Not sure if ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘Times they are a’changin’…

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A Special Tribute To All The Non-Christmas Christmas Films…

“Zulus, sir. Thousands of them.”

“The hiiills are aliiiiive…!”

“Why’d it have to be snakes?”

“I’m Spartacus!”

“Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

“Bless your beautiful hide…”

“Use enough dynamite there, Butch?”

etc…

Yes, yes, YES! Today’s the day! Last night, trembling with excitement, I bought this year’s bumper Christmas edition of the Radio Times (the thinking man’s TV Guide) and now I’m sitting down with my highlighter ready to plan my Christmas viewing.

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‘Legendary indeed!’

Christmas television was my education; Film Appreciation 101. First, there was the swathe of TV premiers of films out only a couple of years before, with which the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 all competed for your attention, particularly if you were like my house and only had terrestrial telly. Then, of course, there was the magnificent blend of ‘80s family adventures, musicals, John Wayne westerns, Disney movies, black and white war movies and glorious Technicolor epics. If you wanted to see the classics of cinema without having to go and buy them on VHS or rent them from that surly clerk at Global Video (only kidding, Matt), you’re best chance was at Christmas.

Now, I understand that I’m not talking about a single film here, and I know that they’re not necessarily ‘Christmas’ films, but for me, leafing through this magazine and looking at the ba-jillion films showing over Christmas was the TV highlight of the year. But to do it right, it had be approached with the care, planning, diplomacy, and fighting spirit of a military campaign…

Conflict could arise at any time; conflicting times being the worst. How on earth could I watch ‘Zulu’ on BBC 2 at 12.15pm when ‘Ben Hur’ was coming on ITV at 1pm? Yes, I could tape one of them, but did I have enough space on the scrappy video cassette with my name spelt out with stick-on labels on it? I had, after all, already taped ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, so perhaps I could negotiate space on another family member’s tape? If I CAN tape one of them, I’ll record the shorter, but will the longer one be finished before ‘The Italian Job’ starts on BBC 1 at 5pm? And don’t get me started on when I’m fitting in this Christmas’s ‘Wallace and Gromit’

Such are the trials of a young boy and his TV scheduling…

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‘Ahh, Barry Norman. You magnificent cinema-wizard…’

And this Christmas shall be no different. After pouring over this year’s edition (the first I’ve looked at in around a decade or so…) I can see that little has changed. The daytime family-friendly fare like ‘Cool Runnings’, ‘Twins’, and ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ are present and correct. So too are the classic musicals like ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ and ‘Sound of Music’ and vintage adventures like ‘The Dam Busters’, ‘Spartacus’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to curl up onto the sofa with while nursing post-dinner food-babies, and of course the late night gems such as ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Birds’ and ‘Die Hard II’.

The only thing that feels a little weird is perhaps the fact that time has, of course, moved on; stuff that I never even thought would grace the pages of the RT are there. Stuff like ‘In Bruges’ and, the film that finally turned my other half vegetarian, ‘Julie and Julia’ squat on these hallowed pages like interlopers. It’s not that I don’t think these are ace films, it’s just that to me things like Digital, SkyPlus, Anytime, On Demand, Tivo and such like have made something publications like these a bit superfluous. To me it’s something very much of Christmas Past, and it never entered my head that films post-2003 would ever appear. Yep, time has DEFINITELY moved on, perhaps more quickly than I realised.

Be that as it may, I’m all set for this Christmas. Come December 22, I’m saying goodbye to such quaint ideas as ‘outside’ or ‘fresh air’; I have soaked up Barry Norman’s infinite wisdom as in days of yore,  and will settle down with a few segments of Chocolate Orange to let three-quarters of a century of the western world’s cinematic history wash over me. God bless us, everyone!

Tom

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‘And so it begins…’

It’s snow joke… (*badum-ch!*)

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I absolute love the TV show ‘Friends’. I bet that has shocked you to your core. It’s a pretty left-field thing to say, as much as saying you love The Beatles, or pizza, or breathing.

And it’s rather handy whilst writing this mini-blog that one of my all-time favourite episodes is the festive treat that is ‘The One with the Holiday Armadillo’ (Season 7, Episode 10), where Ross cannot get hold of a Santa outfit so close to Christmas to impress his young son and has to instead take the only costume left in the fancy dress store: a giant armadillo costume. Thus, the Holiday Armadillo is born.

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“I’m Santa’s Representative for All The Southern States! Aaaand…Mexicoooo!”

Anyway, at the start of that episode Phoebe introduces us to one of her peculiar holiday traditions: the Christmas skull. Something her late mother would put out every year to remind her children that “even though it’s Christmas – people still die!”

