Tuesday’s Reviews – Christmas Inheritance (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Christmas Inheritance (2017)

There’s a thing with Christmas movies that mean the expectations regarding quality shift. I mean there’s got to be a reason so many people love the film Love Actually when it is, clearly, the worst thing ever made. I mean it’s a horrible mix of plots that are offensive and irritating and really not very romantic. I have a complicated enough relationship with Richard Curtis without this affront being played a million times every December. But there is a genre of Christmas films that really scrape the bottom of the barrel. The kind of unoriginal TV movies that are churned out in amazing quantities by the likes of Hallmark. And, apparently, Netflix have been trying to get in on the act. Last week I reviewed the film that the Christmas film of 2017: Netflix’s original A Christmas Prince. I watched it and, to my surprise, didn’t totally hate it. I mean I mostly did but I still found some festive pleasure watching it. Still, I was happily done with the “genre” until I was shown the trailer for Netflix’s second big holiday production: Christmas Inheritance. I’m starting to worry about the inevitable increase in the number of recommendations I’ll get from the age 12-14 film category because of these films. Ah, what the heck, my recommendations are already pretty fucked up thanks to all of the 90s gross-out comedies that I’ve watched.
Whilst it might seem that A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance have a lot in common that simply isn’t true. Both feature a female as their protagonist but these protagonists are very different. One is a terrible journalist whilst the other is a terrible CEO. Oh my god, so different! In the latest film, Ellie (Eliza Taylor) is the daughter to the CEO of a fairly twee and family orientated gift company. She expects to take over from her father, Jim, some day but she is more preoccupied with partying to care about the traditions that her father and his business partner started so many years ago. In order to push Ellie into learning more about the company’s values, Jim sends her to the small town where everything all started. She has to go undercover and with only $100 to her name. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense but it is the only thing that drives this film forward so I’ll go with it. Unluckily for Ellie, Snow Falls is in the middle of nowhere with no amenities and very few ways to contact the outside world. Can she get over her New York ways and prove she deserves to run the company?

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Christmas film without the added touch of romance. Whilst Ellie is engaged to an obvious wrong-un from New York, she finds herself drawn to literally the first (and seemingly only) young man she meets in town. He runs the inn owned by her father business partner and has no time for her big city bullshit. Until he finally starts to see the kind heart that she hides underneath, of course. This is standard rom-com fair: high maintenance girl sent out to hicksville and getting her hands dirty before falling in love with the local dishy Samaritan. But this is different because… it’s Christmas? Obviously, he eventually finds out she’s been lying about who she is and, suffering from his own inner demons, our flannel wearing hero turns his back on the rich young thing.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought after my reaction to A Christmas Prince that I would react more favourably to this film. I didn’t. Just like their previous offering, Netflix’s new film is a mash-up of so many romantic-comedies that have come before it. This time it manages to be as unfunny, inexplicable and unoriginal as A Christmas Prince whilst also giving us a heavy dose of its patronising attitude towards simple rural folk. There is always going to be problem with the conceit of a young rich girl going back to her roots: it always has to imply that there is something so twee and magical about small town living. It forces us to believe that these folks are so backwards that their good nature and kind hearts are an unusual thing. It’s fucking annoying. Snow Falls is the manic pixie dream girl of small towns. An unrealistic place that manages to show the main character who she is and who she needs to be thanks to its endless parade of outdated stereotype characters.

I also found Christmas Inheritance’s inevitability much more annoying. I kind of accepted that A Christmas Prince was going to be exactly the kind of film I thought it was going to be and found it funny to second-guess the plot. Here it seems much less acceptable. Maybe it’s because this film tries to ground itself closer to reality or because it takes itself more seriously? I don’t know. What I do know is that I was much angrier when I was shouting the future plot strands at the screen this time around. In reality, Christmas Inheritance is no worse a film than A Christmas Prince but, if you were to really push me, I’d definitely pick the latter to watch. But it’s entirely possible I never got over my childhood dream to become a princess one day and it’s affecting my life’s choices.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Geostorm (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Geostorm (2017)

