The Christmas season just got a lot less joyous in this very dark comedy. Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a con man and a thief who teams up with his friend Marcus (Tony Cox), a midget, for a very special scam each year during the holiday season. Willie gets a job as Santa Claus at a shopping mall, his pal tags along as an elf, and they use their employee status to crack mall security and rob stores blind just before Christmas. However, there's one flaw to this plan – Willie is a bitter, foul-mouthed and perpetually grouchy alcoholic who doesn't care for kids, and it's all he can do to keep himself from getting fired while on the job. The mall's manager (John Ritter, in his last film appearance) is certain something's wrong with the Santa he's hired, so he asks the mall's chief of security (Bernie Mac) to do some research on Willie. Meanwhile, one of the kids Willie is forced to talk to becomes a regular customer; overweight, awkward, and the frequent target of bullies, the boy manages to arouse something like sympathy from Willie, who tries to give him some advice and develops something vaguely resembling Christmas sprit along the way.
Chick Corea's Elektric Band II found bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl and guitarist Frank Gambale going out on their own and being replaced by Jimmy Earl, Gary Novak and Mike Miller. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal was the only sideman from the first Elektric Band to stick with Corea. Although the new members are not as distinctive as their predecessors, the high-quality material played on this release (which includes Jimmy Heath's "CTA," "Blue Miles" and a variety of Corea originals) is very jazz-oriented and occasionally there are straightahead sections. This set is recommended even to listeners who have not yet acquired a taste for fusion.
Bruce Cockburn's self-titled debut's blend of diversity, enthusiasm, and innocence never quite resurfaced again in his work, especially in his more clinical, politically inclined tracts of later decades. The opening number, "Going to the Country," still evokes that hippie-esque, back-to-the-earth movement as well as any song ever recorded, complete with a sly wink that keeps it fresh to this day. And since this was 1970, the album also comes equipped with some of those quaint excesses of the period; try the nasal tone poem gracing "The Bicycle Trip." "Musical Friends" remains a lively, happy-go-lucky classic with piano signature lifted from Paul McCartney's playbook; it's difficult to picture the dour Cockburn of more recent years ever having this much fun. In contrast, "Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon" offers a trance-like, introspective atmosphere reminiscent of British folkie legend Nick Drake.