Dead End (2003): Adventure/Horror/Mystery

A family’s trip to the in-laws on Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare in the middle of an endless, eerie forest.

Dead End is so bad that is amazing! Dead End is cult! Dead End belongs to the pantheon of Christmas horrors for numerous reasons. Let’s see… In Dead End, you get to experience the worst decisions ever made by anyone in the history of horror films. Forget about going to the basement when one hears a sound. We are talking about a series of THE most horrendous decisions you’ve ever seen. Dead End is a character-driven film so, it is the characters that move the story forward; people that you definitely don’t want to be next to you if you were to experience any horrific situation. From a filmmaking point of view, it often looks like a student project, but given the narrative’s development, I don’t think anyone should pay serious attention to how writers/directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa have made it. The jump cuts are definitely the highlight though.

Regardless of how I have described it so far, we need to keep in mind that Dead End has turned 18 and, maybe, that’s why it feels outdated. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) so, in the end, most of what’s been said and done kind of makes sense. Ray Wise and Lin Shaye (veteran in horror films) are a great on-screen, fighting couple and both of them perform brilliantly. Alexandra Holden and Amber Smith captivate with their presence.

If you are looking for something horrific yet entertaining, maybe, that’s the one for you. I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

Winter’s Tale (2014): Drama/Fantasy/Mystery

An ostensibly ordinary thief who finds out he is gifted with a miracle falls in love with a woman who dies in his arms, and devotes his life to bringing her back.

A good, old-fashioned love story told in a modern, allegorical way. I remember watching it for the first time years ago and didn’t really get some parts, but I do remember being moved by the storytelling. Watching it now, admittedly, I got more out of it and the trick was to not pay attention to the details of how good, evil, destiny, and miracles work. It is what it is, and that is it. Once that is out of the way, the focus remains on the love story itself. Everything else mythologises our purpose on this Earth and, in a mystical way, sets the cogs of love in motion.

Jessica Brown Findlay stole the show for me as I found her utterly breathtaking. In an effort to be objective though, all performances are exceptional; Colin Farrell as a destiny seeker, Russell Crowe as a psychopathic demon, and Jennifer Connelly as an actress, a woman, and a human being. With them, Eva Marie Saint, Graham Greene, Kevin Durand, William Hurt and Will Smith complete the wonderful cast. Smith is not even on the credits and the only actor who knew about him being in the film was Crowe who shared scenes with him. Awesome stuff! I need to say how amazing I find the casting process. Crowe and Connelly have worked previously in A Beautiful Mind (2001), Crowe and Durand have worked together in Robin Hood (2010) and Noah (2014), and writer/director Akiva Goldsman with all of them in previous projects as a writer.

Goldman’s directorial debut could not be more sentimental. Steven Spielberg acquired the rights in 1983, shortly after Mark Helprin’s novel was released, Martin Scorsese was considered to direct it, and then numerous others, but, in the end, it just stayed on the shelf for years.

Even though I’ve been “accused” for being a cynic in real life (multiple times), that kind of sentimentality seems appropriate and befitting these days. Chances are that neither angels nor demons set the rules on why, how, or how long we should live on this planet, and the same applies for destiny and miracles, but when I remember the phrase “what we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean” I drown my cynicism into that ocean and enjoy possibilities however unreasonable they might seem.

It’s Christmas time, in the middle of the pandemic, so we need as many miracles and help as we can get. From wherever or whoever that may be.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period. Happy Christmas!!!

Stay safe!

Black Christmas (2006): Horror

On Christmas Eve, a group of sorority girls are getting murdered one by one by an escaped psychopath who used to live in their house as a kid.

Blood, gore, incest, cannibalism, and sexualised females all up for the Christmas spirit. What can I say… Black Christmas is the poster child of standard Hollywood horror films that leave nothing to the imagination. All information is dumbed down and fully explained and that speaks volumes regarding the audience it aims to address. Based on Roy Moore’s 1974 original script, writer/director Glen Morgan creates a film that does a colossal disservice to the original film, and unfortunately, drags everything and everyone down with him. IMDb classifies it just as horror, but the comedic elements cannot be hidden, but if they were not meant to be comedic… well, they are anyway.

