A TRUMP CHRISTMAS CAROL – BY TOM CURLEY

I spent Christmas day watching various traditional Christmas movies. I’ve seen them all a zillion times, but I did anyway. I think it’s the law.

I watched Miracle On 34th Street. The original one.

I watched A Christmas Story.

Well, part of it. I mean, I’ve seen it a zillion times.

And I watched Scrooged. A modern update of A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray.

Like all remakes of A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray is a mean miser of a boss who gets shown his past present and future by three ghosts and shown his good side and is redeemed and becomes a good person. God bless us, every one.

So, after immersing myself in movies where there is peace on Earth, goodwill towards men and a kid can get a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock (even though you could shoot your eye out), I turned on MSNBC.

Back in the real world, the government was shut down because Fox News told the Toddler-in-Chief to do so.  Two children had died in the custody of the Immigration Department. And the poor President of the United States tweeted he had to cancel his two-week vacation in Florida and was stuck all alone on Christmas Eve in the White House.

He even tweeted “Poor me.” And whose fault were these things? The Democrats of course.

Then I got to thinking, a President alone on Christmas Eve (not counting his now unpaid Secret Service detail) is Scrooge on steroids. If anybody needed to be visited by three ghosts, it’s this dick. But then I got to wondering how that would turn out.

First, he has to be visited by an old partner who warns him he is evil and is going to be visited by three ghosts. Hmm, who would that be? Of course! Richard Nixon!

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: (Really dead looking and bound in chains and the Watergate tapes) Donald Trump!

TRUMP: AHHH! Who are you?

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: I am the ghost of Richard Nixon!

TRUMP: Really? You don’t look like him. You look like shit.

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: Well, of course, I look like shit. I’m dead you asshole.

TRUMP: You should try some of my daughter Ivanka’s spa treatments. It’ll take years off your face. I can get you a discount.

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: Really? I’d love to get rid of the bags under my eyes… wait, what am I doing? I’m here to tell you that if you keep leading the life you’ve been leading you are going to end up like me.

TRUMP: What? An ugly ghost with really bad bags under my eyes Not going to happen. I have dermatologists. The best dermatologists.

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: What? No! You’ll be doomed to wander the Earth, bound by the chains you created in life.

TRUMP: Will they be the best chains? I know a lot about chains. I know more about chains than anybody in the world.

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: Jesus Christ, Tillerson was right, you are a fucking moron. Look, here’s the deal. Tonight, you will be visited by three ghosts.

TRUMP: Will they be the best ghosts?

GHOST OF RICHARD NIXON: Yes, no, I don’t know, oh fuck this. I’m out of here. God, you’re an asshole.

The ghost disappears, and Trump goes to the bathroom and sends a series of tweets blaming Obama and the Democrats for, well, everything. He leaves the bathroom to find the ghost of Christmas Past, who looks a lot like Howard Stern.

TRUMP: Howard Stern! How’d you get in here?

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: I am not Howard Stern! I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.

TRUMP: Really? Are you sure? You really look like Howard Stern. Babba Boey!

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: I’m not fucking Howard Stern! I’m here to show you your past.

TRUMP: Why? My past was great.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: No, it wasn’t

TRUMP: Yes, it was.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: No, it wasn’t.

TRUMP: Was too.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: Are you kidding me? You bankrupt four casinos in Atlantic City for Christ’s sake. You were a billion dollars in debt and used that to not pay any taxes for over ten years! You’ve been laundering money for the Russians since 2001! You stiff your contractors and your lawyers. You’ve been sued over 3000 times!

TRUMP: Fake news. Never happened.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: What? No, of course, it did. It’s on record.

TRUMP: No, it isn’t.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST: Yes, it is! Oh, for God’s sake, I can’t deal with this anymore. Nixon was right. You are a fucking moron.

At this point, the Ghost of Christmas Past dissolves in a cloud of disgust and Trump goes back to the bathroom to write more rage tweets that contain the words “No Collusion” and “Witch Hunt!” When he comes out, he is confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who looks a lot like Rachel Maddow.

TRUMP: Rachel Maddow?! How’d you get in here?? You’re fake news! I never watch you! I watched your show last night! You’re very unfair! NO COLLUSION!

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: I am not Rachel Maddow. I am the Ghost of Christmas Present!

TRUMP: You’re bringing me a present? Great! I’d like a gold toilet for the Lincoln bedroom.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: No, I’m not the Ghost of Christmas Presents. I’m the Ghost of Christmas Present!

TRUMP: What’s the difference?

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: What’s the difference?? I’m here to show you how bad your present is! You’ve shut down the government over a stupid wall that will never be built. You’re forcing people to work for no pay. You are separating babies from their parents at the borders and you’re under 17 different investigations over all the crimes you’ve committed.

TRUMP: No, I’m not. If I was, nothing I’ve done is against the law. And even if it was against the law, it’s Obama’s fault. Fake news!

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: Nixon and the Ghost of Christmas Past warned me about this. I didn’t believe them. Nobody can be this much of an asshole. I’m gone.

