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

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Shazam-Xmas-1-min-1024x576

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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crash

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

stocking 3

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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run

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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Better Off Dead 2

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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soldier3

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

stocking 3

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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edward

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

stocking 5

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.

 

 

 

 

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

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american psycho

Door 15 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films reveals the third in this year’s collection, which is an adaptation of a novel by Brett Easton Ellis. And of the three it is by far the best.

It’s also the second film in this year’s ensemble to have the word ‘psycho’ in the title. Although the last one was just called Psycho. This one is called American Psycho.

American Pyscho is as much a satire as it is a horror movie and while it doesn’t hold back on the violence and gore (although it is significantly toned down from the novel) it is also genuinely funny and irreverent towards the world it depicts, which is that of the invesment banker in the 1980s.

The whole cast is decent enough but this is all about Christian Bale who gives a tour de force performance as Patrick Bateman, the titular psychopath.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Although the timeline of the movie covers a number of months, one of the stand-out moments is the Christmas party scene, which simultaneously lampoons the vacuous and obscenely opulent world that Bateman inhabits, while also setting up a murder, which resonates throughout the rest of the film. Not really a Christmas film then, but one in which Christmas plays a small but integral part of the narrative. So a bit Christmas(ish). 

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

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time machine

We’re up to door 14 The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and it’s as if time is literally flying by as we head toward Christmas.

Maybe we could do with a time machine. Like the one in 2002’s The Time Machine.

Although it doesn’t seem to be the most reliable of devices, so maybe it’s best avoided.

The Time Machine is adapted from the H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. Which I haven’t read, although it is exactly the kind of thing I would read because I like to occassionally  sample a smattering of the classics for entirely pretentious reasons.

But in this case  I haven’t, so I watched this movie without any knowledge of its source material. I don’t know if that in any way hampered my enjoyment but it seems unlikely.

It was directed by Well’s great grandson. I don’t suppose we can accuse the author of nepotism because he died some 56 years before this film was made. But obviously being a direct descendant might have swung the gig for Simon Wells. Although he’s been involved in a few animated features in his time, The Time Machine  remains his only live-action movie. And rightly so, because it is rubbish.

I didn’t hate it though. It’s disjointed and muddled with enough plot-holes to make a decent metaphorical golf course, but it all pretty inoffensive and, it it’s own flawed way it is strangely quite charming.

But to be clear, not good in any way.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

Quite a lot of the film is set in some weird dystopian future where Christmas probably isn’t even a thing, but the beginning is set in New York at the end of the 19th century and here ’tis very much the season. Indeed it’s all rather lovely until things take a turn for the darker. Then it’s less lovely. But still fairly Christmas(ish). Until the time travelling begins in earnest. Then it isn’t at all.

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

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Psycho1

It’s Friday the 13th. Which is considered unlucky by some. And possibly it is for the entire population of the UK who might well be waking up to find out that someone truly awful is now their prime minister. I wouldn’t know as I’m writing this in the past. Although given that both of the leading contenders were pretty dreadful, it’s probably a safe bet that no-one good actually won. In fact even the outsiders were all very much in the ‘hard to like’ mould so it probably is a safe assumption that we have a rubbish leader of the country this morning.

Then again – plus ça change.

What I do know with absolute certainty is that today is the 13th day of December, which must mean that it’s time for door 13 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

Because it is Friday the 13th, maybe it would be appropriate to go for something from the darker side of cinema. And what could be more appropriate than Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho?

I had never seen Psycho before this year, but, because it’s a classic and it’s almost sixty years old, I had read one or two spoilers over the years. At least part of the appeal of this movie is that it contains a lot of twists, and given that I knew about a lot of those twists before I started watching, I assumed that I wouldn’t get that much out of the movie.

I was wrong. Even though I pretty much knew what was coming, I was on glued to the screen for the entire running time. In 1960  Psycho was pretty ground-breaking stuff, but it still seems pretty unique and certainly holds up well today. So much so, that the 1998 remake (which to be fair I’ve never seen) seems like it was probably a pretty pointless endeavour.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 1

Ok, so this one is not even remotely Christmas(ish). Except for one scene, right at the start of the movie, when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is leaving town and we can see Christmas decorations on the high street. This wasn’t intentional – they were just there on the day that scene was filmed but this visible reference to Christmas led to the whole movie being set in December. Indeed, at the beginning of the movie a caption informs us that the date is the 11th December. This would in turn, according to the movie’s own timeline, mean that many of the events should actually take place over festive period. But aside from that one scene, Christmas is never mentioned again. 

