Christmas Edition

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christmas films

What you see above is just an example of what Google will show you if you search the words “christmas films”. They’re apparently they’re the ones that are frequently mentioned on the web, and it’s likely that your favorite Christmas film is listed above. There’s two on the list above that I’ll talk about, one being apparently the best Christmas film of all time, and another one being my personal favorite Christmas film..

Christmas is probably the only socially acceptable time of the year in which you can watch films about Christmas. My family have been watching Christmas films since about the start of November.. Y’know, Halloween’s over and it is actually the earliest time of the year in which you can watch those Christmas films you absolutely adore. This year I went a little tame with the Christmas films and didn’t start watching any until the 22nd of December.. Instead I’d watched the same Friends Christmas episodes for weeks on end, I watched them so many times I actually started to learn the lines. Anyway, back to Christmas films…

It’s A Wonderful Life (1949 – Frank Capra)

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“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence.

It’s A Wonderful Life is that Christmas film everyone knows about, and if you look above you’ll see it’s first in the list of frequently mentioned Christmas films. Some of the scenes are incredibly famous and I myself managed to recognize some, even though I was watching this for the first time. I’d actually made the decision back in August to watch this on Christmas, due to having seen this film watched by many characters in films over the Christmas period. I also finally understood why so many of these characters in films can be seen crying towards the end of the film. It’s A Wonderful Life beautifully promotes the message that your existence is very important, and if you’re George Bailey then your existence is extremely important to an entire town. Audiences are given the Christmas gift of getting to see George grow up and devote his life to the people of Bedford Falls. James Stewart provides a beautiful and convincing performance in which he managed to tug at my emotional strings. Having been given the delight of watching George grow up, I wanted nothing more than for him to succeed in the problem he has been given to deal with on Christmas Eve, and for him to commit suicide is the last thing I wanted. We are then introduced to the wonderful angel Clarence who successfully shows George life without his existence, and in doing so, Clarence gains his wings. It’s A Wonderful Life manages to cover traditional Christmas values, and it’s quite easy to see why it is considered the best Christmas film for quite a few people.

H – 79/100

– Number 40 on Empire’s list of the 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989 – Jeremiah Chechik)

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Now I’ve talked about apparently the best Christmas film there is, let’s talk about my personal favorite, Christmas Vacation. Having been brought up to love the National Lampoon films it’s not particularly surprising to say that this one is possibly my favorite Christmas film. Now my family have never electrocuted a cat, burnt the turkey from the inside out, kidnapped someones boss or practically split up our neighbours, but we do indeed have moments just like the Griswold’s in which we just want to curl up in a ball and forget about Christmas. This film perfectly represents a Christmas which has attempted to be controlled, but has just completely flopped and gone horribly wrong. For many families, this may be too close to reality. The difference with the National Lampoon films, and what makes them so wonderful to watch, is that they are all about brilliantly exaggerated what can happen within various situations, and the Griswold’s vacations. I think having John Hughes as the writer for this film also adds to its brilliance, though that’s probably just me being bias due to John Hughes being my favorite writer. Christmas Vacation beautifully resembles the not-so-perfectly-controlled Christmas’ some families may have, and it’s also quite funny. It’s a film I’ll never stop watching at Christmas time.

H – 89/100  K-80/100

– H

Off The Record – Nicolas Cage

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Spare time in the Banana Cage…

tumblr_mht6cnC9V81s58xsso1_500Nicolas Cage managed to be the lead protagonist in both of the films we watched yesterday (December 23rd), it only felt fair to acknowledge that. At this time of the year, winter, where films become a source of warm comfort for us like movie duvets, Nicolas Cage appears all over the shop…

I don’t dislike Cage, I don’t really care that much about him (and he probably feels the same way towards me) but his on-screen presence has always struck me as odd. He’s a really comfy person to watch, but I feel that I should be unsettled by him and his ‘secret action hero’ persona. That may well sound ridiculous and the fact is that here’s an actor that you shouldn’t think about too much for fear of saying stuff like that. I think the minor region of the internet devoted to him might have forgotten this. I just did.

The Films… (in which H remains totally indifferent)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2008)

This was on and it stayed on for no particular reason. If you’ve seen National Treasure then you’ve also by default seen this film, because they’re the same film. In this one Cage’s treasure hunter Ben Gates, his wife, who doesn’t seem to do much, Riley, the third wheel computer hacking guy, and Ben’s parents find some giant treasure, while some ambiguous villain chases them.

