Christmas Crazy: Christmas on Mars – Wayne Coyne (…of The Flaming Lips) (2008)


There may be no more odd person ever to be set upon this planet than Wayne Coyne. It’s the genuine strangeness of a brain that fires its synapses in a different manner all together. It’s only a brain as strange as his that could claim credit to this kind of output, for Christmas on Mars is nothing but a series of strangeness.

It’s Christmas Eve on the newly colonized Mars and everything is going wrong for the colonists. Their oxygen and gravity generators are failing and it’s leaving everyone on edge as the colony’s first baby is due. In the oxygen deprived basecamp, Bethlehem 2055, people start having visions of the baby’s horribly wrong future — in the most horrible vision, the baby is born only to be left to be crushed to death by an oncoming marching band… who all have vaginas instead of heads, or, as Adam Goldberg’s psychiatrist puts it: “this vaginal-headed marching band from hell”. The colonist who has this vision, the man who was set to play Santa Claus later that night, promptly commits suicide by rushing out of the air lock.

Into the mix lands a Martian, played by Coyne. He says nothing, he just observes and wanders as the station’s crew slowly lose their sense of hope for their futures.

With it’s mix of 50s atomic age camp and oddball Flaming Lips style, it’s somewhat of a surprise that Christmas on Mars turns out to be something of a sincere nativity play, albeit an atheist interpretation of it. There is nothing traditional about it, but you wouldn’t want there to be. It’s not a film that was made for reverence or silence. It was made to celebrate to, and talk over, and to get drunk with friends to, which is basically how all Christmas movies should be anyway.

Escape From Tomorrow – Randy Moore (2013)


Since it first premiered at Sundance in February, Randy Moore’s subversive stab at Disney has been in the spotlight for its secretive, guerilla filmmaking style. Moore and his crew shot the film at Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in California, posing as tourists, using Park Hopper passes as their only credentials. Though the early speculation was that Disney would throw a fit and have the film shelved, they’ve remained quiet on the subject. Shooting inside the theme parks was a clever way to build hype around the film, but now that the film hits VOD this weekend, can it live up to that hype?

It’s the classic American family vacation that brings us here. Emily and Jim (Elena Schuber and Roy Abramsohn) and their two young children, Elliot and Sara (Jack Dalton and Katelynn Rodriguez), are on the last day of their trip to Disney World when everything begins to go wrong. Informed over the phone that he doesn’t have a job to come home to, the Happiest Place on Earth becomes Jim’s personal hell through the course of the day as they hop between the MagicKingdom, Epcot and the Contemporary Resort. As they queue for rides, Jim is able to sweet talk the sensitive Sara out of being scared of the Evil Witch and the ghosts in the Haunted Mansion, but he himself begins hallucinating the fears she held in his own head. People are beheaded on rides, characters come alive as evil puppets that only he can see, and even Emily and the kids seem out to get him at certain points, their eyes rolling over black, taunting him.

As his family starts to pull apart under the weight of the Epcot ball, the only salvation from the misery that the pasty, pudgy, mid-40s Jim can find is leering at, and eventually following, a pair of young, pretty — possibly underage? — French girls (Danielle Safady and Annet Mahendru) who don’t seem to mind his attention. If the hallucinations weren’t enough to tell you we’re in Jim’s head the whole time, that should certainly do it.

While the pre-release buzz seemed to point towards a camp-horror descent into madness that any midnight movie palace would be proud to run, I found most of the film plays more as an well measured take on a bored father’s fever dreams rather than a trip down the psycho rabbit hole. The film tends to spend most of its time painting the entire Disney entity itself as the real psychosis, preying on the American mind, leading us around on a leash of desire pointed at unattainable fairy tale icons to get us to buy turkey legs and Mickey Mouse hats.

Though the film does finally run off of the rails in a third act where Moore seemed to run out of ideas — rolling out the kind of Mad Scientist/Evil Witch yarn that even Scooby Doo would have blushed over — the deconstruction of the family unit in its most awkward, isolated state, where there is an immediate juxtaposition of the other awkward, isolated family surrounding them, helps Escape from Tomorrow succeed by presenting a surprisingly interesting, occasionally funny take on the usually blunt idea that Disney is everything that ails us.

The hype around the film seems to be a furious reply to that idea more than anything the film does or doesn’t accomplish. The hype was about the victory of getting one over on the ubiquitous Disney Machine, shooting an entire film under their nose and getting away with it — and now, in the most Disney way possible, exploiting that hype to extract every dollar from the marketplace that they can.