Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2019 – The Shop Around The Corner

The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.

It’s the week of Christmas! Panic and worry that not everything has been done is at a high, for some. However, there are others who can wait until tomorrow to do their last minute shopping and preparations. So, why not sit down, calm down and enjoy today’s offering from the alternative Christmas advent calendar? Behind today’s offering is the lesser seen alternative Christmas film The Shop Around The Corner.

When people think of classic black and white Christmas films the ones that commonly come to mind might include the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life, the original Miracle On 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, some versions of a Christmas Carol and even The Apartment. However, one that isn’t thought of as often is Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 feature The Shop Around The Corner. Alright, it might not exactly be a classic, or at least one that people remember or return to each year, especially at the festive season, but then again that’s one of the points of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar.

While roughly the first half of the film is set outside of the Christmas period the second half frequently makes point of the build-up to Christmas, with much of it taking place on Christmas Eve. Focusing on the busy chaos of a department store, trying to bring in as many customers as possible with their various offers and unique products, including cigarette boxes that play music every time you open them, being sold against the protest of lead salesman Alfred Kalik (James Stewart). It seems that nobody quite has a grip on what’s happening at the shop, especially with indecisive owner Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan). And with Christmas coming up, and a feud with new employee Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan).

However, the thing that keeps Alfred going through his day is the letters that he sends to, and receives from, a mysterious woman who created an advert about wanting cultured conversations via letter. Neither person knows who the other is despite the connection between the pair growing stronger. The irony being that the woman that Alfred is writing to is his distanced colleague Klara. The theme of these letter communications went on to slightly inspire Nora Ephron’s 1999 rom-com (59 years after The Shop Around The Corner) You’ve Got Mail, some also claiming that there are slight inspirations in her other iconic rom-com Sleepless In Seattle. The idea of people coming together and forming their relationships over Christmas, against the background of frantic Christmas shopping connote strong themes of the festive season, and feel very much like a general Christmas film. However, the mentioning of Christmas mostly in the second half of the film, and not really having a large impact on the plot, aside from one or two smaller details to slightly heighten the theme towards the end of the film, makes it more of an alternative choice.

The mild rom-com ideas not quite being those would inspire the likes of more festive classics such as Love Actually but it helps to create a slightly more festive feel. The comedy throughout at the various, sometimes slightly exaggerated, characters also bringing in a lighter tone and while not quite bringing in a layer of charm it does introduce another level of amusement and enjoyment to be had from the piece as a whole. Everything coming together to create an enjoyable, fairly funny and mildly festive film. It has the elements and would be mostly the same without the references to Christmas, however because of the themes and references to the holiday it has that rather appreciated festive feel. Making it that little bit more enjoyable and definitely an alternative Christmas film.

The Shop Around The Corner can be watched in the following places:
And, of course, on DVD and Blu-ray, and likely on other platforms where the option to stream, rent or buy films is available.

Parasite – Review

Release date – 7th February 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 12 minutes, Director – Bong Joon-ho

A family manage to fraudulently make their way into obtaining jobs for a very wealthy family that they are all unqualified to do

Parasite, the latest from Okja and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-ho, has been one of the quiet (ish) frontrunners of this years awards season. While it seems that titles such as Joker, The Irishman and Marriage Story have been picking up the most attention and steam in the race for Best Picture one of the other potential nominees that has been heavily talked about is Parasite. In fact it appears to be this year’s Roma; especially if it does get nominated for the top prize, and a number of other awards at the upcoming Academy Awards. And it’s no surprise why, because the film’s great!

The Kim’s are a struggling family, barely able to make ends meet in their semi-basement apartment. They spend their days mostly making boxes for a local pizza place, earning barely any pay for it. They rush to get more done and therefore make mistakes, which means earning even less money. However, things change when a family friend goes to study abroad. The son, Ki-woo Kim (Choi Woo-shik) is told to pretend that he is a graduate in English, so that he can tutor the student that his friend taught before going abroad. It just so happens that the girl that Ki-woo will teach is part of a very wealthy family. Soon the Kim family find themselves lying and fraudulently working their way into various jobs for the Park family. Disposing of those already in the position and making it seem as if they are all just friends, or friends of relations who have been working in their respective industries, such as driving, housework or teaching for many years.