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The first one was slightly better, (got the DVD, me and my Grandma loved it, I was 10) but if you like the idea of a fun, zero-consequence series of thefts of artefacts and chases and stuff then good, here’s a film. There’s a nice graphic match shot in there somewhere. Disney do this kind of crap well and it’s a piece of family adventure with a mildly intriguing plot and a little humour (thanks grumpy father/mother and Riley). The bad guy is incidentally the bad guy in The Truman Show and he has a name and an actor plays him (Ed Harris) but yawn.

It stayed on because it was comfortable.

Rating… K – 48/100 H – 60/100

Con Air (1997)

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A bit more of a riot, in it Cage plays a man who I can’t really be bothered to find the name of. It’s incidental, that’s why. This film puts forward a great concept, highly dangerous criminals get moved by plane, they take over the plane, what’s going to happen next? One of the things that happens is that Cage saves everybody, well, not quite, but he’s the hero. OTT (as described by Sky+), Con Air lives up to the promise of the idea by fitting in enough gun fights, explosions and psychotic criminality to fit a grown-up version of National Treasure.

Con Air is enjoyable for a couple of easily explainable reasons, first, the cast. Cage does a good enough job of being whatever he is, but the best parts of the film go to the masterminds and the maniacs John Malkovic, Ving Rhames and Steve Buscemi. A wealth of other good parts make up a spectacular display of what evil does when it’s in the winning seat for just a minute. Buscemi’s cold morality as a killer is rather amusing and I think he’s perhaps my favourite to watch on-screen.

AlienBrettGrabSecondly the film doesn’t rely on the basics of the plot, like say, Snakes on a Plane. Criminals on a Plane is also When Will Daddy Get Home, Oh No Diabetes, Nasty Racist, John Cusack vs Colm Meaney, Don’t Kill the Little Girl, Standing Up For Women, Let’s Destroy Vegas and Put the Bunny Back in the Box.

These side-line plots add to the satisfaction of the concept by fleshing it out into other relatable pleasures. At times this is definitely both overacted and over stylized but for an American action film this I think makes it great. Those sub-plots are fundamental to justifying and intensifying the enjoyment we take from pure destruction, and though it’s not quite Tarantino, Con Air is a lot of devilish fun.

Rating… K – 70/100 H – 60/100

– K

21. The Truman Show (1998)

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“We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life.” – Christof.

The opening of The Truman Show confused my brain slightly which resulted in yet another trip to my IMDB app in an attempt to figure out what was happening. Upon realising this was a film about a man whose entire life was carefully constructed into an astonishingly famous world wide hit tv show, I wasn’t confused but found myself scared of the possibility that my life may actually be a carefully constructed tv show. Imagine finding out that your whole life was a lie? Well, you don’t need to imagine it, you can just watch Jim Carrey beautifully construct what you would do if you found this out for yourself.

Jim Carrey is most notably known for creating comedies in which he brilliantly portrays characters which you can laugh at. In a way, Truman Burbank could be considered a laughable character, in the way he reacts to finding out his entire life is fake. Though, let’s be honest, wouldn’t you go a little crazy if you found out everything you knew was actually a lie?

Quite brilliantly though the plot has a notable edge to it which shows just how obsessive the world is with tv. Truman is the first child to have been adopted by a company, with his entire life constructed to gain viewings for a tv show. Various scenes of people in their homes, work places, bars, ect are shown with them flicking through their tv channels searching for The Truman Show so they can settle down and follow the life of their beloved tv character, who is in fact a real person. It’s one sort-of-reality show everyone is obsessed with and watches on a daily basis. Audiences finally have the ability to grow up with a character they love knowing the show would never end due to the main character believing that everything he knows is true. Quite realistically though, the audiences hopes are dashed as Truman finally opens his eyes to his life and his surroundings. However, audiences still go along with his life towards the end of the film as he might just be able to escape the controlled city he lives in and is carefully kept contained within. Even though they know the show will end, they still wish to follow him right until the very end. Quite simply, the film depicts how an audience can become emotionally involved and dependent on a television show and the main character. Sounds familiar, right? 

My favorite thing about The Truman Show would be the brilliant product placement joke found throughout. The Truman Show contains no adverts and uses product placement to gain its profit, it even has its own “Truman Show” catalogue in which all products used within the tv show can be available for purchase from audiences.. Which is yet another brilliant example of how an audience can be emotionally dependent upon a tv show. What’s brilliant about the product placements within the film is how they are depicted. Truman’s wife for example, her character could be seen as a typical 1950’s housewife in the way she talks to Truman, and attempts to sell products used. Take this shot of her attempting to advertise this product…

TrumanWife Even the product looks like it’s made in the 1950’s, right?