I could name and number everything that is wrong with the film, but I won’t. It will be like kicking down a film that has already suffered atrocious reviews and Morgan himself paid a very heavy price making this film. The only actress who made a successful career after Black Christmas is Mary Elizabeth Winstead who, to this day, proves to be an absolute gem. Don’t take my word for it though, see Kate (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/11/01/kate-2021-action-adventure-crime/. Personally, I find Yan-Kay Crystal Lowe a gem that needs a lot more spotlight.

Reportedly, Morgan disowned his own film and blamed the Weinstein brothers for it. If anything, that’s the only reason I’m glad it didn’t do well. Out of the four Christmas horrors I reviewed this festive period, this one comes by far fourth, with:

I hope you enjoy this festive period! Stay safe!

Better Watch Out (2017): Comedy/Horror/Thriller

When the parents decide to have a Christmas night out, they hire a babysitter for their teenage boy, but what seems to be a home invasion will make their night a living hell.

The Christmas horror for the whole (15 and over) family. Expect something like Home Alone (1990) meets The Babysitter (2017). The premise, at first, is simple. The parents want to have a Christmas night out, they hire the neighbourhood’s beautiful girl to babysit their teenage boy, they leave, and not long after, a home invasion shakes them to their core. From what I see, IMDb doesn’t disclose much, if anything, so, I’ll make it deliberately generic, and keep it as well spoilers-free.

Very well structured both in terms of script and execution. In less than ten minutes, every character has been introduced as well as the house with all its rooms. The inciting incident is very well disguised and when it reveals itself, it shocks! From then on, there is a roller coaster of incidents that take place one after the other in a synchronised manner, not very well timed to keep it real, not too messy to confuse. Overall, in less than an hour and a half, Better Watch Out brutally entertains, horrifies, and leaves you in the end with wanting some more. Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, and Ed Oxenbould have an amazing chemistry between them and shine in front of the camera. I wish I could say more, but I will stop here.

Behind the camera, writer Zach Kahn and writer/director Chris Peckover create the kind of mixed genre that I particularly like. Comedy/horror is not easy to make. To be able to scare someone but also make them laugh takes a lot of consideration and preparation as these are polar opposite feelings. And to blend them into a film, especially involving kids, imposes a risk to the filmmakers when pitching such a project to the producers and distributors. Why? The target audience is not clear to them which means that it will potentially be unclear to the audience too. And from what I read, it didn’t do particularly well. But don’t be alarmed by that. As I’ve said before a few times, especially this time of the year, this is the kind of fictional excitement we need from the comfort of our couch. The one outdoors is definitely the one that we neither want nor need.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould play brother and sister in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit (2015).

Krampus (2015): Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

While the whole extended family has gathered, a boy condemns Christmas and unwillingly summons the demon of the festive period.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) goes dark in 20′! Funny opening sequence with everyone desecrating the Christmas spirit leads to the troubled family at hand and the visit of their extended family that immediately amplifies the troubles. The comedy element so far prevails and the kid’s wish becomes the necessary plot point that switches it to horror. Interestingly, IMDb does not classify Krampus as horror, but I’m sure if any of our families were involved in a remotely similar situation, it would be.

The moment the demon is introduced, Krampus turns really dark, eerie, and atmospheric, offering immediately the vibe of hopeless and desolating Christmas. Writer/director Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat (2007) https://kaygazpro.com/2019/10/31/trick-r-treat-2007-comedy-horror/ manages once more to get into the spirit of the respective festive period and entertains us with balanced laughter, family gore and the incarnation of the brutal Austrian/German pagan demon and his minions. Evil teddy bear-type toys, angel ornaments, a Jack-in-a box (that swallows kids), a robot, and numerous gingerbread cookie monsters offer pleasurable cinematic deaths and keep you company for over an hour and a half.

Personally, my favourite sequence is Omi’s animated flashback. This is the kind of storytelling Tim Burton would be proud of. It is heartbreaking and annihilates human nature. Its message that the adults pass on the torch of darkness to the kids, and they carry it on only to do the same with theirs, cuts my breath.

What the narrative’s evilness achieves, is both likeable and dislikeable characters to become relatable to the audience. You cannot help but empathise even for the suffering of those who, at first, you wouldn’t mind if they got rid of from the beginning. No one, especially around Christmas, deserves to experience such family-level brutality. And this is where the “success” of films like Krampus are based on: Christmas spirit massacre with a paradoxical message of hope. Pay close attention to the ending as there are two ways to interpret it. Which one do you choose?

