Bear v. Lions. Cowboys v. Eagles. Seahawks v. 49ers. Horned Frogs v. Longhorns. Throw in a giant feast, a rousing board game, and the inevitable nap, and your entertainment calendar is generally quite full. It's no wonder, then, that Thanksgiving is sparsely represented in the pantheon of Holiday films. But perhaps you reside in an alternate universe where the pigskin is left to rot with the rest of the carcass. Or maybe you're just not the sporting sort. We thought our discerning readers might just be thankful for some alternatives.
In Planes Trains & Automobiles (1987), Thanksgiving is a cruel villain; a constant threat that looms over Neal Page’s (Steve Martin) head as he attempts in vain to get home in time to eat turkey with his family. If he misses Thanksgiving dinner with the Page brethren, he will ultimately fail as a husband and father. Thus is the theme to John Hughes’s 1987 Thanksgiving film, Planes Trains & Automobiles. The overarching commentary on the 1980’s white collar working man’s plight is hard to ignore: sure, Neal is successful as his family’s breadwinner, but at what cost? It’s implied that he travels constantly to keep his family fed and comfortable in their opulent suburban Chicago home. It is, of course, hard to have sympathy for the upper-class, but John Hughes makes a valid attempt to do so and without the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s likely that audiences would not find any redeemable quality in Neal Page.
Other than his desperation to make it home in time to break the wishbone with his kids, Neal Page is an uptight dick with no patience for his accidental travel companion, the easy-going-traveling-shower-curtain-ring-salesman Del Griffith (John Candy). Page and Griffith form a classic straight man/whacky man dynamic that is found in most road comedies, a genre this film fits into snuggly. Of course, it is Griffith who brings out the true humanity in Page, through numerous conflicts.
Historically, Planes Trains & Automobiles is known as John Hughes’s first film for adults—it was a departure from the “Brat Pack” movies he had been known for (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, etc.) in that it was a film about adults with adult problems, as opposed to angsty teens with teenager problems. The age difference is the only true stylistic departure, though, as life lessons are learned, the importance of families is heavily explored, and there’s plenty of high-jinx along the journey.
The late John Candy’s turn as Del Griffith is deservedly lauded as his finest film role. If anything, it’s sad to know that Candy would never have another solid opportunity to show his incredible acting ability onscreen in such a capacity—he trumps the dumb fat guy trope fantastically and completely disappears into the character. Steve Martin’s slow-burning rage as Neal Page is also applause worthy. In 1987, this was a slightly different character for Martin to play—Page is anything but a buffoon, rather, he’s Donald Draper-type ad man who demands respect.
Planes Trains & Automobiles is, perhaps, the only true Thanksgiving movie that you can sit around with your family and watch on the holiday—with the possible exception of Neal Page’s brilliant breakdown at the car rental counter (concerned parents should just tell their kids that it’s not appropriate to excessively use the word “Fuck,” if that’s really a problem). It’s certainly been a tradition in my family to watch it every Thanksgiving, as well as the late Roger Ebert’s. In fact, it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving existing without Planes Trains & Automobiles, but the latter could never exist without the former, which makes it an essential Thanksgiving film.
The thing I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving is the gift of Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Or at least I would be, if AT&T wasn’t being such a raging bitch. Luckily, high school me invested in all seven seasons on DVD (but not the super cute full series box set, damn it), so I’m thankful for Gilmore Girls anyway. The first appearance of Thanksgiving for the Gilmores comes in season 3’s “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving,” episode 52 overall, which I reached in a week through an impressive level of multitasking and a lack of sleep.
The most important thing to be thankful for about the episode is that a MAJOR minor subplot is that Jess and Rory need to kiss more. If you are Gilmore-clueless, Rory Gilmore is our sweet, bookish protagonist and Jess is her bad boy with a heart of gold and novel in his back pocket boyfriend and 1 tru luv 4eva omggg!!!!111!!! If you are Gilmore-literate and dispute this statement, stop reading this post, turn off your computer, and sit quietly in the corner until you realize the error of your ways. Anyway, Rory is worried about kissing Jess in public to spare the feelings of her ex- (and first) boyfriend, Dean, who is a tall idiot with terrible 2000s hair that veers into nasty “nice guy” territory immediately after Rory ditches him. The problem of not enough quality kissing is solved when everyone tells Rory she should kiss more, and then Rory and Jess kiss more. It is an excellent subplot.
