Alan Rickman Reigns

It’s been a while since Alan Rickman left us. I miss him and all the wonderful movies he would have done. So much so that I have a new word for you to add to your vocabulary. It is alan-rickman-esque. It means: it’s not what he said, it’s how he delivered the words. Who else could deliver the line: “Call off Christmas” as Alan Rickman did in “Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” and get away with it? Who else could play Marvin the Robot in “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”?

I first came to appreciate Alan Rickman’s alan-rickman-esque charm when he played Professor Snape in the Harry Potters. I liked Mr. Rickman so much I started rooting for Snape. Just the way he said “Harry Potter” would have me in stitches. Not even Tim Curry could do that, and Tim Curry does have a certain alan-rickman-esque quality about him.

When I am having a really bad day, I ask the universe, “Where’s Alan Rickman when I need him?” So you can imagine my delight when I discovered the movie “Bottle Shock”. It could have been a dark and stormy night, and I would have watched it. I could have been the best of times or the worst of times, and I would have watched it. You could just call me Ishmael, and I still would have watched it. The genius, the greatest English actor of his time without an Academy Award, was in this movie.

On top of that, it’s about wine. California wine, that is. When was the last time you saw a movie about wine? They don’t make movies about wine, now do they? I did a google search and didn’t find many.There’s Eric Rohmer’s “Autumn Tale (which is unavailable in the U.S.), “Sideways” (nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture), “The Secret of Santa Vittoria” with Anthony Quinn playing an Italian and “Year of the Comet” with the wonderful Penelope Ann Miller. There are a couple of horror films and three with big stars, but not recommendable. Most are documentaries. Only goes to show you how hard it is to make a good movie about wine. “Bottle Shock” is a good movie about wine. Napa wines, to be exact.

There’s three things that are for sure. Forty-two is the answer. It’s a long way to temporary. And, if you are looking for an alan-rickman-esque performance, Alan Rickman is your man. In “Bottle Shock”, he is exerting that alan-rickman-esque-ness of an answer to this question, “Why don’t I like you?”: “You think I’m an asshole. And I’m not really. I’m just British…and well, you’re not.”

By the way, according to Dr. Vinny of the Wine Spectator, “‘Bottle shock’ or ‘bottle sickness’ are terms used to describe a temporary condition in a wine where its flavors are muted or disjointed. There are two main scenarios when bottle shock sets in: either right after bottling, or when wines (especially fragile older wines) are shaken in travel.”

So pour yourself a glass of chardonnay and slice yourself some cheese. Then sit yourself down and have an enjoyable good time watching the very original alan-rickman-esque actor, Alan Rickman, in “Bottle Shock”. There’s a lot worse ways to spend an evening.

A Family Thanksgiving, Etc.

Remember the opening words in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I took that line and turned it on its head and created my own saying. “All families are dysfunctional, but some families are more dysfunctional than others.”

Jodie Foster has put the fun, and the funk too, in dysfunctional in her homage to the American Thanksgiving family get-together. Without the fun, and the funk, of course, you only have dysfunctional. Who the heck knows what that is? “Home for the Holidays” is a movie about one of those “more dysfunctional than others” families. And, yes, there’s turkey and all the trimmings. ‘Cause, without them, it would be like Christmas without Jesus or Santa or Rudolph. That would be a very un-Christmas Christmas movie, wouldn’t it?

Holly Hunter is having a bad hair day. It could be worse. She could be having a no-hair day. That would mean she is bald. One thing is for sure. Holly Hunter is not bald. So it’s obvious that it’s only a bad hair day. Her boss just fired her, then tried to make out with her, claiming how that he hates Thanksgiving as he does. Dropping her off at the airport, her sixteen-year-old daughter tells her that she is about to have sex with her boyfriend. “We love each other,” she says. On the airplane home, she sits beside a woman who drives her nuts.

So she arrives home and we begin to see that her family is not just another dysfunctional family. It’s a family with Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr. and Cynthia Stevenson, and brother-in-law Steve Guttenberg. If that’s not enough dysfunction for you, it has Geraldine Chaplin as Aunt Glady. Yes, you heard that right. Aunt Glady.

