a bit. The 90s was tough on all of us…

The scenario was a little too fastidious to say it was handled in any way that reflected realism, but the issues were very well handled and believable. Brenda does not want kids, and is old enough to know she made the right decision, but while Alex says he’s fine with that, he still has a few more years to change his mind. Don’t get me wrong, Bridesmaid is not weighed down by real-life problems. This is a romantic comedy, and it has a few stellar moments of farce, most notably delivered by Art Hindle, who plays Roger, Brenda’s “Perfect Man.” He is debonair and gorgeous, and about as interesting as a wet noodle. Granted, wet noodles are yummy and so is Art, so we’ve killed two birds with that platitude. Roger is perfectly vapid, and Hindle is absolutely wonderful in the part!

Enough about me, honey. What do you think of my hair?
Mills’ own production company, aptly named Donna Mills Productions, produced Bridesmaid. She first stepped behind the camera in 1986 because she wanted more say in the projects she was appearing in. In an interview Mills said, “I’m not just a producer in title. I really get in there and work with the editors and costume and set designers. I like the satisfaction of having the final product be what I want it to be. As an actress, you have no control over that.” And talk about sets and costumes. It’s all perfectly early 90s glamour, and it was nice to see Mills, who is best known as Queen Bitch Abby Cunningham on Knots Landing, play a softer character, and with humor. She’s the best. The best.

I was really excited to find The World’s Oldest Bridesmaid has been added to the Amazon Instant Video queue. It came in quite handy during finals week! 
Promotional Still for The World's Oldest Living Bridesmaid