The high levels of tension created by the fact that the Kim’s could be found out for who they really are at any second contrasts well with the successful doses of satirical humour that are spread throughout the plot and a number of the lines of dialogue throughout the piece. There’s no denying that this is a very funny film. With humour that helps to create a natural tone alongside engagement with the characters as they try to earn money to make their way in the world. The difference between the lifestyles of the two families showing a commentary on class and wealth, but also what it can do to anyone and what people will do to get it. Fully forming the satire while also creating a tension on par with the best of thrillers. As already mentioned with whether the Kim’s will be found out but also at how far they will go to keep their positions and obtain more.

Gradually the film becomes about greed and obsession, putting on an act and much more. As more is revealed and things begin to get better for the central family the tension also continues to rise. Placing the viewer in a place of constant edge-of-your-seat suspense. Pushed further not only by the wonderful pacing throughout the piece, helped by Joon-ho’s screenplay and direction, but by the brilliantly strong performances throughout the piece. None more so than Song Kang-ho as the father, and general leader, of the Kim family. Within him lies a great deal of the hope and desire of the family, but also the fear and worry that each one holds.

There’s a great deal of care and detail put into this film from both Joon-ho and all members of the cast. Helping to create a complex, layered and detailed piece that immerses the viewer within the world, at times almost as if they’re trapped in it – to the benefit of the tension, and at times slight fear factor, that the film creates. Almost immediately the audience is gripped by the film, brought into the world and engaged from start to finish. Intrigued by the story of the central family that they see. Initially trying to make ends meet and quickly being consumed, to violent degrees, by greed and obsession. Key elements that work towards the hints of satire while also working well with the breathless, nail-biting tension.

It’s difficult to talk about the elements that make this film so great without going into spoiler territory, one event links so well into another that once you begin to discuss one point you find yourself almost naturally discussing the other elements. And this is very much the case with the flow and pacing of the film as a whole. Things flow wonderfully well into each other, the 132 minute run-time flows by wonderfully quickly and is a pure joy, even if at times it’s a painful and sweat inducingly tense joy – the same way that some have described Uncut Gems, which if you were to watch in a double bill with Parasite your heart may very well explode due to how fast it’s beating from the relentless tension and gripping nature of the films.

Everything within Parasite works. It clicks and simply flows from tension into suspense into panic, worry and so on. Filled with a range of feelings and emotions this is a brilliantly tense film. Dominated by powerful directing that enhances the detail of the screenplay, alongside the fantastically strong performances that help to further convey new ideas and feelings. This might be a film that changes with repeat viewings, that remains to be seen. However, it’s sure to be as captivating, tense and gripping as it was the first time round, if not potentially more so.

Overflowing with tension thanks to the detailed nature of the script, also featuring appreciated elements of satire Bong Joon-ho’s latest is a true cinematic experience. One which has a wonderfully gripping impact on the viewer and brings them along for an unpredictably intense ride come the end of the film when everything comes together in the best way possible.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Little Women – Review

Release date – 26th December, Cert – U, Run-time – 2 hours 15 minutes, Director – Greta Gerwig

The March sisters (Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen) lives are shown through flashbacks as they come to the bed of their seriously ill sister.

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women is undoubtedly one of the most iconic works of literature of all time. It tells to story of the March sisters as they make their way through their lives, with their own ambitions, hopes and dream and independent thoughts that they want to go out and achieve. In fact, the ideas presented in both the film and the novel may be best put by Saoirse Ronan’s central figure Jo. As it seems her world has come crashing down around her Beth passionately exclaims “Women have got ambition, they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of hearing people say that love is all that a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it!” So, how do you bring a novel like this to the big screen with success, especially in today’s society. First of all you allow Greta Gerwig to write and direct the film, giving her full control of her vision. Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird was praised by critics and audiences alike.

And that’s precisely what Gerwig does here, forming a comfortable, enjoyable and heartfelt tale. Detailed in both story and look to the point where it’s virtually impossible to not be almost instantly immersed within the world that the cast and crew all unite to create. This is a story about unity after all, but more importantly independence. While the March sisters very much support each other and want to see their family succeed they each have their own individual aims that they are determined to achieve. Jo wants to be a writer, selling short stories, although heavily edited by the publishing company, for small fees. She’s constantly told to make sure that her lead female characters are married by the end, keep it saucy and worry less about large chunks of detail and description. Meg (Emma Watson), while being shown as a strong actress has aims of getting married and starting a family. Amy (Florence Pugh) wishes to be an artist, travelling with her aunt (Meryl Streep) to Europe to develop her skills. All while youngest sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) wants to play the piano, despite a rapidly growing illness that leaves her restricted to her bed. The hopes of each girl going against the wishes of their Aunt who tells them that they must marry well if they are to succeed in life. When it’s pointed out that she never married she quickly responds “well, that’s because I’m rich” in a way that only Meryl Streep can. It’s this kind of natural, quick humour that helps to make the world more vivid and believable. Slightly poking fun at the ideas of what women were meant to be in 19th Century America, compared with views today.

