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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Image result for hans gruber meets john mcclane

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.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 21

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Door 21 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films and conspiracy theories abound as Will Smith unexpectedly finds himself to be an Enemy Of The State.

Cos it turns out that, apparently, the National Security Agency don’t like not getting their own way, and will happily murder people who don’t agree with them.

Which is a worrying thing if you live in the US, I’d imagine.

Although this was back in 1999. I’m sure they’ve cleaned up their act by now. And there’s not really any need for conspiracy theories these days if you’re American. You know your government’s out to get you. They’re pretty open about it.

But back in 1999, you didn’t expect government agencies to be going around killing their own people.

And if they were going to do that, you’d hope they’d make the effort to ensure that no ornithologists were filming them by accident.

Fortunately for the plot, in 1999 technology was not quite as advanced as it is today. So when the unfortunate bird watcher, Daniel Zavitz (Jason Lee) finds the footage he’s mistakenly filmed, he’s forced to copy it onto a disk, which takes a long time, instead of just uploading it to social media where it can be shared instantly with millions of people, exposing the bad guys and probably not resulting in Gary Busey’s son trying to kill him.

Instead, he’s forced to hide the disk in a portable gaming device (remember those? Before phones did everything?) and hide it in his old college friend’s bag when he runs into him in a lingerie shop.

Thus is it that Robert Clayton Dean (Smith) finds his world is turned upside down and he is forced to go on the run.

From his own government.

Who prove surprisingly inept at tracking him down.

Enemy Of The State is utter nonsense of course, but it’s thoroughly engaging nonsense.

Smith plays the same character he plays in most of his films. I’m not complaining, he plays it very well. Gene Hackman appears about halfway through the action and the film is decidedly better for his arrival. Jon Voight is the bad guy and his understated performance adds an air of credibility to the madness.

Enemy Of The State is very much of its genre. If you like a fast-paced action film which doesn’t expect too much of its audience then it delivers pretty much exactly that. Tony Scott is the director and this is pretty typical of his oeuvre.

It doesn’t offer anything hugely original but it’s no less enjoyable for that.

Score For Christmasishness

3t

Like many of the films I’ve included in this month of movie merriment, it’s set around Christmas time.

Indeed it’s when Robert is Christmas shopping for his wife that he happens upon the lingerie store and inadvertently gets caught up in the action.

But, although there are decorations in the background for most of the film and we hear the odd snippet of Christmas carol singing in the distance, I’m not sure the Christmas setting adds much to the plot.

Nonetheless Christmas is there for all to see. Even the bad guy has decorations up in his office.

It’s a stretch to call this a Christmas movie, but it is definitely a bit Christmassy at times.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 20

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We’re finally into the twenties of December and Christmas is starting to feel very imminent indeed.

Today is the last day I’ll do any work for the remainder of 2017.

To be honest, I deserve a rest. It’s been a tough few months all told.

Maybe I’ll treat myself to a mini-break.

I’ve heard good things about this place called Hope. Apparently it’s dubbed as ‘The Gateway to Holidayland’ which sounds like just the ticket. It’s just a quiet little town, some might say it’s boring but that’s way the locals like it.

Although the locals aren’t so keen on vagrants, even if those vagrants are decorated war heroes.

At least, that’s certainly the experience that poor John Rambo had, back in 1982. It’s all documented in the movie First Blood, the cinematic debut of Sylvester Stallone’s ‘other’ iconic role. First Blood is easily the best of the Rambo films.

That is partly because the others are all quite bad (although generally bad in an ‘I still quite like them’ kind of way).

But First Blood really is pretty good. It’s not just a mindless action film with lots of death and destruction. In fact, unless I’m very much mistaken, only one character actually dies, and that death is fairly important in the progression of the plot.

FIrst Blood deals with prejudice, trauma, loss, identity and bullying and, to some extent, could be regarded as a thought-provoking and challenging movie

But, although it isn’t just a mindless action film, it absolutely can be enjoyed as a mindless action film.

Mindless action is, ultimately, where the movie excels. Much of the story is preposterous, but Stallone convinces as a haunted and broken man who doesn’t want to hurt people, but is really good at hurting people who repeatedly insist on trying to shoot him.

First Blood is definitely worth a watch, even if you choose to ignore the subsequent Rambo movies.

Score For Christmasishness

2t

This is another one where the Christmasishness could pass you by if you weren’t paying attention. It doesn’t really feel like it’s a Christmas movie, but there’s no denying that there are Christmas decorations in the background of most of the indoor scenes.

They add very little to the viewing experience and it might as well not be Christmas as far as the narrative is concerned.

But it is nice to catch sight of a Christmas tree every now and then.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 19

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Rocky-IV-6

 

It’s day 19 of the James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films. Days 17 and 18 featured Eyes Wide Shut and Prometheus and both of those films required us to use our intellects.

So today I think we could all do with a rest.

We could do without the burden of thinking.

It would be nice if we could switch our brains off completely.

And what better film to help us to do that than 1985’s Rocky IV?

Because they don’t come much dumber than the fourth installment of the Rocky franchise.

Lest we forget, the original 1976 Rocky film was a properly good film. It won actual Oscars and everything.

And if the next two sequels weren’t quite as good, they were still definitely not bad.

But Rocky IV is not a good film.

Well not objectively anyway.

But if you happened to be a kid in the 80s and Rocky IV happened to be the movie that introduced you to the franchise, you might feel differently.

And I happened to be such a kid.

So I quite like Rocky IV but purely for reasons of nostalgia.

Maybe it’s something about Dolph Lundgren.

After all I’m reasonably fond of 1987’s Masters Of The Universe which is essentially a bad adaptation of what was already quite a bad cartoon that was only really created to sell lots of action figures. I had quite a lot of those action figures and I loved the original He-Man cartoon, and I remember being massively disappointed by the film when it first came out because it was, quite literally, nothing like the cartoon. In any way shape or form. But over the years I’ve found I’ve come to love the Masters Of The Universe film quite a lot.

Even though it is obviously an awful film.

And the same is definitely true of Rocky IV.

In fact I think Rocky IV does genuinely fall into the category of ‘so bad it’s good.’

