Deck the Halls (2006)

Director: John Whitesell Cast: Matthew Broderick, Danny DeVito, Kristen Chenoweth, Kristin Davis

Popular local figure Steve becomes frustrated when a new neighbour, Buddy, moves in across the street and rivals him for the title of the town’s “Christmas guy”. Buddy is determined that his house is so lit up with Christmas lights that it can be seen from space, however Steve won’t let that happen.

While Deck the Halls will never quite become a Christmas classic, it’s an enjoyable if perhaps low-quality watch. Overall it’s a pretty rubbish film by usual standards, but I did enjoy it and I certainly felt Christmassy watching it. I laughed out loud a few times, and while much of the comedy is basic slapstick it’s not too over-the-top. The plot is a classic Christmas movie setup, with the two main characters learning some life lessons and everything ending up right in the end.

There are certainly better Christmas films out there but this is worth a watch, and I would probably watch it again (although it won’t be an annual feature of my Christmas viewing list). It’s lightweight and family friendly, so good for a cosy December evening in.

2.5 stars

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Director: Henry Selick Cast: Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, Ed Ivory, Ken Page, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix

The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, Jack Skellington, becomes tired of doing the same thing every year for Halloween. He stumbles across Christmas Town and is taken in my its magic, and decides to take Christmas into his own hands this year. However, it doesn’t go quite to plan and he needs Santa to save the day.

It’s one month until Christmas everybody!!! And that means I’m back onto my annual Christmas Crackers series- which in 2016 included a grand total of one whole review, so if I can beat that I’m doing a good job. Anyway, I thought I’d start with A Nightmare Before Christmas as, to be honest, it’s pretty early in the year to go full-scale Christmas so this Halloween/Christmas crossover is a good compromise.

As far as Christmas films go this one’s not really particularly Christmassy, which was a bit of a let down, but like I say it’s still early so I’m willing to let that slide. Plus, if you usually hate sickly-sweet Christmas films then maybe this one’s for you. I did enjoy it and it’s not too Tim Burton-esque compared to some of his other seriously weird stuff (he was the writer for this), in that it’s not hugely creepy or sinister, which does certainly make it for family appropriate for this time of year. The animations are very cool, and there are lots of little details with the characters and the sets which are fun to spot. Plot-wise it’s fairly predictable, but it’s not very long and it kind of makes a nice change to not have too much squashed into one film. The blossoming romance between Jack and Sally is a little forced towards the end and the plot would have worked without the romantic angle- but still, it’s a festive film to you kind of need something like that. But really the film is about the animation and design, which is top-notch.

I liked this more than I thought I would and it works as a family film as it’s not quite scary enough to put off kids. It’s worth a watch as it’s fun and a bit different from your usual Christmas film, but just don’t save it until Christmas Eve.

3 stars

The Room (2003)

Director: Tommy Wiseau Cast: Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Juliette Danielle and some other people who you’ve also never heard of

Johnny is engaged to be married to Lisa, but Lisa decides she’s bored of Johnny and starts an affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark. Meanwhile, Lisa’s mum gets breast cancer, their neighbour Denny gets involved with drugs, plus a bunch of other tangents that don’t end up going anywhere.

You’ll probably be familiar with The Room (or the “Oh hi Mark” scene at the very least) via its cult following on the internet, which has developed as it’s frequently cited as the worst film ever made. While I’ve not actually seen every film ever made, it just wouldn’t be fair to vouch for that claim, but it is fair to say it’s probably a strong contender. With its lack of coherent and flowing storyline, its amateur acting, the plastic sets and the quite frankly creepy dark turn at the end of the film, it’s hard to find a positive. Despite that however, I did find myself strangely drawn in and I ended up watching the whole thing, beginning to end, without even a loo break.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most about The Room is just how bloody weird Tommy Wiseau is (the director and actor that plays Johnny). The new film The Disaster Artist is based on the book that Greg Sestero wrote from his experiences on the set of the film, and I’m really interested to see it to get a look behind the scenes. Wiseau has an unusual presence in every scene (not in a positive way, I might add), which I think is what gives the film its unique intrigue. Wiseau wrote the screenplay himself, and I just desperately want to know what on earth was going on in his head- did he seriously read it back and think it made sense? I read somewhere that nothing that happens between somewhere around the 20 minute mark and the final scene has any bearing on the outcome. Plus, why was Denny taking drugs? Does Lisa’ mum recover from cancer? Why is their friend Peter not at Johnny’s birthday party if they’re such good friends? Why did Mike injure himself so severely when he fell into the bin, and then be miraculous healed a couple of day later? Why did Lisa arrange a surprise party if she hates Johnny so much? NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE!

Like I say though, there is something about the film that pulls you in. It’s cult status is partly down to its comedic so-bad-it’s-good factor, but I did find myself really wanting to find out whether Johnny and Lisa could work things out or if she would end up with Mark. I’ve watched films that are technically better, but have enjoyed them less. I get the impression from what I’ve seen about The Disaster Artist that Wiseau was kind of rejected by Hollywood, but really the joke’s on them now because this has propelled Wiseau to an ironic stardom. There’s a strange charm about The Room, and I was gripped.

This is not suitable for children or watching with your parents (there are FOUR sex scenes) but I would recommend watching this with a group, so that you can all share and enjoy the rite of passage of watching possibly the worst movie ever. It’s hard to rate this one, as I suppose I did kind of like it, but if I’m being fair and rating all my films from a skill/talent/technical perspective, it can’t really do much better than a measly one star.

1 star

The Princess Bride (1987)

Director: Rob Reiner Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn

In present-day 1980s, when a boy is sick in bed his grandfather tells him the story of The Princess Bride, a tale set in the distant country of Florin. Buttercup is separated from her true love, Westley, and is forced to wed the sneaky Prince Humperdinck. However, Westley won’t rest until he’s got Buttercup back.

Although I’ve read the original book of The Princess Bride, by William Goldman, I’d just never got around to watching the film. I had heard mixed things about the film but as someone who has read the book, I think that definitely helped me to appreciate the film more as all the strange jokes and non-sensical moments make a lot more sense with the extra context that the book provides. My brother hates the film and hasn’t read the book, and I have a feeling he doesn’t like it because you can understand the jokes a bit more if you know the tone and style in which the book was originally written. It’s an obvious thing to say and this applies to most films, but I would certainly suggest reading the book first if you can.

The book and film are made to be a spoof of traditional romantic adventure stories, and I love the way all the sets and costumes look a bit crap because it adds to the fun in a very camp sort of way. If you don’t know it’s a spoof going in I think it would look like just a terribly made film, but with that in mind its general low-budgetness is all part of the joke. The script is very over-the-top but the actors get the delivery just right, in the sense that it’s not overtly comical but there’s a clear underlying sense that nothing is being taken very seriously.

The film is a cult classic from the golden-age of cinema, and I can see how a lot of people would have serious nostalgia for it. Although The Princess Bride pre-dates myself, it has a lot of actors in it that I recognise from other stuff I watched growing up and even now, so it does have that nostalgic value.

This is definitely a family film and is very easy to watch and chuckle at. Don’t expect anything ground-breaking or Oscar-worthy, but if you want a film that can guarantee satisfaction all round, The Princess Bride is a good shout.

4 stars