5(1/2) Days of Unconventional Christmas Movies

In honor of the holidays, I have taken it upon myself to provide unconventional fun for all who love Christmas movies, but have seen ‘Elf’ way too many times and do not want to start watching any of the new crap that made-for-TV specials attempts to shove down our throats like bad fruit cake.

Listed below are five (okay six) movies that I recommend for anyone who wants a laugh, a cry, and a good explosion.

1. Love Actually

Okay, so maybe this one is not totally unconventional.  Especially if you are an American female between the ages of 16-25.  But if you are not, or you are and you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen this feel-good film then you should.  For one, it has every British actor that ever acted, acting in it. This includes Colin Firth. Why you should need another reason to see any film is beyond me.

2. We’re No Angels

This is an oldie but a goodie, featuring Humphrey Bogart and two other guys who hang out with Humphrey Bogart.  But they’re cool.  What is really cool about this movie is that 1) It is old = major cool points 2) Humphrey Bogart plays a crook who helps a family during the holidays 3) It is short, takes place in one location and the plot doesn’t drag at all. 4) A snake plays one of the major roles. How many Christmas movies do *you* know that have snakes as main characters?

3. Die Hard

A film whose story is a lot better than its tagline.

Hopefully, this one makes up for my first suggestion to all the chick-flick haters in the world. If you cannot get through a film without at least one building blowing up, then Die Hard is for you.  It has Bruce Willis and a brilliant Alan Rickman in his role as a Russian warlord (who buys Armani from the same store as Arafat).  Better than the explosions is the explosive dialogue.  Once you have seen this film, you will be a proper American and finally know what to say after the sentence, “Yippie ky-ay -”

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol

As an English major and muppet lover (in a the most non-sexual way possible) I love this movie.  Not only does it present a classic tale from British literature to the masses, it also does it using adorable furry creatures, Michael Caine, and addicting songs that my sister starts singing every November because she can.

5. Holiday Inn

Only Fred Astaire could dance with firecrackers and not blow his shoes off.

Aha, so you claim to be a great American because you have seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  Good.  You can name that movie as the single black-and-white film that you have ever seen (but only because your Grandma made you watch it when you were four).  If you ever see another black and white Christmas movie, this one features Mr. Crooner and Mr. Dancer of the black and white era (aka Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, respectively).  It also features great songs

5 1/2. Just Friends

Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit = A Christmas Miracle
Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit = A Christmas Miracle

If you for some reason do not like Ryan Reynolds, seeing him in a fat suit may just make your day or at least endear him to you in some way.  I consider this movie to be the ‘Meet the Parents’ of Christmas.  It is full of wonderful visual gags, characters who you want to get punched in the face, and movie-moms that you want to hug forever (in this case, played by Julie Hagerty who is adorable as ever).  After seeing this, you will no longer be able to say the name ‘Dinkleman’ without a gravelly voice and utter hatred.

The 2013 Orientation: The Art of YouTube

I just read an article on CNN about something most everyone knows about YouTube. In my column last week, I talked about YouTube briefly, in the form of the Vlogbrothers, who have attained internet stardom.

They aren’t the only ones. As CNN points out, YouTube is a giant community that, within itself, breeds smaller communities based off of people – vloggers – who have somehow cracked the code and gotten millions of people to watch them – myself included.

On my YouTube, I currently have 46 subscriptions, though I’d be lying if I said that I only watch those channels. My YouTube preference ranges from the comedic (charlieissocoollike, Dave Days, nigahiga) to the oddly specific (BookTube, Feast of Fiction, hankgames). Each day, all the people I mentioned and thousands more get billions of hits, but they don’t do anything but sit at home and make movies.

And yet, I can spend hours on YouTube finding yet another video I have never seen before. Normally, this would seem to make the market saturated – why would I want to listen to Sam Tsui, a musician who gets his income primarily from YouTube using home recordings, when I can go watch the newest Panic! At The Disco music video?

But I think that’s what makes it work so well. YouTube has an audience of the world, and it caters to every single aspect of that audience. Not only that, it caters towards the mood of the audience. I’m bored, so I watch someone parody the life of a college student; I need a break from studying, I look up a new artist I’ve never heard of; I need inspiration for my history paper, so I look up an action video created without the help of Hollywood. The options are limitless, and it makes YouTube one of the most innovative and artistic tools of my generation.

But it also makes me wonder. Where will the next generation fit in? Will they just feed into the YouTube mantra, giving advertisers even more money with every click? Or will YouTube slowly fade into oblivion, just a social network that will be remembered only in name (R.I.P., MySpace)?

