New Podcast Episode! Christmas Special!

As our Lord and saviour Noddy Holder once said: ‘IT’S CHRISTMASSSS!!!!’

Nathan and Angel are in a holly jolly mood (well, Nathan is anyway) as they discuss their favourite festive films! Join them as they get overly emotional over Muppets and James Stewart, and, inevitably, go off the rails with tangents.

Here are the links to the charities I mention in the outro, as well as a link to my new Patreon page (only £1 a month) although it is understandable to want to give to charity at Christmas rather than me!

The Trussell Trust:

Mermaids UK:

Jack Harrison VC Statue Campaign:

Major Film Reviews Patreon:

Support the show (

Bad Santa Review

Last week, I said that In Bruges was the very opposite of ‘Christmas magic’. Even though I didn’t believe it was really a Christmas film, but I’m continuing that trend with this film, one that definitely is a Christmas film, but is also the very opposite of holly jolly.

Not everyone is indeed the biggest fan of Christmas, and I can empathise with those people, it is not always a happy season, for some it is a very melancholy one, and it is only right that some portrayals reflect that, so I understand the appeal of Bad Santa, as somewhat of a satire on the holiday and the films it spawns.

I also know that this film has gained sizable cult popularity in the years since its release, even spawning a (poorly-received) sequel years later, but I’d never actually seen it until recently, its appeal has always intrigued me, and my sense of humour can be very dark, so I thought it was time I gave it a whirl.

Bad Santa follows the exploits of Willie and Marcus (Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox, respectively) a pair of con men who infiltrate department stores as Santa and his elf. Willie’s eroding mental health and attitude threatens to derail their entire operation, as he unsuspectingly befriends a strange, bullied kid (Brett Kelly).

Comedy is one of the hardest things to get right in a film. Sure, it’s hard to put together an engaging drama too, but comedy is all based on taste. Your sense of humour might differ from someone else’s, that’s the nature of comedy, and so making one with broad appeal is very difficult.

Personally, I’d say my palate of humour is fairly broad, I like a lot of surreal, imaginative stuff like Monty Python, but I’m also partial to the dark comic stylings of George Carlin and Bill Hicks, along with a lot in between. I understand more than most how humour is subjective and therefore it makes critiquing comedy more difficult than other genres. It is most difficult when you find yourself not really connecting with it, but also not hating it, and that’s the conundrum I find myself in here.

I’m not sure whether I ‘didn’t get’ Bad Santa as I saw what it was going for and it admittedly pulls it off very well, it just left me rather cold and apathetic to it. It raised a few chuckles at some moments, but it didn’t really grab me.

Some of that might be to do with not having a character you can really latch onto and empathise with. The closest you really get to that is The Kid (as he is credited) but even then he comes across as annoyingly naive instead of endearingly so. Everyone else in the plot is just a terrible person who you want to fail. I know this is by design in a film like this, but it doesn’t help an audience when all of the characters are abrasive, it leaves us with no one to root for.

In a situation like the one this film sets up, ideally, you’d want your lead players to be at least slightly redeemable, and the people they’re robbing from look like the worse people, but in this film everyone is deplorable, so even if what you’re watching elicits laughs, you don’t feel a connection to the story because you have no one to get behind.

There is an attempt to craft a redemption arc for Willie, but it falls flat because he’s still, well, an asshole. Even when he’s being ‘nice’ (that is to say, nice by his standards) he still comes across as a miserable, boorish prat with absolutely zero likeability.

As I say though, it did offer a few laughs along with way. Sometimes The Kid’s obliviousness is funny when it isn’t grinding on your nerves, and there are a few chuckles to be had from Willie and Marcus’ exchanges, and a few madcap side characters, but overall, I found myself not fully engaging with the film.

I do try and avoid the ‘could be better, could be worse’ tact of reviewing, as they’re rarely much fun to read, and even less fun to write, but I feel like this is the only way to really describe my feelings towards Bad Santa, I admire what was attempted by it, and I think there is a lot of mileage in satirising Christmas films, and lots of opportunity for dark comedy, but I don’t think this film quite got there.

I did like the performances in the film, however. I think they really tried to make the most of the material. Especially Billy Bob Thornton, who has been remarkably consistent throughout his career. This film came not too long after his acclaimed turn in Monster’s Ball, during one of the hottest periods of his career, we don’t see as much of him now, sadly.

The performances of Tony Cox, as Willie’s small-person accomplice and Brett Kelly as the oblivious Kid, should also be commended. The role of Marcus, in particular, is a rare example of a leading part for a small-person, and Cox does a commendable job; and Kelly, despite his characters more annoying tendencies, steers clear of the usual child actor trappings.

