In previous years I have tried to give some guidance as to whether there were any movies worth watching in the terrestrial Christmas schedules, but I have become so disillusioned by the very boring listings where most of the "Big" Xmas films have already been seen by all the world and his sister either at the cinema or on DVD and where the few "classic" films that they deign to show are more or less the same ones that appear year after year. (If it were up to me, I could produce a list of classic gems that have not seen the light of a TV screen for yonks). However, by careful scouring of the schedules, I did manage to find two recent movies which I had not viewed previously -- and these became my Christmas Crackers!
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005): This was my most pleasant surprise since I was previously completely unaware of this British film's existence. The lead is taken by elderly, widowed Joan Plowright, who moves into the residential hotel of the title in an effort to maintain some independence from her indifferent family. The place is populated with a collection of elderly eccentrics, all winningly played, and foremost amongst these is practical spinster Anna Massey. When Mrs. Palfrey falls on the pavement outside the basement flat of impoverished busker and would-be writer Rupert Friend, he becomes her surrogate grandson and the darling of the hotel's denizens. This was a touching, involving tale which grew warmer as it progressed and which, yes, left me with teary eyes by its close.
Starter for 10 (2006): I could recall the reviews for this second British film when it was released, but it seemed too slight a tale to interest me. Yet, come the day, it was pleasant enough viewing as provincial brainbox, James McAvoy (looking suitably young) wins a place at Bristol University and fulfils his dream of representing his college on the quiz programme University Challenge -- with, it turns out, disastrous results. Torn between a sexpot who enchants him and a left-wing social protester, his would-be lovelife is similarly disappointing. All in all this was a reasonable diversion, but not one that I would seek out again.
So what else was I doing? Well, I borrowed a copy of "Mamma Mia - The Movie" which I resisted seeing at the cinema, despite its mighty success. Initially I was alienated by the determinedly good-natured efforts from all of the players and was beginning to feel sligthly queasy, but by the end credits -- with all of the main actors resplendent in their spangly rock-star gear, I could understand the tremendous "feel-good" appeal of the movie, especially for Abba fans. In contrast, I decided to have yet another go at a really "feel-bad" movie, Todd Solondz's Happiness from 1998. This film is well-thought of and possibly on its way to cult status, but it is all just a wee bit too unpleasant for my taste, what with its paedophile therapist drugging and raping friends of his young son whom he is teaching how to masturbate, Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a pervert who gets his kicks from dirty phonecalls, a murderous overweight needy neighbour who lusts after him, and three damaged sisters who are involved with these characters, together with their on-the-verge-of-divorcing parents. Well acted indeed, but ultimately an unhappy and way-out slice of life that proves indigestible.
Wishing all of you a healthy and successful 2009, with hopefully lots of fine cinema viewing to come-PPP.