TBT – The Holiday (2006)

TBT – The Holiday (2006)

As you all know by now one of my greatest loves is Christmas films. As a permanent child, I fucking love everything about Christmas and fall victim to the festive spirit in all forms. However, there is nothing that annoys me more than a cliched rom-com. So I’m a little bit torn when it comes to Christmas rom-com. Half of me hates everybody for being so bloody oblivious whilst the other half just get caught up in the festivities. Of course, there are some special cases that manage to be so fucking awful that I don’t need to worry about potential warm and fuzzy feelings. You can take a look at my Top 10 Worst Christmas Films list for more details on some of these but I want to focus on a film that I get more resentful towards with every passing year. I’ll be honest that has a lot to do with my annoyance at Jude Law’s questionable acting talents but there is a lot to The Holiday that we should be opposing.

Now I really like Jack Black. He was one of the main reasons I was so keen to so the new Goosebumps film. You can put him in the shittest of concepts and he’ll still make things enjoyable. Particularly, you might think, when he’s paired up with the equally lovable Kate Winslet. I mean the idea of those two falling in love at Christmas should make your heart grow at least 1 size bigger. However, Nancy Meyers has managed to create a romantic-comedy so cloying and formulaic that even something that sentimentality is all but lost.

The Holiday spans two continents and follows four characters who are all losers in love. Winslet plays Iris Simpkins, a writer for the Daily Telegraph who is desperately in love with a man who only manipulates her feelings for his professional gain. When the object of her affection gets engaged Iris skips town and swaps homes with Amanda Woods, a Hollywood bigwig responsible for creating movie trailers. Obviously, the pair then meet their ideal romantic match and the plot is dragged out until everyone realises what is starring them in the face.

That’s the problem with everyone in romantic comedies: they’re all either fucking stupid or just blind to the obvious. If people were honest and up-front with one another then there would be no need to mess around with misunderstandings and pointless wallowing. What is about people that insists romance be hard when it’s depicted on screen? I don’t know about you but I’ve never had any hilarious mishaps when it comes to romance.

But I guess you can’t really blame The Holiday for that. It’s just one of the awful tropes of the genre. What you can blame The Holiday for is the insipid characters. Black’s character, Miles, is hardly developed at all and Jude Law is playing a single father in an incredibly lazy attempt to create sympathy for a one-dimensional figure. There is nothing for these actor’s to work with and even Kate Winslet, who could do an amazing job with anything, is left lost. Iris has no depth. She’s a nice but pathetic female who is defined simply through one dodgy relationship. It’s infuriating.

However, not as infuriating as Cameron Diaz’s emotionally scarred executive. Hurt by her parent’s divorce years ago, Amanda put aside her emotions in order to be the great business woman that she. It’s such a tired and frankly fucking disgusting idea that women can’t be both emotionally in-tune and business savvy. Not to go all feminist ranty on you all, the scene in which she tries to cry is a fucking abomination. Maybe this thing could pass in the 1980s but this was fucking 2006. Women are real people too now folks.

The Holiday attempts to fill it’s audience with festive cheer thanks to the snowy Surrey landscape but it’s not enough to distract from the awful narrative and underwritten characters. Taking a step back for a second, this isn’t the worst film that’s ever been made but, if you’re looking for a charming and fun holiday watch, there are plenty of much better ones out there. Check out my Essential Christmas viewing for proof.

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Pitch Perfectwas one of those films that took me surprise when I eventually saw it. Expecting it to be nothing more than the story of awful teenagers whining self-indulgently in between songs, I found myself actually enjoying it. I spent most of that year trying to convince my cynical friends that, despite appearances, it was worth their time. Pitch Perfect is never going to be my favourite film but I liked it enough to be fairly excited about the sequel. Especially when it was announced that YouTube sensation Flula Borg was joining the cast. I’ve been hooked on Flula’s channel ever since I was introduced to his video on Daddy Longlegs where he bemoaned their weird appearance and “spiderweb leggies”. Flula is an underrated comedian and could easily serve as a great foil for the likes of Fat Amy.

