The (Fairly Predictable) James Proclaims New Year’s Eve Review Of The Year That Was And Indeed The Decade That Was

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As this is very much the last day of 2019 it behoves me to write about the year that has just happened. But because 2019 ends in a ‘9’ it behoves me to write about the last decade too. There is always some debate that the new decade doesn’t start until the beginning of a year that ends in a ‘1’, but, even though the argument for that is underpinned by sound logic and fact, the reality is that we all consider the year ending in ‘0’ as the start of the new decade (or century or indeed millenium as appropriate). So to all intents and purposes, today is the end of the decade that may or may not have been known at the teens.

But since becoming a dad approximately 17 months ago, I can’t even remember what happened yesterday let alone recall anything of significance that happened in the last ten years.

It is, of course, customary for such a ‘review’ to focus on the wider world, but I’m not going to do that for two reasons:

  1. Other people will do a much better job of that than I could ever possibly hope to achieve.
  2.  It all seems to have gone downhill since 2010 and that decline seems to have accelerated since 2016.

So for those reasons, and also because I’m a bit narcissistic, this post will be all about me.

This is definitely the first decade in which I’ve been a proper ‘grown-up’ for its entirety . I was technically an adult for all of the noughties but, whereas I haven’t really been drunk on any New Years Eve throughout this decade, I saw in the year 2000 absolutely hammered and wandering the streets of Cardiff with nowhere to sleep until the first trains started running the following morning. And that was not unusual behaviour for the ensuing decade.

So I have made some personal progress.

Beyond no longer drinking irresponsibly (or at least not as often) there have been some other developments for me in the last ten years.

I started 2010 as an unmarried childless man. I was engaged to be married to the woman I am now married to, and we were living together, but we didn’t get married until August of 2010.

My daughter didn’t arrive for another eight years, but as eight years is less than a decade it is entirely accurate to say that the ‘teens’ (which I’m definitely calling them even if no-one else does) is when I became both a husband and father.

It’s also, just about, the decade that I went from being a directionless waste of space, career-wise, to having a definite career and indeed career-path. Admittedly it’s a career-path I don’t especially want to be on, but, having experienced the ‘wilderness years’ which largely describes the preceding decade, the wrong career-path is possibly better than no career-path at all.

It has allowed me to get a mortgage if nothing else. For indeed the decade to which we’re about to bid adieu is the decade in which I became a homeowner for the first time. Again, it’s not necessarily a home worth owning, but having been mistreated more than once by the rental market, I’m happier owning my ramshackle terraced house with all it’s dysfunctional plumbing than paying double my mortgage in rent for a tiny flat owned by a shady landlord.

As for 2019, it’s not been a vintage year really. I spent most of the first four months trying to complete my MA at the expense of pretty much everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for academic deadlines.

I succeeded in my academic endeavours, but have spent the remaining eight months trying to get back into shape after making some questionable decisions regarding diet and exercise during that feverish period of study. Since April I have been largely exercising at pretty much the expense of everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for a brutal and unforgiving fitness regime.

Nothing much else of a personal nature happened in 2019, beyond my daughter’s continued development which I notionally contribute to but to a much lesser extent than Mrs Proclaims and indeed the child herself whose desire to conquer each developmental milestone appears to be voracious. She had pretty much nailed walking by eleven months old and then subsequently attempted to destroy every possession of ours that wasn’t nailed down.

Talking seems to be her project du jour and she’s making excellent progress. She’s always been a chatterbox, but these days some of what she says actually makes sense. I expect she’ll have her own blog soon. And it’ll be much better than this one.

Speaking of this blog, it was halfway through the last decade that ‘James Proclaims’ became a thing. May 10th, 2015 to be precise. And 2019 appears to be the year I almost killed it off by barely posting anything.

But I appear to have rallied at the end of 2019 and December has actually been quite a productive month blog-wise.

It’s not all been good, but it has been something.

Which is often better than nothing.

And in 2020 I expect I’ll write more posts that are of questionable quality and worth.

But I can’t commit to that today.

Because that would be a resolution.

And we all know that resolutions come on the 1st of January.

So tune in tomorrow to see if ‘blogging more often in 2020’ makes the cut for my 2020 resolutions.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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And so The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films comes to an end.