There was a time, back in about 2012, when I genuinely believed that Gerard Butler was going to be a great actor. I admit, this was mostly to do with the film Coriolanus where he blew everyone’s minds by being fucking awesome in Shakespeare. Since then, Hollywood has continued to cast him in underwhelming action movies or shitty romantic-comedies. How many of you out there can name a Gerard Butler movie that they enjoyed? Okay, I’m sure a few of you will have said 300 but then we have to get into the whole Zack Snyder debate. I mean the guy fucking sucks! Look at what he’s doing to DC. I mean I’ll give him Watchmen because I was one of the few people who liked it. Anyway, I can’t get into this again. So, ignoring 300 (because we’ll never agree) name a Gerard Butler film that you actually like? It fucking tricky, right? Can you even name 5 Gerard Butler movies? They all pretty much meld into one so it’s really difficult to tell them apart. Kind of like Vin Diesel, if you’ve seen one Gerard Butler film then you’ve seen them all. Or at least that’s what I thought before Geostorm came out. I genuinely believe that this film marks the very moment that Gerard Butler became the new Nicolas Cage. It was a film that looked so preposterous that I never planned on seeing it. The kind of film based around such dodgy scientific fact that you walk out of it feeling like fucking Stephen Hawking compared to the writers. Still, I wasn’t counting on being full of cold this week. I wanted to watch and review the new Netflix film Mudbound because it looks bloody amazing. My brain wasn’t quite prepared for that though. So yesterday, overcome by the various fluids that are slowly filling the hole where my face normally resides, I decided it was a good idea to actually watch the film that made Gerard Butler one of the most unconvincing American scientists ever seen on-screen. I mean, it is only about 109 minutes long. Even in as close to a snotty death as I was, that was a length I could manage.

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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.

Top 5 Television Characters I’d be Friends With

Top 5 Television Characters I’d be Friends With

A few months ago I bought the Film Listography journal and have yet to do anything with it. As I was cutting it really fine to get a post ready for this week so I decided the easiest thing to do was to rely on the old favourite ‘Top 5 List’. Picking a page at random I discovered the ‘List Celluloid Characters You Wish Were Your Friends’ page and thought “hmm this will be a piece of piss”. Boy, was I a fucking idiot about 1 hour ago. Hoping it would be simpler, I changed to TV characters I wished were my friends and still had a shit load of trouble getting past 2. It turns out that either I don’t like a lot of people or I’m just super picky about who I’ll allow to be classed as my friend. Still, I managed to cobble something together for your pleasure.

1. Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Brienne more than anyone in Game of Thrones and that I’m more than a little bit in love with Gwendoline Christie. I think Brienne is just one of the most interesting and well rounded female characters that I’ve ever experienced. She is someone that I can completely empathise with and understand almost completely. She’s the kind of woman I would aspire to be like… if I lived in a weird fantasy realm like Westeros. I’d happily have coffee with this lady.

2. Jim Halpert (The Office)

I can empathise with Jim on a very personal level. He’s stuck in a job he hates, surrounded by utter freaks and bored out of his mind. In order to relieve this boredom he pulls silly and juvenile pranks on his coworkers. I’ve been at the same dead-end job for over 10 years and there are days when I honestly can’t face it anymore. Silliness is the last refuge of the professionally uninspired and I’ve been known to pull the odd prank in my day. I’d love an evening out with Jim, bitching about my colleagues and swapping prank ideas.

3. Liz Lemon (30 Rock)

Do I really need to explain this? Tina Fey created such an amazing character with Liz Lemon that I find it impossible to imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to be her friend. Liz is a funny, strong, and dedicated woman who understands the importance of feminism, strong eye-roll game and night cheese. I’d take her out and buy her as many mozarella sticks as she fucking wanted.

4. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (The Gilmore Girls)

Again, this is surely fucking obvious. These are two of the most amazing women ever to appear on television. Not only would they be able to understand my frantic speaking pace but I’d happily sit down and share pop culture references with them all night. Whether it was talking books with Rory or Molly Ringwald movies with Lorelai, there’s never be an awkward silence with these gals.

