Home Alone 3

Franchises should take risks. The inevitability of mediocrity looms large, and every franchise ever created is an example of how to keep audiences engaged. The Fast and Furious films pivoted from being serious and character-driven to over-the-top heist movies. Doctor Who recasts the show, including production teams, every few years. So how do sequels the beloved Christmas classic Home Alone go about this? The original, about young Kevin McCallister protecting his house from 2 bumbling criminals, is small-scale whilst the sequel, Lost in New York, turns the tables by having them face off again in a larger location that neither side know well. The third installment… is a James Bond film.

Home Alone 3 had initially been pitched as a direct successor to Lost in New York and was due to be produced at the same time, however, this idea never came to fruition. A second pitch was concocted in the mid-1990s and would see a teenage Kevin once again defending his home from Harry and Marv but Macauly Culkin had retired from acting after 1994’s Richie Rich. This was, in large part, due to issues surrounding his family, career, and earnings. His father had been abusive, forcing Macauly into acting at a young age and, although he found himself enjoying it, he soon grew tired of it. On top of this, he was being kept from his financial earnings, although that was easily rectified with Macauly removing his parents’ names from his Trust Fund and hiring an executor. Simultaneously, a court battle was taking place between the Culkin parents, who had never married, over the custody of their children. None of this would prevent 20th Century Fox from plowing ahead with the Home Alone 3 which was finally released in 1997.

The story follows 8-year-old Alex Pruitt who is left home by himself with chickenpox while his siblings go to school and his parents work. He finds himself in possession of a remote-controlled car that contains a $10 million military missile-cloaking microchip which is being hunted down by an infamous terrorist organisation. 4 members in particular conspicuously move into Alex’s street to systematically check each house on the block, however, Alex keeps track of them and is constantly calling the police. At its centre, this is a spin on The Boy Who Cried Wolf but it never fully follows through on this premise, with Alex eventually catching the criminals and being hailed as a hero.

What’s interesting is this film’s relationship with the original Home Alone as it’s left unclear as to whether or not this takes place in the same continuity. The previous events and characters are never mentioned but the Pruitt’s house is in the same Chicago suburbs as the McCallisters. It’s a clever way of handling continuity as it allows for the film to be totally ignored by those who hate it and provide a smooth transition to those who like it. That said, home Alone 3 is noticeably similar to the original. Both feature an 8-year-old with a lovable, smartass personality whilst being a little wiser than their years. However, whilst Kevin has an adorable charm, Alex comes across as slightly obnoxious. On top of this, they are each part of a family that doesn’t treat them well. Whilst Kevin is in a house with 13 other people, almost being ignored and struggling to make his voice heard, Alex has 2 siblings who treat him like garbage with parents who allow that behavior but don’t participate in it. The elderly neighbour also makes an appearance in the form of the crotchety Mrs. Hess who can’t hold a candle to Old Man Murphy. She isn’t a bad character, she’s an utter delight when she’s on-screen, but she doesn’t really go through an arc or add to the plot in any meaningful way like Murphy did.

The major difference is the villains. Harry and Marv are a classic slapstick duo who only interact with Kevin and provide a minor threat. Home Alone 3 has 4 terrorists who are a global threat and are implied to be ready to murder this child. Their comeuppance is fun, but it sets the stakes way too high and requires a much larger suspension of disbelief than 2 bumbling burglars. These are professional villains, yet they are easily bested by an 8-year-old who has an evening to prepare. The traps themselves are highly creative, close to lethal at times, especially the lawnmower which is a neat holdover from the novelisation of Lost in New York. Perhaps the largest issue is how cartoonish they are, which was a large complaint with Lost in New York, and which is amplified here.

The cartoonish aspects are what keep Home Alone 3 an entertaining film, as opposed to less than average. The plot is oversized and features over-the-top acting which makes for the weakest installment so far but it still amuses the audience for an hour and a half. There was definitely a capacity for it to over-rely on nostalgia but with new characters and a fresh score, it’s clear this wasn’t the direction the studio wanted to go down.

At least, not yet.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

The Grinch (2018)

With Benedict Cumberbatch voicing The Grinch in his attempts to ruin festivities for the Who’s of Whoville, this story is an amalgamation of all that came before, with a couple of new ideas sprinkled in. Much like the 2000 adaptation, this Grinch has a tragic backstory, however instead of being raised by lesbians and hating Christmas from the start, he was an orphan whose orphanage stopped celebrating the holiday. Whilst the former opts to keep his Christmas hatred a mystery, amplified by a traumatic childhood event, the latter robs him of mystery entirely. He doesn’t hate Christmas, really, he hates being alone. It robs him of that unfathomable maliciousness that makes the character so great. It isn’t helped by the narration keeping the classic line “The Grinch hated Christmas, The whole Christmas season. Now please, don’t ask why, No-one quite knows the reason.”

