Welcome back, and prepare to stuff your stockings with another installment of Naughty or Nice. To this point, the parallels between the Christmas films chosen for this feature have run the narrow gamut from easily recognizable to painfully obvious. This week, however, we’re asking you to stretch your brain tinsel a little further and consider this pair of strikingly divergent cinematic holiday offerings.
Nice: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Dir: Shane Black
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
Plot: During the Christmas season, a petty thief, while running from police, is accidentally discovered by a casting agency and sent to Hollywood to test for an upcoming detective film. When the studio decides to improve the authenticity of his performance by assigning him to shadow an actual private eye, the crook-turned-thesp gets much closer to the seedier side of Hollywood than he ever expected.
It’s hard to employ the term "masterpiece" without a resounding rebuff from the cinephile masses. Though I agree that overuse has lead to a dubious reception of the word, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang can only be adequately described as a masterpiece. It is a masterful modern twist on film noir and pulp detective stories. The story struts adeptly through a handful of clever and intriguing twists, and it proves to be as comical as it is violent. Both Downey, Jr., and Kilmer hand in tremendous performances.
Shane Black, in his directorial debut, gives us a Christmas genre film worthy of the likes of Lethal Weapon, for which he wrote the script all those years before. Black spent the '80s and '90s establishing himself as one of the most talented and interesting screenwriters in the industry. Yet somehow, it wasn’t until 2005 that he finally found himself in the director’s chair. If nothing else, this film instills no small amount of confidence that his reunion with Downey, Jr., for Iron Man 3 will be something truly special to behold.
Where Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang script excels is in its refusal to take itself too seriously. That’s not to say the comedy drowns out the crime thriller boiling underneath, but its self-aware playfulness is what defines and sets apart the film. For one thing, it uses Christmas as a spotlight to completely lampoon L.A. culture. The “typical Hollywood” Christmas parties attended by our East Coast hero are hilariously satirical monuments to pretension and vice. But Black also takes jabs at movie conventions and the conception of “film rules,” with the narrator constantly correcting himself, and the flashbacks in which he shouts at extras to clear the shot, standing as truly brilliant.
Naughty: The Magic Christmas Tree
Dir: Richard C. Parish
Cast: Chris Kroesen, Valerie Hobbs, Darlene Lohnes
Plot: A witch gives a young boy a ring containing magic seeds. When planted on Thanksgiving, and when an ancient spell is recited, the seeds grow into a Christmas tree with the ability to speak and the power to grant wishes. The greedy young boy wishes to have Santa Claus all to himself, throwing the world into utter chaos.
To call 1964’s The Magic Christmas Tree one of the worst Christmas movies of all time would be to drastically undersell its colossal ineptitude. The Magic Christmas Tree is the type of movie that defies all preconceived notions of the measurable depths of B-movie failure. Every possible component of the filmmaking process is executed spectacularly incorrectly. The movie even seems to invent new filmic constructs at which to then fail. As a mere amuse-bouche for this cinematic stink feast, the witch is not able to move out of her chair, because they weren’t sure how to frame both her and the little boy in the same shot. She is therefore one of the most awkwardly stationary magical beings in cinema.
The sound of your head-scratching can be heard all the way across the cyber sea. Why compare these two films that have seemingly nothing in common? For that matter, why would anyone subject themselves to something as intellectually draining as The Magic Christmas Tree? There is something to be said for the fact that magic factors heavily into both films. The use of magic in the Naughty selection speaks for itself; in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Harry has always aspired to be a great magician. In fact, the lightning-quick hands he developed during his years practicing prestidigitation save his life more than once. Also, the best moments in both films actually have nothing to do with Christmas; be it a stakeout gone wrong in Kiss Kiss or a so-idiotic-you-can’t-help-but-laugh runaway lawnmower in Magic Christmas Tree.
However, the strongest thread that unites these two gems is that they are precisely that: gems. Both of these films suffer from obscurity. However, where Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’s obscurity is an unfortunate travesty, The Magic Christmas Tree’s is wholly earned. It is not surprising how this 48-year-old bargain-basement family film is not readily on the lips of the general populous, but it is mind-boggling how Kiss Kiss was able to fly so far beneath the radar when it was released. Sure, Downey had not yet donned the iconic iron suit, but it’s not as if he was a nobody before appearing in a Marvel property.
The fact remains, both films demand to be seen, but for entirely different reasons. Again, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang should offer at least a partial barometer for what we can expect of Iron Man 3’s performance nuances. And Magic Christmas Tree is a film so magnificently awful that it actually legitimately dazzles. Either movie would make a suitable centerpiece at your holiday party.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros.; Youtube]
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Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Top Story: Aniston, Olsen Sisters are "Beautiful"
Well, duh! Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Jennifer Aniston, along with her hubby Brad Pitt, were among the lucky few to be featured in People magazine's 15th annual "50 Most Beautiful People in the World 2004," The Associated Press reports. Others on the list included Jessica Simpson and her hubby Nick Lachey, Halle Berry, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, model sisters Alexandra and Theodora Richards (daughters of Rolling Stone Keith Richards), as well as The Apprentice's Kwame Jackson. The issue hits newsstands Friday.