You should never be afraid to say that something isn’t for you. Even if you can see what the creator was trying to do, and I do admire the effort, I just can’t say that it gripped me. The right ingredients were there, they just weren’t put together in an exciting enough manner. I can see the appeal, but I don’t think it’s one I’ll revisit again anytime soon.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) Review

There have been many on-screen portrayals of Santa Claus. Ed Asner, Tim Allen, Dudley Moore, and one weird time, Paul Giamatti have all played the jolly guy in the red suit. Few have ever suited the role in the same way Richard Attenborough did in this film.

Full disclosure: this is the only version of the film I have watched. I know that the original is also very highly thought of, but I can’t comment, this is the only one I have seen, and the one I grew up with, as it’s a favourite of my fathers too (and his mother was a big fan also, of this one and the original) from what I can gather, there are no great differences fundamentally.

It’s Christmas in New York City, and after an incident with her department store Santa special events director Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) is on the search for a replacement. Just by luck, she happens upon a strange old man calling himself Kris Kringle (Attenborough) who steps in to fill the job. He soon becomes one of the cities most popular Santa’s and even manages to touch the heart of her non-believer daughter Susan (Mara Wilson) but things suddenly turn sour when Kris is dragged before a court to prove he is the real Santa and to save Christmas.

This film represents the last leading role Attenborough would play in his storied career both in front and behind the camera, and what a way to go out it is.

Backed up by a well-known story and a talented supporting cast, the screen veteran flourishes in the part and adds a real twinkle to the character. few portrayals of the character have ever been so effective that you wished they were real, but this one does.

Again, I shouldn’t harp on the same point as before but I feel there has been a recurring theme of assessing ‘Christmas magic’ this month, and this is a film that more or less deals with exactly that. The core of the film is Kris Kringle trying to restore the magic of Christmas for a whole town, but also one particular family.

This is the point where it all could have fallen to pieces if the child actor they cast hadn’t been up to it, there is, after all, a long line of former child actors who were just the wrong side of annoying. Luckily for this film though, they decided to make it at just the right time to catch a prime example of a modern child actor.

Although she’s better known for her role as Matilda in the titular Roald Dahl adaptation, Mara Wilson shines here as a somewhat lonely kid who doesn’t believe in the magic of Christmas until she meets Kris. She has surprising maturity on-screen, not just in her performance but in her character, as rather than a typical child character stereotype, Susan is a bright kid with wisdom beyond her years. There’s even a lovely scene where she explains that she goes along with the Santa illusion as to not spoil it for the other children, not something your average six-year-old would do.

You’ll also be surprised upon re-watching just how slyly political this film is, taking aim at the capitalistic nature of Christmas, and even religion, in a somewhat ballsy move for a Christmas film. This tends to get overlooked in the general feel-good nature of the film though, as that’s not really what most people are looking for from a Christmas film. They don’t want to be challenged so this is just brushed aside, a tad unfairly, as it makes a strong case (legal puns, I got ’em).

For all the lovers of that warm and fuzzy feeling Christmas films bring, you won’t be disappointed by this film, its ending is lovely in tying up final bows and paying off plot threads from the first act. In that way it’s a very well put-together film that doesn’t leave any dangling plot threads, just leaves you with warm feelings on a chilly winters night.

I must reiterate once more just how inspired a casting Richard Attenborough was, his lovable nature seems to radiate through the character, it puts a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step. You get the impression that he enjoyed making this movie, and he is a joy to watch because of it.

I won’t lie, it isn’t a perfect film. The conclusion to the trial is a touch contrived, and some of the characters aren’t as well-rounded as they should be. Susan’s mother, for example, can seem somewhat neglectful of her daughter, never really engaging fully with her, it would have been nice to explore her struggles a bit more, but I understand that time is of the essence in a film like this, you don’t want to be pitching War and Peace at people who are on their fifth glass of sherry.

Sadly, this is an adaptation that doesn’t get as much love as I think it is due, probably because of the status of the film it had to follow. No matter how good it is, it was always going to be compared to the original, the curse of the remake, but having never seen the original, I can only judge this film on its own merits, and I judge it as being a wonderful telling of a lovely story, with one of the best big-screen Santa’s we’ve ever seen, and a talented supporting cast. Maybe this film needs a bit more love this year.

In Bruges Review

There is usually an argument on the internet around this time of year over whether Die Hard is a Christmas film or not. I won’t be touching that argument in any great detail; besides, I’ve already made my view on it perfectly clear (it is a Christmas film). What I want to do is start a whole new ‘is it a Christmas film’? conundrum with this film.