So… Does Christmas romance depress you? Do Christmas comedies bore you? Does Christmas drama leave you indifferent? Well, try Christmas horror/comedy. Try Krampus! The answer to what if Santa went rogue (we’ve seen with Superman already).

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. While watching the opening slo-mo sequence with everyone busting in and fighting over Christmas stuff like it’s the end of the world, I couldn’t help but imagine people in 2020 and toilet paper. You know what I mean…

Office Christmas Party (2016): Comedy

In an attempt to save the company’s branch from shutting down, its manager decides to close a deal by throwing a party that is blown out of proportion.

Watched it for the third time and found it as hilarious! Act I: Every sequence is an introduction to the most surrealistic employee and manager you’ve ever met in your life! The plot point? Have a forbidden party that will seal the deal with the man who is going to save their company! This steadily-paced first act lights up the fuse of a satirical bomb that is about to explode.

Act II: The ostensibly boring party gets started and this is where the calm before the storm begins. Admittedly, the fuse seems to be burning and burning for a while, with funny lines, shenanigans and other minor unexpected circumstances, but that is only the delay of the inevitable. The first part’s editing is considerably slower than the second as the premise of the party needs to be fully introduced. The snow machine, the Game of Thrones‘ Iron Throne, the decorations, the booze, the trolleys, the staff, Jesus, the reindeer and horses… So, when the fuse is burnt, everything is blown out of proportion! Eating, drinking, making out, printing off genitalia, throwing offices out of the window, reindeer drinking water from the toilets, orgies all over, burning the place down… That is THE Christmas office party all of us wish we could have been in (and, arguably, keep on working there after). Of course, act III is the expected and unsurprising resolution, but Office Christmas Party promises a lot of laughter and not twists. The finale is befitting and just settles the intended scores.

Directors/producers Josh Gordon and Will Speck, bring to life the script of Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer in the most Christmas-y dirty way possible. Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, and all the rest of the cast and crew shine on camera, and show no remorse for, arguably, their funniest appearances. Bateman is one of a kind; it is unbelievable that it is the same guy who is in front and behind the camera in Ozark (2017 – 2022). I take my hat off to him. That was, by the way his fifth collaboration with Jennifer Aniston.

But, I will leave my hat off for the editors Jeff Groth and Evan Henke. Always remember, what you see is the final cut of a film that has numerous takes and numerous angles with numerous parameters to take into consideration when choosing, finally, the ‘right’ one. Christmas Office Party is inundated with funny lines, and performances. By finding the ‘right’ cut at the ‘right’ moment during or after the line, but also thinking of the actor’s/actress’ performance is… hell! When the speaker speaks the line and when the editor cuts to the reaction of the listener, and for how long after the line is art! Small part of my research is on that but, I’m only giving some food for thought.

I very much hope you enjoy it, as well as this festive period.

Stay safe!

P.S. Upon wrapping up, all furniture and props (that remained intact) were donated to the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta which donated them to homeless people and people having suffered from domestic violence and move into stable housing (source: IMDb).

A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Fantasy / Horror / Mystery

It’s Christmas Eve, and five interwoven stories reveal the dark side of Christmas.

A Viking-looking Santa who is about to face something evil, a radio host who wants to lift your spirits, a student film crew that investigates a violent ritual school crime, a family who just wants a Christmas tree, and an Anti-Christmas spirit that is released, chasing wicked people.

Very promising and original opening sequence that will most definitely get your undivided attention. Every story unfolding is a treat and, despite their flaws, they are still dark, eerie, and enjoyable for, admittedly, mostly millennial horror fans but not exclusively. Surely not for the whole family, each and every one of them, twists the meaning of Christmas and explores the darkness within us in days that our light is meant to shine. The ending is a real twist that, unfortunately, is no fantasy and our world has seen similar in numerous variations. For the avoidance of spoilers, I cannot elaborate further and, personally, I feel like I shouldn’t do it anyway.

The stories unfold in the fictional town of Bailey Downs. The same town where the Ginger Snaps franchise takes place but also, partially, Orphan Black (2013-2017). Filmmakers behind both projects collaborated for this one.

Last Christmas film review for this year! Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): Comedy

The extended Griswold family gets together on Christmas Eve, and everything that can go wrong does.