 

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

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a long way down

It’s December 12th and, if my understanding of current events is in any way accurate, then I believe there is a general election happening in the UK today. I don’t think too many people are feeling very optimistic about the outcome of that election.

Hopefully we won’t all feel the need to throw ourselves off a building tomorrow though.

And if that seems like a fairly clumsy way to deal with mental health and suicidal feelings then it’s no more clumsy than 2014’s A long Way Down.

Which is the movie behind door number 12 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

Like yesterday’s entry,  About A Boy, this movie is based on a novel by Nick Hornby. However, wheras  About A Boy is a really good film,  A Long Way Down is not. Which is a shame, because I remember really enjoying the book. It’s probably not Hornby’s best work and maybe the material never really lent itself to adaptation for the screen,  but it still deserved better than this.

The cast is decent enough. Pierce Brosnan feels a little miscast, but Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots all do their best with what little material they have to work with. It is, however, to little avail.

Such is the reverence that I have for Nick Hornby that I really wanted this to be good.

But it isn’t.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

There’s more of a ‘New Year’s Eve’ vibe to this rather than any explicit references to Christmas. The film opens on December 31st, at a time when things have hit rock-bottom for the four main protagonists, and conclude on the same date the following year when (spoiler alert!) things are a bit better. The majority of the action takes place in the six weeks which immediately follow the Christmas period, rather than during the festive season, but we do spend a lot of time getting to know the protagonists on that first New Year’s Eve, so there are lots of Christmas decorations and the like in the early scenes. Plus New Year is very much part of the whole Christmas experience so this still counts as a bit Christmas(ish). Which still doesn’t make it a good film sadly.

 

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

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about-a-boy

11 days into The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and we arrive at 2002’s About a Boy. Which is about a boy. And also some other people.

Adapted from the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby (an author who occupies God-like status in my esteem)  About a Boy is not really like any other movie. And that is a very much a good thing. It deals with some pretty serious issues such as mental health and bullying but manages to remain light in tone and eminently feel-good throughout. A young Nicholas Hoult gives an early indication of the career that awaits him and delivers an excellent performance as Marcus, the ‘boy’ of the title. This is very much Hugh Grant’s movie though. Being a fan of the book, I wasn’t especially convinced that Grant was the right choice for the role, but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of shallow but self-aware Will.

About a Boy is a near perfect adaptation of what is arguably Hornby’s best novel. Thow in a completely original soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy and it really doesn’t get much better.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s not ostensibly a Christmas movie but two Christmases feature in the story – one at quite a pivotal stage in the development of the relationship between Will and Marcus and one at the denouement of the movie, which wraps the narrative up rather appropriately. Throw in the fact that Will’s bachelor-pad lifestyle is funded solely through the royalties generated by a Christmas song that his father wrote and there is certainly enough to evoke a Christmas(ish) feeling to this film.

 

 

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

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rules of attraction

Door 10 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 2002’s The Rules of Attraction. Which is not the helpful guide that you might imagine it to be. Indeed I’m not sure that there are any rules of any description on offer.

As with Door 7’s entry  Less Than Zero this movie is an adaptation of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. According to those in the know (which definitely doesn’t include me, given that I have read only one novel by this particular author and isn’t either of the above) The Rules of Attraction is more faithful to the original novel.

The movie is, much like Less than Zero, largely about some fairly unpleasant and overprivileged young people who seem to not like anyone, least of all themselves. Starring James van der Beek, who at the time was probably best known as being Dawson off of Dawson’s Creek and …er… probably still is, the film is possibly easier to follow if you’ve read the source material.

But, as I haven’t, it all seemed like a bit of an incoherent mess.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

It’s not especially Christmas(ish) but the movie does begin at what appears to be a New Year’s Eve Party (dubbed the ‘End of the World’ party). The film then back tracks to the beginning of the academic term (so presumably circa September/October) before events lead up to the same party, which is where the film concludes. There are, therefore, visible Christmas decorations for enough of the running time for this to be considered, at least a bit, Christmas(ish). Also there is a lot of snow at the denouement of the film, which always helps.