You may recall that a few years ago, my film of the year was an incredible drama called Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film was written and directed by Irish playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh. He is better known for his plays, but between this film and Three Billboards, he has a strong claim to being one of the worlds most underrated directors.

In Bruges sees two hitmen, Ray and Ken (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, respectively) lying low in the city of Bruges after an assassination attempt goes horribly wrong, awaiting instructions from their ruthless boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) the two take in the sights of the city, much to the chagrin of Ray.

The terms I’ve used to describe my previous few reviews were: ‘Christmas cheer’ or ‘Christmas magic’ will come nowhere near this film, which is as far from cheery as it is possible to get. It’s a pitch-black comedy with a fair amount of tragedy thrown into the mix for good measure.

I was recommended this film by my frequent correspondent, Ian, who frequently sends me films to review (thanks again Ian) on the basis that it was a very different kind of Christmas film, and he was adamant that it should be classified as such; and while there aren’t any hard-and-fast guidelines for what does and doesn’t qualify, I think there is a difference between ‘Christmas films’ and ‘films that take place at Christmas’.

I feel this needs to be clarified before I discuss the virtues of In Bruges, of which there are many because it’s an argument that seems to go around and around with no clear endpoint, and I feel like this is a perfect example to use when discussing the differences, more so than Die Hard, even.

My own personal classification for a bonafide ‘Christmas film’ is any film in which Christmas is a part of the story. Not only does it have to be set at or around Christmas, but there must be Christmassy elements to it as well. Under this rule, Die Hard easily qualifies (it’s the story of a man wanting to get home to his family for Christmas before the whole ‘terrorist’ thing) as does the obvious customers like Home Alone (family going on vacation for Christmas, conveniently forget their most annoying child) or The Grinch (someone with visible differences is treated differently at Christmas, and therefore blames the holiday as well as the people).

I would stress that simply taking place at Christmas is not enough – in my eyes at least – to qualify. Iron Man 3, for instance, takes place partially around Christmas, but you’d be hard-pressed to justify that it is a ‘Christmas film’. If you took out the festive parts, the story would still be the same, whereas true-blue seasonal films wouldn’t work without the festive parts.

Then we come to anomalies like this film. To Ian, my aforementioned movie dealer, this is a Christmas film. I, however, am unconvinced.

Yes, it takes place around Christmastime, in a tourist city renowned for its Christmas markets, and yes, there are a few lines regarding ‘Christmas presents that will never be opened’. But honestly, you could move the story into January and it would still make sense. The season doesn’t shape the narrative beyond a few lines of dialogue, is what I’m saying.

You’re probably reading this and thinking: ‘well this is all very well and good, but what did you actually think of the film?’ and to that I say, firstly, patience is a virtue my friend, and secondly, I thought the film was terrific.

Granted, it isn’t the kind of film I’d want to curl up on the sofa drinking cocoa with, but not everything needs to be, and I have a place in my cynical heart for a black comedy, and oh boy, is this comedy ever black. It’s pitch-black and colder than all of your ex’s hearts combined.

Not that I’d expect any less than Martin McDonagh, whose body of work is a sea of black comedy-dramas ranging from hangmen to vengeful mothers, all the way up to crippled outcasts, he has a perverse eye for dramatizing the unspeakable and somehow making it insanely watchable.

His dialogue crackles and pops in a manner Quentin Tarantino would be jealous of, while his narratives twist and turn down darker and darker paths, all the while maintaining macabre humour about them, balancing that dark sense of humour with gut-wrenching drama and violence, made all the more effective by how visceral and real it is.

I’m determined to not spoil too much of the plot for this film, as it’s a real hidden gem and I highly recommend you all go and seek it out; but about a quarter of the way into the film, it’s revealed just how big a mistake Ray has made that justified this jaunt to Belgium, and it makes you reconsider everything about his character up to that point and beyond it. He simultaneously becomes a figure you sympathise with, and loathe in equal measure.

All of this is evened out by the characterisation of his boss, Harry, who is so psychotic he’d make Jeffrey Dahmer look tame in comparison, and even then, the performance is characterised and performed perfectly. He never comes across as a cartoon villain, and also makes our two protagonists, who I’ll remind you are both hitmen, look like bunny rabbits in comparison.

Along with the excellent script and fantastic direction, which makes the use of its picturesque setting extremely well, the acting is also first-rate. Brendan Gleeson stands out for me, his performance has genuine warmth, while also making you believe that he has the capacity to be a ruthless hitman, and Colin Farrell plays a man in turmoil, and takes a character we really shouldn’t feel sorry for, and turns him into a tragic figure, they both turn in tour-de-force performances.

