Once again the festive season is upon us. Thus, the over-privileged first world will buy stuff they don’t need, drink and eat more than humanly possible, and perhaps even celebrate the birth of the son of God. As you may gather, being a miserable cynic, I’m not a massive fan of Christmas, but it is a lovely time to try and be nice to people, take time off from the day job and watch even more films and television.
Watching films and not being at work is definitely my favourite thing about Christmas, so I thought it fun to have a look at what I consider six of the best Christmas films. How do you define a Christmas film? I would say the film should not only be set at Christmas, but also invoke a sense of the Christmas spirit, evil or otherwise. It should also contain Christmas themes or even some kind of moral within the narrative. Therefore, Die Hard (1988) is NOT a Christmas film. Here, in my humble opinion, are six that most definitely are! Happy holidays!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL / SCROOGE (1951)
“Well, then, I’ll just swallow this and be tortured by a legion of hobgoblins, all of my own creation! It’s all HUMBUG, I tell you, HUMBUG!”
BAD SANTA (2003)
“I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself. It was like I did something constructive with my life or something, I dunno, like I accomplished something.”
“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.”
“First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it’ll kill him. Second, don’t give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.”
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
“You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
“Saint Nicholas is not coming this year. Instead, a much darker, ancient spirit. His name is Krampus. He and his helpers did not come to give, but to take. He is the shadow of Saint Nicholas.”
SIX OF THE BEST #21 – MAURICIO POCHETTINO’S GREATEST GAMES!
Obviously, this blog is mainly a film and television review site, but from time to time I write about my support of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Usually, I do an annual review of the season, however, I am now writing this short piece because we have let our manager, Mauricio Pochettino, go.
Now, we have a new manager in the legendary serial-trophy winner, Jose Mourinho. To be honest, I am not surprised at Pochettino’s dismissal because, notwithstanding the incredible Champions League run, our Premier League form has been really bad since the beginning of 2019. Most recently we have been thrashed 7-2 by Bayern Munich in the CL, embarrassed 3-0 by Brighton in the League; and dumped out of the League Cup by Colchester. Something probably had to give.
Yet, Pochettino was one of our greatest managers and we played some exhilarating football during his five-year tenure. We finished second and third in the League, but alas, we did not win any trophies. It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will change that and redeem the miserable end he had at his last job with Manchester United. I certainly hope so. I would love it if we won something!
In tribute to Pochettino and his staff I would like to pick out SIX of the BEST games we had during their reign. We had many more highlights, but these are six which stand out for me. Thank you, Mauricio Pochettino, for all you did at Spurs and good luck in the future.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL v AJAX – 3-3 WIN ON AWAY GOALS – APRIL 2019
Dead and buried and facing a 3-0 aggregate defeat at half-time, Spurs were certainly out barring a miracle. That miracle occurred by way of Lucas Moura’s second half hat-trick and a last gasp injury time winner. Cue incredible scenes from Spurs players, coaching staff and fans. Unbelievable! Probably one of the best games I have ever seen Spurs involved in for sheer drama alone!
PREMIER LEAGUE v EVERTON – 6-2 AWAY WIN – DECEMBER 2018
Our luck laden run in the Champions League aside, this pulsating victory over Everton at Goodison Park was probably our best performance of last season. Indeed, goals from Son (2), Kane (2), Eriksen and Alli produced one of the last great away wins in the League for Pochettino’s team. Since then we have struggled badly away from home.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE v REAL MADRID -3 -1 WIN – NOVEMBER 2017
I was at this game and Wembley was rocking that night. We played an absolute blinder against the legendary Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo in their team. Dele Alli scored twice as we drew Real Madrid on, and then struck on the break for a 3-1 home win.
PREMIER LEAGUE v MANCHESTER UNITED – 2-1 WIN – MAY 2017
Not only did we secure second place in the Premier League with this win against Manchester United, it was also our final game at White Hart Lane. A party atmosphere ensued in the ground and a fine performance was a fitting finale to life in the old stadium.
PREMIER LEAGUE v MANCHESTER CITY – 4-1 WIN – SEPTEMBER 2015
During Pochettino’s managerial reign one of the joys came from our aggressive pressing game. At times we were hungry and virtually unplayable. Overwhelming Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side 4-1 was one such game. Finding ourselves 1-0 down and being outplayed, we showed great energy and resilience to batter City in the end.