To conclude.. The film will definitely make you paranoid about your own life, and highlights just how obsessed people and television companies can be when it comes to a tv show. Ahh, the values of a postmodern society – television and consumerism.

Rating – H – 79/100   K – 77/100

– H

Number 103 on Empire’s list of the 301 Greatest Movies.

Off the record – Primer (2004)

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“Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m gonna read this, and you’re gonna listen, and you’re gonna stay on the line. And you’re not gonna interrupt, and you’re not gonna speak for any reason. Some of this you know. I’m gonna start at the top of the page.”

primer-poster-1How about a time travel film? Sure go for it, I love sci-fi. To be found on Netflix and elsewhere Primer is pure science-fiction, in that the science involved is fictional. This however is not J.J.Abrams, not Rian Johnson nor Terry Gilliam, this is Shane Carruth, a man who does things differently. I mean we all do things differently but Carruth’s Primer opens with the tech guys, talking science and money. It begins as a drama and continues so throughout, it’s quiet and polite nature growing darker and darker as the plot takes similar turns.

Two guys (out of a possible four) accidentally discover time travel in a garage invested science experiment, and in that they accidentally discover the facts that come with it. Lying down in a box, that’s time travel for you, physically, while the concept is a thing that the story uses to play several tricks on us, ones that the two guys Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) even have to play on each other to keep their lives on track.

This is entertainingly creepy throughout, and the primers of the title become the transcripts they have to use to keep the past in check. It’s an idea that reminds me of an episode of the TV sci-fi Doctor Who ‘Blink’, which contains an imitative concept, though that was more accessible for the regular viewer. Primer is less so. It’s complex, I went into it knowing this from Total Film’s non-explanation of it’s logic and was still left completely as perplexed as I would have been without their guidance.

The experimental plot structure, film style and dark philosophical concepts made Primer a thing that I much admire if I don’t immediately understand it. Also notable is the fact that it was made with around only $7000. To me that means credit where credit’s due and for a high class piece of science-fiction and meditative philosophy Primer deserves all the credit in my credit reserves right now. Now to go lie down in a box and tell myself to watch this film sooner.

The best thing… How damned clever it all feels, plus a few magnificent shots.

The worst thing… It made me and H just weep confusion.

Rating… K – 75/100 H – 59/100

Off The Record – Funny Games (1997)

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Funny Games is one of the films we’re studying for the emotional response section of our Film Studies class and it is currently my favorite out of the one’s we’ve seen. After watching, I was particularly surprised at the reaction most of my class had.. I remember some saying they found it quite boring, and that they couldn’t connect with the characters at all as they did not like them, therefore they did not have an extreme emotional reaction to their deaths. I, on the other hand, had a completely opposite reaction and even had to stop myself from having a partial emotional breakdown during a particular scene because I was in my film class and I obviously wasn’t going to let them all see me cry watching this film. Forgetting that, I’m considering this my favorite for multiple reasons…

If you know anything about my love for films, then you’ll know that I’m not particularly fond of films that contain a generic repertoire of elements within their genre. Take Romance or Western for example, these are my two least favorite genres due to most of the films within these being incredibly generic and containing no innovative features at all. One of my favorite things about Funny Games is the inability to define the genre for this film. Quite simply, the plot is two sadistic men, Paul and Peter, take a family hostage in their summer home, subjecting them to torturous games, though the characters obviously view them as highly entertaining. Though this film is made with particular detail to defer from basic genre conventions, leaving audience expectations behind when you first watch it. Even if you go into this film with expectations, it’s very likely you will lose them, as Haneke has a tendency to involve plot developments to surprise or confuse audiences and critically, these plot developments haven’t had the best reaction from most audiences.

The main notable theme about Funny Games would be it blurs the line between fiction and reality. Paul has various scenes throughout where he breaks the fourth wall by addressing the camera in various ways, and asking the audiences to interact with the plot and characters. Examples of this is when he asks you to bet on the survival of the family, and also all the looking into the camera, winking and smirking he does. Paul shows that he is aware of being in a film, however Peter doesn’t do the same and believes his actions are taking place within reality. This distorts the way characters view the plot, and questions us as an audience.

Conclusion..

Quite a controversial film, however it’s quite a brilliant one.

H – 89/100  K – 82/100

20. Drive (2011)

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Too cool… what? There’s nothing witty to be said.

