Your Christmas Viewing Guide (UK Edition)

We’re in the final few days before Christmas… Where the hell did all the time go?! What films will get you in the festive spirit? There’s loads to choose from and you need to pick wisely. For every The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992), there’s Beverly Hills Christmas (2015) with Dean Cain.

Here’s our recommendations to get you in the mood and some for the big day itself, when you’re in a booze and turkey filled coma.

retroramblescrooged

 

Scrooged (1988) (Available on Netflix. Also showing on Channel 4 – Christmas Day 2.35pm)
A postmodern spin on the classic Dickens story, which follows a horrible TV producer struggling to launch a live TV broadcast of Scrooge. In the process, he is faced with his own ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

Bill Murray is on top form as the lovably loathsome Frank Cross, with some fine support from Carol Kane (the abusive Ghost of Christmas present), the lovely Karen Allen and Bobcat Goldthwaite (aka Zed from Police Academy) doing his manic screechy thing. Cinematic legend Richard Donner delivers on the laughs, Christmas cheer and even an action packed opening with Lee Majors and Santa taking on terrorists – what’s not to love?

retroramblejinglealltheway

 

Jingle All The Way (1996) (Available on Netflix)
Hard-working businessman and man mountain Howard Langston (Arnie) faces his toughest challenge yet – Christmas shopping for that must-have toy on Christmas Eve. All the way, he must navigate the desperate crowds, psychotic mailmen, con artists and cops with mildly amusing consequences.

Arguably Schwarznegger’s least successful comedy vehicle (and that’s including Junior), this one is for Arnie completists only. I recently watched this on a hangover and it was just bearable. Arnie is surrounded by annoying  characters like Sinbad or the little shit from The Phantom Menace. The only real highlight is Phil Hartman (you may remember him as the voice of Troy McClure in The Simpsons) as Arnie’s cheerfully smug neighbour. “Put the cookie down! Now!”

 

Alan Partridge: Knowing me, Knowing Yule (1995) (Available on Netflix)
The Christmas Special where everything goes wrong, paving the way for Alan’s exodus in a static home. You’ll laugh/cringe as he struggles to keep his guests happy, impress the commissioner of the BBC, or awkwardly banter with a transvestite chef. All of which leads to a meltdown on live telly.

A classic comedy special which despite it’s age, is still a lot of fun and a perfect palate cleanser for any other Christmas schmaltz.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) (Amazon Prime)
The grandaddy of Christmas films that’s another play on the “what if…” plot.  Almost like a Christmas Carol in reverse. After a particularly bad turn of events, town hero and all -round nice guy, George Bailey is contemplating suicide. An angel intervenesis shown what people’s lives would be like, if he was never born. The movie is packed with old school charm (courtesy of them.legendary and lovable Jimmy Stewart) that stands up to repeat viewings. One for all the family, that makes you think what you should be thankful for.

 

Gremlins (Amazon Prime)
Basically It’s A Wonderful Life, with mischievously murderous little monsters. A cult classic with laughs, scares and heart – courtesy of Spielberg, Joe Dante and Home Alone’s Chris Columbus – see my full review or check out our latest podcast.

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) (Amazon Prime, Also showing on ITV – Christmas Day 9.25am)
Walking calamity Clark Griswold has his entire family staying for the holidays and is determined to host the perfect Christmas. What could go wrong?

Chevy Chase is on top form as the eternally optimistic fool, though Randy Quaid steals the show as cousin Eddy, “a beastly man in a blue leisure suit!”. A McGhee family favourite that usually gets a viewing every year.

 

Home Alone (Channel 4 – Christmas Day 5.50pm)
From Chris Columbus, the writer of Gremlins, comes another twisted Christmas tale . This time the hero is an abandoned child, forced to protect his home from thieves at all costs.

In reality, it’s safe to say, those hapless burglars would likely to be killed very early on in the proceedings, but this film gleefully plays out like a live action cartoon.  A quotable classic that turned Macauley Culkin into a household name (pun intended) and Michael Jackson’s best friend.

Santa Claus The Movie (1985) (ITV – Christmas Day 12.50pm)

 

Santa’s top elf (Dudley Moore) leaves the North Pole and falls under the influence of a greedy business men. There’s a rich girl and a wise talking street kid in it… uh that’s all I can remember apart from some Coke product placement.

It’s very Eighties, bizarrely borrowing a lot from Superman (1978). It’s terribly mawkish but John Lithgow is on fine form as the hammy bad guy. A classic for those of a certain age.

All films are available on Netflix and Amazon Prime at the time of writing.

Merry Christmas ya filthy animals!

George & Charlie

REVIEW: Ghostbusters (1984)

Who you gonna call? George McGhee delves into what makes Ghostbusters such a beloved horror comedy classic.