PREMIER LEAGUE v CHELSEA – 5-3 WIN – JANUARY 2015
This was the game that made me sit up and notice the change Pochettino had brought to the Spurs team. We feverishly pressed and tore Chelsea apart, scoring five goals and creating even more chances too. Harry Kane was outstanding and won man of the match. After which Kane never looked back and is now one of the world’s greatest strikers.
While I haven’t seen it yet, I was slightly intrigued by the release of Will Smith’s action film, Gemini Man (2019).Any film which examines the nature of the double or doppelganger always interests me. As you may be aware the word doppelganger is of German origin. It means “double walker” or “double goer” and I just love it. I love the way it sounds and the mysterious connotations it conjures up. It kind of sounds evil as well; like nothing good can come of it.
There have been many films, books and television programmes featuring doubles. They can occur for various reasons such as: twins, clones, shape-shifters, split personalities, mental breakdown and ghostly or other fantastical elements. We must not forget time-travel or inter-connected timeline plots either. Different versions of the same character existing simultaneously in alternate or exact timelines are very prevalent in fiction also.
In this occasional ‘Six of the Best’ series, I would like to consider six “double” or doppelganger films which are definitely worth watching. To make it interesting I would like to consider the more symbolic, fantastical and unexplained kind of films out there. I cannot avoid the twin or clone plots in certain examples, but the temporal double stories have, sort of, been explored here in an article about time travel films.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
THE ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
Having done some online research of films featuring doubles, Sam Raimi’s riotous Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), is cruelly missed from many of those lists. In this gory and over-the-top medieval horror romp, Ash (Bruce Campbell), finds himself in battle against hordes of Deadites. This is all because he gets a spell wrong and splits in two. He then comes face-to-face with his vicious double, Evil Ash. I hate it when that happens – don’t you! While not the deepest of the films listed here, it’s worth watching because you get TWO Bruce Campbell’s for the price of one!
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)
The antithesis of the genre joy that is Army of Darkness, can be found in this profound study of identity, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It concerns two identical women, Weronika and Veronique (both Irene Jacob), who live in Warsaw and Paris, respectively. Aside from one fleeting moment they never meet, but somehow, telepathically, artistically and emotionally, they are connected to each other. A beautiful, yet obtuse narrative, allied with Kieslowski’s poetic style make this a difficult film to understand. However, it contains fine symbolic power and is open to a myriad of interpretations.
Denis Villeneuve’s directs this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s book called The Double or The Duplicated Man. In it Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a college professor, Adam Bell and his exact lookalike, actor, Anthony Claire. Their two lives become entwined and that’s not the weirdest thing about the film. Part Kafkaesque nightmare and part Freudian examination of the subconscious, this film quietly unhinges the viewer with a slow pace and collection of striking visual motifs. Gyllenhaal is as mesmerizing as ever in this existentially challenging urban horror tale.
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
The doppelganger trope is integral to the story here and uses both twins and clones in its compelling thematic and visual system. Yet, these are not revealed until the very end, as the screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls within the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets. At the heart of the story we witness the tricks of warring magicians, portrayed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, and the lengths they will go to amaze an audience. By the end, the film becomes a chilling and fantastic warning about the dangers of obsession and rivalry.
The incredibly talented Jordan Peele delivered one of my favourite films of the year. It did not contain just one (or is it two) doppelganger(s), but a whole family of them. Working in the horror genre is an ideal setting for the “double” thematic, as the fantasy elements coalesce perfectly with the psychological ones. Symbolically the film is very strong. It can be interpreted on many levels, including as a critique of the United States (U.S. = US – get it?); and a powerful exploration of split identities. Indeed, in Us (2019), the lead protagonists battle external and inner demons, both political and personal, which can plague all of us during our lives.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychological thriller is very complex and actually reflects the directors’ obsession with the moulding of an individual to look a certain way. On the surface, the story of a burnt out cop, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) attempting to overcome his fear of heights, while tracking a friend’s wife, is initially quite simple. But in Hitchcock’s and his writer’s hands it become a tour-de-force of mistaken, double and theft of identity. A tragic figure, Scottie Ferguson is exploited and left bereft of love and comfort as he attempts, like Hitchcock himself, to find that perfect, yet elusive, blonde.