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

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Shaft 2000 - Samuel L. Jackson

As it is very much the 9th Day of December, it seems only right that we open door number 9 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

And behind the door we find John Shaft II, protagonist of 2000’s Shaft, which is a sort-of-reboot/sort-of-sequel to the 1970’s trilogy of movies. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew to Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft (although I believe that has been retconned in a subsequent sequel to him actually being his son), the 2000 iteration is an entertaining enough affair. Jackson is a suitably charismatic lead, while Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale more than hold their own as the two (very different) main antagonists.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 1

Ok, this is one of the more tenuous films to make the cut (although probably not the most tenuous). Christmas is largely irrelevant to most of the movie, but the opening scenes do appear to be set around Christmas. However those scenes also depict the aftermath of a particularly brutal and racially-motivated murder. So not really one to get you in the festive mood.

 

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

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just friends

Door 8 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 2005’s Just Friends.

Notionally a ‘rom-com’ it probably is a little more ‘com’ than ‘rom’. Which would generally make it more to my tastes. It’s not always as funny as it would like to be, but it deserves credit for effort and there are definitely some moments when it does hit the mark.

Ryan Reynolds is normally fairly reliable and he doesn’t let anyone down here, and Anna Faris seems to be having a lot of fun playing against type.

 A quick Google search will reveal that  Just Friends didn’t especially win over the critics, but I actually quite enjoyed it, and I really wasn’t expecting to.

Make of that what you will.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 5

Theoretically this movie could work without the Christmas backdrop, but it makes eminently more sense for it to be at Christmas, and it’s one of the few elements of the film’s internal logic that bears any kind of scrutiny. The Christmas setting also ensures that what would otherwise be a fairly diverting but ultimately forgettable movie will now be a Christmas tradition for some and consequently that it will get endless repeat viewings. I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it again in a future bout of festive film watching.

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

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Less_Than_Zero_072

As we move further into December, so too continues The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films. Today we are on door number 7. ‘7’ is a positive integer and therefore is ‘more than zero’. But the movie behind door number 7 is  Less than Zero.

This is not really a movie about negative numbers as such. Although debt does play a part in the narrative. So it is sort of about negative numbers. But I don’t think it’s really the point of the movie. Although I’m vaguely at a loss as to what the actual point is.

Sort-of-but-not-really adapted from  a Brett Easton-Ellis novel of the same name, it’s a fairly cheerless examination of drug addiction amongst the overprivileged and most of the characters are fairly unsympathetic.

It is, however, worth watching for a stand-out  performance from a young Robert Downey Jr.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

It is definitely a movie set at Christmas time, and though it is utterly joyless for the most part, there is no denying that Christmas is integral to the plot. So it deserves a high score for Christmasishness, but it’s far too depressing to ever be a ‘go-to’ Christmas movie.

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

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DSC02295.ARW

It’s December 6th and therefore no coincidence that it’s time to open door number 6 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

And as luck would have it, we have a 2019 movie waiting for us in the not-at-all-bad Cold Pursuit.

You might recall that Liam Neeson made the headlines earlier this year for saying some pretty stupid  things while promoting a movie.

That was this movie.

Unfortunately Neeson’s comments rather overshadowed the film.

Which is a shame, because it is a pretty decent action flic.

It’s not going to change your life, but it’s an entertaining couple of hours of violence and irreverent humour. It’s sort of a cross between Tarantino and the Cohen brothers (Pulp Fargo?!) without being quite as good as either.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

Given that this movie came out in February, it probably isn’t meant to be a Christmas movie at all but I’m fairly sure there are Christmas decorations up in the town, if not actually in anyone’s homes. And one of the bad guys is nicknamed Santa. Because he looks a bit like Santa. Although I hope he isn’t really Santa because he is dispatched in quite brutal fashion fairly early on in the film.

Also there is a lot of snow. Which is no reason in and of itself to think of a film as being Christmas(ish) but it certainly helps when the festive links are as tenuous as this.

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

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2012

I vaguely remember 2012. It wasn’t the best year ever if I recall. I enjoyed the London Olympics. One of my cousins got married, which was nice. Other than that I don’t think it was a vintage year.

Still, I think we can all agree that the world didn’t end.

Which was something I suppose.

