The Best Festive Movie

I know this post is about thirty-days too late, but screw it – it’s still (barely) January and I’ve just got back to my day to day routine (Plus it’s my god damn blog – I’ll write about Christmas movies in July if I wanted to!)  So it’s the perfect time to reflect on the classic movies that I came across in December which was only a few short weeks ago.  

During that weird period between Christmas and New Year when you struggle to remember what date it is but strangely know exactly what day Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve falls on there are quite a lot of quality movies on the box – particularly classic flicks that are featured in the American Film Institute Top 100 Films of All Time. So I pretty much had a field day going through my list this festive season – although it seemed like every time I switched on the TV ‘Elf’ (2003) or ‘Home Alone’ (1990) was playing for the umpteenth time (but Will Ferrell giving James Cann lingerie as a gift never gets old).

‘Elf’ Buddy gives his Dad an inappropriate gift 

Unfortunately these movies are not deemed to be classic by the AFI; but what was shown on the Sky Christmas Channel and is worthy to be featured in The Top 100 Movies of all time list twice was the ultimate Christmas move – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946: AFI 1998 #11, 2007 #20) staring the remarkable James Stewart and Donna Reed. The movie centres around banker George Bailey, a hardworking man who can’t seem to catch a break – he is financially unstable, but his good willed nature, enthusiasm and hope gets him through tough times. That is until he reaches boiling point and contemplates suicide, but before he decides to end his life a guardian angel shows him what life would be like if he was never born. So it’s kind of like flipped version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843) by Dickens with the obvious differences that Scrooge was rich and disliked whilst Bailey was poor but loved.

The fact that the film lifted themes from Dickens’s masterpiece doesn’t take away how influential it is to the wholesome family movie genre. Ever since its release Hollywood producers have tried to create a Christmas flick as well written, acted and magical as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ but have so failed to deliver something that the whole family can enjoy and watch Christmas after Christmas.

The unmistakable Stewart speaks about how he got involved in his most iconic role

It’s pretty remarkable that children are still fond of this black and white movie, usually when I tell my family (who are all well over thirty) that I want to watch a film on my list, they tell me “It better be in colour”- but ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ gets a free pass. It proves that the strong storytelling and the message of thankfulness and belief in the kindness of human nature far outweighs any 3D or CGI special effects that has been regurgitated by movie execs in the last ten or so years. There were talks that the movie was to be colourised, but legendary director Frank Capra and Stewart were against it the final product. I must admit I would be curious to see if the movie would still be as perfect if in colour, but I guess if it isn’t broke why fix it?

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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ gets the colour treatment

One of the reasons why this masterpiece which is 70 years old this year still resinates with viewers is that it touches on themes that are more relevant than ever. Many of us plan to travel the world when we leave school, but our dreams are put on hold by our guilt to help the family business or get a ‘proper’ job – I know I can relate to that. And almost all of us during the festive season reflect on our careers and financial position which can make us unsatisfied. This movie reminds us what is important – ‘Elf’ and ‘Bad Santa'(2003) may give us laughs, but will that be enough to sustain their legacy in years to come?

For the fact that this movie is not only the best festive movie of all time, but best movie period I give it 5 our 5.

Introducing Your Partner of a Different Background to Your Parents? Prepare Them With This

Sometimes I get lucky when attempting my challenge of watching all films featured in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time like this weekend when just as I was wondering how I’m going to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon I came across a film which needed to be ticked off my list. Actually my brother came across it after trying to give a Danny Dyer and Martin Kemp flick a shot, but only lasting ten minutes before changing the channel (what did he expect it to be? A masterpiece?). ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner? (1967: AFI, 1998 #99) couldn’t be further away from a British gangster film set in the noughties. Firstly there is hardly any action and most of the movie takes place in one location, the house of Mr and Mrs Drayton played by arguably the greatest screen couple to have ever graced the silver screen; Spencer Tracy and the most successful female Oscar winner of all time (yup, even more successful than Meryl Streep, would you believe?) Katherine Hepburn.

Trailer for the 1967 Oscar winning movie ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner?

Set in an affluent  white upper middle class neighbourhood  in San Francisco in the 1960s the story centres around the Drayton’s whose liberal tolerance gets tested when their daughter introduces them to her black fiancé played by Sidney Poitier – who is the first black actor to win an Oscar (although not for this role, but ‘Lilies in the Field). The plot is simple and hardly shocking by today’s standards, but for the time when racial tension in North America was at an all time high it was perhaps a surprise that Stanley Kramer’s movie was a critical and commercial success. Even more startling is that it was well received in the notoriously racist Southern States and released just a year before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. There is even a scene where the family’s black maid Tillie who is clearly the most offended by the presence of Poitier sarcastically asks if “The Reverend Martin Luther King” is coming to dinner too?

