Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The tin duck







About a month ago, I was eating lunch in the park when this man who appeared to be in his sixties walked up to me with a notebook and a pen. I looked at him in his white button-down shirt and black pants and figured, oh great, what is this asshole gonna try to sell me.

The man was very apologetic and proceeded to give me this whole tale about how he needed to pay for a procedure he was going to have or already had, I don't remember, because by that point I was too busy noticing that the man only had half a jaw and I'm guessing the procedure had something to do with that. I'm sure I also heard the word "cancer" somewhere during his spiel, but I couldn't be too sure because I was too busy processing the overwhelming sight of a man with HALF A FUCKING JAW.

Now I don't know if this was special effects, maybe it was. But it looked real. This guy was trying his best to talk and he did pretty well considering his condition. What he was asking for was a loan of any amount to help pay for the procedure. He needed something like $1500 and he already collected  about $1100. He showed me that he had the names and addresses of the people who loaned him money in his notebook, plus the amount they loaned him. It was a thick notebook and nearly all the pages had been filled out. He said he was going to make it his mission in life to pay everybody back as soon as he could.

For all I know this half-jawed gentleman was full of shit. I mean, he probably was, he probably got half his jaw shot off in a gang fight or something and now he was using this as a way to make some money off of people and he'll probably then have one of his buddies break into these people's houses and steal shit or kill them or rape them or all of the above.

But if there's any possibility of his story checking out 100-percent, well, I'd rather err on the side of wanting to be helpful.

But there was something else -- a nagging feeling somewhere within, and it always comes up when someone comes up to me and asks for help or charity of some kind. It's a kind of fear, a fear of I don't know what, maybe fear of some kind of karmic retribution or something. Maybe the person asking me is really a beautiful enchantress with the power to turn me into a beast or a gypsy with the power to curse me to keep losing weight until I'm nothing but skin and bones.

Or maybe I really am a sucker who wants to help. Whatever the case, I ended up giving him $20 but I didn't give him my name or address. I told him there was no need to pay me back; he could pay me back by doing a kindness for somebody else who needed it. Also, I didn't want to risk being home invaded by his friends.

Whether it was true or not, his story felt real enough and if it wasn't, at least he put in some effort into the ruse, and that's all I ask for. Just make the effort. Don't just walk up and be like "Hey man, got some money?" This dude gave me a notebook, a story that worked on my emotions, and oh yeah, HALF A FUCKING JAW.

But I don't think all the Greg Nicotero special effects makeup in the world could convince somebody like Ebenezer Scrooge to give any amount aside from the grand total of jack shit, based on how I saw him treat a couple of dudes taking up donations. But more on that a little later.



Well, thanks for the trailer, TNT, I guess nobody has to see this movie anymore, now that you've told the whole story. Don't see any point in rambling about this. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody!

I'm kidding. Most of us know the story already, so it's really about the telling, right? There are many film adaptations of Charles Dickens' immortal classic A Christmas Carol, and in her second long-unfulfilled request, Karen from Florida has asked me to ramble about one of them. With her help, I narrowed it down to either the 1984 version starring George C. Scott or the 1999 version starring Patrick Stewart.

I ended up going with the Stewart film because I'd never seen it, and also because if I went with the Scott version, the entire time I'd just be making references to that scene in the film Hardcore where he watches a porno starring his daughter. Trust me, I can make lots of references to that. I suppose I could do the same with Stewart by making "Star Trek" references, so I'll do my best to keep them to a minimum.

All right, so for those who came in late, I was saying earlier that the main character of this tale, Ebenezer Scrooge, is pretty harsh with a couple of dudes who are looking for donations to help supply food and warmth to the less fortunate in this cold and bleak 19th century London. They tell him how tough it is our there and that people can die from such poor conditions, and this piece of work responds with something like "Well, they should die as soon as possible, that way can stop suckling on the city's titties."

To be fair, these donation dudes kinda brought it onto themselves; when they visit Scrooge and give them the whole spiel about helping feed and shelter the poor and hungry, they end it by asking how much money he plans to give. That's mighty presumptuous, guys. You can't assume everybody is going to want to give, you gotta close it out by saying something like how appreciative you'd be and how helpful it would be if the person could donate any amount if possible. No matter what, you have to ask, just to be polite -- kinda like the no-jaw dude who hit me up. He had no jaw and he still asked politely, he didn't assume.