Perhaps more central to the plot of the episode, whatevs, is that Rory and Lorelai (her mom, c’mon, keep up) are so universally beloved that their Thanksgiving dilemma is how to split their time between four separate gatherings. This turns out to be no problem at all, due to Gilmore Girls’ most egregious ongoing flaw: slim Lorelai and itty bitty Rory scarf down mountains of candy, coffee, and cheeseburgers to absolutely no negative effect in every episode. Basically, jels.
- Thanksgiving #1:
The Gilmores eat tofurkey and sing hymns with the Kims, while Lane’s adorable boyfriend Dave Rygalski plays the guitar for five hours until he leaves for the O.C. to hang out with Captain Oats and Princess Sparkle and abandons Lane to a quickie marriage and implausible TV twins and I’m not bitter at all, nooooo.
- Thanksgiving #2:
Sookie, totally out of character, completely relinquishes control of cooking Thanksgiving to Jackson and his hooligan relatives (including Badger from Breaking Bad with a giant fro!) who proceed to deep-fry not just the turkey, but everything in sight. If anyone has a deep fryer, please know that I would absolutely try deep-fried mashed potatoes, deep-fried cake, and a deep-fried rasquat.
- Thanksgiving #3:
The Gilmores almost cancel their appearance at Luke’s Diner, but promise to attend once he looks mildly hurt to fan the shipper flames. I spend the scene contemplating whether I should be squicked out by a simultaneous Luke/Lorelai and Jess/Rory pairing (step first cousins...probably?) and then rewind several times to get the most out of the kissing subplot
- Thanksgiving #4:
Gilmore family dinner in Hartford with Jennifer Aniston’s dad, some French randos (obligatory Lady Marmalade joke), and a continuation of the season long “where will Rory go to college” plot. (It’s Yale.) I may insist on “ceremonially” taking the first cut of a lot more things from now on though.
The key lesson learned from this episode is that flowers + canned cranberry sauce is a perfect kitschy gift for the hosts of whatever party you may attend. The key lesson learned from me watching this episode is that if you try to eat like a Gilmore on Thanksgiving you will end up curled up in a ball in the fetal position and maybe die like the dude in Se7en.
And to end on a downer: the thing I am LEAST thankful for about this episode is that on three separate occasions (Sookie, random Chilton extra, Lane) it tries to convince me yet again that I can pull off pigtails when I know I cannot. Curse you, Lauren Graham, and your perfect flowing locks!
American horror films have a longstanding tradition of taking beloved holiday figures and turning them into wisecracking, bloodthirsty psychopaths. Santa Claus (more times than I can count) and The Easter Bunny (at least twice) have both had their fair share of screen time, and nearly every minor holiday has a coinciding horror film as well: April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day—even Uncle Sam has been on a maniacal killing spree. Surprisingly though, Thanksgiving has been woefully underrepresented in the world of holiday horror. Luckily someone was kind enough to fill this cinematic void with Thankskilling; the first movie to mix pilgrims, black magic, ultra-violence and a talking rubber turkey puppet.
I could tell you about Thankskilling’s paint-by-numbers plot, but if you've watched more than a handful of horror films I’m sure you can piece together most of it yourself. An ancient curse, pilgrim boobs, college co-eds, murder, etc. etc. Every element of the story is something you’ve seen before (and probably seen done better) which, oddly enough, seems to be the entire point of the movie.
Thankskilling is part of an ever growing stable of post-modern B-horror films rehashing classic tropes, mugging at the camera and preemptively deflecting criticism by insisting that “it’s so bad it’s good!” In other words, if you enjoy Thankskilling, GREAT! If you don’t, well, fuck you, it isn’t supposed to be good and you ‘just don’t get it.’ Does that sound like a steaming load of art school pretension? Sure it does, which is bizarre because this is a film about a 500 year old Turkey spouting one-liners like a feathered Freddy Krueger and pecking people to death. Thankskilling never bothers to commit to being a parody or playing it straight, and in a 70 minute long holiday slasher film there isn’t much room to develop anything interesting in the gray area that it occupies.
When a movie fails so spectacularly that it earns the distinction of ‘so bad it’s good’ it’s rarely, if ever, because someone was trying to make something awful. Schlock auteurs like Tommy Wisseau (The Room) and Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2) have built massive cult followings by marrying an insular, ego-maniacal belief in their own greatness with a complete disregard for everything an audience expects a film to be. 'So bad it's good' doesn't mean that a film is bad, but rather it's so surprisingly inept that it becomes unconventionally entertaining.
