Sunday, 15 December 2013

TV: Coming Attractions - Christmas TV Movie Guide

As the festive season comes upon us, it's time to present a personal selection of highlights from the many movies on terrestrial channels in the UK. Regular readers will have noticed that I mostly tend to write about the horror genre, but I do love cinema of all varieties so it's a nice change of pace to share some favourites of a different kind, especially as there are some real classics on show this year. Having scoured the listings for this year, I have selected a range of films which I think are either worth a look or bonafide classics which you really ought to see.

Films which feature in BBC2's Christmas horror season are covered in more depth in a special feature here.

Saturday 21st December

Marie Antoinette (2005) - 5* 9:00 p.m.

Sofia Coppola's pop-video take on history got boos at Cannes film festival, but I rather enjoyed its flashy feel. Kirsten Dunst plays the title role as a flirty yet naive gossip, and the film focuses less on the political machinations going on around her than on the loneliness of her increasingly precarious situation.

The Rebel (1960) - ITV3 2:10 p.m.

Tony Hancock's big-screen outing, penned by Galton & Simpson. Whilst not perfect, it's far better than given credit for at the time. Hancock's bored office worker takes his artistic ambitions to Paris' Left Bank, and there's plenty of digs at the pretentiousness of the art world which are still pertinent today.

The Wake Wood (2010) - BBC2 1:00 a.m.

More info here.

Sunday 22nd December

Whisky Galore! (1949) - BBC4 7:00 p.m.

One of the finest Ealing Studios comedies, focusing on a ship full of whisky getting wrecked off the Hebrides during WW2, and the locals' efforts to smuggle it onshore whilst the Home Guard attempts to thwart them. The usual strong ensemble cast keeps Alexander Mackendrick's film moving briskly.

Scrooged (1988) - C4 4:30 p.m.

Bill Murray is the mean and miserly TV executive in this updating of Dickens. More laughs than the original novel, but with some genuinely dark moments along the way. Not perfect, but a bold attempt at something different which looks pretty good 25 years on - its view of dumbed down TV is possibly more accurate now than it was then...

Monday 23rd December

Harvey (1950) - C5 1:00 p.m.

Alcoholic James Stewart has a best friend - an invisible, 6-foot-tall rabbit named Harvey. A funny and fascinating look at the fine line between sanity and insanity, and a true one-of-a-kind classic. Stewart's performance is exceptional.

Witchfinder General (1968) - BBC2 12:35 a.m.

More info here.

Tuesday 24th December - Christmas Eve

Clash Of The Titans (1981) - C5 12:40 p.m.

On the face of it, this isn't one of the best mythological fantasy pics, but Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects raise it up several notches. Best enjoyed for its technical craftsmanship, Harryhausen's work has a real emotional depth which 2010's flashy reboot couldn't come close to.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) - C5 3 p.m.

After a decade of variable roles, it was nice to see Michael Caine enjoying himself again, ably partnered with Steve Martin as a pair of con artists crossing each other's territories. They make a bet that whoever fails to con a rich widow must leave town, and try to scupper each others plans. Well handled by director Frank Oz, who allows space for the stars to shine.

Fantasia (1940) - BBC2 4:15 p.m.

Whilst my animation tastes have always been more Looney Tunes than Disney, I regard this as one of the field's finest artistic achievements. 73 years on, it's still absolutely stunning. The Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence is the most famous, but Fantasia's many parts are equally impressive. The Disney animation staff would never get such free reign again.

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952) - BBC4 7 p.m.

More Ealing comedy, this time around the attempt to save an ailing railway line. Not one of the studio's very best (it suffers from a somewhat patronising depiction of the working classes), but still a charming period piece with excellent playing by an ensemble cast and the ever reliable direction of Charles Crichton.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) - BBC3 8 p.m.

It is now something of a modern classic, and remains great fun. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones searches Egypt for the fabled Ark Of The Lost Covenant. One to enjoy with the kids if they haven't seen it yet. Its sequels are also on BBC3 over the following few days.

Gremlins (1985) - Watch 9 p.m.

Joe Dante's small-town monster fest remains one of the darkest mainstream Hollywood releases of the period, perhaps all time. Lots of nice digs at the feelgood-factor of It's A Wonderful Life, too. A perfect Christmas film for those with a more macabre sense of humour.

