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

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Image result for hans gruber meets john mcclane

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

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

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

Also worry not.

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

Which is 1988’s Die Hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmasishness


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

It is also a very ‘Terry Gilliam’ film.

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

It’s satirical, nonsensical and madly brilliant.

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

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

Brazil is, almost certainly, not for everyone.

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

Score For Christmasishness.


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

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

Definitely a Christmas(ish) film in my book.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmasishness


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From his own government.

Who prove surprisingly inept at tracking him down.

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmasishness


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

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

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

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

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


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

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Image result for rambo first blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmasishness


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

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

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


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

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

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

We could do without the burden of thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

But Rocky IV is not a good film.

Well not objectively anyway.

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

And I happened to be such a kid.

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

Maybe it’s something about Dolph Lundgren.

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

Even though it is obviously an awful film.

And the same is definitely true of Rocky IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is there a robot in Rocky IV?

I’m not actually sure.

But there is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done Rocky.

But Drago was the underdog.

Score For Christmasishness


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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It’s the 18th December!

Only a week to go until the big day!

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

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

Sort of like people.

But grey and bigger.

They are called ‘Engineers’.

Which isn’t that scary a name.

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

But I would want to meet one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmas(ish)ness


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

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

And that’s it for Christmas content.

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

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



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

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

But that isn’t going to work today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or possibly not.

It’s hard to tell really.

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

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

But I did.

Quite a lot actually.

And I’m not really sure why.

I find that happens a lot with Kubrick films.

Score For Christmasishness


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score For Christmasishness


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

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

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



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

James Proclaims (6)

Image result for in bruges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score for Christmasishness


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

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

So it’s reasonably Christmas(ish).