Top ten alternative Christmas movies

Now’s the time of year when a lot of people become insufferable, spouting their Christmas cheer all over the place. I bet there’s a chance that was your reaction reading my opening line, right? Something like, ‘Don’t be a scrooge! Cheer up, it’s chriiiissstmaaas!’ This is exactly the kind of thing that drives me mad. I mean, to be honest, I’d be fine with Christmas if it didn’t seem like everyone was forcing you to be merry all the time.

Which brings me onto movies. Most Christmas offerings are awful, tragically soppy and saccharine affairs (although I have a soft spot for Santa Claus: the movie, mostly because of John Lithgow). So when it comes to settling down with loved ones to get in the Christmas spirit, it’s either watch one of those or have an argument about whether Die Hard is or isn’t allowed Christmas movie status. And if it does get the ok, what else could be considered a Christmas movie?

So I did a little list. My alternative Christmas movies, if you will. See what you think.

1. Gremlins (1984)

This is such a fun film. There are rules: don’t get your mogwai wet, don’t feed it after midnight or it’ll turn into an evil gremlin with a mohawk, that sort of thing. I also found out, years later, that they used the exact same small town set for this film as they did for Back to the Future.

2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Highest Shane Black film on my list (there are quite a few more below) and this one is significant because it marked the return from the wilderness for Robert Downey Jr (he went on to do some kind of superhero film or something). It also had fantastic performances from rising star (at the time) Michelle Monaghan and also a return, in hilarious fashion, for Val Kilmer.

3. Batman Returns (1992)

Arguably, whisper it, the best Batman film of the Keaton era? Actually, I am torn. Batman was truly great but Batman Returns gave us Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as the Pengiun and Christopher Walken as, er, evil business dude. Max something.

4. Go (1999)

Written by legendary screenwriter John August, this is essentially the screenplay that put him on the map. It has a soft spot in my heart, being one I watched a lot growing up – it just seemed so cool. The story starts by introducing a group of characters, we follow one of them. The story then returns to the same place to follow another character. Eventually, they intertwine.

5. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Akroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis team up to take down a couple of corrupt, rich old white guys. You could say this film feels intensely relevant in 2019, or ten years ago, or that it’s basically timeless. Either way, it’s a funny film with a bunch of ’80s actors at the top of their game. And Akroyd, dressed as Santa, eats salmon through his beard.

6. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

My second Shane Black film on this list. Before Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale and others took up the mantle as the action women of Hollywood, we had the bad ass momma Gina Gershon. Here as an assassin that’s lost her memory and living life as a contented housewife. Then things happen and she starts to remember who she was, teaming up with Samuel L. Jackson to take down some bad guys.

7. In Bruges (2008)

A job goes wrong for two hit man, so they head to Bruges to lay low. One (Brendan Gleeson) loves the city, the other (Colin Farrell) hates it. Trouble is their somewhat unhinged boss (Ralph Fiennes) has ordered them to stay put. He then heads out to join them in a ridiculous showdown. This remains darkly comic genius from writer-director Martin McDonagh. Highly rewatchable.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

The film that put Mel Gibson on the map as a Hollywood leading man. This is also the film that got writer (and now director) Shane Black in the door, kickstarting his career. It’s also kind of interesting, in that this first film had live wire cop Riggs (Gibson) really struggle with his demons. The sequels were funnier but this first film actually had some fairly dark moments.


9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

After helping revive Downey Jr’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Downey returned the favour by having his friend Shane Black direct him in this third instalment of Iron Man’s story in the MCU. A good decision, some might say, as this film went on to be one of the highest grossing movies for Marvel.


10. American Psycho (2000)

The film that put Christian Bale on the map as an intense character actor. And also a leading man, in a weird sort of way. He’s since gone onto an incredibly varied career as one of the best actors working today. But for a long time, he was known as ‘the guy that played Patrick Bateman’.

Honourable mentions also go to:

Filth, Bad Santa, Home Alone, About a Boy, Brazil, Edward Scissorhands.

The top 5 performances of Ralph Fiennes

Somehow, I’ve not written about the living legend that is Ralph Fiennes before. And, these days, he’s just getting better with age. Well it’s high time we address that and look at my pick of his best performances.

So here they are, my favourite five. Do you agree? What would yours be?

Voldemort
Harry Potter (2005-2011)
A twisted, reptilian serpent of a villain, stealing every scene as poor Daniel Radcliffe tried to keep up. His take on Rowling’s primary bad guy was just as you’d want it to be – melodramatic, flamboyant, tortured, deliciously evil and highly watchable.

the-lost-story-of-how-tom-riddle-became-lord-voldemort-is-as-epic-and-insane-as-you-would-833734

Harry
In Bruges (2008)
Where did this performance come from? Who knew Fiennes was so funny? Obviously it helps to have a dark comedy penned by ‘the Irish Tarantino’ Martin McDonagh with zingers aplenty to get stuck into, but Fiennes’ performance was deadpan genius.