The Awakening (2011) - BBC2 11:25 p.m.
The Spiral Staircase (1946) - BBC2 1:05 a.m.

More info here.

Wednesday 25th December - Christmas Day

The Red Shoes (1948) BBC2 8:50 a.m.

One of the finest British films of all time. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger are at the peak of their artistic powers in this very off-beat interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson's tale. Moira Shearer is the ballerina who is forced to choose between love and art, between her betrothed (Marius Goring) and a manipulative manager (Anton Walbrook). The dance sequences are breathtaking, the visual design still impresses and you couldn't improve on a single frame. Pure artistry.

Gone With The Wind (1939) - C5 10:15 a.m.

Forget the story, forget the superb performances from Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. My recommendation here is for the pure technical accomplishments of the film. Shot entirely on MGM's backlot, the amazing vistas captured on film were the result of Jack Cosgrove's pioneering matte work, using renderings of landscapes painted directly onto glass filters. Today's state-of-the-art effects have their genesis in his pioneering work, and he was a man ahead of his time - the fact that Gone With The Wind still looks so amazing is testament to that.

Chicken Run (2000) - BBC1 11 a.m.

Nick Park's translating of The Great Escape to a poultry farm was pure genius. Four years in the making, it made a small animation studio in Bristol into Hollywood players and remains one of Aardman's most impressive works.

Tangled (2010) - ITV 3:20 p.m.

One of Disney's most visually pleasing latter-day efforts, this rethink of Rapunzel has a witty script to boot. Just a shame the songs get in the way - an otherwise gorgeously animated floating lantern sequence is a case in point. Still, try to ignore the bland tunes and this is good stuff.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) - C4 4:35 p.m.

A modern Christmas classic, with Michael Caine's Scrooge clicking perfectly with his Muppet co-stars. Very funny, but refreshingly unsanitised adaptation of Dickens' tale.

Troll Hunter (2010) - Film4 11:25 p.m.

One of the best horror flicks of the last five years, as a camera crew follows a real life troll hunter on his travels. Trouble is, the Norwegian government are trying to cover up their existence... Funny, intelligent and strikingly original.

Thursday 26th December - Boxing Day

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) - C5 5:15 p.m.

Christmas just isn't Christmas without it. A quite subtly twisted horror tale for children masquerading as a golden age musical. At least, that's my interpretation. It really didn't need a prequel (yes, I'm looking at you, Wicked)...

Flushed Away (2006) - BBC1 11:30 a.m.
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005) - BBC1 1:05 p.m.

A double-bill from Aardman, opening with their first computer animated feature - the results aren't quite as visually charming, but do surprisingly manage to retain much of the studio's style in this tale of a posh Kensington rat trying to foil a dastardly toad's plans to flood the sewers of London.

The studio are on more familiar ground with their flagship stars in an absolute hoot of a film, utilising classic horror touchstones in their own unique way. Unreservedly recommended.

Dad's Army (1971) - BBC2 6:15 p.m.

As spin-offs from British TV sitcoms go, this is one of the better ones. If it doesn't quite scale the heights of its source, it's still a lot of fun as it depicts the original formation of the Walmington-On-Sea Home Guard and their calamitous first attempts at a training exercise. A good one to enjoy with your Boxing Day dessert.

Dracula (1958) - BBC2 12:10 a.m.

More info here.

Friday 27th December

The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) - C4 9 a.m.

From one of Channel 4's surprise successes of the last few years, this movie spin-off keeps things on an equally lowbrow keel - good thing too, as our four hapless teenagers are packed off to a disastrous holiday in Greece.

The Plank (1967) - C5 11:05 p.m.

Eric Sykes' brilliant silent comedy sees him and workmate Tommy Cooper bungling the seemingly simple task of transporting a plank of wood from a timber yard to a building site. There are cameos from a range of British favourites, and it's both a loving tribute to the comedians Sykes loved as a youngster and a Brit-comedy classic. Also on Tuesday 31st December at 11:50 p.m.

The Mummy (1959) - BBC2 1:15 a.m.

More info here.

Saturday 28th December

Up (2009) - BBC1 6:50 p.m.

One of the best animated features of the 21st century thus far, as grouchy Carl (Ed Asner) inadvertently ends up with boy scout Russell (Jordan Nagai) on an adventure in his helium baloon-propelled house. It has an emotional depth way beyond most of its contemporaries - if the opening montage doesn't have you in tears, you have no soul.

