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

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It’s still 2018 as I write this. At least it is in the UK. In some other time zones it might well be 2019 by now. And indeed it will be 2019 here soon enough too. But before that happens, tradition dictates that it’s time, once again, for me to review the year that has just happened.

Although did anything of note happen in 2018? In last year’s version of this post I wrote about Brexit and Trump. And the year before that I wrote about Brexit and Trump. So I’m loathe to do that again this year, but that does leave me with not much else. Because those two horrendous realities still seem to be largely dominating the news.

Unless I’m mistaken, which is entirely possible because for me personally, 2018 was quite a momentous year.

In that I became a dad for the first time.

Which is quite a big thing.

And frankly the only thing I’m remotely capable of thinking about most of the time.

Obviously, it’s a good thing and I love Baby Proclaims more than I’m able to adequately express in words. She has literally brought joy to my life on a multitude of levels every single day since she entered in my life. I’m sure other stuff happened this year, particularly in the seven months of 2018 that preceded her arrival but I’m finding it hard to recall even the notion of an existence before my daughter.

Still, parenting does have its downsides. I wouldn’t object, for example, a night of unbroken sleep.

The chances of me maintaining consciousness until midnight in order to see the New Year in are not looking overly promising at the moment.

Not that I’m especially devoted to that notion in any case.

Mrs Proclaims and I have never been big on celebrating the New Year. A glass of sparkling wine and a nice meal is the best we normally manage, and, if Baby Proclaims allows, we might just manage that again this year, but we’ve never been likely to trouble a party with our presence, so our ‘bundle of joy’ is hardly cramping our style.

In my younger days I was more likely to be found heavily inebriated in a pub or a club, but honestly, I’m not sure starting the New Year with a massive hangover is an especially good way to go about things, but I was less enlightened in my youth. Probably because I was drunk.

I’ve just had a quick look at the blog resolutions I made on the 1st January and I seem to have achieved most of them. They were, of course, eminently achievable (apparently my ‘clever joke’ last year was to make them especially unambitious) but there was still a chance I would fail miserably. Actually, I’m not sure I did achieve the one about watching a film of Mrs Proclaim’s choice. To be fair she doesn’t really like watching films so I’m really not the worst husband ever and I am nice to her in all kinds of ways that she actually appreciates.

I did achieve the one about running a mile. Indeed, I almost made it to two miles before giving up. Don’t judge me too harshly, I did, as I’ve previously noted on this blog, run more than one marathon in my younger days, but I had more time on my hands back then. I haven’t been completely inactive during 2018, but it hasn’t been a vintage year for fitness and might be something I need to address in 2019. I don’t want to harp on about being a new parent, but I think it mitigates my relative inactivity slightly.

Anyway, the point of all this is that 2018 has now mostly happened and I can’t really remember any of it.

But it was definitely a year.

Of that there is no doubt.

The Fourth Annual Christmas Message from James Proclaims

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As it is now a firmly established tradition that I write a Christmas message on Christmas Day, I shan’t eschew that responsibility and let down the odd person who might actually care. It’s true that the person in question is exceptionally odd, but it feels wrong to disappoint them.

Normally I write this in advance of the big day and schedule it to go ‘live’ at the same time as the Queen’s Speech goes out to the nation. Which is 3pm the last time I checked.

This year I didn’t get around to writing it beforehand, because life has been a little more busy lately. Mostly because I became a parent for the first time this year.

So I didn’t get to go head-to-head with Her Madge this time. Which is probably for the best. She’s getting on a bit and she doesn’t need the added pressure of going up against me any more.

An upside of me writing this on the day itself is that I can actually tell you what kind of Christmas I’m having, as opposed to the usual speculation.

And, as it happens, I’m having a good one. As the time of writing I’m sitting next to the Christmas tree, wearing a paper crown and feeling slightly inebriated after drinking a few glasses of a sparkling wine that is Italian in origin but not prosecco. I’m ok with it not being prosecco, because I have no idea whether I like prosecco any more than I like any other kind of sparkling wine. As long as it tastes nice and leaves me feeling seasonally cheerful then I’ll gladly drink it and this stuff is certainly doing the job.