However, humour also comes from the defiance of convention that the March sisters represent. Timothée Chalamet very much plays the central love interest for Jo – the most defiant of the group, at one point she has to be told by Meg that “just because my dreams are different to yours doesn’t mean that they’re unimportant” – and a large part of the film. The son of rich neighbour Mr Laurence (Chris Cooper – sporting some absolutely smashing facial hair), who grows to form a close bond with Jo, who claims she will never marry. When Chalamet’s Laurie offers his arm to her after a trip to the theatre she hits him and quickly walks off to walk with her sister.

This is a film that’s overflowing with passion and heart from all involved. Each performance is spectacular and enhances the already detailed nature of the characters. Characters who are easy to connect with, enjoyable and you can’t help wanting to spend more time in their company. These are complex, well-designed figures that show proper varied emotions and thoughts. Translating to that being felt by the viewer. As the sister’s crowd around their increasingly ill family member the audience feels their pain, the cocktail of emotions that run through their minds over the course of the piece. Everything simply clicks and works and it all comes down to Gerwig’s screenplay. No matter where the narrative we are whether in the present day, for the characters at least, or as part of a flashback the viewer always knows who is who, what they’re like, when in time the film is showing and what has happened before that point. It all works and wonderfully flows, never loosing track of itself or becoming tangled up within its own plot, or where it is in it at different points in time. It all flows and happens with great ease, knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. Covered with the fingerprints of a cast and crew who care deeply about the project and making a strong and equally passionate feature. Having fun making it while also treating it with the seriousness that it requires and deserves. And that’s exactly what it’s like to watch the film.

Despite the pressures that the family have put upon them; including Laura Dern’s wonderfully calm, caring, yet equally restricted mother (alternatively known as Marmee) to the girls, the family still pushes through. Receiving great admiration from the audience who wants nothing but to see them succeed. Getting behind them and hoping that everything will turn out alright for them in the end, despite fears that they might be knocked back by the standards that society sets on them. And amongst all the period detail, the lavish costumes, sets and general look of the piece Gerwig manages to make this very much a film for a modern audience. A modern audience that covers a wide range of people. Not just the white middle-class women that the film looks upon. This is something for people of all ages (well, most ages, maybe not quite the very young), people of all genders, backgrounds, classes, this is a film that almost anyone can find delight in. It’s a pure joy that you can easily escape into and be entertained by. Taken on a journey with these wonderful, caring, heartfelt, heartwarming, emotional, complex and genuine characters. A step-up from Lady Bird, although a rather different film in certain aspects; although carrying on a number of the core themes and ideas, Greta Gerwig confirms that she is on track to dominate Hollywood and hopefully continue to change its landscape for the better!

Passionate, thoughtful, caring and much more more Little Women has a lot to say and it does it in a wonderfully eloquent and heartfelt way. Gerwig’s screenplay and direction and precise, finely sculpted and with strong performances from the cast and crew this is an altogether enjoyable, entertaining and energetic piece. Translating all of this into emotion, humour, character and story. A wonderful, effective mixture.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 22 minutes, Director – J.J. Abrams

As the threat of the Sith becomes even bigger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Co must find a way to track down the still alive Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is close behind them.

This is where it ends (or at least where part of it ends). The Skywalker Saga. One of the biggest storylines, and indeed film series, of all time ends here, coming to a conclusion for the third time. Following on from the events of the somewhat divisive The Last Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley), still training under the watchful eye of General Leia (Carrie Fisher), she aims to carry on the work of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) while developing her own Jedi skills and abilities. It’s not long until Rey finds herself going in search of a Sith wayfinder – of which there are only two in existence – in the hope of finding the recently returned Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who was believed up until this point to have been long dead.

