My Life In Film: Christmas Special

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…and so we find ourselves staring into the face of a festive special.  I’ll be taking a look at some of my favourite Christmas films from days of yore and hopefully getting into the spirit in time for the big day.   The films featured here cover a wide range of classics to the…not-so-classics but, and I genuinely mean this, I LOVE Christmas films so anything goes, really!  Anyway, enough of my yakking, we’ve got some festive work to do…

 

SCROOGE (1970)

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A Christmas Carol is a perennial go-to for Hollywood filmmakers and there have been many movie versions of this classic story – Scrooged, Scrooge and The Muppet Christmas Carol – to name just three.  This musical retelling of the story sees Albert Finney take on the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey of self-redemption.  With an all-star supporting cast that includes Alec Guinness, Edith Evans, Kenneth More and Anton Rodgers, Scrooge is a somewhat bleaker version but ultimately is uplifting thanks to the music and lyrics of Leslie Bricusse.

WATCH IT FOR: I Like Life

 

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)

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And, while we’re on the subject of Scrooge – here’s the aforementioned Muppets and their take on the story.  The majority of the story remains the same, Ebenezer Scrooge (here played by Michael Caine) faces up to his past as he’s visited by three spirits, but with the added Muppet twist of musical numbers and featuring Gonzo as Charles Dickens, the narrator of the tale.  I can’t tell you how much I love this film.  From Paul Williams‘ original songs to Miles Goodman‘s score, this is guaranteed to warm the cockles of anyone’s cold heart.  Plus, you get Michael Caine singing!

WATCH IT FOR: One More Sleep

 

KRAMPUS (2015)

Film Title: Krampus

Here’s an altogether different take on a Christmas film.  A fantasy horror that finds a young boy, disillusioned with the festive season and his dysfunctional family, accidentally summoning a demon – Krampus – who wreaks havoc and forces the family to fight for their lives.  Toni Collette and Adam Scott star in this dark, twisted and really rather funny modern fable.

WATCH IT FOR: You Better Watch Out

 

THE GRINCH (2000)

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From one monster to another (sort of) monster in the form of The Grinch.  Ron Howard‘s live-action version based on the original Dr Seuss book and subsequent 1966 animation sees Jim Carrey don layers of prosthetics to bring the creature to life.  Carrey is brilliant as the mean creature who steals Christmas from the inhabitants of Whoville but then suddenly finds himself feeling warmth towards them.  It is, as with some of Howard’s work, overly sentimental in places but with Carrey’s energy beaming from the screen, The Grinch is a wonderful festive treat.

WATCH IT FOR: You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch (2000) / The 1966 version

 

NATIVITY! (2009)

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This charming British film from writer/director Debbie Isitt has fast become an annual festive treat.  With most of the film being improvised, Nativity! brings a special kind of warmth and realism that most Christmas films lack.  Most of the charm comes from the natural performances of the children who pretty much steal the film from everyone else.  Martin Freeman stars as Paul Maddens, a primary school teacher who is charged with putting on the school’s annual nativity play.  With stiff competition from his old friend and rival, Gordon Shakespeare (brilliantly played by Jason Watkins), Maddens tells a big, fat lie that Hollywood is coming to turn the play into a movie.  With the aid of classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton, who steals every scene he’s in!) they put on a show to end all shows!

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947/1994)

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Originally I was only going to choose one version of this film but in the end I couldn’t decide between them.  The 1947 classic starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood is one of the finest films ever made.  Gwenn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a man who claims to be Santa Claus and is subsequently deemed insane and institutionalised.  When it was remade in 1994 with an updated screenplay from John Hughes, there was really only one person who could embody the role of Father Christmas – Richard Attenborough.  Although slightly more saccharine and “Hollywood” than the original, this newer version stills brings the charm thanks to Attenborough and Mara Wilson, taking on the role made famous by Natalie Wood.  I could watch both films without a problem, but if I were to choose…well, that would be telling!

WATCH IT FOR: Christmas is a frame of mind (1947) / Deaf girl (1994)

 

HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK (1992)

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The original Home Alone movie became one of the biggest comedy films of all time, breaking box-office records left, right and centre.  It was almost inevitable, then, that this sequel would follow.  Macaulay Culkin returns as Kevin, the most obnoxious anti-hero in any kids’ film, who finds himself sans family once again at Christmas.  This time, the rest of the McCallister clan lose their delightful relative in the airport on their way to Florida.  Kevin, however, gets on a different flight and ends up in New York.  Also in The Big Apple for the holidays are Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern), newly escaped from prison and on the lookout for another quick buck in the shape of money intended for charity that has been donated by patrons of a toy store.  Basically, it’s the same movie as the original only transplanted to New York.  Kevin defends the toy store, and then his uncle’s rundown house, while his family make their way to meet him in time for the big day.  It’s bigger, often funnier, and has added Tim Curry, what more do you want?

WATCH IT FOR: Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal!

 

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (2012)

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Featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin hamming it up as Santa Claus, Rise of the Guardians is a delightful animated film that sees all the major holiday icons join forces as the Immortal Guardians.  Together, they must protect the innocence of the earth’s children from the evil spirit, Pitch (Law) while trying to get along with each other.  It’s a wonderful family movie that deserves more love than it got on it’s release.  You should give it a go, you won’t regret it!

WATCH IT FOR: Jack Frost vs Easter Bunny!