But what film could be lurking behind door 24?

Why it’s only the utterly brilliant 2019 superhero movie Shazam!.

When it comes to superheroes on the silver screen, there’s no denying that Marvel/Disney have had considerably more success in recent years than DC/Warner Bros and certainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far more coherent than the DC Extended Universe. That said, inconsistent though DC./ Warner Bros have been, on the few occasions that they get it right, they really get it right.

And with  Shazam! they got it spectacularly right.

Lighter in tone and eminently more fun than most superhero offerings these days, it still packs enough of a punch to keep action fans interested.

Given that the eponymous hero is a teenage boy who transforms into a an adult (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do a remarkable job of convincing us that they are the same person) comparisons with 1988’s Big are inevitable, and it’s nice to see a little homage to one of the more memorable scenes from that film in this one.

Shazam! is immensely entertaining from start to finish and easily one of the best offerings within the DC Extended Universe alongside 2017’s Wonder Woman.

Score for Christmasishness

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In spite of its release in April of this year, Shazam! is about as Christmas(ish) as they come. Tinsel and baubles abound and there are multiple scenes with a cowardly (and foulmouthed) Santa. The final showdown between good and evil takes place in a Christmas fair and there is snow aplenty throughout the movie. Even the prologue at the beginning is set during Christmas 1974.  This is a movie that is virtually guaranteed repeat viewings every December.

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

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Time for door 23 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films, which, thankfully means we’re almost done with my delusions of film connoisseurship for another year.

Probably.

I have been known to throw in the odd film review that has nothing to do with Christmas in the past.

But it’s hardly a regular occurrence so once tomorrow’s entry is done and dusted I’ll be back to writing about …erm… whatever it is I normally write about.

Which is mostly nothing.

Or, as has been the case of much of 2019, I might not write anything at all. Which is the same as writing about nothing but with less words.

Back to today though and the penultimate entry in this years pointless cinematic Christmas countdown is 2005’s Crash.

Which is undisputedly a good film.

It won an Oscar for Best Picture for goodness sake.

And it has a fantastic ensemble cast.

Although, and maybe it’s just me, but it does seem a little bit trite at times. And heavy-handed with it’s core message.

Maybe it was more ground-breaking in 2005 than it seems to be in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth a watch. There are some genuinely great performances and some truly affecting moments.

I just don’t think it’s as good as it thinks it is.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Crash definitely appears to be set around Christmas. But I’m not at all sure why. It doesn’t need to be. It seemingly adds nothing at all to the movie and aside from when there are obvious decorations in the background, you could easily forget the time of year. But there are enough trees, lights and baubles to make it undeniably a bit Christmas(ish).

 

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

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2015’s Run All Night is the third (of four to date) collaborations between director Jaume Collet-Serra and senescent superman Liam Neeson.

Like all their other collaborations (Unknown, Non-Stop and The Commuter)  it’s a pretty ‘by the numbers’ action flic.

This is fine if you like that kind of thing.

Which I do.

Unfortunately, at times, Run All Night seems to think it’s a better film than it is and  it probably takes itself a bit too seriously at times. It could definitely do with an injection of humour.

But it’s a perfectly serviceable if somewhat derivative thriller.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Despite the absence of anything remotely resembling joy, there’s no denying that this film is quite Christmas(ish). There are Christmas lights and trees aplenty in the background. Also Neeson dresses up a Santa at one point. Admittedly a creepy and intoxicated Santa, but Santa nonetheless.

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

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diner

Barry Levinson’s 1982 directorial debut, Diner  is an eminently watchable film.

Although nothing much really happens.

Set in 1959, it’s a sort-of coming-of-age story about a group of twenty-something guys who spend quite a lot of their time in a diner.

Notionally focussing on the build-up to the imminent wedding of one of their number, it touches on themes such as gambling, alcoholism, infidelity and unrequited love. But it doesn’t really focus on any of them for very long and there isn’t really a great deal of jeopardy for the characters.

It’s enjoyable enough though and boasts a pretty decent cast, including Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg and a show-stealing performance from Mickey Rourke.