It used to be one of the funniest Christmas family comedies of its time. The “Griswold House” became a term for the overly decorated houses in the US and Australia and so did the huge, awkward family gatherings. 30+ years later numerous R-rated movies that were influenced by the National Lampoon’s franchise have gone to greater lengths so, chances are that you will not find it as far-fetched as it used to be back then. That said, this merely means that the film has lost its value as, in reality, these extended family gatherings can still be awkward and difficult to handle and, for us who grew up with the franchise, this film comes always to mind.

Like with the rest of the Griswold family films, the amazing John Hughes pens the script and Chevy Chase leads the way. By his side, the gorgeous Beverly D’Angelo shines brighter than their house, and with them, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, Randy Quaid, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and so many more Emmy, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominees and winners join the cast.

Still definitely worth watching, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation will always be a classic and will keep the smile on your face from start to finish.

Stay safe!

Fatman (2020): Action / Comedy / Fantasy

When a rich boy is let down by Santa, he hires an eccentric hitman to kill him.

Well, isn’t that a Christmas film… A pistolero Santa who has a dodgy contract with the government of the United States of America ends up in a gunfight with an assassin.

How can I put it… it’s like a Christmas western shot in the North and Santa is the wanted man on the bullet hole poster. While the hitman tries to track down Santa, here’s what you get: the military outsourcing elves to produce more weaponry and the logistics behind Santa’s operation on Christmas Eve. You know what you get when the hitman actually tracks down the Republican, training-like-Rocky-Balmoa Santa? That’s something you need no commentary on. Writers/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms know exactly the kind of film they want to make and the final cut’s tone and pace give justice to their cause. Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste understand their vision and offer nothing but pure entertainment.

Feeling stuck in your own house on Christmas day? Fatman is your unconventional Christmas movie that will keep you company for an hour and a half. Can you take it seriously? No. Is it meant to be taken seriously? No. So, sit back, relax, and digest the turkey.

Stay safe!

A Christmas Carol (2019): Drama / Fantasy

On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge gets three visits from spirits that show him the error of his ways.

Unarguably, the darkest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale to date. Right off the bat, poisonous truths are coming out of Ebenezer’s mouth, almost impossible to argue with. Why be nice to each other only once a year, indeed… But its darkness doesn’t solely lie in the writing’s truths. It lies in the acting, and above all, the haunting photography. A constant darkness from the opening sequence to the end credits. Keep these elements in mind for what comes next.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him on a journey that leaves some… eerie details to the imagination. Excellent storytelling that will get your undivided attention in an attempt to process if the story you’ve read and watched repeatedly in the past is currently taking the direction you suspect it does. And it does, indeed.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the consequences of that past; a past that seems ostensibly irredeemable. It picks on nineteenth century’s socioeconomic problems that could not be a better fit for the present day (massively pounding on capitalism!). The emphasis on that family’s love and what he had been deprived of, and consequently never knew it existed, smoothly shape Ebenezer to what the spirits hope he will become.

The Ghost of Christmas Future is meant to be the real treat; the relentless. But here, unfortunately, the TV adaptation starts losing ground and the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future is cut short. The mini-series becomes too explanatory for an audience that is by now clear is not kids. Thus, certain explanations are not needed, but they are given nonetheless. Then, everything happens too fast as if the filmmakers suddenly realised that the mini-series’ runtime is coming to an end and they must hurry. But then, more explanations are given, forgetting the “show, don’t tell” rule. Furthermore, in the end, the story feels incomplete as the denouement does not address certain issues, i.e., “redemption” from his nephew or the coal miners’ families.

Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis, Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng, Johnny Harris, and Charlotte Riley are but a few of Britain’s finest actors who perform brilliantly in front of the camera. Joe Alwyn and Vinette Robinson make excellent additions to that cast and play a significant role to the story’s development. Behind the camera. Steven Night, Ridley Scott, and Tom Hardy, among others, put on the producer’s hat and – in my humble opinion – must have done some serious pitching to the BBC to take on such distribution. I guess, if you are about to adapt a classic that has been adapted numerous times before, you may as well do it in a way that it has never been done before.

Stay safe and… Merry Christmas!!!

One Magic Christmas (1985): Family / Fantasy

A mother who lacks the Christmas spirit gets a visit from an angel who shows her what the meaning of this season is.

