Christmas Round-Up.

So the holiday season is now completely at a close. Today is the 6th January, the day that is reserved for the removal of all the decorations. I myself feel rather blue. I hate the end of Christmas and find it difficult to face up to it all being over. So, what better way to treasure the last of my Christmas spirit than to reminisce about the films that I’ve watched over the holiday period. Here are just some of the films I’ve watched over the last few weeks. This list consists mainly of films that I circled in the Christmas edition of ‘The Radio Times’ and made time to watch on the television.

Black Christmas (1974)

To get myself into a Christmas state of mind, I began the holidays by terrifying myself to the very core. Black Christmas is an overlooked and forgotten work of art. The scares are original and the story is genuinely unnerving. It is one of the scariest films I have ever seen; second only to The Exorcist. It is such a shame that this film is not regarded more highly by horror fans. I can only assume that the tacky name has caused people to ignore it; presuming that it is a novelty film. It most certainly is not and it is a pity that it is not remembered by more for its creative and intelligent take on the slasher genre.

The Snowman and the Snowdog (2012)

It was fine. The animation is breathtaking, at-least for a few minutes. Then, in the same way as Aardman’s The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, you realise it’s not enough. The story is now worn out and this mediocre sequel can’t seem to decide whether it is a re-creation or a follow up. The music is very disappointing and after a while you find yourself wondering why they didn’t just re-run The Snowman.

The City of Lost Children

This dark and enchanting film displays a very haunting and surreal dystopia in which children are being taken from their families in order for an unhinged lunatic to steal their dreams. The characters are so endearing and the story so inviting that I found myself completely entranced. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films have all echoed this style since. Amelie was very charming and Micmacs was enjoyable enough, but watching The City of Lost Children is simply evidence that his collaboration with Marc Caro is when he is at his best. Now my longing to watch Delicatessen is stronger than ever.

Trading Places (1983)

Yes, I finally got round to watching this eighties classic comedy. It was fun. Jamie Lee Curtis completely steals the show. She demonstrates that she is a talented comedic actress and her collaboration with Dan Aykroyd is very successful. Eddie Murphy reminds us that he was always annoying, even before Norbit. It is, however, a bit too long. The laughs are many but they were not enough to stop me from glancing at my watch every now and again.

Life of Pi (2012)

I watched about a third of the film with my 3-D spectacles off. Some scenes demonstrated 3-D being used intelligently but I would still have rather watched it in 2-D. The story was enchanting although I did find myself wishing that we could hear a little less about the boy in a boat and a little more about the grown man cooking lunch and chatting on a bench. Also, we got the symbolism. We didn’t need the characters to give us their little summary. For a second there I thought that Ang Lee was going to have his characters type up the film’s messages and meanings on a crisp piece of A4 and step out of the screen and hand the notes around the audience. Maybe then, at least, the 3-D would have been used effectively.

Into the Abyss (2011)

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary was very insightful. This exploration into crime and punishment effectively studies the mind set of the state, the officers that work on death row and, most importantly, the criminals. Herzog’s greatest triumph here is his subtle nod to the danger of generation and class entrapment. He slyly demonstrates how hard it is to escape your background and, supposedly, your fate. His ability to stay completely impartial is admirable. He explains that he does not believe that capital punishment is right and yet he lets you make up your own mind, entirely.

Buffalo ’66 (1998)
Buffalo '66 - Buffalo 66 (1998)
This art-house gem is undeniably charming. Christina Ricci’s vibrant performance is complimented beautifully by Vincent Gallo’s wonderfully ugly portrayal of isolation and the lonesome. The nods to Ozu’s A Tokyo Story were the highlights for me. It is a simple tale about simple people. You learn to care about these incredibly unlikeable individuals and it reaffirmed my belief in the importance of human companionship and understanding. It is clearly a labour of love on Gallo’s part. His involvement in all areas of the project leaves this film feeling like an early work of Woody Allen; you know, if Woody’s classic neurotic characters had had more experience with methadone. Ricci is clearly Gallo’s Keaton.

The Girl (2012)

Sienna Miller is breathtaking and Toby Jones has put his own gold plated stamp on the role of Alfred Hitchcock. The visual aesthetic of the film is remarkable and in many ways it is visually perfect. This makes it even more of a shame that the last half of the film was severely let down by the script. Hitchcock is not explored very intelligently. He is made out to be a monster and unnecessarily crude lines of dialogue highlight this repeatedly. By the end I was exhausted by this film’s biased and over-exaggerated view of one man. I enjoyed it but do not feel that I learnt much about Hitchcock or his insight into cinema. Perhaps I expected too much.

Pillow Talk

Doris Day is incredibly funny. Her use of facial expressions is what keeps this film feeling fresh and entertaining. Rock Hudson is the perfect counterpart and the collaboration of the two makes this romantic comedy a real hoot. The script is surprisingly risqué and I found myself laughing constantly. A classic feel good romp that never drags or grows tiresome.

Wuthering Heights

Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of this classic tale is certainly ambitious. The modern language combines surprisingly well with the period costumes and sets. About twenty minutes too long, this film could do with cutting several shots of the moors and its many blades of grass. The artistic flare that Arnold brings to her work is always enhanced by her brutal displays of sex, violence and injustice. The performances are consistent and believable. Arnold has a real talent for elevating the drama by over-exaggerating as little as possible. It is a very hard watch in places but Arnold’s ability to tell a story as truthfully as possible makes this a triumphant piece of work.

Big Easy Express

As my brother is a huge ‘Mumford and Sons’ fan, I thought that this film would be a perfect Christmas present for him; the story of several bands and musicians upon one train that travels across America. The film pays homage to the work of directors such as Scorsese who have a real ability to explore the musicians as well as the music. Whether or not you are a fan of folk music, this film will capture your heart with its nineteen-seventies aesthetic and its visions of an America and a musical journey that is trying to be recreated by modern day artist.

The House of the Devil

This was possibly the most unexpected and surprising find of the Christmas season. It is no surprise that I am a firm believer that the horror genre has deteriorated since its heyday in the nineteen-seventies. Finally, the genre has ventured back to its roots. A film that is purposely filmed in the style of a vintage horror movie, (on 16-mm and everything!), The House of the Devil was a breath of fresh air. It is mind numbingly scary and its suspense building is the most intense that I have ever encountered. A true modern masterpiece. If it had tried any harder it could have been an embarrassing and desperate piece of work but Ti West clearly admires film making as much as he admires horror.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Thank goodness for Jane Russell. The woman is incredible. Marilyn Monroe is funny and her comedic timing is perfect but Jane Russell gives this classic comedy its sparkle. The musical numbers help to break up the plot and keeps you on your toes. The characters all seem to intertwine marvellously and the story moves at an excellent pace. Howard Hawks is a splendid director and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. What a lovely way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

A VHS copy of The House of the Devil :
released specially for retro horror fans.

In regards to my cinematic endeavours, this holiday season has been filled with some real variety. There have been some really pleasant surprises. I now look forward to Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables and also intend to get round to seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s about time I had my own opinion about this 48 frames per second! Perhaps 2013 isn’t looking too bad after all.

Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.

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