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Minivan wreckage

This holiday season…a minivan wrecks into a newscasting building! Thrill to the startled anchor! No carnage, just good reaction!

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With 4 days ’til Christmas, a publicist sent to me…

Stalking Santa.

What’s that strange taste in my mouth? By God, I think it’s the taste of a clean palate!

After two days of less than stellar Christmas flicks (and, boy, is that an understatement), I’ve stumbled upon a new film which – dare I say it? – has the potential to become a cult classic…and, for once, it’s not because it’s so awful that its sheer badness has earned it kitsch value, a la “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Stalking Santa” is a mockumentary about Dr. Lloyd Darrow (Simon Taylor), a man who’s on an obsessive quest to confirm or deny the existence of Santa Claus, even if it involves risking a Christmas morning devoid of presents. In a twist which will amuse fans of the classic ’70s series, “In Search Of,” the narration is done by the inestimable William Shatner, who provides details about Darrow’s investigations, as well as other self-proclaimed “Santologists,” with absolutely no hint that it’s all completely fictional. Shatner’s deadly-serious delivery turns the most ridiculous claims into hilarity, such as his discussion of a wax cylinder that captured a voice during a seance which, when played backwards, reveals the words, “Ho, ho, ho, merry Christmas,” or the shot of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic which bears a striking resemblance to Kris Kringle himself. (Politically correct or not, I laughed out loud when they showed artwork of a chubby Asian fellow sitting in a lotus position and gave it the identifier of “Buddah Craus.”)

Lloyd reportedly has many supporters in his quest, but the truth is, it’s really just him and his college intern, Clarence (Daryn Tufts), who, uh, probably isn’t getting actual college credit for his work. Lloyd’s the president and CEO of an organization known as Tangible Evidence, Real Discoveries…and don’t think he doesn’t get shit for that acronym. He’s a family man, and his kids are a little uncertain about his quest, which you’d expect, since it might mean they don’t get any presents. In particular, his son is sick of his schoolmates’ tauntings, but his lovely and pregnant wife Kylie (Sierra Squires) is behind him, even though there’s no humor in her laugh when she comments that “Santology” isn’t exactly something you get paid for. (The line is followed by a shot of her working in a fast food restaurant as the family breadwinner.)

Yes, it’s easy to dismiss the entire concept of the film with a wave of the hand and a quick uttering of “there IS no Santa Claus, the end,” but only a Scrooge would do that. (Right, David?) But, seriously, this is a really funny concept that’s taken to hilarious heights and looks professional enough that, at least in appearance, it could fit onto TLC or The Discovery Channel without a second thought, especially the faux archival footage which suggests a government conspiracy to keep the existence of Santa under wraps so as not to disturb the world economy. Yeah, it descends too far into total ridiculousness on occasion (the idea that the Sphinx originally had antlers like a reindeer fell completely flat), but what keeps it working is the fact that virtually everyone believes Lloyd’s a complete nutjob…because, of course, everyone knows there’s no Santa Claus…right?



(P.S. Santa, I totally know you’re real, so I’m sure you’ve chalked this up to creative license and have in no way removed that copy of the 5-disc “Blade Runner” set from your sleigh.)

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Colbert chosen as AP Celebrity of the Year

He may not have won any Emmys, and he may not have made the primary ballot in South Carolina this year, but Stephen Colbert was chosen as the AP’s Celebrity of the Year. He topped out over #2 J.K. Rowling and #3 Al Gore. That’s not shabby at all, considering the man is much more entertaining than either of those two.

Said Colbert in response to winning the award,

“In receiving this award, I am pleased that I was chosen over two great spinners of fantasy — J.K. Rowling and Al Gore. It is truly an honor to be named the Associated Press’ Celebrity of the Year. Best of all, this makes me the official front-runner for next year’s Drug-Fueled Downward Spiral of the year. P.S. Look for my baby bump this spring!”

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Borat, Ali G dead

He knows when a good thing is finished and when to move on. Therefore, Sacha Baron Cohen is retiring his two most famous characters, Borat and Ali G. Says Cohen about the retirement,

“When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing.”

Undoubtedly Baron Cohen will continue to create characters and ideas that will keep him in the limelight for many years to come. You can see him currently in “Sweeney Todd” in theatres across the universe.

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Journeyman 1.13 – “Perfidia”

So what do you say when a show is simply gone too soon? The “final” episode of “Journeyman” was a pretty fantastic exit for an ongoing piece of entertainment that was just getting started.