The plot is so ridiculous that you have to give up picking holes in it fairly early on.

That’s when the movie can even be bothered to have a plot. There is a five minute segment in the middle of the film which is, essentially, a music video showing random clips from the previous Rocky films, mixed in with earlier scenes from the actual  film you’re watching. Scenes that you’ve literally only just seen.

Given that, by the time the credits roll, the film comes in at around 82 minutes, that is quite a percentage of the movie to give up to such a montage.

And that’s probably one of the best bits of the whole film.

But the writing’s on the wall much earlier. Basically it all falls apart when the robot enters the picture. And I am talking an actual robot here – that wasn’t a metaphor for Dolph Lundgren’s acting.

Why is there a robot in Rocky IV?

I’m not actually sure.

But there is.

The film follows the usual underdog premise that worked so well in the first three films.

Except, of course, Rocky was actually an underdog in the first two installments. And despite being World Heavyweight Champion by the third film, his subsequent underdog status is explained quite well. Basically he gets complacent, gets beaten by Mr T, and then stops being complacent and beats Mr T.

But there’s no good reason for him to be considered an underdog in this film.

Sure, Lundgren’s ‘Ivan Drago’ is clearly a big fella and he does destroy Rocky’s nemesis-turned-friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in a fight that results in Creed’s untimely death. But it is clearly explained that Creed hasn’t boxed professionally for five years and also didn’t really train properly for the fight.

Rocky is the reigning heavyweight champion of the world and trains like a beast for the fight. So he’s obviously got to be considered the favourite.

And without wishing to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, he does win.

And makes huge strides towards ending the Cold War in the process.

Well done Rocky.

But Drago was the underdog.

Score For Christmasishness

2t

 

I had completely forgotten that Rocky IV was set at Christmas. But it is.

The final fight takes place on Christmas Day, for some ill-explained reason.

That said it really isn’t all that Christmassy a film. There is a lot of snow during the obligatory training montage, but he is in Russia, where I understand it snows a fair bit.

We do catch a glimpse of a Christmas tree when Rocky is taping up his hands prior to the final fight.

And from then on the only Christmas references are when we have shots of Rocky’s really annoying son watching the fight on TV at home, with his even more annoying robot, who by this stage in the film is dressed as Santa Claus (I kid you not!).

I have no idea why there was any need for there to be any link at all to Christmas, but then I don’t understand much at all about some of the choices that were made in the creation of this film.

It’s hardly a Christmas classic, and truthfully it’s best avoided at all times of year.

Unless, like me, you fell victim to its dubious charms a long time ago.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 18

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It’s the 18th December!

Only a week to go until the big day!

It’s also time for door 18 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and today we’re going all sci-fi with Ridley Scott’s Alien ‘sort-of prequel’ Prometheus.

It’s an Alien film without any ‘Aliens’ in it. I mean there are aliens, but not ‘the Aliens’. There are different aliens though. Some are a bit like the eponymous creature from the 1979 original, others are different.

Sort of like people.

But grey and bigger.

They are called ‘Engineers’.

Which isn’t that scary a name.

And they aren’t as scary as the original ‘Aliens’.

But I would want to meet one.

Prometheus doesn’t quite manage to capture the claustrophobic tension of 1979’s Alien, and it definitely doesn’t give us the adrenaline fuelled roller-coaster ride of 1986’s Aliens.

It’s a more ponderous, slow-moving affair.

It does have its moments though – most of the characters meet their doom in some fairly unpleasant ways, and there is plenty of action in the final act.

But Prometheus has higher ambitions, dealing with questions of creation, existence, and faith. It’s all very intellectual stuff.

Which isn’t to say that Prometheus isn’t entertaining.

I mean it probably didn’t hold my attention for every second of it’s 124 minute running time, but it’s far from a boring film.

Visually it’s stunning and the performances from a strong cast including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Guy Pearce are all more than adequate. It’s Michael Fassbender who stands out from the crowd though, in his role as the android ‘David’.

I haven’t yet seen 2017’s Alien Covenent. I expect I will soon. As things stand though, Prometheus is definitely my third favourite film of the Alien franchise.

Score For Christmas(ish)ness

1t

We’re informed by a  sort of computer display thingy that the date is December 21st 2093 as we join the crew of The Prometheus waking up from a 2 year slumber. Captain Janek (Elba) puts up a small Christmas Tree.

Later Holloway (Marshall-Green) utters the line “It’s Christmas captain, and I want to open my presents”. He’s being metaphorical rather than literal but it still counts.

And that’s it for Christmas content.

It’s not much – hardly worth setting the film at Christmas at all really.

They could at least have had an Alien wearing a Santa Hat.

 

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 17

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Image result for eyes wide shut

Day 17 of the month that is commonly known as December and we’re onto the 17th movie in The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films. So far in this compendium of Christmas cinema we really haven’t had to engage our brains an awful lot.

But that isn’t going to work today.

Today we’re going to need to pay a bit more attention.

We’re going to need to keep our eyes wide open.

Because behind door 17 is Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut.

Starring then real life husband and wife, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as fictional husband and wife Bill and Alice Harford, Eyes Wide Shut is oft described as an ‘erotic thriller’.

I think that’s a fair description although it’s also an oversimplification. I wasn’t even aware there was such a genre a ‘erotic thriller’ until I started writing this. But apparently there is and it includes such films as Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. And really Eyes Wide Shut is not much like either of those films.

Also it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that Cruise and Kidman share equal billing. I’m certain it was a handy marketing tool, given their real life marital status, but Cruise is on screen for a much larger percentage of the movie than Kidman.

Which isn’t to say that Kidman isn’t an essential part of the narrative, because she is pivotal to both the set-up and conclusion of the story. It’s just she doesn’t really have that much to do in the middle.

It’s a fairly bonkers plot. I suppose I should offer a ‘spoilers’ warning here, but frankly, the film came out in 1999 so you’ve had ample opportunity to watch it. In any case, I’m not sure the plot has much bearing on the viewing experience so I doubt I’m spoiling much.