Also taking the spotlight and making the most of what he was given, Ralph Fiennes was the perfect choice for this somewhat-unhinged gangster. Taking what could have been a laughably insane character and making him both chilling and hilarious is no mean feat, and is yet another aspect where this film triumphs.

To sum up then; I really couldn’t give a hoot whether this film is a Christmas film or not. I just know that it is another phenomenal piece of cinema from a man who scantly works in the field, but having said that, there is a lot to say about quality over quantity, and In Bruges is nothing if not quality. It may not be one to watch on Christmas Eve (although its violence may well be representative of Christmas with your family, I wouldn’t know) but it is definitely one I’d love to re-watch at any time of the year.

Elf Review

There are a few people in Hollywood who can be described as an ‘acquired taste’.

People like Adam Sandler, Dwayne Johnson, and Michael Bay (if your ‘acquired taste’ is specifically a taste for horse manure) can all count themselves among some of the most divisive names in the business. One other such name that should be considered is Will Ferrell.

Some love his comic buffoonery no matter how often he trots out the same jokes, and in what order. Whereas some can’t stand the sight of him, even in his more successful roles.

Personally, I like to stay in the middle of any division, and the same is true here. Sure, Ferrell’s antics are samey now after we’ve seen all of his jokes for nearly twenty years, but with the right partnership, script or idea, he’s a dynamite performer.

Elf tells the story of Buddy, a human who accidentally ends up in Santa’s sack as a baby and is returned to the North Pole. Raised as an elf, Buddy starts to realise that he isn’t like all the other elves. When his father elf tells him the truth, that his father is alive, lives in New York, and worse, is on the naughty list, Buddy sets out to meet his father, and save him from the fate of finding coal under his tree.

Ferrell is his usual madcap self in Elf, but the clever part about it is that the role is written to lean into this sillier side of his personality. It needed a certain energetic performer to ensure it didn’t fall flat, and on that front, I’d call it a success.

As I’ve also said before, we tend to give a bit more slack to Christmas films, which makes someone like Ferrell a bit more palatable, especially when we’re making our way down our third glass of mulled wine.

The truth is, a lot of people hold this film close to their heart. It is an essential ‘casual’ film, the kind that anyone who has ever so much as glanced at a cinema will know, its broad appeal is in its crowd-pleasing nature, it’s easy to grasp story, and its fun leading character.

Even though it isn’t anywhere near perfect, somehow, we don’t look too critically at this kind of film. Usually this is because we watch them when we want to feel festive, we don’t want to be challenged too much, just entertained, and that’s what Elf does. It’s quintessential Christmas family entertainment.

I can’t claim to be immune to such charms, nor would I want to be. The day I lose my Christmas spirit is the day I die inside, no matter how many terrible films I have to get through, and Elf isn’t terrible, it’s a lot of fun.

I think it works because there’s a good balance between the wacky Ferrell comedy and the touching, if a bit simple, story. His role is dominating, but it doesn’t dominate every scene, he very much knows when it’s time to let his antics go to the background and let other people take centre stage, or to further develop his character.

This was also the big break for director Jon Favreau, famous now for directing the first two Iron Man films that launched the MCU way back when, and more recently, for his role as showrunner on The Mandalorian.

The fluffy, feel-good nature of the story is carried well in Favreau’s hands, and he adds a certain flair to proceedings, his cameo was a given, as it always is, but there’s a breezy spirit to the film that can only come of a director who isn’t taking themselves too seriously.

Although, having said all this, your enjoyment of the film will depend on your stance on Ferrell in general, as it is very much his vehicle. However, I feel the humour hits better here because of how likable Buddy is as a character. He’s an eternal optimist with a disposition so sunny that he’s a hazard to anyone with red hair, and at no point does that ever feel annoying either, as such characters often can.

The supporting cast is strong too, with Zooey Deschanel playing Buddy’s love interest, Jovie, who is very much a reflection of New York’s often pessimistic attitude, but no more so than James Caan, who plays Buddy’s father, who is, and let’s be reasonable, a real cotton-headed ninnymuggins if ever there was one.

But as is inevitable, Buddy thaws their hearts, as he does the audiences, and raises the city’s Christmas cheer in a satisfyingly festive conclusion. Predictable, yes, but also essential. You’re marketing this as a Christmas movie, we want joy, damn it!

As I said earlier, your enjoyment of this will come down to your own personal enjoyment of Ferrell as a performer. I can’t blame you for disliking him, but I do find it hard to dislike this film. It has everything you can ask for in a Christmas film. It’s joyful, sweet, silly, and above all, memorable. It might not have the pedigree of It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas, but it makes no apologies for being what it is: pure festive fun.

The Muppets Christmas Carol Review

The Muppets make everything better. In a world of divisiveness and unease, they remain a shining beacon of joy.

