Thursday, December 11, 2014

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

When naming Christmas movies, there is a lot of originality out there. For example, White CHRISTMAS, CHRISTMAS with the Kranks, I'll be home for CHRISTMAS, and A CHRISTMAS Story.
However, it takes real originality to come up with a name for a World War II Japanese prison camp movie that that has almost nothing to do with Christmas. Thus, let's take a look at Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

Read more to find out the true meaning of "war crimes"...
Lawrence ( Tom Conti ) is a prisoner in a Japanese prison camp in 1942 Java. As someone who had been to Japan before the war and speaks the language, Lawrence builds a rather strong relationship with one of the camp guards, Sgt. Hara (Takeshi Kitano), becoming almost a kind of friendship. This doesn't stop Hara from giving Lawrence the occasional crack across the face with a stick.

The camp is run by Capt. Yonoi, a young soldier who has a strong samurai spirit. He believes in honor and rules, and feels a deep shame for not having been with his fellow soldiers who were killed in an unsuccessful coup d'├ętat years before.
He also has great shading.
Eventually, a British soldier named Celliers (David Bowie) is brought to the camp. Capt. Yonoi seems to see something special in this soldier, and decides he wants to make him the camp prisoners' official liaison. However, after recovering from the terrible treatment he received during his interrogation, Celliers proves to have a rebellious attitude that doesn't fit with Yanoi's plans, and we see Yanoi start to resent Cellier's actions.

As soon as the film starts, it becomes apparent that this isn't a Christmas movie. In fact, the only time Christmas is mentioned is when Sgt. Hara gets drunk and let's Celliers and Lawrence out of solitary confinement, saying he's playing Father Christmas and shouting "Merry Christmas Lawrence!".
Other than that, Christmas cheer in this film is non-existent.
There are, however, some really good performances in the movie. Conti is really likable as the voice of the film. He's soft-spoken and wise, and while other inmates look at the Japanese like ignorant animals, Lawrence has a respect and understanding of their culture.
I totally understand why you bashed me with a stick.
Bowie's performance is just as powerful. If you've ever seen him in other movies, like Labyrinth, you might think he's a campy performer. Celliers, however, is played with a cool and determined strength. You get the feeling that he's just as scared as everyone else, yet he never lets it stop him from standing up for his fellow prisoners.

I still think this movie is fit for holiday viewing, though. You might feel a bit sad by the end, but you can see some real Christmas spirit, in that Cellier's and Lawrence sacrifice a lot for their fellow prisoners. However, it might help to watch it while drinking copious amounts of eggnog laced with rum.

FINAL SCORE- Enough sake to make you want to let the prisoners out of solitary.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

All Is Bright

Often times, we look to Christmas movies to make us laugh, like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  Other times, we look for a warm, sweet trickle of Christmas warmth, like Miracle on 34th St.

However, maybe we should look for movies that not only depress us, but make us dislike all the characters as well. In that case, let's dust off the DVD player and pop in what will surely (not) become a Christmas favorite, All Is Bright!

The movie starts with Dennis (Paul Giamatti) just getting out of prison for robbery. He's got no job, no money, and his ex-wife told their daughter he had died of cancer. To top it off, Dennis's old partner-in-crime, Rene (Paul Rudd) is dating the ex-wife. So, they've nicely set up the happy premise. 
But Dennis plans on getting his wife back by going straight. To do this, he and Rene head down to New York with a truckload of Christmas trees to sell. Let's just say, it doesn't get any wackier than that.

There are a lot of Christmas movies out there that start with a down and out hero. This is usually so they can redeem themselves and we can cheer them on. In the case of All Is Bright, Dennis is such an out-and-out criminal it's hard to really like him at all. And we can't even blame that on how Paul Giamatti looks like an angry 18th century seaman in this film.

I'm just impressed by that much facial hair
There are times when Giamatti can actually look really sympathetic and likable.

Ok, not this. But, trust me. He can be likable.
To balance his thuggery, we have Rene. He's also decided to hang up the life of crime and go straight. He's the guy trying to his best to be good. Part of this involves him constantly chatting to  Dennis's ex on the phone right in front of Dennis, and just being a terrible businessman in general.

A real nice guy all around.
They even throw in a Russian woman who buys a tree and, in her cold Russian way, helps Dennis to cope with his problems. Of course, when Dennis and Rene have a good day of selling Christmas trees, she brings a bottle of vodka to toast with.

Aside from all the cast, every scene in the movie is softly scored by jazz or Christmas music, while people don't smile. They look vacantly into the distance, showing us how tortured they are. In one scene where Dennis's daughter gives her mom a piece of chocolate from an advent calender, there are still no smiles.
Mmm. The story of our lord is 70% cacao.
You just get the feeling that this is another one of those movies made with the explicit purpose of winning an award at Cannes or Sundance. Those movies never have people who smile in them.

FINAL SCORE- 107 shots of vodka. One for each minute of my Christmas holiday I lost by watching this movie.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

'Tis Christmas, it is.

Another year has come to a close. And with it, a host of never before seen movies from yours truly. 

Follow along and see what not to see during this season.