I recently came back from a week’s holiday in Cornwall with my wife. While I am a simple person who is quite pragmatic about holidays, my wife loves travelling and going to different places. So, I generally get dragged along to her chosen destination. However, with my fear of flying we mostly stay in the Brexit-blighted United Kingdom too. Occasionally I will fly, but like B.A. Baracus from the A-Team, it takes a lot to get me up in the sky.
This year we decided to go way down on the South West coast of England. We stayed in Penzance, Cornwall as a base; then visited lots of places in the surrounding territory. It’s safe to say I had a great time not being at work and although it is a very long drive from London there is so much to recommend down there. Thus, here are six of the best things I loved about Cornwall.
1. THE COAST AND SEA
There’s something very poetic about being by the sea. It suggests danger and fear but also escape and wonder. The rocks, the beaches and the sound of the sea collide to create many feelings and emotions that swell like the tides themselves. Mostly, it can be very calming too.
2. THE FOOD
While I try and watch my dietary intake throughout the year and attend the gym a number of times a week, I LOVE my food. Cornwall is home to some wonderful restaurants and I ate heartily during the week. The breakfast we got at the Chapel House B & B everyday was wonderful and so was many of the meals we ate. My favourite menu was at the Shore Restaurant in Penzance. The design, taste and freshness of the dishes was amazing!
3. THE CULTURE
From a geographical, historical and artistic perspective, Cornwall is a veritable treasure trove. On top of the culinary delights, we visited many places of natural and historical interest. These are places supported by both the National Trust and English Heritage and range from old towns, tin mines, pirate hiding places and castles. While my wife especially enjoyed all the art galleries, we both enjoyed visiting places such as: The Botallack Tin Mines, St Michael’s Mount, Land’s End and Tintagel Castle.
4. THE MINACK THEATRE
Of all the incredible sites and sights in Cornwall, I would say the most amazing is the Minack Theatre. This, incredibly, is a theatre built into the coastal rocks. It was the brainchild and passion of Rowenna Cade, who in 1932 put on her first amateur production. Over the subsequent years, with the help of a few friends and local builders, she developed the site even more. Now, some eighty years later, it puts on theatrical productions come rain or shine. Over 110,000 people attend the shows and even more visit this incredibly rich cultural site every year.
5. ST IVES
While St Ives, for me, was arguably smaller and more packed with tourists compared to other less busy places, it still has a lot to recommend it. The Harbour is a picturesque hub full of local ice cream shops and art galleries. On a larger scale St Ives is also home to the Tate Gallery of Cornwall. While we did not visit the Tate due to the queue, we took in the Barbara Hepworth Museum and all the works of that famed sculptor. Overall, while I much preferred staying in Penzance, St Ives is highly recommended for a day visit.
6. THE WALKS
With big breakfasts and dinners comes great responsibility. As someone who likes to get to the gym so they can eat more food, I had to replace that exercise with a substitute. Thankfully, the Cornwall coast has some amazing scenery and walks. Obviously, you have to be careful, but the steep hills, rocky shores and grassy knolls of Cornwall are a great way to burn off some of those indulgent calories.
While we all love a good proper feature film containing one continuous narrative, the anthology or portmanteau film has thrown up some fine cinematic entertainment over the years. Generally, an anthology film can be described as a collection of works with a linked theme, genre, style and author etc.
Thus, in my occasional Six of the Best series I have decided to pick some favourite ones. To make it more interesting I have chosen them from different genres. Otherwise, I would have just chosen all horror films. So, here are six of the film anthology films worth watching.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018) – WESTERN
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mischievous alchemy of stories. Here, the Coen Brothers reach into their cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of characters, songs, bloody death, jokes, pathos, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and action. Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth and this is no different. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring in many of these fine stories.
DEAD OF NIGHT (1945) – HORROR
It seems sacrilege not to include the likes of George Romero’s Creepshow (1982) or one of Amicus’ unhinged collections such as Dr Terror’s House of Horror (1965). But, having watched this classic recently I can certainly say it has some brilliant and scary stories which stand the test of time. Full to the brim with the cream of British acting, writing and directing talent, the standout tale is Michael Redgrave’s troubled ventriloquist, although the whole film is a nightmarish treat for horror fans.
