The (Now Traditional) James Proclaims New Year’s Eve Review Of The Year That Was

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Well here we are again.

The end of another year.

A time, if ever there was one, for reflection.

Which is something I like to do here on James Proclaims. Now, I’m aware I won’t be the only person doing this today but, lest we forget, I also did it at the end of 2015 and 2016, so I’m quite the trailblazer in many ways.

So how does one review a year like 2017? A cold hard analysis of the facts and figures? A zeitgeisty nod to some of the trends that have taken the world by storm? Perhaps nostalgic reminiscences of some of the more iconic moments?

Or should I just make a load of stuff up?

After all, if 2017 was anything, it was the year of fake news and alternative facts.

And frankly, I can’t really remember that much about what actually happened. Maybe it’s the champagne I’ve been drinking since 7am this morning…

Only joking – that’s the first alternative fact for you.

Obviously, I haven’t been drinking champagne since 7am this morning.

Champagne is way too expensive.

I’ve been drinking a reasonably-priced prosecco.

But back to the matter at hand.

Which is 2017. And more specifically what happened in it.

There was the Oscar fiasco of course. You remember, back in February. It’s pretty hard to forget a mistake of that magnitude. I refer, of course, to the moment when my mate Oscar accidently put unleaded petrol in his new diesel car. Ok, chances are that you don’t recall that particular incident. Because you’ve never met my friend Oscar. Because I just made him up. Fake News! Ha!

Of course, there has been some real news. British politics is in the worst state it’s been in since…er…2016?

On the one hand we’re got a prime minister who basically took her ‘strong and stable’ majority, a political mandate that just might have been enough to steady the ship to guide us through the choppy waters of Brexit, and decided to gamble it on the basis that no-one would ever vote for Jezza Corbyn. And she was sort of right. But not right enough to prevent her from losing her majority and having to form a government with some scary people at the cost of a billion pounds. Well played Theresa.

On the other hand, the only viable alternative to Mrs May celebrated losing like he’d just won the lottery. And went on Gogglebox. And headlined(?) Glastonbury. Which is obviously what we want and need from a prime minister.

Still things could be worse.

We could have an egotistical megalomaniac in charge. And to be fair there’s no point in trying to make humorous observations about all the stuff The Donald has been up to. That’s a man who satirizes himself whenever he opens his mouth. Or uses Social Media.

And it would be funny if it wasn’t all so terrifying.

But it does take a very special effort to make Kim Jong-Un seem like the sane one.

There’s obviously been some good news this year. Harry got engaged to Megan. I mean I hear it’s good news. I’m relatively indifferent to it, seeing as I won’t be getting an invite to the wedding. But it would take a particularly churlish person to describe the forthcoming nuptials as bad news.

Although Suits won’t be the same.

On a personal note, 2017 was very much a year for me. It began for me on the 1st January, and it’ll end today.  I was definitely awake on most, if not all, of the 365 days it took to get to this point.

I’m not sure if it’s been a particularly good year or a particularly bad one really.

All in all, it’s mostly been a bit covfefe…

Truffle Tribulations

Oh expensive box of chocolates
I don’t know what to do
You’re so very pricey
I don’t think I should eat you

I’m not sure that I’m worthy
To enjoy your fancy flavours
I’m not sophisticated
I won’t take the time to savour

The subtle combinations
Is that ginger I can taste?
I’m afraid the hint of chilli
Is something of a waste

On a pleb like me
Who just wants something sweet
To enjoy with my coffee
So any chocolate is a treat

Though you may be rather special
I’m afraid that I care not
I could save you for when guests come round
But I’ll probably scoff the lot

Christmas Comedown

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I don’t know what I’m watching
On my television
I didn’t choose the channel
That wasn’t my decision

It was already chosen
When I switched on the screen
To change it seems an effort
And for that I’ll need caffeine

Cos I’m feeling rather tender
I’m really not sure why
Perhaps I’ve overdone it
On the mulled wine and mince pies

Or is my incapacity
To move today by dint
Of eating that whole box
Of after-dinner mints

All I know is I’ve been rendered
A little bit inept
If fact I’m feeling worse
Now that I have slept

And for yesterday’s excesses
I’ll pay the price today
But I really don’t regret it
It was a great buffet

So I’ll just spend this morning
In an undignified slouch
Watching random telly
From the comfort of my couch

 

The Magic Of Twixmas

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Though Christmas is over
Remain in good cheer
For there’s plenty of food
To see us through to New Year

There are chocolates aplenty
A variety of cake
There are mince pies and stollen
(That I didn’t bake)

So much leftover turkey
Of that there’s no doubt
(But alas linger on
Some uneaten sprouts)

There are crisps and cashew nuts
And some more bombay mix
And to wash it all down
A glass of Rioja (or six)

So eat, drink and be merry
Without getting fatter
For until January
Calories do not matter

Boxing Day Bargains

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Today is Boxing Day, a day which means different things to different people.