If I had to guess, I would say Scrooge is the kind of person who throws in the word "bootstraps" a lot. Usually, you can tell who is and isn't a jerk is by whether or not they use the word "bootstraps" preceded by something like how a person should pick him or herself up by them. Not that I'm against working hard in an attempt to elevate yourself to a better station in life, I mean, I have no issues with the concept of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

It's just that in my experience, the people who usually say that are people who didn't actually have to do that. It's usually those who were born into money or had more than a few other hands pulling their bootstraps for them. Now, I'm not saying that those who were born into privilege or were closer to achieving their goals should feel some kind of shame or guilt or should have to keep their mouths shut about how others should be working hard for what they want. I'm just saying there's a way to say all of that without sounding and looking like an asshole.



Scrooge doesn't say "bootstraps" but he does have a moment later on where he remarks on how a young girl already has a job, and he's saying it like Wow, this girl is a real go-getter! and he doesn't understand that this girl has no choice but to work because her family is dirt poor. Because there's a big difference between getting a part-time job after school so you can buy sneakers, and having to get a full time job -- forget school at this point -- in order to help feed the rest of your family because your father's employer is a lousy skinflint named Scrooge.

Yeah, Scrooge only has one employee at his money-lending firm, his clerk Bob Cratchit -- played by his future antagonist in Logan, Richard E. Grant -- and while it seems like this place does all right, you wouldn't know it from how stingy he is when it comes to keeping the place warm; Cratchit wants to add a couple of measly chunks of coal to the fire and Scrooge is like, you better put some water on that damn shit -- no, no, he says to just poke the current coals and keep what little fire there is barely burning.

It kills Scrooge to spend money, it just kills him that he has to give Cratchit a paid holiday on Christmas Day -- and he has to say this poor old Bob, he can't keep it to himself. Why do people do things like that? Let the poor guy enjoy his one paid day off, man.

On top of that, Scrooge has no use for Christmas. No, he's not Jewish or a Jehovah's Witness or Phoebe Cates in Gremlins, he's just a miserable man; a group of Christmas carolers know better than to go sing in front of Scrooge's place -- except for one poor child who learns that to go sing to Scrooge is to invite a possible Singapore-style caning.

I love Christmas but I might be with Ebenezer when it comes to carolers. I figure back then carolers were like the flash mobs of their day, which is to say that it's really more about themselves than in the people they're purporting to be entertaining.

Anyway, Scrooge's nephew Fred shows up all joyous and triumphant about the holiday and Scrooge doesn't want to hear it, it's like it irritates him that other people have hope and joy during this time of year. He apparently doesn't know about the high suicide rate during this time, otherwise he'd probably dig Christmas a lot more.

I wondered why Scrooge was so cold towards his nephew, he seems to be upset that Fred is able to enjoy the holiday season despite not being as up on the monetary hustle as he'd like to be. Scrooge also seems to disapprove of Fred's marriage. Like, why does it bother him so much that Fred is married? Does Scrooge have a bit of a thing for Fred, like some pervy forbidden taboo love between uncle and nephew, or is it more of a player hater kind of thing, because Scrooge messed up his chance at true love right around the same age that Fred found his? I'm thinking maybe the latter. But I won't count out the former, because a very sick man like me loves the idea that Scrooge dreams of making his nephew cry uncle, if you know what I mean.

I mean he wants to bang his nephew, is what I mean.

Fred, by the way, is played by Dominic West, or as I prefer to call him, McNulty from the HBO series "The Wire". Man, I'd been hearing about the show for years, and it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I finally got around to seeing it, and you know what? It's as good as everybody says it is. Although considering how things are going nowadays in this wonderful big blue world, I don't think I will ever give a series as cynical and depressing and true to life like that one a rewatch ever again.

Speaking of depressing and true to life, you could've made a 19th century version of "The Wire" with this London setting. It's very glum and there's no chance of Christmas cheer in how things look, which I think is the idea -- I mean, I think that's the idea, you know, finding the ability to enjoy this time of year regardless of your surroundings. We see that in the way Bob Cratchit and his family are able to make the most of what little they have during their Christmas dinner, and how appreciative and happy for what they have, as meager as it is.

Then there's a sequence where Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present watch as various people celebrate Christmas by singing "Silent Night"; the keepers of a lighthouse, the crew on a cargo ship, workers at a mining facility -- not the most ideal of conditions to be in good cheer, and yet, they are able to have the Christmas spirit. Even if the conditions were better, these people are working on Christmas Eve, which has to be a little bit of a bummer -- for those who celebrate the holiday anyway.