Thankskilling isn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but part of the reason why it falls flat is because it just isn't bad enough. For a no-budget movie made by a pair of first time filmmakers, it's surprisingly competent and even impressive at times. Some of the film's best moments are quiet scenes in between the violent turkey rape and cringe-worthy dialogue. When Thankskilling isn't antagonizing its audience like a screaming petulant child it can be almost compelling. More often than not though it’s a low-rent, sub-Troma slog that confuses mimicry with satire and banality with fun.
If you're desperate for Thanksgiving themed horror movie, you could probably do a lot worse than Thankskilling. Then again, if you're desperate for a Thanksgiving themed horror movie I guess you don't really have many options.
Yes, Steve, you could do a lot worse. And thanks to you, I did. I had just settled in to watch Mr. Bean deface Whistler's Mother, much to the chagrin of Peter MacNicol, when Steve suggested I write about something called Blood Freak instead. Thanks a million, pal.
There's an old Mystery Science Theater gag about Canadian films being instantly recognizable. For horror aficionados, the same could be said of Florida. Thirty seconds into Blood Freak, I knew where it was filmed. It oozed Florida. No, there weren't any telltale geographic features. The film opens with a grizzled Rod Serling stand-in seated in front of a warped wood panel wall. He's clad in a garish half-buttoned silk shirt and clearly reading his lines from a copy of the script that's sitting in his lap. He chain smokes what I presume to be Pall Mall Reds as he delivers his nonsensical monologue. Just looking at him makes you want to hop in the shower. This scene clearly marked Blood Freak as the insidious product of Florida, where for two decades every deranged ass with a 16mm camera decided they were a director, and all of their withered friends were budding stars.
Blood Freak is the Florida pond scum take on Reefer Madness, in which a man becomes addicted to DRUGS... and then has a vivid hallucination about turning into a murderous turkey-headed monster. So, the hallucination was induced by the DRUGS? No, it was caused by ingesting an entire 25lb. castrated turkey. For science.
The film proper begins with our protagonist joining his bible thumping lady friend at the sort of party that only exists in Florida. Weather ravaged 50 year old men pawing at prematurely aged twentysomethings while passing around joints aplenty and what appear to be poppers. Were I a filmmaker seeking to convey the horrors of addiction, I know I'd prominently feature poppers. Heroin's not so chic these days. Anyhow, the party leads to a job offer and a place to crash for our handsome burn victim. A productive evening, in spite of all the iniquity.
Somehow, the stilted dialogue, non-acting, laughable camerawork, and sub-human editing of the party sequence represent the film's high water mark. Things start to make much less sense from here on in. Having awkwardly read an inappropriate amount of scripture aloud, the presumed love interest totally disappears from the film. Instead, the roguishly disfigured lead takes up with the churchgoer's rebellious sister, and becomes hooked on DRUGS. I have no idea what sort of drugs he's cripplingly addicted to. He smokes a joint once, that was apparently laced with something? Beyond that, it's a mystery. People just vaguely refer to his DRUG problem. I hate this movie.
His poultry farm job conveniently leads to his consumption of "experimental" turkey, and a descent into ADR hell. My assumption is that this film was not initially intended to include a killer turkey man of any sort. These scenes feel like they were filmed later and roughly cut in. Also they were filmed without a microphone. The audio consists of a looping nightmare of grating shrieks and drones. Then, the movie just sort of ends. He wakes up from his turkey coma, kicks the habit, and gets the girl. Not the religious girl he seemed fond of. The one who willfully got him hooked on DRUGS. I suppose that counts as happily ever after in Florida.
This Thanksgiving, be gracious and appreciative. Take nothing for granted. But most of all, be thankful you've never sat through Blood Freak.
Like so many dull blades plunged savagely into the chest cavity of an avian sacrifice, this underrated holiday celebration movie film cuts straight to the core of Thanksgiving. The plot story script is simple; a rugby sport team from Uruguay stranded on a mountain lump must resort to desperate measures after their flying air sky plane crashes. The movie film does its duty by presenting your undoubtedly lonely Thanksgiving celebratories with a mildly ironic distraction. How, you ask? Easily, you skeptical wretch: Instead of eating and watching a sports team, you get to watch a sports team eating.
By now, anyone with a handle on pop culture understands that The Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are a bunch of petulant and narcissistic people that have no problem throwing other people under the bus, which makes a Thanksgiving theme seem like the most incongruous topic for an episode of the show. There is no situation in which a member of The Gang would show thanks, because this would imply weakness for the thanker and superiority for the person being thanked. Indeed, Mac states in the first scene of “The Gang Squashes Their Beefs,” “I’ve had to scratch and claw for everything I’ve got. If anything, I should be thanking myself.” The Gang would be content continuing on just as they always have, but the seeds of their horrible behavior are ready to be reaped. Nine seasons worth of screwing other people over has caught up to The Gang in this episode, and it’s severely jamming them up all over town. The only logical thing to do is invite all their enemies to a Thanksgiving dinner so everyone can finally squash all the beefs.