However, also on the trail of a wayfinder is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). More enraged than ever, after more defeats in the previous film, and also far more intent on bringing Rey, whose powers are stronger than either of the pair realise, over to the dark side. Alongside this it appears that the numbers of the First Order have grown even larger, with multiple ships that have the ability to destroy entire planets that refuse to surrender to them. It seems as if there’s no chance of the Resistance fighting back and winning. And so, in the hope of having a chance Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), BB-8 ( and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) find themselves flying from planet to planet in the hope of finding clues that will lead them to where they need to get to to end the fight and bring this saga to a close. Where’s classic droid R2-D2 amongst all this, again it seems as if noone has any idea what he’s mean to be doing and therefore is moved to the side to sit there and briefly be shown looking at other characters every now and then.

There’s a lot going on in this close to another Star Wars trilogy, and the Skywalker Saga as we know it. We’ve also got General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) having to put up with Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde – it’s almost impossible to think that every time director J.J. Abrams (who also directed 2015’s The Force Awakens) yelled cut a huge grin spread from ear to ear across Grant’s, otherwise deadpan or enraged character’s, face at the fact that he was part of a Star Wars film. The two are clearly having a great time being a part of this film, unfortunately their screen-time is somewhat lacking. Another figure with limited screen-time is Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. Tico who was introduced in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi almost seems to just be pushed to the side, Abrams unsure as to what to do with her, thus relegating her to a lesser role, more in the background, even if assisting Leia and the Resistance army. At least she hasn’t been completely pushed away like Adrian Edmonson’s comic relief Captain Peavey. Comic relief, or at least a more successful use of it, being something that The Rise Of Skywalker could use, or just less of the attempts at gags that don’t quite take off properly.

For the most part Abrams manages to keep track of what’s happening, who’s where and why they’re there. The film is relatively easy to keep up with and there’s a fair deal of enjoyment to be found from it. However, the feeling lies that it seems as if the writers are trying to tie up more threads than there actually are, as if they’ve given themselves more to do than they initially had. Maybe this is down to some fan-service. Giving Star Wars fans – of which I am not one, I’ve been able to appreciate and admire the series and a number of the films but am in no way a fan – a number of things to enjoy and connect with, things that they’ve seen throughout the previous 8 films and want to revisit one more time in this saga. This mixed in with a feeling that maybe something was mixed in the writing process. Initially Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow was on board to make this film, he’s credited, alongside Derek Connolly, with helping to write the story, alongside the pairing of Abrams and Chris Terrio, who collaborated on the screenplay.

It might be down to this that what’s been heavily advertised as the spectacular finale to the story of a generation (or two, maybe even three) is quite average. Amongst all the dashing about, and the occasional lightsaber battle, which are rather well done; made better by being backed by John Williams’, as always, strong and reliable score – his final for a Star Wars film. The performances throughout the film also help to hold things up. But the constant dashing about and travelling to and from various different planets and seeing the perspectives of a number of different characters. There’s so much going on and so many characters to keep track of that sometimes it seems difficult for the writers to focus on what they actually need to focus on. While the battles and action sequences are good, and this wraps up the saga well enough. It does seem as if there’s something missing, perhaps more spectacle. This almost as if the victory lap is being done before the final one. While it’s good, it’s not quite the main event that we may have been here for.

Focusing on story threads and ideas that it seems the writers have invented that weren’t initially there Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker feels, despite good action, score, visuals and general technical detail and good performances, as if it’s given itself too much to handle meaning that not everything quite feels properly wrapped up by the end despite a perfectly fine finale.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2019 – Carol

The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.

As the week of Christmas is one day away and everything around us seems hectic, especially after the last two days of rather unique and different alternative Christmas films (Brazil and Anna And The Apocalypse), it seems that we should introduce something a bit calmer into the mix. So, behind today’s door of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar is Carol.

There’s a great deal within Todd Hayne’s acclaimed, Oscar nominated drama Carol that could almost make it a general Christmas film instead of an alternative one. However, the film itself isn’t entirely set at the Christmas period. While this could make it simply a non-Christmas film a number of the main events that lead into the relationship between the two central characters occur at Christmas, the first meeting being based around the buying of a Christmas present. And in fact around half of the film, if not a bit more, happens around the festive season, and just after in the period between the holiday and New Year – as is the case with previous entry in this small series Trading Places.

