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

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And so December is upon us and The Second Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films is officially underway. But just what is the film that’s going to kick of this year’s semi-seasonal selection of silver-screen spectacles?

Why it’s none-other than the sublime Submarine – Richard Ayoade’s 2010 directorial debut.

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Ayoade is probably better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, with a CV incorporating a range of acting, TV presenting and generally being pretty funny.

But though directing is not his main occupation (to date he has just Submarine and 2013’s The Double to his name), he is rather good at it.

Submarine is a quirky ‘coming-of-age’ comedy that is much better than that description would suggest. Craig Roberts is spot-on in the role of social misfit Oliver Tate, and the film charts his cinematically unconventional relationship with ‘occasional bully and part-time pyromaniac’ Jordanna (played to perfection by Yasmin Paige). The teenagers are the heart and soul of this film, which isn’t to say that the adults don’t get their moment to shine. Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins play their respective parts as Oliver’s troubled parents with understated pathos, and Paddy Considine has fun in his role as the (clearly ridiculous) self-proclaimed ‘mystic’ Graham, who threatens to disrupt their already dysfunctional marriage.

Submarine is genuinely funny, and although the majority of characters are emotionally and morally flawed, it is also rather heart-warming at times. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s definitely a film I’ll go back to periodically for repeat viewings.

Score for Christmasishness

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It’s not overtly a Christmas movie, but the timeline of events seemingly takes places in the winter months, with the most significant plot developments taking place during the school Christmas holidays. Plus one of the most poignant (and uncomfortably funny) moments occurs while Oliver joins Jordanna’s parents for an early Christmas Dinner.

It certainly deserves to be considered a fairly Christmas(ish) film.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 12: Last Man Standing

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1996’s Last Man Standing is one of those movies that, on paper, looks like it should be an absolute winner. Bruce Willis plays the nameless hero/antihero who goes, for the sake of convenience, by the name of John Smith. Christopher Walken is suitably unsettling as Hickey, the only credible threat to Smith’s supremacy with a firearm. The rest of the cast is decent. The film looks stylish, shot in mood enhancing sepia tones and the film draws on strong source material – being a remake of the much-lauded Japanese movie Yojimbo, which also served as the inspiration for A Fistful of Dollars.

This particular take on the theme of the nameless stranger who takes on all comers, also takes an interesting deviation from the classic western it could have been, instead moving the action to the prohibition era. It’s still set in a ‘one-horse town’ but the bad-guys are booze running gangsters. It’s an interesting take on the theme, and again, on paper, a gangster/Western mash-up sounds quite promising in a leave-your-brain-at-the-door kind of way.

So it should be pretty good right? Bruce Willis in his heyday, taking on Christopher Walken in a shoot-em-up sounds like a lot of fun. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards, but for just over a hundred minutes it should be guaranteed entertainment.

And that’s the problem with Last Man Standing. It isn’t much fun. It’s a bit boring really. For a movie that comes in well under two hours, it feels a lot longer.

It’s not really a bad film, there’s nothing wrong with any of the performances, it looks pretty good and the movie pretty much delivers the story you’d be expecting from the outset. There are no surprises, no clever twists, and that’s all fine because surely no-one is watching this movie other than as pure mindless escapism. But, sadly, there really isn’t much of that on offer either.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 11: The Silence Of The Lambs

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Hannibal Lecter is arguably one of the most iconic screen characters of all time. There have been multiple incarnations of Thomas Harris’ man-eating serial killer over the years, both in movies and through a more recent TV series. The most notorious portrayal is without doubt that of Anthony Hopkins, and of his three outings, the definitive performance is his work in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Which is fortunate for me, as that remains the only Hannibal Lecter film I’ve ever seen.

This is in part due to a general indifference I have towards the genre. I don’t mind a good psychological thriller, but given a choice of watching that or a lower quality action flick starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, well, sometimes you just need to switch your brain off. But a good film is a good film and there’s no denying that The Silence of the Lambs is a very good film. It’s possibly an additional reason that I’ve never really bothered to watch another Hannibal Lecter outing – the 1991 movie is so astoundingly excellent that even if all the other incarnations are good, they still can’t possibly live up to the standards set by Jonathan Demme’s directorial masterpiece.

Winning multiple Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, alongside an Oscar apiece for leading actors Hopkins and the equally brilliant Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs absolutely transcends any notion of genre and instead is the kind of movie for which there are insufficient superlatives to describe it’s virtuosity.

Hopkins rightly picked up the plaudits for his chilling portrayal as Lecter, but it’s actually Foster who does most of the heavy lifting and her performance as Clarice Starling is really what holds the movie together – she doesn’t get to have as much fun as Hopkins does, but it’s hard to imagine how the movie could work with anyone else in the lead role.