Oh yeah, I forgot about the whole Ghosts of Christmas deal. OK, for those who aren't familiar with A Christmas Carol, what happens is that Scrooge gets visited by his old business partner Jacob Marley, which sounds all fine and dandy except for the fact that Jacob Marley has been dead for seven years. Marley tells Scrooge that the afterlife sucks because he's forever tortured by his past actions -- or more like his past inactions, because like Scrooge, Marley didn't do shit for his fellow man and was just as much a tightwad as Ebenezer. Now he's wearing heavy chains he can't take off and walking around all morose and shit, being as much a drag as those heavy ass chains.

Scrooge tries to dismiss this as hallucinations brought on by indigestion or maybe someone dosed his stew, the same way somebody dosed James Cameron's clam chowder on the set of Titanic in a possible attempt to Christmas Carol that Hollywood Scrooge. But Marley doesn't let up, and he has some tricks to really get into the old man's head that this is in fact The Real Deal.

Marley then gives Scrooge a peek into the lives of the dead, specifically those who like Jacob Marley, led selfish and uncaring lives. Now they have to spend the rest of forever watching the living who in need of help, and these sad specters are unable to do anything about it because they're dead. Their opportunity to do something has passed. This is a lesson they've learned too late. But it's not too late for Scrooge!

At least that's the idea, and to help prevent Scrooge from getting fitted for his own chain ensemble, three ghosts will visit him: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The Ghost of Christmas Past is played by Joel Grey, who looks like a pale transgender in mid-transition here. That's not a knock against transgenders, by the way, I've met plenty of transgenders at functions and parties and they've all turned me down.

Anyway, GC Past shows Scrooge his, uh, past as a little Scrooge, taking him back to his old school -- which Ebenezer seems pretty jazzed about. I don't know, man, maybe you had a better time back then than I did. You take me back to my old school and I'd probably start going into convulsions before reaching towards the small of my back for a pistol that I'm not carrying. The fun ends for Scrooge, though, once he sees himself as a sad little boy all alone in class because his father is a piece of shit.

This is the second film in a row that I've rambled about featuring grown-up assholes who were raised that way by their asshole fathers. The first was both versions of Disney's Beauty and the Beast -- which I guess makes this movie the third film in a row -- and now this one. And both were requested by Karen from Florida. If you're trying to tell me what I think you're trying to tell me, well let me make it clear, ma'am: I wasn't raised to be a douchebag, my father was great to me -- as is my mother. No, ma'am, my high level achievements of being A-Prick-Number-One are a result of being a self made kind of shitheel. Now this could mean one of two things: the whole "bad father equals bad son" thing is bullshit, or maybe I, much like Michael Myers, was just born under a bad star.

I'm pure evil, is what I'm trying to tell you good people. It's why I keep to myself. I'm a loner, Dottie, a rebel. And you don't want any of me. Unless you're ready to give up the goods. And by goods, I mean sex and/or food, but not both at the same time.

GC Past then shows Scrooge an older younger version of himself, back when he was working for Mr. Fezziwig. Now that's a cool boss, right there; Fezziwig is very cheerful -- at least during his company's Christmas party -- and he insists that all employees who are still working to stop what they're doing 'cause he's about to ruin the image and the style that they're used to: that is, if the image and style is of a Scrooge type who won't take a break to enjoy life every once in a while. You see Fezziwig and his family getting down with their bad selves on the sing & dance floor, and even Ebenezer knows to have some fun because he hasn't grown into old Scrooge yet.

Let me talk about office Christmas parties. I can do without those too. In fact, I have been doing without them for most of my work life, as well as any other social functions and gatherings at my places of employment. I'm polite to my co-workers and treat them with kindness and respect, but I don't want to be reminded of work during my free time. It's my time! It's why I've turned down company softball games and work picnics and Christmas parties. I don't want any of these assholes to see me drunk -- hell, I don't want anyone to see me drunk, and I certainly don't want to see any of those assholes drunk, fuck those guys.

Old Scrooge gets to observe Young Scrooge fuck it up with the love of his life, but is it really his fault? I get where he's coming from -- he's not ready to marry poor because he's trying to make that fuckin' money, bro. It's like the great Tony Montana once said: First you make the money, then you get the power, and then you marry your sweetheart. Stewart is great in the film, but I really liked his performance during this scene, as he witnesses one of the biggest -- perhaps the biggest mistake of his life -- and starts talking back at his young self like some overly emotional housewife watching her "stories".