Remembering Mary Steenburgen in Christmas films, and more particularly in Elf (2003): https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2020/12/24/elf-2003-adventure-comedy-family/ I remembered One Magic Christmas. You see, I may not fan of Elf that much but this is a different kettle of fish. Director Philip Borsos invests in both story and character development and, if you are watching it for the first time, you won’t really know what to expect, or, at least, when to expect it. It takes forty five minutes for the inciting incident to happen but, until then, poverty, especially during the festive days comes to the foreground and that can be a film on it’s own. Countless of families were struggling then as much as they do now. They have been ripped apart while the vast minority is having a laugh. Destitution sucks the joy out everything and replaces it with misery and downright cynicism. Working from paycheck to paycheck, not being able to afford a decent meal – much less to dream… Can love be enough?

Well, that’s what the film is about. We all have the right to laugh and we all need hope. And Steenburgen, even though her reactions are watered down due to the nature of the film is absolutely thrilling. You might be watching a Disney film but don’t underestimate the harsh realities it dares to show. Do you know when you are watching a good film? When is full of plotholes, makes little sense, but still sucks you into it and evokes the emotions it was meant to.

Hey, it’s Christmas season so, turn the blind eye to the horrible reality out there and remember how you used to feel this time of the year as a kid. It will make a lot more sense then…

Stay safe!

P.S. Film debut of the amazing Sarah Polley.

P.P.S. Despite his ongoing battle with leukemia, Philip Borsos kept directing till his last breath, at the age of 41.

Elf (2003): Adventure / Comedy / Family

Raised by elves, one day, a man realises he belongs to the humans’ world and goes to New York on a quest to find his real father.

Elf is the huge box office Christmas success that offered a lot of smiles. First leading role for Will Ferrell, who does what Will Ferrel does best in a comedy. He is really funny to be fair, it’s just Elf is not really my cup of tea. I know that Christmas films are meant to be implausible, cliched, and “tacky” but a man acting… the way he does, finding a girl like this, single, who falls in love with him, and with a dad like this who just manages to love him back… I know, it’s a Christmas comedy/fantasy but maybe not for my age or, simply, not for me.

Jon Favreau’s tributes to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are very obvious and understood – see, that’s an amazing Christmas film (the best of all time) – but I prefer other films of him from before and after the MCU or the Star Wars spinoff. Until Elf, he was a great indie yet, unknown director. At least, the film opened a lot of doors for him, making one of the biggest grossing directors of all time. Admittedly, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen are very much enjoyable so, it’s just maybe not particularly liking it.

By all means, please do enjoy it. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. We all need a good laugh these days. It’s been pretty miserable and depressing out there so, Elf, will do nothing but cheer you up with its silliness.

Stay safe!

Dead Poets Society (1989): Comedy / Drama

A group of students of the most prestigious boarding school in the country forms a secret poetry society after meeting their eccentric but inspiring teacher, Mr. Keating.

What makes Dead Poets Society such a memorable film? Peter Weir’s directing? Tom Schulman’s writing? Robin Williams and his teaching of “Carpe Diem”? Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and the rest of the gang?

Dead Poets Society will always be a classic due to the aforementioned reasons individually, collectively, but for so much more. If you ask ten people what the film is about you’ll probably receive eleven different answers. Is it about poetry and its meaning? About questioning authority? Consequences? About parents who have kids only to tell them what to do and how to do it so they can feel “big”? Is it about love? How about seizing the day as the first step to pursuing your life’s dream?

The “O Captain! My Captain!” scene is the film’s narrative epiphany. Every step and every risk those kids take is meant to lead to that moment. But the way you will have perceived the film until then, what the film will mean to you until then, it will evoke different emotions inside you. It might be seen as a “white-rich-boys-problems” movie nowadays, but, for a couple of hours, pretend it’s you in that age and wonder what your dream was back then, how hard did you try to achieve it, and, ultimately, where are you now?

It is not a Christmas film but this time of the year I always flashback to inspiring films that made me fall in love with cinema as a kid. A film like this needs not my review. Just a reminder that it still exists and it still inspires.

Stay safe!

P.S. “O Captain! My Captain!” was sorely remembered again by the media in 2014 amidst the unfortunate death of the acting giant Robin Williams.

P.P.S. Robert Sean Leonard who was the leading actor (next to Christian Bale) of another favourite film of mine while growing up, Swing Kids (1993), never became the A-list actor he deserved to be like Bale and Hawke did. Shame really…

The Night Before (2015): Comedy / Fantasy

Three lifelong friends who are about to spend their last Christmas together, get tickets to a party that will put their lives into perspective.