From what I can tell, ‘the Harfords’ are too good-looking  for their own good. After attending a Christmas Party at which they both attract the amorous attentions of others, they get a bit jealous of each other. When Alice confesses that she has fantasised about being unfaithful, Bill seems to set out on a revenge mission to actually be unfaithful, which seems like quite an extreme response. But, despite a number of women quite literally throwing themselves at him, he manages to not succeed. Then he gatecrashes a weird ‘sex party’, gets found out and suddenly his life is in danger.

Or possibly not.

It’s hard to tell really.

None of it makes a lot of sense. The characters all seem to be fairly detestable. The action is slow moving and at two and half hours the film is overly long.

If someone were to describe this film to me I’d assume that I wouldn’t enjoy it.

But I did.

Quite a lot actually.

And I’m not really sure why.

I find that happens a lot with Kubrick films.

Score For Christmasishness

4t

The film is set at Christmas and there are festive decorations in most scenes. It really does look Christmassy.

I’m not sure there’s much in the story that merits it being set at Christmas, but when there are that many Christmas trees on screen, it would seem churlish to give anything other than a high score for Christmasishness.

 

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 16

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Door 16 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films brings us a movie that is, in many ways, a certified comedy classic. It’s also something of a conundrum.

1983’s Trading Places has, in Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, two of eighties cinema’s finest comedic talents at the top of their game.  On paper, there’s nothing not to love about it.

Except,of course, that there is plenty not to love…

Because, although the film is definitely holding up a mirror to racism, snobbery and the sense of entitlement of the privileged few, there are many moments when it perpetuates racial stereotypes in spite of its obvious good intentions.

And quite why there is so much gratuitous female nudity is anyone’s guess – none of it feels particularly pertinent to the plot (obviously teenage me would have disagreed profoundly with current me on that point…)

And for a film that is trying so hard to point out racial ignorance, it absolutely beggars belief that, towards the denouement of the movie, Dan Aykroyd ‘blacks up’. I have no idea how this was viewed in 1983, but in 2017 it’s pretty shocking to see.

Trading Places is a lot bleaker in tone than it first appears. It initially seems like it’s going to be a fairly light-hearted affair, yet one of the main characters attempts suicide. Twice.

And there’s the bit, around the same time as Aykroyd’s misjudged Jamaican caricature, that we see a man (a chameo by James Belushi, otherwise known as ‘the lesser Belushi’) dressed as a gorilla in a fancy dress party and a real gorilla (at least ‘real’ within the context of the plot, although it’s clearly also a man in a gorilla suit, albeit a gorilla suit that is marginally superior to the ‘fancy dress’ gorilla suit). And you kind of know where it’s going. There a real gorilla and a man dressed like a gorilla. Classic movie mistaken identity is going to happen, resulting in much hilarity.

Except it doesn’t really pan out that way. Instead, one of the principal bad guys is forced into Belushi’s gorilla costume and locked in the cage with the ‘real’ (and strangely amorous) gorilla and, well, things take a very dark turn. I mean he is definitely a bad guy, but still, his punishment does seem disproportionately horrific. And there’s no real resolution for that character. As far as we can tell, he is doomed to spend the rest of his days receiving the unwanted sexual advances of a primate.

And there’s no escaping the fact that Jamie-Leigh Curtis’ ‘Ophelia’ is a two dimensional cliched character. Curtis does an amazingly good job in fairness to her, but, as the only female character of note in the entire film, she could’ve been given a bit more to work with.

In spite of all it’s failings (and not all of them can be blamed on the fact it was made in 1983) Trading Places is a hugely entertaining film. When it gets things right, as, to be fair, it does for much of the running time, it is truly hilarious.

It’s just that when it gets it wrong it can leave you feeling more than a little uncomfortable.

I do really like Trading Places but I’m not always sure that I should like it.

Score For Christmasishness

4t

The narrative of the film seems to run from just before Thanksgiving, to New Year’s Day, definitely covering the Christmas period. There are clear visible signs throughout the movie that it is Christmas time. Towards the end of the ‘second act’ Dan Aykroyd is dressed as down-at-heel Santa Claus (who rather implausibly seems to have gatecrashed a party full of executives without anyone noticing).

It’s not a true Christmas film, it would work perfectly well as a story if set at another time of year, but Christmas time does seem like a reasonable backdrop for this particular narrative and the film is probably stronger for the festive theme.

I could understand why someone might include this amongst their festive favourites.

 

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 15

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Image result for in bruges

It’s time for door 15 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) FIlms and what better place to start the weekend than In Bruges?

After all “it’s a fairytale town isn’t it?”

Hitmen Ray and Ken (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson respectively) find themselves hiding out there at the behest of  mob boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) after a job goes horribly and tragically wrong.

And the two couldn’t be more polarized in their views of the Belgian town.

While Ken is content to sightsee and soak in the history and culture, Ray is perplexed by the notion of “going round in a boat looking at things” and thinks that “history is all just a load of stuff that’s already happened,” and therefore not worth his time. Indeed Ray would rather be anywhere but In Bruges.

The film is darkly comic in tone and the characters, while all fundamentally flawed (and racist and homophobic and generally offensive in all kinds of ways) are amazingly still sympathetic. Farrell and Gleeson work well together on screen, and though partners in crime on paper, Ken is very much the patient paternal figure, with Ray fulfilling the role of petulant teenage son.

The dynamic between the two central characters during the first quarter of the film, is for me, the most entertaining aspect of the whole movie, albeit, it’s probably when the least ‘stuff’ happens. As more characters are introduced and the narrative develops, the film remains engaging, but never quite lives up to its earliest scenes.

At its most basic interpretation, In Bruges is an absorbing comic crime caper but on a more profound level, it raises plenty of questions about morality and mortality. I’m not sure it particularly answers any of those questions but, equally, I’m not sure that’s the point.

What can’t be denied is that Bruges itself looks like a lovely place to visit.

Although I’m not sure Ray is ever fully convinced of that fact.

Score for Christmasishness

3t

It’s definitely set at Christmas time and Bruges is certainly a fitting backdrop for a Christmas-themed movie.

That said, there’s nothing particularly Christmas(ish) about the plot in reality, but the Christmas setting does add a level of poignancy to the whole story which, or reflection, seems wholly appropriate.

So it’s reasonably Christmas(ish).