After that, comes The Ghost of Christmas Present, who's a big dude in a robe, looking like party animal from a frat house movie. He ends up showing Scrooge that whole deal with the various people having Christmas spirit, singing "Silent Night", despite of or in spite of their situations, preceded by the whole Christmas dinner at the Cratchit crib, where the lovely family digs into their meal -- Christmas goose with all the trimmings, followed by plum pudding. It all looks nice but it's all too small for a family that big -- which is what an overeater would say.

Because when you really look at the portions given to the Cratchit clan, that really is the ideal serving size. It's how much we're all supposed to eat -- particularly we heavy Americans, who eat our food in way too large portions. Also, why so many kids? Great googily moogily, Bob, couldn't you keep it in your pants a couple times here and there? You know what, I take that back, Bob -- I can see why you and Mrs. Bob would do so much fucking. I mean you have to keep warm in that cold weather somehow.

Scrooge, this fuckin' miser, he asks GC Present about the infirm Cratchit boy Tiny Tim, he wants to know if things will get better for him and GC Present responds with something like "I see an empty seat and a crutch without an owner....something something if the future doesn't change, the child will die". That line and the delivery of that line, left me thinking what a great public service announcement it would make, preferably played on digital over-the-air television.

Have you ever watched digital over-the-air television? I'm talking about those stations that have dashes between the numbers, the ones that show cool old programs and cool old game shows. They're really cool but then come the commercial breaks and it's always a horror show filled with injured old people, dead old people, mistreated animals, dead animals, and kids with cancer. So an ad for some kind of charity towards helping little gimpy kids would be great with that line about the empty chair and crutch.

GC Present then takes Scrooge over to Fred's house where they're all having a great time, friends and family alike. "It's been so long" says Scrooge, regarding the old timey Christmas dinner party games being played. Man, it's been so long for me as well. The last time I played a game at a Christmas party, it was 14 years ago and we played Jenga Truth or Dare.

It's a good thing they didn't have Jenga Truth or Dare back in Scrooge's day, because one of the guests is this fuckin' panty-sniffing creep named Topper, who should be thanking his lucky stars they hadn't invented sex offender registries yet. Although considering how long ago this story takes place, they probably hadn't invented the term "sex offender", that was just how gentlemen rolled. You had to be Jack the Ripper to be considered doing something wrong to a lady back then. God, Topper made my skin crawl, talking to ladies about their "pretty little mouths" and making sure there's mistletoe in the immediate vicinity of his most likely syphilitic johnson. Who knows what this bucket of unwanted sex would've done with something like Jenga Truth or Dare.

Following all that pervitude, Scrooge gets the ghost he fears the most: The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, looking like a half-decent Halloween display outside one of those Halloween stores that only operates during September and October out of some recently closed business. The Ghost shows Ebenezer how his homies at the stock exchange will not really give much of a care about him after hearing news of his death. They'll only attend the funeral if food is being served, which I kinda understand too, provided we're talking about serving the food after the funeral. That would be weird to eat during the actual service.

It all bums Scrooge out, the way people react about his him going tits up. Some of the help from his house end up selling his silk shirts and bed curtains, and even the undertaker makes some money off of him. Nobody seems particularly bothered, save maybe Fred, but in most cases, people's lives are improved, such as the couple who were in debt to Scrooge, but now that he's merged with the infinite, they have time to save up and pay the new piper.

I think at this point, Scrooge would've been like "Fuck it, if these assholes are going to ditch my funeral and sell the fillings from my teeth, I might as well keep up the shitty attitude and really earn my postmortem disrespect!" but then of course, here comes Tiny Tim to gum up the works with his own death, and now Scrooge is super bummed. Then he catches the sight of his sad-ass tombstone and his cold-ass corpse in the coffin and for some reason he embraces his own corpse and off they go, swan-diving cheek-to-cheek into the black void like a couple of twin fruits.

But it was all a dream! Scrooge used to read Word Up magazine! And now he's awake, back in the real world and he hasn't missed Christmas! He's so overjoyed at this, he tries to laugh but it's such an alien reflex to him at this point, it takes him like half a minute of choke-filled attempts before he finally gets it right and laughs like a goddamn human being again. He then pays some street urchin to buy the biggest goose this side of Footloose and send it over to the Cratchit residence -- but he makes sure that it's done anonymously, so that Bob and company don't know who the goose is from.

