Alternative Christmas Movies
As the season of goodwill reaches its zenith, there's nothing I like better than to sit in my comfy fireside chair with a bucket of Brandy, a mountain of nuts, whilst fitted with a catheter so I can watch some quality seasonally themed films. Let's face it Christmas TV is usually a load of old bollocks, consisting mainly of repeats of TV specials featuring dead, unfunny comedians and classic films butchered to fit the midday schedules and shown in the WRONG aspect ratio. So rather than enduring such poor entertainment, I thought I'd share the love and sentiments of the time of year, by recommending some alternative material for your edification.
Die Hard (1988)
So let us begin with the all-time best Crimble movie ever. Die Hard. Yes Uncle Bruce gets his vest dirty and shoots Germans. The star of the film is of course Alan Rickman who oozes malevolence and delivers his dialogue with abject relish. "I wanted this to be professional, efficient, adult, cooperative. Not a lot to ask. Alas, your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way... so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life". A veritable blue print for other action films with is perfect blend of human drama, action and wisecracking. Go watch a high definition copy and relish the bullet hits. Oh and don't forget to kick it old school with Run DMC's Christmas in Hollis.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
Lightning can strike twice, even during the festive season, so next up we have Die Hard 2. Is it as good as the first? Of course not, but it's still a solid action movie which compensates for not having Alan Rickman, by including some really unpleasant violence. There’s a throat cutting, a head in the baggage handling machine and of course everyone favourite, the icicle in the eye. Plus we also get a cameo by the legendary Franco Nero (is that not the worlds coolest name?). Furthermore there's lots of snow. What can be more seasonal than that? This time round the Christmas song that has been neatly dove tailed into the production is "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" by Vaughn Monroe.
The Silent Partner (1978)
Moving on to something a little more obscure but none the less rewarding. The Silent Partner is an excellent example of the hard boiled thriller genre from the seventies. Remember when films were gritty, with slick dialogue and populated with characters who didn't have to be A list leads? The Silent Partner is a heist movie with a difference. Career criminal Christopher Plummer fails to rob bank cashier Elliott Gould, who seeing the chance to pocket some cash himself, then proceeds to pin the blame on said robber. Discovering this duplicity, blackmail, murder and revenge ensue. Is it particularly Christmassy? Not really. However Mr Plummer does conduct the initial heist dressed as Santa, so that will suffice. This is a good film with a hard edge; the villain being a sexual sadist. There's also a rather unpleasant murder that comes as a shock to the average viewer and tropical fish enthusiasts.
Battle of the Bulge (1965)
Let’s take a more historical tack with regard to seasonal movies. It should not be forgotten that one of the last major offensives of WWII was fought was during the holiday period. Thus I would recommend to all discerning viewers of all-star, big budget war films, to reacquaint themselves with Battle of the Bulge. Nothing says Christmas more than big tanks and Robert Shaw as a Nazi. Don't forget to stamp your feet and join in with the Panzerlied. It's not a bad film for summarising the actual details of the battle, although purist tankophiles may bristle at the technical inaccuracies. German King Tiger tanks are depicted by American M47 Pattons, with M24 Chaffees representing the M4 Sherman. Telly Savalas plays a wisecracking, sarcastic anti-hero, as per usual. A good second choice for those who fancy a break from the season ritual that is The Great Escape.
Trading Places (1983)
A change of pace and scene now, with John Landis' classic 1983 comedy Trading Places. Yes back in the days when Eddie Murphy was still funny, this film really showcased his talents and put him on the Hollywood map. This intelligent comedy makes some wry observations not only on the issue of race, but also wealth and social demographics. It even led to some legal changes within the banking community (See the "Eddie Murphy Rule"). Is it directly linked to Christmas? Not entirely, but Dan Ackroyd does dress as Santa and part of the movie is set during the holiday season. I've added the picture above, not just because it’s a gratuitous breast shot but to highlight the running gag of "See you next Wednesday", which features in many of John Landis' films.
It wouldn't be Christmas without a film about a cute adorable creature that multiplies when wet, and if fed after midnight turns into a slavering sociopath with a sense of gallows humour. Gremlins is Joe Dante's near perfect creature feature homage. This film is not only cinematically literate but great fun and also quite scary. The microwave scene still never fails to amuse me! Phoebe Cates monologue about the death of her Father at Christmas is very black indeed.
"The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus".
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Finally, I would like to briefly mention Lethal Weapon. I watched this again recently on Blu-ray and the first thing that struck me was how well the hardboiled dialogue was written for this genre of movie, courtesy of Shane Black. Buddy crime thriller movies are so totally overblown these days. Take Bad Boys II as an example. I appreciate that this type of film requires the viewer’s suspension of disbelief, but as my Grandad use to say "There's a difference between farting and shitting yourself". Lethal Weapon although action packed, doesn't jump the shark and is a well-crafted film. It boasts likeable character and solid direction. Gary Busey is also a top villain. The man shoots a Christmas tree!
That completes the Contains Moderate Peril alternative Christmas guide and our recommendations of films we think make good substitutes to the standard drivel that fill the Christmas TV schedules. I’d like to honourably mention most film versions of A Christmas Carol (especially the Muppets version) as well as any adaptation of the Ghost stories of M.R. James. Christmas is a time for supernatural tales. Also don’t forget Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman. It’s a wonderful piece of animation. Next week there’ll be The Contains Moderate Peril guide to New Year and why that cultural tradition is also a load of old bollocks.