There have been some sad showbiz passings recently: RIP to
Ron Glass, the ever-acerbic Detective Harris of Barney Miller, departed at 71,
and Napoleon Solo himself, Robert Vaughn, departed at 83.
Monster-of-the-Week: …the nod goes to the behemoth in this
Reynold Brown poster for Roger Corman’s 1958 epic Teenage Caveman…
…one of Vaughn’s first starring roles. This beast is far
more impressive than any of the creatures actually seen in Corman’s hilarious, endearing saga—most of which are stock footage cribbed from earlier movies like
One Million B.C.
Monster-of-the-Week: …our honoree is this Brobdingnagian turkey…
…that towered over Kurt Kasznar, Deanna Lund and the gang in “The Golden
Cage,” a 1968 episode of Land of the Giants. Of all the sci-fi stories made
for television about attempts to catch giant turkeys, this is arguably one of
the better ones in color.
Bad Santa 2—Back in 2003, I was in the midst of what I
regarded as a particularly un-merry holiday season. I saw Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa, and laughed so hard that I
thought I might need medical attention. It wasn’t an especially well-made
movie, but its childish upending of clichéd holiday wholesomeness essentially
saved Christmas for me that year.
Billy Bob Thornton returns in this 13-years-belated sequel,
again as Willie, a drunken, depressive, fetishistic safecracker who uses a
Santa costume as his front. Here he’s pressed into service by his diminutive
former accomplice Marcus (Tony Cox), donning the costume again to rob a
fraudulent charity in Chicago.
The mastermind—if that’s the word—behind the plot is Willie’s loathed mother
Sunny (Kathy Bates).
Few would suggest that this episodic, clumsily-structured
caper farce is crackerjack moviemaking. It relies on a ridiculously easy
comedic strategy—set up saccharine Christmas imagery and music and blow
raspberries at it.
So sure, Bad Santa 2
isn’t a great movie. But Billy Bob Thornton is a great movie star. I don’t just
mean he’s a great actor, though he is; he also has the authoritative presence
of a true star. Watching him here isn’t just watching a drawly guy spout vile
obscenity and epithets—amusing enough for a while, but only for a while—it’s
also getting a taste of the vast, defeated bleakness of outlook from which this
His characterization carries a whisper of the tragic to it,
and indeed this might take over and spoil the fun if it weren’t for Willie’s strange
magnetism, sexual and otherwise. In the first movie he was irresistible to
Lauren Graham; here his romantic—if that’s the word—interest is Christina
Hendricks. So how sorry for him can we feel?
Besides, like the original, Bad Santa 2 is every bit as sentimental as any Christmas movie. We’re
meant to see that the true source of Willie’s misery is that, at bottom, he’s a
thoroughly decent-hearted fellow.
The journeyman director, Mark Waters, moves things along
with reasonable efficiency. Bates is formidable as ever as Sunny. Cox, Octavia
Spencer and Brett Kelly—as the oddball Thurman Merman—are amusing in reprised
roles from the original. But Thornton
is the real show. If, for whatever reason, you aren’t feeling as festive this
year as tradition demands, Bad Santa 2
might help you vent some of your negativity. Just don’t take the kiddies.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—J. K. Rowling’s 2001 book, proceeds
from which benefitted Comic Relief, wasn’t a novel or even a short story. It
was part of the Harry Potter
universe, a supposed textbook at Hogwart’s, credited to a certain Newt
Scamander, on the histories and habits of creatures of myth and folklore.
In her first produced screenplay, Rowling has a spun a tale inspired by this
work. In the 1920s, Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of fanciful
creatures—magically clown-car full of them; some of them, like the rhino-esque
Erumpent, are gargantuan. Others, like the stick-insect-like Bowtruckle, are
tiny. Others, like the Demiguise, are invisible. Others, like the endearing
hedgehog-like Niffler, are compulsively acquisitive where small shiny objects
And so on. It isn’t long, of course, before a number of these creatures have
escaped the suitcase, and Scamander is faced with rounding them up. But of
course, this being Rowling, that’s not all there is to the story. That’s not
even half of the story.
The beasts, as it turns out, oddly aren’t the stars of Fantastic Beasts. The movie twists itself into a dauntingly
complex, obsessively imagined saga involving the magical authorities of the U.S., including a sort of magicians’ FBI led by
the scowling Graves (Colin Farrell). There’s
Tina (Kate Waterston), an outcast magical investigator who first arrests, then
allies herself with Scamander. There’s an anti-witchcraft sect led by a puritan
(Samantha Morton) and staffed by her spooky foster kids. And there’s the object
of Scamander’s visit to the Big Apple, a mysterious, destructive being called
Directed by David Yates, who helmed four of the Harry Potter flicks, the movie is an elaborate and impeccable piece
of big-studio craft. James Newton Howard’s music evokes an atmosphere of whimsy
taken seriously, and the production design and special effects are impressively
rich, despite the usual hint of CGI chilliness. As with the Harry Potter movies, I sometimes got a
little lost in the plot, but I was consistently entertained.
Despite the handsomeness of the production, and despite Rowling’s infectious
storytelling glee, it’s mostly to the credit of the actors that Fantastic Beasts cast its spell even on
a muggle like me. Redmayne and Waterston are a delightfully sheepish hero and heroine.
The soft-spoken Farrell, stalking around with his eyes on the ground in front
of him, makes an intense yet elegantly assured heavy—despite his excellent American
accent, he reminded me of James Mason in his darker mode.
But it’s Dan Fogler who really connects with the audience, as Jacob Kowalski,
a “no-maj” (American slang for a muggle) baker who gets caught up in the
adventure. The central function of Fogler’s character is to be our surrogate—to
be astonished, and get things explained to him. But Fogler’s capacity for
wonder makes him heroic, and when he’s stunned with love at first sight by Tina’s
gorgeous sister Queenie (the singer Alison Sudol), she’s stunned right back. The
two of them steal the movie, and that constitutes pretty grand larceny.
I'm an award-winning movie critic, playwright, actor and director.
My work has appeared in publications ranging from the New Times weeklies (where I was a staff writer for several years) to USA Today, from Phoenix Magazine and Wrangler News and the East Valley Tribune to the Erie Times-News, Seattle Times and Detroit Metro Times to Rewind Magazine.
I'm that rare example of a living poet who has had a sonnet published in Weird Tales, and my poems have also appeared in Elysian Fields Quarterly.
I've acted in theatre productions in six states and the District of Columbia, and appear for about six seconds as an extra (a prison guard) in the John Waters film Cry-Baby.
I directed Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at Southwest Shakespeare Festival, and a short film called Holding Back the Dawn, based on a short story by my friend Barry Graham.
I was host of Another Saturday Night, a pop culture and film review show on KTAR radio.
I have produced, directed and acted in radio plays for NPR, KTAR and the Sun Sounds Radio service.