Brian Levant directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad and Rita Wilson in this family comedy where a busy Dad spends the day trying to buy a sold-out toy doll for his whiny son.
The low point in Arnie’s 1990’s peak. Less pleasing than the soft-boiled Junior. More brash and wobbly than even Batman & Robin. There just isn’t a working three act movie here. You kinda wish the lurches into surreal action were as full blooded as Last Action Hero. Arnie’s fight with a crime ring of Santa Clauses or a chase for a rubber ball through a mall might actually work if they were executed with the madcap scale of True Lies. Big ask. But this doesn’t work otherwise. The end result leaves a big R republican bad taste in the mouth despite the miscast superstar importing a lot of goodwill.
Perfect Double Bill: The Santa Clause (1994)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Renny Harlin directs Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson and Craig Bierko in this buddy action thriller where an amnesiac schoolmarm hires a sleazy detective to uncover her past… and ‘her past’ turns out to be the violent life of a top black-ops assassin.
“I’m always frank and earnest with women. Uh, in New York I’m Frank, and Chicago I’m Ernest.”
Foul-mouthed December mayhem like only Shane Black knows how to do right. This probably has to be his scrappiest, most incoherent plot ever. But Samuel L. Jackson’s cowardly Mitch Hennessy is a treat. Possibly his most underrated star role. It is an action flick of moments, ones that actually play better the next morning rather than when you are trying to keep a pace with them all. The Long Kiss Goodnight shuffles out pretty randomly, like the final form was salvaged in the editing suite, yet Harlin and Davis move too quick for you to really care how ramshackle the experience ultimately is.
Joe Dante directs Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Hoyt Axton in this black comedy where a bunch of deadly critters overrun a small town at Christmas.
I was watching Gremlins before I even figured out exactly what a movie is and how much I love them. It hasn’t fully stayed the course as a seminal favourite. It is not up THERE at the God Tier. It is merely very, very good. Things I love – The Rules, Phoebe Cates, Gizmo, the subversive use of Christmas, the final act of SFX wizardry and rat-a-tat sight gags, Mushroom the dog’s pitch perfect performance, Phoebe Cates’ “the true meaning of Christmas” speech, those mattes. The rest is perfectly fine but nostalgia doesn’t fully carry it all the length through. Best watched once a decade rather than every other holiday.
Perfect Double Bill: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Lady & The Tramp (1955)
Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske direct Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts and Peggy Lee in this Walt Disney classic where two dogs from across the tracks fall in love.
Begins and ends on Christmas Day. Sue me about the rest not being festive. Two really fantastic scenes (Bella Notte and He’s A Tramp) and a lot of perfectly amiable filler. Sweet, watchable, yet an ever so slight wobble given its immediate contemporaries.
Perfect Double Bill: Oliver & Company (1988)
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
George Seaton directs Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn in this Christmas classic where a department store Santa might just be the real deal.
While every other film in this round-up could just about get away being set at any other time of the year (Jingle All The Way could, with a gentle rewrite, just be about a birthday present) here is movie that feels like its holly and ivy is baked deep into the crust. You couldn’t have a feelgood story about a man believing he was a chocolate shop Easter Bunny! A real charmer, one that mixes post-war cynicism with Hollywood optimism. A string of fine performances – only the splendid Maureen O’Hara feels a little wasted. Nice.
Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske direct Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn and Richard Haydn in this Disney animated classic based on Lewis Carroll’s tale of a young girl who enters a world of nonsense.
The trippiest Disney. Faithful to the source, still child friendly. There’s more material herein than in any 10 line fairytale and that really helps the zany magic to shine. Also the first one of these I can remember that doesn’t have a culturally inappropriate character you have to gasp, giggle and excuse awkwardly. Allegedly also has the most songs of any WD classic, though none are an obvious strength.
Perfect Double Bill: The Sword In the Stone (1963)
James Cameron directs Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver in this sci-fi epic sequel where the human turned alien, Jake Sully, takes his family to the safety of an ocean community after his insurgency against his old species gets personal.