The African Queen (1951) - More4 10:00 a.m.

From director John Huston, Humphrey Bogart is on Oscar-winning form as the steamboat captain transporting missionary Katherine Hepburn through East Africa to safety during WW2. A difficult production and initial friction between the stars (they warmed to each other as time passed) resulted in something rather special.

The Princess Bride (1987) - C5 4:00 p.m.

Rob Reiner's refreshing take on the movie fairytale from William Goldman's novel. Peter Falk reads the title tale to poorly grandson Fred Savage, a tale of love, princes and princesses, heroic pirates and swashbuckling. It gently pokes fun at the form with self deprecating humour, and ends up as a classic fairytale in its own right. Much imitated since, but never matched.

The Italian Job (1969) - C4 7:00 p.m.

The all time classic caper movie, very much an icon of late-60's Britain but still remarkably fresh too. Michael Caine gathers a motley crew to carry out the plan of Noel Coward to steal gold bullion from a bank in Rome, driving Minis through the city sewers in one of British cinema's most iconic sequences.

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) - BBC2 12:40 p.m.

More info here.

Sunday 29th December

Shirley Valentine (1989) - C5 11:05 p.m.

Pauline Collins gives a superb turn as Willy Russell's fed-up housewife who seeks excitement and a change of life in Greece, her direct-to-audience monologues and asides working especially well. Veteran director Lewis Gilbert manages the tricky task of opening up the play cinematically. A real gem.

The Abominable Snowman (1957) - BBC2 2:00 a.m.

More info here.

Monday 30th December

The Railway Children (1970) - ITV 11:25 a.m.

Now something of a Christmas evergreen in the UK, Lionel Jeffries directs the definitive version of E.Nesbitt's tale of three children who move with their mother to a cottage near a railway when their father is wrongfully arrested for treason.

Wall-E (2008) - BBC1 2:45 p.m.

Superior Pixar offering, as a waste removal robot dutifully carries on his duties long after planet Earth has been abandoned. Then a female droid lands on the planet searching for signs of life, and he is smitten... Full of fantastic moments, this is top notch stuff which finally proved that computer animation could have a real emotional core. A landmark in its field, and great entertainment.

Ice Station Zebra (1968) - BBC2 2:00 p.m.

A tense cold war espionage thriller, with a top notch cast: Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine and (taking a break from production on The Prisoner) Patrick MacGoohan. Whilst the time and setting has dated it somewhat, it's still an effective thriller with a submarine crew summoned to rescue the inhabitants of a polar weather station. However, someone is trying to sabotage the mission...

Tuesday 31st December - New Year's Eve

Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949) - BBC4 8:00 p.m.

Continuing BBC4's season of Ealing comedies, for me this ranks with The Ladykillers as the best of them all. Dennis Price is eighth in line to the title of Duke Of Chalfont, and sets out to eliminate all those who stand in his way to dukedom (all of them played by Alec Guinness). Without the over-cosiness afflicting some of the studio's other comedies, this is deliciously dark stuff, deftly helmed by director Robert Hamer (Dead Of Night, It Always Rains On Sunday). One to enjoy with a fine port by candlelight.

The Plank (1967) - C5 11:50 p.m.

Eric Sykes' brilliant silent comedy sees him and workmate Tommy Cooper bungling the seemingly simple task of transporting a plank of wood from a timber yard to a building site. There are cameos from a range of British favourites, and it's both a loving tribute to the comedians Sykes loved as a youngster and a Brit-comedy classic. Also on Friday 27th December at 11:05 p.m.
Wednesday 1st January - New Year's Day

Uncle Buck (1989) - ITV 1:50 p.m.

Perhaps the great John Candy's signature role, as the bumbling relative drafted in at short notice to babysit his teenage niece and young nephew.  It suffers a little from the mawkishness that was starting to creep into John Hughes' work by this point, but Candy's larger than life performance saves it from getting too saccharine. His introduction to the school principal is still hilarious, regardless of how often you see it...

Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) - BBC2 1:05 a.m.

More info here.

So, plenty of filmic delights to get your teeth into, and a diverse selection too.  As always, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on any of these movies. Meanwhile, happy viewing!

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