It was certainly a better outcome that was predicated by Roland Emmerich in 2009 when he delivered the dreadful movie 2012.

Which is a film about how the world would end in 2012.

And frankly, once you’ve sat through 158 minutes of this dirge, you might welcome the apocalypse.

The movie boasts a surprisingly decent cast who do nothing to redeem this mess.

It doesn’t even have the decency to be ‘so bad it’s good’.

It’s just bad.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s not even remotely Christmas(ish). I watched it on the basis that the entire premise of the film is the realisation of a Mayan prediction that the world would end on the 21st December 2012. Although this date is vaguely referenced during the movie, there are no indications that any of the events of the film take place in December. Because there are no signs of Christmas at all. But if I omitted the film from the list then I’d have to acknowledge that I sat through this crap for no good reason at all. And I just can’t do that to myself.

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

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Door four of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films is looking a little grimy. Indeed, when we open it, we are confronted with nothing short of Filth.

2013’s Filth is the aptly named black comedy starring James McAvoy as a sociopathic detective who seems hellbent on inflicting misery on his colleagues. And his friends. And pretty much everyone he meets.

Adapted from a novel by Irvine Welsh (the author who also brought the world Trainspotting) it’s unsurprisingly a dark and twisted tale in which nothing is quite what it seems.

It’s not one for the faint-hearted or easily offended but if you like this kind of thing (which I absolutely do) then it’s utterly compelling and McAvoy clearly relishes the opportunity to play against type. The humour is bleak, but it is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Nonetheless, the film hits hardest in when, amongst all the cynicism and cruelty there is a rare moment of tenderness.

Score for Christmasishness

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Not exactly full of festive cheer, but there is no doubting the Christmasishness of this one. It is set entirely over the Christmas period, including the big day itself. Remove all things related to the season and the film could still work, but the Christmas setting does feel relevant and contributes to the effectiveness of the movie as a whole. It’s certainly Christmas(ish) enough for me.

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

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Door 3 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and what do we find. Why it’s 2015’s Tangerine.

A movie shot entirely on iPhones, starring a largely unknown cast and focusing on a day in the somewhat unorthodox lives of two transgender sex-workers was not exactly top of my list of ‘must-see’ movies and were it not for the Christmas Eve backdrop I’m not sure I would ever have got around to seeing this.

I’m really glad I did though.

As much as it is, at times, a little bleak, there are some genuinely heart-warming moments.

It’s also very funny.

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s set on Christmas Eve though there is little in the way of festive cheer on display. But Christmas is frequently referenced throughout and though it isn’t central to the narrative, it does add something to the overall effectiveness of the film. It’s worth a watch any time of year, but it is Christmas(ish) enough to merit a December viewing. Plus tangerines are supposed to be a bit Christmassy aren’t they?

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

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Well it seems like only yesterday that we were enjoying the beginning of the final month of 2019, yet here we are already on December 2nd.

Happily, that does mean it’s time for door number 2 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

But wait, the door won’t open.

It looks like someone has changed the locks.

Maybe it’s because we haven’t paid our rent.

Much like the protagonists of 2005’s musical drama Rent. A movie in which a bunch of struggling artists and political idealists seem to believe that they are entitled to live in a building for free. Which they aren’t.

Rent is not an especially good film. I suspect some people love it, but I suspect they will be people who also love the stage show. Which is supposedly very good. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen it, but it won awards and seems to be fairly well thought of.

I think that, in part, the stage show was critically acclaimed for dealing with topics such as drug addiction and AIDS. Which was pretty ground-breaking stuff for a stage-show in 1996. Possibly less so for a movie in 2005.

Another issue with the movie is possibly the decision to recast many of the original stars of the Broadway show in the movie. They are clearly all very competent performers, but they all seem to be a little bit older than the characters they are portraying in the film. If I was to be specific, I’d say they are about nine years too old.

Ultimately Rent (the movie) is largely inoffensive stuff (in spite of its best efforts to be challenging) and mostly plays like an homage to the original stage-show, rather than a genuine attempt at cinema in it’s own right.

Score for Christmasishness

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To be fair, while it’s not a great movie, for the purposes of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films it’s actually a bit of winner. Although the timeline supposedly spans a whole year, most of the action is set over the Christmas period, and the fact that it’s a musical (albeit one that deals with some quite depressing topics) only adds to the Christmas cheer. So if you’re going to bother watching it at all, then Christmas is by far the best time to watch it.