 

SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE (1985)

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I saw this film at the cinema when I was ten-years-old but for a long time afterwards I avoided watching it again as my young brain didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I did.  It wasn’t until many years later that I revisited it and remembered all the reasons why it is such a classic.  David Huddleston stars as a master toymaker who discovers a magical kingdom in the North Pole and becomes Santa Claus.  Santa’s head elf, Patch (Dudley Moore), seeks something bigger and heads to New York where he comes across evil toy baron, B.Z. (John Lithgow) who plans to takeover Christmas.  It really is a magical movie made all the more special by a Henry Mancini score and a lead actor who embodies the role of Santa like he was born to play it.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)

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When the Griswold family goes on holiday, disaster usually follows so you’d think staying at home for Christmas would be different.  Not a chance!  Clark (Chevy Chase) is trying to stay positive amid unexpected houseguests, outrageous decorations and hideous neighbours by focussing his mind on his impending Christmas bonus.  It’s daft, crazy and very funny and is a must-watch at this time of year, if only to see a family in a worse position than your own!

WATCH IT FOR: Turkey! / Opening titles

 

HOLIDAY INN (1942)

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Two men, Bing Crosby‘s crooner and Fred Astaire‘s dancer, chase after the same woman, Marjorie Reynolds, in this wonderful musical.  Crosby plays Jim Hardy who runs the Holiday Inn, an establishment that only opens on the holidays.  He falls for Linda Mason (Reynolds), an up-and-coming performer who is being pursued by suave dancer Ted Hanover (Astaire) to be his new dance partner after being jilted by his ex.  They all converge on the Inn where they sing, perform and fall in love.  This film is notable for bringing us one of the biggest-selling songs of all time, White Christmas.

WATCH IT FOR: It couldn’t be any other clip, could it? White Christmas

 

And there you have it, another Christmas sorted.  There are, of course, plenty of other festive treats to see – All I Want For Christmas, Christmas With The Kranks, The Polar Express, White Christmas – but I don’t have the space to cover them all (a couple have already featured) so you’ll just have to seek them out for yourselves.  I also considered adding a couple of television specials but, again, there are so many that I might just save those for next year!  I hope this year hasn’t been too stressful for you all – mine has, but I won’t bore you with those details! – and that you get everything you wish for yourselves for the coming year.  Normal service will resume in the new year with plenty more editions of My Life In Film/TV… as well as the occasional special, but until then all that’s left is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life In Film: Part Twenty Five

After the horrors of the Halloween special, it’s business as usual for my movie odyssey as I try to compile the list of films that have, in one way or another, made significant impact on me.  I’m making no excuses for some of the films that have already been featured and for the ones that are yet to come, not all of them are great classics and some will divide opinion, but for most there are specific scenes and moments that outrank the movie as a whole which is why some of the more dubious films are included.  One such film is on this list, where the movie isn’t all that great but there are some moments that have meant it has stuck with me.  Anyway, I’ll leave you to figure out which one it is.  In the meantime, we’ve got work to do…

 

BULL DURHAM (1988)

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I’m not the biggest fan of sports but I do enjoy a bit of baseball, even though I have no idea of the rules or scoring.  Sports movies are a tricky thing to get right, they’re usually uplifting stories of the underdog fighting back against the odds and can often get quiet sickly and saccharine.  Sometimes, though, a sports movie comes along that is a little bit edgier.  Bull Durham is one of those.  Kevin Costner stars as an aging baseball pitcher (there’s lots of those in the world of cinema) who is brought in to help Tim Robbins‘ younger pitcher get to grips with the game.  Both men fall for the sultry Susan Sarandon, who is the team’s groupie and has a habit of hooking up with one young player every season.  It’s a hugely entertaining film regardless of whether you understand the rules of the game or not.

WATCH IT FORTrailer

 

GHOST (1990)

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I remember going to see this film at the cinema with a friend and, once it had finished, we left the screening surrounded by people in tears.  As two fifteen-year-olds we had no idea why.  It was a pretty decent movie about a ghost with unfinished business.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I ‘got’ Ghost.  Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Demi Moore) are the perfect couple who have recently moved into their unbelievably swish penthouse and seem to have everything they need.  One night, though, Sam is gunned down in an apparent mugging where his spirit is left to wander the earth until he figures out who killed him.  Viewing this film with a more mature mind and after having gone through grief it really resonates and becomes a completely different movie to the one I originally saw.  Whoopi Goldberg provides an Oscar-winning performance as a fraudulent psychic who just so happens to be the only one who can see and hear Sam and damn near steals the whole film.

WATCH IT FOR: Whoopi!

 

APOLLO 13 (1995)

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Making films about true life events can sometimes falter due to the public knowing how things turn out.  What skilled filmmakers like Ron Howard do is to tell the familiar story but from different perspectives.  Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and the late Bill Paxton star as the astronauts on the ill-fated “routine” flight aboard NASA’s Apollo 13.  There is limited media interest in this mission as the moon landing has already occurred, until something goes terribly wrong aboard the shuttle.  The drama on the ground is amplified as we get up close and personal with the astronauts in a tense situation trying to survive.

WATCH IT FOR: “Just breathe normal”

 

ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994)

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Jim Carrey has made a career out of playing crazy, slightly unhinged comic characters but none quite like Ace Ventura.  He’s a detective that only takes cases involving animals and the biggest case of his career has just landed in his lap.  The Miami Dolphins mascot, a dolphin called Snowflake, is stolen and Ace must investigate to find out who would steal a dolphin and why.  Courtney Cox, Sean Young and Tone Loc provide support but this is Carrey’s showcase.  It’s a riot and I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I love it.