5. Chloe O’Brian (24)

Chloe is by far one of the best characters to come out of 24 and was such a fantastic antidote to the dismal female characters we were offered before. I know that after Kim anyone would be a fucking breath of fresh air but I loved Chloe’s frankness. Her friendship with Jack felt real. It was something you could rely on in the middle of all of the fucking crazy things the writers were coming up with. Chloe might have something of an attitude problem but, as someone who if accused of this on an almost daily basis, I’d still want to party with her.

Honourable mentions: the Tracy family (Thunderbirds), Xander Harris (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Maggie Jacobs (Extras), Andy and April (Parks and Recreation).

Sex Tape (2014)

Sex Tape (2014)

I imagine a certain type of person reacting to the news that Cameron Diaz would star in a film called Sex Tape as though it’s the best thing to happen ever. Although it wasn’t this person that Vue cinemas felt they needed to advertise it to. I first saw the full trailer for Sex Tape before my viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy. It was the middle of the Summer holidays at about lunchtime so there were kids aplenty. It seemed a bit fucking weird to me. Do fathers, out with their kids, really want to be titillated by the thought of a naked Cameron Diaz? Do parents really want their children being forced to imagine Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel filming themselves getting down and dirty? Clearly marketing strategies still centre around fucking ridiculous stereotypes of desperate and sexually frustrated comic book nerds.

I never wanted to see Sex Tape: it looked like every other tired sex comedy out there: lacking in originality, subtlety, and, most worryingly, humour. It’s like an American Pie but with randy parents instead of students: genius.Although, there is a lot to be said for a boring Sunday and I’m always willing to take a personal hit if it gives me something to rip into.

Clearly taking the best part of an hour to finalise, the narrative follows married couple Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) who are horrified to discover that jobs, children and other everyday issues have meant they have a lot less sex. Honestly, how this could be new information is beyond me. It’s is a concept that has given us countless films and TV episodes which should have given them fair warning.

However, the pair decide that the time has come to make a change and, after packing the kids off to Grandma, the couple prepare for a magical night alone. Finding it difficult to regain their rhythm the pair obviously decide the best decision is to film them on Jay’s new iPad. Unfortunately, the video is sent to the mythical “Cloud” and Jay, who philanthropically palms his cast-off technology to friends and family, must prevent his nearest and dearest seeing the pair acting out ‘The Joy of Sex’.

Now as film premises go this is already fucking stupid and strained. The pair make such a big deal about the video being released whilst conveniently forgetting that they can easily remove the video remotely. Instead they set off on a ridiculous adventure to break into people’s houses and steal their gadgets. Including a brief stop at Annie’s new boss’ (Rob Lowe) house where she discovers his family friendly image is actually a front for a cocaine binging, Slayer fan.

We have another of those all too familiar occasions where Lowe, in a shitty supporting role, comes out on top. He is a funny performer and is lucky enough to get something to work with. We learn very little about the lead characters’ lives and it is hard to see why this is such an issue. It’s hardly as dramatic a situation as the film constantly tries to convince us and I have no idea why it would change their lives so much. I mean at the start of the film Annie emulates Carrie fucking Bradshaw and reveals intimate details about her sex life for anyone to read. Isn’t this just the next natural step?

The titular sex tape is the script’s one joke and it is squeezed for as much comedy potential as possible. Unfortunately, this mostly falls flat so, to make up for it, the writers include more increasingly absurd situations that would never cross any normal person’s mind. Who, upon hearing that the video was now on YouPorn, would break into their headquarters and destroy their servers? Are we expected to believe that anyone who found the location of the site’s servers wouldn’t just think to send an email demanding their personal property be removed? Fuck off.

I admit there was potential here but all of that is sacrificed for cheap laughs. The narrative changes halfway through to an even less interesting blackmail plot and supporting characters are quickly forgotten to focus on the couple who are both dependent on technology yet still utterly clueless about how it works. For a while Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper, as the couple’s married friends, provide some light and, thankfully, humorous relief but the writers, not wanting them to outshine the entire movie, quickly dispatch of them.

At best, Sex Tape is a really long, fairly abstract advert for Apple. At worst, it is an unoriginal, badly written and contrived comedy with far fewer jokes than it needed. Even Diaz and Segel’s that managed to lift the limp Bad Teacher seems to be watered down here and both actors have lost some of their inherent charm. It’s as if they released just a little too late what they were letting themselves in for and were forced to carry on with the whole sorry charade whilst hating themselves a little bit.