In Bruges

M. Gustave
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
In probably the quirkiest Wes Anderson film yet, Fiennes ran the show as enigmatic Hotel Manager M. Gustave, thoroughly embracing scenes with casual shootouts, jailbreaks and geriatric loving; as if it was the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

Gareth Mallory
Skyfall (2012)
Filling Judi Dench’s boots as M is a hell of a tall order, yet Fiennes effortlessly slotted into Sam Mendes’ world of Bond as if he’d been there all along. Initially we’re unsure of his motives (in terms of Bond) yet they come to earn each other’s respect.

skyfallreduced-0017

Lenny Nero
Strange Days (1995)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron, this gritty sci-fi thriller was a favourite of mine growing up. Largely due to Fiennes’ committed performance as former LAPD cop turned bootlegger. Worth seeking out if you’ve not seen it.

RF Strange Days

Top 10 ‘not Christmas’ movies

Ok, a little odd, but this is basically a list of either films that are set around Christmas time, but aren’t full blown Christmas films. My picks below are rated in order of how Christmassy I deem them to be – in terms of scenes or references within them.

10. In Bruges (2008)
Even though Christmas isn’t a necessary part of this film, it just sort of sits there under the surface and kind of works. ‘Tis the season to be, er, jolly.

9. Die Hard / Die Hard 2 (1988/1990)
Both films take place on Christmas eve, one in a tower block and one at an airport, leading Bruce Willis’ cop John McClane to ask himself, ‘How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?’

8. Trading Places (1983)
Possibly one of my favourite Christmas yet not Christmas scenes, with Dan Akroyd’s character dressed as Santa down on his luck eating salmon through his beard.


7. Go (1999)
Got a bit of a soft spot for this film. It features a rave called ‘Mary Christmas’, has Timothy Olyphant in a Santa hat and Katie Holmes talking about the joys of the holiday season.

6. Lethal Weapon (1987)
With a Jingle Bells opening and a Christmas tree drug bust writer Shane Black knows how to weave Christmas into his film with style.


5. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Stanley Kubrick’s film is kind of odd, in that Christmas saturates the film, but for no obvious apparent reason. It starts with the ‘happy’ couple attending a party.

4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
We start with Robert Downey Jr.’s character robbing a store on Christmas and the film also features Michelle Monaghan in a sexy Santa outfit.

3. Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton sprinkles this film with Christmas throughout, including a lovely Christmas tree sequence and a sexy kiss from Catwoman.


2. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Russell Crowe’s Officer Bud White pulls Christmas decorations onto a wife-beater, Kevin Spacey’s Hollywood cop attends a festive party and Guy Pearce’s ambitious cop loses control at a ‘Bloody Christmas‘ scandal.

1. Gremlins (1984)
Considering it’s not a Christmas film this holiday runs right through this film, from Gizmo wearing a Santa hat to Phoebe Cates’ character’s confession that her dad died in a chimney dressed as Santa.

Team Gleeson: It’s a family affair

gleesonWhoosh, a wisp of fire. Fiery red hair to be precise. First came Brendan, entertaining us with many rambunctious performances (I say entertaining like he’s done, he’s going from strength to strength). Then came Domhnall, son of Brendan, himself having enjoyed a rather varied career up till now, spanning comedy, romance, action, quirky indies and more.

Yes, Team Gleeson is a cinematic family affair, one that deserves recognition and perhaps hasn’t sufficiently had it yet. It’s time to celebrate this dream team, time to rejoice and revel in their acting prowess, and indeed single out some of their best performances and look forward to what they’ve got coming up.

TEAM BRENDAN
Brendan came late to the acting game, getting his break aged 34 in The Field. From there he’s continued to grow, particularly as a lead actor in the last five years or so with a string of career-high performances.

  • Braveheart
  • The General
  • Gangs of New York
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • In Bruges
  • Perrier’s Bounty
  • The Guard
  • Calvary


TEAM DOMHNALL

Interestingly, Domhnall has quietly become a potent and chameleonic force in the acting world, never putting in the same sort of performance twice. In the last few years he’s stepped up to lead roles with great success.

  • Never Let Me Go
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • True Grit
  • Black Mirror
  • Frank
  • About Time


What’s next for Team Gleeson?

Well Brendan has Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise out now and Domhnall has not only the intriguing Ex Machina out next year, but has also found himself part of one of the most sought after cast lists in years, Star Wars: Episode VII.

So things are going well for the team. Gleeson senior is maturing like a fine wine and Gleeson junior is set to go supernova in a galaxy far, far away. And the next time you see either of their names on a film poster, be sure to get excited and tell your friends.

Has Colin Farrell lost his way?

london-boulevard-movie-1I watched London Boulevard on TV at the weekend. The best way I can describe it is… You know those times when you’re feeling lonely and your phone buzzes? ‘Ah ha!’ you think, ‘I’ve got a text. Someone loves me’. Your chubby little fingers scramble to bring your device to life; only to discover it’s some automated message about which you couldn’t care less. You’re left feeling deflated, dejected, and slightly used. So there it is. London Boulevard.