The episode opened with Dan having traveled to a mental hospital not to far in the past – only September of ’07. There he meets Evan, a man who claimed to be a fellow traveler. Of course, since he’s in the looney bin, his assertions are questionable. He tells Dan that he’s there to help him escape and meet up with a beautiful woman in a photograph. Evan also tells Dan that he no longer travels due to the meds he’s on, which literally keep him grounded. After some convincing, Dan provides a distraction, Evan escapes and Dan immediately travels back to the present. There he discovers Evan was killed shortly after his escape by jaywalking. So it’s back to September…

Meanwhile, Jack is busy causing a stink with Elliot Langley, trying anything he can to connect with the guy and get him to admit that he knows Dan and something about his travels. Katie is getting bad marital advice from her sister and Livia’s just plain getting married.

The story of Evan was a tragic thing of beauty. All he wanted was to reconnect – even if only for a moment – with the wife he sacrificed during his travels. He sacrificed their entire marriage so that she could live a full life, while it turned out that the time line wasn’t so kind to Evan: he was destined to die on the same day no matter what Dan and Livia did to try to help him.

In the episode’s final moments, Dan and Langley finally have a confrontation of sorts. Elliot admitted to not only knowing Dan, but also knowing a fair amount about what was going with him and that it would be dangerous to continue on with an acquaintance. He also told Dan that the “system” was breaking down and that he was the last traveler. Dan replied, rather Yodaishly, “No, there’s another one.” He of course was speaking of Livia. He then went home to Katie and stood his ground, saying that even though through meds he too felt he could ground himself, that it wasn’t that path he wanted to choose. Rather ironic and sad that while the character of Dan Vassar chose to continue traveling, NBC is the meds that are going to keep him from doing so.

Is “Perfidia” an appropriate ending for “Journeyman?” Well, it wasn’t ideal and certainly had that feeling that there was plenty more story to tell, but since it’s the only ending we’re likely to get, it served its function and didn’t leave viewers hanging in any major way. One of the great little moments of the piece was Dan seeing himself traveling for the first time in the cab. It’d sure be great if someone would greenlight a “Journeyman” miniseries to give a proper ending to the story, although that’s highly unlikely.

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“Extras” finale not to be missed

Ricky Gervais must have ADHD. His brilliant breakthrough series, “The Office,” only lasted 14 episodes before he and co-creator Stephen Merchant decided to call it quits. This week, HBO is airing the 80-minute finale to their follow-up project, “Extras,” in which Gervais plays Andy Millman, a long-time extra who finally makes it big…sort of.

The special was surprisingly poignant at times, as Andy struggles with a big decision – does he want his integrity or does he want to be famous? This quandary leads to a fallout between Andy and his best friend, Maggie (Ashley Jensen), a fellow extra who is down on her luck. But don’t fret, the special features plenty of classic “Extras” laughs, and Merchant is especially funny as Andy’s agent, Darren. It also features cameos by George Michael and Gordon Ramsay, among others.

The network is airing the special 15 more times on its various networks before the New Year.

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With 5 days ’til Christmas, a publicist sent to me…

Deck the Halls.

And here I thought “Jingle All the Way” would be the biggest waste of time I’d experience this Christmas season.

I guess I was being naive to think that I might find myself as a member of the 7% approval rating for “Deck the Halls” on, but despite the odds, I just feel like you pretty much have to maintain a certain amount of optimism when you’re presented with a film starring Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito.

My bad.

Steve Finch (Broderick) is, at least in his mind, the Pope of Christmastown…or, that is, the people in his little burg tend to think of him as having a significant amount of holiday spirit, given that he’s in charge of organizing the annual winter carnival. When Steve and his wife, Kelly (Kristen Davis), get new neighbors at the beginning of December, they’re cautiously optimistic about Buddy and Tia Hall (DeVito and Kristen Chenoweth), but when Buddy gets a wild hair up his ass to make his house visible from space by adding as many Christmas lights as possible, he quickly incurs Buddy’s wrath. Before long, things devolve into a full-fledged war between Steve and Buddy about just about everything you can imagine.

Why, pray tell, does Hollywood insist on making these broad slapstick holidays films starring big names where the characters’ actions in no way resemble those of real people?