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s overtly, explicitly and visibly set over the Christmas period, opening on Christmas night and concluding on New Year’s Eve. The festive setting adds very little to the narrative, but it’s so obvious in most of the scenes that it would be churlish to describe this movie as anything other than Christmas(ish)

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

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Door 20 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 1985’s Better Off Dead.

Which is quite a strange film.

At first I thought it was an 80s teen comedy in the mould of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Which would be no bad thing because that is a great movie.

But, although there are many elements of that genre present and correct, Better Off Dead is quite different.

Which, as it turns out, is no bad thing either.

A movie in which the lead character periodically tries to commit suicide possibly doesn’t sound like much fun, but it is a pretty funny film albeit the humour is on the dark side. It’s also surprisingly surreal and often subversive.

I’m not sure it’s fully stood the test of time, and at times it is a little too weird for its own good, but there is plenty to enjoy in the 97 minutes running time.

Score for Christmasishness

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Quite a lot of the movie is set around the festive period and visibly so. It does feature one of the strangest on-screen Christmases of possibly all time, but there’s no denying that for much of the running time ’tis very much the season.

 

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

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1998’s Soldier seems like exactly the kind of film I would have been watching in the late 90’s. It’s as generic a sci-fi action flic as you could hope to find and it was made at a time when I was watching little else.

Somehow, however, it passed me by.

Which was no great loss really.

Because it’s quite bad in most respects.

But I’ll always find it hard to hate a late 90s action movie and I did quite enjoy this.

And it does have a surprisingly good cast, including a pumped up Kurt Russell as the eponymous hero, and Jason Isaacs as the main bad guy.

It was written by the same screenwriter who wrote  Blade Runner and is notionally set in the same ‘universe’.

Although to compare  Soldier to  Blade Runner is a bit embarrassing really.

Score for Christmasishness

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For a mindless action movie set in space, with pretty much non-stop violence throughout, this is surprisingly Christmas(ish). There is a lively Christmas party about 40 minutes in, complete with a guy dressed as Santa, and then when the bloodshed really kicks in, there are visible Christmas decorations in most of the scenes. But a lot of people still die in a variety of gratuitously violent ways…

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

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It’s December 18th, which means we’re now only a week from the big day. Probably time to start wrapping the presents. Be careful with those scissors though.

Particularly if your name’s Edward

And the scissors are your hands.

Yes, behind door 18 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films is none other than Edward Scissorhands.

Tim Burton’s 1990 gothic fairy-tale is as mad as it is brilliant. It manages to be poignant, tragic and funny, often simultaneously. Johnny Depp delivers an astonishing performance as the eponymous hero, all while seemingly saying and doing very little.

I liked this movie when I was a kid but I like it even more now. Indeed, it seems to get better with every viewing.

Admittedly if you’re of a cynical disposition you could argue that a number of plot points don’t stand up to scrutiny, but this is one movie where it’s better to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the weird and wonderful world that Burton creates.

Score for Christmasishness

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Although only the last twenty minutes are specifically set at Christmas, the fairy-tale aspect of the film does augment the overall Christmasishness of the movie. Plus Edward is directly responsible for there being snow in the town. And snow always helps. So all in all it is pretty Christmas(ish) but it’s a very ‘Tim Burton’ sort of Christmas. Which isn’t necessarily the happiest of Christmases. 

 

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

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boat that rocked

If  yesterday’s entry, Love Actually found me conflicted over my feelings about Richard Curtis as a filmmaker, then his directorial follow-up The Boat That Rocked did little to help resolve those conflicts.

The Boat That Rocked is a ‘sort-of’ love letter to the pirate radio stations of the 1960s. I wasn’t alive then, so have no recollection of the time when popular music was not allowed to be played on the BBC, and teenagers had to get their fix by tuning in to illegal radio transmissions by the likes of Radio Caroline, which was, quite literally, broadcast from a boat.

Presumably a boat that rocked.

My mum remembers it. But she listened to Radio Luxembourg. Which kind of did the same thing. But wasn’t on a boat so much as in a country.

Presumably a country that rocked.

And was called Luxembourg.

The radio station in The Boat That Rocked  is not Radio Caroline. It’s a fictional radio station called Radio Rock. But it is, one imagines,  essentially supposed to be Radio Caroline.