His overall attitude is softer too. Near the beginning of the film, he ventures into town to stock up on food and whilst there is treated by the script and the Who’s as a grumpy old curmudgeon. He does some mean things, like knocking over a child’s snowman, but the child merely seems disgruntled, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. In previous iterations, the Grinch either hasn’t met the Who’s (1996) or has his name mentioned in hushed whispers (20000) but here, he seems fairly well known and not disliked. His neighbour Mr Bicklebaum always greets him with a smile and an attempted hug. He’s less of a villain and more of a Town Kook. He also treats his dog Max with much more respect, as a best friend rather than an overly-faithful companion. The plot adds a subplot where The Grinch finds a reindeer named Fred to pull his sleigh and allows him to stay with them. This is clearly meant to set up a rivalry between Fred and Max (a la Feathers and Gromit in The Wrong Trousers) but the Grinch never acts like he has any intention to replace his friend. He continues to use Max as his assistant regardless with the only real moment of tension being Fred making The Grinch’s morning coffee. Fred leaves shortly before the big heist so that Max still has to pull the sleigh, but returns at the film’s end to help prevent the sleigh from plummeting over the top of Mount Crumpitt.

The other big change is Cindy Lou Who, who used to be no older than two. Here she is 5 or 6 years old, like her live-action counterpart, and one of 3 children, like both her previous iterations. However, she is now the child of a single mother and wants to capture Santa to ask for his help in making her mother’s life easier. It’s a cute subplot but often feels like it distracts from the main plot. In The Grinch (2000), Cindy Lou is researching The Grinch’s past to solve her own ‘yuletide doubts’ (in her own words), thus acting as both an insight into his character and into the mentality of the Whos. Here, she is on her own journey, completely separate from The Grinch, with the meeting of the two coming across as more of a coincidence. It’s not that her plot is irrelevant, it’s actually perfectly in keeping with the morals of Dr. Seuss, rather that it pads out an already padded movie. It feels like there are two films here, but neither one is being given the time that they deserve.

The final act of padding comes in the form of narration from musician Tyler, The Creator. Being based on a short children’s book, and given previous adaptations of said books, it makes sense that there would be narration. However, instead of using all the lines from the original source material, the script adapts them and adds to them. Both previous adaptations had used every word, so to replace them here feels utterly absurd. Seuss’ work survives, in part because his writing’s so tight and to change even a single line feels close to sacrilege. Then there’s the remix of You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch, which provides an update to something classic despite it not needing updated, as well as being tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film.

The main issue The Grinch (2018) has is that it is the third adaptation of this tale but that it doesn’t add anything to the mythos. The original 1966 adaptation brought in music and colour whilst the 2000 adaptation was a misinterpreted mockery of capitalism and send-up to classic action movies. The 2019 adaptation seeks only to entertain, which it does but is ultimately inferior when compared to its predecessors. This comparison is the root issue that any adaptation will have to overcome and it’s not something that the Illumination team was able to overcome.

The message of the original (that Christmas is about being with the people we love) is there, and rises to the surface regardless of what gets thrown on top of it., but this feels like it only happens because that original message is so strong. The Grinch is like any other Illumination picture in that it’s very pretty to look at but therein lies perhaps the biggest problem. This is just like any Illumination film and The Grinch shouldn’t be done that way. If you’re looking for a child-friendly take on this story then the old adage is true:

There’s nothing like the original.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Mickey’s Christmas Carol

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. With a story as long as A Christmas Carol, it makes sense that any visual adaptation would be lengthy. However, this isn’t always the case; the earliest films based on the festive favourite by author Charles Dickens were lacking in minutes. A 1901 British adaptation clocked in at just over 6 minutes, an American 1908 adaptation (which is now lost) at 15 minutes, and another American adaptation in 1910 at just 13 minutes. Even the first feature-length adaptation The Right to be Happy was only 55 minutes, just shy of the average 90-minute runtime of later feature-length films. Perhaps the most famous of these short tales was Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983.