WATCH IT FOR: Ace in Snowflake’s tank

 

STRIKING DISTANCE (1993)

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By the mid-nineties, Bruce Willis had got the maverick cop act down to a tee.  In this thriller he plays Tom Hardy, a former detective, demoted to the river police, who is on the hunt for a serial killer preying on women Hardy knows.  It’s your standard action thriller fare with Willis phoning most of the film in but among the predictable stuff there are some memorable moments.  Sarah Jessica Parker provides the token female support in a boys’ own action film that also features Tom Sizemore and Dennis Farina.

WATCH IT FOR: The opening car chase

 

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

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I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the Terminator movies but there is something very special about this, the first sequel to James Cameron‘s 1984 originalArnold Schwarzenegger returns as the cyborg (an exact lookalike of the original sent to kill Linda Hamilton‘s Sarah Connor) who is sent back from the future to prevent the murder of John Connor (Edward Furlong) by an advanced cyborg, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick).  Cameron ramps up the action and uses the then state-of-the-art visual effects technology to provide us with a breath-taking rollercoaster of a movie.

WATCH IT FOR: “Do you know John Connor?”

 

MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993)

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The very much-missed Robin Williams was clearly having a ball playing Daniel, the divorced father forced to dress as an old lady in order to see his kids.  The way he lives and breathes Mrs. Doubtfire shows what a great talent he was and only emphasises the sadness of his early passing.  Sally Field plays his ex-wife who has since started dating Pierce Brosnan‘s smarmy Stu.  Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara Wilson play the three kids Daniel is so desperate to see but really, this is all about Williams and his tour-de-force performance.

WATCH IT FOR: “Could you make me a woman?”

 

THE JEWEL OF THE NILE (1985)

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This sequel to the 1984 original sees Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito return in an adventure to find a fabled jewel.  While not quite as good as the first film, The Jewel of the Nile does have some good set-pieces and manages to keep up the pace but it lacks the charm of the original.  It’s still good fun, though and does feature the hit song “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”.

WATCH IT FOR: Jet Escape

 

SPACEBALLS (1987)

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Not content with spoofing virtually every film genre already, Mel Brooks shifts his attention to the Star Wars universe with this cult comedy.  Bill Pullman, John Candy and Rick Moranis star in this out of this world parody.  Brooks’ skill at taking the well-known and slightly skewing it is evident here as he rips on every space movie ever made.  While not universally loved as much as his earlier classics, Spaceballs does hold up as one of the best of his forgotten films.

WATCH IT FOR: Merchandising!

 

AIR FORCE ONE (1997)

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I remember watching The Late Show with David Letterman when Harrison Ford was doing the promotional rounds for this film.  Letterman dubbed Ford “Ass-Kicking President” and it’s not hard to see why in this action thriller from Wolfgang Petersen.  Ford plays President James Marshall who’s plane (Air Force One) is hijacked by Gary Oldman and his band of terrorists.  Marshall is an ex-soldier, though, so puts his military training to good use to get his plane back.

WATCH IT FOR: “Get off my plane!”

 

And, another edition bites the dust.  Certainly a couple of greats there and at least one that shouldn’t really be on anyone’s favourites list but I like it, so there!  As the nights begin drawing in my attention naturally shifts towards the festive season.  There will be a Christmas Special on it’s way, I’m just sorting out what’s going in, and a couple of extra Movie Heroes entries, too.  If you like what you see here, and have liked my previous posts, then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you and feel free to share the love.  Until the next time…

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“Houston, we have a problem”

 

 

 

My Life In Film & TV: Halloween Spooktacular II

It’s been a couple of years since the last Halloween special so I thought it only right to resurrect it.  In keeping with my usual fare, this edition features some of the scary films and television specials that have given us sleepless nights for years.  So, get your spook on and join me as I delve deep into the crypt of nostalgia…

 

DRACULA (1931)

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Bela Lugosi‘s performance as Dracula in this movie is probably the defining version that we all conjure up in our minds.  The look, the voice and the sheer presence of the man spawned countless impersonations for years to come.  Based loosely on the classic novel by Bram Stoker, this is one of the most influential of Universal’s monster movie output that also included Frankenstein and The Wolf Man.  Lugosi became typecast because of this role and struggled to shake off what had become an iconic part.  Many actors have portrayed the vampire in the proceeding years but none really ever come close to the original.

WATCH IT FOR: Intro to the film

 

THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)

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The influence of Dracula can be seen here in this slice of eighties comedy horror.  A group of friends with a fascination of all things monster must band together to save their town from Dracula and his fellow monsters.  This is one of those cult ‘kids’ movies that brilliantly blends elements of comedy, horror and action.  Written by Shane Black, it’s a hugely entertaining love letter to the classic Universal monster movies.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

HOME IMPROVEMENT – “CRAZY FOR YOU” (1993)

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Home Improvement is one of my all time favourite sitcoms and I always loved their Halloween episodes.  In this spooky episode from season three, Tim (Tim Allen) finds he has an obsessive secret admirer who also happens to be attending his annual fancy dress party.  As usual its a chance for everyone to dress up, most notably the three boys – Brad, Randy and Mark who decide to go as The Three Stooges (they all wanted to be Moe!).  Without giving too much away, Tim’s admirer isn’t all she’s cracked up to be!