To some it’s a day to recover from the excesses of Christmas Day, in preparation for a return to work on the 27th December.

For others it’s an opportunity to continue with the excesses because, as it turns out, they don’t actually have to go to work on the 27th.

I’m in the latter camp and fully intend to continue with the massive overconsumption of the same kinds of bad food that I imagine I consumed yesterday.

I say imagine because, as I write this, it’s still Christmas Eve. I’ve just finished writing my Christmas Day post and it’s scheduled to go live on the big day and I thought I’d push on through and write the Boxing Day post too.

Just in case I’m feeling a little too ‘tender’ on Boxing Day itself to be able to motivate myself to write anything.

As it happens I’m still watching the weird ‘celebrities-that-can’t-really-sing-perform-songs-from-West-End-musicals’ show that I was watching while I wrote the Christmas Day post. It’s still genuinely awful but also impossible to stop watching.

Once I’ve finished writing this I’m going to watch Die Hard 2: Die Harder, the sequel to the amazing Die Hard which I wrote about on Christmas Eve. Which is still today for me.

I had originally been planning to include Die Hard 2: Die Harder  in my James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films, but in the end I didn’t because:

  1. I wanted to use the original Die Hard for ‘Day 24’, and it would’ve been weird to write about the sequel before writing about the original.
  2. I managed to find 24 films without the need to use Die Hard 2: Die Harder, which means I can use it for next year’s Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films. Which is already taking shape even though it’s still the best part of a year away. That’s just how organised I am (it isn’t – I’m really quite disorganised most of the time).

But just because I’m planning on writing about it next year doesn’t mean I can’t watch it this year.

So I’m going to.

As soon as I finish writing this.

Which I will shortly.

Because really, what else is there to say?

It’s Boxing Day.

A day for pugilism and cardboard containers.

And for spending whatever of your hard-earned cash that you didn’t squander in the build-up to Christmas.

Because it’s time for the traditional January sales.

Which are as big a lie as Black Friday.

And mostly already over by the time January actually arrives.

But there may be some bargains to be had.

And how will you know if you don’t look?

Go on, go and look now.

I’d hate for you to miss out.

I’m sure I’ll look too, once I get to Boxing Day.

But right now I’m still enjoying Christmas Eve and planning to watch Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

Yippee ki-yay!

The Third Annual Christmas Message from James Proclaims

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If you’re reading this at the exact moment it was published, then you’re not watching the Queen’s speech live.

Because, as is now James Proclaims Christmas tradition, I’ve scheduled this post to appear at the exact same moment that our head of state makes her annual address to the nation.

I know HRH won’t be reading this when it hits the internet, because she does actually watch her own pre-recorded speech as it goes out. Apparently she watches it in a room on her own, while the other royal people watch it in an adjacent room. When she rejoins the others they aren’t allowed to mention the speech until she does.

Which begs the question, does she bring it up straight away or does she keep them waiting? I’d be inclined to keep them waiting personally, but maybe she’s keen to get immediate feedback.

Who knows?

Although, for the reasons stated above, Liz will definitely not be reading this when it hits the blogoshere, I expect she’ll be checking in later. I know she’s a big fan of this blog.

Well, if I’m honest I don’t know that she reads this blog, but I have an inkling that she does.

She’s certainly never denied that she reads it.

I think she probably even comments on my posts. Under a pseudonym of course. But I’m sure she does. Be honest ‘Pete’ – it’s you isn’t it?

Anyway, much as ‘Her Madge’ records her speech in advance, so too am I writing this in advance of the big day.

At the moment it’s still Christmas Eve and I’m typing this on a portable device while half-watching the telly. At the moment there’s this programme on where celebrities who aren’t singers are singing musical numbers at the London Palladium. I’m not sure why they are doing this. There’s probably a good reason. It can’t just be about their own vanity.