The central relationship is, of course, integral to the film, and when mixed with the wonderful, warm and christmassy cinematography creates an even warmer and passionate feel. One of comfort that brings the viewer and forms a connection with the two wonderfully performed central figures – that take the form of Oscar nominated Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom are simply delightful in this film. Bringing in pourings of joy and emotion with every scene that their in.

In many ways if it wasn’t for this Christmassy look and feel at the start of the film this wouldn’t be the same film. It simply wouldn’t have the same feel and effect. The hope that Christmas brings, and the idea of it bringing people together – literally shown at the spark of the relationship between central lovers Carol and Therese. One that heightens the tensions between them and those around them, especially as the film is set in the 1950’s and Carol herself has a husband and daughter. Everything comes together to create something even more dramatic, emotional and engaging. All being sparked by, and stemming from the themes of Christmas that help to create much of the look and feel of this passionate, thoughtful, carefully made and all-round captivating feature.

Carol can be found in the following places:
BFI Player
The film is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, and likely other streaming, rental and purchasing film platforms.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2019 – Brazil

The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.

We’re roughly half-way through this week of alternative Christmas films, and as most places have finished work for Christmas now what better way to spend the spare time, aside from last-minute shopping, than with another festive treat. The offering behind todays calendar door being none other than Terry Gilliam’s Oscar nominated Brazil.

For those who have seen Brazil it might not exactly seem like what you would think of when you think about the standard, good-humoured, slightly charming enjoyable Christmas films that you normally turn on each December. In fact it’s most notable for being one of the ‘Gilliamesque’ Terry Gilliam features there is. Filled with it’s deeply vivid sense of imagination, set against the backdrop of a futuristic, and therefore, dystopian world, and mixed with the largely grey and darkened colour palette there’s a strongly looming sense of darkness around the film. All of which act as a form of repression on central figure Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), with his constant dreams of being a heroic, winged figure in a world that seems extremely far-fetched and dream-like, especially compared to the one in which he lives in. Clearly showing why the initial title for the film was 1984 1/2, until a film version of 1984 was released the year before.

It’s this, what some might see as, slightly downbeat nature, and the general ideas that run throughout it, that made the film troublesome for some when first released; or rather, just before being first released. While being released as the Gilliam cut in all other countries across the world America was the only place not to have released the film. Universal had people working behind-the-scenes the make a new edit for American audiences, something which Gilliam greatly protested against. Gilliam’s irritation, to put it lightly, grew so much that he sent a letter to Variety, which then got published as a full page, simply saying “Dear Sid Sheinberg [the head of Universal at the time] When are you going to release my film, ‘BRAZIL’? Terry Gilliam”. However, the version of the film was still kept hidden away. That was until Gilliam’s cut won Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards. Soon after a release of this original edit was put into U.S. cinemas, and while it wasn’t a box office success it did go on to receive a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, alongside one for Best Set Decoration, and has gained a relatively strong cult following over the years, as have most of Gilliam’s films.

So far the sell for this as an alternative Christmas film has made it sound anything but festive, especially from the opening lines of this piece. And, admittedly this is far from the type of Christmas film that we’re used to, even by Die Hard standards. However, this is partly where the idea of an alternative Christmas film comes into play. Christmas is mentioned every now and then over the course of Brazil, in fact the film is set at Christmas. Decorations can be seen thinly laid out on occasional, filthy, littered work-spaces in a handful of scenes alongside the odd Christmas tree and simple reference to the holiday. The sense of hope, peace and people coming together contrasts strongly with the ideas of selfishness, greed and control that the film presents, if anything going towards and heightening these. Thus making the satirical tones that little bit more humorous, adding to what could otherwise be a highly depressing film.

The film’s opening scene, leading into the chaos, mistakes and misjudgements that lie throughout the rest of the run-time, is the one to most prominently display this. A calm Christmas scene, a family together enjoying themselves, quietly reading A Christmas Carol. Until a government group, seemingly running some form of military operation, burst in and the tone completely changes. All while the theme of Christmas, the decorations, the music, etc still remains. The idea of gift-giving, receiving, yet always feeling that something is being taken away or

When everything comes together this is a truly imaginative film – after all Gilliam refers to it as the second in his ‘imagination trilogy’ (also featuring Time Bandits and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen – almost telling a story of imagination changing with age. Gilliam also considers this to be the first in a trilogy of dystopian satires, also including 12 Monkeys and The Zero Theorem; the latter of which shares a number of themes and ideas with Brazil). One that’s filled with humour, perception and, of course, a slightly dark and sinister tone that creates a fine mix for a highly ‘Gilliamesque’ feature that needs to be seen to be properly understood and, most importantly, believed. And it’s truly worth the watch. Many consider this to be Gilliam’s best film, for me it’s his second best, although I consider Tideland – his hugely divisive 2005 feature – to be his true masterpiece. Nonetheless, Brazil is a genuine experience, one that stays with you and while not being your conventional Christmas film is definitely alternative, and the slight hints of Christmas add that little bit extra to its impact, effect and general tone.