Vulgar language, anecdotal situations, surreal characters… anything you can expect from a Rogen/Goldberg production. Co-writer/director Jonathan Levine teams up again Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, after 50/50 (2011) and with the amazing Anthony Mackie joining the crew… the fun has started already. On a second thought, more or less, everyone has worked with someone else more than once in the past. And, of course, James Franco pops up! Oh, did I mention Michael Shannon, Lizzy Caplan, and Mindy Kaling? This is quite the gang.

This is a trippy journey that, in its vast majority, it is very much to the bone. References to Die Hard (1988), Home Alone (1990) and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, make it a great buddy, Christmas film, especially, in times like these. Ultimately, it’s very predictable but you wouldn’t expect anything else from a Christmas movie, even an R-rated one. In all honesty, the church sequence is hilarious and the confession moment at Caplan’s front door is quite funny. Then, the amount of improvisation by almost everyone is also admirable.

Love it or loathe it, that is the kind of comedy you sign up for. Should you decide to watch it, just go along. We all deserve a laugh these days.

Stay safe!

Driving Home for Christmas (2020): Horror / Thriller / Drama

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After a long day’s work, on Christmas eve, a man calls his family on the way back only for a stranger to pick it up.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains strong language and violence, and is intended for an older youth audience. Listener discretion is advised.

Based on my homonymous short horror script, Driving Home for Christmas.

© 2020 Konstantinos Papathanasiou. All rights reserved.

End of Days (1999): Action / Fantasy / Horror

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It is the end of the millennium, Satan has taken a human form while looking for the woman who will bear his child, and it is up to a suicidal ex-cop to prevent the end of days.

Arguably, one of the best, darkest… and underrated films Schwarzenegger has ever been in. Brilliant fast-paced and edited realistic action with a just over fifties, sentimental Arnie been purely tough as nails. Great shooting scenes, great fight scenes, and great chase scenes that make two hours fly by. But the awesomeness doesn’t stop here. The slow-paced sequences testing the heroes’ and antiheroes’ ‘faith’, and the drama of a young girl standing in the midst of chaos, who never chose to be special, make the End of Days an unforgettable choice to put a close to this year and decade. The film’s highlight: Arnold fighting the Satanists and the Devil in the alley.

Arnold, having undergone a heart surgery two years prior to the film, comes back performing extreme action sequences and nailing the self-destructive, rock bottom, action antihero, taking as much as he can give back. Gabriel Byrne is evil as hell – pun intended – and brutally tortures everyone crossing his path with utter style. As for Robin Tunney, she’s magnificent and I can still see why I fell for her in my early twenties. My last ‘congratulations’ goes to the director and director of photography Peter Hyams who pulled this off and brought Andrew W. Marlowe’s solid, very dark yet optimistic script to life.

Again, arguably, Schwarzenegger’s last prominent film.

Enjoy, and have a healthy, happy, productive and creative nee year. Be well!!

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2ZFlYwx / https://amzn.to/36dZvcz

US: https://amzn.to/2Q8l4Wi / https://amzn.to/39p5UDK

Mr. Destiny (1990): Comedy / Fantasy / Romance

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Leading a repetitive life, Larry Burrows, on his 35th birthday, wishes his life was different, more exciting… and this is exactly what he gets!

How many times have I watched this film is beyond me… And I think I’m gonna grow old and grey and I’m still gonna be watching it. Yes, it’s very similar to the classic masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), but since I was a kid when it first came out, I grew up with it, and I couldn’t help but stop thinking about… what if my life was different? As I kept growing up, till this very day, till this very moment, writing this review right now after just having watched it (again), I am wondering why does this film age so well? What is it that makes it so diachronic that I can’t stop having enough of it.

I guess I wouldn’t watch it any other period other than Christmas/New Year time. It is the time when, if not all of us, most of us contemplate a bit more about our new year resolutions. It is that time where we look back and ask ourselves, what could I have done differently? What do I lack? What do I have in abundance? Why would I want my life to be different anyway? It might be all these would haves, should haves, could haves that loop in our minds with warp f@£$%^& speed causing this effect. I think I’m digressing…

Anyway, Larry Burrows is John Belushi. And not like a film poster kind of way. I mean that I can’t imagine anyone else portraying him and I kinda don’t want either. Michael Caine is visual poetry. Linda Hamilton is to fall in love with and proves, once more, to be so diverse actress that I take my hat off to her and bow. Rene Russo always had been and always be lighting up the screen when appearing on it. As for Courteney Cox, she is… a killer! Last but lost least, it is an absolute shame that we don’t see the amazing Jon Lovitz in many films anymore – series mostly.