I don’t think anyone really expected the a cappella comedy to be such a runaway hit back in 2012 but as soon as it did there were whispers about a second and a third film. It’s taken a few years but the Bellas are back. Clearly not confident with their ability to strike lucky a second time, the sequel is bigger, brasher and bursting with even more pop culture references and cameo appearances. There’s a slight whiff of desperation that hangs in the air until the closing credits.
Still on the winning streak started at the end of the first film, the Bellas are given the honour of singing for President Obama. Unfortunately, with higher expectations come more complicated routines. One particular stunt in which Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is suspended in the air singing Wrecking Ball ends with her revealing her Down Unders to the President. As you can expect, this is a massive fucking scandal and the Bellas are banned from any further national competitions. It only seems fitting after all.
Luckily, the group find a loophole that allows them to compete in the World Championships in Copenhagen. Their plan is to crush the competition and regain their once flawless reputation. Much like last time, they come up against some incredibly talented opponents in the shape of Das Sound Machine, their German counterparts. They must face a ca-challenges like another riff-off, another heart-to-heart and Beca’s divided attention. Now doesn’t that all sound a little bit familiar?
To say that Pitch Perfect 2 is following the same formula as the first is a bit of a joke. It’s a copy and paste job where even most of the jokes are recycled. Where we once had weirdo Lilly freaking everyone out, we now have the awfully misjudged Flo, a Guatemalan Bella who creates awkward silences thanks to incessant references to her impoverished upbringing. Then we have the antagonists, DSM, who are relegated to horrible stereotypes whose heavily stereotyped renditions of ’90s hip-hop just feels like cheap and lazy comedy.
Although one major positive outcome to the new film is that the focus is no longer solely on Beca and Jesse, although I will say that Jesse is so underused it’s a fucking waste of a wage check. Of course, we have the awful teen movie cliché plot about Beca’s internship showing her that life isn’t as simple as the naïve student believes it is. The only positive to come out of this narrative strand is Keegan-Michael Key’s hard-assed music producer. In just a few scenes Key almost steals the film.
Pitch Perfect 2acts more like a group film and gives other characters, like the incredibly popular Fat Amy, more material to work with. There are two, yes TWO, new romance plots to contend with and some moments of heavy realisation where the Bellas realise they need to think about their life after college. This widened lens has both positives and negatives: the film actually feels like an ensemble piece but there is still too much happening to allow everyone to get their moment to shine. Most of the girls are still left in the dark.
What does work this time around, just as it did before, is the music. The arrangements are chock-a-block with modern hits and classics of recent history. Forgoing the ’80s nostalgia that was so annoying in the first film, the soundtrack is another winner. Even if the more obvious presence of auto-tune felt like we were moving more into Glee territory.
Pitch Perfect2 was never going to be a failure in terms of money and will continue to see the immense success it already has. The winning combination of Elizabeth Banks (in her directorial debut), Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson was always going to have some laughs and enough heart to work. However, there is just too much that doesn’t quite make it. I mean if you throw enough darts at a board at least one will land but the majority won’t.
This film has energy and passion, that cannot be denied. However, it is so desperate to ride the coattails of its predecessor that it becomes fucking annoying. Even the reprise of the fucking Cup Song is so obviously pandering that I couldn’t help but cringe my way through it. Pitch Perfect 2could have been better and could have been funnier; there can be no denying that. However, I can’t quite bring myself to write it off. There is enough to like about the characters, the familiarity and the underlying message to bring enough joy. Even a cynic like me found the Bella’s final performance heart-warming.
My Top Ten Worst Christmas Films

My Top Ten Worst Christmas Films

After the runaway success of last year’s Top 11 Essential Christmas Films list, there was an outcry across the internet for a follow-up. How on Earth could I top perfection? Well, it became quite clear when I slowly realised that most Christmas films are actually utter shit. Therefore I felt that it is my duty to inform the world which ones are the worst of the bunch. Christmas is a busy period and we don’t have time to waste sitting in front of worthless tales.