WATCH IT FOR: A moment between Tim and Wilson

 

MEDIUM (2005-2011)

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This supernatural drama starring Patricia Arquette as Allison Dubois is different to most others in that the lead character is a normal, suburban mother with a family and job.  It just so happens that she also receives messages from the dead.  Arquette is brilliant and delivers a fully rounded character in a story that is based on real life.  Some episodes were a little bit quirky and off the wall which also added to the class of the show.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986)

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The original Poltergeist movie was such a massive hit that it was almost inevitable that a sequel would be made.  Although, with most sequels, the tone is slightly darker than the first one, it still holds up as one of the better ‘second’ films.  The Freeling family have moved from their haunted home and are now living with Diane’s mother but the terror they suffered before isn’t that far away.  The majority of the original cast returns – Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke and Oliver Robins – for what is a really strong sequel to a really successful horror classic.

WATCH IT FOR: Kane!

 

PARANORMAN (2012)

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This wonderful supernatural animation comes from the same production company that brought us Coraline, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings.  It’s a delightfully spooky tale of a misunderstood boy who has the ability to speak to the dead.  Norman is approached by his estranged uncle who tells him of an age-old curse that blights the town.  Along with his best friend, Neil and an unlikely team of companions, Norman must figure out how to stop the curse and save his hometown.

WATCH IT FOR: Haunted bathroom!

 

QUANTUM LEAP – “BLOOD MOON” (1994)

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Although not technically a Halloween episode, ‘Blood Moon’ does have all the elements of a spooky special.  Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) leaps into the body of well-known artist Nigel Corrington who just so happens to sleep in a coffin and has shocked everyone by marrying a homeless girl.  Nigel and his bride are entertaining Victor Drake and his lady friend, Claudia on the night of the Blood Moon where tragedy is due to strike.  Dean Stockwell as Al, Sam’s holographic partner, is suitably scared and believes Nigel to be a vampire.  ‘Blood Moon’ appears in the show’s final (and weakest) season but this episode stands out as one of the best of that year.

WATCH IT FOR: Full episode on YouTube

 

MONSTER HOUSE (2006)

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The quality of modern “kids” movies is just astounding.  Monster House is one such joy of a film that has fully rounded characters in a wonderful, spooky comedy.  Three kids discover that their neighbour’s house is hiding a huge secret.  DJ, Chowder and Jenny find out that the house is actually a living, breathing monster with a taste for anything that lands in it’s yard.  This really is one of the best animated movies in recent years so if you’ve yet to experience it, please give it a try.

WATCH IT FOR: Ding, Dong, Ditch

 

STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

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I haven’t seen the newest incarnation of Stephen King‘s classic novel (nor have I read the book!) so I only have this made-for-television film to go off.  In 1960 a group of teen misfits do battle against an evil demon who poses as Pennywise (Tim Curry), a child-killing clown.  Thirty years later the friends reunite to put a stop to Pennywise once and for all when he returns to their hometown.  Curry absolutely steals the show here and he’s clearly having fun as the malicious clown.  I remember watching it when it was first shown and being completely terrified by his performance, although I’ve recently seen it again and the horror of it has passed as the years have gone by.  From all I’ve heard, the new IT (2017) takes the fear factor and multiplies it by a thousand.

WATCH IT FOR: Tim Curry loving his job!

 

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987)

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Another actor clearly relishing his job is Jack Nicholson, here playing a mysterious and flamboyant visitor to a small town where he proceeds to seduce three single women.  Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer are the three divorced women who, after a night of lamenting the lack of eligible men in their town, somehow manage to conjure up the mysterious Daryl Van Horne, the Devil himself.  It’s a fun, sometimes off-colour fantasy with great performances and a wonderful score by John Williams.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

HALLOWEEN (1978)

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Halloween night, 1963.  Six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his 15-yr-old sister, Judith, to death.  Fifteen years after being institutionalised, Michael breaks out on the night before Halloween and heads straight back to his hometown followed by his psychiatrist, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence).  Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the object of Myers’ obsession in what has become her most iconic role (it was recently announced that she would return to the franchise in 2018).  John Carpenter has created a masterpiece of cinematic horror, that has stood the test of time and continues to scare the living daylights out of generations.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

CARRY ON SCREAMING! (1966)

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Our final venture into the spooky vaults belongs to a piece of British film culture.  Carry On Screaming! was the 12th entry in the long-running franchise and featured most of the original cast, including Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Joan Sims.  This time around, focussing on the classic Hammer films, Harry H. Corbett joins the ranks as a Detective on the trail of the evil Dr Watt who is kidnapping beautiful women and turning them into mannequins.  It was one of the biggest hits of the Carry On franchise and was also one of the most popular of 1966.  It’s daft, yet strangely alluring.

WATCH IT FOR: Frying tonight!

 

There you have it.  A second delve into the spooktacular vaults.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane and haven’t been too scared.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of horror films or being terrified but I can’t resist celebrating them.  Regular service will resume shortly so, in the meantime, don’t have nightmares…do sleep well!

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“You float too”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life In Film: Part Twenty Four

Well, it seems like absolutely ages since I gave you part twenty three of this odyssey but here we go again with another edition.  This time around there is at least one film that I hadn’t thought about for years until it just suddenly popped into my brain while trying to research another project, while the others are pretty much standard movies I’ve seen again and again but just happened to forget about until now!  Anyway, enough of me yacking on…we’ve got work to do!