In a nutshell

Three New York college professors develop their own ghost capturing technology and attempt to catch ghosts for money. Along the way they encounter a woman whose apartment building may be the gateway to another dimension, which could unleash evil forces worldwide. Scares and laughter ensues.

We all have that one film that terrified us as kids – well, other than Jaws. For me that was Ghostbusters. I was so terrified on the first watch, I completely missed the fact it was a comedy. Nevertheless, I was quickly hooked and became obsessed with all things Ghostbusters. From the cartoon, The Real Ghostbusters, the toys (I was very happy with my proton pack) and books.

“If there’s a steady paycheck in it, I’ll believe anything you say.”

What makes Ghostbusters so appealing? Well, it’s an original concept, with a bunch of geeks (plus Winston) using science to capture ghosts, deftly balancing comedy with the supernatural. It obviously helps when the laughs are delivered by the leading comic talent of the time – Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and Rick Moranis, steered by assured comedy filmmakers, Harold Ramis (Caddyshack) and Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Meatballs).

Dan Ackroyd is the man to responsible for getting it to the big screen. He always had an interest in the paranormal and following the success of Blues Brothers (1980) was looking for another project for him and Saturday Night Live alumni, John Belushi to star in. With Belushi’s unexpected death and an overly ambitious initial concept (including time travel and parallel dimensions), story and script had to be tweaked and stripped down. Director and producer Reitman brought in Ramis to help bring the story into something more manageable and fellow SNL member cast Murray in the role intended for Belushi.

The film has a good sense of pace, with the rise of the Ghostbusters (ending with a textbook 80’s montage) and spooky goings on at Dana’s apartment at the same time. The three main Ghostbusters (poor Ernie Hudson gets short shrift) fill out their roles dutifully – the naive and  earnest Ray (Ackroyd), the deadpan logic of Egon (Ramis) and the roguish charm of Venkman (Murray). Despite being an ensemble, writers Ackroyd and Ramis humbly give the best lines and most screen time to Murray – which cuts through all the science mumbo jumbo.

“If the ionization-rate is constant for all ectoplasmic entities, we can really bust some heads… in a spiritual sense, of course.”

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Ackroyd, Moranis and director Reitman on set

Along with Groundhog Day (1993 directed by Ramis) it’s a defining film of Murray’s career.Special mention must go to Rick Moranis, as nervous neighbour Louis Tully, who shines in every role he’s in. The highlight being the one take scene at his drinks party where he introduces his guests (all clients, so it’s tax deductible), whilst casually sharing their financial situation. The ever reliable Sigourney Weaver probably gets the best character arc as Dana. She gets to join in on the jokes, whilst skilfully veering from terrified damsel to slutting it up as the possessed Gate Keeper.

The horror comedy genre is a tricky balance. Too much in either direction and you risk alienating some of the audience. Ghostbusters seems to be the right amount for a family audience. The experienced cast ensures all the laughs hit home and decent special effects (for the time) bring the various ghouls to life, without being overly gruesome. The soundtrack adds to this balance. Ray Parker Jnr’s infectious title track is on repeat along with some other Eighties pop which add to the fun. Meanwhile, the legendary Elmer Bernstein’s orchestral score enhances the scenes of fear and dread when required, whilst offering some playful melodies for the lighter moments.

“We’ve been going about this all wrong. This Mr. Stay Puft’s okay! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!”

Retro ramble Ghostbusters Stay Puft

There are moments where the the film veers into more mature territory that is quite typical for a comedy at that time. Despite being pitched as a family film, it’s got a generous amount of swearing, sexual innuendo and enough chain-smoking to give Samuel L Jackson in Jurassic Park a heart attack.

Why has it endured for so long? The film has a nice underlying message that anyone can save the day, the Ghostbusters are not muscular heroes, they rise to the task because no one else can, using smarts and bravery. It’s a great snapshot of the Eighties, whilst being a love letter to the city of New York, with the majority of scenes filmed on location. Whilst the main characters don’t manage to escape their archetypes, there’s so many thrills, laughs and character, you don’t really notice.

The film was so successful it launched a franchise with varying success includes cartoons, games and controversial reboots. For me, it’s all about the original, great laughs, good scares and a cracking cast who have great chemistry.

“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

MVP: This is Bill Murray’s film but the real unsung hero is Rick Moranis – it’s a minor role but he steals every scene he’s in.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

The role of Winston was written for Eddie Murphy. When he declined as he had his own star project – Beverly Hills Cop, the role was scaled down.

Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd were all considered for the role of Egon Spengler. However, after Harold Ramis finished writing the script, he felt close to the character and figured he could act the part.

Alternate Title: The Chain Smoking Radioactive Ghost Catchers