Jingle All The Way (1996)
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.
Perfect Double Bill: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
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.
Perfect Double Bill: Holiday Affair (1949)
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