Running at 26 minutes, and initially released along with a re-issue of 1977’s The Rescuers (in the US) and a re-issue of 1967’s The Jungle Book (in the UK), Mickey’s Christmas Carol features a variety of classic Disney Animated characters perfectly cast in the various roles. The titular mouse brings his childlike optimism to the role of Bob Cratchitt, employee of the notorious Ebeneezer Scrooge, whilst the miserable miser himself is aptly portrayed by Scrooge McDuck, who was named and partially based on the character. McDuck’s Scottish accent gives his iteration of Scrooge a unique quality without ever falling into the absurdity that such an accent can lend itself to. The trio of ghosts are comprised of early-era Disney characters like Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Big Bad Pete. Jiminy served as a companion and conscience to Pinnochio in the 1940 film of the same name and brings equal level-headedness to his role as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Willie was the antagonist of Mickey and the Beanstalk in 1947’s package-film Fun and Fancy-Free. He’s much kinder but equally dim in his portrayal as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Pete has been an adversary of Mickey Mouse since the very first short film from Walt Disney Animation, 1928’s Steamboat Willie and his menacing aura is perfect for the role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The background characters are comprised of an array of background characters from various films like 1933’s The 3 Little Pigs, 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and 1973’s Robin Hood.

One of the film’s finer qualities is that it never focuses on the Disney characters, treating them merely as actors absorbed by their roles. Later Disney films like 2019’s The Lion King would bank their success almost purely on the name of the IP, so it’s refreshing to see the opposite happening here. It aims to tell a story and it’s almost a happenstance that the roles are taken by Walt Disney Animation characters. It understands that the most important aspect is bringing A Christmas Carol to children en masse, although there’s no knowing how successful this goal was. There are of course figures for the Rescuers re-release to which it was first attached ($21,000,000) but subsequent DVD releases and television airings make it difficult to pinpoint any specific number. It is safe to assume it did well given it airs every festive season on national television (stations may vary) and it remains within the pop cultural zeitgeist. It is also the first of (currently) 3 adaptations, being followed by 1992’s The Muppets Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the titular creations of Jim Henson, and 2009’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol [REVIEW HERE] featuring the voice of Jim Carrey.

The most unfortunate aspect is that, despite managing the bare bones of the story, it manages very little else. Each part of the tale is lighter in substance than the original novel and indeed almost every other adaptation. The Ghost of Christmas Past never visits Scrooge’s childhood, opting only to show the Fezziwig party, and the Ghost of Christmas Present spends only moments with the Cratchitts. Many moments that may seem iconic to some, like Scrooge’s fireside dinner and the revelry at Fred’s Christmas lunch, are omitted entirely. Arguably the closest section in terms of content is The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t include Scrooge’s belongings being scavenged but does include a couple of gravediggers (aptly played by a pair of weasels) making light of the miser’s death, noting that it’s unsurprising that nobody attended his funeral. It’s the most memorable scene of the entire story, dripping with a dark atmosphere and oozing the colour red. Using the smoke from Pete’s cigar is an excellent, and very 1980’s, use of props.

It’s the atmosphere that makes Mickey’s Christmas Carol so great. From the timeless look of 2D, hand-drawn animation, and the set design, to the song Oh, What a Merry Christmas Day which was written specifically for the special and plays over the opening. It sounds like a Christmas carol and is full of all the heart, soul, and warmth that those songs contain. Even if you don’t feel nostalgia for those classic Disney characters, this is still a worthwhile addition to the ever-expanding list of adaptations.

As Tiny Tim continuously proclaims:

God Bless Us, Everyone…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Die Hard 2

I think that Die Hard 2 is often overshadowed by the original Die Hard, and I can understand why. The original is an action classic which has become an annual Christmas watch for many people, myself included. However the sequel is equally good, and as with many sequels, is much bigger in scale. Die Hard 2 (or Die Harder) was produced with double the budget ($7 million), double the cast, and was released in the summer of 1990. It also doubled the earnings of the original, with a worldwide box office of over $240 million and so I have to wonder where the love for this film has gone. Oh… it’s right here.