Brazil can be watched in the following places:
Or it can also be available via the medium of DVD, Blu-ray and maybe even VHS or Laserdisc (if you have either of those knocking about, and something that will play them), etc, and of course it may be on other streaming or rental platforms; always worth the search.

Cats – Review

Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 50 minutes, Director – Tom Hooper

The Jellicle cats meet for the annual Jellicle ball where one cat will be chosen to restart with a new life.

What is a Jellicle cat? What makes a cat a Jellicle cat? How does a cat become a Jellicle cat if it isn’t born as one? Can cats be born as Jellicle cats? These are all questions that the smash hit West End musical Cats never answered. For those going into this high-budget film adaptation of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most famous works you won’t find them here either. In fact you may come out with more questions that you entered with, all part of the baffling, confusing, headache-inducing experience that is the film version of Cats.

There’s no denying the success that the original stage musical had, after all it spent over 20 years in the West End, and is one of the most successful musicals of all time, even if it does only have about one good song, doesn’t make sense and has, for some, become something to poke fun at when it comes to certain musical based jokes. So, it was only going to be a matter of time until a film version was made. In the musical cast members are dressed up in hairy costumes, with heavy make-up to give the impression of the common feline housepet. However, this film takes a slightly different approach. Giving the alleged cats human faces, hands and feet (and bodies – the female cats have breasts). It all makes for something that looks rather disturbing, during the opening sequence when central character Victoria (Francesca Hayward) – who does nothing but watch and stand in amazement at all other performances around her – is thrown into an alleyway by what was her owner various cats crowd around her singing about Jellicle cats, while never explaining what one is. The general look and feel of this sequence is one akin to an even more horrifying Pink Elephants On Parade, just with more fur.

The look of the characters of the film was criticised from the trailers, although many of us gave the film the benefit of the doubt due to the fact that the CGI probably wasn’t completed at the point, not that the new look looks any much better. In fact it’s lucky that the script and songs, which make up about 105 minutes of the 110 minute run-time – even for a musical this seems a bit excessive? – is filled with cringeworthy cat puns, almost one every five or so minutes, to remind you that these are cats, not weird humanoid figures in some form alternate universe. “Don’t mess with the crazy cat lady” explains Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots, a tabby cat who eats a group of humanoid cockroaches, to a disturbed response.

Ideas such as this bring an extra layer of confusion and bafflement to the film. Both of which, alongside the fairly poor and equally nonsensical songs, add to the headache that the viewer experiences during this loud film. Potential energy is simply transferred into hectic dance numbers, loud chorus’ that lead to the words not being properly heard or understood, not that many words need to be used to get the idea that James Corden’s Bustopher Jones is fat and likes to eat. Such simple points get three or four minute musical numbers before we see Idris Elba as Macavity, somehow transporting competition to an island with Ray Winstone – who is easily the best and worst thing about this film, a character that just needs his own film, not just a thirty second musical spot and growling – whose character is aptly named Growltiger.

So far this review has contained barely any mention of plot, and that’s because there isn’t one. The Jellicle cats meet at the Jellicle ball so that one can be chosen to go to restart with a new life. This is almost two hours of introductions, characters describing who they are and what their basic background is. From set-piece to set-piece we go, from naked cat body to furry coat wearing cat the general look of the sets, using large props and heightened sets to give the true impression of size, is something to be slightly admired, however much of the sets are darkly lit or aren’t seen for very long, so there isn’t much to be fully immersed in. Leading to something that creates a lack of connection with the viewer and something that’s very difficult to keep up with, especially with so many characters, songs and so little plot.