Mr. Destiny had a big impact on my life, and it has inspired my screenwriting in ways that I can’t begin to describe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the decades.

You can find it here:

UK: https://amzn.to/2SCYjve / https://amzn.to/2SIVp8e

US: https://amzn.to/2F2mhYP

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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An ambitious young man is put by the board of directors as president in a… convoluted company involved in a stock scam.

‘It takes a village to make a film’… and The Hudsucker Proxy is the living proof – and the best side of Hollywood. Joel and Ethan Coen write (alongside Sam Raimi), direct, and produce one of their best and underrated films to date, focusing on a man’s ambition, the crowd’s paranoia, the Media’s superfluous vanity, and the corporate greed! In addition, Carter Burwell’s music, Dennis Gassner’s production design, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography pay a true homage to the films of the ’30s and ’40s. Thom Noble’s meticulous and precise editing paces the film from beginning to end. Great montage sequences delivering passion, laughter, drama, and rhythmic film magic.

A naive Tim Robbins, an extremely articulate Jennifer Jason Leigh, a sexist Bruce Campbell, and the legend Paul Newman develop amazing on-screen chemistry and one cannot help but fall for them. The film’s brilliance is such where the devil’s in the details. For example, Robert Gallagher’s character ‘Vic Tenetta’ shows up for just a few seconds and the screen lightens up.

And now for the shocking facts: Not even one Oskar, Golden Globe or Bafta Nomination. 3 wins and 3 nominations all and all. And that’s not just it! It cost approximately $40M and made $2,816,518. I think, sometimes, it’s surprising what makes people tick and what doesn’t. But I know that, always, when it comes to the film industry, all bets are off!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2Mra0BC

Bad Santa (2003): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A miserable thief and his angry sidekick keep posing as Santa and elf to con people but their Christmas Eve job goes terribly wrong.

Watch the unrated version! Right off the bat, Billie Bob’s monologue! This is when you know exactly what you sign up for; ‘an eating, drinking, shi*ing, f*ing Santa Claus’! Billie Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and the always missed Bernie Mac make you laugh hard for an hour and a half. Plenty of foul language – with the word ‘f*ck’ and its permutations (over 170 times) ruling at the top, ‘sh*t’ (74), ‘ass’ (31), ‘bitch’ (10), and 1 use of ‘bastard’ plenty of political incorrectness, and plenty of actual booze… for Thornton… acting himself. The Cohen brothers and director Terry Zwigoff have done a brilliant job refining Glenn Ficarra’s and John Requa’s script. Excellent mix of Christmas and classical music!

Despite its hilarious profanity and misery, Bad Santa sets off as a dark, dark comedy, ending up being an emotional journey of a lonely, broken man who finds a reason to live.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ZwBKd5

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy

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In times of war and reason, Baron Munchausen shows up to inspire with a story of a lifetime that bypasses reality and goes down the rabbit hole of evocative fantasy and mythical adventure.

From Constantinople to the moon, to the centre of the Earth, to the belly of the beast, and back, Baron Munchausen travels towards fabled worlds encountering heroes and deities. Nostalgia, love, dreams, childhood innocence and hope rise up through Munchausen’s escapades. A social commentary inspired by the Odyssey… delineated in a British aristocratic manner.

As one of my first cinematic experiences, Terry Gilliam makes me reminisce about my childhood years and the way I used to see the world. Where, like in the film, reality and imagination blend into one and shape a harmless world where even the abhorrent tragedy of war can be a lot easier to swallow and man’s cruelty be tolerable.

John Neville, Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Robin Williams (unpaid and uncredited) and the rest of the cast shared Gilliam’s vision of a better world than ours and supported him to see it through as the unfathomably humongous production complications wouldn’t stop appearing.

But reality’s misfortunes were defeated by prevalent, mythical will that projected it eventually to the silver screen.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ZvlmJQ

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

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Living on the top of a hill, Edward, having scissors for hands, is at first welcomed but then abominated by a conservative society.

