Magic Molecule


A notice of judicial ignorance.

(2018) Documentary (RandomEric Sterling, Ricky Williams, “Freeway” Ricky Ross, Jade Jerger, Lelah Jerger, Mauro Lara, Joshua Camp, Rebecca O’Krent, Steven Figueroa, Dr. Tim Shaw, Matt Herpel, Chris Conte, Cheyenne Popplewell, Steve Gordon, Matt Chapman, Jesse Danwoody, Jim Tomes, Angel Mack, Ashlyn Scott, Zac Hudson, Heather Jackson   Directed by Dylan Avery

 

When people think of cannabis, they think of getting stoned for the most part. They think of midnight munchies and that mellow feeling that weed can bring. However, what they’re really thinking of is THC, the oil in cannabis that is psychoreactive. Not all marijuana has that property.

Hemp is a form of marijuana that is actually far more useful than recreation. Its fibers make an excellent building material; it also contains an oil called CBD that is proving to have some amazing medicinal uses, from controlling seizures to shrinking tumors to relieving chronic pain.

In an era where Big Pharma seems to have a stranglehold on modern medicine, CBD oil has shown to be almost a miracle drug, helping all sorts of people in all sorts of places. However, the stigma of marijuana being a recreational drug has created obstacles to the acceptance of CBD as a legitimate medicinal drug.

There is a lot of ignorance out there about what CBD oil is, and a lot of it is at a legislative and legal level. Even states where the sale and possession of CBD oil is legal (like Tennessee, so long as there is less than 3% THC) have seen raids by law enforcement, shutting down 23 businesses in Franklin County alone for selling something that is absolutely legal in the state of Tennessee.

This documentary presents a parade of anecdotal evidence as to the efficacy of CBD oil. It also presents cases like the Jerger family of Indiana, who were threatened with having their child taken away from them because they were using CBD oil to treat her illness, even to the point where they forced the two-year-old child to have blood draws regularly to make sure that she was taking the pills that she had been prescribed rather than the CBD oil which worked better. Even after the Indiana legislature stepped in, the harassment continued to the point where the family felt compelled to move to Colorado in order to continue the treatment that there daughter needed.

There are a few interviews with experts like Eric Sterling, who helped formulate drug policy back in the “Just Say No” era of Nancy Reagan and who is now an advocate and activist for legalization. There’s also former NFL quarterback Ricky Williams, who used the oil to assist with injuries incurred during his pro football career and who now advocates meditation and yoga along with CBD for athletes and injuries.

The movie is essentially a one hour advertisement for the benefits of CBD oil and in all honesty there’s nothing wrong with that. You won’t find a whole lot of objectivity here. While the film does admit there hasn’t been much study of the properties of CBD oil – and shows at least one grower’s attempts to create a lab in order to do just that – there really isn’t a lot of dissent here; there aren’t any folks who have used CBD oil with little or no effect. Everyone who is onscreen has a miraculous story to tell and frankly folks, it doesn’t work for everyone quite that way. Still in all, the film does offer a lot of anecdotal information, so much that it is hard to ignore. It also, sadly, reiterates that while great strides are being made in reassessing our attitudes towards marijuana both recreationally and medicinally, there are still those in power who have yet to catch up.

REASONS TO SEE: Shows that although attitudes towards CBD is changing, there’s still a lot of misinformation out there.
REASONS TO AVOID: Way too many talking heads for a one-hour documentary and a bit on the hagiographic side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some peril and one difficult scene in which one of the men is forced to put an alpaca out of its suffering.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Avery is best known for his 2011 documentary Loose Change.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Weed the People
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Offside

Advertisements

Columbus (2017)


Art and architecture don’t always mix necessarily.

(2017) Drama (Superlative) John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes, Rosalyn R. Ross, Erin Allegretti, Jim Dougherty, Lindsey Shope, Shani Salyers Stiles, William Willet, Reen Vogel, Wynn Reichert, Alphaeus Green Jr., Caitlin Ewald. Directed by Kogonada

 

There are times in our lives when we are in a place that we don’t want to be; we are there because we are obligated to be there. Upon reflection however it generally turns out that where we are is exactly where we are supposed to be. Realizing it at the time is pretty much always another matter.

Jin (Cho) finds himself in Columbus, Indiana. Not because he has any great desire to be there but because his father, a scholar on architecture, was to deliver a lecture there but collapsed and went into a coma. Jin and his father have barely spoken for a long time but Jin is the only blood relative his father has, so he goes at the behest of his dad’s protégé Eleanor (Posey) whom not uncoincidentally he had a crush on as a teen.