FANTASIA (1940) – ANIMATION
With the current trend for Disney to remake their back catalogue as “live” action films in mind, I very much doubt they will doing this with Fantasia. Conceived as a short to re-invigorate the slowing career of Mickey Mouse, the film is unlike any other Disney have made. It consists of experimental, non-narrative and hallucinogenic vignettes mainly set to wondrous classical music. A masterpiece of hand-drawn animation, style, colour and design, it’s certainly not just for kids. I recall many images giving me nightmares when saw it as a child and it remains a powerful cinematic work to this day.
NIGHT ON EARTH (1991) – COMEDY
I was going to choose Woody Allen’s erotic sketch film, Everything You Wanted to Ask About Sex but were Afraid to Ask (1972), for the comedy section. However, I decided to select a more deadpan and character oriented film. What better then, than a Jim Jarmusch curiosity. I love the concept of the film as Jarmusch sets several themes and parameters in place. There are five slice-of-life vignettes set on the same night in the cities of Helsinki, New York, Rome, Paris and Los Angeles, all starring some of Jarmusch’s favourite actors. Relationships and quirky interactions between cab driver and passenger are explored in the filmmakers’ inimitable style.
PULP FICTION (1994) – CRIME
Quentin Tarantino’s second feature film remains a fresh masterpiece of colliding gangsters, uber-cool hitmen, fixers, boxers, sexual deviants, femme fatales, drug addicts and general criminal types. With an over-lapping timeline that kind of does a figure of eight, we get stories ranging from a couple robbing a diner; a boxer double-crossing a crime boss; and an employee almost killing his boss’s wife. Tarantino breathes life into the crime genre and the stock pulp characters with one of the greatest screenplays ever written; full of incredible dialogue, startling twists and a brilliant ensemble cast.
WILD TALES (2014) – DRAMA
Damián Szifron conjures up a delectable and devilish set of stories mostly based around the themes of obsession and revenge. It opens with a breath-taking little prologue featuring a horrific incident on a plane and culminates in arguably the wildest tale when the Bride goes on the rampage at her wedding. Everyone’s favourite Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin pops up in the middle as an explosives expert who enacts revenge on City Parking fascists. I love the whole thing as the film delivers a full deck of twists that master of the macabre Roald Dahl would be proud of.
I love a good train film. They make perfect settings for suspense, thriller, horror, comedy and, in fact, any genre. This is because they contain movement, pace and a destination too. Above all else they trap the characters within a confined space, thus creating an abundance of opportunities for drama and action.
In this little article I pick out six of the best films I have seen that have been set mainly on a train. I omit films which, while they may have had a train or train station setting they also veered into other locations. Thus, for the purpose of this piece classics such as Strangers on a Train (1951), Brief Encounter (1945), Great Train Robbery (1903), and Source Code (2011) are cruelly omitted. Lastly, I’m sure there are loads I have missed off so please do suggest any.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976)
Germ warfare, a runaway train, European terrorists and and all-star cast feature in this pretty awful disaster movie which I absolutely loved watching as a kid. The cast get their payday and we get Martin Sheen, Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, Richard Harris and OJ Simpson etc. all hamming it up to great effect.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938)
This is still one of my favourite Alfred Hitchcock films. Starring the radiant duo of Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, the sparks fly between the two amidst a fast-paced spy plot. Hitchcock takes his time establishing the characters at the start but really ratchets up the suspense when no one believes Lockwood’s assertion a woman has gone missing.
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Agatha Christie was a genius and this story is one of her best. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this one has a particularly brilliant plot and ending. Even though I know who committed the crime the starry cast in Sidney Lumet’s production are a joy to behold. Kenneth Branagh gave us a fine, if unnecessary, remake last year too.
Cruelly buried by the Weinstein studio, this under-rated graphic novel adaptation was absolutely brilliant. Set in an apocalyptic future, the train becomes an analogy for class struggle between the haves and have-nots. Bong Joon-ho directs Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton expertly, as the film marries social commentary and blistering action with aplomb.
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (1974)
Another film I watched the hell out of as a teenager, this classic New York Metro set film is gritty, funny and as tense as waiting for test results. Walter Matthau provides the everyman charm as he attempts to negotiate with Robert Shaw’s menacing criminal. A big influence on Tarantino, this little classic remains one of the 1970s unheralded crime films.
