BOOS! and WHOOP-DOOS!: Star Trek Vs. Thanksgiving!
Fat Hands? Boo!
Gluttony. It's America's first favorite sin, outpacing both Sloth and Lust for that top spot on the do-bad charts. It should be no surprise that our very first country-recognized holiday is a celebration that revolves around stuffing your gut until your lower intestine hits the cold linoleum floor in the kitchen, leaking sweet potato deposits of tryptophan all over puddles of creamed corn vomit like frosting on a cake. Thanksgiving. It's certainly an odd day. And not Hollywood's first choice when it comes to making a holiday movie. Thanksgiving films are few and far between, and their aren't any new ones getting released this year. There weren't any last year, either. This harvest festival is barely accepted as a means of giving any new film its narrative backbone. It scarcely edges ahead of Chanukah and Kwanza. Maybe audiences simply don't want to watch other people eat.
It's a fetish.
John Hughes must have been a Stovetop Stuffing fiend. For a little over twenty years, his defining comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles has reigned as the number one Thanksgiving film of all time. Right behind it is another movie he wrote and produced called Dutch. It stars an at-the-top-of-his-game Ed O'Neil and introduced the world to Ethan Embry. Its no Planes, Trains & Automobiles, but seeing as it revolves around the journey to achieve Food Valhalla, we have no real choice but to stick it in the number two spot. The only other Thanksgiving themed outings that come to mind are Jodi Foster's Home for the Holidays, which features a drug addled Robert Downey Jr. moments before he started house crashing for a living, and that little seen Peter Hedges drama Pieces of April, which features a pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes. As you can see, its slim pickin's from here on out. Sure, there are a couple more. House of Yes and The Ice Storm both dabbled in the midst of this orange season, but they only mingled with the idea of their family fun time around the table. The stories presented aren't necessarily hinged on this yearly stomachache inducing turkey party.
Leguizamo Nog? Boo!
The sad fact of the matter is, here in 2008, we've reached a stalemate with the traditional holiday film. Even our silver screen Christmases are sucking like a pitch-black parasitic alien from some foreign country. Gone are the fantastical elements that make the best in cinematic Christmas warfare so memorable. There's no magic. The fantasy element has been left on a clothes hanger to die. It's the shriveling of imagination, and kids are forced to return to the classics of the past simply because they are being threatened with films like Nothing Like the Holidays. The fun holiday flick has become a ghostly shadow. And I don't get it. I want to retreat from family and friends for two hours. Not spend it with their strange on-screen doppelgangers. We go to the theater on Christmas and Kwanzaa, and Thanksgiving, to get away from the hustle and bustle of our own living room lives. What the fuck is wrong with these producers in Hollywood? Are they so self-absorbed that they don't get it at all? I don't want to spend my fantasy dreamtime reliving these dinner table nightmares. Especially when I have to rush right back home to them. Directors like Alfredo De Villa are living out my traditions so I don't have to. After sitting through Four Christmases, I wanted to run away from my box of decorations. I wanted to hijack the store Santa and take him on a crazy adventure. I wanted to do anything but go home for presents. It's been spilt eggnog from here on out.
Christmas movies as of late are certainly cribbing from the two lesser-known Thanksgiving films that I mentioned above. I forgave and forgot about Katie Holmes trying to cook a turkey. I smiled once at Holly Hunter battling her deranged family. But these films never really bothered me on any level. Thanksgiving doesn't have the lore or mythology of Christmas. It's not a substantial enough means of generating a provincial backstory. People go home. They eat. They sleep. End of story. There hasn't ever been anything that could top Planes, Trains & Automobiles because it's a perfect film. From top to bottom. The most anyone can do is try and remake it, but that would be a miserable failure. Thanksgiving at the Cineplex is a time for brainless fodder. We're stuffed to the gourd. And we're very sleepy. We don't want to watch other people scream over pie, shoving second helpings of sweet potato gravy in their mouth. That's why Hollywood releases films like Twilight and Transporter 3 over the course of this four day weekend. These are B grade cheapies churned out as fast fan cash-ins. Nothing more. Nothing less. We can sit, and stare, and rub our swollen bellies without putting too much thought into it. They're two sides of one coin, and together they should make everyone happy.