As they used to say at the Colosseum, “Let the games begin.” Mom Anne Bancroft is a first-class worrier of a mother. Dad Charles Durning is a fun guy, but a little too much fun for Mom. He keeps getting underfoot. Then there’s brother Robert Downey Jr., showing up with his gay partner, Dylan McDermott, who has replaced “Jack I thought he was the one” Jack. At least, everybody believes Dylan is his gay partner. (Turns out he isn’t. Downey is still with Jack. Dylan McDermott is there to meet Holly Hunter.) Brother pulls into the old homestead’s driveway with Isaac Hayes and “Shaft” on the radio. It’s the kind of entrance you’d like to see more characters in comedies make.

Of course, being the wild and crazy guy he is, he makes a wild and crazy entrance with his Polaroid camera. (I know, this was back in the olden days of the nineties when Polaroid was the smartphone camera before there was such a thing as a smartphone.) He doesn’t knock at the front door. He sneaks in the back way, bringing his brand of over-the-fun and chaos to his parent’s house. It’s enough to drive his sister crazy, in a good way. Just when she thinks she’s had enough, he goes and redeems himself with a line like, “People are starting to look at your wardrobe.”

Mom being Mom, she can’t leave well enough alone. She’s got to set the single Holly Hunter up. Who does she set her daughter up with? The guy who comes in and fixes the furnace, that’s who. Played by David Straithairn. He’s a real fun guy. He immediately starts off, “I’m all alone this year. My brother and sister got canned and left town. My parents went and died on me.” On top of all that tragedy, his old girlfriend married his best buddy. Not the kind of guy Holly’d want to be fixed up with. But what can you expect from Mom and her match-making?

Just as things are going so well, Sister Cynthia Stevenson arrives with her husband Steve Guttenberg and their son and daughter and lots of sweet potato. Well, the family sits down for a Thanksgiving feast. First Aunt Glady has to sing. Needless to say she’s not who you’d want to sing at your Thanksgiving dinner. Then comes the prayer to end all Thanksgiving prayers. Kind of made me nostalgic for Festivus (for the rest of us).

Aunt Glady has more. A lot more to say. Then there’s the turkey carving. And the feast and oh, the family discussion. Or should I say the family argument. Brother and sister throwing slings and arrows at each other. Soon the rest of the family is throwing their two cents in. It is time for some truth-telling in the family. It is time for some truth-telling. “You’re a pain in my ass,” Robert Downey Jr. says to Mom. “You have bad hair. But I like you a lot.”

The family Thanksgiving ends with Charles Durning watching his daughter and her husband fleeing in a soaped-up car, and he says, “Deck the halls. I can’t wait for God damned Christmas.” And later “Here’s to us Americans.” Still later Holly Hunter ends up with Dylan McDermott taking Aunt Glady home. And he’s telling her how impressed he was with her picture. Can you believe it? But this is Holly Hunter. She’s got that special Holly Hunter magic we saw in ”Broadcast News”, “Miss Firecracker” and “Raising Arizona”.

You never know what will happen when you go home for the holidays. You just never know.

One Man’s Jungle is Another Man’s Jungle

“Who wants to see a comedy, featuring an African bushman as the main character?” you ask. An African bushman of all people? Obviously you haven’t seen The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). This comedy, which is both farce and slapstick, turns our view of the world upside down. In this one, the natives aren’t restless. They are doing just fine until the gods drop an empty Coke bottle out of the sky. It calls into question a lot of things we normally take for granted. Things like religion, ownership and civilization. And the difficulty of getting from here to there by truck.

Using a documentary style, the movie tells the story of what happens when Xi, a Kalahari bushman, sees a Coke bottle fall out of the sky and takes it home. After all, it came from the sky and it must be a gift from the gods. Soon the bush people are fighting over it. Xi realizes this is not good. So he tries to get rid of it. But the darn thing just won’t go away. It just won’t go away. What to do? What to do? Nothing but head off to the edge of the world to throw the evil object away.

Meanwhile in another part of Africa, a young woman tells her parents she wants to go off to the Kalahari and be a teacher. They are not happy but there is no stopping her.

