Monday 14 December 2015

Twelve ingredients for every Christmas movie.

Yes, it's that time of year again. I get to drink mulled wine, wear amusingly horrid sweaters, and watch lots and lots of Christmas movies. Of course, not every Christmas movie can be an It's A Wonderful Life, an Elf, a Christmas Vacation, or a Bad Santa. And Shane Black only has so many workdays to provide us with snow-covered action greatness. But you can still have a lot of fun exploring the movies that can be found on Hallmark Channel, ABC Family, Channel 5 (here in the UK), and any other channel screening one bauble after another during the festive season. Many of them hit the same beats, many of them contain the same ingredients, and that actually ends up providing part of the enjoyment. I don't watch Christmas movies to be blown away by great cinema. I watch them to feel Christmassy and see the type of settled, crisp snow that we don't get here in Edinburgh (when we get snow here it either tends not to melt away quickly or become churned up by traffic and footfall).

So here are the main ingredients I see as necessities for every Christmas movie.

1) A title with an obvious festive link. Throw in the word Santa or Christmas, of course, and you're all set. But you can also use anything with the number twelve (The 12 Dogs Of Christmas, The 12 Disasters Of Christmas, 12 Dates Of Christmas, Twelve Trees Of Christmas, etc, etc) or just stick the word holiday in there (Holiday Inn, obviously, Holiday Affair, Holiday In Handcuffs). And using, or misappropriating, a famous Christmas Carol title or phrase can always work (a la every movie in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series).

2) Snow. You CAN have a Christmas movie without snow but I can't think of any examples just now. Snow doesn't automatically equal a Christmas movie, however, but the two go together like milk and cookies. There's even a Christmas movie simply called Snow (which also has a sequel).

3) An abundance of decorations, HUGE trees, and everything else that we don't always tend to have here in the UK. Much like the Halloween decorations, America really pulls out all the stops for Christmas. There are people who also do the same over here but they're a bit fewer and farther between. If you can reach the top of your tree without a stepladder in America then you may need to go shopping for a bigger tree. And it's that kind of spectacle that makes me watch average Christmas movie after average Christmas movie.

4) The main character names. Here are the most popular choices, based purely on my recollection of the many movies I have watched and with no grounding in actual facts or scientific study (apologies, but it's the way of the internet so I should be okay): Carol, Nick, Chris, Kate. The first three are obviously connected to the season. The fourth is just a popular common name to use in TV movies, as far as I know.

5) The cast can make the difference between your movie being simply distracting or moderately enjoyable. You could always choose to rope in some celebrity who is a bit past their prime, either for a main or supporting role. Or you could hire Christina Milian,who has popped up in a few Christmas TV movies, or Lindy Booth.

6) Romance. Many of the movies I've already mentioned have a love story at the heart of them. Even Santa himself has been looking for love in a few movies (such as Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus). It would seem that Christmas is the best time of year to find love, possibly because it can be viewed as a gift and a shot at redemption for some.

7) A non-believer. Whether it's someone doubting the existence of Santa Claus or even completely refusing to give in to the many delights of the season, every festive film should have a Scrooge.

8) Santa. Why did it take me this long to list Santa? Well, just as many Christmas movies don't feature the jolly fat fellow. But even when he's not in the middle of the action he's often watching over the main characters, perhaps helping to tweak destinies and cause happiness whenever possible. When he's not running the operation at The North Pole, figuring out how to keep his magic working  and trying to make sure Christmas isn't ruined for everyone (e.g. Santa Claus, The Santa Clause, and many more).

9) Elves. You could easily argue that elves have saved Christmas a lot more times than Santa. They make the toys, they often make the best hot chocolates, and someone has to clean up all that reindeer dung. Yes, elves appear in many Christmas movies. And if they're not onscreen then you can usually find a character who has certain elfin qualities.

10) Kids. I know, I know, I should have mentioned them earlier. Christmas is for the young, and the young at heart, so it's no surprise to find so many of the movies featuring children. If there's not a main role for a doe-eyed minor then you can usually find them in a supporting role that will either perk up the lead or remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. Having a "Tiny" Tim often helps to add some extra magic to the grand finale.

11) Ending on a miracle is acceptable in any Christmas movie. In fact, it's almost obligatory. The miracle can be big (someone finding the power to get up out of a wheelchair and walk, for example) or small (friends coming around to help someone with that competition entry that could lead to a much-needed grand prize win).

12) If you can get a popular tune in there then that is the bow wrapped around the main present. A bit of "Let It Snow" is always welcome, but the musical score just has to reference "The Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy" and I am happy.

And there you have it. All the ingredients for a fine bit of Christmas fare. Here is a Letterboxd list I keep adding to, for all your Christmas movie needs. And for anyone still doubting it, of COURSE Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

Ho ho ho.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Spice World (1997)

Yes, I absolutely agree with you. Why would I do this to myself? Why, when I no longer feel the need to fill up my blog every single day with ramblings about what I've been watching, why do I choose to expend my time and energy on a bit of a ramble about Spice World? Well, maybe it's because I actually enjoy Spice World. And maybe it's because it's a film that needs more defending than most.

Before I go any further, and before I lose you (if I haven't already), let me emphasise that I don't actually view Spice World as a good, or great, movie. It's not really supposed to be. The Spice Girls aren't the best actresses in the world, at least one or two of them aren't even that good at the actual singing part of their job, but they don't have to be. And the script isn't that clever or deep or witty. Guess what, it doesn't have to be.

If you view Spice World as a movie then you'll be sorely disappointed. It's a time capsule, and when it was first released it was an opportunity for fans to have some fun in the company of The Spice Girls. And that doesn't mean Emma, Mel, Melanie, Geri, and Victoria. No way. This is a film that goes out of its way to strengthen their brand, a film that keeps viewers in the company of Baby Spice, Scary Spice, Sporty Spice, Ginger Spice, and Posh Spice. The personalities are heightened, sometimes being mocked but more often than not being embraced, and the other characters around them (mainly a manager played by Richard E. Grant and a documentarian played by Alan Cumming, who must have relished the chance to help skew similar material in Josie & The Pussycats) are just there to set up every scene for the girls.

Cameo roles abound, with the list of a-to-z celebrities including, but not limited to: Elton John, Jonathan Ross, Meat Loaf, Bill Paterson, Roger Moore, George Wendt, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Jennifer Saunders, Jason Flemyng, Bob Geldof, Kevin Allen, Michael Barrymore, and Bob Hoskins. You can have plenty of fun just spotting the familiar faces. You can also have plenty of fun, honest, if you allow yourself to applaud the stars of the shows for at least livening up the screen with their usual mix of energy, humour, and sheer will.

You can judge me and laugh all you want. The Spice Girls left their mark on the world of modern pop because of the perfect mix of product and packaging. There was something for everyone, aesthetically speaking, and the songs were upbeat and catchy. This movie captures that appeal, gives a little taste of what it felt like when Girl Power took over the UK in the late 1990s (hey, don't shoot the messenger, I'm referring to the band and their ethos). And that's what it set out to do. If only I had such a perfect movie snapshot for Carter USM, dammit.


Go on. Treat yo'self -