Thanks, Phoebs. Way to bring the mood down. Humbug to you too…

Well, actually, I think there’s something quite poignant, quite British almost, about a little tragedy or melancholy when talking about Christmas. Helps us not to get too emotional, “like them damned Yanks”.

And I think that’s why The Snowman is such a British institution. I must admit, I wept like a child (well, I WAS a child, so no street cred lost there) the first time I watched it – this poor young lad’s only pal is a 6-foot sculpture of snow. And it melts at the end. It MELTS! And on top of all that he’s ginger…

(By the way, can I just point out at this juncture I love both Americans and gingers. The facetious tone is purely for comedic effect. Just in case that wasn’t clear. okthanksbye.)

But despite the tragic ending, there is so much to enjoy: the glorious pencil-sketch animation (see also Colgate TV ads round about the same time – it’s a lost art…); the stunning score that compliments the soft visuals so beautifully; and, of course, THAT song. The sadness at the end is beautifully juxtaposed with the joy and merriment that precedes it, with young James being whisked away to join in a Snowpeople’s forest shindig and not only meeting Father Christmas but receiving a special present from him too.

But if you seriously can’t handle the heart-breaking finish to this British classic you can just do what I did until I could stomach it (when I was 25) – just turn it off when James goes to bed after returning home. That way it’s just a joyous family romp, it’s even shorter than it’s 26 minute run time, and you can get back to stuffing your gob with turkey and Bucks Fizz.

Job’s a good’un.

Fin

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal…

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“Credit card? You got it!” – Kevin McCallister

I can already hear the cries of the masses: “But…but…how could you pick ‘Home Alone 2: Lost In New York’ over the original!”

Well, for me, it just so happen to be one of those rare occasions when a Hollywood hit is followed up by something that is bigger and better in every way. Like “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. Or “Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit”.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s a handy list that covers just a few of the reasons why I’m right: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjkiebus/25-reasons-why-home-alone-2-is-way-better-than-t-6ygq

So there.

I was always a cautious child. My mum tells me that when I was a baby I didn’t learn to walk until quite late on – not because I couldn’t, but because I needed to be absolutely sure it was a safe and proper thing to do. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 12 for the same reason.  I would punch a kitten before I’d ever do a bungee jump. I am the complete antithesis of an adrenaline junkie. Which makes it all the more peculiar that two of the absolute favourite films from my childhood (“Jurassic Park” and “Home Alone 2”) both involved kids in potentially perilous situations. I would have been dead in 15 seconds if left in a kitchen with a velociraptor. And I would have broken down crying and wet myself if I’d ended up in New York by myself.

But, thankfully, Kevin isn’t anything like me, and he gaily trots about the Big Apple like a veteran Japanese tourist, buying fireworks, befriending millionaire toy store owners, and totting up a room service bill of $967, and I can vicariously live through him from the comfort of my own beanbag.

I think what I loved so much about this film as a child is how Kevin is portrayed as infinitely smarter than all of the adults in the film: Harry and Marv, the two hapless escaped convicts; the entire concierge of the Plaza Hotel (New York’s most exciting hotel experience!); every state policeman and detective in America; and his own staggeringly inept and forgetful parents.

It’s also fun to see Tom-and-Jerry-style slapstick violence portrayed in a live action film. There aren’t many other PG’s I can think of where the baddies get electrocuted, showered with bricks from the top of an apartment building, or hit fully in the face by a bollard. But this to me is perfectly cancelled out by the schmalzy, gooey centre at the core of the movie; that the thing you are left to take away from the movie is that no matter how much your family and relatives can annoy you, especially over the Christmas period, you just wouldn’t want to be without them.

Even if they can be a bunch of little trout sniffers…

Fin

Time to get the sh*t kicked out of us by love…

love-actually“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.” – The Prime Minister

By rights, I should hate Love Actually, and despite its Christmas setting should not have made it onto the favourite festive film list.

In fact, I swear it actively conspires against me.

  • Firstly, it’s a romantic comedy. Surely the province of the simpering and squealing women-folk who dance in their pyjamas, eat ice-cream straight from the cartons, paint their nails and talk about boys? What self-respecting man would be faintly interested in this? We’re too busy with brandy, cigars and empire-building, thankyouverymuch.
  • Secondly, it involves a horrendously convoluted series of relationships between improbably successful and good-looking people with beautiful London homes whose mortgages would be through the roof in real life, almost ALL of whom seem to find that special someone in the space of the busiest shopping weeks of Christmas. Why would I enjoy Richard Curtis rubbing my big-fat-failure of a face in it?
  • Finally, in my honest opinion, it’s wholly responsible for myriad other piss-poor efforts of romantic comedies with sprawling, big-name ensemble casts. See She’s Just Not That Into You, Valantine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, then cry over the loss of Bradley Cooper’s hard-won man-points.