Number 10: Love Actually

Love Actually, like all of Richard Curtis’ films, is beloved by audiences who find themselves too tangled up in the web of idealist, romantic nonsense to realise that the films are actually fairly toxic. Love Actually is an overly sweet mixture of intertwining stories that favours a quantity over quality approach. Curtis throws a mass of mediocre, forgettable and, in the worst cases, very uncomfortable stories (I mean Andrew Lincoln telling his best friend’s new wife that he loves her is just a terrible thing) into one pot along with an all-star cast and wraps it up in tinsel to create a Christmas movie that audiences would lap up without question.

As dream-worthy as this cast list is, I will never warm to a film that not only places Alan Rickman in the role of sexy adulterer but also makes Emma Thompson cry. That’s not Christmas. That’s not even Easter.

Number 9: Nativity/Nativity 2

To discuss why these are bad Christmas films I need only type two words: child actors. Urgh. Any film that allows young children the chance to show-off their questionable talents for over 90 minutes is something that doesn’t really sum up my idea of the holiday spirit. I think we can all agree that Christmas isn’t really about children. Please let’s go back to that Victorian sentiment of “children should be seen and not heard”.

Also, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that these films are just generally bad. A pair of childish, over-the-top and unrestrained family films that shove their tired and uninspired plots into the audience’s faces with enough gusto to attempt to hide their lack of creativity. I’m sorry but the relentless buffoonery of Marc Wootton isn’t something that I long to see whilst my chestnuts roast on an open fire.

Number 8: The Polar Express

A lovely tale about a boy’s struggle to believe in Christmas and adapted (in other words padded out) from a much-loved holiday children’s book: surely this must be a modern classic full of festive spirit? Festive spirit that is, according to Robert Zemeckis, all about dead-eyed motion-captured children frolicking about on a magic train. This film is too fucking creepy to be an enjoyable Christmas film. Although, strictly speaking, The Polar Express isn’t a complete disaster. There are some lovely visuals on display and Zemeckis always has a fairly tight hold on the reigns. However, for a film that was hailed as the start of a new era of CGI, the completely unrealistic and creepy human characters just draw all attention away from the otherwise slick look.

Number 7: The Holiday

The Holiday is another of those films that take a rather uninspired and unoriginal story and put it in a Christmas setting to make it seem sweeter and more magical. What we actually have here is four people, that it is really difficult to connect with, coming together in the most contrived of manners and taking much longer than necessary to realise they should be together. Considering the film stars Jack Black and Kate Winslet, two of Hollywood’s most charming and lovable actors, it lacks any real heart or sentimentality.

Also, for those reading my Twitter feed recently, may have noticed that I am somewhat opposed to all of Cameron Diaz’s storyline. Not only is she awful in the role (alongside the already mostly awful Jude Law) but her whole character flaw is so dull and annoying that I get angry even thinking about it. We’re well into the 21st century now, do we still need high-powered businesswomen who have sacrificed emotions for success? No. We’re better than that.

Number 6: Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn stars as Father Christmas’ loser brother who must work in his sibling’s workshop to redeem himself of his past crimes. This ends up as another lame holiday film that promises something with its cast list that it just can’t deliver on. Fred Clausconstantly crosses the line between farcical family comedy and sentimental holiday film without ever really succeeding at either. Unable to fill you with Christmas cheer or feed your cynical ‘bah humbug’ attitude. This run-of-the-mill festive film just ends up showing us that the simple and flexible idea used so effectively in the likes of Elf can, in the wrong hands, appear utterly deplorable and uninspired.

Number 5: Christmas with the Kranks

A film based on a John Grisham novel where Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis chose to forgo Christmas and go on a Caribbean cruise instead. What follows is an insane plot where the neighbourhood, led by Dan Aykroyd and that little kid from Malcolm in the Middle, start a hate campaign against this anti-Christmas attitude. Christmas with the Kranks is an utterly joyless and in-your-face film, which desperately tries, and ultimately fails, to force comedy on the audience in any way possible.

Number 4: Four Christmases

Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play an awful couple who lie to their parents about doing charity work but spend every Christmas abroad to avoid their families. One year, bad weather keeps them at home and, thanks to an unfortunate television interview, they are caught out. Their four divorced parents then demand a visit over the festive period. With an all-star, Oscar-winning cast, Four Christmases suffers from a terrible script, annoying leads and an awful premise. There is nothing festive about watching Award-winning actors Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen lowering themselves to base comedy.