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 14

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Image result for the bourne identity red mini

By the time 2002’s Die Another Day hit our screens, signalling the decline of a certain British spy with the initials JB (or at least Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of him), we had already been introduced to an American undercover agent with the same initials and the heralding of a new kind of action film

The operative in question was called Bourne.

Jason Bourne.

Although he was also known as John Michael Kane.

And in fact, as we would discover in a later movie, his real name was David Webb.

But we knew him as Jason Bourne.

Although, for a while in the inaugural film, he didn’t know any of his names.

Because he had amnesia.

Which was quite an important plot point.

There’s no doubting the impact that the Bourne franchise had on the genre.

By the time the next Bond film rolled around, Brosnan was gone to be replaced by Daniel Craig, and gone too were the inanities of invisible cars, ethnicity-altering surgery and bad guys called Mr Kill. Instead 2006’s Casino Royale is a stripped back affair with a harder, colder Bond and a greater focus on the plot making actual sense. It’s arguably the best of all the Bond films (though I still prefer On Her Majesty’s Secret Service despite all its plot holes and George Lazenbyness) and owes much to the Bourne series.

There are now five Bourne films in existence (if we count 2012’s The Bourne Legacy and ignore the 1988 made-for-TV version of The Bourne Identity and we probably should do both of those things). 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum is often viewed as the ‘pick’ of the bunch and it rightfully has its plaudits.

Overall though, I still have a preference for the film that kicked the whole franchise off, 2002’s The Bourne Identity. It may be because the bulk of that film is set in Paris and I found myself living in that fair city shortly after the film’s release.

But I think it’s more because, however great some of the sequels are, it’s Identity which introduces us to the world of the absent-minded assassin and sets the tone for the later movies.

Also, whereas the others tend to invite a time-hungry binge of Bourne (I often find that when I watch one I suddenly need to watch the rest immediately) Identity is its own self-contained story. I certainly had no objections when Supremacy came out in 2004, but had there never been another Bourne film made, Identity would still be a complete narrative in and of itself. We didn’t need a sequel, however much we might have wanted one, (although the studio, in clear contradiction of Mick Jagger’s wisdom, did give us what we wanted over what we needed).

In any case it is The Bourne Identity which is hiding in plain site behind door number 14 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of CHristmas(ish) Films.

Matt Damon absolutely owns the role of Bourne, but there are topnotch performances all around, particularly from Chris Cooper as the troubled Alexander Conklin. Franka Portente is also excellent as Bourne’s fellow fugitive and subsequent love interest.

So good is The Bourne Identity that it inspired me to read the original Robert Ludlum books.

They mostly have very little in common with the movies but they pass the time if you have nothing better to do.

But the films are much better.

And The Bourne Identity, in particular, is always worth a watch.

Score For Christmasishness

2t

I must have seen The Bourne Identity countless times. But it wasn’t until I started my Christmas(ish) films Advent calendar that it occurred to me that one might consider it a Christmas Film.

Because it isn’t really a Christmas Film.

But it does appear to be set around Christmas time judging by the festive decorations on display throughout the movie.

Like many other aspects of the movie, the Christmas theme is understated.

Which makes it a very ‘Bourne’ Christmas when you think about it.

So while it’s not the most Christmas(ish) of all the movies to feature in The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) films, it’s certainly not the least..

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 13

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Welcome back to The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) films. Today we must tread with caution as creeping out from behind door 13 are several seemingly cute and harmless furry creatures. But feed them after midnight they become a lot less cute.

They become Gremlins.

Gremlins is a veritable 80s classic. I loved it as a child, although I also found it terrifying. It’s quite scary if you’re a kid. It’s less scary if you’re an adult, although I still wouldn’t want to meet an actual gremlin.

It’s also a lot of fun – it’s definitely a comedy, albeit often in the darkest of ways. Mean as the Gremlins themselves are, there are plenty of human driven moments of darkness, from the Scrooge/Mr Potter inspired Mrs Deagle to the vicar who quite happily sells out his neighbour to a Gremlin-infested mailbox.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates capably manage the juxtaposition between comedy and horror, but the real stars of the show are the Gremlins themselves. Even the eighties special effects don’t diminish the ‘fear-factor’ they bring to the screen but some of the films biggest laugh-out loud moments are also Gremlin -inspired.

Thirty-three and a half years after its release, Gremlins still feels fresh and different to anything else out there.

Every time I watch it, I find new things to love about it.

Score For Christmasishness

5t

Gremlins doesn’t really need to be set at Christmas and it was originally released in June so the intent was perhaps not for it to be considered a Christmas movie.

But it really is. The action takes place on Christmas Eve so there’s no escaping the festive feel of the film, but more than that, there are clear references to Christmas classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life, with that film’s ‘Bedford Falls’ a clear inspiration for Gremlins’  ‘Kingston Falls’. Main character Billy even works in a bank that is not dissimilar to ‘Baily Building  and Loans’.

Later in the film Kate’s tragic tale of her father’s demise is a tragic tale of Christmas calamity.

In many ways Gremlins is a ‘send-up’ of more familiar festive fare, but seasonal satire or not, the film still feels very Christmas(ish) indeed.

Although the Gremlin carol singers that appear in one particularly memorable scene don’t seem quite as full of good cheer as one might hope….

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 12

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on her

 

12 days into December and as luck would have it, we happen upon door 12 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films. And it’s about time that a namesake of mine turned up

His name’s Bond.

James Bond.

There have been 24 official Bond films made (and a few unofficial ones too), and, as far as I’m aware, only one has any element of Christmas in it (if we ignore the insanely named Dr Christmas Jones from  1999s The World Is Not Enough). I’m happy to stand corrected – there are enough Bond films to merit an Advent Calendar of their very own and even though I’ve seen them all, I’m not about to re-watch them all again just to establish their respective Christmasishness.

But I know, from memory, that one of them is fairly Christmassy.

And that one is 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Everyone has their own favourite Bond. Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig all have their advocates.

Few, however, would champion the cause of George Lazenby.

And for very good reason.

He is, easily, the weakest of all the Bonds.

There are many moments in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Lazenby’s performance is shaky and uncertain. The rest of his performance is much worse than that.