There’s a lot going on in Cats, yet at the same thing barely anything at all. When mixed with the musical numbers and the constant changes between scenes and ideas, some of which go on for too long, it’s difficult to keep up with the almost dizzying and confusing nature of the film. At the end of the day the designs are the least of the problems – even if you would genuinely forget that these are meant to be cats if you weren’t reminded every so often – the lack of plot, explanation and sense is. And therefore the film is brought down and simply can’t be enjoyed as much as the all-star cast (and director Tom Hooper – making something rather different to his Oscar hits Les Miserables, The King’s Speech and The Danish Girl) might hope that you would. It’s certainly an experience but it’s unlikely to create any lasting memory, or at least not one that could possibly fuel the odd nightmare.

The character design is at times questionable, and so are some of the alleged gags that run throughout, however Cats biggest flaw is its lack of plot, even still creating something confusing and headache inducing. Never properly clicking, or giving time to be immersed in what could otherwise be a detailed and decent looking world.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2019 – Anna And The Apocalypse

The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.

Today marks the day that makes this alternative advent calendar a trilogy. So, what better way to mark that than by opening the door to a completely unique and original film? The musical-comedy-horror-zombie apocalypse film that is Anna And The Apocalypse.

It’s highly likely that there isn’t, and may never will be, a film quite like Anna And The Apocalypse. A comedy musical set at Christmas during the zombie apocalypse, and that only just touches the surface. It sounds ridiculous, like something that was meant to be rejected by got put in the acceptance pile, totally bonkers and out there, as if it just won’t work. But, somehow it does, and it’s perhaps one of the most enjoyable Christmas films of recent years.

Following an ensemble cast, mostly playing students in their final year of school before going onto the next stage of their lives, whether it be work, university or something completely different the group seem to be, the film focuses on Ann (Ella Hunt), a girl with her own relationship troubles, despite not actually being in a relationship, alongside struggles with what she’s going to do with her future – her views contrasting with her father’s (Mark Benton). Meanwhile friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is struggling to tell Anna of his feelings for her, Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is being told that his film projects aren’t personal enough, Steph (Sarah Swire) is trying to get her social justice reporting past the heads of the school and Nick (Ben Wiggins), taking the form of the school bully, is simply making life harder for everyone. It sounds like your basic set-up for some musical numbers within a mild high-school comedy. Except, as already mentioned, this has zombies.

If anything the zombies help the film, leading it to be far from conventional, and thus far more interesting. There’s no denying that the inclusion of such a threat amongst modern musical numbers and teenage school dramas makes for an intriguing and creative blend. With it all set at Christmas the contrast of themes and genre makes for something utterly enjoyable. Helped by good performances, and a number of lively musical numbers (including a dirty Santa fantasy in a school hall and a teacher singing about his dislike for kids as all hell breaks loose, Mr Savage (Paul Kaye) being one of the true highlights of the film) there’s no denying that this is an apocalypse packed with energy.

One of the main review quotes that featured in much of the advertising for the film was “Shaun Of The Dead meets La La Land”, and in many ways this is a fair comment. The ‘average-person takes on zombies’ idea mixed with outbursts from characters to simply convey they’re inner emotions and feelings; with some equally enjoyable and energetic dance routines thrown in for good measure.

When it comes to how heavily Christmas features within the film, while some moments feature fairly heavy reference to the holiday, and while giant candy canes are used at times as defence weapons as a whole this could almost be a very similar film if it weren’t set at Christmas. Nonetheless somehow the group coming together in such a situation, mixed with the various chuckles that are raised over the relatively quick run-time, creates a mildly Christmassy vibe, likely sprouted due to the time of year the film is set, and the occasional references to the festive season.

There’s no denying that Anna And The Apocalypse is a potentially niche film, with a lot going on. However, it’s also undeniable that it’s a lot of fun and definitely very enjoyable. Highly entertaining and wonderfully unique it’s very much the definition of an alternative Christmas film.

Anna And The Apocalypse can be seen in the following places:
Or, on DVD, other physical film watching formats or potentially other streaming services and purchase platforms.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2019 – Trading Places

The idea for the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar (there’s probably a much simpler title out there) is simple; a film each day in the build up to Christmas that isn’t your standard Christmas film. Not like The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf or Die Hard (that’s an argument for another day, or year), but one that might be set at Christmas but the holiday isn’t a major factor in the story of the film, or it’s simply mentioned a couple of times and made reference to throughout.

Day two of the alternative Christmas film advent calendar (that’s right this really wasn’t a joke) reveals another festive comedy – although a much lighter one than yesterdays. Today’s film is, of course, Trading Places.