 

UNCLE BUCK (1989)

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The ever reliable, and much-missed, John Candy was perfect in this film from John Hughes.  Candy is Buck Russell, confirmed bachelor and all-round slob, who is forced to look after his brother’s three kids.  Hughes’ ability to tap into the mind of the American teenager was one of his masterstrokes and he does it again here.  Jean Louisa Kelly as Tia is about as dysfunctional a teen you could find while Gaby Hoffman and a pre-Home Alone Macaulay Culkin provide the cuteness overload.  But this is really John Candy’s film in which he showcases not only his brilliant comedic bones but also his heart.

WATCH IT FOR: “Here’s a quarter…”

 

JUST CAUSE (1995)

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Sean Connery stars in this solid thriller as Paul Armstrong, a Harvard professor lured back into the courtroom after 25 years to represent a young black man who has been sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl.  Laurence Fishburne plays the local sheriff who resents Armstrong’s presence and who believes the police have their man.  Connery is, as usual, brilliantly cool and takes no nonsense from the locals as he delves deeper into this horrific crime.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

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John Carpenter made his name in the seventies and eighties as one of the leading lights of cinematic horror with Halloween, The Fog and The Thing.  Here, though, he ventures into the world of comedy, adventure and fantasy.  Kurt Russell stars as Jack Burton, a truck driver, who arrives in San Francisco’s Chinatown where all manner of weird and wonderful things happen.  Kim Cattrall and the ever present James Hong provide solid support in this rip-roaring extravaganza.

WATCH IT FOR: The Three Storms

 

CITY SLICKERS (1991)

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Three middle-aged friends – Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby – are having a mid-life crisis and decide the only way to celebrate their milestone birthday is to go on a cattle drive from New Mexico to Colorado.  Whilst there, they meet Curly (Jack Palance) who teaches them everything they need to know about being a cowboy, as well as a few things about life.  It’s a wonderful, uplifting comedy that brought the legendary Palance his only Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

WATCH IT FOR: The Secret of Life

 

MATILDA (1996)

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Big screen adaptations of Roald Dahl stories haven’t always been up to the quality of the original product.  With this movie version of Matilda (a book I absolutely adore), director Danny DeVito has managed to capture the spirit and essence of the source material.  Mara Wilson stars as the eponymous heroine, a little girl who just so happens to be a genius, and the fight against her horrid family (DeVito and Rhea Perlman play her parents) and the hideous Miss Trunchbull (a delightfully wicked Pam Ferris).  As adaptations go, this is one of the best.

WATCH IT FOR: Hammer Throw!

 

BLADE RUNNER (1982)

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With a sequel (Blade Runner 2049) currently in cinemas it seems only right to revisit this classic piece of sci-fi.  Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”) and from pioneering director Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is a bleak, film-noir-style thriller set in a futuristic Los Angeles where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is on the trail of a group of replicants (androids that look like humans) who have staged a mutiny on the Off World colony.  Its a dark, brooding thriller made all the more menacing by Rutger Hauer‘s Roy Batty.

WATCH IT FOR: “Tears in the rain”

 

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009)

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Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is a scientist who is regarded by everyone he meets as a failure.  He invents a machine that makes food fall from the sky but little does he know that trouble will soon follow.  The story has been told many times before – local laughing stock comes good – but here its given a quirky twist with giant food falling from the sky.  The animation is beautiful and the script is as witty as you like, add to this the voice talents of James Caan, Anna Faris and Mr. T and you’ve got yourself a winner!

WATCH IT FOR: Raining burgers!

 

HARVEY (1950)

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James Stewart is wonderful in this film version of the hit stage play.  In it he plays Elwood P. Dowd, a man who insists that he has a friend in the form of an invisible six-foot high rabbit called Harvey.  Because of this his family and friends believe him to be insane and try to have him committed.  This is a whimsical tale, almost fable-like with Stewart giving one of his finest performances and providing cinema with one of the best fantasy comedies in history.

WATCH IT FOR: Stewart’s performance

 

GUNG HO (1986)

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Michael Keaton plays Hunt Stevenson, a worker at an American car firm that has just been taken over by a Japanese company.  He must act as a mediator between his co-workers and new owners while justify the existence of his own job.  Director Ron Howard brings humour to a culture clash drama which is, in essence, slightly clichéd and mundane but its Keaton’s performance that keeps things moving.

WATCH IT FOR: Morning exercises

 

HIGH SOCIETY (1956)

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As movie remakes go, High Society is a pretty good one.  Based on the 1940 romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story it sees Grace Kelly as a spoiled heiress who finds herself having to choose between three suitors, two of which are played by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.  Sure, it lacks the fizz and punch of the original but it does boast a number of glorious songs and has a fun, flighty nature about it not to mention an appearance from Louis Armstrong and his band.

WATCH IT FOR: Well Did You Evah?

 

Well, did you ever?  There goes another edition of My Life In Film… I promise not to leave it so long until the next one but, as it’s that time of year, the next entry will be a Halloween special so keep your eyes peeled for that one!  As for this edition, well I think its quite eclectic as per usual, don’t you think?  If you’ve liked what you’ve seen here then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.  Until the next time…

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“It’s all in the reflexes”

 

 

 

 

Movie Heroes: Harold Lloyd

As a child I first became aware of Harold Lloyd during the school holidays when UK television showed his World of Comedy compilation programmes.  The catchy theme tune (“Hooray For Harold Lloyd”) has been stuck in my head for decades but it was only in the past few years that I really began to appreciate just how important Lloyd was to the world of cinema.  Not just a brilliant comic performer and stuntman, Lloyd was also a writer, producer and director and is often cited alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the greatest, and most influential film makers of all time.