I really can’t even be bothered to tell you a lot about the film, except that it’s dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I mean, if we ever do an update of “Holiday Movies Bad Enough To Make You Hate Christmas,” rest assured that this’ll be making my list. Both DeVito and Broderick play characters who are in no way sympathetic, which means that you don’t give a damn who’s going to eventually turn out victorious, especially since you already know that the ending will be so sappy and schmaltzy that it won’t matter, anyway.

7%…? Sounds a little optimistic to me.

There’s no trailer available for the flick on YouTube, but try watching this clip of the cast being interviewed by National Lampoon, instead. It’s not knee-slapping hilarious, but it’s still funnier than the film itself.

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With 6 days ’til Christmas, a publicist sent to me…

Jingle All The Way: Family Fun Edition.

I can’t really say that I miss Arnold Schwarzenegger, given that his position as Governor of California means that he’s on the news every other freaking day, but, y’know, it has been four years since the guy last starred in a movie, and, frankly, the world of action flicks is sorely lacking as a result. Stallone’s been forced to return to his hoary old “Rocky” and “Rambo” franchises to score anything approximating a hit, and the same goes for Bruce Willis and “Die Hard.” Seagal and Van Damme are both trapped in the career Phantom Zone known as the Straight to Video Market, and, really, is there any proper action hero still getting regular theatrical releases? I mean, I like Jason Statham as much as the next guy, but he’s still not on the same tier, y’know?

Watching “Jingle All the Way,” I missed Ahnuld the Action Hero even more than I already did. Believe it or not, I’d never seen it before, which means that I can’t personally tell you any of the difference between the theatrical release and the new extended version; I will tell you, however, that having watched the latter rather than the former, my suspicion is that anything that made it feel particularly long to me probably was in the theatrical version, too.

Arnold plays Howard Langston, one of those stock movie businessmen who loves his family but struggles to make time for them. We see him try and fail to make it to his son Jamie’s karate exhibition, and when he realizes later that evening that he’s forgotten to buy his son the TurboMan action figure he’s been clamoring for, he’s aware that there’s no choice: he has to get that figure. Unfortunately, TurboMan is to this film what a Tickle Me Elmo was to the real world a few years back, i.e. it’s impossible to find, and Howard ends up on a Christmas Eve quest to hunt one down. On a similar quest is an overworked postman Myron Larabee, played by Sinbad, who’s had almost no time off because of the Christmas rush and just hadn’t had a chance to get the figure for his son; Howard and Myron end up crossing paths on a regular basis throughout the film, battling to secure that elusive TurboMan figure…and that’s where the film fell apart for me.

I understand that Howard’s trying to redeem himself with his son, but he knows he’s the one at fault in this situation, whereas Myron is a victim of circumstance, yet it never occurs to Howard to be the better man and let this guy make his son happy. Instead, Howard’s steadfastly determined to win his son’s love through material possessions. If that’s not the antithesis to the moral of Christmas, I don’t know what is. Even his son knows this: when Howard finally gets Jamie the elusive figure, Jamie gives it to Myron, even as Howard is still sputtering, “What are you doing…?”

“Jingle All the Way” is mostly about ridiculous slapstick, but there’s at least one great comedic turn courtesy of the late, great Phil Hartman, who never met a role he couldn’t make into one of the best things in that film. There are also some enjoyable supporting performances, with Robert Conrad (“The Wild Wild West”) as a cop, Martin Mull as a DJ, Jim Belushi as a sheister of a Santa, Phil Morris and Amy Pietz as parade announcers, Chris Parnell as a toy store clerk, Curtis Armstrong as a live-action (and chain-smoking) version of TurboMan’s compatriot, Booster, and an uncredited Yeardley Smith as a woman who Howard thinks has a TurboMan doll. Oh, right, and there’s a crazed reindeer, too. Rita Wilson is little more than a cliche as Howard’s long-suffering wife, and Jake Lloyd…well, let’s just say that anyone who saw this flick couldn’t have been surprised by the lad’s ineffective turn as Anakin Skywalker a few years later.

Yeah, y’know, I guess I do miss Arnold Schwarzenegger…but if he’s planning to return to Hollywood and make another crappy comedy like this one, I’d rather just stick to watching “Commando” again. If you disagree with me…well, just watch this so-called “highlight reel” from the film and see if it doesn’t change your mind.