The pretext of this dinner filled with squash and beef is taken right from the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims and Native Americans didn’t like each other, but they wanted to put an end to the fighting. Neither side admitted guilt, and they agreed to just let things go and move on. In this spirit, Dennis has peace treaties drawn up to be signed between members of The Gang and the series of beef-havers. Sweet Dee and Mac also want to get involved by literally wiping a piece of slate clean and burying a hatchet in a bucket. Things didn’t work out so well for the Native Americans in the long run, and the episode ends with everyone besides The Gang ostensibly burning alive in an on-fire apartment, with nothing having been resolved.
What can we hope to learn from this Sunny Thanksgiving? First, the positive- no matter how much you dread heading home for the holidays, just know that dinner with your family cannot possibly be worse than this meal with The Gang. Nobody has to eat the giblets on the floor like a dog the way Rickety Cricket does, and there’s no gross hand job situation going on under the table from your cousin Gail the Snail. Plus the whole fire in the apartment situation.
On the other hand, The Gang represents all the terrible parts of humanity that do reside, to varying degrees, in all of us. The truth is, nobody ever wants to actually apologize for anything. We want to be right 100% of the time. The Gang simply twists every situation into one in which they are right all the time, even when they are clearly at fault. They decide to squash the beefs rather than reconciling because reconciling would imply that they care about the people they have wronged. The Gang just wants to be able to go to their favorite convenience store, or rent a DVD, or have the landlord turn on the heat in the easiest way possible.
At the end of the episode, The Gang realizes they don’t need help from anyone else. Their makeshift pseudo-family is more than enough to take on all that life throws their way. Maybe they’re onto something. Maybe the holidays are really about putting up with your family just enough so that they have to help you out when you get jammed up. Look out for yourself and those few people closest to you, and screw everyone else because they’re probably trying to cover up a giant conspiracy anyways.
I discovered Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm during my freshman year in college. A friend’s recommendation and a $5.99 price tag made it an easy decision. But I was put off by the film’s…well, coldness. There’s a deliberateness to the film – images pregnant with symbolism and isolated lines of dialogue that feel serious, and the acting can be mostly characterized as muted sadness. This type of filmmaking can be maddening, or feel pretentious, if you aren’t connecting with a film in any meaningful way. Now, a decade later, this allegorical portrait of a family on Thanksgiving Day in 1973 is frighteningly potent to me.
Maybe the film didn’t originally connect with me because the film’s thesis is emotional disconnection. The parents don’t understand their children, the children don’t understand their parents, friends don’t understand their friends, and partners don’t understand each other. When Ben (Kevin Kline) gives his son, Paul (Tobey Maguire), a “little heart-to-heart” about masturbation, he replies, “Dad, you know I’m sixteen?” During an extramarital affair, Ben describes his marriage as two people “on the verge of saying something to each other.” Young sexual exploration is weird and uncomfortable; they don’t know where to put their hands or how to move their mouths.
The result to all of this emotional dissonance is everybody trying to figure out everything by themselves. Even entire scenes seem out of place or irrelevant, as if disconnected from those preceding and following. But, while the film’s story may feel undeveloped (until the somewhat famous key party scene), there is a taut emotional through line cultivated from the opening scene of a frozen train
It should be mentioned that the film’s time period, 1973, is important. The film has a political agenda – at one point Christina Ricci’s character puts on a Nixon mask and lies about what she’ll do sexually – and Ang Lee does a wonderful job balancing the macro and micro levels of the story; personal conflicts speak to the time period and vice versa. But I don’t enjoy the film more than I did a decade ago because “I get it.” The muted sadness that once felt at arm’s length is now an effervescent tone. The characters’ repression and miscommunication is so palpable that I just wait for it to percolate, for the ice storm to hit. And though it does hit, The Ice Storm is not a momentous story. In fact, most of its power is rooted in how the common troubles of an American family are presented without overstatement.
There is so much going on in this film that a 500-word write-up seems an injustice. But for the sake of representing it as one of the best (and perhaps overlooked) Thanksgiving movies, I’ll simply say what’s most affecting to me about The Ice Storm is the quietly terrifying familial divide portrayed during a holiday that has been constructed to celebrate in the company of loving family.