I first watched The Silence of the Lambs shortly after its release, some time in the early nineties. I was probably a bit too young to appreciate all of its merits at the time, though there was more than enough gore to keep the attention of a prepubescent teenager. On re-watching it in recent weeks though, it still seems to be more than a cut above Hollywood’s usual offerings. Given the darkness of the subject matter, and the occasionally visceral nature of some of the scenes, it doesn’t make for easy viewing and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has more than stood the test of time. It’s abundantly clear why there will almost certainly be many more incarnations of everyone’s favourite cannibal for years to come, though it remains improbable that any will ever quite match this cinematic tour de force.

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 9: Basic Instinct

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As a teenager there was really only one reason that I, or any of my friends, bothered to watch 1992’s Basic Instinct. In much the same way as you might have raised an eyebrow had anyone claimed that they read Playboy for the articles (obviously before the internet removed the necessity for such lies – I presume anyone who still buys Playboy today might genuinely be doing so for the articles), you would certainly have had good reason to have been sceptical if any of my peers had made the claim that they watched Basic Instinct for the gripping storyline.

Indeed, such was the notoriety of the movie that when it made its UK bow on terrestrial TV, I videotaped it for a friend. The reason for this was that he really wanted to see it, for reasons that I believe were less than noble, and was too embarrassed to record it himself in case he got caught by his parents. I’m not sure why I was any less concerned at being caught by my parents, but I think, at the time, I reasoned that I had plausible deniability, because I wasn’t actually recording it for myself. Quite why I thought this was any line of defence is anyone’s guess, but I did record it and handed the tape over to my friend without actually watching it. So I hadn’t really ever seen the movie until recently. I mean not all of it anyway…

Technically, then, this is not a ‘film I watched when I was younger’ which has been the qualifying factor for the films I’ve been reviewing in recent weeks. But it is a film that had a role in my youth nonetheless, albeit, on reflection, not my finest hour.

When I saw that it was being shown again on terrestrial TV, I thought it only right that, now I’m a grown-up and my hormones are largely under control, I should watch it, and judge it on its merits as a film.

So I did just that. It is, admittedly, hard to ignore the ‘naughty bits’ because there are so many of them. As per last week’s movie of choice, Total Recall, the director for Basic Instinct was one Paul Verhoeven and he really doesn’t do subtle. Rather than Total Recall’s extreme violence (although Basic Instinct does certainly have a number of scenes of graphic violence), there are instead a lot of sexually explicit scenes.

But sometimes the actors do have their clothes on, and if you don’t fast forward through those scenes, it turns out they are just as pivotal to the plot as the ones where everyone is naked.

The storyline is all kinds of ridiculous, and most of the characters are entirely hard to feel any sympathy for, but Michael Douglas does play Michael Douglas as well in this movie as he plays Michael Douglas in all of his other movies and Sharon Stone plays as good a narcissistic psychopath as any I’ve seen.

Nonetheless, it’s all fairly derivative stuff. Verhoeven definitely knew how to get bums on seats, and frankly, without the movie’s overt sexuality and controversy, I doubt Basic Instinct would have left much of an impression on anyone based solely on it’s plot, but, judged purely on said plot, I have definitely seen worse movies.

 

Films I Watched When I Was Younger – Issue 8: Total Recall

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Like 1982’s Blade Runner, 1990’s Total Recall is based on a story by acclaimed science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. However, a dystopian futuristic setting, and similar source material is probably the only common ground the two movies share, as the intellectual and philosophical weight of the former is largely jettisoned in the latter for a more violent, action-packed romp. This is, after all, a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven and it plays to the relative strengths of both. Which is not to say that there isn’t an element of the intellectual within the story – it is conceptually quite intriguing and there is an underlying satire to the movie – but if your expectation of a Schwarzenegger movie is that he’ll run around beating people up and shooting people then you won’t go far wrong with Total Recall. Equally if you think of Verhoeven movies as often being exceptionally violent and gratuitous, then this certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Indeed, the violence is often extreme and probably not necessary, as the movie would have plenty to offer without all the blood and guts. It’s not fair to compare it to Blade Runner, most sci fi films come up short in that regard, but Total Recall is far from the worst Philip K. Dick adaptation out there.

Schwarzenegger demonstrates that, if no-one could ever accuse him of being the finest actor of his generation, he absolutely knows what he is good at and he does it particularly well in this movie. So well, in fact, that I was actually able to suspend my disbelief that a man with such a strong Austrian accent could possibly be called Douglas Quaid. Which, as it turns out, I didn’t need to because apparently he’s actually called Carl Hauser, which totally works as an Austrian person’s name. Although it does beg the question why, when deciding upon an assumed identity, he would ever have thought that Douglas Quaid would work.

It’s a minor gripe in truth and does nothing to detract from the enjoyment of the movie. If you can stomach excessive violence, albeit within the context of nineties visual effects, then Total Recall is definitely worth revisiting.