The Boat That Rocked (apparently known by the much less satisfying title of Pirate Radio outside of the UK) is quite typical of Curtis’ ouevre insofar as privileged bumbling British people make up, if not all, then certainly the majority of the characters. Also, while it’s generally conventional for a Richard Curtis film to have one character who is a bit more stupid than everyone else, that character in this film is just a bit too stupid.

It’s ultimately a ‘not-great’ film with some ‘still-pretty-great’ bits. The cast, as with Love Actually, is nothing short of stellar. And they’re all fine.

But some of them are phoning it in a bit.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Not really a Christmas movie, but the big day does feature (and there is a juxtaposition of the Christmas dinners of the ‘groovy people’ on the boat and the ‘straights’ who are trying to shut them down). Also the denoument of the narrative appears to be around New Year.

So sort of Christmas(ish).

But not very.

 

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

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love actually

Richard Curtis is a man who divides opinions. Specifically he divides my opinions. In some respects the man achieved a God-like status in my esteem in my formative years, because he was one of the people responsible for bringing the world  Blackadder. No-one linked with that peerless television programme could ever do any wrong in my eyes. Except that some of them obviously have.

It’s not anyone’s fault, when you’re involved with something that good, everything else you do is bound to suffer by comparison. Fellow  Blackadder writer, Ben Elton, has certainly produced his fair share of crap in subsequent years, and even Rowan Atkinson, a man who generally renders any movie or TV show significantly funnier by just being in it, did blot his copy book by starring in Elton’s genuinely dreadful 90s sitcom  The Thin Blue Line.

As for Curtis, as well as  Blackadder, he’s been the creative force behind a lot of TV shows that I’ve loved over the years, almost too many to list. But when it comes to his cinematic output, I’m not sure how I feel about him.

I mean I’m genuinely not sure.

Notionally, both Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill seem, on paper, like movies I wouldn’t like.  But I do quite like both of them.

However, enjoyable though those movies both are, there is a tendency, within Curtis’ films, towards a world in which fairly privileged Brits bumble around being slightly awkward. It’s a cliché that works well in Four Weddings and a Funeral. It still works in Notting Hill  but you get the feeling that it’s a stchick that will eventually run its course.

I didn’t go out of my way to avoid subsequent movies linked to Curtis, but I hadn’t seen Love Actually until this year. A fact which has been greeted with incredulity by every person I have known over the years. It’s almost as if watching this movie is like a rite of passage or something. Like you can’t be truly British if you haven’t seen Love Actually.

The movie was Curtis’ directional debut (he served as screenwriter on the other aforementioned movies) and it is everything I feared it would be. Saccharine, sickly, with more clichés and platitudes than would seem possible in 136 minutes, it’s a bit of an incoherent shambles in many respects. It sort of works, but it’s best not scrutinise the narrative too closely.

The cast is, quite simply, phenomenal, but with that much acting talent on display, it’s hard for anyone to really shine. Hugh Grant’s prime minister did seem quite a refreshing, albeit, implausible alternative to the kinds of choices we’ve had on offer in recent years. Although it’s not hard to imagine Bo Jo having a relationship with one of his staff, it wouldn’t be the endearing romance that Grant’s character enjoys with Martine McCutcheon’s ‘Natalie’.

I can see why people would like this film. It’s the kind of feel good movie that is bound to appeal to certain audiences.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, based on my usual cinematic tastes, it really shouldn’t appeal to me.

But I did quite enjoy it.

Damn you Curtis.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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When, two years ago, I started the first ‘James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’, a friend of mine suggested that I had to include Love Actually, and insisted that I leave the pub that we were sitting in imbibing alcohol to go and watch it immediately (having been as appalled as everyone else that I hadn’t yet familiarised myself with this most seminal exemplar of British culture). 

I was a bit sceptical, assuming it that it was an out and out Christmas movie and therefore had no place on a list of  Christmas(ish) movies.

But, after two years I succumbed and watched it.

And I suppose it could be argued that it isn’t technically a movie about Christmas.

Because it’s about Love.

Actually. 

But it is very Christmas(ish) and you probably wouldn’t watch it at any other time of year.