Casey (Richardson) has lived in Columbus all her life. She’s whip-smart and has a passion for architecture, so living in Columbus is a great thing for her – the town is known for its striking modernist architecture designed by some of the greatest architects in history – I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen and John Carl Warnecke among them – and while volunteering at the local library also gives tours of the city’s landmarks. She has had offers to go to college (she just graduated high school) but has quietly turned them down, preferring to stay at home and take care of her recovering drug addict mother (Forbes) who is in a fragile emotional state and probably wouldn’t be able to care for herself without Casey.

Jin and Casey meet and one would think initially that they wouldn’t hit it off much; Jin doesn’t care much for architecture, a field which essentially took his workaholic father away from him and Casey is nuts about it but hit it off they do. At first Casey seems content to give her tour guide opinions of the buildings that catch Jin’s eye but as Jin gently digs she begins to open up to him. Pretty sure, he’s opening up to her right back.

That’s really all the plot there is to this movie. Normally I don’t mind a movie that is all middle without a beginning or an end; I love movies that grasp the ebb and flow of life. That’s not really the case here. First time director Kogonada has a brilliant visual sense and a real eye for shot composition, but utilizes it to excess here. I do appreciate his use of water and rain as a motif and his use of geometric shapes amid natural environments but after awhile one becomes dulled to the images. We are made aware at nearly every moment that each scene is an artificial setting, not an organic function of the scene. For example, there’s a scene in a hotel room where Jin and Eleanor are talking about his feelings for her growing up; the entire scene is shot viewing the reflection of two mirrors which act almost as television screens. Don’t get me wrong – It’s a clever shot – but in a highly charged emotional scene we don’t get to see the emotions of the actors. This is the very epitome of a director’s creativity undermining his own film.

And that really is one of the major faults of the film – we never get connected to the characters because we’re constantly aware of the director behind them. He frames them in corridors in which, we can’t fail to notice, the columns on one side are square and on the other side round. We see oblique shots in which forced perspective puts two characters sitting on the steps close together but we also notice that the dialogue is done with one character’s back to the other the entire time. That’s not a natural conversation; people tend to want to turn and face their partner when they are conversing.

One of the other fundamental flaws is that we never really care about any of the characters. Kogonada seems to keep them at arm’s length and even though they are talking about some fairly in depth background, it is all couched in self-absorbed and pretentious terms and after awhile we begin to tune out.

Maybe if the dialogue were scintillating enough I might forgive the film a bit more but it’s comparable to a couple of self-absorbed college students who are a lot less insightful than they think they are having a conversation about something esoteric without really understanding the subject completely. I get that Casey is a college-age character who fits that description (as is the Rory Culkin character whom I’ll get to in a moment) but there are also older characters who have more maturity at least but they still sound like 19-year-olds. Not that there’s anything wrong with 19-year-olds nor is it impossible for a college student to show insight but it is also possible for college students to be arrogant and condescending as well, and one feels talked down to throughout.

There is also a lot of material here that is unnecessary, brief throwaway moments that add nothing to the story or to your understanding of the characters – Casey has a conversation with her mother about not having eggs and needing to go to the grocery store to get some, for example. A good storyteller will use that as a springboard to get Casey to the grocery store so that something germane could occur but she never goes to the store nor is the egg shortage anything more than throwaway conversation – and the movie is full of these sorts of moments. I mentioned Rory Culkin’s character a moment ago and you might notice that he doesn’t appear in the plot synopsis. That’s because he doesn’t need to. His character is completely unnecessary and were his scenes to end up on the cutting room floor it wouldn’t affect the movie in any significant way. Much of this movie appears to be about how much our lives are consumed with things that don’t matter in the long run.

That isn’t to say that the movie is completely devoid of merit – although Da Queen might argue that point. Afterwards she told me she would rather have sucked her own eyeballs out with a straw than watch this movie again. I can understand that – the movie commits the cardinal sin of being boring, although those who love shot composition will look at this movie and be fascinated, but a movie is more than a series of shots or at least it should be. A movie needs momentum, a sense of movement from one place or tone to another and this movie has all the inertia of Mount Rushmore. Columbus requires a great deal of patience to appreciate and these days that’s in very short supply. It’s a movie that I would actually encourage viewers to text and talk during which is completely anathema to the movie experience I expect but then again this isn’t a movie that maybe a traditional environment isn’t suitable for.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the shots here are clever.
REASONS TO STAY: This is a movie that is self-absorbed and pretentious. None of the characters are worth caring about. There’s too much extraneous business and too many unnecessary characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexual situations and drug references here.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Vice-President Mike Pence grew up in Columbus.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 89/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Frances Ha
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Literally, Right Before Aaron

The Judge


The awkward moment when Vincent D'Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

The awkward moment when Vincent D’Onofrio asks Robert Downey Jr. for an autograph.