Jason Segel had a hit writing and starring in Forgetting Sarah Marshall but every subsequent attempt to equal that has crashed to some extent. Unfortunately, Sex Tape is the fucking Hindenburg disaster of Segel’s career. I only hope it will convince him to either get back to the old days or just fucking stop.

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.

Top 5 Female Role Models in A Song of Ice and Fire

Top 5 Female Role Models in A Song of Ice and Fire

(Beware of any possible book related spoilers guys.)

My life if pretty full of the people of Westeros right now. I’ve just rewatched season 2 of the hit HBO show, I’m once again making my way through George RR Martin’s Feast of Crowsand, as we should all be aware, the new series of Game of Thrones starts in a matter of days. As usual in these situations I have become so deeply immersed in this fake word that it’s the only thing on my mind and I felt I had to address it here. One of the things I enjoy most about Martin’s series is the great selection of strong female characters. Yes, Martin may not be the writer that Tolkien was but he’s much more aware of the general awesomeness of women. The women in LOTRare generally pretty overlooked. I mean there’s Galadriel the powerful elf but she has that whole temptation thing to contend with. Then we have Eowyn, who is an undeniable badass warrior but, I for one, can’t forget the flirting with another woman’s man situation. Yes Arwen had a bigger part in the film but in the books her main task it to sit in the corner looking pretty and elfy. It’s all a big yawn in terms of ‘girl power’. This is where Martin takes a step ahead of the granddaddy of fantasy.

The series is littered with women who don’t allow themselves to get swept along in a male dominated world. They throw themselves into the heart of the action and fight for what they want. Gone are the helpless maidens in pretty dresses who swoon at the sight of men in armour. (Although with a cast of such ridiculously attractive men there is still a fair amount of swooning but, as I’m guilty of that myself, I can forgive them.) So I felt it was time to get my thoughts in order and present the best examples in the order in which they sit within my heart.