We follow ex NYPD Officer John McClane as he finds himself in a terrorist controlled airport on Christmas Eve while waiting for his wife’s plane to land. Once again, John finds himself facing off against this unforeseen threat, although this time with the added struggle of not being taken seriously by airport police. The main villain of our piece is Colonel Stuart who is portrayed with perfect poise and menace by William Statler- whom many folks will know from his portrayal of Death in the Bill and Ted films. All he wants is to commandeer the plane of a foreign political prisoner, and he is willing to hack the airport control tower and crash as many planes as it takes to get that done. With several planes circling the airport, running low on fuel and awaiting permission to land, there are a lot of lives at stake. The stakes here are higher than they were previously, and unlike before, John is not on his own, having to contend with local law enforcement and the airport management. Whilst they do eventually, inevitably, come to his aide, they remain hesitant of his heroics throughout most of the movie. They even go so far has to have him escorted out of the Control Tower when he finally has proof that one of their “punks and thieves” is a professional mercenary. Once again, the law enforcement in this franchise proves itself to be utterly undependable.

We are once again joined on our journey by the selfish and arrogant Richard Thornburg who is aboard the same plane as John’s wife Holly… much to his dismay. You may also know actor William Atherton from his role as Walter Peck in the original Ghostbusters, and his portrayal of self-centred jerks continue to be an absolute joy all these years later. Even as Thornburg is giving an interview on the news, live, over the phone, from the airplane… he is watching himself in a bathroom mirror. The absence of his character from the following sequels, though understandable, is a real shame because I could genuinely watch this character in a fake news show akin to The 9 o’clock News. The other star player is the late Fred Thompson, who portrays Air Traffic Flight Director Ed Trudeau. His performance feels genuine and you get the feeling that his character has been doing this job for years, but still cares about every single person in his airport. As his systems are taken away from him and his planes are left stranded in the air, he barely ever loses his cool. Every person in this or any other level of authority should aim to be this kind and respectable.

The big draw of Die Hard 2 the new setting. It’s often described as The One With The Airport as opposed to its predecessor The One With The Tower. It means that instead of navigating the small amount of space between several floors, John is having to run from one end of the airport to the other, which proves to be as tiring as getting shot at continuously. It also means that while the plot can have the same bones (John, terrorists, boom) it is delivered in a different way. Instead of dealing with these terrorists directly, he at times simply has to watch their actions play out. They have based themselves at a church on the outskirts of the airport grounds, placing them far enough away from the action that they won’t have to suffer any consequences, unlike the previous film where if the building had collapsed it would have killed everyone. John is stretched thin here while the terrorists are barely lifting a finger. Shifting location was a decision that worked for the most part in Home Alone 2 but with Die Hard 2 it proved to be the best of their many creative decisions.

On top of all this are the practical effects, which I could really just sum up with “exploding plane” but which deserve more attention than that. This was the first film to take a matte painted background and to composite live-action footage over the top of it. Although it was only used for the final scene, it would pave the way for the likes of Independence Day, and I can think of no better legacy. There is something about how practical the effects in this film are and how real it makes everything seem. I think that’s because they allow the events to take their toll on John and everyone around him. Much like with Die Hard John is left covered in grime, blood and injuries by the time the credits roll, in stark contrast to today’s action flicks which seem to have decided that their heroes cannot be shown to have weakness. That’s the thing with Die Hard 2. Yes, it’s bigger, and yes, there has to be a small suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t feel fake or forced. It’s a good time and I really look forward to watching it every year.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Home Alone: Lost in New York

The original Home Alone, released in 1990, is a Christmas classic beloved by millions of people across the globe. It has been this popular ever since it was first released to theatres, maintaining the number 1 spot at the Box Office for 4 months. In fact, it would remain the best selling Christmas film of all time until the release of Illumination Studios’ The Grinch in 2018. As you would expect with a movie which made this much profit, a sequel was put into into production by the end of 1991 and planned to be much bigger. This was matched by the $28 million budget, which was $10 million more than the original, and with scenes shot on location in New York City.

We follow 10 year old Kevin MacCallister as he accidentally boards a flight to New York instead of one to Miami with the rest of his family, leaving him stranded in one of the largest cities in the world. Initially, all is well, as he stays at the illustrious Plaza Hotel. But with the return of Harry and Marv (under new mantle The Sticky Bandits) and their plan to steal from a toy store on Christmas eve, it is once again up to Kevin to stop them. I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Home Alone: Lost in New York, with the main critique being that it simply re-hashes the plot of the original in a new setting. It’s hard to dispute that, but I do think that the change in location gives Kevin more issues to deal with this time around. As well as the Sticky Bandits, Kevin must keep his solitude a secret from the management at the Plaza Hotel. Although everything eventually works out well, Kevin is found to be using his father’s stolen credit card and he runs straight into the arms of the Sticky Bandits. He also encounters a homeless woman in the park who he befriends, mirroring his relationship with Old Man Marley in the original. However, this woman is totally alone as opposed to just not talking with her family, which is possibly the biggest difference between these two films. There’s less home and more alone.