To say that A Christmas Carol is a ‘familiar’ story to movie-goers would be an understatement. There have been more than twenty adaptations of the story dating back as early as 1901, and the fact that one of the most beloved adaptations stars the lovable felt creatures should tell you everything you need to know; it’s beloved by all ages, and I want to explore why.

As much as we all shouldn’t need this particular story laid out for us; here’s a brief summary nonetheless: Ebenezer Scrooge (Sir Michael Caine) is a miserly money-lender who despises Christmas almost as much as he despises the people who surround him making merry. He is visited by three spirits one Christmas Eve to try and steer his soul back onto the right path.

In preparation for this review, I rewatched this film last night (as if I need an excuse, I watch it every December) and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that all these years of cynicism haven’t dulled the warm glow this film gives me. It still gives me the same sense of joy and wonders I felt when I first watched it, more so in fact, as the more I watch it, the more I appreciate how well-made it is. The performances, the razor-sharp script, and the soundtrack are all incredible and still have the ability to touch your heart, even though the cast is predominantly made of felt.

Watching with an adult eye, you get more of the jokes that are pitched a bit too far over the children’s head, you appreciate the songs in a whole new way, and you connect further with the heart of the story. I think your perspective changes with age, in fact. As a kid, you’re focused on the story of a grumpy old man changing his ways, and getting a little bit of comeuppance along the way; whereas now, the more I watch it, the more I realise that Bob Cratchitt’s story is the real emotional heart.

At the start of the story, Bob is introduced as a kind of ‘audience surrogate’ he observes Scrooge’s behaviour as we would; uncomprehending, but obedient for fear of losing his income. When we next see him, however, we see the reality of his life, with a wife, and four children, one of which is incredibly sick, but whom the Cratchitt’s can’t afford to get better healthcare for. It is seeing this that shifts Scrooge’s perspective the most, arguably.

The real accomplishment in all of this is making us forget that we’re watching this highly-emotional dramatic scene unfold entirely (more or less) portrayed by Muppets. I put it to you that the scenes with Tiny Tim are no less impactful in this film than in any other. It may be even more so, and that’s a testament to the work the film does to make this work with their colourful cast of puppets. The fact that Tiny Tim is a small frog made out of fabric ultimately means nothing because of how well-made the film is, it makes suspending our disbelief surrounding these characters so much easier.

Also helping to sell the film is an incredible performance from Sir Michael Caine who plays the role as if he were on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and it pays off spectacularly. You’d never know he was playing opposite Muppets, and it works in the film’s favour.

Scrooge is, by design, a pretty glum character to begin with, and The Muppets around him will be doing the comedic heavy-lifting, having him there makes all the Muppet-based comedy seem well-earned, and makes for a much better balance, all told. Having an actor of his calibre there to sell the drama really ups the ante for the sadder moments, making them all the more poignant, even when they’re between a frog and a pig.

You also can’t talk about this films merits without talking about its songs.

The Muppets have a pretty strong track record with songs, truth be told. Their original big-screen outing gave us the classic ‘Rainbow Connection’ and in more recent times, their 2011 film The Muppets won an Oscar for the song ‘Man or Muppet’ (now I’ve typed the word ‘Muppet’ so often the word looks weird to me) and all the films in-between have been known to have a memorable tune or two. The Muppets Christmas Carol outdoes this by having a soundtrack full of memorable tunes.

From its opening number ‘Scrooge’ through to ‘Thankful Heart’ near the end, you’ll no doubt find yourself humming at least one of the tunes long after the credits have rolled.

When I spoke last week in my Jingle Jangle review, I spoke about this mythical thing called ‘Christmas magic’ and there is no finer example of what I was talking about than this film. I believe it deserves to be esteemed among the higher pantheon of ‘Christmas classics’. It may not seem like it’s worthy at first glance, but I genuinely believe it’s the best adaptation of the story.

It’s pure joy, brimming with wit and happiness, along with that inventive, archaic Muppets spirit that has made them endure for so long. Treat yourself again this year, and settle down to an hour and a half of cinematic bliss that won’t just warm the cockles of your heart, it’ll roast them over an open fire.

Major Film Reviews Christmas Playlist

December is here! Deck the halls and ring whatever bells you have to hand!

I’ll be dedicating this month to reviewing festive favourites, but before I launch into the reviews for the month, I thought I’d share with you all my film recommendations for if you want to feel holly and/or jolly. I’ll be reviewing some of these over the month, but not all of them, so take this as a stamp of approval on whatever I mention, enjoy.

