Friday, December 25, 2009

Dude Movies, Christmas 2009 Edition: Gremlins

What’s it about?
Idiot Americans can't follow three simple instructions and end up infesting Smalltown U.S.A. with murderous Gremlins, which look like a cross between Yoda and Anne Coulter.

Any chicks in the movie?
A sadly non-naked Phoebe Cates, because she wanted to be a serious actress around this time instead of her previous career incarnation as grade-A spank material.*

Awesomeness Factor?
Classic. Gremlins is the timeless tale of what Christmas is really all about: utterly boorish behaviour. The basic story behind Gremlins is as well-known as the movie is: Cute little Mogwais are cute, but they hate direct sunlight, and if you feed 'em after midnight or get them wet** they turn into nasty little Gremlins who will drink you out of house and home, smoke your cigarettes, and at least try to stab your wife. That's pretty much it, movie-wise: Mogwai gets wet, Gremlins pop out, Phoebe and "Whatever Happened To?" Zach Galligan put a stop to it, wise old indiscriminately Asian man tells stupid Americans to smarten up and takes the Mogawi back to Asian Land, the end. The story was written by Chris Columbus, and you can tell because like all Chris Colombus movies there's about 30 minutes worth of plot for a 90 minute movie. Luckily, God saw fit to not have Columbus direct it, instead handing the reins to then-recent Roger Corman grad Joe Dante, who uses the film as a wild excuse to free-associate through his personal childhood obsessions. Dante packs the corners of the screen with throwaway gags and references to Forbidden Planet, The Time Machine, EC Comics, It's A Wonderful Life, and The Twilight Zone***, filtering a 50s geek childhood through a then-current 80s lens. Unlike Columbus' mentor Spielberg, Dante knows that the idyllic veneer of smalltown America is only there to hide the nasty grubbiness beneath, so the Gremlins become a clever subtextual stand-in for the townfolk's outward charade of kindness and decency. Sure, the Gremlins are dicks, and sure they kill a couple of people, but they ain't trying to destroy your livelihood like that old crone at the bank is or putting moves on your sweetheart like that douchebag Judge Reinhold. Honestly, given the choice between a Gremlin and your average smalltown peabrained citizen, I'd stick with the Gremlin because, when push comes to shove, you can always microwave a Gremlin. Can't do that with your alderman.

Mitigated by?
For a real trip through Joe Dante's id, try the sadly overlooked Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the most brilliant piece of franchise suicide this side of Babe 2: Pig In The City.

* Which explains why she decided to do a movie opposite a cast of crazed puppets, because hello! Oscar!

** Which, not coincidentally, is also how I made it through university.

*** Not to mention some great character actors: Harey Carey Jr., Chuck Jones, Dick Miller, Hoyt Axton and Polly Holliday (aka Flo from TV's Alice).

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