As the first person to take the role on the big screen other than Connery, Lazenby had big shoes to fill and, metaphorically speaking, tiny feet.

Somehow though, the worst of all the Bonds is in arguably the best of all the Bond films.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is absolutely brilliant in spite of its leading man.

There are plenty of ridiculous infuriating moments that threaten to derail the whole thing. There’s the weird ‘reveal’ of the new Bond in the opening sequence, during which Lazenby breaks the fourth wall, after his car is stolen, and whines that “this never happened to the other fella’.

There’s also the ridiculous dubbing of another actor’s voice over Lazenby when Bond  goes undercover, because apparently Lazenby couldn’t ‘do a different voice’.

The story too, is reasonably hard to follow and really, if properly scrutinised, doesn’t make all that much sense.

But Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat make for compelling bad guys as Ernst Stavros Blofeld and Irma Bunt respectively.

And to be fair to Lazenby, he does the action sequences pretty well.

The score too, is exceptional. Of course there is the usual Bond theme music and that is all well and good, but significant elements of the film are underpinned by Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time In The World. It doesn’t sound like it should be on a Bond soundtrack, but it works for this film.

The thing that makes this the most compelling of the Bond films though, is strangely enough the least ‘Bondish’ element.

Which is the love story.

And more pertinently, who he falls in love with.

Diana Rigg’s ‘Tracy di Vincenzo’ is quite probably the best ‘Bond girl’ ever, precisely because she is nothing like the archetypal Bond girl. She is a fully formed character, with a melancholic air underpinning her performance. That Bond would ever fall in love might normally stretch credibility, that he would fall in love with Tracy seems beyond any doubt from the moment we meet her.

Rigg is not actually on screen for a large percentage of the film but she personifies everything that is good about it and elevates it far above being ‘just another Bond film’.

If you’ve seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’ll know the ending is bleak, much darker than is usual for the franchise.

Still, it is in the final scene that Lazenby earns forgiveness for all that has gone before in terms of his own performance. I defy anyone to watch him deliver his closing lines without welling up at least a bit.

Score for Christmasishness

3t

The first hints of Christmas occur around 45 mins into the film when Bond arrives in the snow-covered alps. Snow, in itself, is not a sufficient determiner of Christmasishness, or clearly many more Bond films would join the list, but Christmasishness is confirmed about an hour in, when Bond, in the guise of ‘Sir Hilary Bray’ while residing in Blofeld’s ‘allergy clinic’ is invited to spend Christmas there. We see our first Christmas decoration at 1 hour 15 and when Bond’s secret identity is uncovered by Blofeld  a few moments later, we see a  large Christmas tree. Christmas presents even form an integral part of Blofeld’s masterplan (a masterplan as preposterous as the best of the Bond franchise).

We hear Christmas music in the background as two henchmen are sent tumbling over a cliff to their brutal and untimely (but still very festive) deaths.

There’s a very much a Christmas carnival air about the alpine town that Bond hides out in on escaping Blofeld’s clutches – indeed it’s rather reminiscent of a those German Christmas markets that pop in all the major towns and cities at this time of year.

In all just under half the events of the film appear to be set at Christmas time and much of the major action takes place against a snow covered backdrop. Definitely a Christmas(ish) film in my book.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 11

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Image result for the nice guys

It’s day 11 of the James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films and it’s time to be done, once and for all, with Shane Black.

Don’t get me wrong, the man is pretty much peerless when it comes to making films that are are ‘not-really-Christmas-films-but-a-bit-Christmassy-nonetheless’.

But if he’s going to include a Christmas element in all of his films then the novelty is going wear off eventually.

To be fair, not every film he’s ever had a writing or directing credit for has featured in this advent calendar of Christmasishness but he has managed to get six (including today’s effort) on the list, which is a whopping 25% of the total.

Which is a lot.

Nonetheless, it has to be acknowledged that, with the possible exception of The Last Boy Scout (which might be an awful film but one I’m still relatively fond of) they have all been pretty good.

And today’s entry into the festive filmography is also a goodun’

For it is 2016’s The Nice Guys.

Starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, it is familiar Shane Black territory, insofar as an unlikely duo team up to solve crime and take on the bad guys. In this case it’s muscle-for-hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) and alcoholic PI Holland March (Gosling). Throw in March’s teenage daughter, Holly (who sounds like she should be an irritating character but is surprisingly not) and you have an improbable team of sleuths working to solve a conspiracy, which, boringly, seems to be related to the automobile industry. The ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of the subterfuge are really not important though, it’s the set pieces that make the film, and it’s full of action and comedy in equal measure.

You won’t find too much originality here, but the cast all put in strong performances, and the 1977 setting works well to set the movie apart from similar fare.

Ultimately it’s a familiar ride, but no less fun for that fact.

Score For Christmasishness

1t

Although Shane Black enjoys a Christmas setting, this is one of his least Christmassy efforts. Basically, it isn’t a Christmas film, but in the final scene, once all the action has taken place, all the loose ends are finally tied up and we’re fundamentally just ‘saying goodbye’ to the characters, our heroes meet up in a bar, and it’s clear from the decorations all around them, that it is, at this point in their timeline, nearly Christmas.

Which is a fact that adds nothing to the film whatsoever.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 10

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Image result for the ice harvest

Day 10 of the James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films brings us The Ice Harvest.

Starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton and Connie Nielsen, and directed by Harold Ramis, it’s a Christmas-themed comic crime caper, with twists and turns galore.

Or so it first appears.

On paper it looks like it could be an absolute riot.

And it’s not bad.

But it’s not as good as it probably should be.

Harold Ramis was an actual Ghostbuster, lest we forget, and also the man who brought us Groundhog Day. The Ice Harvest  doesn’t quite meet the expectations you might have based on that pedigree.

The twists seem largely predictable. The jokes don’t always land as well as they should, and while the performances of the cast are all fine, no-one shines. Thornton is probably the standout performer – the understated menace  of his character ‘Vic’ is something of a precursor to his later work as ‘Lorne Malvo’ in season 1 of the outstanding Fargo, but, even for a film as short as this, he is probably underused.