A Goldberg Christmas? Whoop-doo!
Christmas, on the other hand, is a different story. Audiences have come to expect the spectacular. Over the top, fantastical, snowy landscapes and characters that are not entirely of this world should always stake their claim somewhere between November and December. For appearances sake, Hollywood should throw us at least one healthy fable woven from the already preexisting lore that makes the holidays so great. But these cinematic experiences are growing lean. The last great family Christmas movie was Jon Favreau's Elf, which hit in 2003. And I like WWE wrestler Goldberg as Satan's offspring in Santa's Slay, a black comedy posing as a horror film from 2005. But that's it. For the last couple of years, Hollywood has gotten lazy. Instead of churning out new fables, they've taken to recreating something I can get at home for free: The Family Christmas experience. It's a repetitive wash cycle, and I've had it.
Last year was bad enough. We got Fred Claus, which tried hard and failed to live up to traditional holiday fantasy standards. It came off looking like Vince Vaughn's jealous attempts to create a classic along the lines of his two best buddies' best work; Favreau with Elf and Peter Billingsly with A Christmas Story. Its just no fun when a big bully like Vince tries to kick everyone off of Christmas mountain, and he's back at it again this year with the hyper scream fest Four Christmases. In Fred Claus's stinky wake, we were forced to share last December with What Would Jesus Buy?, a documentary about the dangers of over shopping, This Christmas, which came on like a camcorder view of black folks having their holiday at home, The Perfect Holiday, which offered more black folks enjoying eggnog and arguments around the tree, and Christmas in Wonderland, which followed around a bunch of white folks diving deep into a plate of ham. How fucking blase. This year has decided to continue the trend. Along the exact same lines, we are being treated to A Christmas Tale, which follows a bunch of Brits during their traditional family get-together, the aforementioned Four Christmases, which shows us more white folks dreading the 25th of December, and Nothing Like the Holidays, which comes on like a dusty home VHS view of Puerto Ricans enjoying pecan pie. Next year, I'm sure we'll get to see the Asian and gay versions of this exact same goddamn movie.
Fuck off, Hollywood.
I can drive home, sit on my couch, eat some Jiffy-Pop, and watch this shit for free! Assholes. Usually, even when we don't get a cool Christmas flick that pertains to more than just your average ethnic family sitting around a table, the winter season does offer up at least two or three great genre pics to appease the theatergoing masses. Not this year. Both Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and J.J. Abrams Star Trek, originally slated for November and December releases respectively, have been boxed up and shipped off to next summer. That leaves The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is going to bomb. No one cares about this remake, and no one wants to be preached to about the dangers of destroying the environment while they're doing just that in preparation for their own home grown celebrations. That only leaves Adam Sandler and his upcoming Disney outing Bedtime Stories. Mark my written words, that film is going to make bank. Marley & Me or not (that dog is a straight up dick). There is no real competition. Teen boys won't go see some cutesy dog movie starring Jennifer Aniston. Its written in the stars.
This lackluster boom at the box office has made one thing very clear. Twenty minutes of footage can become the hottest ticket in town. That's what happened with Star Trek. I, like every journalist in the Los Angeles area, headed down to Paramount Pictures Studios to watch a few nuggets from this supposedly anticipated sci fi reimagining last Wednesday. The enormous theater was packed, and the buzz was over bearing. It was a strange mix of industry types and shitty blog critics, but the feeling in the air was palpable. The anticipation level was a few degrees higher than that felt in the advanced screening room for Twilight. And we weren't even seeing the whole film. Thus far, every single source of on-line information has chimed in with their two cents. Some accounts have been dripping with substantial prose, and offer an insightful bird's eye view on what you missed. Other, lesser sites have piped in screaming missives in bold type like, "Outstanding! Unbelievably incredible! More than impressed! Unbelievable! I'm more excited for Star Trek than I am Watchmen." Please! What sort of doughboy dick sucker wrote that blatant attempt at staying inside J.J. Abrams' good graces? These blog critics toss out descriptive pronouns without a means to back it up. Reading the plentiful and poorly written columns, I was never given a reason why the footage was thought to be so unbelievable.