Mrs Proclaims and I have just enjoyed our festive feast. As Mrs Proclaims is a pescatarian, we don’t  have turkey. Instead I knocked up a side of salmon, which is a reasonable alternative, in that it tastes great but more pertinently, there are usually leftovers, which can be consumed later in sandwich form (this is an essential component of a Christmas dinner in my view). I presented it with all the traditional accoutrements, such as roast potatoes (which I normally do well, but I slightly overcooked them this year) parsnips (which I absolutely nailed) and sprouts (which you basically can’t get that wrong, although it could be argued that sprouts are, by their very nature, wrong). I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but it was a pretty good effort and I’m now feeling suitably stuffed. Like the turkey we didn’t have.

Baby Proclaims is enjoying her first Christmas. I mean she has no idea that it’s Christmas, but she seems to be in good spirits. To be fair she’s often in good spirits. Except, on occasion, between the hours of 1am and 3am. I find her less endearing at those times (but still pretty endearing). In Christmases past Mrs Proclaims and I would have long since opened all of the presents, but this year we’ve not managed to get to them yet. This is partly because having a four and half month old infant is quite the distraction, but also because most of the presents appear to not be for us, but for our darling offspring. They look really nice all wrapped up and Baby Proclaims appears to be in no hurry to open them so we’ve left them in their ornamental state for a little longer. In the background Chris Rea is singing about driving home for Christmas. He’s already done that a few times today. Slade, Wizzard and Wham have also popped up the playlist more than once.

I’ve no idea what the rest of the day has in store for me, but I imagine that Baby Proclaims will dominate much of it as is her way. She looks really cute in her festive outfit though so I expect I’ll be able to tolerate her. I might also have some Christmas pudding.

If you are reading this on Christmas Day, then I hope you’re having a great one. If you’re not reading it on Christmas Day, then I still hope you’re having a nice day, but I will need some pretty compelling evidence to explain why you didn’t make reading my blog the centrepiece of your Yuletide celebrations.

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

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It’s Christmas Eve once more and therefore logic would dictate that it’s time for the final entry in The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films.

A year ago we rounded off the first James Proclaims Advent Calendar Of Christmas(ish) Films with the awesome movie that is Die Hard.

It therefore only seems appropriate that this year we complete our festive film journey with the sequel to that film, the not-quite-as-awesome-but-still-really-good Die Hard 2: Die Harder.

The Die Hard franchise is one of diminishing returns as a general rule. It’s a big ask for any sequel to live up to the 1988 original, which is more or less perfect, but to be fair to 1990’s Die Hard 2 it’s probably the closest. It does at least feel like a sequel, unlike the subsequent efforts which seem more like generic action films starring Bruce Willis as ‘generic action hero’. I quite like 1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance – it’s a really good film, possibly a better film in many respects that Die Hard 2 but, although it pays lip service to the original by having Jeremy Irons playing ‘Simon Gruber’, brother to Alan Rickman’s iconic ‘Hans Gruber’ from the first film, the character that Bruce Willis is playing doesn’t really seem to be John McClane any more. At least not the John McClane we know from the first movie.

And aside from the Gruber connection, none of the supporting characters who contributed to the awesomeness of the first Die Hard turn up.

But they do in Die Hard 2.

Bonnie Bedelia’s ‘Holly McClane’, William Atherton’s ‘Richard Thornburg’ and Reginald VelJohnson’s ‘Al Powell’ are all back, and even if none are quite as central to the action as in the first film they all have their roles to play. Moreover, Willis’ ‘John McClane’ seems like he is pretty much the same character as in the first movie. Indeed his reconciliation with Holly seems to be going really well, aside from the intrusion of heavily armed bad guys. Although Die Hard 2 is set in Washington Dulles International Airport, we know that McClane has given up his life as a New York Cop and is now an LA Cop, working alongside Al. Clearly this isn’t going to last as by the time we get to Die Hard With A Vengeance he’s again separated from Holly and living in New York. Which is kind of sad, but not relevant to this film.

The return of familiar characters, alongside McClane is a nice touch. Given the location of the events the story didn’t need the other characters to turn up but they all add to the narrative and make us feel very much that this is a true Die Hard film.

Die Hard 2 does make the classic mistake that many sequels make, in trying to be bigger and bolder than the first movie, it loses its way at times. In particular a scene in which an aeroplane is brought down by the bad guys (who are way less fun than Hans Gruber) and killing 200 innocent people completely jars with the popcorn action flick that this is supposed to be. After a  tragedy of that magnitude there is no way that anything McClane does is really going to ‘save the day’ but by the end of the movie everyone seems to have forgotten about that particular mass killing and there are smiles and jokes aplenty.