I’ve also seen criticisms of Macaulay Culkin’s performance in comparison to the original, and whilst I think it feels less genuine, I think it’s unfair to criticise the man himself. It is now well established just how little control he had over his own career and finances, coupled with his stardom coming literally overnight. What Macaulay Culkin went through, as well as being the result of a system that was drastically unfit for child stars, was incredibly rough, and I think we should cut him a little slack. As for the character of Kevin, I do think there is an inherent flaw with him being two years older. An 8 year old attacking grown men as an act of self-defense is funny, but a 10 year old luring two grown men into a trap just comes off as cruel. He comes across as bratty, and with the change of context (luring instead of defending) he also comes across as vindictive. The comedy itself still works, with the slapstick being implemented well and the traps being just as inventive as in the original film. The standout moments come from the acting of Tim Curry, who portrays a concierge at the hotel and is clearly having a blast with the role. Tim Curry always gives 120% to every single performance, and it is practically impossible to be sad whenever he is on screen. His line delivery on “a cheese pizza” is particularly outstanding, I think the main difference in the comedy- the slapstick in particular- is that it is more child friendly; making the slapstick feel less of a genuine threat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although I suppose it depends on your personal opinion. For me, it isn’t enough to spoil the film.

Home Alone 2 ends up being longer than its predecessor by around 20 minutes, taking its runtime to just under 2 hours. This allows for the film take its time to tell a story, and that might be my only issue with it. This instalment takes a little longer to get to the main plot, and it can sometimes linger on a joke for too long. Home Alone 2 is, I feel, not as concise as it needs to be, and it certainly isn’t as concise as the original. I usually don’t compare films, but when it’s a self contained franchise where the plots are so similar, it’s difficult not to. I wonder if the film would have been received better if it had come first, but alas there is no way of knowing.

What makes this film re-watchable is the emotional core. Catherine O’Hara gives another truly heartfelt performance as Kevin’s mother, and much like Tim Curry, it is difficult not to like her. This is amplified by the beautiful score, brought to us once again by the masterful John Williams. There have been essays written about the legacy of his work, and it is well deserved. Once again, the set is adorned with Christmas decorations so it is impossible to escape the festive feel. At the end of the day Home Alone 2 is a suitable sequel and wonderful festive fare. There are several small issues but they are not enough to dampen the movie for me, or many of its other fans. I once wrote this of another sequel, and I feel it is equally applicable here:

There is a marvellous sequel in here trying to get out but, for what it is, it’s fine. It will forever hold a place in my heart.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

In 1957, Theodor Geisel, under his pen-name Dr. Seuss, released a storybook for children title How the Grinch Stole Christmas. As with many of his works, the tale included a lesson which, in this case, was that Christmas was about peace, love, and joy, instead of decorations and presents. The book was received well, and was adapted into an animated special in 1966 which padded the runtime with new songs written for the occasion by Geisel himself. This was also received well, and has been a staple of American television at Christmas ever since, along with entering the pop culture mythos. For many, this is what they imagine when you ask them about The Grinch. But there is another… in 2000, the story was adapted for the big screen in live-action by director Ron Howard- of Apollo 13 fame- which clocked in at a staggering 1 hour and 50 minutes. I have seen both ends of the reaction spectrum with this one, from hate and ridicule right through to love and enjoyment, but whatever your opinion, it exists in infamy.

The plot follows The Grinch as he plots to steal Christmas from the present-and-decoration-obsessed Whos of Whoville. We also glimpse the life of Cindy Lou Who, who is no more than six, and seems to be the only Who aware that Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. If you are familiar with the Whos of old, this may seem a little odd to you, because they knew what Christmas was about and this seemed to be what finally changed The Grinch’s sour heart. It’s one of the several issues that I have seen levied at the film, but I am of the opinion that it’s a good way of updating the story for the 21st Century. There is a discussion to be had about whether or not the story needed updating, after all the 1966 Special seems to be doing just fine, but there is no denying that society has changed since then. Over the decades, Christmas has only become more commercialised and even in the 20 years since this movie was released it has only continued to increase. It really does feel like the decorating, the shopping, the music, and the advertising start earlier every single year, especially to those of us who work in retail. (Side note: Please be nice to retail employees. They are only doing their jobs and it is especially stressful at this time of year.) Updating the Whos to be consumers makes them more relatable to us, the audience, which makes the final message of the story hit a little bit closer to home.