I love YouTube, I love the D.I.Y. feel, and I love that it isn’t someone I can’t relate to that is talking to me. I love that they are able to interact, reply to comments, and make videos that relate to the everyday, mundane problems I go through. I love this community, but I think that as both an artistic medium and a creative outlet, it is only the starting point for the internet.

The Art of Great Film Dialogue

This weekend, I had the privilege of attending a women’s retreat with my church group.  At the brand new home of one our community’s members, we had a mega-sleepover with nail-painting, popcorn eating, and of course, girlie movie-watching.  While half of us watched ‘Phantom of the Opera’ upstairs, the other half watched the Southern, hairsprayed gem of sisterhood films, ‘Steel Magnolias’.

I had seen the film before, but forgotten its many gems of dialogue…

Though not every quote is serious or particularly life-changing, each line is true to each character and wouldn’t be caught dead in any other movie.  Only the pink crepe-paper wedding of a young Julia Roberts with an armadillo groom’s cake, would have a line like this.

Which made me try to think of other movies that have similarly spot-on dialogue, that serves more to establish character than anything else in the movie (hairstyles included).  Some other films that jump out from my immediate memory are ‘Fargo’ (which purportedly included every “Um” and “Yah” in the original script) and also ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ (Most memorable line: “Inside the lump…was my twin.”).  In television, Maggie Smith has gained fame as of late, for her delivery of the Grand Duchess’s lines, which also serve up fans with perfect balance of nobility, snobbery, and honesty.  Some other great films where dialogue takes center stage in terms of characterization are ‘Raising Arizona’ and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’, both of which rely heavily on regional colloquialisms the same way that ‘Steel Magnolias’ does.

Character catch-phrases are an entirely different form of characterizing dialogue that can be generation-defining.  E.g. “I’ll be back” and “Oh behave!” have their respective fan bases, while “Here’s to you, kid” and “I coulda been a contender” each have their own as well.

On the flip side, one of the biggest turn-offs to me, is a film with flat, generic dialogue where the writers are making characters say things.  Like, “I’ve got an idea!” or “Why, you little–” that get the plot moving, but move characters like rusted gears, instead the fleshy, nuanced human beings they truly are. At any rate, my viewing of Steel Magnolias revealed to me just how much I appreciate good dialogue.  And how like a good man, good dialogue is hard to find.

My Favorite Film Accents

Accents are tough.  But when executed properly they can add a depth of reality to characters that no antiquated diction ever can.  Christian Bale in fact, makes it a point to use a different accent in all of his films.

For this week, I’d thought I’d post a Top Five List of my favorite filmic accents.  Some of which are based on real, identifiable accents (like Brad Pitt’s in Snatch) and some are just whatever the actor felt like doing (like Martin Short in Father of the Bride).

Sarah’s Top Five Favorite Accents in Film

1. Brad Pitt’s pikey accent in Snatch


2. Martin Short’s made-up accent in Father of the Bride


3. Benecio Del Toro’s clipped syllables as Fenster in The Usual Suspects


4. Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus/Sg. Lincoln Osiris in Tropic Thunder


5. Alan Rickman’s Russian and American Accents in Die Hard


Sarah’s Five Rules of Remakes

As my girlfriends and I eagerly await the release of the Keira Knightley-Jude Law studded remake of ‘Anna Karenina’ and mourn the pushed back release of ‘The Great Gatsby’ remake (originally slated for December, now pushed back to May), I got to thinking about what makes a great remake and what makes a bad one.

Sarah’s Five Rules of Remakes (for anyone considering a jaunt on the Remake Train)

1. You Must Wait at Least Twenty Years After the Original

I truly admire Keira Knightley’s ouevre, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice (2005), which I remade the 1995 BBC version with the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle power couple of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  While I truly adore Knightley and constantly wish that my life mirrored her perpetually period-costume wearing one, I couldn’t help but wonder why the filmmakers deemed it necessary to remake something that was still making waves for its overall merit and especially its famous wet-shirt scene.

2. Remaking a Movie You Previously Starred in and Reprising the Same Role is Lame…

Even if you are Clark Gable, reprising a young, swash-buckling adventurer when you are way beyond your swash-buckling prime is not a good idea.  In 1953, roughly twenty years after the original Red Dust, Clark Gable reprised his lead role that he had previously played alongside Jean Harlow in 1932.  The 1953 remake, Mogambo paired him with Ava Gardner, who was young enough to be his daughter.