If you can ignore these moments of absolute horror, (and there are other scenes that are just a brutal, albeit on a smaller scale) then Die Hard 2 is a more than a creditable sequel to the greatest action film ever made.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s the only Die Hard sequel that is set at Christmas and as with the original, Christmas is totally relevant to the plot. Indeed Die Hard 2 might even be a tad more Christmasish than the first movie because it also boasts an abundance of snow. An chaos at an airport, which is definitely a hallmark of Christmas.

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

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Director John Frankenheimer made into last’s years James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films with the, frankly, awful but surprisingly Christmas(ish) Reindeer Games. If that wasn’t representative of his best work then 1998’s action flick Ronin is certainly a better offering..

 

With a decent cast, led by Robert De Niro and Jean Reno, Ronin boasts some compelling action sequences, particularly the car chases, which are reminiscent of The French Connection. It’s not going to change anyone’s  life, but it’s a relatively entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s definitely set around the festive period and there is often a hint of Christmas in the background. It’s all totally irrelevant to the plot, but it’s definitely a Christmas(ish) film.

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

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2008’s Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a pretty decent follow up to 2004’s Hellboy. Both movies were directed by Guillermo Del Toro, who made the not unremarkable Pan’s Labyrinth in between. While that film garnered plenty of recognition and critical acclaim, neither of the Hellboy movies really troubled any major award ceremonies. But they are still great fun and in a world where seemingly every other major release is a comic book adaptation, the Hellboy films certainly hold their own.

Hellboy 2 might actually be that rarest of entities, in that it’s a sequel that is slightly better than its predecessor. The cast are all decent, but it’s Del Toro’s trademark visual effects that really impress.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s quite a promising  beginning, as we see a young Hellboy being told a fairy tale on Christmas Eve. We never return to Christmas after that, but as most of the action in the movie centres around characters from that very fairy tale, it’s still all sort of Christmas(ish).

 

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

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For a movie that is based on the premise of middle aged men abusing their status and power to conduct extramarital affairs with their younger female employees, 1960’s The Apartment is a surprisingly life-affirming and uplifting film. This is in no small part due to the endearing performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, and the inimitable writing and directing of Billy Wilder.

That the plot device that underpins the  central romance of the story is predicated on an attempted suicide  renders the film no less charming. It’s a movie of contradictions that probably shouldn’t work, but is somehow utterly brilliant and holds up incredibly well today.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Much of the action occurs over the Christmas period, quite a significant portion of it on Christmas Day itself and the movie concludes on New Year’s Eve. Plus there is a big sequence set at the office Christmas party. It may be more cynical than your average festive fare, but it’s no less Christmas(ish) for that.

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

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2011’s cinematic adaptation of John Le Carré’s 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not the easiest of movies to follow. It might have helped if I had read the book, which I haven’t. I have read other stuff by Le Carré so I imagine I would like the novel, but I generally feel that any adaptation should be able to stand on its own merits and shouldn’t require any advance reading. In the case of this movie that rings doubly true because it is a sort of ‘whodunnit’ (as a Cold War era  British Intelligence seeks to uncover a Soviet mole) and obviously if you know who in fact ‘dunnit’ before you start watching, you are going to lose some of the essence of the film.

However, I don’t wish to be too harsh on the movie version, because it certainly wasn’t impossible to follow, it just isn’t ideal viewing for anyone who struggles to focus for long periods of time. And I’m definitely one of those people.

To be fair, even if you haven’t got a clue what’s going on, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is still eminently watchable. Boasting an formidable cast, led by a superbly understated performance by Gary Oldman as George Smiley, it is strangely gripping for a film in which, arguably, not much actually happens.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s not at all a Christmas movie, although there is a wintery feel throughout. However there are repeated flashbacks to the British Intelligence Christmas party, which looks like a riotous affair, and which includes a moment where a soviet Santa Claus leads the assembled guests in a rendition of the anthem of the USSR. Which is presumably ironic although the gusto with which it is sung suggests that George Smiley might need to be on the lookout for more than just the one mole.

 

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

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David Cronenberg’s  Eastern Promises is not the cheeriest of films. Indeed it’s all pretty dark and unpleasant really, dealing with matters such as sex-trafficking, rape and murder. Centered around the Russian Mob in London, it is visceral, brutal and definitely not easy viewing. It is, nonetheless, utterly compelling and not overly long – if you can stomach the violence (much of which is implicit rather than explicit although there are a few stomach-churning scenes) for the 101 minutes it runs for, then it is well worth a watch.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It is actually set at Christmas, which is certainly enough to qualify for this list. There is little in the way of festive cheer for the most part but there is at least one Christmas party where people seem to be having a good time. Certainly not the least Christmas(ish) movie to make the cut this year.