Interestingly the presenter of this particular show is Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff. Which makes sense because he was an excellent cricketer and it’s not a huge leap from playing professional sport to presenting a show about musicals.

Oh wait…

Anyway the reason for this strange and perplexing show is Christmas no doubt. It  must be hard being a TV executive. There’s so much pressure on them to produce interesting and exciting TV shows at this time of year. Obviously they fail miserably most of the time and produce nonsense like the ridiculousness that’s on my screen right now.

Still, it is so strange that it is vaguely compelling.

I can’t quite bring myself to change the channel.

Anyway it is Christmas and having survived the nightmare crowds in the shops of recent days and having also spent more money than I actually have on gifts that the recipients almost certainly won’t want or need, it’s time to eat too much food, drink too much alcohol and watch endless bad telly.

I might see friends and family over the next few days. That is a distinct possibility.

And I’m fine with that.

I quite like most of them.

But I think it’s important to remember the true meaning of Christmas.

Which is to do everything to excess and insist on maintaining annual  traditions no matter how inconvenient to other people they may be.

And obviously to eat too much food, drink too much alcohol and watch endless bad telly.

I can’t overstate how important that is.

If you’re reading this on Christmas Day then I hope you’re having a wonderful and magical day.

And if you’re not reading this on Christmas Day, (but presumably you are reading it on a different day) then I hope you had a wonderful and magical day.

Merry Christmas everyone!

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 24

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It’s Christmas Eve, which is the day before Christmas Day and therefore the day on which one should open the final door of a standard Advent Calendar.

And The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films is no exception to that rule, and so today we must bid adieu to my Christmas Countdown of festive films.

If you’ve missed the previous 23 posts then “welcome to the party pal”.

Also worry not.

Because today’s post features the only Christmas(ish) film that you really need to watch.

Which is 1988’s Die Hard.

Die Hard is definitely my favourite Christmas(ish) film.

Indeed it’s probably my favourite film ever that doesn’t have anything to do with George Lucas.

Die Hard begins with our hero John McClane (Bruce Willis) arriving in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and kids. As his plane lands he is given some advice by a fellow passenger with regards to his antipathy towards flying.

According to this know-it-all, the key to surviving air travel is to take off your shoes and socks upon arrival at your destination and to walk around barefoot on the carpet making ‘fists with your toes’.

I saw this film for the first time in my early teens, just months before embarking upon my first ever flight. I held onto this advice and followed it to the letter when I had completed my journey. To what end I still don’t know – it’s not an unpleasant thing to do, but I can’t see that it serves any purpose.

I occasionally still indulge in the practice. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Alas the answer is all too clear. Armed men could invade the building I am in, taking everyone else hostage and leaving me alone to combat them. With bare feet. Which would definitely put me at a disadvantage I’d say.

Of course this is exactly what happens to poor McClane, shortly after being reunited with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), at her place of work, the Nakatomi Plaza, thus highlighting the danger of accepting unsolicited advice from strangers on planes. It’s also an example of just how coherent the plot of Die Hard actually is. Seemingly throwaway moments come back to impact on the narrative all the way through the movie, be it the ‘fist with your toes’ advice ensuring McClane is vulnerable to broken glass later in the story or the seemingly irrelevant machinations of reporter Richard Thornburg (William Atherton) ultimately resulting in Holly being put in unnecessary danger and thus setting up the climax. Every moment in the film, however inconsequential, further develops the narrative in some way yet none of it feels artificial or particularly forced.

Strong though the storytelling is in Die Hard though, it is first and foremost an action film and on that score it never disappoints. It’s a rollercoaster ride from start to finish, with some superb set pieces. It’s fast-paced, dynamic and violent but nothing feels gratuitous and ultimately it all feeds into the narrative.

Willis, in his first action hero role, is superb. McClane is a man out of his depth, struggling to stay afloat against overwhelming odds but ultimately destined to succeed because of his resourcefulness, quick thinking and resolute refusal to actually die. The title of the movie is completely appropriate.

Of course he is still good in a fight, but not so good that you don’t feel he could lose at any point. One of Die Hard’s strengths is the vulnerability of its hero.

