IT’S A GRIMM CHRISTMAS

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Our first version of this list of Christmas films began with the classics, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street—indeed holiday favorites but it was looking a little too saccharine for our taste. 

Back at the drawing board we began digging a little deeper and have come up with this list of antidotes to the traditional sugarplums.

Happy Holidays from The Thread! amonstercallsA MONSTER CALLS (2016) 

J.A. Bayona’s film based on Patrick Ness’s book is a dark fairytale—it is a repossession of fairy tales from the comforting modern day tales where everyone lives happily ever after.

In a lineup of holiday releases— this tale of a bullied boy (Lewis MacDougall) whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying and whose best friend is a talking yew tree might look like one of the many E.T. clones. But the monster in this film has grit—voiced by Liam Neeson. The film is realistic, often grim and intense with hard lessons about death and grief—I teared up watching the trailer.

The bleak watercolor depictions of a trio of fairy tales that the monster tells young Conor are dark and sinister—complete with murders, poisonings, religious intolerance and humanity’s indifference to suffering.  These tales are served up to help teach the boy about the life, death and grief and most importantly moral courage.

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gremlinsGREMLINS (1984) 

Joe Dante directed this low budget chiller, which was written by Chris Columbus with Steven Spielberg on board as a producer. There is a reboot of the film in production.

Gremlins is a hilarious holiday horror-comedy which also offers helpful lessons on gift giving. Don’t buy pets from unlicensed breeders. Pets make for high-maintenance gifts. Never trust your kids to follow instructions.

Billy, who was given Gizmo as a gift, proceeds to break all the rules—no water, no bright lights, and no post-midnight feeding. The result is a Christmas ruined by the hyper-reproducing creature, which spawns evil counterpart Gremlins. They hang the family dog in a string of lights and go on a holiday rampage that includes death and merry mayhem galore.

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nightmare_before_christmasTHE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

Tim Burton’s stop-motion animation film succeeds in corrupting the very essence of Christmas, thanks to main character Jack Skellington’s gruesome re-imagining of the holiday.

As much a Halloween as Christmas movie, the king of “Halloween Town” stumbles upon alternate universe “Christmas Town,” which inspires him to bring the holiday spirit back home and kidnap Santa Claus

Unfortunately, Jack’s macabre imagination is an awkward fit for Santa’s cheerful occupation, and results in unsuspecting children receiving gruesome gifts like shrunken heads under the tree, and “Sandy Claws” being gunned down from the sky.

Thankfully, Jack’s unsuccessful usurpation of Santa’s hard-to-fill shoes is forgiven, and we gifted with a delightfully creepy duet with Jack and his rag doll boo, Sally.

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eyes8EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

Stanley Kubrick’s ode to Christmas stars Doctor Bill (Tom Cruise) who embarks on a Christmas adventure that makes formerly risqué holiday movies seem underwhelmingly vanilla.

After learning his wife was fantasizing about a man in uniform, Doctor Bill pursues some of his own suppressed desires—a prostitute named Domino, masked orgies, and romps with sexy junkies.   Eventually Doctor Bill confesses his misdeeds to his wife, but instead of reacting with a swift divorce, she is flattered by his misdeeds and declares a renewed desire to join him.

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american psychoAMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) 

Mary Harron directs this modern serial killer tale which also is a wonderfully perverse Christmas story. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) celebrates Christmas amidst a blood-soaked setting, giving into his darkest desires, including abundant cocaine-sniffing and colleague-killing to ring in the holiday season.

Bateman also partakes in more traditional modes of celebration, such as attending fiancée Evelyn’s (Reese Witherspoon) Christmas party, though he is not without ulterior motives, “Hey Hamilton, have a holly jolly Christmas. Is Allen still handing the Fisher account?” An ominous omen for Allen!

For the record, Bateman does indulge in champagne, don reindeer antlers, and share a kiss under the mistletoe before making dinner plans with Allen…

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brazilBRAZIL (1985) 

Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian satire opens on an idyllic Christmas scene – a mother telling her child about Santa’s visit down the chimney.  “But Father Christmas can’t come if we don’t have a chimney,” says the child. At which point paramilitary police descend through the ceiling, grab the kid’s father and haul him off for questioning.

Later scenes savage the consumerist excesses of Christmas before Gilliam wheels out a drunk Santa who advises the unfortunate Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) to give in to his torture at the hands of Brazil’s faceless bureaucrats.

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SIMPLICITY

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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A week and a half out from Christmas 2016, we are feeling the impulse to step quietly back from the hustle and bustle. 

Maybe we’re gathering chi for the year to come; maybe we’re sticking our head in the sand.  Or maybe we just want to simplify things, slow them down a bit and savor the people and things closest to us this holiday season. 

With that mood upon us, we’re looking forward to the release of the new Jim Jarmusch film on December 23. 

 And in anticipation of that, we put together an even more eclectic than usual list of five films — very different from one another, but each in its own way about striving for simplicity.    

 

PATERSON_D28_0281.ARW

Here’s the dilemma in a nutshell: the quintessential downtown hipster filmmaker Jim Jarmusch paying homage the simple life of a bus driver in Paterson, NJ.

Paterson was the home of citizen/poet William Carlos Williams (he was a doctor).

Oh, and the bus driver is a poet whose wife is exceptionally beautiful, exotic and whimsical.  And, yeah, the bus driver is Adam Driver.

Does that mean we’re willing to indulge in a fantasy of simplicity while we’re waiting to achieve the thing itself?  Yeah, probably.