The Ice Harvest is an easy film to like but a little harder to love.

I’d probably watch it again though.

Score For Christmasishness

4t

The action is entirely set on Christmas Eve and, at the start of the film it’s  Christmasishness is very much in the foreground. Festive music, a man dressed as Santa and Christmas trees are all present.

As are Christmas presents.

There are numerous scenes throughout the movie that remind us of the season and, if not central to the plot, Christmas certainly doesn’t feel irrelevant to the larger story.

You probably could set this movie at a different time of year, but actually, it’s likely to be the Christmas theme which serves as the basis for repeat viewings, and it’s that which might elevate what initially seems like a  forgettable film into something a touch more memorable.

 

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The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 9

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Image result for the last boy scout

Here we are at door 9 of the James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films, and it’s about time Bruce Willis popped up.

Yes it’s no other than the most Christmas(ish) of all the action films….

The Last Boy Scout

Sorry, were you expecting something else?

Is there a more Christmas(ish) Bruce Willis flick than The Last Boy Scout?

Well, possibly. And maybe that one (and perhaps its sequel) could yet appear in this unrivalled compendium of merry movies.

But The Last Boy Scout is a great film in its own right.

Well it’s a good film.

Goodish anyway.

Ok it’s really quite bad.

But it was written by Shane Black who, lest we forget, is responsible for whole heap of actually quite good Christmas(ish) films previously featured in this feature.

So we can forgive him one bad one.

Especially as, if rumours are to be believed, his original script was supposedly quite good and was subsequently ruined by numerous studio-enforced rewrites.

If I’m honest, I do still quite enjoy The Last Boy Scout.

None of it makes even the tiniest bit of sense. The dialogue is clearly meant to be full of witty sarcasm but is instead often stilted and generally out of context with the narrative. Quite a lot of people die for what seems like no good reason.

A central plot point is the potential legalisation of ‘sports gambling’.

Which is not the most exciting premise for a film.

It’s certainly not a great reason to go around shooting people.

Is ‘sports gambling’ even illegal?

If so, then my annual punt on The Grand National is now starting to worry me.

Nonetheless, the film moves along quite quickly, and if you’ve had a bit too much ‘festive cheer’, the incoherent plot probably won’t bother you too much. It might even make more sense if you watch it when a little inebriated.

Score for Christmasishness

1t

There’s a reference to the fact that the holiday season is imminent when Willis’ character, Joe Hallenbeck, comes across a drawing his daughter has recently produced of a demonic figure wearing a Santa Claus costume and holding a decapitated head. The title of the drawing is ‘Satan Claus’.

And that’s it.

Other than a callback to Satan Claus at the end of the film, there are literally no other references to Christmas.

This film has no business being in a list of Christmas films.

Yet, a cursory internet search reveals that it often is in such lists.  Probably because of the Shane Black connection.

But really, there is no good reason to watch this film at Christmas.

Then again, there is no good reason to watch this film at all.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 8

James Proclaims (6)the-long-kiss-goodnight-original-1200x675

 

Hello and welcome to day 8 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) films.

And door 8 invites us to cast our memories back to 1996, to a film in which Geena Davies has lost her memories – for our film today is none other than The Long Kiss Goodnight.

And wouldn’t you know it, it’s another Christmas(ish) action flick written by Shane Black.

Six years before amnesiac spies were all the rage thanks to Jason Bourne (I know that technically 2002’s The Bourne Identity was based on a 1980 novel of the same name and that there was also a 1988 film adaptation of the same novel but no-one much cared about Jason Bourne before the Matt Damon movie), Samantha Caine AKA Charly Baltimore was already running around not remembering stuff and being really good at fighting people. Davies convinces as both the perplexed school teacher with no memory, who can’t understand why people keep trying to kill her (or indeed how she manages to keep kicking their asses) and equally as the cold-blooded assassin she becomes once her memory is restored. They are such divergent identities that at times it’s hard enough to believe that they are the same character, let alone that they are being played by the same actor. That she then manages to find a convincing ‘happy medium’ between the two personalities at the film’s conclusion is all the more impressive.

Helping her out in her adventures, Samual L. Jackson has tremendous fun as the sharply dressed, morally-flawed-but-well-intentioned private detective who ends up very much out of his depth for most of the action.

It’s ludicrous stuff but lots of fun. A particular highlight is the world weary agent/mentor played by the ever-brilliant Brian Cox. He doesn’t have much to do, but manages to cram a lot of memorable one-liners in his brief time on screen, all delivered with an acerbic, sardonic wit.

If over-the-top action and border-line pantomime villains is your thing then you could definitely do much worse that The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s nonsense but it’s thoroughly entertaining nonsense.

Score For Christmasishness

4t

There are Christmas credentials aplenty in this film. No less than two Christmas Parades occur, one towards the beginning, and one during the action-packed denouement.

There is plenty of snow, and there’s even a reindeer, albeit the reindeer is mortally wounded in a road traffic accident, an accident that also sees the demise of the Santa Claus from the opening Christmas Parade scene. True, he’s not in his outfit when the accident occurs, and he is very much inebriated, but he is still the only version of Father Christmas to feature in the film.

The Christmas theme is helped further by the fact that the climax of the film is on Christmas Eve, so the objective of ‘saving the world’ (or in this case the lives of four thousand innocent people) runs in parallel with the notion of ‘saving Christmas’. That our heroine creatively uses Christmas lights to finally topple the bad guy is worthy of extra points.

Really the film could work just as well if set at any time of the year, but it does make the most of the Christmasishness available to it, which means, for the sake of this series, it scores highly.

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 7

James Proclaims (6)

LA Confidential - 9

 

Behind door 7 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films we find the neo-noir crime masterpiece that is LA Confidential.

Released in 1997, it’s hard to believe this movie is twenty years old. There’s a genuinely timeless air about it, perhaps partially because of the 1950s setting, but more so because of a smart script, strong performances from an ensemble cast including Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito and James Cromwell, and a pacing that is fast enough to keep you engaged but never so fast that the dense plot becomes overwhelming.

The twists, when they come, are genuinely surprising, but the plot doesn’t overly rely on them and the film bears up to multiple repeat viewings.