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For the most part, though, Lloyd has been sadly overlooked in favour of his fellow cinematic giants.  It’s a shame because I think his work is just as good, if not better, than both Keaton and Chaplin.

Lloyd had always acted as a child but it wasn’t until he moved with his father to California that he began appearing in one-reel comedies and, while working for the Thomas Edison Motion Picture Company, got his first role in a production of The Old Monk’s Tale.  When he was 20, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles and soon began appearing in Keystone comedies and working as an extra for Universal.  It was here at Universal that Lloyd met an aspiring film-maker called Hal Roach.  They became firm friends and soon started making their own films, including “Lonesome Luke” which was a version of Chaplin’s tramp character.

After a few years of playing this tragic-comic character, Lloyd felt the need to develop and set upon creating the Glass character, an everyman that audiences could identify with more than Lonesome Luke.  Glass gave Lloyd the chance to show his emotional depth and empathy and would become his most famous creation.

Harold Lloyd in SPEEDY (1928). Courtesy Harold Lloyd Entertainme

During the height of his new-found popularity, Lloyd faced a personal struggle when, while posing for publicity photographs, he was seriously injured when a supposed prop bomb blew up in his hand.  Lloyd lost a thumb and forefinger in the accident and suffered severe trauma to his face and eye.  Despite this, he regained his sight and the face wounds healed and he also developed a special prosthetic for his hand so he could continue working.

In 1921, Lloyd and Roach moved from making shorts into making feature films and, in particular, his most iconic movie Safety Last (1923).  This film secured Lloyd’s stardom and cemented him in the history of cinema.  Even after Lloyd parted company with Roach in 1924 his success continued with Girl Shy, The Freshman, The Kid Brother and Speedy which would be his final silent movie.

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He formed his own production company – The Harold Lloyd Film Corporation – and was one of the founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  But, with the advent of talking pictures and the Great Depression, Lloyd found his Glass character was out of touch with audiences.  Along with the increased length of time between the releases of his films, Lloyd found his popularity declining.  His company also suffered in the decline and he ended up selling the land on which his studio was built.  He produced a few comedies for RKO in the early 1940s but had all but retired before returning for a short career on the radio and occasional appearances on television.

Lloyd maintained the copyright control over most of his films but offered them out infrequently to cinemas as he felt they were best seen with a live organist.  In the early 1960s he produced two compilation films – Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy and The Funny Side of Life – the first of which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962 and where Lloyd was lauded as a major rediscovery.

He received an Honorary Academy Award in 1953 for being “a master comedian and good citizen” as well as having his footprints and autograph preserved outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Following Lloyd’s death, the rights to his films were sold to Time-Life Films where they were subjected to terrible edits and compacted into television compilation shows (which is where I first became aware of him) often featuring narration telling the viewer what was happening which, while amusing to a child like me, was actually sacrilegious to Lloyd’s legacy.

Chaplin and Keaton may be more recognised as the pioneers of silent cinema but you can’t forget Lloyd’s contribution to the genre.  His daredevil antics and thrill sequences are among some of cinema’s most spectacular moments with Safety Last appearing in the AFIs list of 100 Most Thrilling Movies.  His films made him one of the wealthiest movie stars in Hollywood as well as one of the most influential yet his name is often forgotten.  Do yourself a favour, seek out Safety Last if you can and marvel at the genius of the ordinary man in glasses who ended up doing extraordinary things.  You won’t be disappointed.

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HAROLD LLOYD – 1893-1971

 

 

 

 

My Life In Film: Part Twenty Three

And so, as the dust settles on another entry of My Life In Film… we must surely delve deeper into the archives for more lost gems of cinema.  This time around there is at least one curveball that I had forgotten all about and, more importantly, forgotten that I liked! There are also a couple of massive blockbusters and plenty of award winners to enjoy in this twenty third edition.  Time to get to it, then…

 

STAR TREK (2009)

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In a world of reboots and reimagining there lies the odd film that actually works as it should.  Star Trek is one such delight.  J.J. Abrams takes the helm of this spectacular reboot of the classic television series and movie franchise.  I was never a fan of either of these originals but hearing of Abrams involvement got me on board.  Chris Pine stars as a brash James T. Kirk trying to live up to his father’s legacy.  Along for the ride are Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu, Simon Pegg as Scotty and Zoe Saldana as Uhura.  Original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, appears as his own father and thus keeping a foot in the original franchise.  It’s a really entertaining action sci-fi where the whole cast works so well together.

WATCH IT FOR: Beam us up!

 

ASK A POLICEMAN (1939)

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Sgt Dudfoot (Will Hay) and his two incompetent constables, Albert (Graham Moffatt) and Harbottle (Moore Marriott) are the dedicated policemen in Turnbottom Round, a village that prides itself on being without crime for years.  Unfortunately, this means that their jobs are now at stake so they form a plan to stage fake crimes in order to get the numbers up and save the station.  However, they unwittingly uncover an actual smuggling operation.  If you think you’ve heard that plot somewhere before then you’d be right.  It was remade as The Boys In Blue starring Cannon & Ball in 1984, which has also made the list of my favourite films!

WATCH IT FOR: A visit to Harbottle’s father!