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night-on-earth
NIGHT ON EARTH (2009)

The year is 1991.  We’ve just bought a TV, but don’t have a VCR yet.  We’re living alone, wallowing in the painful aftermath of a big breakup, and taking solace in the anonymous companionship of the big city.

Jarmusch’s movies can be loosely plotted like songs – and like songs, some of them serve as emotional signposts marking chapters in our life story.  The only problem with that loose plotting is that they can feel unraveled when you watch them outside a movie theater.

Not so much with Night On Earth – it keeps the momentum going by moving through five vignettes — one night, five cities, five Taxi cabs.  Each story is just long enough, just droll enough.  The segments are inherently simple; little conventional plot – just snapshots of character, sprinkled with funny moments.

In L.A., cabbie Winona Ryder picks up agent Gena Rowlands, and refuses her offer to become a movie star so that she can fulfil her dream of becoming a mechanic.  In Rome, cabbie Roberto Benigni rattles off his sexual trespasses as the Catholic priest in the back literally has a heart attack.  The other cities are New York, Paris and pre-dawn Helsinki.

In his review, the late Roger Ebert called Jarmusch “the poet of the night”.  Score is by Tom Waits, much better match here than he was to Coppola’s One From The Heart.

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its-a-wonderful-life
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

Capra made odes to simplicity, sentiment, and pure-hearted American values that looked sappy but motivated his heroes to take the high ground and persevere against incredible odds.

These days it’s hard to imagine Americans pouring out to the mall to watch You Can’t Take It With You or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; and yet they were some of the biggest hits of the 30’s.

It’s A Wonderful Life, with its Dickens-tinged plot and homely homilies is more personal and little less political than some of Capra’s earlier films.  It was the first picture he made when he came back to Hollywood after making the Why We Fight Series propaganda series for the U.S. Armed forces.  It was kind of a flop, even though it got nominated for Best Picture.

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captain-fantastic
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016)

One man’s simplicity is another man’s OCD.

This is the second film directed by Matt Ross, who you’ll recognize as the creepy Prophet, Alby Grant in Big Love and the ridiculously creepy internet prophet Gavin Belson in Silicon Valley.  After a pretty bad first film, this one’s gotten him some attention as a director (Un Certain Regard).

In search of a radical brand of uber-simplicity, Viggo Mortenson is a lefty survivalist who has retreated to the woods of the Pacific Northwest with his wife to raise his kids in glorious isolation.  Under his guidance, the kids skin deer, memorize the Constitution and live by the precepts of Noam Chomsky.

But the wife/mother is gone.  She’s off being treated for bipolar disorder.  When the news comes of her suicide, he gathers the tribe and they set off in a Merry Prankster-ish schoolbus on a mission to abort her too-conventional burial in Arizona.

The movie is anchored by Mortenson’s magnetic performance, by turns fierce and gentle, which walks the fence between high principle and obsession.  Mortenson was just nominated for both SAG and Golden Globe awards.

He’s surrounded by a remarkable group of child actors – the children he’s taught to be self-sufficient and intellectually adventuresome; and yet protected so thoroughly from  the capitalist-commercial “real world” that they’re tragicomically innocent.

Even though it’s an actor’s movie, Captain Fantastic raises a lot of questions about our own commitment to principles – and about the line between committed and crazy.

We liked it, as did the Sundance crowd and a lot of critics.  But a couple out there felt like it drank its own Koolaid. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called Mortenson’s character “a cross between Charles Manson and Captain Von Trapp”.

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the-razors-edge
THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1946)

It was the year after World War II and America was searching for meaning.  The Razor’s Edge (a post-war story) competed with It’s A Wonderful Life for the Best Picture Oscar.  Both lost to The Best Days Of Our Lives, which confronted the aftermath of the war even more directly.

Like the 1944 Somerset Maugham book, this story about simplicity and spiritual quest is daring for its era, but oddly chock-a-block with plot.

After experiencing death and sacrifice in World War I, a young man passes over an upperclass life in the Midwest and sets off for Paris, leaving his fiancé behind.  While he travels to India and back, the friends he left behind are buffeted by fate and become more and more attached to the things of this world.  Each of them is destroyed in one way or another, but our hero finds his own compass and happiness in simple pursuits.

You may be tempted to go to the 1987 version which starred Bill Murray.  Wish it was better — but this is still the one to watch.  Tyrone Power (back from the war himself) stars, and even though he’s a little too old for the role, pulls it off.  The director was Edmund Goulding the versatile British actor-turned-director who also did Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, Nightmare Alley and Dawn Patrol.

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the-straight-story
THE STRAIGHT STORY (2013)

Is it a promise or a threat?  In the long run, we don’t have to worry about chasing simplicity.  Old age will bring it to us.

Sandwiched between Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, The Straight Story is an anomaly — a G-rated, Disney-distributed David Lynch film — with no profanity, violence, or sexual perversion.

It’s based on the true story of Alvin Straight, an elderly Midwesterner who drove 240 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin at five miles an hour on a John Deere mower to reunite with his estranged brother.

The pace is beyond deliberate.  The events are minor but emotionally impactful – the tractor breaks down; he runs out of money; the brakes give out; he recalls with regret a man he shot in the war.  And finally, the brothers unite.

The dialogue is simple and terse.  The movie was shot in sequence along the actual route that Alvin Straight traveled.  Alvin is played by Richard Farnsworth, whose metastatic cancer had paralyzed his legs.  Farnsworth became the oldest man ever nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, and ended his own life the following year.

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