Number 1: Brienne of Tarth
This was the easiest of all. Brienne quickly became one of my all time favourite characters in the books and, thanks to a wonderful portrayal by Gwendoline Christie, the TV show has only increased my girl crush on the great warrior. Brienne of Tarth is a fucking legend. Undeniably strong, powerful and determined, she can stand up for herself in a fight and easily vanquishes the foes that set out to harm her. She follows her instincts and works hard to become the person she wants to be. Continually mocked throughout her life, Brienne doesn’t give up hope and never succumbs to the scorn of others. There is nobody more honest, upfront and loyal. Whilst she initially finds it hard to trust people, once she has been shown courtesy or friendship it is impossible to lose her support. Brienne is one of the few figures within Westeros who still strives to live up to the true guidelines for a knight and is one of the only characters within the series that it would be possible to trust implicitly. On top of that, her relationship with Jamie Lannister has totally changed my opinion on the guy… as well as leading to one of my all time favourite moments in the series. I’m of course talking of the magical moment when he exacts revenge on Ser Ronnington for speaking ill of his friend by whacking him with his gold hand. One must cheer.
Number 2: Arya Stark
Arya is one of those characters who you are immediately drawn to. She doesn’t just sit down and accept her lot in life. She hates the idea of the future that has been mapped out before her and actively seeks to change it. Arya was blessed with a great deal of her father’s spirit and isn’t afraid to throw herself in at the deep end. She shows great cunning, resourcefulness and courage. Never one to ignore the harsh realities of life, our young Stark faces difficulties head on. Finding herself alone in King’s Landing, she acts better than most could hope to. She doesn’t give up after her father’s death but continues to fight for survival. In order to help those around her, she uses an incredible amount of cunning to force Jaqen H’ghar to facilitate the escape of the Northmen held at Harrenhal. She later helps her friends escape and leads them safely through the lands of Westeros. Arya is often hot-headed and quick to act but she has great spirit and courage. She is brave and, despite her lack of years and world experience, is able to get through many dangers and difficult situations. She has one of the most exciting stories in the books and I’m looking forward to seeing her become an even stronger young woman.
Number 3: Daenerys Targaryen
Some may be shocked to see that the Mother of Dragons isn’t higher on the list but I can’t help it. Dany is great but I’ve never felt the love with her too much (plus her storyline isn’t keeping me as gripped as it was in the first book). Although there is no denying that Daenerys goes on one of the greatest journeys within the series; she begins as a timid, shy young girl who has known nothing but exile and fear before she grows into a much feared Khaleesi. Through her strong and loving marriage to Khal Drogo (after it’s questionable and rapey beginning) she flourishes into something great. She became a strong, independent, confident woman and a real leader of her husband’s people. Always remaining compassionate and kind, Dany is determined to help those who cannot help themselves. She ruthlessly deals with her enemies and gives freedom to those locked in slavery. However, we cannot forget that the Mother of Dragons is still young and naïve. There is something childish about her attitude towards the Iron Throne and the idea that she deserves to rule despite having not set foot on Westeros in her entire life feels ridiculous. She was clearly warped by her brother Viserys’ obsession with the Crown and it causes her to make some strange choices and have quite a few hissy fits. There are still some negative Targaryen qualities within Dany and her love of dragons is proving to be dangerous for the innocent people she comes across. A strong woman, yes, but her conflicting desires make it hard to want to follow her. Plus I found it difficult to accept her treatment of dear old Jorah.
Number 4: Sansa Stark
It’s very easy to criticise Sansa Stark as she is a horrible child for nearly all of the first book and she seemingly does very little after. However, Sansa is still a Stark child and has inherited much of her father’s determination and strength. From the second book onwards we really start to see the Starkian qualities within Sansa and she handles her situation amazingly well. We must not forget that the girl is still very young and has little real knowledge of the world. She left Winterfell for the first time to live with her father in King’s Landing and had no experience of city life. Quickly finding herself alone would have broken a weaker girl but Sansa steps up. She stands up for her father and begs for his life to be spared. It’s something not all young girls would have been brave enough to do. Sansa is pretty amazing. Unlike Arya she has no real physical presence but she is shrewd. She knows how to play the game; she says the right thing, does the right things and acts like the good lady everyone expects her to. She constantly uses her intelligence and cunning to get Joffrey to do things without him realising she’s in control. Sansa does the impossible task of surviving in a world full of dangerous people, liars and cheats. Something her own father couldn’t manage. To quote my good friend Tyrion Lannister,“Lady Stark, you may yet outlive us all.”
Number 5: The Sand Snakes and Arianne Martell
Perhaps it is a bit of a cheat to lump these in together but they’re all pretty similar and have the same motives. The sand snakes are the bastard daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell and Princess Arianne is their cousin, daughter of Prince Doran of Dorne. These women are legendary and have great combined skills and knowledge. The fact that it is necessary to lock the four eldest Snakes away after the death of their father tells you enough about them. They have skills in martial arts, knowledge of poison and must be locked away to prevent them causing chaos. Their father dies and their first instinct is to beg the Prince to act in response. They are powerful, strong and are unquestioning in their desire for justice. I’m looking forward to finding out more about them.
Arianne is much the same but also much cooler. She is next in line to the throne and is shown to be well suited to lead. She is clever, calculating and fierce-tempered. Definitely someone you wouldn’t want to cross. She is also well aware of how to use the gifts she was given and succeeds in making a Knight of the Kingsguard forget his vows and do her bidding. With the added awareness of when to hide these gifts and present a more professional front. Who doesn’t want to be a bit more like Princess Arianne?
Honourable mention: Osha
Not for the book so much but for the TV show. The writers, along with Natalia Tena, have done a brilliant job of creating this character and Osha has become an important player in the series. So much so that Martin himself is ready to write more about the character in his future books. Osha is a savage wildling but takes to her captive life at Winterfell without much trouble. She knows what she needs to do to survive. It is thanks to Osha that Bran learns more about the mystical forces that are overlooked by many. She is knowledgeable about the old gods, the north and those that inhabit it. Without Osha Bran and Rickon would not have survived Theon’s attempt to take Winterfell and it is thanks to her cunning that they escape towards the Wall. Also, her scene with a dying Maester Luwin is one of her finest moments. I’m glad Osha was such an important part of the Winterfell plot and I hope the inclusion of the Reed siblings in the next series doesn’t push her into the background.
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.