Christmas time for me is a time to take a break from regular life and to kick back, dedicating time to mostly non-constructive ends, such as playing scrabble, eating too much cheese and watching movies. The movies that come my way at Christmas are of a random nature, but this is a great thing. So what gems landed in my lap this year?
The Cinema Trip: Anchorman 2 
The last day of work saw the folk in the office scoot down to our local multiplex to check out the next chapter in the Legend of Ron Burgundy. Will Ferrell continues his seminal role as Burgundy, head of a network news team, and subject to the extreme whims of triumphant success and miserable failure. I’d say that the movie doesn’t disappoint, but actually, it did a little. I found it to be little more than a loosely connected series of Burgundy-inspired sketches that don’t offer us anything new. I suppose it’s a film which deliberately avoids even trying to feed us something new, as the references to its prequel are so numerous, it probably wouldn’t make much sense without them. It does work in the sense that anyone willing to watch Anchorman 2 would most likely know what to expect. But in failing to give the film its own identity, its derivative nature may cull any likelihood of further sequels.
So it’s a bit like… Anchorman’s answer to Police Academy 2
The DVD Present: One Day 
This was a present to my Mother, and she decided that it was worth firing up on the evening of Christmas day. The film follows the flow of what starts out as a platonic relationship between Emma, portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Dexter, played by Jim Sturgess. From their early days at university in Edinburgh through to their lives and careers in London, we view the characters through a single day each year, that being 15th July. The film, whilst seeming to pander to type, as we expect a charming rom-com ride, manages to meander from the well-trodden path with a believable and emotionally engaging narrative arc.
So it’s a bit like… a movie that sits somewhere between Bridget Jones and Closer, but in a good way.
One Day is a film that does everything right. The story is a well observed outline of the development of a relationship, and it manages to portray the tenderness and intimacy as much as it recognises negative relationship traits. I found myself gripped in a rather self-reflective sulk at the end of the film, which is possibly not the most obvious way to end Christmas Day!
The Late Night Special: Idiocracy 
Staying up way too late on Christmas Day evening, this film made a spontaneous appearance. Luke Wilson plays US marine, Private Joe Bauers, sent on a special pentagon mission involving his use of a hibernation pod. When his pod is reactivated 500 years later, he wakes up to an America that has fallen to the hands of centuries of trailer trash spawned devolution. Society has regressed as the dumb genes in society have outbred the smart, and so Bauers finds himself in a dysfunctional world filled with idiots, amongst which, he is a relative genius. This comedy sci-fi seems well budgeted and is made in good spirit. The patent love interest, played by Maya Rudolph; a hooker having experienced the same hibernation process, is clearly there to tick the corporate Hollywood boxes. Having said that, it doesn’t hinder the good-hearted nature of this silly, but fun b-movie.
So it’s a bit like… Back To The Future 2 meets Dumb And Dumber.
This One Looks Good: Virus 
With a couple of hours to kill at the end of the evening on Boxing Day, I figured that I would have a second attempt at hunting down an unseen movie. I checked out BBC iPlayer for science fiction, and found ‘Virus’, which appeared to tick all the boxes. Jamie Lee Curtis is a crew member on a boat captained by Donald Sutherland’s mean salty sea-dog of a captain. When they find an abandoned Soviet research ship, crewless and drifting in the Pacific Ocean, the prospect of a multi-million dollar salvage reward proves too much to resist. But, as it turns out, the ship was abandoned for a sinister reason. Having been in contact with a Russian satellite, the research vessel appears to have been infected with a life-form that causes electrical items to animate.
So it’s a bit like… Hardware meets Alien meets Captain Phillips
The movie had a $75 million budget, but failed to make back even half of it. Curtis’s thoughts on the movie were summed up by her quote:
“That would be the all time piece of shit…It’s just dreadful… That’s the only good reason to be in bad movies. Then when your friends have [bad] movies you can say ‘Ahhhh, I’ve got the best one.’ I’m bringing Virus.”