I like that, it shows real altruism, that move. Most people in Scrooge's place would've made sure that Cratchit would know who got his goose, for the same reason I want the baristas at Starbucks to see me when I put a buck in the tip jar. Scrooge is so beyond that bullshit by this point, he doesn't care and maybe it'll have Cratchit believe it was some kind of Christmas miracle HAHAHAHAHAHA miracle.

Scrooge then goes to church because He is the reason for the season, you know. We gotta remember who put the Christ in Christmas, and that's something you heathens don't understand and will never understand unless you give yourself to the one true God. Instead, you try to make it secular for all the libtards who hate my Christ, love paying taxes, and want to take my guns away. Well to that third part, I quote my good boys from Gonzales, Texas: Come and take it.

The following day, Scrooge pulls one of those bullshit pranks where he acts like he's pissed off at Bob for coming in late, and he talks all serious to him, until he pulls back the false dickhead facade and reveals himself to be the new and improved Scrooge by giving Cratchit a raise and allowing him to warm up the place with all the coal his heart desires. Then McNulty narrates over footage of the Cratchit family visiting Ebenezer -- including Tiny Tim, who did not die -- talking about how "ever afterwards, he knew how to keep Christmas well" and I start tearing up and getting choked up because that's where I am in my life, I fuckin' cry at everything, especially with stories like this, because the older I get and the more I experience in this life, the more these tales about people changing their negative ways to become better people increasingly feel like science fiction.

What they don't show us is Scrooge visiting his supposed pals at the stock exchange, followed by giving them a solid thrashing with his cane for being fake people showing fake love to him, straight up to his face, straight up to his face. But I guess I'll have to make that version myself, where I devote a good twenty minutes to Scrooge taking care of business with those stock exchange fucks by giving them a little stick time.



OK, well, I pretty much went through the whole movie but you already knew the story -- so the question is: how does this 1999 adaptation of A Christmas Carol do in telling it?

Pretty damn well, I think. This has less of a Christmas-y feel to it compared to others, but I think in exchange for that, there's a bit more of a, I don't know -- real tone to it? The setting is suitably bleak and a good part of that should be credited to the production designer, Roger Hall, who had previously worked on such classics as Chariots of Fire and Highlander II: The Quickening. One of those films won the Academy Award for Best Picture, by the way.

I haven't read the Dickens story in nearly two decades, but based on what I remember of it, this adaptation is very close, including things like that "Silent Night" sequence, which I don't remember ever being in other film versions of the Scrooge story.

The film was directed by David Jones, a stage director who went on to work on television shows like "Law & Order: SVU" and films like Jacknife starring Robert De Niro. He does a fine job telling the story, moving things along at a fine clip and getting good performances from his cast. Speaking of which, Patrick Stewart is solid as Ebenezer Scrooge, but I feel his doesn't quite match up in comparison to previous Scrooges like Alastair Sim and George C. Scott. He doesn't seem as particularly upset by the otherworldly sights he's treated to, it's a little too stiff upper lip compared to the way other Scrooges handle seeing ghosts and freaky mutated ghoulish children named Want and Ignorance and Tiny Tim. I think what he does best is show us the regret Scrooge feels over his past mistakes during the Ghost of Christmas Past sequence.

More than anything, I was left wishing I had seen one of Patrick Stewart's one-man performances of A Christmas Carol, where he played over thirty characters without the use of props or costume changes. He's performed the play on and off since the late 80s, but it doesn't look like he's going to do it again anytime soon, which is too bad because it sounds fascinating. I now kinda wish they filmed one of his shows rather than make yet another standard film version of the Dickens classic. But they did make another standard film version of the Dickens classic, but it's a good one, so I'm not complaining. I can definitely see myself checking this one out again come next December.

OK, that's it. I haven't done a rundown like that in a while, where I pretty much just go through the movie from beginning to end, but I figure it's no secret to most people how this story plays out, so why not.

Anyway, if you happen to be reading this during the holidays, have fun and be safe.

Also, this won't mean anything to those who are listening to the podcast which is only a few episodes old at the time of this recording, but the day that I'm putting this out, December 25th, in this foul year of Our Lord 2018 also happens to be the tenth anniversary of the Exiled from Contentment blog, from where these ramblings come from. I can't help but feel it's all been a colossal waste of time. But hey, it beats sitting on my ass and doing nothing, right?

Don't answer that.