It's the season of double-issue festive TV Guides.
But what to watch if you don't have an aerial?
We don't have a TV as such, or at least access to traditional broadcast channels. With the season of comfort and joy often being so irrevocably tied-up with childhood memories - one thing that I occasionally miss is festive programming. Admittedly, those glitzy Christmas Variety specials and perenial film favourites are often better in memory than reality (unless it's Morcambe and Wise, of course), but I wanted to make the effort this year to see some Christmas-themed films in the lead-up to the big day. Our unchallenged annual Christmas Eve film will always be Love Actually, its impossible-dream cast and wryly-observed comedy overcoming the occasional cloying sentiment and questionable gender-stereotyping.
This year I also managed to get hold of a universally-panned film adaptation of a very special 1983 novel, a mockumentary which sadly drained all the fun out of what should have been a sure-fire concept, an acclaimed remake of a nearly 70 year old classic and a gorgeous, almost description-defying interpretation of a Hans Christian Andersen tale.
Winter's Tale (2014)This film has received such a drubbing that its a wonder it got its brief cinematic release at all. I read the novel it is based upon while living in a castle in Scotland, a slightly fantastical location which matched the 'just left of reality setting' of the book. It made quite an impression on me, but seemed so unheard of in following years that sometimes I had to wonder if I actually dreamt it.
The film does not deserve the universal abuse; it is an engaging love story well performed by a talented cast with some beautiful sets and cinematography. But I'm not sure it can fairly be called an adaptation of the book either, which is many times richer in detail, texture and characters than this film could ever be. The screen writer is honest in his admission that they simply took the love story strand from the novel and adapted that, in which case I believe the film succeeds. Bu there is an epic and engrossing story left untold -which doesn't feature unnecessary exposition or a pointless cameo from Will Smith. And yes, a key part of the film is set at Christmas time, so it qualifies as a festive film. Don't listen to the reviews - give it a try.
Stalking Santa (2006)Oh dear. There's nothing like that sinking feeling when a film you've encouraged others to watch with you gradually and irrevocably takes on the dull sheen of excrescence as the running time drags on and on. A mockumentary about a man who devoting his life to proving the existence of Santa, and through his researches discovering evidence in an ancient papyrus scroll, cave paintings and even previously unseen Roswell documentation should have been fun. And these early sections were. Unfortunately the other 95% of the film is a trudge through misjudged and laboured gags which just clunk to the floor and lie there like festering mince pies of Christmas Past. Our main character is not simply uncharismatic, because that's the point, but actually unlikeable in more of a miscast sort of way. Probably aiming for the delicious cringe-style humour of The Office, this might have worked as a half-hour take-off in the vein of Leonard Nimoy's or Arthur C Clarke's 'unexplained' series. But instead Stalking Santa saps every ounce of goodwill by staying too long and trying too hard.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)Written and produced by John Hughes, this remake of the 1947 classic could have gone just as disasterously wrong. Definitely a family movie, possibly more child-centric than the original, this has the aesthetic of a production from ten years earlier; from the depths of the 'Wall-Street, braces-wearing' 1980's.
I'm happy to report, however, that this film is delightful and should be a must see for anyone with younger relatives in the lead-up to Christmas. Richard Attenborough is perfectly cast as a man who, although not definitively identified as the real thing, completely convinces you in a film which is after all really about faith in goodness and the power of belief. An important message for any time of the year, especially this one.
The Snow Queen (2005)Proof that not only was Hans Christian Andersen on drugs, but possibly everyone involved in the making of the this utterly unique production. In fact, even watching it is a rather trippy experience - but in the best possible way. Unique is a much-overused term, but I honestly can't compare its gorgeous blending of live action and animation to anything I've ever seen before. Sometimes it's a little like Tron, other times like a vintage hand-tinted silent film but mostly it's a full-blown motion-painting which completely blurs the lines between real and created. For the visuals alone I'd like to own this one myself, but the performances themselves are also enchanting, including the silent Snow Queen herself who gives Angelina Jolie's Maleficent a run for her money. This is no sanitised, simplified Christian Andersen either, but takes you to some very dark places before good eventually triumphs. Beyond the wintery setting this film is not overtly Christmassy, but made perfect viewing at the close of the big day itself.
Sadly these recommendations come a little late for this year, but I'll post a reminder in the lead up to Christmas 2015, along with some new additions. In the meantime, I hope you and your family had a very Merry Christmas - and 'the Stick who Walks' wishes you a happy, healthy New Year.