This update does come with an odd repercussion which becomes difficult for me to ignore. In the original tale and the 1966 Special, we know next to nothing about The Grinch. We know that he hates the joyful noise, lives atop Mount Crumpet, is disgusting, wears shoes that are too tight, and has a dog named Max. However, the film gives us an extensive backstory where he is taken in by two old women, is made fun of as a child, and when he finally gets into the Christmas Spirit is mocked by his peers and his teacher. (2 side notes: Firstly, those women are lesbians and I love them. Secondly, that teacher sucks. I mean if you are that mean to a child you need to find a different job). We know exactly why he hates this time of year, and if it wasn’t clear enough, when The Grinch finally returns to town he gives a lecture about how the Whos are focused on the presents and the decorations to a ridiculous degree, which is what inevitably leads to his decision to steal Christmas. Where as the original had him hating the Whos and wanting to do something exceedingly cruel, here he is trying to teach them a lesson. The Grinch is not the villain of this movie, he is more like the anti-hero. There is one constant between these iterations, and that is that his dog Max is adorable. You can add and change what you want about this story, but it is difficult to not make Max a cute and lovable character.

The tone of the film is also criticised as it comes across like an action movie instead of an uplifting Christmas tale. However I do wonder if this is because many are viewing it through the same lens that they view the 1966 Special. Personally, I have never viewed it through this lens because until recently I had not seen that special, and this film was actually my introduction to the town of Whoville. Now that I have seen it, and have compared it to the film, I have come to the conclusion that the 2000 version is itself a response to the commercialism of that year. Through this lens, the film becomes a parody of the media that surrounded it. It has all the traits of a blockbuster, from the relatable villain and montages to the chaos and explosions, but if you really look at what message the film is delivering, it doesn’t fit in with that genre. The message is that same as it has always been, but it is being reached in a way that seems to be the complete opposite of how it was done in the original. I think the best example of what I mean may be the mayor of Whoville, who is more like a game show host than a mayor, right down to the promise of a new car. Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a beautiful book and a marvellous television special, with a beautiful message, but if you are expecting a direct adaptation, I think the satire in this film may go over your head.

In terms of adapting the design of the book to the realm of live action, I remain stunned as to how close it is. The Whos themselves are mildly odd to look at because they allowed them to look a little more human, but once you get over that, it fits with the rest of the aesthetic. Every physical aspect seems to have been lifted directly from the book, and all this led to Academy Award nominations for Best Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup – the last of which it won. There are also elements that originated with the 1966 Special that have carried over, including You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch, and The Grinch’s green skin tone, which have themselves become synonymous with the story and the festive season. Special acknowledgements must go to James Horner for his brilliant score and to Jim Carrey- The Grinch himself.

It’s possible that the two and a half hour long application of the Grinch makeup has become as well known as the film itself, but I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t the makeup doing the acting, it’s Carrey. If you don’t like Jim Carrey, and his cartoonish performance style, then this really isn’t the film for you because he’s in full swing here. It takes a great amount of skill to act through a costume that only allows us to see your eyes and mouth, but Carrey had proved he could do this with his 1994 film The Mask. He has often been likened to a living cartoon character, and that is not the mockery that some may think it is. Wife of the author Audrey Geisel herself said that she thought only several men could pull of the role: Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, and Jim Carrey. For the record, she was absolutely right.

So here we are, 20 years later and, love it or hate it, we are still talking about Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. There is now a generation of children that experienced this before any other Grinch media. I have watched it every year since I was young, as have many of my friends, and as someone who enjoys this film I can see why there are those who don’t like it. Although I don’t think it’s as far removed from the source material as it could have been, I dare say that you could recreate the 1966 special using the footage from this film, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what version you prefer. What matters is who you share it with.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Motion Capture doesn’t seem to be such a big deal anymore. It gets used in practically every summer blockbuster, and has been pivotal in creating costumes for the heroes of the MCU for over a decade. However there was a time when this technology was relatively new and its limits were being tested. Most people know of one of its earliest applications, creating the creature Gollum for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but few remember some of the following applications. The Polar Express was released in 2004 and was filmed entirely in Motion Capture, before being animated by computer, even being recognised as the first all digital motion capture film by Guinness Book of World Records. The film’s director, Robert Zemeckis, chose this method of production as it allowed for a grand scale on a small budget and would do the best job of representing the original storybook’s illustrations. These same decisions would lead Zemeckis’ to apply this same method of production to an adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel A Christmas Carol.