(2014) Drama (Warner Brothers) Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, Leighton Meester, Ken Howard, Emma Tremblay, Balthazar Getty, David Krumholtz, Grace Zabriskie, Denis O’Hare, Sarah Lancaster, Lonnie Farmer, Matt Riedy, Mark Kiely, Jeremy Holm, Catherine Cummings, Tamara Hickey. Directed by David Dobkin

The relationship between a father and a son is often a difficult thing. Men have a tendency towards competitiveness. Fathers love their sons fiercely and want them to be successful which is, after all, a reflection on them as dads. However, there is a part of every dad who is terrified that the day will come when his son surpasses him as a man. That’s where the difficulty comes in.

Hank Palmer (Downey) is a high-powered defense attorney in Chicago. When asked how he is able to defend the guilty, he quips “the innocent can’t afford me.” If Tony Stark were a defense attorney, he’d be Hank Palmer.

In court one afternoon he gets the devastating news that his mother has passed away suddenly. Not really looking forward to it, he returns to his small town Indiana home for the funeral. There he meets up with his two siblings; older brother Glen (D’Onofrio), once a promising baseball phenom, and younger brother Dale (Strong) who has emotional challenges and usually can be found using a Super 8 camera to record snippets of his life which he edits into films that have no context for anyone other than Dale.

And then there’s Hank’s dad (Duvall), whom Hank refers to as “The Judge” – not Dad, not Pop, not Father but the title. It’s not just Hank defining his father by his chosen career as a dispenser of justice, but also coloring the relationship he has with him. Talk about daddy issues.

The two get along like Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid jostling for space in front of the news camera and Hank is only too happy to return home despite reconnecting with Samantha Powell (Farmiga), an old flame. Hank is in the market at the moment as his marriage to his wife Lisa (Lancaster) has collapsed after her infidelity. His precocious daughter Lauren (Tremblay) is torn between her two parents when it comes to who she wants to live with.

Hank is sitting down in his seat on board the plane when he gets an urgent call from Glen – the Judge has been arrested for a hit and run accident. The victim was Mark Blackwell (Kiely), a man the Judge had put away in prison but had recently been released. The two have an unpleasant history.

With a suave district attorney (Thornton) looking to put the Judge away for good, it will take all of Hank’s skill as a defense lawyer to keep his dad out of jail. But said father isn’t necessarily being the most cooperative defendant ever and there are things that Hank discovers when he begins digging that turn his perception of the case – and his father – on its ear.

Dobkin, whose career thus far has been fairly uneven, has a solid winner here and it starts with the casting. Duvall is one of the world’s best living actors and at 83 he still can deliver a powerful performance. He lends gravitas to the movie as well as a kind of moral certainty. Downey who at one time was on the road to being one of America’s most promising serious actors until his career was briefly derailed, moves back into proving that his Oscar nominations for Chaplin and Tropic Thunder were no flukes. This may be his best performance ever, showing a deeply conflicted man wrestling with the demons of his past and the guilt that accompanies the decisions he’s made. D’Onofrio is the rock of the family in many ways now that his mom is gone and his performance is also very compelling. Farmiga as the girlfriend who got away continues to amass an impressive resume of performances.

Some of the plot points seem to come right out of the TV lawyer handbook and that can be distracting. Not that this is a police procedural in any sense of the concept, but it is definitely something of a legal procedural, although the movie tends to spend less time with the nuts and bolts of preparing a case and more with what happens during a trial. In its favor, the movie’s ending isn’t neat and tidy by any stretch of the imagination. Like most human endeavors, court case rarely end with satisfaction over the outcome by everyone involved.

Dobkin cast this movie extremely well and has given us a very strong courtroom drama that is also portrays a dysfunctional family dynamic which sets this apart from other courtroom dramas. Downey references Atticus Finch and to be sure this is no To Kill a Mockingbird but the performances here make this something worth seeking out for anyone who appreciates strong acting.