Good though Willis is however, the real standout performer is Alan Rickman. His character, Hans Gruber, is, quite possibly, the greatest screen villain of all time. He is the ultimate foil for McClane, cold, calculating and ruthless. His dispassionate execution of Holly’s boss, Takagi (James Shigeta) sets the tone and significantly elevates the implicit threat he poses to the rest of the hostages. But Gruber is a complex, nuanced character, and Rickman plays him with a wit and charm that makes us, almost, root for him. Ultimately we want McClane to prevail, but in an alternate reality, a version in which Gruber comes out on top might still be a great movie.

Although action is very much the main ingredient to the film, there are plenty of laughs to be had, The dialogue is sharp, and both Willis and Rickman have some great one liners but there are plenty of other fun, seemingly innocuous, moments dotted throughout the film, some more explicit than others. For example, during an ill-fated rescue attempt, which has some of the most dramatic scenes and stunning visual effects, scenes where we see both Gruber’s utter ruthlessness and sadistic nature and McClane’s resourcefulness and desperation to preserve life, during these tense and significant scenes we also see a member of the SWAT team accidently prick himself on a bush. It’s a throwaway moment that you could easily miss but catch it and it lightens the mood and reminds you not to take things too seriously – it is just a film after all. Moments after that we catch one of the bad guys, a man who is playing a pivotal role in the ongoing stand-off with the police, deliberate over whether or not to steal a chocolate bar from the concession stand he is using for cover. That he ultimately succumbs and we catch him munching on a Nestle Crunch in a later scene is just another reason to love this movie.

There are, to be fair, bits about Die Hard  that could be better. Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is a huge part of the story, his dialogue with McClane adds a warmth and humanity to the narrative that is often absent from action movies. However, the clichéd backstory about his own personal tragedy is unnecessary and his redemption, which ultimately involves him shooting and killing a man, albeit a very bad man, is a bit unsettling really.

It could also be argued that the authorities in general, and in particular Deputy Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason) and the FBI Agents Johnson and Johnson (Robert Davi and Grant L Bush) are just a bit too stupid to be plausible. I’d argue, however, that in a world where far too many people are promoted to their own level of incompetence, Dwayne T. Robinson is unfortunately all too credible as a character, but more to the point, the relative stupidity of the police is fine because Die Hard is a work of fiction and best enjoyed as pure escapism. Take Die Hard too seriously and there are all kinds of holes to find in the plot, but everything makes sense within the reality of the movie, and that’s all you can ever truly ask of any action flick.

There’s a nice interchange between Holly and Hans during the film’s climax. Realising that Gruber’s objective all along was to steal a fortune in bearer bonds Holly snipes “After all your posturing, all your speeches, you’re nothing but a common thief”. Gruber’s rebuttal is swift, “I’m an exceptional thief, Mrs McClane, and since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.”

And to be fair, if, in spite of everything, Die Hard is just another action movie, it is an exceptional action movie.

Score For Christmasishness

4t

I love this film so I’m inclined to be generous, but actually it really is quite Christmassy. I suppose McClane could be flying in to visit his family for any major holiday, but Christmas does seem like the most appropriate. The office gathering which permits the bad guys to seize the building relatively unchallenged makes the most sense as a Christmas party, and the festive season does explain the slow response of the emergency services to the hostage situation.

Also, unlike a lot of action movies with a festive backdrop, Die Hard  never really forgets that it’s Christmas and takes every opportunity to remind you of the fact. A good example if this is demonstrated through McClane’s macabre humour – he sends a message to Hans by dressing up a recently dispatched henchman in a Santa Hat and writing a bloody but festive message on the sweater of the deceased mercenary. “Now I have a machine gun – Ho Ho Ho” has inspired a multitude of ‘alternative’ Christmas jumpers…

There are other Christmassy moments throughout the movie, not least McClane’s creative use of Christmas gift wrap to conceal a firearm at the denouement,  but my favourite is when Gruber reassures one of his minions that his plan is going to work in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

“It’s Christmas Theo,” he grins confidently, “it’s a time for miracles.”

You probably could enjoy Die Hard at any time of year, but you shouldn’t. It’s definitely a Christmas(ish) film.