Of the three leads, Kevin Spacey is given top billing, but, although his performance is excellent, we can (thankfully given recent events) skip past him because the (then relatively unknown) Australian duo of Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce (the latter, at the time, better known to most people as Mike from the almost inexplicably popular soap opera Neighbours – a tag he has thankfully managed to convincingly shake off since) are the stand-out performers.

LA Confidential blew me away in 1997 and to this day remains one of my favourite film of any genre..

Score for Christmasishness

1t

It may surprise people to see LA Confidential in a list of CHristmas films, indeed I’d forgotten that there was anything Christmasish about it, but in preparation for this ‘Advent Calendar’ I did a bit of research into ‘films that are surprisingly Christmassy’. LA Confidential was on more than one list. It shouldn’t have been. It’s isn’t really all that Christmassy. The preliminary events of the film are set at Christmas, culminating in a pivotal scene of police brutality, which is subsequently dubbed ‘Bloody Christmas’. Then Christmas doesn’t feature again.

At all.

So it’s not a Christmas film, but it is still a really good film and probably a better use of your time than watching Reindeer Games if truth be told.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 6

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for batman returns

The other day I was strolling past a nice(ish) hotel and I saw Father Christmas. He seemed to be promoting some kind of Christmas event that was being hosted within the establishment.

He was not alone in doing so, for he was accompanied by a woman that I supposed to be his good lady wife (Mother Christmas?).

Flanking the festive pair were two other personages. One I recognised as being Iron Man.

The other was Batman.

It was not a quartet one generally expects to see on a cold morning early in December.

I mean, Father and Mother Christmas I was absolutely fine with – the event they were promoting was all to do with the forthcoming yuletide celebrations and I suppose when we’re within the jurisdiction of the Advent calendar then all such events are fair enough.

But why promote a Christmas party with Marvel and DC’s respective ‘crime-fighting-billionaire-geniuses-with-no-real-superpowers-but-lots-of-cool-technology’? Were Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne bank-rolling the event?

The excited faces of the small children who seemed to be the target market of the event suggested perhaps not. Perhaps in this day and age Father Christmas alone is not enough of an attraction for the kids. Maybe an Iron Man/Batman combo is what’s necessary to get the youngsters through the doors.

Although, if that is the case, then really they needed to invest in better quality costumes. Certainly the superhero outfits were somewhat inferior to the garments worn by ‘The Christmases’.

While Father Christmas looked like he might actually be the real Father Christmas, and Mother Christmas was certainly convincing enough as a woman that might be married to him (although Mother Christmas is a figure cruelly overlooked in popular culture so I’ve no idea whether her costume was ‘authentic’ or not), Iron Man wasn’t fooling anyone. For starters his costume was, very clearly, made of some kind of cloth rather than…well…metal.

Batman looked a little better, but the giveaway were the white trainers he was wearing.

And the fact that I felt, on balance, in the unlikely event that Batman and Father Christmas came to blows, my money would’ve been firmly on Pere Noel. And there’s no way the real Batman would lose in a fight to Santa Claus.

Still, when I really thought about it, what better two superheroes to represent Christmas than Iron Man and Batman. After all we’ve already established Iron Man’s Christmas(ish) credentials in Iron Man 3.

And Batman too, has had his own Christmas(ish) outing.

In Batman Returns.

Which is set at Christmas.

And very much the film that represents door 6 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

Much like James Bond, everyone has their own favourite Batman. Ben Affleck made a surprisingly good one in 2016’s surprisingly awful Batman Vs Superman. Most people agree that Christian Bale was pretty awesome in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Other Batmen are available but my own favourite is Michael Keaton, who donned the cowl in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). Arguably Burton and Keaton’s first Batman collaboration is the stronger film, but Batman Returns is a more than commendable follow-up.

I was probably a little on the young side when the first film came out, though I’ve grown to love it over the years, but Batman Returns landed just as I was becoming a hormonal teenager, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s ‘Catwoman’ left more than a lasting impression.

It is, in true Tim Burton style, an overstated affair. Danny Devito relishes his role as The Penguin and Christopher Walken seems to be in his element as the villainous Max Shreck (and credit must also go to the actor who plays Max’s son Chip Shreck for making the most of his very few lines by doing a laudable impersonation of Walken – presumably to establish the biological link…)

Although this is a sequel, it works entirely well as a standalone film and while it is not the best of all the Batman films out there, it is very far away from being the worst.

 

Score for Christmasishness

3t

There’s snow, there’s a big Christmas Tree and scenes of seasonal shopping abound. The score, while not exactly what you’d call ‘Christmas Music’, certainly has a fairytale quality about it that feels quite festive in it’s own way.

There are certain plot points that hang a little on the Christmas setting, particularly the horrifying demise of unfortunate Ice Princess.

That said, it wouldn’t take a significant rewrite for the whole film to be set at a different time of year and still work pretty well.

On the whole, then, it’s not really a Christmas film but the yuletide links are not entirely tenuous. It’s probably more Christmasish than Iron Man 3 on balance.

So , at least that’s one cinematic triumph that DC has over Marvel…

 

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 5

James Proclaims (6)

ghostbusters-2-cast-weaver

 

It’s day 5 of December, so it’s no coincidence that we’re opening door 5 of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) films.

And out of the  shadows comes the ‘spooktacular’ Ghostbusters 2.

Which is the sequel to the original 1984 Ghostbusters and not the 2016 reboot.

Ghostbusters (1984 version) is one of my favourite films ever. I actually quite enjoyed the 2016 effort, but you can’t help but compare it to the source material and in that light it can’t quite stand up.

But the same could be said of 1989’s Ghostbusters 2. It isn’t quite as good as its predecessor. But it seems unreasonable to expect it to be.

It is, nonetheless, still very very good.

Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts are all back and all have their moments to shine. It’s Bill Murray who steals the show though. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bad Bill Murray performance but he is on fine form here. Ghostbusters 2 might be a good film without Murray, but from the moment he appears on screen, the film is elevated to something a bit special (albeit still not quite as special as the first film).