Released in 2009, Disney’s A Christmas Carol follows the money-grabbing Ebeneezer Scrooge as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, in an attempt to change his selfish ways before it is too late. Disney is no stranger to A Christmas Carol, having adapted it with Mickey Mouse in 1983 and The Muppets in 1992. The former of these is probably the best 26 minute summary you could ever hope for, with the latter being a personal favourite that has already been subject of a review. However, this take is unique in that it is probably the darkest adaption of the tale there is, which may have something to do with how accurate it is to the original novel. There are plot elements here that I had completely forgotten about, because I have not read the book in around a decade (but have watched The Muppet Christmas Carol every year since I was a child), Ebeneezer’s sister Fran makes an appearance, as well as two gaunt children clinging to the Ghost of Christmas Present called Ignorance and Want. It’s much more of a tragedy than I remember it being, and it is nice to be reminded. A Christmas Carol is about a man who needs to be subjected to his deepest regrets and fears in order to change the course of his life.

I think it’s important to remember that when the original novel was published in 1843, ghostly apparitions were not viewed as a lighthearted subject of discussion. Today we are inundated with ghoulish tales from Scooby Doo to Ghostbusters to Casper, so seeing this take, especially in a children’s movie, is relatively refreshing. The colour palette matches the overall tone of the movie in that it is dark and dingy, but when it needs to be bright and cheery, it has no problems doing so. A perfect example of this, and often something that best exemplifies their respective iterations, is how the Ghost of Christmas Present is presented. Here, he sits upon a mountain of food and is only about twice the size of Scrooge whilst the walls are adorned with golden garlands in a room that has tripled in height. As the scene progresses, the room in which they sit seems to hover over the city, allowing them to see the goings on of the townsfolk, and the Ghost of Christmas Present grows older until he has become grey. By the scene’s end, the Ghost has become hostile towards Scrooge, and as they stand in a seemingly endless room, he unleashes the disturbing Ignorance and Want before literally turning to dust whilst laughing manically, in a moment that’s flat-out uncomfortable. It’s tense, getting more so as the film races towards its conclusion. That’s not to say this tension hasn’t been present since the beginning, we are often left in complete silence as if to signify how lonely Scrooge is, but when there is music it is often a joyful and triumphant arrangement of a Christmas carol. The score was composed by the excellent Alan Silvestri, who previously conducted the score for both The Polar Express, and the Back to the Future trilogy. It seems that if your film demands triumph, it demands Alan Silvestri.

So what of this grand scale that Zemeckis spoke of? As previously mentioned, there are the scenes featuring the Ghost of Christmas Present, but there is also the grimy city of London. There are several times that we find ourselves flying over the rooftops, and even from the ground, the buildings look as big and grand as they have ever been up close. This is amplified during the chase sequence with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which doesn’t feel like it should be here, but ends up being thrilling anyway. Both ghosts, along with the Ghost of Christmas Past, are voice by Jim Carrey, who also voices Scrooge, in a decision that potentially adds more depth to the tale. The ghosts have often been viewed as an extension of Scrooge’s thoughts, but with this choice they seem to become direct extensions of him. Carrey playing multiple voice roles was a focal point of the advertising, but if you didn’t know that (or forgot like me) you may not recognise that they’re all him. Of course, the rest of the cast, including Gary Oldman, and the late Bob Hopskins, are terrific, but there is a reason that Carrey got his name prioritised in the advertising.

The observant among you may notice that I have failed to talk about the Ghost of Christmas Past, but there is a reason for that. His design creeps me out… and… his Irish accents baffles me. I actually think that Dickens wrote a description that is extremely difficult to pull off. I mean, how would you design a being that is both old and young at the same time? As for the Irish accent, it continues to baffle me.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Die Hard

A man flies from New York to Los Angeles to surprise his wife, who hasn’t seen him in 6 months. The villain of our story is sophisticated and only in it for the money. There’s snow, there’s romance and there’s festive music throughout. These are the hallmarks of a classic Christmas Rom-Com, but it is also the hallmarks of Die Hard, featuring Bruce Willis as off-duty police officer John Maclane. Many of you may be under the impression that Die Hard is an action film, but the gunfights and explosions are actually rather scarce, though what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Particularly outstanding is the explosion in the elevator shaft, which seems to the rock the camera to its very core. This film is, in short, is a work of art – and it deserves the franchise that it spawned.