Number 3: Deck the Halls

Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito get all uppity about Christmas lights in this dire Christmas film. Hardly instilling the ideas of Christmas cheer and togetherness, this bitter and mean-spirited comedy comes across as desperate and underwhelming. Nobody wants to see Broderick and DeVito warring over who can make their house bright enough so it is visible from space; especially when the aforementioned film is thoroughly lacking in humour or sentimentality.

Number 2: Jack Frost

Nothing sells Christmas quite like the heart-warming tale of Michael Keaton dying and coming back as a snowman to help his son avenge his bullies and stuff. What follows is a dull and pedestrian plot presented in the laziest of manners. Hoping to survive on its overly schmaltzy and emotional premise this film falls flat thanks to its performances and presentation. If you ask me, I’d much rather watch the alternative Jack Frost where a serial killer-turned-snowman takes revenge on the police officer who caught him. It’s an altogether more joyful experience.

Number 1: Surviving Christmas

Without a shadow of a doubt, this film is one of the most uncomfortable examples of Christmas viewing in the history of cinema. Ben Affleck is a lonely advertising mogul who offers James Gandolfini and his family $250,000 to pretend to be his family for the festive period. Not only is it truly cringe watching a grown man calling a complete stranger mum but the script is lacklustre and completely uninspired. At only about 90 minutes in total, it is at least 85 minutes too long. The fact that it took all of my effort to make it through the opening scene was a poor sign of things to come. Affleck offers nothing endearing when it comes to his portrayal as the unhinged Drew and Jennifer Morrison is just an assault to all senses as his super annoying girlfriend. Rather than feeling thoroughly festive once the credits rolled, I just felt ashamed and dirty.

My Top 11 Essential Christmas Films

My Top 11 Essential Christmas Films

Just to try and make myself feel like less of a failure I’m going to post two things in one night. Although the pressure is on as I’ve never been able to complete a Top 10 anything list in under a week. I also apologise for relying on the overused list format as a fail-safe but Christmas is a serious business and it’s important to know where your priorities should be. There shouldn’t be any need but I’d also like to point out that this is simply my own personal opinion. There are a lot Christmas films out there (especially when you have pretty flexible rules about what can really be described as a Christmas film) and these just happen to be the ones that I look forward to watching every year. (The eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have noticed that I wasn’t able to keep to just 10 films but I hope, in the spirit of Christmas, that you’ll be able to forgive my excitement.)

Number 1: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Basically, see the previous post. I genuinely don’t feel like it’s Christmas until I have seen this film at least once. It delights me as much now, as a (sort of) adult as it did when I was a child. Anyone who can sit through this film and not leave feeling merry and with a ‘thankful heart’ is someone I will never be able to understand.

Number 2: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

First things first this is a film that is NOT directed by Tim Burton. I hope most people are aware of this but I have found myself in a large number of conversations over the years where I have to listen to people praise Tim Burton for his direction of this film. It’s a bit of thing I have.

This beautiful example of stop-motion animation is a truly wonderful feature. It has the added bonus of also being a Halloween film meaning it’s possible to start Christmas viewing from as early as October if you feel you need a hit of festive cheer to get you through. Henry Selick expertly brings Burton’s zany and gothic characters to life in the enjoyable tale of the residents of Halloween town embracing the traditions of Christmas.

Number 3: Elf (2003)

Elf became an instant Christmas classic simply because there had been no decent modern Christmas movies for years. It’s hard not to find yourself becoming attached to the excitable and overzealous Buddy as he tries to make his way in the real world. Elf is Ferrell at his best and the laughs come thick and fast. Plus, anyone who can watch a large group of people burst into song, headed up by the lovable Zooey Deschanel, without feeling festive and bursting with joy is as heartless as Scrooge himself.

Number 4: Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994)

To be honest, I’ll always sort of prefer the later version because it is the one I grew up with and I’m really not sure there has ever been a greater on-screen Santa than Richard Attenborough. It is a simple tale about an important topic: the existence of Santa Clause. The film introduces us to a man claiming to be the real Kris Kringle and the struggle to prove it in a cynical world. A wonderful tale about faith, love and Christmas joy. A must-see every year.