The Ghost disappears in a puff of disbelief and disgust and Trump (you guessed it) goes back to the john to retweet a video exposing the faces of Seal Team Five. When he returns to his bedroom he is confronted with the final ghost. The ghost of Christmas future. Who looks just like Steve Bannon.

TRUMP: Steve! I thought I fired you! Wait, I get it, you’re like one of them ghosts right? You just look like Steve Bannon.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: No, I’m Steve Bannon. I just moonlight as the Ghost of Christmas Future. Been doing it for years.

TRUMP: Is that why you always looked like death warmed over?

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: No, I’ve always look like this.

TRUMP: So why are you here?

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: You know, the usual. If you don’t change your ways, you will end up penniless and alone. Your life will have been a waste, and no one will remember you. Blah blah blah.

At this point, they both break up laughing.

TRUMP: Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE: Hey, I had to try, or I don’t get paid.

The Ghost disappears is a cloud of dust and rancid bourbon and Trump goes to bed. He wakes up Christmas morning and opens his bedroom window and sees a boy.

TRUMP: Boy! Who are you? What is your name?

BOY: It’s Eric. I’m your son.

TRUMP: What day is it?

ERIC: It’s Christmas.

TRUMP: It’s Christmas! So, it’s not too late!

Trump goes down to the Oval Office and signs an executive order canceling pay raises for all Federal Employees.

So, there you have it. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, and God Bless us every one.

But only if you’re white of course.

FLYPAPER (2011) AND FILM CRITICS – Marilyn Armstrong

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even for us is not a giant sum of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. In 2013, Storage 24,  the British sci-fi/horror flick grossed just $72 (in the U.S.) after it was released for one day, on one screen. In 2012,  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 — the lowest-grossing film of that year.

Still, the all-time loser is definitely 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl which grossed $30. You can look this stuff up. You might be surprised at how many films lose money on initial release, though some make it up later when released to cable and DVD. The bigger the initial budget, the larger the potential for disaster, so despite these horrific numbers, many movies actually lost much more money.

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900. For a Hollywood bomb, that’s small potatoes. The movie was universally panned. It opened in one movie house on two screens, then disappeared until it popped up on cable. Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. A couple of nights ago, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. If Garry thinks its funny, it’s funny. He has a discerning sense of humor.

Flypaper is a good little comedy. Farce, if you like. A parody of bank heist movies plus a bit of slapstick, technobabble, and some fine explosions. The dialogue is witty, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies the critics thought were great.

I do not understand critics and often wonder if we saw the same movie they reviewed. Sometimes, I wonder if they actually saw the movie at all or they read someone else’s review and are just repeating what they heard.

Flypaper features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. Okay, it isn’t Blake Edwards, but it’s the same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good one and fun to watch. Certainly worthy of at least a straight to DVD presentation.

I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from its studio. Showing it for a week in one theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a grand opening. It deserved better.

The reviews in IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate whoever wrote them never saw the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. I guess anonymity is not always bad. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t review a movie I’ve never watched or a book I haven’t read. Call me old-fashioned.

Critics heap praise on movies that are boring or worse. They pan movies that are creative, unique, and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one will be interested. They seem to believe that a good movie has to be dull. Ditto books. “Literary fiction” produces the most boring books I’ve ever read.

There will always be people who love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it.  We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does. It’s every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running amok. Everything that can go wrong does. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke.

The pacing is appropriately frantic. The cast manages to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends on how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it, liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative.

The more I write know about movies, the less I understand critics.

THE HOLIDAY SEASON – Garry Armstrong

It isn’t depression.  It isn’t anger or melancholia. Maybe, it’s just a case of the “blahs,” the post-Christmas brain drain.

Last Night, Marilyn and I were doing our usual Christmas ritual of watching a classic, old holiday movie. We started with “A Christmas Story” which is always good for laughs. Darren McGavin is a treasure as the embattled but nice Dad. Peter Billingsley’s “Ralphie” captures a little of all of us when we were kids.

We were still smiling as we went to our second feature, “Holiday Inn”. This is the 1942 version (the year many future legends made their début on the world stage): Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire with lots of Irving Berlin classics including “White Christmas” making its début with Crosby, pipe smoke billowing, crooning in familiar style.

There are problems with “Holiday Inn” which we usually ignore but really couldn’t this year. The biggest is the Blackface act with Crosby and cast singing “Abraham” to mark a holiday. I left the room as the scene began and found chores to do until the next scene.

Blackface — which has stirred new controversy — has always troubled me deeply.  This classics movie lover usually fast forwards through similar scenes in beloved films from old Hollywood where racism was a staple and white stars would usually laugh benignly at the characters played by Black actors. The Stephen Fetchit, Amos ‘n Andy factor.

An old friend emailed a few days earlier, expressing her distaste for the “Holiday Inn” scene. It had made an admired film unwatchable for her. The racial controversy took a back seat as we enjoyed the rest of “White Christmas,” it’s creaky plot and great music. But it left us both feeling uneasy.

I had “A Christmas Carol” (The Alistair Sims version) ready for our holiday movie trifecta. Marilyn said she wasn’t in the mood for any more holiday movies after “Holiday Inn.” I usually stand up for old movies but I instantly knew what Marilyn was saying.