Potentially, Tim Burton’s greatest fairy tale. One of Danny Elfman’s best film scores. Stefan Czapsky’s most wondrous cinematography. The film that showcased Johnny Depp’s true thespian skills. The film that Winona Ryder made me fall in love with an actress for the first time. Dianne Wiest and Alan Arkin are amazing as gullible and naive parents and both the visual and sound departments deliver a truly mesmerising result.

As for the story and its development, please keep in mind that it is about Edward Scissorhands who is… different. And through his eyes, we recognise isolation, we seek self-discovery, and we find love. Similar, yet more sensitive than the story of Frankenstein, “Edward Scissorhands” could be more of a different take on the Beauty and the Beast through German Expressionism enhanced with Gothic constituents.

Try not to ask too many “whys”. Try not to rationalise actions and reactions. Try not to get too political or too scientific diagnosing Edward with autism. This is one of the best modern, love stories Hollywood has to offer. It is a magical love story…

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ZEFGsF

Scrooged (1988): Comedy / Drama / Fantasy

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A cold-hearted, spiteful TV executive, hell-bent on ruining everyone’s Christmas around him is paid a visit by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.

A modern adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Funny, emotional, didactic, “Scrooged” will make you laugh but also mist your eyes. You’ll love every second of it. Bill Murray goes over the top and exceeds everyone’s expectations. Karen Allen is a beauty and makes you smile every time she does. Alfre Woodard is amazing as always. Danny Elfman was, is, and always will be the master of Christmas scores. And last but not least, the incredibly versatile Richard Donner who orchestrates this brilliant film giving it the befitting, illustrious style it deserves. Shame that he and Murray didn’t work well together. A massive round of applause to all cast and crew for making this film a classic for us to enjoy to this very day and encourage us to… put a little love in our heart!

I take my hat off to Richard Donner and everyone in the production team where, in the most festive period of the year, in one of the most troubled years of South Africa, in their way, they offer their support against the atrocity of apartheid.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2MxVWX1

Filth (2013): Comedy / Crime / Drama

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A mentally unstable, crooked, alcoholic, drug addict cop stops at nothing to get the promotion he is so passionately after while fighting his inner demons.

I’ll start this way… Until “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), James McAvoy was not my cup of tea. By far not! After “X-Men: First Class”, I started changing my mind. After “Filth” I knew I couldn’t have been more wrong. Or, actually, I had been wrong that much once more. With Leonardo DiCaprio after “Gangs of New York” (2002). But then all of us men were. So, I apologise to both.

James McAvoy in “Filth” gave the best performance of his life in 2013. And John S. Baird directed the best film of his career – Even though “Cass” (2008) was pretty amazing too. “Filth” will make you laugh and it will make you cry, and it will make you laugh and cry again and again until you don’t know how to feel anymore about anyone. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, “Filth” is one of the best Scottish films since “Trainspotting” (1996), yet another novel by Irvine Welsh. Changing genre every five minutes, “Filth” is a dramatically funny, surrealistically twisted cinematic journey through the paranoia of a corrupted, deranged, bipolar cop that will drive you bonkers. It’s worth mentioning that Jim Broadbent, in the hallucinatory world, is scarily hilarious.

McAvoy’s psychedelic performance here will prepare you for his cringing performance in “Split” (2016) and the upcoming “Glass” (2019). See how it all started…

Fun fact: “Trainspotting” and “Filth”, potentially, coexist in the same universe.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2EZknZ8

Miracle on 34th Street (1994): Family / Fantasy

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Christmas Version:

An old man who fits the Santa Claus profile becomes a symbol for a company, a family, and a nation alike.

Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Mara Wilson give a great performance in a film for the whole family. Legendary John Hughes behind the production and director Les Mayfield remake the 1947 version of the homonym film with humour, fantasy, great photography, camera work, and editing. Gather the family and enjoy!

Non-Christmas Version:

An old chap found on the street, who has not been vetted whatsoever and officially claims he is Santa is trusted by a family, a major company, and a nation to be near kids.

My, oh, my… Folks gather round! A major company whose CEO’s last name is “Cole” hires a guy for its representative Santa Claus who looks like the 1930’s Santa Claus, property of Coca Cola – “Coke”. And all of us… worldwide… to this very day… religiously… still pass the same torch from generation to generation.

But our generation is evolutionary! We keep walking while texting towards the third decade of the 21st-century with our wireless headphones on because seeing and listening in life is for the backward-looking.

Merry – Coca Cola’s – Christmas!

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/37dwopX