Number 5: Home Alone (1990)

How could any child fail to enjoy Home Alone? John Hughes’ script sees the eight-year-old Kevin McCallister being left behind when his family go on holiday to Paris without him. Whilst alone, Kevin must get used to looking after himself and fending off two men keen to steal the family’s possession. Pretty standard stuff obviously. Another family-oriented Christmas film that manages to bring the spirit of the season along with a good dose of humour. With a wonderful appearance by John Candy, this film is a must-see for a great many families at this time of year.

Number 6: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Another necessary film from my childhood. I used to love this film so much that every time I was at a friends house and they owned it on VHS I would demand we watch it, no matter what time of year it was. The film focuses on Santa’s Elf Patch, played by Dudley Moore, as he attempts to find the recognition that he deserves. Feeling ignored in Santa’s workshop he joins forces with an evil John Lithgow. An essential family Christmas film despite its fairly dated feel. I don’t think it will ever feel like Christmas until I see David Huddleston’s Santa attempt the Super Duper Looper.

Number 7: Die Hard (1988)

Lower down the list simply because it is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas movie. There is no denying that Die Hard is still one of the greatest action films ever made but the Christmas setting doesn’t really add anything to the overall story. Bruce Willis gets caught up in a potential terrorist plot at his wife’s Christmas party. Mayhem and murder ensue. Essential viewing, certainly, but not necessarily essential Christmas viewing.

Number 8: Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins is another one of those questionable Christmas films but I think the fact that it doesn’t revolve around a jolly man dressed in red makes it a refreshing change from other potential viewings. I’d rather face Christmas with the adorable Gizmo than watch the sickening child performers of Nativity. Gremlins is the story of a really careless pet owner and the trouble he causes in his small town. It is one of the finer examples of the increasingly popular comedy/horror films to come out of the 80s. The film is funny and clever and serves as a strong reminder to follow the three simple rules associated with Mogwai ownership. Remember folks: never expose them to bright light; never get them wet; and never, I repeat never, feed them after midnight.

Number 9: Trading Places (1983)

I have a bit of a soft spot for 1980’s Dan Aykroyd and I think this tale of his wealthy investor losing everything to the homeless Eddie Murphy is a wonderfully dark Christmas comedy. There is something fantastic about watching a downtrodden Louis dressed in a Santa costume reach his lowest point where his only joy is eating stolen smoked salmon on the bus. With great performances from the lead actors (back in a time when Eddie Murphy could still be praised for his work) and a great supporting cast, I’d say this was necessary seasonal entertainment. After all, Christmas is a time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. So, please spare a thought for Louis Winthorpe III.

Number 10: Meet Me In St Louis (1944)

Again something that I would say is not technically a Christmas film as the Vincente Minnelli musical covers an entire year of the family’s life. However, there is no denying that a great deal of the important and emotional scenes happen during its festive moments. It is a sweet tale with all of the charm and whimsy that you could expect in the musicals of this era. A Christmas view simply because it gave life to one of the loveliest Christmas songs of all time. So sit back, relax and have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Number 11: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

I know it’s probably sacrilegious to place one of the most beloved Christmas films of all time in the number 11 spot but I can’t deny where my heart truly lies. Frank Capra’s tale of George Bailey’s discovery of his true worth, thanks to the guiding hand of his guardian angel, is, I suppose, a heartwarming affair but the tale of a suicidal man’s journey of discovery to be a little too much for my festive season. It is also one of the most annoyingly lengthy films ever. I usually need a quick nap just to see me through the important later scenes.

Honourable mentions:

Home Alone 2 (1992)
Sort of pushing the original format but still surprisingly refreshing for a sequel to such a simple idea. Ignore the fact that, after last time, these parents would blatantly have kept a better eye on their son and you may find yourself enjoying it.

Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s second Batman film is in keeping with the gothic first film but, thanks to the Christmas setting, it allows him to play with several conventional Christmas movie themes. And we all know “mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.” “But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.”

Scrooged (1988)
A fairly good updating of the Christmas Carol story where a still funny Bill Murray plays the reprehensible TV exec Frank Cross. Not the greatest adaptation of the novella but worth it for Murray’s energy.