3. Your Remake Must Be an Improvement Upon the Original

I gushed about Steven Soderbergh last week, but I am going to gush about him again. I think his treatment of Ocean’s Eleven (in its casting, art design, soundtrack, cinematography, pacing, and dialogue) was a vast improvement upon the original.  Although I am a huge fan of the Rat Pack in all of their swinging, smoking glory, I think their friendly shenanigans served as better concert fare than as the basis of a thrilling, sumptuous casino caper.

4. Relaunches of Franchises are Not Considered Remakes.

I do not consider the 2009 Star Trek film to be a remake, since it did not use the same plot as previous Star Trek films (though it did recycle plot elements from the series) and presented new facets of the characters.

5. Always Be Careful Who You Cast.

In an ideal world, the cast of a remake would be credible and likable actors with cross-generational appeal and box-office potential.  One reason I found the new Ocean’s film to be so enjoyable was the great casting, which made both me and my parents happy.  We were all in agreement that George Clooney carried the plot, engaged with the ensemble in a new and charismatic way, and looked good while doing it.

There are many other stipulations that I have regarding remakes, but I think these are my top concerns whenever anyone hops into the treacherous waters of a churning franchise or established filmic story.

Remakes: Cultural Re-iterations for Make Benefit of America

With Baz Luhrman’s new adaption of The Great Gatsby due in May, I got to thinking about the notion of the filmic remake and why Hollywood seems to be so saturated with things of the past that it tries to polish and transform into things of the future.

If I am honest, most times I see that a film is being remade, I roll my eyes and ask why Hollywood didn’t just get it right the first time?

But the other day in my British Romantic Poetry class (which is a lot more intense than it sounds, believe or not), my professor told us that the role of the poet was not to invent new truth, but rather to create a new iteration of truth that resonates with modern cultures.

And isn’t that what a remake is?  A new, culturally resonant iteration of old truths?  As I sat in class, my former negative views towards remakes began to fade away.  Although many remakes fail to be half as good as the original, I thought I’d highlight some that in my opinion are better.

1. Ben Hur (1959)

While, in my opinion, any talkie is going to be better than its silent counterpart, this contribution by Cecile B. Demille highlights the best of the best in the Golden Age of Hollywood and especially Hollywood ‘Sword and Sandal’ films.

2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

After viewing several of his films, I would say that I have definitely acquired a taste for Steven Soderbergh.  If you haven’t seen any of his work (he’s also known for ‘J.Lo’ and most recently the surprisingly dark and gritty ‘Magic Mike’) the Ocean’s franchise is probably his most accessible to date.  Like many of his other films, it is very self-contained, non-meta, and visually seamless.

Okay, Soderbergh gushing over.  The reason I think this film improves upon the original, is that it creates its own self-contained team dynamic, whereas the original relied upon an extra-textual dynamic of the Rat Pack franchise.

3. Pride and Prejudice (The 1995 Version with Colin Firth in the best wet T-shirt scene in history)

Yes, this film was re-made ten years later with Keira Knightley (which seems waaaay too soon in terms of cultural updating.  Honestly, how much do British period films change in ten years?).  However, much like the upcoming Hobbit re-boot, this film is very, very long and its length does justice to its source material.  There is also a simplicity to this version that I find refreshing.  While I am a HUGE Keira Knightley fan (Is there a film that she doesn’t look stunningly gorgeous in?) I found that the story was second banana to the Keira Knightley brand, the great score, and the stunning visuals.  I was less focused on the story/characters and very aware of the fact that I was watching a film.

4. Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Talk about cultural relevance.  This film took something that I don’t think had been culturally updated for five hundred years and gave it Hawaiian shirts, love at first sight through the fish tank, and 9mm ‘broadswords’ that could do more damage than any stage weapon ever could.  Good move, Baz Luhrman.  I am looking forward to every film you ever make (and commercials too).

5. Hairspray (2007)

A vast improvement upon the original film (although the 2006 version was more of a Broadway-to-Cinema adaption.  In terms of directors, it moved from Jon Waters to Adam Shankman.  In other words, the story moved in terms of cultural appropriateness, from ‘Pink Flamingos’ to ‘A Walk to Remember’.  I think this was a turn in the right direction.

Did you know these were adapted?

1. O Brother Where Art Thou? (Homer’s Odyssey)

2. West Side Story (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)

3.  Clueless (Jane Austen’s Emma)

4. The Lion King (Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

5. Strange Brew (Shakespeare’s Macbeth)