 

THE PRESIDIO (1988)

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I revisited this thriller recently and had forgotten just how much I enjoyed it.  For years the only thing I remembered about it was the scene with Sean Connery‘s character beating a guy up with just his thumb, but there’s more to it than that.  Mark Harmon plays a civilian detective in San Francisco who comes up against his former commanding officer (Connery) while investigating a series of murders that cross both their jurisdictions.  Directed by Peter Hyams and co-starring Meg Ryan as Connery’s daughter and love interest for Harmon, The Presidio is an underrated thriller that doesn’t get the love it deserves.

WATCH IT FOR: THAT fight!

 

TRULY MADLY DEEPLY (1990)

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I’ll be honest, this isn’t my go-to style of film to watch and I don’t know why I was drawn to it first time around but I’m glad I did.  Juliet Stevenson plays Nina who is overcome with grief at losing her partner, Jamie (Alan Rickman).  She gets a second chance when he comes back to her as a ghost.  It’s a romantic comedy but, at it’s heart, is a story about grief and nothing illustrates that more than Stevenson’s heart breaking performance.  In other hands this could have been overly sentimental and cheesy but when you have Anthony Minghella writing and directing, you know you’re in for some quality work.

WATCH IT FOR: The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore

 

PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990)

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If you take nothing else from this film, just know that Michael Keaton gives good villain.  Pacific Heights came along during a busy period for unhinged individuals invading peace-loving, All-American people’s lives.  Here, Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith are a young couple who have worked hard to renovate their dream house and now plan to rent out apartments to pay for it.  One of their tenants, though, has other plans.  Keaton is suitably maniacal while Griffith and Modine are perfect as the innocent couple falling for his charms.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

FINIAN’S RAINBOW (1968)

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How’s this for a curveball?  Francis Ford Coppola‘s fantasy musical starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Petula Clark.  Astaire and Clark play father and daughter who move from Ireland to the American South with a magical piece of gold that has the ability to change people’s lives.  With Tommy Steele as a leprechaun and an array of memorable songs, Finian’s Rainbow is a film that is often derided but is also an absolute delight.

WATCH IT FOR: Look To The Rainbow

 

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

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As westerns go this one is pretty damned good.  A remake of Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai, the story sees a bandit who terrorises a small Mexican village.  The villagers seek help in the form of seven gunslingers from across the border, each of whom have their own agenda.  A stunning cast – Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz – and one of the most famous soundtracks in cinema history, The Magnificent Seven is proof that remakes sometimes work.  The same cannot be said for the remake of this remake, though!

WATCH IT FOR: Gunfighter arithmetic!

 

SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992)

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This is the film that finally snagged Al Pacino an Academy Award for Best Actor after twenty years of being nominated and just missing out.  Chris O’Donnell plays Charlie, a prep school student in need of extra money to help him get home for Christmas.  He takes a job “babysitting” a blind man over Thanksgiving.  This blind man is retired Lt Col Frank Slade (Pacino), impossible to live with and with his own plans to spend the holidays.  It’s a tour-de-force performance from Pacino who is, as you’d expect, magnificent but its wise to acknowledge O’Donnell’s fine support in one of his earliest roles.

WATCH IT FOR: Tango!

 

BLIND FURY (1989)

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From one blind veteran to another in this action thriller from Phillip NoyceRutger Hauer takes the lead as Nick Parker, a blind veteran of Vietnam trained as a swordsman, who travels back to America to rescue the son of a fellow soldier.  Baywatch star Brandon Call co-stars as the son Nick aims to help in this quirky road movie.  It has its tongue very firmly in cheek with regards to the action sequences and plot and Hauer is perfect as the surrogate father figure with hidden skills.

WATCH IT FOR: Skills!

 

UNFORGIVEN (1992)

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Seen as Clint Eastwood‘s farewell to the Western, Unforgiven is a masterpiece in cinema and storytelling.  Eastwood directs and stars as William Munny, a retired cowboy who takes on one last job with the aide of his old partner, Morgan Freeman and young gun (Jaimz Woolvett) who initially accepts the bounty.  Gene Hackman shines as the heavy-handed Sherriff ‘Little Bill’ in a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.  It’s a wonderful swan-song to a western career during which Eastwood made his name.  Unforgiven quite rightly won a shedload of awards, including the big ones at the Oscars – Best Picture and Best Director (Eastwood’s first) – and is regarded as one of the best in the genre.

WATCH IT FOR: “It’s a hell of a thing killing a man…”

 

Another fine bunch of movies I think you’ll agree, some of which have been severely neglected in recent years.  Some of them haven’t been shown on television for absolutely ages.  These are high calibre stars and directors taking on some of their finest work and reaping the rewards.  Once again, if you’ve enjoyed this little trip down memory lane please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.  Until the next time…

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“We all got it coming, kid”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Life In Film: Part Twenty Two

Here we go again, folks!  Part Twenty-Two already, can you believe it?  Another batch of movies long-forgotten and, more importantly, long-loved for your viewing pleasure.  There are at least three entries in this edition that I was genuinely shocked at myself for never having included previously and a couple that I had completely forgotten about until I started researching.  That’s one of the joys of doing this, rediscovering lost gems like these.  I hope they bring back some memories for you, too…

 

DEATHTRAP (1982)

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Sometimes, transferring a successful stage play to the big screen often feels very staid and flat.  What we get here, though, is essentially a filmed play that works wonderfully thanks to it’s two leads, Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.  Caine plays a famed playwright who has just debuted his latest, a flop, on Broadway.  Desperate for a hit he finds newcomer Reeve who has written “the perfect play”.  Its a story of jealousy, greed and, ultimately, murder.  Directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, Deathtrap is one of those films that you either love or hate.  I don’t think there’s an in-between on this one!