On paper it had promise. A good cast: Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, David Thewlis, Anna Friel and Colin Farrell. Celebrated screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed) was directing although, based on results, perhaps he should stick to writing. To be fair the film is passable, albeit unmemorable. Whilst it’s hardly The Departed (I mean, what is? Before you say it I’m aware of Infernal Affairs) it is still a decent effort for a debut director.

However, Monahan is not on trial here. Back to Farrell.

Since he burst onto the scene with Tigerland (2000) I’d argue he’s done precious little to justify his continued career – bar a few exceptions. Phone Booth (2002) really made me sit up and take notice. phone-booth-2002-01This guy has talent. And then, having shown what he can do, he ducked his head below the parapet for about six years, before catching everyone off guard with a brilliant turn in the darkly comic In Bruges (2008).

There it is! I hadn’t seen Farrell’s comedy chops since Ordinary Decent Criminal (2000). And that was way back in the day, practically Ballykissangel (1998) era where it all began. Now I’m not saying comedy should be his de facto genre of choice. But it would be good to see more of it. That said, Farrell does like to dabble in a variety of genres. Perhaps that’s his problem. What’s his strength? What does he stand for? Now I know actors don’t like to be pigeonholed but… If you were given the task of explaining the type of actor Colin Farrell is, what would you say?

Is he intense? Is he funny? Would you say he’s an A-list pretender punching above his weight? Or is he a true talent? For example, since the action heydays of the ’80s, Hollywood has always been searching round for the next leading action manFilm Title: In Bruges. They’ve toyed with Farrell a few times: Daredevil (2003), S.W.A.T. (2003), Miami Vice (2006), Total Recall (2012). But I just don’t buy it. Again, he’s passable. Solid. Gets the job done. But it’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.

With some actors you can tell, you can sense it. He’s got talent I know it. Detractors would say it’s hidden talent, lurking beneath the surface at best. That still counts. I just don’t know what he needs to bring it out. Not that it’s my job to bring it out, but we all need hope.

As Christopher Walken says in Seven Psychopaths (another passable Farrell film), ‘Dream sequences are for fags, but we all gotta dream, don’t we?’

Seven Psychopaths – one psycho too many?

seven-psychopaths streetFours years has passed since Writer/Director Martin McDonagh gave us the critically-acclaimed In Bruges – a film where two hitmen lie low in Belgium after a job goes awry.

The pairing of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as gangsters with mismatched feelings at being stuck in aforesaid town provide some brilliantly scripted, darkly comic scenes. With Seven Psychopaths I expected more of the same. Whilst McDonagh does indeed show much magic, he doesn’t quite hit the heights of his feature-length debut. I’ll explain why, but first, the plot.

Out in sunny LA, Irish screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) is trying to finish a script entitled Seven Psychopaths. His friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) offers to help, telling him tales of real psychopaths, including dog-napper Hans (Christopher Walken) and gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Things escalate when Billy kidnaps Charlie’s dog for Hans to hold it for ransom.

christopher-walken-seven-psychopathsWhat worked?
McDonagh has an exceptional ear for dialogue – one of the hardest things to achieve as a writer – and uses it in highly inventive and quotable ways. Indeed, he’s been compared to Tarantino in that sense. Plus his efforts here in terms of dialogue are easily as good as In Bruges. Rockwell and Walken in particular, get some juicy lines to sink their teeth into ‘Dream sequences are for fags’ and ‘Gandhi was wrong. Just noone had the balls to say it’.

In terms of great performances Christopher Walken is the most enigmatic and menacing I’ve seen him in ages – perhaps his best since Catch Me If You Can ten years ago – that casual, nonchalant, off-beat delivery of lines, often followed with a psychotic, wolfish grin. Equally scary and funny. Rockwell takes centre-stage as the most wildly unhinged of the group, putting in a commendable performance, but still eclipsed by Walken at his finest.

seven_psychopaths_charlieHarrelson, too, is on top form, veering between menacing gangster and blubbing wreck whenever his dog is concerned. This leaves Farrell to play the straight role, admirably acting with those expansive eyebrows of his – Ronnie Corbett style.

What didn’t?
Whilst Farrell does a fine job, it seems McDonagh has missed the chance to have him flex his comic muscles, as he did so effectively for In Bruges. I assume Sam Rockwell as the obvious funnyman is an easier sell for US audiences, maybe that’s my cynical take.

In some ways, whilst the script is smart and well written, it can come across as too clever for its own good. Almost revelling in self-parody and never missing the chance to have a dig at Hollywood. Whilst this is no bad thing, it can rather quickly get tiresome.

For example, both the film and Marty’s script have little room for female characters, indeed the actresses we do see are highly talented (Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sidibe) but have next to nothing to do. Something mirrored in Marty’s script, seven-psychopaths-rockwell21which Hans remarks on when suggesting improvements. I’m not sure every time McDonagh becomes aware of a script issue he should resolve it by pointing it out – this might work once but it’s not an eternal ‘get out of jail free’ clause.

I like it. It’s got layers
Those points aside, overall it’s an entertaining, highly quotable, tremendously silly action film that revels in its own shortcomings, as well as being a great vehicle for Walken, Rockwell and Harrelson to flex their psychotic comedy chops. Another to add to your Friday night popcorn list!