BluRay/DVD Reviews

‘R XMAS

By • Nov 19th, 2002 •

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Artisan Entertainment, 2001
89 mins / Rated ‘R’. Aspect Ratio 16X9/ Director commentary.

‘R XMAS, opens with a glamourous, upscale Manhattan couple attending their young daughter’s Christmas pageant at her expensive private school. You’ll think: ” I’ve seen this sort of thing before, Betcha we’re looking at the victims in this movie.” Guess again.

This is the latest film by Abel Ferrara, an independent New York film-maker who, since his first films, has been violently shaking the crime genre upside-down. His films, which include MS. 45 (1981), CAT CHASER (1989), KING OF NEW YORK (1990), BAD LIEUTENANT (1993), and NEW ROSE HOTEL (1998), are not industry-friendly cookie-cutter trend-followers. They are a much different, tastier batch of cookies.

The un-named couple (BRONX TALE’s Lillo Brancato and SOPRANOS regular Drea de Matteo) are loving parents who, by day, go Christmas shopping for their beloved little girl, Lisa (Lisa Valens). At night, they don street clothes and head for the unfriendly reaches of the Bronx to deal in heroine with dangerous co-workers and drug rivals. The wife learns from a kidnapper (Ice-T) that her husband has been taken. The ransom is due within an almost impossible time limit.
‘R XMAS is free of the drug-movie cliches. Gunplay is at a bare minimum (the only bullet recipient in ‘R XMAS is a basketball!) There are no car chases (When the wife drives across town for ransom money, she isn’t running red lights and knocking over fruit stands, like every rescuer in most other genre film) ‘R XMAS is filled with insight, a peek into the inner workings of drug neighborhoods highlighted with wall graffiti..

“Much of the graffiti are memorials, showing recent local killings,” stated Frank DeCurtis, ‘R XMAS’s Production Designer and Producer. “The graffiti suggests: let’s keep dealing drugs, but lets stop killing each other.” Many of ‘R XMAS’s tense decisive moments take place near graffiti filled walls. “The graffiti artists I recruited to execute the ‘los ninos’ wall mural in the film I had met at the annual paint/spray-out at the Graffiti Hall of Fame.” recalled DeCurtis. “I originally met Marcus Mazda, who I thought should take the lead on the project. I knew more than one artist would be involved. One to outline, one to paint, one to do lettering as I wanted very specific elements which would be true to this type of mural. So Marcus and I looked at a few other artists he brought to me and we decided he would do it with Ewok, a New York graffiti artist.” A key visual figure in ‘R XMAS is, of all things, a “Party Girl Doll”, the hot new toy Lisa wants more than anything. The Party Doll Girl, true to her name, is dressed in black velvet. “The flip of a Barbie Doll” says DeCurtis, who partially based the doll on an actress friend of his and Abel Ferrara’s.

The doll is a wonderful metaphor for such a visual film, a film where something that appears sweet and clean can have dark secrets. (In a recent interview, Ferrara noted he learned film-making doing silent 8mm film. He had to convey his early films visually, with no dialog. Ferrara’s films have always been visually powered.)

‘R XMAS received rather limited American distribution, which seems unfair. It’s a film filled with welcome surprises, keeping the audience glued to the screen.


Credits:
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Executive Producer Barry Amato
Produced and Designed by Frank DeCurtis
Written by Abel Ferrara and Scott Pardo

Cast:
Lillo Brancato, Drea de Matteo, Ice-T

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