1983’s Trading Places saw Dan Aykroyd, as a rich, spoilt and sophisticated managing director of commodities brokers Duke & Duke, and Eddie Murphy, in his second film role, and still very much a rapidly rising star, as a poor, homeless street hustler trying anything to get money. In an early scene he’s seen pretending to be blind and without legs, hilariously wheeling himself around on a small cart. The Duke Brothers decide to hold a wager based on swapping the lives of the two figures, from polar opposite ends of the social ladder, to see what the results are, whether they would survive and cope with lifestyles that neither has ever come close to encountering before.

While examining ideas of the relationships between different classes – when kicked out of his high-class life Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III finds himself feeling as if his whole life is over, fearing for it even more when he finds himself in a run-down area of Philadelphia after befriending and beginning to live with Jamie Lee Curtis’ prostitute Ophelia, Curtis was initially protested against being cast by the studio who only thought that she could do horror, after films such as The Fog and three Halloween films – there’s much of Trading Places that also examines race relations. Initially, when being made as a project for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, the film was titled Black And White. Many claim that such themes and representations still have much relevance today, understandably so. In fact the contrasts against the background of the build-up to Christmas very much add to the points that the film makes in regards to such themes. The greed of the Duke brothers, obsessed with making millions more dollars while there are many other struggling on the streets.

To an extent some of the points and ideas that the film makes are based around certain stereotypes which helps to emphasise such points, developing the plot and the overall tone of the film. Maybe without such stereotypes the film might not be as funny as it is, or have the same effect, maybe it would have turned out as a serious drama. What would this film have turned out to be like if Murphy’s Billy Ray Valentine constantly restraining himself from dropping the F-bomb, using his money for his own gain, to show off and bring people closer to him, or trying to keep his view of upper-class behaviour and lifestyle in check. Or without Aykroyd’s constant worrying about having no money, frequently relying on it and having a low point of view of anyone that isn’t from his background. Trading Places is a film about stereotypes viewing everyone else as stronger, much more different stereotypes. Another point that could be made in the case of the relevance that the film has is the fact that in 2010 a genuine rule was made in regards to the actions of the Duke brothers, through congress for the financial market. After coming into effect the regulation was labelled as “The Eddie Murphy Rule”.

The film takes place in the build-up to Christmas, and New Year. A number of key scenes, and themes, help to heighten the sense of festivity throughout, alongside certain points that the film raises, all while never forgetting to bring about the laughs. One moment in particular as a dishevelled Aykroyd, dressed in a dirty Santa costume at a Christmas party, tucks large portions of food into his large costume. Many have compared the basis of the film to that of The Prince And The Pauper, sometimes a feature of panto season during the festive period, at least in the UK (even if Trading Places is an American film). Nonetheless, the general themes seem to resonate with a certain feeling at Christmas, and various other Christmas films and narratives, many of them somehow finding a link, even if a relatively loose one, back to Scrooge. Either way, there’s something about the comedy amongst what could easily be something serious and dramatic, and the tinge of the time of year that makes Trading Places an entertaining, funny and overall enjoyable alternative Christmas film.

Trading Places can be watched in the following places:
Or, on DVD, Blu-ray or other forms of physical media, and potentially other streaming platforms.

Just A Little Bit Random Audience Best Films of 2019

It’s that time of year again! As the year comes to a close and awards season begins to heat up I ask you the audience/ listeners/ readers of Just A Little Bit Random to vote for your best films of the past year.

All you have to do is vote via this poll by 5PM on Wednesday 1st January, when the review of the year show will be broadcast, with what you thought the best film of 2019 was. It’s as simple as that!

From the heights of record-breaking comic-book adaptations Avengers: Endgame and Joker to Netflix hits like Marriage Story and The Irishman. All amongst the likes of smaller British films such as The Kid Who Would Be King, Bait and Beats, or simply some of the great films that have stayed with us through the year such as Rocketman, Us and Midsommar, all for different reasons, almost every film from the last year is listed in the poll. (These are all done by UK release date, hence why films such as The Favourite, Vice and Green Book are on the list and the others such as Jojo Rabbit, A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood and The Lighthouse – all of which are released here in January – aren’t there).

Make sure to spread the word and share the poll around so that as many people vote as possible. Results will be announced just after the review of the year show on Wednesday 1st January!