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

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3 days of the condor

And so it begins. December 2019 I mean. And with is comes The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

And let us begin, as is only numerically cogent, with door number 1.

And lurking behind, what do we find, but Sydney Pollack’s 1975 espionage thriller Three Days of the Condor.

Starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, it’s a film with a fairly run-of-the-mill premise, that somehow manages to be significantly better than it probably should be. Given that it’s loosely adapted from a novel entitled Six Days of the Condor, you could feel short-changed about the three days that didn’t make it from print to celluloid but, while I’m no expert in the optimum number of days one needs to extract full enjoyment from a Condor, in the case of this movie, three days seems ample and allows the narrative to move along at a reasonably compelling pace. The plot is, for the most part, entirely preposterous, but somehow seems plausible within the context of the film, which is really all anyone can ask from a movie.

Definitely one I’d watch again.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s definitely, quite visibly, set in the period leading up to Christmas but Christmas doesn’t seem wholly relevant to the plot. Or at all relevant. But there are Christmas decorations, and Christmas songs throughout the entire movie so it deserves to be considered quite Christmas(ish).

 

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

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As today is the last day of November, I’m quietly confident in predicting that tomorrow will be the first day of December. Obviously that presumption relies on the fact that the Gregorian Calendar is still in common usage. I haven’t checked, but I think I’m probably on safe ground.

The first day of December is, of course, the first day of Advent. Which means that those of us who have chocolate Advent Calendars can enjoy our first taste of Advent Calendar Chocolate. Which is sometimes of dubious quality but none the less exciting for that.

These days the notion of the Advent Calendar has been appropriated in a number of ways and many a blogger has utilised the concept to produce Christmas-themed content for their little corner of the internet.

And this is certainly a band-wagon that I have leapt aboard for the past two years, with the The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films. Which, as it ‘says on the tin’ is a daily dose of a description of a movie that has some, often quite tenuous, link to the season.

The 2019 edition begins tomorrow, but below is a reminder of the 48 films that have previously contributed to this annual waste of time and effort:

2017

Door 1 – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Door 2 – Iron Man 3
Door 3 – Lethal Weapon
Door 4 – Reindeer Games
Door 5 – Ghostbusters 2
Door 6 – Batman Returns
Door 7 – LA Confidential
Door 8 – The Long Kiss Goodnight
Door 9 – The Last Boy Scout
Door 10 – The Ice Harvest
Door 11 – The Nice Guys
Door 12 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Door 13 – Gremlins
Door 14 – The Bourne Identity
Door 15 – In Bruges
Door 16 – Trading Places
Door 17 – Eyes Wide Shut
Door 18 – Prometheus
Door 19 – Rocky IV
Door 20 – First Blood
Door 21 – Enemy of the State
Door 22 – 12 Monkeys
Door 23 – Brazil
Door 24 – Die Hard

2018

Door 1 – Submarine
Door 2 – Catch Me If You Can
Door 3 – The Life Of Brian
Door 4 – King Kong
Door 5 – When Harry Met Sally
Door 6 – Hook
Door 7 – Go
Door 8 – Behind Enemy Lines
Door 9 – The Ref
Door 10 – Jaws The Revenge
Door 11 – Jurassic World
Door 12 – The Hateful Eight
Door 13 – Red
Door 14 – The French Connection
Door 15 – The Lion In Winter
Door 16 – Stalag 17
Door 17 – The Royal Tenenbaums
Door 18 – Last Action Hero
Door 19 – Eastern Promises
Door 20 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Door 21 – The Apartment
Door 22 – Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Door 23 – Ronin
Door 24 – Die Hard 2

But enough of past glories – ‘The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’ begins in earnest tomorrow. Who knows what surprises await behind each metaphorical door?

Well, obviously a bad film review awaits behind each door.

And unlike previous years, none of those films will be an instalment of the Die Hard franchise.

And they might not all be very related to Christmas.

But they will all be a little bit Christmas(ish).

T’isn’t The Season… But T’will Be Soon

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And so here we are, a month from Christmas and soon the traditions of the season will be upon us. Although, as is the case most years, I’ve been honouring one custom since around mid-October. Which is the eating of mince pies. I love a good mince pie, but in all honesty, there is far too much in the way of other festive fare available when we get to Christmas proper. So, I like to get my mince pie consumption started as early as possible.