Trump Gets Engaged, Hits Airwaves
Donald Trump has asked his longtime girlfriend, model Melania Knauss, to marry him, AP reports. The Donald, 57, gave the 33-year-old Slovenian native, who has been living with him for five years, a diamond engagement ring on Monday. No wedding date was set. Meanwhile, high off his Apprentice success, Trump has teamed with Clear Channel network to launch a national radio show Trumped!, Reuters reports, in which the real estate mogul will expound on business and non-business topics, including his thoughts on the media and entertainment world as well as politics. The show will start June 15.
Spears' Stalker Caught
Daniel J. Lachance, a Canadian man who entered the property of pop princess Britney Spears' father Tuesday, was arrested the same day on charges of criminal trespassing and stalking, AP reports. Lachance, 25, was being held on $150,000 bond in the Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, jail on Wednesday, Sheriff's spokeswoman Patti Giannoble told AP, adding that this was the man's second arrest since April 12 for being on Spears family property.
Stunt Awards Fetes Reeves
Keanu Reeves is a stunt man extraordinaire--at least according to the World Stunt Awards, which will give the actor an honorary award for his work in action movies such as The Matrix trilogy, Speed and Chain Reaction, AP reports. The awards recognize the men and women who put their lives at risk to make stunts look real, with nominees competing in categories such as best fight, best fire stunt and best work with a vehicle. They were chosen from 19 films, including Kill Bill Vol. 1, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Bad Boys II, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Last Samurai. The show will broadcast on Spike TV May 26.
Spielberg Film Opens Venice Film Fest
Steven Spielberg's newest film The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, will open the Venice Film Festival, which runs Sept. 1-11, AP reports. The film, which will be shown out of competition, tells the story of an Eastern European immigrant who finds himself stranded in an American airport terminal when war breaks out in his country. The rest of the festival's slate is yet to come.
Famed Psychic Claims Reality Adoption Show was Stolen
Uri Geller, famed psychic to the stars, is waging battle against ABC's 20/20, claiming it stole from him a segment concept in which five couples compete to adopt a baby, Reuters reports. Geller claims this Friday's 20/20's segment "Be My Baby"--which follows a real-life pregnant 16-year-old girl as she goes through the adoption process, whittling down prospective candidates to five couples--is an exact rip-off of his yet-to-be published novel Nobody's Child--which follows a reality TV game show on which five couples compete for a baby. He may take legal action to stop the program. Reuters reports 20/20's Barbara Walters said, "For the record, 20/20 simply reports what happened: we did not choose the participants nor exert any influence on what they did. This is not one of those scripted 'reality shows'--it IS reality!"
Hilton Parents Get in on the Reality Act
Paris Hilton's parents, Kathy and Rick Hilton, are getting in on the act with their own reality TV show. Kathy Hilton will host The Good Life--featuring 10 young women from around the country who will be introduced to different fields such as publishing, fashion and cosmetics to find the area best suited for their talent--while courtesy of Paris' dad, contestants will stay at the Hilton-founded Waldorf-Astoria in New York. The winner will be determined through a process of elimination and land a job in her prospective field as well as a car and a one-year stay at the Waldorf-Astoria. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter NBC has given an eight-episode order to the project for a possible September launch.
Vokal Sue Rapper Nelly
Two members of a musical group called Vokal are suing rapper Nelly for trademark infringement and unfair competition, alleging the star wrongly took their name for his multimillion-dollar clothing line, The Associated Press reports. According to the lawsuit filed last February in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Fla., James Tyrone Wilson and Cameron Caines have written music, performed live, recorded songs and distributed clothing under the name Vokal since 1994, and in 1998 signed a recording and distribution contract with Universal Records--around the same time the label signed Nelly. The singers want an injunction to stop Nelly from using the name and millions of dollars in damages. Vokal Clothing Co., which makes Nelly's line of clothes, made more than $20 million in 2002.
Role Call: Sizemore To Portray Pete Rose, Tom Hanks Takes Risk
Scandal-plagued actor Tom Sizemore, who was sentenced to six months in jail last year for assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, will portray scandal-plagued baseball star Pete Rose in ESPN's TV movie Hustle. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the project will chronicle Rose's gambling-related downfall in the 1980s. The movie will premiere Sept. 25, 2004 … Tom Hanks is set to star in Warner Bros.' big-screen adaptation of Richard Russo's novel The Risk Pool. T