Sunday, December 6, 2015

Eight Crazy Nights

Year 7, Day 340 - 12/6/15 - Movie #2,196

BEFORE: In reaction to recent events - or rather, in reaction to the reaction to recent events, I prepared a rant about racism and world politics, my thoughts on the current state of affairs regarding cultural diversity and the "War on Christmas".  I was going to save all that for a post two days from now, but seeing as this is a Hanukkah film, and programming this is my own way of celebrating diversity, there's no time like the present.  

We're deep into the holidays, Thanksgiving was just two weeks ago, and Hanukkah starts tonight, and Christmas is just two weeks away.  I admit I don't know when Kwanzaa starts, and that's probably part of the problem, since our country has decided to circle the wagons and double-down on "Judeo-Christian values", whatever that means.  There's talk of starting a Muslim-American database, this politician over there is talking about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, and those politicians over there have taken a stand against helping any refugees that aren't Christian.  All of this seems like the start of some very dangerous thinking, and we seem on the verge of sacrificing the very principles that the U.S. was founded on - religious freedom, and the separation of church and state.  

When you take the two holidays together - Thanksgiving and your winter holiday of choice, they should form a powerful reminder of the way this country is supposed to run.  The pilgrims came to the New World seeking religious freedom - they were too uptight and prudish for British people to handle, if you can imagine that.  Really, they came here to find people that they could act holier than, and thus feel all self-righteous, but let's table that for a second.  Once established, the colonies became a place for people of all religions who were kicked out of nearly every country on earth.  The Quakers, the Shakers, Irish Catholics, others who were brought here against their will from Africa and Asia, Europeans fleeing World War I + II, and then more recently, waves of people from Mexico and Muslim countries. 

Thanksgiving should remind us that this country was founded mostly by immigrants, who set rules to allow diversity, and then Christmukkuh should give us the opportunity to celebrate it.  People did NOT come here to found a country that would adhere to their religion, and only their religion - because that would be the antithesis of freedom.  I'll get more into the "War on Christmas" in a few days, but the bottom line is that there has to be a way to celebrate your religion, your holiday, and still allow others to celebrate their religions and their holidays their way.  

Specifically, regarding Syrian refugees, for anyone who thinks that we should only allow "Christian" ones into the U.S., I humbly suggest that they look up the word "Christian" in the dictionary - whether you believe in the strictest definition "One who believes in Jesus Christ and his teachings" (which include charity and tolerance - even tolerance toward intolerant people) or the more secular definition, meaning "decent, respectable, humane", either way, barring anyone in need from getting help is decidedly NON-Christian.  And we've had an open-door policy (more or less) in this country for a long time, it would be a shame to go back on it now.  

I say "more or less" because the U.S. notably refused to relax immigration quotas for German and Austrian Jews, beginning in 1941 - and that sure turned out to be the wrong move, didn't it?  And then once the U.S. entered World War II, the bans were withheld due to several factors - economic depression, anti-Semitism, and the fear that refugees could be working as agents for Germany.  Wait, that seems a little familiar, right?  We supposedly can't take in Syrian refugees now because of our current economic state, anti-Muslim opinions, and a fear that some refugees could be working as agents for ISIS.  Which should seem just as ridiculous as a German Jew working for Hitler. 

End of part 1 of the rant, please join me for part 2 in a couple days...

Linking from "Winter's Tale", Jennifer Connelly was also in "Higher Learning" with Tyra Banks, who does a cameo voice in tonight's film.  I couldn't find a direct link, because for a long time I had this film linked to animated films like "The Little Mermaid" or comedies like "Ready to Rumble" - films that it shared actors with. But that would have placed this film in late summer, and that would have made no sense.

THE PLOT:  Davey Stone, an alcoholic with a criminal record, is sentenced to community service under the supervision of an elderly referee, and is then faced with trying to reform and abandon his bad habits.

AFTER: At heart this is a modern version of "A Christmas Carol", although it seems like someone worked hard to disguise that fact.  Instead of being an old, rich person like Ebeneezer Scrooge, the central character here is an out-of-work man in his thirties.  And there are no ghosts that visit him in the night, instead he has a drunken episode in a mall late at night, where he imagines that he's confronted by the characters from the logos of Foot Locker and Panda Express.  

But the general principle is still the same - a non-likable person who's given up on the holidays because of a personal loss in his past is shown the error of his ways.  Now, my personal benchmark for Dickensian holiday redemption stories is the 1970 film "Scrooge", starring Albert Finney, but if you prefer the Alistair Sim or the George C. Scott or the Bill Murray or the Jim Carrey version, more power to you.  After all, we're here to celebrate diversity.  

To avoid jail, Adam Sandler's Davey is forced to coach youth basketball, under the supervision of Whitey (also voiced by Sandler) and then later he even moves in with Whitey and Whitey's sister, Eleanore (also voiced by Sandler).  I thought that perhaps Whitey would me some kind of magical being, like a Dickens ghost, who would turn Davey around.  Nope, he's just a short old man, but he does try to act like a moral compass in his own way.  The best song in the whole film is probably "Technical Foul", as Whitey and his sister describe all the things that Davey could do that would make him a bad roommate.  It's a very subtle way to show the process of him becoming a better person.  

The basketball angle is a also a clever way to get Davey to bond with Benjamin, the young son (and possible Tiny Tim-like offspring) of a girl that was his childhood friend, and it's pretty obvious that if he can turn his life around and avoid prison time, there's the possibility of romance.  But to do that he's got to finally deal with the tragedy in his past, and then do something to put another person's needs before his own.  

I'm probably overselling this story, because any holiday warmth is nearly negated by jokes about people peeing their pants, someone getting stuck in a port-o-potty that gets pushed down a hill, and deer feces.  Lots and lots of deer feces.  It's a shame that there's so much scatological humor, which seems to really bring down the level of the comedy.  The message could have shined through so much more brightly if they'd just kept things a little cleaner.

Also starring the voices of Adam Sandler (last seen in "Big Daddy"), Jackie Sandler (ditto), Rob Schneider (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Kevin Nealon (last seen in "Just Go With It"), Jon Lovitz (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), Austin Stout, Norm Crosby (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Allen Covert (last seen in "Big Daddy"), Peter Dante (ditto), and vocal cameos from Blake Clark (last seen in "Mr. Deeds"), Ellen Albertini Dow (last seen in "Ready to Rumble"), Tom Kenny (last heard in "Frankenweenie"), Carl Weathers (last seen in "Force 10 From Navarone"), Cole and Dylan Sprouse, Lainie Kazan (last seen in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), Allison Krauss, Ann Wilson. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 scorpion bowls

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