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

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In last’ year’s James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films writer/director Shane Black was responsible for no less than 6 of the films included. Some of them were more Christmas(ish) than others, but they all deserved their place. If you missed last year’s compendium of Christmas(ish) classics and need a reminder of the man’s legendary contribution to Christmas(ish) cinema then the magnificent 6 were the following:

Door 1 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Door 2 – Iron Man 3

Door 3 – Lethal Weapon

Door 8 – The Long Kiss Goodnight

Door 9 – The Last Boy Scout

Door 11 – The Nice Guys

 

If that wasn’t enough, although he actually had nothing else to do with the movie, he was the person who came up with the title for Die Hard, which, as we all know, is the greatest Christmas(ish) movie of all time.

So Black has more than made a sufficient contribution to the world of Christmas(ish) films and I thought it highly unlikely there’d be any films of his on this year’s list. But there is (at least) one that I managed to leave out last year.

So I’ve included it this year.

Unfortunately it’s nowhere near as good as any of those films listed above.

Seriously, it’s not even as good as The Last Boy Scout.

The movie I speak of is, of course, 1993’s Last Action Hero.

On paper this should be a good movie. Not only was it co-written by Black, it was directed by John McTiernan, the director of the aforementioned Die Hard.

It also stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man who may not be troubling the Academy Awards any time soon but who knows his way around an action film and who was very much at the peak of his powers at the time this movie was made.

So Last Action Hero should be a fair bit better than it actually is.

The trouble is, it isn’t really clear what kind of film it’s meant to be. Originally conceived as an affectionate tongue-in-cheek parody of action movie clichés, the actual clichés it mocks are less recognisable than the clichés it uses unironically at other points in the running time. It’s basically a mess from start to finish.

That said, it is still quite entertaining in a ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ kind of way.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s not a Christmas film at all, and none of the events in the movie are set at Christmas time, except for the opening scenes, which are set in a ‘movie within a movie’ and no doubt attempting to parody the fact that a lot action movies (not least those written by Black and directed by McTiernan) end up being set at Christmas. As satire it fails miserably, but there’s just enough Christmasishness in these scenes to suit my purposes, so Last Action Hero makes the cut.

 

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

James Proclaims (6)

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I first saw The Royal Tenenbaums when it hit cinema screens in 2001.

And I hated it.

I rarely leave the multiplex angry at a film, but The Royal Tenenbaums disappointed me on visceral level.

Which was grossly unfair of me, because The Royal Tenenbaums is generally considered a pretty good film. And I can now objectively see that it is. Indeed I actually quite enjoyed it the last time I watched it. Which was very recently in preparation for writing this post.

But back in 2001 I was perhaps a tad less discerning in my cinematic tastes. I generally liked movies with lots of action and explosions, or films that made me laugh. Like Zoolander. That made me laugh. And it had Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in it. As does The Royal Tenenbaums. So I went in to the screening expecting something a bit like Zoolander. But The Royal Tenenbaums is not like Zoolander. And it did not make me laugh.

It still doesn’t.

Not out loud anyway.

But these days I can appreciate that a film might not have me snorting uncontrollably  in my oversized popcorn but can still be funny.

And The Royal Tenenbaums is funny. And poignant. And clever. And whimsical. And thought-provoking. And entirely worthy of all the acclaim it has received over the years.

It also has an amazing cast. There are too many stellar names to list although the stand-out performer is probably Gene Hackman, who followed up the atrocious Behind Enemy Lines with this, and more than redeemed his performance in that monstrosity.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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I’m glad I revisited this movie, because my younger self woefully misjudged it. But I did only watch it because, in my research for Christmas(ish) films, which largely consists of looking at internet lists, similar to this, written by other people with more talent than me – this one appeared quite often. But there is very little about it that screams Christmas. It is quite wintery throughout, but the only scene which indicates that it might be Christmas is when Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman) and his estranged daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) meet in an ice cream parlour. There is Christmas music playing in the background and if you squint you can make out some tinsel hanging on the walls.

And that’s it.

It’s hard to work out the exact time span of the movie, but, assuming that the aforementioned scene is indicative of it being Christmas time, it is reasonable to extrapolate that a large proportion of the other events in the movie also take place at Christmas.

But it’s never really obvious that it’s Christmas during the timeline of the movie.

If indeed it ever is.