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(Ryan Gosling is concerned about being too compelling)

The Film…

Type the word Drive into Bing search and its IMDB page is the first result, (ironically, after that is Google Drive, a big win for Microsoft there), then the Rotten Tomatoes page and then some blog thing. Not until search result 5 is there anything to do with cars that aren’t being driven by Ryan Gosling.

Nicholas Winding Refn, as you may know, pulls off a masterpiece with Drive. It’s there at the top of the search results for one reason, it’s a film that if you let it do its job on you will have you going ‘awww that was so fucking cool.’ Perhaps not, but if so you’re one of the unlucky few.

One of Drive’s magic tricks is the transformation of things within the film into icons synonymous with the film itself, in the way that Indiana Jones has his hat, the nameless Driver has a jacket with a massive scorpion on it. For anybody who hasn’t seen the film one of the most repeated comments about it is surely concerning the soundtrack and how damn stylish and sexy it makes this dip into the LA crimeworld seem. Of particular note here’s ‘A Real Hero – College & Electric Youth’ . The neo-noirish cinematography and narrative techniques give the film credible emotional and conceptual kudos. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan’s onscreen chemistry is charmingly quiet and longing and leads to a relationship between Driver and Irene that drives (cough) the plot into a place of complicated, complete intrigue. For me though it’s whether the Driver’s embodiment of an action hero is him or some effect of his warped, hyper-realistic world that is the films deepest question, going to that core of our relationship with a protagonist. With an outstanding side-cast at the helm of LA’s crime, Pizzeria and garage industries, some car chases too, the whole image is neither overly masculine, too art house or a mess. Apparently unbalancing that balance is where Refn seems to have gone wrong with Only God Forgives, but I’ve not seen that yet, so can’t say.

To say anything more would defeat the object, leave you with too much. Too many words. It’s a gorgeous film.

K.

Notes…

49 on Empire’s ‘The 301 Greatest Movies of All Time’

IMDB Quotes

A scene that comes straight to mind…

There’s this scene in a lift.

Rating – K 90/100 H 86/100

19. Fargo (1996)

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(Number 93 on Empire’s list of the 301 Greatest Movies)
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In all honesty, this film was watched around a week ago or so, but I had just completely forgotten to write about it. It’s a shame really, because then I would have had much more comments to make about it, and boy is this a good film to comment on. Quite simply though, Fargo was most definitely not what I was expecting it to be. I’d heard of it multiple times before, and had been told it was a crime film. However, it is actually a dark comedy crime thriller, which I thought worked considerably well, particularly due to the exceptional characters.

Each character within this film does wonders to add the comedic element within Fargo which has been brilliant involved into the plot. Firstly, let’s start with Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand – Seen above) who is an extremely pregnant police officer and has quite the comedic character role. During the scenes involving her husband, old friend and work partner we see her brilliantly pull off an accent which will indeed make you laugh, partially due to he way she says her “yah’s”, but mainly due to just her overall performance which makes Fargo seem more lighthearted than you would think the film to be before watching. Another notable character would be Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy)  who plays the mastermind behind the entire crime, though no one would really call him that considering the crime turns to shatters, ending in multiple deaths, his arrest and the loss of one million dollars.. Quite the mess up of a kidnap and ransom crime, don’t you think? Throughout the film, you see Jerry’s crime completely fail, as you also get to watch him have a slight breakdown throughout as he figures out just how screwed he is. Lastly, the notable pair who have been recruited to pull of this crime for Jerry are too brilliant not to mention. With Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi playing a crime duo who most definitely aren’t cut out for crime, you’re bound to have some laughs come from these two.  Actually, I think all the characters manage to make you laugh, in quite a dark way.. Though, considering this a dark comedy film, each of the characters work considerably well with the plot and genre, as the actors provide a brilliant performance throughout.

I think it’s quite right for me to mention that this film was watched whilst I had a head cold, and quite honestly all I wanted to do was sleep. Instead, I actually made myself stay awake throughout the entire film, not allowing myself to sleep due to how brilliant Fargo actually is. This was partially due to how I was expecting the film to be an extremely serious crime film, but it contained a wonderful amount of dark humor that made me want to focus on the contents. I definitely do not recommend this film as background noise or such, because the various elements within this film will draw you into it, and make you keep your concentration.. With the extra bonus laughs.

Film trailer – Some parts of me wish I’d watched this so I knew what the film actually was, though another part of me is glad as it made me prefer the film much more.

Scene that comes to mind.. Analysing the crime scene

Rating – 

H – 78/100   K – 84/100