REASONS TO GO: Duvall brings gravitas. Downey, D’Onofrio, Farmiga and Thornton all give strong performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Has kind of a TV drama quality to it.
FAMILY VALUES: Foul language with some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first feature release from Team Downey, the production company that Downey and his wife started.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/4/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 48/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: August: Osage County
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Book of Life

Meet Monica Velour


Truer words were never written...even accidentally.

Truer words were never written…even accidentally.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Dustin Ingram, Kim Cattrall, Brian Dennehy, Keith David, Daniel Yelsky, Jee Young Han, Sam McMurray, Elizabeth Wright Shapiro, Jamie Tisdale, Tony Cox, Henry Yuk, Lauren Mae Shafer, Peter Carey, My-Ishia Cason-Brown, Nicole Stober, Kathi J. Moore. Directed by Keith Bearden

Cinema of the Heart

The problem with meeting our idols is that they rarely live up to our expectations of them. They are all, without fail, human beings every one, all of whom are imperfect and in some cases, downright awful – which is how they got to the pinnacle in the first place. That goes for ’80s porn legends as well.

Tobe (Ingram) has been dealt a pretty raw hand by life. His parents are both dead and he lives with his aging cantankerous grandfather (Dennehy) and drives a weenie truck, the “Weenie Wiz” which he is now having to sell. Unprepossessing in the looks department, Tobe hasn’t had a lot of experience in l’amour. His ideal woman is a beautiful porn star from the 80s named Monica Velour (Cattrall).

But that was a quarter of a century ago and she’s more or less disappeared from the porn scene. Tobe is driving the Weenie Wiz to a collector (David) of American kitsch in Indiana who’s buying it. Tobe learns that his idol is making a live appearance at a strip club not far from where the collector lives. Tobe figures that this might be his only chance.

However when he gets there he discovers that not everyone has the same admiration for his idol that he does. A group of drunken frat boys heckle her unmercifully and when Tobe asks them to stop, they beat the holy crap out of him.

Monica takes him home and he discovers to his…shock? surprise? I’m not really sure…that she is pushing 50 and lives in a trailer, recovering (and not always fully) from a drug habit and embroiled in a bitter custody suit with her asshole of an ex-husband who forbids her any contact with her daughter and uses that as a means of torturing her.

Monica is a tough broad who’s survived one of the most heartless and cruel lives imaginable but her kid is her Achilles heel. Tobe wants to do something for his idol that will prove his devotion and savvy readers will have an inkling of what that just might entail.

For a comedy this movie is a bit of a downer. The two characters at the heart of the movie lead fairly bleak lives and yes, they’re played for laughs but when you look at it in black and white you kind of feel that sense of quiet desperation that are the lives so many of us lead. That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimately funny moments which the filmmakers are trying to juxtapose with genuine pathos. They succeed only part of the time on that score however as some of the plot points feel a bit contrived.

Cattrall does some of the best work of her career. One of the most beautiful women in the world (still), she allows herself to be photographed sans make-up and with her hair left pretty much the way she woke up with it. That takes some guts in an industry where glamour is everything and its lack can set your career back some, particularly if you’re an actress pushing middle age.

What makes Monica Velour successful as a character is that she’s no angel, no hooker with a heart of gold and certainly no role model. She makes some pretty self-destructive choices and there are times you really want to give her a good “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING” rant nose to nose with her. She’d probably head-butt you though so do be careful if you decide to take me up on it.

Cattrall brings that aspect of her to life, makes Velour a survivor – in some ways barely but a survivor nevertheless – and believable in that role. She has been chewed up and spit out in some ways but she has most of her fight left in her although when it comes to her daughter again…Achilles heel, remember?

I wish I could say the same for Tobe. He’s played as a kitsch worshipping outsider who loves jazz from the ’30s, cars from the ’50s and porn from the ’80s, golden ages all. He has the gangly mawkishness of Napoleon Dynamite which isn’t a good thing. The trouble with using that kind of quirky indie eccentric as a main character is that those sorts of people only exist in New York and Los Angeles and their only friends are writers. I’m convinced of that because I’ve never met these sorts of folk anywhere else. Tobe is a sweetheart sure but there’s also a creepy stalker aspect to him and I don’t see someone as cynical and guarded as Monica really succumbing to a guy like this. It doesn’t seem to be in her nature.