Elf (2003) – Directed by Jon Favreau

Will Ferrell may be an acquired taste to some, and a bit hit-and-miss at best (and a lot more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ in recent years) but the sight of him frolicking around New York as a giant elf will never be anything less than joyous.

Extra points for Zooey Deschanel too, I wonder what happened to her? Also, the musical is amazing, but they don’t show the live recording of it on TV anymore, which makes me very sad.

Die Hard (1988) – Directed by John McTiernan

Yes, it is a Christmas film, and yes, it still kicks ass.

An extremely well put-together film than manages to stand the test of time much better than many of its 80s counterparts. Hans Gruber is one of Christmas’ greatest villains, and his death remains one of cinema’s most satisfying.

Special mention should also go to its first two sequels. But not the last two, they’re a big pile of reindeer nuggets.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1999) – Directed by Ron Howard

A bit divisive this one; and truth be told it’s not a stone-cold classic like a lot of other films on this list, but seeing Jim Carrey in his 90s pomp hamming it up to the nines under about a mile of prosthetics makes this one to re-visit, if not every year then definitely every other year.

The original 1960’s animated version is also extremely charming, which is exactly what the latest Illumination adaptation was not.

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer (2000) – Directed by Phil Roman

Okay, we’re going really niche now.

I sometimes feel like I’m the only person on Earth who remembers this made-for-TV movie; it seemed to be on every Christmas as a kid, and I know because I looked for it every year, on Cartoon Network specifically, and watching it back as an adult is like a fever dream.

The basic pitch is that ‘Grandma’ is knocked down by one of Santa’s reindeer, after carrying a fruitcake laced with reindeer nip (?) out and about on Christmas Eve. Santa reacts to this by taking her back to the North Pole (let’s not speculate where he put her on the sleigh) prompting the vindictive ‘Cousin Mel’ to try and seize Grandma’s toy shop so she can sell it, and she also has Santa arrested. About time too, if you ask me.

It’s truly barmy and must be experienced to fully appreciate its charms.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) – Directed by Les Mayfield

Has there ever been a better casting as Santa than Dickie Attenborough? Not if you ask me.

A remake of a remake that will melt even the most frozen of hearts, this has been a favourite of the Major household, in its many different adaptations, for generations, but for me, the 1994 version is truly the best.

Heart-warming, life affirming, and truly magic, it’s Christmas cinema in all its jolly glory.

The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) – Directed by Brian Henson

Because the Muppets just make everything better.

Special acclaim must be given to Michael Caine, who acted as if he was in a straight-drama piece, never once making it feel like he didn’t take the part seriously, and the addition of Muppets around him makes that all the starker.

It might be my favourite adaptation of this story, as well as the best use of The Muppets in films too, they’re at their most charming here, the fact that Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim are frogs won’t even occur to you, their portrayals are still just as heartfelt.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – Directed by Frank Capra

It had to be here, didn’t it?

Not only the best Christmas film of all-time but one of the best films of all-time, full stop, end of story.

It’s timeless, and it’s ending will spark the Christmas spirit in even the most ardent Scrooge, and will leave you beaming from ear-to-ear, a tear of festive joy running down your cheek at the beauty of life as it is depicted here.

Also, and indulge me here, but I’d love to see a Muppets version of this too. I know I’m a genius, and oh, by the way, Disney – if you’re reading this – I’ll accept a cheque in the post for that totally killer idea.

What are your annual Christmas movie traditions? Tweet me, or comment on Facebook!

A Look Back at November

So we say goodbye to the penultimate month of this hellish year. The end is now in sight, and there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. I’m just hoping that, given our luck, it isn’t an oncoming train.

With the pandemic still looming large over our everyday lives, the UK was in a near-total lockdown throughout the month of November, with only essential travel permitted only key shops and educational settings were open, and in the midst of this, I started working full-time at one such educational facility, hence why my output was restricted to the weekends.

I have managed to somewhat complete my mission statement for the month though, as I’ve covered a few streaming releases, and started paving the way to Christmas with my previous two reviews. I have plans for reviewing some Christmas classics this month, time permitting, followed by the obvious yearly Top 10, which will be a Top 5 this year.

As well as the Top 5 at the end of the year, the Major Film Reviews Awards will also see a second installment in the New Year, with ANY film I’ve reviewed this year, old or new, in contention (the Top 5, however, will remain restricted to 2020 releases).

Film of the Month: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020) – Directed by David E. Talbert

Choices were thin on the ground this month, there wasn’t really a stand-out film that jumps out at me, so the choice was either this or Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and I think I preferred this one. Not by much, but there weren’t any other choices really.