Side Note: Hollywood Megaflops
‘Virus’ is quite a watchable film despite being a bit shit. It’s a great example of Hollywood trying to cobble together a big budget movie using a tried and tested formula, but completely missing the mark. Films like this are potentially a huge danger for the future of Hollywood as budgets continue to bloat, year upon year: link. However, the sooner Hollywood crashes, the sooner that film-making is put into the hands of smaller independent film companies that are not hell-bent on satisfying the whims of their uber-rich corporate share holders. In 1980, ‘Heaven’s Gate’ with it’s monstrous budget, and subsequent terrible box office performance was enough to finish off the United Artists film company. With movies like ‘John Carter’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’, megaflops are very much a true danger to the big studios and can still happen. It will be very interesting to see how well Daren Aronovsky’s ‘Noah’ film performs at the box office.
The Tivo Movie: Doubt 
So my Mum picked this one out one evening, which she had on her fancy freeview recorder box thingy. ‘Doubt’ is an austere portrait of life in a 1960’s catholic boarding school in New York. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays priest Father Flynn opposite Meryl Streep’s head principal and nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier. Beauvier comes to suspect that Flynn’s manner with one of the school’s pupils demonstrates inappropriate behaviour, although the absolute truth of the state of affairs is subject to the movie’s titular doubt. Streep’s character is initially spiky and reminded me very much of some of the mean, matronly spinsters that took great joy in making my life a misery as a child at a Catholic school. Flynn’s initially jovial priest swaps roles with her as the dark character, as the movie progresses. It’s a very atmospheric film, with a great emphasis on the acting performances. A very well crafted film that showed off the great acting interactions between it’s two consistently strong principal actors. Bit bleak for Christmas, mind…
So it’s a bit like… Sleepers with nuns
The Catchup-Up Stream: The Awakening 
BBC iPlayer came up with this gem and it made an appearance the day after boxing day. Rebecca Hall plays ghost hunter and myth-exposer, Florence Cathcart, who is requested to visit a Cumbrian boarding school by the austere teacher, Robert Mallory, played by Dominic West. The children at the school report being petrified by a ghostly presence, and one such appearance may or may not have contributed to the recent death of one of the school’s numbers. Cathcart makes it her interest to get to the bottom of the issue with her sceptical detective skills. West’s stern schoolmaster is far from his cheeky McNulty character. The actor’s do their jobs well, but this BBC Films movie suffers from a messy narrative arc, which causes the viewer a great deal of head-scratching as the film reaches its final act. While the wonderful landscapes and architecture are beautifully filmed, the cinematography is not enough to carry this rather frustrating little film, that has a good basic concept. One fantastic and notable scene sees Cathcart inspecting an impressively creepy dolls house, and makes a creepy discovery in doing so. However, there are just as many elements that don’t add up in this film, such as a scene involving an attack on Cathcart by one of the side characters. An incident that seems to have no reason or relevance to the story. Pretty disappointing!
So it’s a bit like… The Others meets The Devil’s Backbone, but directed by Tommy Wiseau.
The Live TV Movie: The Hole 
Joe Dante’s family friendly horror movie, ‘The Hole’ is a more serious affair than his 1980’s work, ‘Gremlins’. In fact, it probably has more in common with another 1980’s movie, ‘Poltergeist’, and the appearance of a creepy clown doll lends a direct homage to Spielberg’s movie. The movie sees two brothers, whose move into a new house has them finding a trap door in their garage, covering a seemingly bottomless hole. It turns out that this hole is the door to the personal nightmares of all those who discover it. The movie is very much meant to be a movie analogous to ‘Gremlins’, but Dante struggles to make quite an awkward script to work well. The Spielberg references continue as Bruce Dern pops up halfway through the film doing a worthy impersonation of ‘Back To The Future’s Doc Brown. This irrelevant cameo doesn’t help with the movie’s pointless narrative, however.
So it’s a bit like… Poltergeist meets Nightmare On Elm Street meets House 2
Verdict: And The Winner Is…
Out of all the films I saw this Christmas, I think that ‘One Day’ had to be the best film. It’s a high quality movie, well thought out and well delivered. But ultimately, what I’m looking for in my ultimate Christmas movie is something that surprises me, and ‘Idiocracy’ was a movie that came out of the blue and delivered. While it was a little cheap and shabby, it was a great movie that I probably would never have seen, had it not appeared on the tellybox at just the right time.