Suspend the disbelief and lay the lazy gender stereotypes aside, however, and you can see that, for every negative point you may want to look for, it’s got plenty of positives; it’s pretty stylish and well assembled for a start. It gleefully pokes fun at recognisably festive shite like nativity plays, crappy office parties and the Christmas number one. It’s got some truly talented cast members like Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman (who will be making another appearance in this list later…) and Keira Knightley (not AT ALL the real reason I like this film so much), and it has possibly my favourite stream-of-consciousness swearing outburst in the first fifteen minutes ever committed to film.

Finally, of course, it is so damn Christmassy that I just can’t NOT watch it over the festive season, and I feel that this kind of plucky, British-y rom-com in the vein of Four Weddings and About a Boy seems to be in its twilight years, to be replaced by big-budget sequels and ‘quirky’ faux-indie movies, and this is one heck of a tribute. What we have is a movie that is SO well-done that you can, actually, enjoy it for the festive fluff it acknowledges itself to be.

#didyouseewhatididthere?

Tom

Yep, DEFINITELY can’t do a Jimmy Stewart impersonation…

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“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” – George Bailey

Everyone who has seen it knows that this film is pretty bleak in parts – I’ve lost count the number of times someone, and I’m including myself in this, has pointed out matter-of-factly that It’s A Wonderful Life ‘is ACTUALLY a really dark film’ as if it’s some sort of revelation – but the fact is that this story of lost opportunities, financial worry and attempted suicide is too easily written off thanks to people who think it’s cool, subversive and anti-establishment to view it in these terms alone.

And, yes, I know I’m starting off MY spiel with this same interpretation. But the point is that it’s just the nasty sellotape-encrusted wrapping that hides the triumphant message of love, friendship and togetherness that closes up my throat and brings tears of utter joy to my eyes every December since first seeing it. So much so, in fact, that one of my yearly festive rituals includes going to the Glasgow Film Theatre and watching it with a whole audience of like-minded souls.

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“I swear, Clarence! The fish was *this* big!”

Sure, the child-actors may make you cringe a wee bit, but you can’t argue that James Stewart gives a frankly magnificent performance – one which earned him an Oscar nomination alongside Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Henry V 1947 – which stretches from the knockabout comedy of Harry’s graduation party and the walk home with his future wife, to the private anguish of a man feeling he’s worth more dead than alive. This range is, I think, is what ultimately sells the story to us; you can only appreciate the glorious finale of the film after you’ve plumbed its very depths.

The point of this story is, yes, life is going to have its disappointments, but it’s the people who you share this life with and the impact you make on them that makes it all worth living. Even though I have found myself walking through the Pottersville that is Glasgow City Centre of a Saturday night, I remember that there are some truly awesome people in my life, which wouldn’t be the same without them. And isn’t that the sort of thing Christmas should be all about?

Now, excuse me while I stuff my face with chocolate and rip open the toys I’ll only play with once…

Tom

Welcome to the party, pal…

“Films have a special place in my heart, but particularly at this time of year. I wish I could recapture the excitement of getting the 2-week bumper special Radio Times for the Christmas week and Hogmanay, and going through the seemingly MILLIONS of films that were listed with a wee highlighter and picking the ones I was going to watch. So much so, in fact, that this year I’m gonna try! Digital TV has made us lazy and I want some nostalgia! I’m gonna get the crappy old Radio Times and carefully go through it like I did when I was little and pick them out…” – Tom

That was the text [yes, text – Tom’s not one for brevity when it comes to SMS] that I received at the start of December from one of my best friends and it has since blossomed into a full-blown mini blog about our favourite Christmas films.

Won’t you join us for our ’12 Films of Christmas’ as Tom and I share why these movies are as intrinsic to our festive season as tinsel, mince pies, and boozed relatives in hideous jumpers?

I should probably put a disclaimer here about our choices…

*DISCLAIMER* You won’t agree with all of our choices.

There.

These are purely the films that are most special to Tom and myself. Unfortunately, neither of us were ever emo enough to enjoy ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, and neither of us are American enough to have enjoyed ‘A Christmas Story’ or ‘The Grinch’ as children, so none of these films make the list…

Right, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Ahem…

“Now we have a blog. Ho. Ho. Ho.”

Fin