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Zombies on a train – I’m in! What an amazing movie, as this kinetic mix of horror, family drama and action grabs you by the throat from the start and never lets go! While taking a lead from World War Z (2013), notably the ferocious plane set-piece, it surpasses that zombie film with an incredible pace, violence and unrelenting tension.
SIX OF THE BEST #16 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES
Created by: Roald Dahl
No. of series: 9 – No. of episodes: 112
Producer(s) Anglia Television / ITV
Original release: 24 March 1979 – 13 May 1988
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
With its eerie opening theme tune and iconic dancing silhouette title sequence, Tales of the Unexpected, holds much nostalgia for me. In fact, it was one of my favourite shows I watched as a kid. Every Sunday evening I couldn’t wait for these short, sharp and sometimes shocking tales of: murder, revenge, adultery, gambling, addiction, blackmail, liars, con-artists; and generally twisted visions of humanity. Of course, the amusing consideration remains that the twist in the tales were generally always expected, making them paradoxically, not unexpected at all. However, trying to guess the twist was also part of the fun in watching.
The series was inspired by similar anthology narrative shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Way Out; with initial stories adapted from the work of genius writer, Roald Dahl. The early seasons were also introduced by Dahl and while produced mainly in the UK, latter seasons had U.S. produced episodes too.
Other writers’ work would be adapted and the series became a staple haven for many famous actors too. These included: Susan George, Sian Philips, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotten, Peter Cushing, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Anna Neagle, Joan Greenwood, Harry H. Corbett, Timothy West and many more.
Over most of 2018, I re-watched pretty much every episode on SKY ARTS and so for this article I would like to choose six of my favourite ones. I’d say the latter seasons were probably not as strong as the earlier classics. Yet, I still loved most of them; even some of the more comedic and goofy ones. Finally, picking a favourite six was an impossible job, and I have limited the Dahl classics to just one. Here they are!
LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (1979) – SEASON 1
A murdered husband, baffled police, distraught wife and a leg of lamb are the ingredients of one of the finest short stories I have ever experienced. Originally adapted for Hitchcock Presents, Susan George is excellent as the pregnant wife cooking up a special meal and murderous alibi twist.
THE FLYPAPER (1980) – SEASON 3
I was always told as a kid don’t talk to strangers for fear of abduction or harm and this episode deals with that theme expertly. The chilling tale from the pen of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one), finds an young girl drawn into danger from a seemingly unlikely source. The slow build-up of suspense, creepy performances and frightening end make it genuinely unforgettable piece of television drama.
THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1981) – SEASON 4
Michael Kitchen is brilliant in this sharp, twisted drama as put-upon clerk, Arthur. His lowly beta male seeks the love of the boss’ daughter but is too broke to get her attention. Enter society-playboy Charlie Prince and Arthur finds confidence from his tutelage and connections. As the plot turns one way then another morality and fate catch out Arthur’s lofty aspirations and his dreams soon turn to dust.
HIJACK (1981) – SEASON 4
This brilliant story deals with a genre staple of an airline hijack. Very economical and full of suspense, it’s mostly shot in the interior of the cockpit as Simon Cadell’s Captain and crew are subject to a fear-inducing robbery. Cleverly plotted, this one even had me fooled with an audacious twist which really flies high at the end.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY (1982) – SEASON 5
I loved this episode because of the performance from Benjamin Whitrow. He is a bitter, unlikable, alchol-driven, misanthropic actor who verbally abuses his wife. When he bumps into an old acting friend the two share past memories and it’s soon revealed both are unhappy with their lives. Whitrow imbues, in a short time, a life of disappointment and human weakness, and his startling comeuppance is certainly deserving by the end.
SCRIMSHAW (1985) – SEASON 8
The U.S. produced episodes did not stand the test of the time very well, mainly due to the aged and fading 16mm film. Anyway, many of them could be classed as average but there was the odd gem. Scrimshaw was one such diamond in the rough, containing a haunting performance from Joan Hackett as an alcoholic barfly. One day she thinks her luck has changed when meeting an old wealthy artist friend, but that is far from the case.
Hackett’s performance stayed with me, especially the incredible shot at the end. When I researched Hackett’s name online wondering what she was up to now, I discovered she died in 1983 from cancer, aged only forty-nine. Released in 1985, Scrimshaw finds the audience literally watching a ghost, something I found completely unexpected.