In actuality, these twenty minutes looked like DVD outtakes from a mediocre film. You won't really hear that conceit from too many places. Why? Because no one wants to completely shit on this franchise. Its beloved. And J.J. Abrams has made a lot of friends in cyberspace. Even our own Pulitzer Prize winning author and site contributor J. Roman wrote about the experience marking it with high praise. I've found it quite amazing that no one has mentioned the fact that Captain James T. Kirk gets a bad case of the Fat Hands. That one moment has completely twisted off my good will fountain of admiration for the project.
Gay Spock? Boo!
Maybe you didn't hear me. Fat Hands! Captain Kirk runs around the upper deck of the Enterprise with bloated, rubbery Big MommaKlump fists of hate that cause him to fumble in unfunny bouts of misplaced comedy. And it's atrocious. Huh? What? How is this possible? How did Captain Kirk wind up with fucking Fat Hands? Well, as the story goes, James T. Kirk is an asshole, straight through. He causes a lot of problems, and he is not allowed on the Enterprise when the rest of the cast is whisked away on a mission. There is a loophole, though. Bones can take any of his patience with him, because they need to stay under his care. So Dr. McCoy injects Kirk with a serum that gives him flu like symptoms. And he is snuck onto the ship under McCoy's care. The serum has an adverse reaction, and thus, Kirk gets Fat Hands!
He learns of an impending Romulan attack and must race to tell Captain Pike. When he arrives unexpectedly on the deck of the Enterprise, he hurries to explain why he is present. But the serum has also caused his tongue to swell up, and he sounds like a retard that's just been injected with Novocain. This is very painful to witness, and it reminded me of that scene from Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace where Jar Jar Binks gets his tongue caught in the back of a pod racer. Why? Why does this need to be in a Star Trek film? And why did Paramount choose this as the one scene to show an excited audience full of people waiting to be amazed?
It doesn't make sense.
Not all of the footage they showed was bad. I liked the practical creature effects, but the aliens looked transported from a galaxy far, far away. And there is a moment of interaction between Simon Pegg's Scotty and a little green former Cantina dweller that, while funny, certainly didn't feel like it belonged in a Star Trek film. It was weird, to say the least. These twenty minutes of misplaced footage were meant to whet our communal appetite. It was supposed to get our motors revved up. Though, it all left me feeling quite indifferent. Then again, I've never been a fan of the show. The first time I sat down to watch an episode of Star Trek, it felt like the longest hour in the history of hours. I might just be the wrong person to ask about it. Still, I think most Trekkers and Trekkies will agree with me. Fat Hands don't belong in a Star Trek movie of any kind, unless the ship is being manned by Jerry Lewis.
Uhura undressing? Whoop-doo!
Despite its seemingly overbearing and goofy nature, Star Trek still feels more like a Christmas release. It feels like it was meant to be enjoyed on a cold winter's night after a heavy meal. People would have flocked to it after unwrapping presents, and probably felt satisfied by its unethically dumbed down story line. Having watched the footage, I only see it getting lost in the summer shuffle of 2009. The sad fact of the matter is, we needed Star Trek now. Here. In this cinematic landscape lacking of Christmas and genre films. It's too bad that Paramount decided to move it. It will most likely be J.J. Abrams undoing.
Maybe after this, he can put his brilliant mind to making one of the best fantasy themed Holiday movies ever seen. One can only hope.
Hollywood seriously needs to stop with the Christmas family dinner films and bring back some much-needed magic. Most certainly and Whoop-doo! Kill Grandma! Eat food! Happy Thanksgiving! And, oh, yeah! Remember to tune in next week when we will have Spooker Washington's Happy Giving of Thanks Special! We'll see you on the other side of December.