Like Meat Loaf warbling “I’d do anything for love but I won’t do that,” so the right-minded critic can see a movie he or she wants to love but just can’t quite bring themselves to recommend their readers see it. I liked the individual elements to this movie just fine but it didn’t jell into a cohesive whole. I would have liked to see more story and less quirkiness and more humor along the lines of the opening credits in which Monica’s porn career is seen through posters and clippings. It turns out that Monica’s career choice as a porn star is unfortunate for the movie overall; not because I have anything against porn stars but because the filmmakers used it as a license to be quirky. The irony is that they were trying to show Monica as a down to Earth decent sort with problems that down to Earth decent sorts tend to have. Unfortunately they use Monica as an excuse to be quirky in a story that would have been better served with a couple of ordinary folk in a situation ordinary folk tend to have.

WHY RENT THIS: Cattrall puts on a brave performance. Gets the 80s era porn right.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much of a Napoleon Dynamite vibe. Worships the low-brow a bit too lustily.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sex and nudity, plenty of bad language and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “Weenie Wiz” hot dog truck was stolen shortly after production wrapped. It has yet to be recovered.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,042 on an unreported production budget; this was not a box office money maker.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miss March

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart 2013 Day Three

A History of Violence


A History of Violence

Viggo Mortensen is so hot that Ed Harris has to wear shades just to look at him.

(2005) Thriller (New Line) Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Greg Bryk, Kyle Schmid, Sumela Kay, Gerry Quigley, Deborah Drakeford, Heidi Hayes, Aidan Devine, Michelle McCree. Directed by David Cronenberg

Funny thing about the past; it has a tendency to catch up with you. Especially when you least expect it to – and where you least expect it to.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) lives a quiet life in a small Indiana town. He owns a popular diner, is married to a beautiful native named Edie (Bello) and has two kids including a teenager named Jack (Holmes) who has taken his mild-mannered father’s lessons to heart and has as a result been picked on by bullies who are frustrated by Jack’s refusal to fight.

One night, all that is shattered when a couple of small-time hoods (McHattie, Bryk) come into his diner. They terrorize his patrons and despite Tom’s pleas for them to leave peaceably, it appears they are going to kill a waitress when Tom suddenly reacts with decisive action, killing both of the crooks.

Unfortunately, Tom’s actions get noticed by the media and he is painted as a hero. This is, in turn, noticed by a very bad man named Carl Fogarty (Harris) who seems to think that Tom is someone named Joey Cusack. Tom doesn’t appear to know Fogarty, but doubts are cast in the mind of his wife and the town sheriff (MacNeill). The question becomes who is Tom Stall and why is he so good at killing people?

By far, this is Cronenberg’s most mainstream movie. Known for cult films (Naked Lunch, Videodrome) and horror classics (The Brood, Scanners), he has a gift for taking a normal, safe environment and turning it upon itself until it is virtually unrecognizable. Here, he does that in a literal way; the man we think we know (and the man Edie Stall thought she married) turns out to be someone so different as to be almost a different species. This is not an easy adjustment to make and some may find it too much for them.

On the other hand, the adjustment is made easier by bravura performances by Mortensen, Bello, Harris and Holmes. Also worth noting is Hurt’s role as a man pivotal to Tom’s past. It is interesting that Hurt appears in only one scene, but his performance is so dynamic that he wound up being nominated for an Oscar for that one scene.

Violence is often used as the last refuge for survival, and Cronenberg seems to say it is justified in that case. However, is there a Joey Cusack lurking in every Tom Stall? Given the right circumstances, I think – and I have a feeling that Cronenberg agrees – there is.

WHY RENT THIS: Cronenberg’s most mainstream film. Terrific performances by Mortensen, Harris, Bello and Holmes – and an Oscar-nominated one by Hurt.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending isn’t what you might like it to be.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some brutal violence, a good deal of sexuality (as well as some nudity), a bit of drug use and foul language to boot.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the last major Hollywood film to be released in the VHS format.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on Scene 44, a dream sequence that was cut from the movie but was polished and added here as a special feature.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.7M on a $32M production budget; the movie broke even.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Runaways

A Christmas Story


A Christmas Story
How could you deny this face a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun?

(1983) Holiday Comedy (MGM) Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tedde Moore, Zack Ward, Yano Anaya, Jeff Gillen, Jean Shepherd (voice). Directed by Bob Clark

The Christmases of our childhood are special and priceless. Sometimes a single Christmas can be defined by the things we get, but sometimes what we get is more than the presents we’re given.