We follow John Maclane as he attends a party at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve, where the building is overtaken by Hans Gruber and 11 other “terrorists”. While the FBI plot their attack, and the local news network watches, John takes a defiant stand. John’s limo driver Argyle is also there, chilling in the garage. The inclusion of Argyle is, to me, one of the best elements in the entire film, because the film barely pauses to acknowledge him. We’ll be in the middle of a gunfight and suddenly cut to Argyle chatting away on his limo-phone having heard nothing. I’ve always been a fan of juxtapositions like this, though I’m not sure I can aptly explain why. I think it’s because they are a form of expectation subversion which is one of my favourite forms of comedy. Perhaps it’s because I see a little bit of my own lack of observation skills in Argyle, and as such relate to him more than I do John Maclane. Perhaps it’s because I think he’s cute. It could be any and/or all of these things.

As I’m sure we all know, the true hero of Die Hard is Sargent Alan (Al) Powell. At first he seems to be a regular movie cop, buying vast amounts of Twinkies “for his wife” but then he is called to Nakatomi Plaza to investigate a disturbance. He decides that it’s a wild goose chase and that nothing out of the ordinary is happening, until a terrorist falls onto the hood of his police car and he is shot at. While most films might make Al a one-time gag character, Die Hard instead opts to keep him around, making him a straight-man in comparison to the stereotypical FBI and LAPD. Al ends up being one of the most well developed characters ever to exist in an 80’s action movie, if not film in general. The finest character in the piece though, is Hans Gruber portrayed by the late Alan Rickman. Here is a villain who simply saunters into the plot, and casually executes his plan. His gentle tone barely falters, but as members of his crew start dying and his detonators go missing, his bravado starts to falter. Once he discovers Holly Gennero to be the wife of John Maclane, he takes her hostage out of spite. I can’t see Hans at the start of the movie doing anything out of spite, which goes to show how good John is at his job.

Die Hard is a character driven story in the guise of an action blockbuster. While Hans Gruber’s death may be an obvious green screen, the explosions are real. The practical effects, while minimal, are great. CGI has its advantages, but almost nothing beats watching a genuine explosion occur. It’s only topped by watching those same explosions at Christmas time, this year and every year that follows.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer

Home Alone

I feel bad for Kevin McCallister, and it’s not because he is abandoned by his family 2 days before Christmas. I feel bad because after facing some of his biggest fears, and two of the clumsiest burglars in America, Kevin is reunited with that very same family. I know that this is supposed to be the emotional crux of the film, but his family is absolutely awful to him. They belittle him with names, eat his food and deliberately ignore him as well as shame him for anything that goes wrong. He is 8 years old, and quite frankly I think someone should call Child Protective Services. This is not the cute Christmas ending you think it is, but let’s start at the beginning.

Home Alone follows 8 year old Kevin as his family accidentally leaves him behind when they go on holiday to Paris. While his mother frantically tries to get home, Kevin protects his home from burglars Harry and Marv. I don’t think there could have been a better team to pull this off. It was written by the late John Hughes, who was no stranger to comedy, and the always phenomenal John Williams. These two minds are professionals at what they do, and what they do is pull at the heartstrings. It also helps that the set dressings absolutely scream Christmas. There are the decorations but many of the curtains, bed-sheets and items of clothing are red, gold or green. Also leaving behind a child, whether intentional or not, is a rather heavy subject for any type of film and hits people of any age. When I was a child, being left alone was a terrifying prospect and as I grew up, my siblings being left alone became the fear. As I’ve grown into an adult, I have gained young cousins and if I were to adopt a child of my own, I would be horrified at the thought of them being alone. That’s why I think Home Alone has stood, and will continue to stand, the test of time.

I think the physical comedy also makes the film timeless, in much the same way that Tom and Jerry or Laurel and Hardy are timeless. There seems to be a distinct difference between timeless, which is this film, and dated, which is what many would call the sequel. I think it comes from writing a story without caring when it’s set, as opposed to using the time period in your story. In Home Alone: Lost in New York there’s the voice recorder and the Donald Trump cameo, among other things. I still enjoy that film, but it’s very much a product of its time, whereas Home Alone works regardless of setting, timing, message, comedy, and heart. It’s no wonder that it became a Christmas classic along with the likes of A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas despite only being 30 years old. I know to some people that 30 years ago may seem like forever ago, but in terms of cinema, I think that’s fairly young. It’s clear that a lot of passion went into making Home Alone, and it continues to fill me with the festive spirit year after year.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your festive neighbourhood queer