Score For Christmasishness

2t

The culmination of the film is New Year, and there are numerous indications that we begin the narrative prior to Christmas. So the movie almost certainly covers the whole of the Christmas period, yet, aside from the occasional festive reference in the dialogue, and the odd decoration in the background, you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of it. We manage to pass the big day itself without any acknowledgement.

So it really isn’t very Christmasish at all.

But it’s still a great film.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 4

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for reindeer games film

So far, the Christmas(ish) movies featured have been very much of the action genre. They’ve also been largely attributable to writer/director Shane Black. He’ll be back a couple more times before this journey is over, but door 4’s Christmas(ish) film is not one of his.

It is violent though.

Really violent.

For it is none other than Reindeer Games, directed by the award-winning John Frankenheimer. Although it’s fair to say he didn’t win any awards for this monstrosity of a movie.

It’s got a pretty stellar cast – Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron in the lead roles, supported by Gary Sinise and Dennis Farina. Oh and Danny Trejo is there too, (which I suppose is the first clue that there is going to be a fair amount of bloodshed…)

So, is it any good?

Well no, it really isn’t.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. But I didn’t really need to pay that much attention to be able to follow the plot (indeed I managed to mark and grade about thirty test papers while watching this). It does try to be clever but most of the twists, if not entirely predictable, are not really all that surprising either. And when they are surprising it’s mainly because they make absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you overthink the plot it will leave you genuinely angry at how illogical it all is. On the other hand, if you’re prepared to switch your brain off at the start, and you’re in the mood for a mindless action flick, then I’ve seen worse.

 

Score for Christmasishness

4t

For a film of such carnage, it does tick a lot of the requisite Christmas(ish) boxes. I mean the word ‘Reindeer’ is in the title (although apparently the film was renamed ‘Deception’ on its original UK release, which is awful. Fortunately, the version I saw had the proper title, with the reindeer fully restored to its rightful place). There’s lots of snow and the opening scene has multiple Santa Clauses. Admittedly they all seem to have been violently murdered but, as massacres go, it is pretty festive. Christmas songs abound throughout the movie and, after most of the characters have been brutally dispatched, the end is (rather contrary to the rest of the film) somewhat joyful and very Christmassy indeed.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 3

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for lethal weaonpan

Another day, another Christmas(ish) film.

But just what is behind door number 3?

Goodness me, it’s Lethal Weapon.

Which is, surprisingly enough, another Shane Black film. Although he’s not the director this time, but he did write the script.

Richard Donner was the man in the director’s chair (he also directed Superman the Movie and The Goonies, so is second only to George Lucas in the cinematic narrative of my childhood).

I’ve loved this film since I was a teenager so it’s pretty hard to be impartial.

I think I probably taped it off the telly but it was always one of my ‘go-to’ movies in the halcyon days when I actually had time to sprawl on the sofa and devote hours at a time to watching stuff and ignoring my homework.

Still, it holds up pretty well today, albeit the eighties soundtrack and Mel Gibson’s mullet do date it a little. It’s fun, fast-paced and comes in at under two hours, which is all I really ever require from a film.

Score for Christmasishness

3t

Like the previous two entries, Christmas is not the central theme to this movie, but it does manage to neatly weave Christmas into the plot at times – the drugs bust and subsequent shoot-out at a Christmas tree dealer is a nice touch, as is the ‘Dear Bad Guys’ note that is left on a Christmas tree for Garey Busey’s ‘Mr Joshua’ prior to the finale.

The movie gets  a bonus Christmas Tree for the carol-singing cops.

Plus the film opens and closes with Christmas music so I’m not sure what else you can ask for from a Christmas movie.

Except maybe a bit less violence and death.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 2

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for ironman 3

It’s time for Door 2 of ‘The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’.

Today we find Iron Man 3.

Which, like yesterday’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is another Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. collaboration.

And it’s the first (and, to date, only?) movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be set during the festive period.

It’s not my favourite of the MCU films, but it’s by no means bad. At two hours ten minutes, it feels a little long but it’s pretty diverting for the most part. Ben Kingley’s ‘Mandarin’ is a particular highlight, with an enjoyable twist regarding his character, towards the end of the film, which may not be entirely faithful to the comics but works well within the context of the movie.

Score for Christmasishness:

3t

 

There are plenty of references to Christmas, and lots of decorations in many of the scenes. There’s a snow scene. Jingle Bells is playing as Tony Stark tests his latest Iron Man suit at the beginning of the film. In truth though, Christmas is rarely relevant to the plot and I’m certain I’d enjoy watching this film just as much in July.

The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 1

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for kiss kiss bang bang

It’s the first day of December and coincidentally it’s also the first day of ‘The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’

And what do we have lurking behind door 1?

Why it’s only Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Which is one of a number of Christmas(ish) films attributable to writer/director Shane Black, a man who thinks that Christmas and violence go together like icing and marzipan.

And who are we to argue? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang certainly has much to enjoy. It’s a fast-paced, action-packed romp with film noir undertones, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Robert Downey Jr., Michelle Monaghan and Val Kilmer spark off each other well, with the latter delivering some of the movie’s most quotable lines. It’s not the most original of plots, but the film has no pretensions of originality. Indeed much of the ‘fourth wall’ breaking (attributable predominantly to Downey Jr.’s Harry) alludes to the many tropes within the film and makes them ‘sort of’ OK in the process.

All in all it’s an agreeable way to pass 103 minutes. It is, sometimes, a little too ‘meta’ for it’s own good, but it’s also funny, expeditious and never boring. You can probably work out ‘whodunit’ in the first five minutes but that isn’t to the detriment of the entertainment value of the film.

Score for Christmasishness:

3t

 

I mean it’s set at Christmas. There are, I think, sleigh bells to be heard as the music plays to the opening credits, but it’s hardly a central theme. There are a few references to the festive period at the beginning. Downey-Jr.’s ‘Harry’ is involved in a heist-that-goes-wrong, where he appears to be attempting to steal a Christmas gift for his nephew. There’s also a fairly witty monologue from Monaghan‘s ‘Harmony’ about how she feels that Rudolph is a victim of ‘reindeer racism’. Then the festive theme largely disappears, aside from decorations in the background and a weird, ‘not-very-Christmassy’ Christmas party in the middle of the film.