Ralphie Parker (Billingsley) lives in an Indiana town in 1940; a very Norman Rockwell kind of place with department stores, middle schools and Chinese restaurants. Ralphie is a pretty normal kid who wants just one thing for Christmas; a Daisy Red Rider BB Gun. He knows exactly the one he wants; it has a compass in the stock as well as a sundial; he even knows the serial number.

Unfortunately, no adult in their right mind is willing to get that kind of gift for him. He could shoot his eye out with that thing. So he does what he can to convince those in charge that he deserves the gift of his dreams and will use it safely. Unfortunately, he has to contend with a whole lot of things, like the school bully Scut Farkas (Ward) and his minion Grover Dill (Anaya). On his side is his little brother Randy (Petrella) and his friend Flick (Schwartz) who is foolish enough to affix his tongue to a frozen metal post with predictable results.

He has a mom (Dillon) with the patience of a saint but a firm and steadfast refusal to let him get the BB gun. His old man (McGavin) is far too busy dealing with the neighbor’s mutts who drive him crazy, as well as the anticipation of the arrival of a major award, which turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg with a fishnet stocking on it. He sticks it in the front window, mortifying Ralphie’s mom.

When Ralphie gives one final try to see if the big man – Santa (Gillen) will come through but when he goes to the local department store to ask the Man in the Suit for his beloved BB gun, the response is “You’ll shoot your eye out with one of those things, kid. Ho ho ho” followed by a shove by his jolly boot. With Christmas days away and nowhere left to turn, how could this be anything but the worst Christmas ever?

This has become a modern classic of the holiday movie genre and the most bizarre part is that it was directed by the man best known for directing Porky’s. If two movies on the same filmography could be more diametrically opposed, I can’t think of any. While A Christmas Story has a feeling of Americana (courtesy of Jean Shepherd, who wrote the collection of short stories the movie is based on and also narrates), the other is raunchy and outrageous at times, a precursor to things like American Pie.

McGavin and Dillon are perfectly cast in this. Dillon, who was cast based on her work in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is much more of an idealized American mom here. She is patient (for the most part – don’t think of cursing in front of her though) and nurturing although there are times her patience grows thin. McGavin, who was mostly known as Carl Kolchak on the “Night Stalker”  television series, was cast when Jack Nicholson turned down the role and the movie benefitted I think. McGavin is equal parts loving dad, bumbling husband and antagonized neighbor. He mutters vague expletives that the movie serves to keep from being specific, which makes it actually funnier.

Billingsley is not the most talented child actor that ever came down the pike, but he does a decent job here. Most of the child actors here are by modern standards somewhat wooden, but they were more or less equal to the standards of the time. It helps that Shepherd moves much of the plot along with his narration, leaving the kids less to do.

Shepherd was the kind of writer who inspired people like Garrison Keillor and Spalding Gray; he was quite a raconteur and left behind a body of work that is as impressive as any 20th century author, but it will be this movie he will most be remembered for. Like Charles Dickens, his insights into human nature and the power of Christmas to make things better are timeless and needed. Sometimes things just come into confluence as if guided by fate, unseen hands or whatever – this is one of those things. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, y’know?

WHY RENT THIS: One of those timeless movies of Americana that have to do with family, love and Daisy Red Rider BB Guns.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The humor may be a bit too dry for some..

FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild violence and swearing, although there are allusions to much worse language than is actually used onscreen.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The house that was featured in the exterior shots was actually in Cleveland, not in Indiana where the movie is set. A fan of the film bought the home in 2005, refurbishing the interior to match the movie. It opened in 2006, along with a gift shop and museum dedicated to the movie in the house next door which the fan also purchased. You can learn more about the house and the movie at their website here.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Because the movie is a classic and has gone through several DVD releases, there are a plethora of features out there in the various iterations. While the original DVD just contains the film and the trailer, the Blu-Ray and Special Edition include a couple of games, a fascinating featurette on the Daisy Red Rider BB Gun, Jean Shepherd reading two of his stories for a radio show, an 18-minute “Another Christmas Story” which features the now-adult members of the cast reminiscing about their time filming the movie and its impact on their lives and a funny featurette known as “The Leg Lamp: Shining Light of Freedom.” The Ultimate edition contains all of these and the scripted “Flash Gordon” scene that was eventually cut from the film, as well as a recipe book, cookie cutters and an apron (it comes in a cookie tin).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $20.6M on an unreported production budget; although it’s likely that the movie broke even at best during its theatrical run, it has more than earned its keep on cable and home video.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill continues.