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Maid Tillie interrogates Poitier

The movie definitely deserves its spot on the AFI’s top 100 films of all time list – it highlights the deep rooted racial prejudices even the most tolerant people have. Kramer wanted to make Poitier’s character Dr. John Wayde Prentice Jr. flawless – he is well educated, respectful and does not believe in sex before marriage – he is a perfect suitor for Joey. The only that is preventing her parents from jumping for joy is that he is black.

The subject matter of this blockbuster is sadly relevant in today’s society. Even though interracial relationships are more common than ever there is a still a stigma attached to them. But naively I was under the impression that in the UK non-black ethnic minorities were the only group who still found it difficult introducing their families to their partner from a different background and that black and white people were better integrated. But after watching the British comedy ‘Chewing Gum (2015)’ I realised some black people found it hard tell their parents they were dating a white person as protagonist Tracey (no relation to Spencer) does throughout the first series. Perhaps roles are reversed and ethnic minorities are now the ones who seem to find it hard to accept other races into their families rather than just white people.

Although ‘Guess who’s coming to Dinner’ had the happy ending we liberal people of the Twenty-First Century hoped for I couldn’t help but feel sad knowing that this was Spencer Tracy’s last movie before his death – he died only two weeks after completing the film. So his heartfelt speech where he declares that he accepts the relationship is even more poignant as it feels this is farewell to his onscreen and real life lover Hepburn and to the world as he knew his time was drawing an end.

Spencer Tracy gives his memorable speech weeks before his death

Nevertheless the legacy of Tracy and his unforgettable character Mr Drayton still lives on; not only was his last role considered one of his finest he was also the inspiration for lovable Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s classic animated ‘Up! (2009). For the exceptional characters and acting from the crème a La crème of Hollywood as well as the topic that is still a subject of conversation today  – I give this flick 4.5 out of 5.

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Lead character in ‘Up’ is inspired by Spencer Tracy

The movie can also be a useful tool to show to your parents before bringing someone home they may not approve off as suggested by my brother – I wonder who he’s planning on bringing home to meet the folks

 

The Funny Side Of The Korean War

As I spend most of my spare time trying to complete the American Film Institute’s list of 100 movies of all time I find that I am out of touch with the latest movie releases – in fact the only time I get to catch a feature that is not in black and white or Technicolor is when I’m on a plane. A few weeks back I went to Canada and to pass the time on the flight (that did not offer me any food for the whole duration, which has to be illegal) I watched ‘American Sniper’ (2014) directed by Dad’s idol Clint Eastwood

War films about recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan like ‘American Sniper’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012) don’t have the same thrill as movies made about World War Two or the Vietnam War. There is nothing more exiting watching Guerrilla warfare taking place in an exotic but terrifying jungle in films like ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987) and ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979: AFI 1998 #28 2007#30) rather than a dusty and concrete setting of a modern conflict. And although there were several moments of suspense in blockbuster staring Bradley Cooper I felt underwhelmed just as I did when I watched M*A*S*H* (1970: AFI 1998 #56, 2007 #54) which takes a more humorous approach when looking at The Korean War.

To be honest I didn’t have high expectations before I viewed the movie, I remember I often got annoyed when The Paramount Channel played marathons of the TV version (1972- 1983) of the hit film when all I wanted to watch was ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (1996 – 2005). So I had a pretty biased view of the franchise before I got to see the full length feature which starts Donald Sutherland and Tom Skerritt as doctors Hawkeye and Duke who are stationed at an Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during US conflict.

Classic War Movie – M*A*S*H*

The mischievous and womanising behaviour of the two talented surgeons brings light relief to a subject matter that is often tackled in more serious manner, but at times I thought I was watching a ‘Carry on’ Movie and I half expecting Sutherland to shout out ‘Oh Matron!’ I even saw aspects of the Police Academy movies when the two characters play childish pranks on the rival Frank Burns.

Although the movie takes a satirical approach to the Korean conflict there is a serious undertone throughout the picture; despite Hawkeye’s and Duke’s reckless and childish behaviour they are excellent surgeons who care about their wounded patients. But I feel their arrogance overshadows this and so I didn’t warm to the characters and for that reason I give the movie 2 out 5 stars

The Closest Hollywood Got To A South Asian Leading Man

On Friday afternoon I was listening to the Steve Wright show on BBC Radio 2 like all thirty-year olds do when the newsreader suddenly announced breaking news; ‘Oh no! This can’t be good’ I thought. I was right; Omar Sharif, the star of two of the biggest movies of all time Dr Zhivago (1965; AFI 1998 #39) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962; 1998 #5, 2007 #7) which are both featured on the American Film Institute’s greatest films of all-time list had passed away from a heart attack aged eighty-three.