In a similar bookend, I probably won’t eat much Christmas cake until January, but will then try and eke it out for as long as possible.

As I write this, my almost-16-month-old daughter is tearing around the room wreaking havoc wherever she goes. She’s quite the force majeure. For this reason, I’m not sure there’ll be a Christmas tree in the Proclaims household this year. At least I’m not sure there’ll be a Christmas tree for long…

I have already bought most of the Christmas presents I’m going to buy. I’m not an especially organised person in most respects, but present buying is generally something that I’m pretty good at. Either that or I have an exceptionally polite family when it comes to gift-receiving. But as some of them aren’t too bothered about letting me know my shortcomings in other respects, I’m going to say I’m good at buying presents.

Obviously with it now being ‘Black Friday Week’ I may have jumped the gun, having purchased all my gifts prior to this most traditional and heart-warming of wallet-friendly weeks. I believe that Black Friday proper is yet to come, although apparently some retailers, having just too many deals for one Friday, also incorporated last Friday. As I say, I won’t be joining in the fun, but I will, of course, sit down to enjoy the traditional Black Friday meal when the day does come around. The traditional meal being my own soul.

Anyway, the shopping is mostly done, which is good because December already looks set to be a fairly taxing month.

There is of course the forthcoming general election. Although that probably won’t take up too much time. I will vote, but at this point I’m voting for the least-worst candidate and really, whoever wins, it’s hard to be too optimistic. I’m not even sure who the least-worst option is. I think I know who the worst is though. And sadly, I think that is probably who will win.

December also brings its fair share of family commitments. In and of itself this is not really problematic. I’m not a fan of gatherings in general, but it would seem churlish to apply that sentiment to the people I’m related to, and to be fair they’re a decent bunch. But they all live approximately two hours from me and a two-hour drive is rarely fun. It’s worse still with a lively toddler in tow. She’s only mastered a few words, so we’re not in the territory of the “are we there yet?” chant, that I recall torturing my parents with on oh-so-many a car journey. But she has her ways of making an already challenging experience even more horrendous. Changing her nappy at the services on the M25 is an experience from last December that I’m in no hurry to repeat.

Not that she needs a long car journey to elevate my stress levels. Even as I was writing that last paragraph, she marched up to my pc and attempted to switch it off. I would have lost of all of this delightful prose in one act of infant insurrection were it not for my surprisingly considerate computer checking that I wanted to pursue the unfathomable undertaking of shutting down without saving my work before it carried out my daughter’s directions.

December is always a busy time in work. I’m not really sure why, but there always seem to be deadlines that need to be hit prior to the festive break. I’m not likely to hit any of those deadlines without ‘upping my game’. I’m never keen on upping my game. I prefer to operate a level of ‘doing just enough to get away with it’, but occasionally it pays to demonstrate that I am capable of more. For the sake of my own ego if nothing else.

In the unlikely event that my boss is reading this, I would point out that everything I write on this blog should be taken with a pinch of salt and clearly that last paragraph was written in jest.

In the more likely event that my boss is not reading this, then I can confirm I am a workshy waste of space.

One event in December that I’m really looking forward to is, of course the release of the new Star Wars film. Even if it’s ultimately quite disappointing I will still watch it multiple times. It can’t be worse than The Phantom Menace and I’ve seen that loads of times.

Speaking of films, all going well, December should also bring my, now traditional, blog offering, of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films. I’ve already sat through quite a few movies with a vaguely tenuous link to Christmas so, if I can muster up enough time to actually write about them then activity on this blog is likely to go from ‘very little in recent times’ to ‘quite a lot actually’.

But it’ll all be badly written reviews of essentially non-Christmas films that might have a bit of an obscure link to Christmas.

As opposed to badly written posts about nothing much at all.

Once the advent calendar has run it’s course, I am also hoping to write my, even more traditional, Christmas Day message.

And I expect I’ll follow that with my equally traditional Boxing Day post, in which I’ll produce some sort of weak play on words referencing the sport of boxing.

So, if you’re a fan of this blog then there really is a lot to look forward to.

But if you are genuinely a fan of this blog, you may need some kind of help.

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.