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Journeyman 1.12: “The Hanged Man”

It’s all beginning to feel a bit anticlimactic, isn’t it? Oh, not to imply that the show’s going downhill for its two-part finale, but rather the knowing that this is probably “it.” Good thing NBC found a place on the schedule for 1.13 as this would’ve been a dreadful place to stop.

In some ways, “The Hanged Man” was the strongest episode of “Journeyman” yet, because its premise was so simple and, at the same time, so powerful. What’s a time traveler to do when a minor mistake in the past erases one of the most important people in his life in the present – and replaces them with someone of equal value? That’s what Dan had to face when he discovered upon returning from a mission that his son, Zack, had been erased from existence and replaced with a daughter. And of course the timeline had changed to accommodate the rewrite for everyone else as well, including Katie, who was aghast at the idea that Dan might try to take away their daughter and replace her with a son she never knew. And Dan will now live the haunting memory of a daughter he only knew for a day and was responsible for “killing.”

Here’s the strongest example yet of Dan’s awareness of the changing timelines, while the rest of world is unable to see the major shifts in the world around them. And it’s a huge shame because through this episode it’s become all too obvious the lengths to which this series could go if only it got a chance to do so. The character of the psychic was also a noteworthy addition, because she was present and serving the same function in both timelines. And of course she dropped a major doozy when she spoke of Dan’s birthdate and how it tied into his special abilities – and that Livia’s birthdate was also special. And exactly how does a genuine, functioning psychic play into the “Journeyman” storyline?

In the end, Dan went to see Elliott Langley (Tom Everett) and we were left with a massive cliffhanger as Langley refused to speak with Dan and claimed to not even know who he was. Timey-wimey? Or just plain subterfuge? I guess we’ll find something out on Wednesday night, but whatever it is, I doubt seriously that it’s going to be a proper end to this series. We’re going to be left dangling with promises of what will never be.

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With 7 days ’til Christmas, a publicist sent to me…

The House Without A Christmas Tree.

If you can trust the box art for this particular DVD, then we’ve finally been gifted with the long-awaited release of a cherished holiday classic; as for me, I wasn’t familiar with the film…or if I once was, my memories of it didn’t stick with me for the long haul…but having now watched it, I can say that there’s probably a fair amount of truth in that advertising.

Addie (Lisa Lucas) is 10 years old and really, really, really wants a Christmas tree; unfortunately, her dad, James (Jason Robards), refuses to have one in his house. No, he’s not being a jerk…well, not intentionally, anyway. He’s still mourning the death of his wife, who died within weeks of Addie’s birth, and he readily associates the holidays with how much his wife loved that time of the year; unfortunately, he also associates his daughter with his wife, and it continues to haunt him that, once upon a time, he wished that she’d died instead of her mother. As such, the Christmas season is generally a pretty low-key affair around their house…to say the least. But when Addie wins a Christmas tree in a contest at school – through a method her father taught her, no less – and James still throws a fit over having a tree in his house, resulting in Addie running off in tears, one is forced to wonder if father and daughter will ever be able to reconcile.

Say, this sure sounds like a merry Christmas movie, doesn’t it? Well, don’t worry: it wouldn’t be a holiday classic if things didn’t eventually turn out all right…but, then, you probably already figured that.

Robards’ performance is appropriately gruff when he’s dealing with Addie while being just sad enough for us to realize that, yeah, that’s a major emotional rollercoaster the guy’s on, and who’s to say we wouldn’t react similarly in that situation? Mildred Natwick plays Addie’s grandmother (and James’s mom) in a manner that will no doubt strike a chord in many of us, the way she walks that tightrope between wanting to make her granddaughter happy without damaging the relationship with her own child. Lisa Lucas is…well, she’s a kid. She’s an average 10-year-old little girl. She was never destined to win an Emmy for her work, but she does well enough.

“The House Without A Christmas Tree” was made in 1972, and it shows, but that’s a good thing, actually; the reason it shows is that it was filmed on video tape, and the result is that it tends to feel less like a movie and more like a play. There really aren’t many different locales involved – the family’s house, the school, a store, and another nearby family’s house – and the brief outdoor shots could easily be left out if anyone wanted to make this into a stage play. You may also recall that 1972 was the year “The Waltons” premiered, so don’t be surprised when you tune in to find that A) the story takes place in the 1940s, B) the goings-on are, by and large, pretty mundane by today’s standards, and C) there’s as much heartbreak as there is happiness.

But, like I said, things turn out all right in the end, and that’s what counts.

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