The Blackface scene reminded us of much of what’s wrong in our world now.  You can’t escape it by watching another old movie. The melancholia had settled in. We had striven all day to keep our minds off reality and just enjoy Christmas.  We couldn’t maintain the happy glow. I was reminded of Commander-In-Chief Donzo’s insensitive remark to a child about believing in Santa Claus.  All of the bad stuff started to march forward in our brains.

We settled on watching “Midsomer Murders,” a BBC series we’ve grown to love in recent years. That was the temporary Rx to our blahs as the dogs found their second wind and raced outside to bark at the moon, serenade our neighbors, and irritate the bejesus out of me now that I can hear them with my Cochlear implant.

Marilyn and I discussed some upcoming stuff and, clearly, we had lost the thin veneer of holiday cheer. We touched on my overfeeding the dogs which we’ve discussed before and I have ignored.  It endangers the furry kids’ health.  Marilyn’s point is on target even as I used their begging as an excuse to shirk responsibility.  The mood was clearly changing as we tried to engage our attention on “Midsomer Murders”.

The dogs provided some humor with their barkathon, my racing in and out to admonish them with no real success. I focused on Duke who was the main noise culprit. At one point, Duke raced into the crate before I could order him to do so as punishment.  We all laughed at the silliness of the moment. I think some of our good humor was restored as Christmas night drew to a close for us.

It’s still interesting how quickly things can change compared to the yesteryear world of Ralphie and “A Christmas Story”.

INTOLERANCE: REEL AND REAL – Garry Armstrong

A friend today posted a review on Facebook about the film, “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 25-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death.

It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.

Charlottesville rally

Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t.

The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the United States and elsewhere — feels more relevant than ever. The recent attacks on Synagogues in Pittsburgh and anti-semitic incidents in Massachusetts — leave people wondering: “Have we forgotten?”

Wounds are raw from last year’s ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our President issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.”  Antisemitism and racism continue to be headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.

Obviously not. There have been a few “message” movies that deal with those still festering issues which many insist no longer exist. Dissidents say it’s more “fake news” from the liberal media.  So many ostriches with their heads in the sand.

The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about Antisemitism in post-war America.

“Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous “Blacklist) used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.

Circa 1955: Studio headshot portrait of Canadian-born film director Edward Dmytryk (1908 – 1999). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.

The other soldiers – uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze.  One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”

The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.

Robert Ryan

The secondary plot has “Sammy” murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis. This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character.

Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street.

The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really all about.

Robert Mitchum

In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with “Mitch.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “The Blacklist” hovering over Hollywood. He said some pals urged him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.

“Mitch” grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?”   I nodded.  Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards —  there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”

Robert Mitchum, older portrait

I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.

That was almost 50 years ago. No, not much has changed.  Not on the silver screen or in real life.

“BEING THERE” – A MODERN DAY REVIEW – Garry Armstrong

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President.

It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government.

The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.

It’s about time! – REBLOG – Gordon Stewart

Strange how this “old” movie is probably today’s most relevant movie. We don’t seem to learn from past errors. Maybe we can’t. There’s something wrong with humanity.

 

Views from the Edge

Timely reflections of an anachronist

Robert Mueller III’s and the Southern District of New York’s court filings, and the President’s response, confirm that “Individual-1” never should have been administered the oath of office “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.” The people around the Oval Office are the only brakes on the man who, like Chauncey (“Chance”) Gardner played by Peter Sellers in the humorous film Being There, spends his days watching his favorite television shows, doesn’t read, and reduces complexity to the simplest of terms. 

Ron Steigler: Mr. Gardner, uh, my editors and I have been wondering if you would consider writing a book for us, something about your um, political philosophy, what do you say?

Chance: I can’t write.

Ron Steigler: Heh, heh, of course not, who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my…

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FRANK CAPRA – THE ODD BOID – Garry Armstrong

I was thumbing through an old magazine when I remembered this one. Don’t think I’ve ever shared it.

Early in the 1970’s at the Boston television station where I worked.  The newsroom was on the third floor and we had a lobby receptionist who looked and sounded like Thelma Ritter.

The phone rings at my newsroom desk. It’s the receptionist in the lobby.  “Hey, Geeery,  got a guest fer ya.  An old guy. Odd ‘boid.’  Sez his name is Frankie and he’s gotta book fer ya.”

Frank Capra

I was puzzled.  Didn’t have any celeb guests booked.  Who was this “Frankie?”

“Geeery, Hon. Ya still there?   Frankie’s got this book fer ya?  Whadda I do, Hon?”

I was still puzzled.  I didn’t play the ponies and I didn’t know any bookies. I asked him to send the guest up on the elevator, then I raced out to meet him. The elevator opens and out steps … FRANK CAPRA. I simply stared with my mouth wide open.

Capra laughed at me. “Hi Garry, will you interview me?” Capra continued laughing as I continued to stare.

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington – Frank Capra, Director

Of course,  we went out for a few drinks afterward. He shared some great stories about working with Harry Cohn at Columbia.  Capra had “director’s final cut” in all his contracts.

Harry used to go wild. He wanted a different ending for “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Frank told Harry where to go.