 

And that’s it for this year’s James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) movies. I’ll no doubt be writing a few festive posts over the next week of so, as I tend to do at this time of year, and then it’ll be back to normal in 2018, whatever ‘normal’ is. Although I have enjoyed doing the film reviews, so that might be something I do again in the future. I’ll definitely be doing another Christmas(ish) film themed Advent calendar next year – I’ve already identified more than enough films that I didn’t manage to get to this year, including the excellent-but-not-quite-as-good-as-the-original follow-up to Die Hard, which is also a Christmas themed festival of mindless action.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 23

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As we open door 23 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films it’s definitely time to get in the party mood and what better film to emphasise that spirit than 1985’s Brazil?

Conjuring up images of carnivals, samba and beaches, Brazil is…erm…nothing to do with any of that.

Described by star Jonathan Pryce as “half a dream and half a nightmare”, it’s definitely not about the eighth largest economy in the world.

It is, instead, a very British film, albeit a strange dystopian version of Britishness.

It is also a very ‘Terry Gilliam’ film.

It’s 1984, but with a somewhat less efficient, more bureaucratic regime than Orwell’s authoritarian ‘Ingsoc’.

It’s satirical, nonsensical and madly brilliant.

There’s a strong cast including Robert DeNiro, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Ian Richardson and Peter Vaughan. However it’s Pryce who takes the leading role and it’s hard to imagine how anyone else could. Understated, subtle and sincere in the face of the absurd, Pryce’s ‘Sam Lowry’ is an everyman who dreams of escaping a bureaucratic world that seems excessively preoccupied with ducts.

It’s not easy to summarise exactly what Brazil is ‘about’ – that DeNiro’s character is a maverick swashbuckling ‘heating engineer’ probably tells you all you need know about quite how strange a world it is that Gilliam has constructed.

Brazil is, almost certainly, not for everyone.

But if you enjoy a touch of the surreal with a satirical nod to the ridiculousness of societal bureaucracy and commercialism then it could well be for you.

Score For Christmasishness.

5t

It’s certainly not a ‘traditional’ Christmas film, but there’s no denying that the movie does take place during the festive season. There are Christmas decorations everywhere and depictions of Santa Claus are a regular occurence  – one of my favourite bits of the movie is when Father Christmas asks a little girl what she would like for Christmas and she replies “my own credit card.” It’s a throwaway moment that neatly encapsulates the satire.

Few films capture the cynical crass commercialism of the modern world quite as well as Brazil, and it’s probably no coincidence that Gilliam opted for a festive setting to drive the message home.

Definitely a Christmas(ish) film in my book.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 22

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Door 22 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films and we’re almost at the end.

By which I mean the end of the Advent Calendar, not the ‘End of Days’.

But today’s film does have an apocalyptic feel to it nonetheless.

For it is none other than Terry Gilliam’s 1995 noirish, sci-fi, time-travel flick 12 Monkeys. Starring Bruce Willis as James Cole, a convict from a post-apocalyptic future (2035) who is sent back in time (to the nineties) to gather information for humanity’s future salvation. Or is he James Cole, a man with mental health problems actually from the nineties who has, through his illness, constructed a post-apocalyptic fantasy?

There’s certainly some ambiguity at the beginning of the movie, not least because the scenes set in the nineties are played with relative sincerity, whereas the future feels a bit more…er…Gilliamesque.

Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) is the psychiatrist who tries to help Cole regain his sanity only to find herself questioning just how mad he really is.

There’s no questioning the sanity of fellow psychiatric patient Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) though. He’s properly mad. Pitt delivers a performance that is completely unhinged and rightfully earned himself a Golden Globe (and Oscar nomination) for his efforts.

12 Monkeys is an intriguing examination of the notions of reality and memory. It’s also an exploration of the concept of fate and the predetermination of events.

Although I missed most of that when the movie came out because I was a stupid teenager who required nothing more from cinema than mindless action.

And, to be fair, the film works pretty well on that level too.

Score For Christmasishness

2t

In truth, not much of the film is actually set at Christmas time, but the pivotal event that leads to humanity’s doom does take place during late December. In an early scene set in the future we see Cole in an abandoned dilapidated department store, with some sorry looking Christmas decorations that have clearly seen better days. Towards the denouement of the movie we see the same store, pre-apocalypse, and full of festive cheer.

In truth, it’s not the most Christmassy of films, but there’s enough Christmasishness towards the end of the movie, particularly when juxtaposed with the opening scenes, to make the forthcoming tragedy seem all the more poignant.