And like the social media sheep I am I immediately checked Twitter to see if he was trending and what other people had to say about the tragic news. Most tweeters were complementary of the legendary actor, but what struck me was a Tweet from a news agency – it stated the star who only earlier in the year confessed he had been suffering from dementia had been so far into the illness that he could not remember his career highlights.

Iconic : Peter O Toole and Omar Sharif

The first memory I had of him on screen was when he killed a man in the middle of a desert for drinking out of his well without permission (he was a badass!) in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. How could a man with such presence have been in such a hopeless state fifty years later? That’s probably the most depressing thing about doing the AFI challenge of watching all the movies featured on the list is that most of the stars I’ve come to admire in these classics have either passed on or now a shadow of their former self. What’s worse is most of my colleagues didn’t know who he was or how important he was to the film industry when I expressed my sadness when downing a pint of soda water later in the day.

Sherif Ali makes an unforgettable entrance in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

Omar Sharif was not only an exceptional and charismatic actor; he was a ground-breaker who broke down racial stereotypes in Hollywood. He was the first and arguably the only non- white or black leading man and a heart-throb. Someone who I could identify with as he was the closest there was to a South Asian making it as the big box office draw in Hollywood – something rare today, but unheard of in the 1960s.

Today most of the South Asian and Middle-Eastern actors in TV and film play support roles and usually likable, but typically dippy and unlucky with the opposite sex. Take Raj from the ‘Big Bang Theory’ (2007 – to date) – on paper he seems like the biggest catch of the lot – smart, sensitive and from a wealthy family – yet for the first few series the writers of the show decided he was too intimidated by the opposite sex that he wouldn’t be able to talk to a woman unless he was drunk and it took him forever to find a girlfriend – even Sheldon found love before him! This man comes from the land of action heroes like Rishi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan who never shied away from a woman, yet these characters are never portrayed in Western movies. Look at Dev Patel – he may have got the girl in the end of ‘Slumdog Millionaire (2009)’ but ladies weren’t exactly getting hot and bothered for a skinny boy who literately came from the gutter. In fact director Danny Boyle deliberately did not want to hire a Bollywood hunk for the movie because he felt neither would fit in the role – he may have a point but, it seems Asian men in Western movies either play a bumbling character with zero sex appeal or a terrorist.

Sharif: Timeless heartthrob – ‘Little Britain’

But David Lean, the director of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Dr Zhivago’ saw something in Sharif which I wish directors today had the balls to see with other ethnic minority actors – and casted him in pivot roles for two of his most ambitious projects (although frustratingly other Caucasian actors were considered for the role of Arab Sherif Ali before Sharif in Lawrence). In ‘Dr Zhivago’ Sharif plays the title character who finds himself in a love triangle between Julie Christie and Rita Tushingham during Soviet ruling of Russia at the beginning of the Twentieth-Century. Although the movie received mixed reviews at the time of release for being too long and not focusing enough on historical significance of the Russian Revolution, like fine wine the movie has aged well over the years and people have come to appreciate the convincing romantic magnetism between Sharif and Christie. This epic definitely gave Sharif that superstar stud status – he once boasted to receive over twenty-thousand marriage proposals in a month. But more importantly the movie proved that a man of brown skin could carry a Hollywood funded movie and have mass appeal. For this magnetic and intense love story set against a beautiful backdrop I give it 4 out of 5.

Love affair:  Omar Sharif & Julie Christie 

Like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939: AFI 1998 #6, 2007 #8) and ‘Ben Hur’ (1959: AFI 1998 #72, 2007 #100) everyone has at least heard of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and understands its cultural significance. Peter O’Toole was robbed of a Best Actor for his portrayal of flamboyant T.E. Lawrence, a British Army lieutenant sent to Arabia to unite the British forces and Arabs against the Turks during the First World War. Despite being an epic adventure the movie subtlety tackles the moral dilemmas of fighting in combat as well the emotional effect killing has on the main character. Although the movie feels at times too long it wouldn’t been classified as an epic if it didn’t. It is perfectly told, acted and directed- I also give the movie 4 out of 5.

Sharif speaks about his friendship with Peter O’ Toole 

Even if Omar Sharif couldn’t recall the greatness of his two breakout roles in his final days – movie goers will fondly remember his contribution to cinema for years to come.

Sharif wins Golden Globe for his starring role in ‘Doctor Zhivago’