Sorry for that anticlimactic end to the month, but what else do you expect in 2020? Just be glad it hasn’t started raining frogs yet…

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey Review

Christmas movies are, if done right, a license to print money. They’re played on a loop on TV for a month at least, they also tend to get a fair bit more slack than other films. Negativity tends to be put aside because: ‘come on, it’s Christmas!’ I myself am guilty of this from time to time.

If you can hit that sweet spot of making audiences feel all warm and fuzzy, then you’re pretty much set for life. Even if your film is divisive, it still has its place; think for example of Love Actually. It receives its fair share of hatred online, but would it really be December if it wasn’t on TV seemingly every day?

The thing with making a Christmas classic is that it can take a few years to fully embed itself in the public consciousness, it’s not always a guaranteed immediate success. That having been said, these last few years have produced a few good-to-great Christmas films.

Last year gave us both Klaus and Last Christmas. The former being a stunningly-beautiful animated folk tale, and the latter a sweet (if a bit syrupy) story of Christmas love underscored with the music of George Michael to tremendous effect.

Both of these are great examples of more modern Christmas movies that may one day be revered in the same way as say, Elf or Home Alone, to name just a few. But my mention of Klaus was not accidental, for you see it links quite nicely with this week’s subject, with them both being Netflix Original films.

As I’ve said before, I’m quite fond of Netflix, and it has produced some truly fantastic films in the past few years, even in the face of outright hostility from an industry stubbornly rooted in the past. This year, however, you can imagine Netflix is feeling a bit smug, turns out giving people the option of watching at home has been quite handy.

Jingle Jangle is the story of a master toymaker, Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) whose genius ideas are stolen from him by his one-time apprentice Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key). In the aftermath of this betrayal, Jeronicus’ life starts to fall apart, and his once-thriving toy store is now a run-down pawnbroker facing bankruptcy.

It’s a classic formula that will seem familiar to many viewers, but sometimes using a well-worn framework can be a good starting point for a creative new twist; and I’d say that Jingle Jangle gets there, just about.

There’s an aspect to Christmas movies that seem almost exclusive to this sub-genre. It’s more of a feeling than anything tangible, it’s a feeling of Christmas magic. Something that would seem corny and contrived in regular films is welcomed in the winter months, we crave that warm, fuzzy feeling they give us. No matter how much we see them, their effect never weakens.

Think of the feeling you get when George Bailey returns to reality in Bedford Falls when he runs down the main street wishing a ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone and everything he sees. That feeling of warmth you feel in that moment, that’s what I mean. It’s something that is hard to achieve, and even harder to pinpoint.

I don’t think it’s something you can ever really plan for, it’s just that mystical a formula. You either have it or you don’t. You could probably just say that it’s ‘Christmas cheer’ and either I’m going soft as I age, but I love this feeling, I crave it. Maybe it’s because I don’t drink or smoke, maybe this is my fix, I’m hooked on ‘Christmas cheer’.

I can’t even really describe what it is when I chase this high, but I know that Jingle Jangle gets there in the end, even though it’s a trek to get there. You can tell that it is really trying to create Christmas whimsy, but it really is something that comes naturally as opposed to by force, and it works this out by the end with a lovely final act that will warm the cockles of your heart.

There are issues, chief amongst which for me is the music. As crazy as this sounds coming from a musical-mad guy like me, I don’t think it needed to be a musical.

The songs feel like they’re trying to exist in that cultural sweet spot The Greatest Showman existed in, but they just aren’t memorable enough to achieve this. There isn’t one tune I can hum from it, and this, to me, is the litmus test for a movie musical, whether the songs stick in your head, and these songs don’t, sadly.

There are a few nice songs, specifically Jeronicus’ ballad ‘Over and Over’ but it still isn’t a ‘This Is Me’ or a ‘From Now On’. There is a reason why I am comparing it to Greatest Showman, by the way, as it isn’t just the songs going for a similar look and sound, but the set design, costumes and choreography seem to be taking no small amount of inspiration from the 2017 mega-hit.

There is nothing wrong with being inspired by the success of course, and there are enough differences to make it not seem like a cynical cash-grab. I’d even go out on a limb and say that Jingle Jangle is a better film than The Greatest Showman, in fact. It’s more sincere, it has more heart, and it’s not as forced as Showman was. Even though some of it seems derivative of the style of that film, it arguably improves on the aspects that it failed on, it just falls short in the music department.

Setting it apart from its contemporaries further is a few stop-motion animation sections that further adds to the films mystical ambience.

I found myself really liking the characters in JJ. Forest Whitaker’s performance as Jeronicus is tender, sweet and surprisingly well-rounded. His character arc is a very familiar one, the broken man learning to love again, it takes more than a few cues from Ebenezer Scrooge, but re-tools it for a modern audience; and his authoritative presence, mixed with his obvious softer side makes the character that much more relatable.