WATCH IT FOR: Handcuffs!

 

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978)

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Really, this film shouldn’t work but somehow it does.  Clint Eastwood stars as Philo Beddoe, a laid-back trucker and famed fist-fighter.  Along with his best friends, Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) and Clyde the orang-utan he won in a bet, he roams the countryside in search of beer, country music and fights.  His plans are changed, however, when he meets a country western singer (Sondra Locke) who gives him the slip when she realises he’s getting too close.  Add to this a vengeful motorbike gang and Philo’s loud-mouthed Ma (Ruth Gordon) and you’ve got a light-hearted romp where Clyde steals the show!

WATCH IT FOR: Diner

 

THE FIRM (1993)

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For a while in the mid-nineties, John Grisham was the biggest author at the box office.  This legal thriller was the first of his novels to get the big screen treatment and what a way to start.  Tom Cruise plays young, hotshot lawyer Mitch McDeere who joins a prestigious law firm only to find out that this firm has a sinister side.  Director Sydney Pollack assembles an outstanding cast and manages to keep the pace for it’s two hour-plus running time.

WATCH IT FOR: McDeere learns who his firm actually represents

 

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

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Written by one of the world’s most beloved children’s authors, Roald Dahl, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has also become one of the world’s most beloved movies.  The late, great (and very much missed) Gene Wilder takes the lead as Wonka, enigmatic owner of the chocolate factory who stuns the world when he announces that five lucky people will get to tour his establishment.  This is a wonderful, musical recreation of Dahl’s novel that also manages to keep the story’s darker tones.

WATCH IT FOR: Pure Imagination!

 

TIME BANDITS (1981)

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This wonderful slice of fantasy could almost be classed as another Monty Python film as it boasts a star-cameo turn from John Cleese as well as being written by Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam.  Gilliam also takes the reigns as we see a young boy (Craig Warnock) follow a group of time-travelling dwarves on a magnificent quest for treasure.  As you’d expect from the mind of Terry Gilliam, Time Bandits is a mind-bending sci-fi comedy that also features a veritable who’s who of British screen acting (Sean Connery, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and David Warner to name but a few).  Although the ending may leave some viewers cold, the whole experience is a pure joy.

WATCH IT FOR: Robin Hood!

 

THE JANUARY MAN (1989)

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Here’s an odd little movie that has been largely forgotten.  A starring vehicle for Kevin Kline, The January Man is a romantic comedy masquerading as an action thriller.  Kline plays the formerly disgraced cop Nick Starkey who is brought back onto the force when a serial killer known as “The January Man” begins his reign.  Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Susan Sarandon and Danny Aiello co-star in an ultimately mixed-up movie that has just enough to keep it from being terrible.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

THE DREAM TEAM (1989)

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These days, mental health is treated with a little more care than it was back in the eighties, but that doesn’t really matter for this film.  Four residents of a mental hospital find themselves having to fend for themselves in New York when their carer is witness to a murder and ends up in hospital.  Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, the late Stephen Furst and the brilliant Peter Boyle star as the patients with a day pass to the big city.  It’s one of those classic movies of the period where plot is secondary to the action and the comedy.  Keaton shines as usual but Boyle is particularly wonderful as a man who believes he is Jesus.

WATCH IT FOR: Trailer

 

D.O.A. (1988)

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Dennis Quaid stars as Dexter Cornell, an English professor who has been poisoned.  He doesn’t know how, why or by who but he only has twenty-four hours to find the truth before his time runs out.  This is a great thriller from Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton that shows the deterioration of Dexter’s health by gradually becoming black and white throughout the film.  Meg Ryan, Daniel Stern and Charlotte Rampling co-star in this stylish noir.

WATCH IT FOR: TV Spot from 1988

 

PARENTHOOD (1989)

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This is one of those ensemble movies that Ron Howard does so well.  It’s the story of the Buckman family, headed by Steve Martin, their friends and extended relatives and all the usual stuff crazy, mixed up families go through.  Mary Steenburgen, Dianne Wiest, Rick Moranis co-star along with early appearances from Keanu Reeves and Joaquin Phoenix (billed here as Leaf Phoenix).  At times it can be a little over sentimental but on the whole its a funny look at family life.

WATCH IT FOR: Diarrhea Song

 

HEAT (1995)

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The majority of hype surrounding this movie when it was released was to do with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino finally acting together on screen.  They had both starred in The Godfather Part II (1974) but never actually shared screen time so it was kind of a big deal to see these two giants of cinema duking it out.  That aside, the film is a brilliantly taut crime thriller about a group of professional bank robbers and the police force hunting them down.  Written and directed by Michael Mann, Heat is so much more than the Al and Bobby show.  Fine characters, spectacular set pieces and a thriller full of suspense and action.

WATCH IT FOR: The Al and Bobby Show!

 

And there you go, another ten films that are either long-forgotten or absolute gems and all have a special place in my heart.  Sure, they might not be to everyone’s taste but it would be boring if we all enjoyed the same things, right?!  Some films will divide opinion, some may be brand new to you.  Either way, if you like what you see here please do let me know, I’d love to hear from you.  Until the next time…

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“Ah, it’s great to be young and insane”