The marketing campaign made it very, very clear. This is going to be all about gangly, blue, semi-nude, cat-like humanoids. Cameron is doubling down. While there are still live action humans dotted about, very few of them will garner much focus. Avatar 2 is, in the main, a very sophisticated animation that only every 10 minutes or so feels like the uncanny valley has been entered. So if you’ve spent the last 13 years shitposting about Thundersmurfs there ain’t nothing for you here. Even series highlight, Stephen Lang’s megalomaniacal Quaritch, has been resurrected in a Na’vi husk. All hope is lost.
Our lone human protagonist in the busy ensemble is a barely clothed, dreadlocked white kid in a gas mask. A callback to the Feral Child or Newt who risks being a bit overbearingly Scrappy-Doo in the first act. Eventually his presence evens out into something worthwhile, less annoying. Avatar 2’s real strength over the initial instalment is how often Worthington’s dull lead is shifted back to the mid ground and his more potent family of half breeds and outcasts are given valid time to work their own plot lines. It ain’t Altman or PTA but for an action ensemble you do start to care about the wayward kids who populate said action. It is the character work and potential arcs established here that make 3, 4 and maybe even 5 a more tantalising queue of prospects. A seismic shift from where we were at close of play last time. In 1 Cameron built an alien world. Here he propagates a franchise.
And I ain’t coming to a Cameron blockbuster on opening weekend for the hippy dippy stuff. The environmentalism. The being at one with Pandora. The anti-colonialism. The iffily repackaged genocide of the natives by the settlers. White guilt. The second act that spends a lot of time on lonely tortoise-whale therapy sessions. How do you even rate some of the daring-do when it is so pointedly abrasive? We get a future-whaling sequence that is shaped like a kinetic set piece but ultimately leaves you feeling sad rather than pumped. I’ve come for the spectacle. And because I care just a smidge more for the family and the stakes involved this time than I ever did about Sully’s bland interloper last time… the carnage in the third act fulfils its brief solidly, even nostalgically. It ain’t as perfect as the groundbreaking, live action stunt and explosion stuff Cameron delivered in say Aliens / The Abyss / T2 / True Lies but I think we all know, outside of Tom Cruise movies, those days have long since passed for the multiplex. This felt more wholemeal an adventure than Doctor Strange 2 or No Way Home or Avatar 1. It feels churlish to give it the same score of 7 as those movies. But as blockbusters go the improvements and undeniable quality of the craft don’t make this suddenly any more entertaining. And that’s what I’m ultimately gambling 190 minutes of my week on.
Masayuki Ochiai directs Joshua Jackson, Rachael Taylor and Megumi Okina in this American attempt to make a J-Horror.
Yankee newlyweds are haunted by a spirit photography curse after almost knocking down a disappearing girl on a country road in Japan. In some ways this feels ahead of its time with its hamfisted approach to toxic masculinity and gaslighting… but as a genre work it is derivative and ineffective. The only time it is enjoyable is when it is laughably cliched… even those moments are few and far between. One of the most boring things I have watched in a long old time. Not even Pacey Witter can make this endurable.
Alan Rickman directs Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts and himself in this period drama where two talented landscape artists become romantically entangled while building a garden in King Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles.
Handsome and with plenty of generous acting beats – yet the central romance element is the least interesting thing here and the movie could probably trundle on without it, just be about fancy gardening. Strangely structured (not a criticism).
Benjamin Christensen directs himself, William Burroughs and Clara Pontoppidan in this Swedish film essay on the history of Satan and witchcraft and prejudice throughout history.
I’ve struggled to get much out of silent movies at home over these past few years so cheated and watched a shortened re-release from the Sixties with a William Burroughs voiceover. This did the trick and I’m primed to watch the original version next time. Mucho full on demon make-up and visual effects and kinky torture between the lesson plan intentions. Really worth seeking out for horror fans.
Robert Bresson directs Anne Wiazemsky, Walter Green and François Lafarge in this arthouse drama about a mistreated donkey who is handed around various owners over his life of drudgery.
One of those bonafide classics, eat your green, pretentious critics favourites that actually somewhat lives up to its reputation. I really struggle with animal cruelty on screen… even simulated… and this remains just about palatable even if it is prolonged over a feature length. Feels very influential on Von Trier and Haneke, and hyper critical of love, man’s treatment of women and blind religious faith as well as the most blatant theme.