There’s also an incredibly likeable turn from Madalen Mills, who plays Jeronicus’ granddaughter. This is her first film credit, not that you’d know it from her charming performance which I’d call the films stand-out performance, as she really ties the films main narrative together, and does so with such impressive flair for such an inexperienced actor.

The cast is strong all-round, in fact. Keegan-Michael Key plays a great confident-yet-troubled Gustafson, who is ostensibly who we’re supposed to root against but has a streak of remorse about him, driven by another character, whom I won’t spoil, but suffice to say that Gustafson isn’t the films true villain.

Although it is nowhere near perfect as a film, Jingle Jangle still hits that sweet spot of heart-warming Christmas cheer well enough to be considered a worthy entry into the Christmas films canon. It has a few characters that don’t really add much to the story, and an underwhelming song list, but it delivers a sense of magic and wonders that you look for in a movie like this with a particularly memorable final act that fulfils all of the promises of the film. A lovely dose of Christmas magic.

The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special Review

When I said at the start of the month that I’d be looking at streaming releases, I certainly didn’t expect anything like this.

Being the ardent Star Wars fan that I am, I am aware of the Star Wars Holiday Special by its reputation; I have never been enough of a masochist to seek it out and watch it (I have to draw the line somewhere) but suffice to say that I know of its legendary awfulness by virtue of its almost mythical status in the realms of bad film/TV.

It has long been a target of derision from fans and creators alike, it was so bad that even George Lucas decreed that he’d never release it, which is saying something, after all, this is the man that deemed Attack of the Clones worthy of release, so to know that even he has his limits makes me curious as to just how bad it could have been but then I remember that my time on this Earth is limited, and sitting down to watch it would just be merely wasting an hour of that precious time.

If it has any positives though, it’s at least ripe for satire. Indeed, several shows have taken stabs at it in the past, it almost seems like too perfect a match for LEGO to step in and take a swipe at it, injecting their usual brand of humour and parody as they do so. So perfect that I almost forgot it was a thing until a trailer for it released a few weeks ago, I was very pleased to be reminded of its existence, however.

After the events of Rise of Skywalker, Rey is training Finn in the ways of the Force while the rest of their friends make preparations for Life Day celebrations. Frustration leads Rey to seek guidance from an old Jedi temple and a force-sensitive crystal that allows the holder to travel through time, leading to a trek through the series’ timeline to find the answers she seeks…

I don’t feel like I should waste time explaining the level of seriousness we’re operating on here, we all know the LEGO formula by now, their films all share the same tongue-in-cheek tone, but also they carry a reverence for their source material that means their products are always love-letters to their respective franchises, but love-letters that are never afraid to poke fun at their targets either.

In that respect, The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special is nothing new and doesn’t re-invent the wheel or stray too far from the established formula, but there is enough to love about it for fans of the previous films, and even more to love for Star Wars fans. The film is full to the brim with relevant humour, utilising call-backs from earlier films, fan favourite characters, and even references to popular internet memes to create a lovingly satirical, and festive, Star Wars package.

It’s a light, fun watch for all the family that doesn’t outstay its welcome, and has just enough in the way of laughs for everyone from kids right up to the more seasoned Star Wars fans; and while it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it’s certainly a welcome addition to Disney’s streaming service, bringing some well-meaning humour to the galaxy far, far away, as well as perhaps a new longstanding festive classic, should it stand the test of time, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.

It is one of those films that seems to have more to see the more you look at it too, and will probably reward eagle-eyed viewers on the hunt for hidden jokes on second viewings, but there is a lot to satisfy in general as the plot speeds through all the different eras of the galaxy, packing in more and more fun cameos and in-jokes as it goes in the trademark LEGO fashion. It probably won’t make a lot of sense to people unfamiliar with the franchise, but I dare say that they aren’t its intended audience, and probably won’t be watching anyway. The more into the universe you are, the more you will get out of it and recognise, is the bottom line.

The voice cast is highly varied too, mixing returning familiar faces with experienced video game and animation voice actors to create a cohesive cast that brings the familiar faces to life again. Special mentions should go to Helen Sadler, whose exemplary performance as Rey anchors the rest of the cast to a solid base and succeeds in making her a likeable and sympathetic character (something a few people would argue the sequel films didn’t do). She may have been made of LEGO bricks here, but her quest is still earnest, even if it is wacky.

There’s no more that can be said about this film, it’s not a long watch or a challenging one, but it is entertaining, engaging and, at times, hilarious. Although it didn’t face strong competition, it is almost certainly the greatest Star Wars– related Holiday Special, so take that for whatever it’s worth.