Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scrooged

Scrooged screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema on Friday, December 10th at 7pm and Sunday, December 12th at 7pm.

Scrooged is not a movie for everyone. It takes a special kind of humor to truly appreciate director Richard Donner's 1988 cult comedy masterpiece. It is a relentlessly cynical and sarcastic film that doesn't exactly scream "holiday cheer." It was hailed as a disappointment upon initial release and both Donner and lead actor Bill Murray have both gone on record as saying they weren't exactly happy with how the film turned out. Both actually hoped for an even darker version of Scrooged to end up on the big screen. Instead, this updating of A Christmas Carol seems to be grafted onto an alternate universe version of Murray's other film, Ghostbusters. That isn't a bad thing and for my money, next to Ghostbusters, Scrooged is Murray at his absolute funniest and the film holds up as my favourite Christmas film of all time.



Murray plays Frank Cross, the loathsome and greedy head executive for television network IBC. In between belittling his co-workers and stealing cabs from old ladies, Cross is in the middle of mounting one of the most ambitious productions in the history of the network: a remounting of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (here called Scrooge) that is being sold with fear and being produced with both an iron fist and a hard cold stance on deadlines. Cross is smitten with a woman he used to love that now works with the homeless (Karen Allen), but he is too heartless and cold to do anything about it. He is also far too busy making life a living hell for his long suffering single mother secretary (Alfrie Woodard) and making sure the most vulnerable staff member he has (Bobcat Golthwait) is broke and penniless by the end of Christmas Eve.



Cross is then visitied, in typical Scrooge fashion, by his former boss and mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsythe in a lot of prosthetic makeup) who tells him he is going to be visited by the ghosts of Christmases past (David Johansen as a cab driver), present (Carol Kane as an ultraviolent sing-song speaking fairy), and future (just about the most terrifying thing this side of Freddy Kruger).

While on the surface, Scrooged is simply a straightforward retelling of a well known story, it is also as black as comedy can get. Cross is one of the meanest film characters I have ever seen and to watch him undergo such a transformation is quite cathartic (no matter what writers Mitch Glazer and the like Michael O'Donoghue have to say about how much they hate the film's happier ending). The barbs shot at the cynical nature and the commercialization of Christmas hit the mark every time and Murry is pitch perfect in the lead. The rest of the cast is full of familiar faces and cameos and all are up to the same level as Murray. A holiday classic for those like myself who like their holiday coffee spiked with a little something bitter.

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