And Xi just keeps on doing what Xi and his people have always done, live in harmony with the natural world. When a baboon gets a the bottle, Xi convinces him that it is a bad thing. The baboon returns the bottle to Xi, convinced he had better get rid of it as fast as he can.

The priest in charge of the school where the girl is to teach asks his biologist friend to pick the teacher up. The biologist just happens to be the pilot who threw the Coke bottle out of the plane window. You’d think the trip to pick up the teacher and bring her back to the school would be an easy peasy. The biologist and his truck have one hell of a time getting to her. The trip is a slapstick affair. But this is the bush country of Africa. What else can you expect? Oh, and one final thing. The truck’s brakes are shot.

Just when the biologist thinks things can’t get any slapsticker, there’s the return trip with the teacher to the school, and things do get slapsticker. Thanks to a warthog and a rhino. It ain’t pretty when a naked white man in his red shorts runs through the jungle with a warthog after him and his name isn’t Tarzan. Talk about the worse beginning for a romantic relationship between a biologist and a teacher, this is one of the worst. It can’t get any worse, or can it?

Since the film has a documentary element, we learn so many helpful things. For instance, the rhino is the fire prevention officer of the jungle. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true. It’s not a good idea to stand and try to stop an armored car all by your lonesome when it’s chasing some bad guys. Just how do you get a truck out of a tree. Why are women always impressed with a guy who has a better car?-

Does Xi get rid of the evil Coke bottle? Does the biologist win over the teacher? Do the gods leave Coke bottles for bushmen to find?

Banned in a small town

September 22 – 28 is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. In honor of the week, I am spotlighting the Movie, “Storm Center” (1956):

In cities and towns everywhere, there are those people who are checking the shelves of libraries and bookstores to find out if there is one of those books. Those books that have radical ideas. Ideas they don’t want others to discover. Because the ideas might pollute the minds of their fellow citizens or maybe their fellow citizens will discover the foolishness of these ideas.

Or maybe there’s some words in a book that might be bad. Books like the “n-word” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After all, George Orwell in his 1984 warned us that language can be manipulated.

Or maybe there’s a scene where the characters are doing something that’s “bad”, scenes like the ones in Ulysses or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

In the movie, “Storm Center,” the Town Council of Small Town USA wants the local library director to get rid of one book, The Communist Dream. They are receiving letters from people that don’t like that one book. It’s the 1950s, and the communists are out to destroy us and our way of life. Just one book.

Alicia Hull, the library director, agrees that she’ll take the book off the shelves. in her office, she asks herself, and her employee, “How do you get rid of a book?”

She could burn it. But then she remembers that they burned books in Germany that the Nazis didn’t like. Then she remembers her principles. Even though it may cost her the children’s wing of the library, she won’t be bought off.

Back at the City Council, she stands by her principles. She will not remove the book. Then one of the Council brings up organizations she belonged to. He insinuates that she must be guilty by association. After all, this is the 1950s. Tailgunner Joe is running wild in Washington, pointing fingers at this one and that one, bringing down the high and the mighty with accusations of communism.

If her association with these organizations gets out, there’s no telling what will happen to her. They might even have to fire her. They can’t have their children associating with a librarian who is a communist.

Just remove that book. And any others the town council doesn’t approve of and everything will be a-okay.

First it was just one book. Now it’s two or three or ten or a hundred.

Alicia Hull refuses to remove the book. And so she suffers the consequences. What the town council doesn’t realize is that their decision will have ramifications for the whole community.

As Alicia Hull, Betty Davis delivers one of her best performances. The film may be dated. After all, people wear bibs as they eat their lunch in the movie. Still it has a powerful impact on the viewer when the viewer asks, “What if?”

Since the 1980s, the American Library Association has celebrated the freedom to read by honoring those books which are challenged or banned. So be a rebel and visit your local bookstore or library and check out a copy of one of those books. You’ll find a list on this page.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: Tulaigh Mhór’s ‘Bout with the Lottery

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight is the movie: “Waking Ned Devine” (1998):

This little bit of an Irish movie will surely make you smile. So raise your pint to Ned Devine this upcoming St. Paddy’s Day and thank him for his good fortune. It’s almost as good as finding a Leprechaun’s pot of gold.