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Escape from Christmas

Not feeling It's a Wonderful Life? Try these.

Dorothy Woodend 19 Dec

Dorothy Woodend writes about film every other Friday.

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Why not curl up with Jean-Claude Van Damme?

As the world sees the repercussions of greed and folly come home to roost, Christmas, with its attendant shopping and eating frenzy suddenly seems a bit too much. Although the holiday staple It's a Wonderful Life is probably taking on a whole new meaning for a great many folk, here are some suggestions for this season's filmgoer badly in need of escapism.

Sometimes it's better where it's warm

If you're sick and cold and tired of being thus, perhaps the warmth of the Spanish sun can drive the ache from your bones and the chill from your heart. Even if I didn't entirely love Woody Allen's latest offering, Vicky Cristina Barcelona has one very large thing going for it, and I'm not talking about the granite heft of Javier Bardem's forehead. Barcelona, with its sun-warmed stone and gracious fading antiquity, clearly rattled Mr. Allen romantically.

Of the film's three-barreled moniker, the latter third is the most deeply sexy. In comparison the two titular young females seem thin and pale. I'm sure Woody did not intend to make a travelogue when he started the film, but the lady of Spain slides under your skin, slowly, until you're completely smitten. The film takes as its subject the wildly unpredictable nature of love and passion. In human form, this is certainly the case; no one stays happy for very long in a Woody Allen film. But love of place endures more easily. If you don't have the money to jump on a plane and go to Barcelona, a film is the next best thing. For under $20 bucks, you can almost feel the warm breeze on your skin.

Another film that takes a hot country as its subject matter is Baz Luhrmann's Australia. It's certainly overheated in places, but the glacial chill coming off Nicole Kidman's face, (damn, if the woman does not look entirely frozen) disrupts whatever stupid silly pleasure the film has to offer. Australia strains hard for epic Gone with the Wind territory, but it is undone by its own hubris, although, to be fair, the scenes of the Australian outback almost make the film worth seeing. Almost...

Things could always be worse

You could be Jean-Claude Van Damme, for example. JCVD, the summer festival smash up, is still playing in the theatre. It bequeaths to its eponymous hero a certain weary dignity, after putting him through the ringer. As someone who has seen practically every film old JC ever made (I once harboured a secret girlish passion for the Muscles from Brussels), I speak from a vast wealth of experience when I say, he has never had a better role than himself. Although much buzz is gathering over Mickey Rourke's resurrection in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, the film will be hard pressed to put up much of a fight against Jean-Claude.

Another film about the high price of fame is Who is KK Downey? Co-directed by Darren Curtis & Pat Kiely, the film has played all over the festival circuit (it was most recently at the Whistler Film Festival). It's silly, over the top, and immensely self-amused, a lot like those skinny little hipsters on Main Street that clog every restaurant, and push out the old guys from the Legion. Still, it has a certain ridiculous, obnoxious charm. The story begins with Terrance and Theo, two would-be artists who refuse to let their significant lack of talent stand in the way of global fame. When Theo's book is dumped by its publisher and Terrance's rock band implodes, the pair cooks up some KK. The bastardized unexpurgated offspring of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, and JT Leroy, KK is everything his Frankenstein-creators wish to be. He is also a monster, but a monster in good company. The fake memoir has proven to be something of a literary phenomenon and KK's magnum opus, Truck Stop Hustler, fits right in. But as the price of fame exacts a heavy toll, and things begin to go terribly awry, will Terrance and Theo pay the ultimate price? I cannot give away the ending, but suffice to say KK is sufficiently OTT to please.

Get scared

When the weather gets horrifying and even crossing the street might be the death of you, it is best to take to your couch and watch a few films about bloody dismemberment. Far and away, Let the Right One In is the only choice for discerning horror people this year, and to its credit, there is precious little gratuitous violence. Every drop of blood is well-earned, and often well deserved. Coming in a close second is the Spanish thrill ride [REC], this film is a quick way to learn to treasure your peaceful quiet existence.

Comic books guys rejoice!

The film adaptation of Alan Moore's magnum opus The Watchmen will theoretically hit theatres this March. I say, theoretically, since the legal wrangling over the film has reached epic heights. Whether or not the film lives up to its source material will be debated in comic book circles for years to come, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of The Mindscape of Alan Moore for a backgrounder in all things Moore-ish.

In addition to The Watchmen, another comic book movie, Frank Miller's solo directorial debut The Spirit wafts into theatres next week. It does not look good, I'm afraid to say. Or perhaps, I'm not. Frank Miller is a reactionary twit, and if his film tanks horribly, as it is apt to do, I will have a happy Christmas.

It's the end of the world, as we know it...

When all else fails, find yourself a film where the entire world goes kablooie and guaranteed you will begin to feel a little better about the fact that you can't pay your phone bill, and the heat is about to get turned off. The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remake of the 1950s giant robot movie starring the equally robotic Keanu Reeves. This is the just the opening salvo of end-of-days films, there is a pack of them coming down the pike, including the film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and 2012, which from the trailer looks like a stupid amount of fun, and of course, yet another Terminator film.

I feel better already

If you can't drag your bum to the theatre, there is also a fine assortment of DVDs, ripe and hot for the plucking. Looking back over my list of films watched from the previous year, the following titles immediately jumped out: Lie of the Land, Secrecy, Paruthiveeran, Sita Sings the Blues, The Rest is Silence, Ballast, Flicker.

In honour of the Trailer Park Boys heading off to that great big dirty in the sky, get a copy of the Trailer Park Boys' Christmas Special. There is no better way to sum up the spirit of rugged optimism in the face of grim old depression and economic ruin than the approach of Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, a sentiment that is summed up beautifully in the title credits.

Living in your car may turn out to be not too bad after all…


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