Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas 2017: December 7

All is Bright (2013)

I can't recall how “All is Bright” got onto my holiday watchlist. It's the third film from director Phil Morrison, whose “Junebug” was critically praised when it came out. I, however, have never seen that movie. I vaguely remember seeing it on store shelves. I guess the thought of a slightly downbeat Christmas-themed comedy, starring Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd, was enough to appeal to me? Whatever the reason, I decided to give it a watch this December. While the film's reviews were mixed, I actually had a good time with it.

It's December and Dennis, a Canadian thief, has recently been released from a four year stint in prison. He attempts to patch up his relationship with Therese, his ex-wife. Instead, he discover that Therese has told their daughter, Michi, that he's dead. Moreover, she's also begun a relationship with Rene, Dennis' former partner in crime. Though deeply hurt, Dennis is committed to going straight. He teams up with Rene, who has gotten a gig selling Christmas trees in New York City. Business is slow and the men have to grapple with their personal and professional failures.

“All is Bright” has a fairly melancholic tone. The world keeps presenting Dennis with challenges, seemingly trying to force him back to a life of crime. The two have trouble selling trees at first, largely thanks to a flashier tree business across the street. While using a bathroom at a near-by dinner, the vulgar owner kicks him out. Rene is more upbeat but eventually cracks under pressure. Despite this, the movie frequently has laughs. Rene's ringtone, a chirping pop tune, becomes funnier and more incongruous every time we hear it. A stand-out scene has Dennis confronting Rene over Therese. At the same time, a pair of fratboy bros are attempting to buy a tree. It's not long before the dudes start commenting on the situation. Eventually, Dennis takes his rage out on an inflatable elf instead. These are not exactly gut-busting moments but I found them pretty funny.

One of the greatest pleasures of the film are its performance. Dennis is an almost prototypical Paul Giamatti performance. He's grouchy and slightly off-putting. Yet he's trying to do better, which is represented by the character struggling to quit smoking. Ultimately, it's apparent that Dennis' prickly exterior has a lot to do with bitterness and disappointment. Paul Rudd's Rene is an ideal contrast. He's sunny and upbeat. Rudd manages to make that old comedy chestnut of a goofy Canadian accent amusing again. Sally Hawkin appears as the foul-mouthed Russian maid that Giamatti befriends. Their scenes together are delightful. Hawkin makes the character's brutal honesty, like when she tells Dennis to take a sweater because he stinks, endearing instead of annoying.

“All is Bright” has a few flaws. Not too much happens, story-wise. This is a film primarily devoted to two guys standing around, arguing with each other. The script is also fairly predictable. When the guys' Christmas tree business finally turns around, and they make all the money they need, it's easy to guess that something will happen to the cash. (Though that doesn't make the inevitable loss any less felt.) It's not difficult to imagine Dennis' criminal relapse either. However, I found the movie's themes of forgiveness – self-forgiveness, especially – touching. Mistakes are made but they are also moved past, allowing everyone to grow closer together.

That theme is also befitting the Christmas setting. Despite the story not really concerning the holiday that much, “All is Bright” piles on the December atmosphere. The soundtrack is filled with jazzy and low-key renditions of classic Christmas songs. An especially inspired inclusion is Tracey Thorn's “Joy,” a powerful and lovely song about the unifying power of the holiday, which factors into separate scenes. “All is Bright” is probably too prickly, perhaps by design, to become a holiday classic. However, I found myself enjoying, mainly for the strong performances and the more emotional. [7/10]

Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Girl Hair

During last year's review of “A Space Ghost: Coast to Coast Christmas,” I referenced the series' other Christmas episode, promising to review it the next year. And, thus, the time has come. “Girl Hair” is an especially nonsensical episode of the always absurd series. The special guest is Hanson, back when they were the prettiest of the pretty boy bands that were popular in the late nineties. The guys' long, girlish hair inspires Space Ghost to go on a quest to find a comb for them. Really dumb and goofy shenanigans ensue.

Most of “Girl Hair's” humor arises from Space Ghost acting extremely strange. Hanson, to their benefit, are willing to play along. They ask to be blast with his power bands and seem to enjoy it. Afterwards, Space Ghost takes them camping and regales them with a ghost story about a mad combing. They then visit his apartment, travel through space, sing nonsense songs, and become accessories to holiday-related manslaughter. Zorak, meanwhile, spends most of the episode trying to get new teeth so women will like him. I have no doubt that some will find this insultingly stupid but it greatly tickles my funny bone.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Santa Claus appears in an especially disturbing digression near the episode's end. On his way back to the studio, after driving Hanson around, Space Ghost runs over what he thinks is the Tooth Fairy. Back home, he's met by old St. Nick... Who praises Space Ghost for killing the Tooth Fairy. Because he wants to steal chidlren's teeth, to make bizarre and disturbing toys. Santa is then revealed to be Bizarro Santa, a grotesque and throbbing monster version of everyone's favorite holiday icon. The episode then goes completely nuts. When this show first aired, it was one of the weirdest things I had ever seen on television.

“Girl Hair' is not a five-star Space Ghost experience. However, that incredibly weird ending earns it some major points. And, yes, I realize this is really stretching the definition of Christmas-related media. But this is my blog and we play by my rules. That's the way Space Ghost would want it. [7/10]

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