Thursday, 24 December 2009

After all its only one more sleep till Christmas...

1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

So here it is. The long awaited and much anticipated numero uno of Christiana's Christmas Countdown.

And anyone who knows me even just a little bit will probably have known all along what is was going to be, just like I did. The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of those films that is part of my family Christmas tradition. Every year, the family get together and watch, singing all the words to the songs and laughing at the jokes we've seen a thousand times before. And it somehow never gets old.

Part of the success of The Muppet Christmas Carol is because it is surprisingly faithful to its source, the much loved festive treat that it Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Particularly through the use of Gonzo as Charles Dickens (a fact which is constantly disputed by Rizzo the Rat) and the narrator of the story who relays lines from the book in his very individual style.

All the songs are original, extremely catchy and very christmassy making it hard not to sing along even after a couple of viewings.

Another great Muppet Christmas movie is A Muppet Family Christmas (1987) which would be sharing the top spot with The Muppet Christmas Carol if I could. But as I didn't want to seem too obsessed I settled for the film I think of most when I think about Christmas.

As I'm writing this on Christmas eve, I thought I'd leave you with the most relevant of songs from the soundtrack of the film and really hope you enjoy it and have a very Merry Christmas with all the people you love.

Till 2010, fellow bloggers...

"Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings."

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

What good is a Christmas Countdown without a Christmas classic?!

Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey in this moralistic movie about a man who thinks the world would be a better place if he didn't exist. Cue Clarence (Henry Travers) the angel on a mission to convince Jimmy otherwise and earn his wings.

Suicide and money troubles aside, It's a Wonderful Life is the ultimate feel-good movie directed by the masterful Frank Capra. And Capra and Stewart both cited it as their favourite of the films they were a part of and that's got to count for something.

The film was released later in colour but I wouldn't recommend it. A little bit of charm is lost with the bringing of colour technology to this film. The black and white version the original and just the way it's meant to be.

If you haven't watched the film and don't want to see the ending avoid watching the clip below... Even though it is brilliant.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Baby it's cold outside

3. Elf (2003)

John Favreau directs and Will Ferrell stars in the usual Christmas tale about how an oversized elf travels from the North Pole to New York to find his real father and seek acceptance.

Will Ferrell's performance as the aforementioned larger than life elf is brilliant. The innocence and unashamedly straight faced way in which he plays it makes his character completely believable.

Also worth a mention is the use of stop motion animation in small sections of the film that provide another fantastic and magical representation of the North Pole.

On it's initial release Elf didn't bother the box-office too much and was more of a success on the small screen and through its DVD release until becoming part of mine and many other people's essential Christmas viewing.

This film will have you laughing and cringing all the way through and if you haven't seen it, you need to because you're missing out.

The, The, The..

4. The Grinch (2000)

The Grinch is one of the few Christmas films that criticises the ridiculous over-commercialisation and self-inflicted pressures placed on everyone at Christmas. Of course this is the message also at the centre of the Dr. Seuss book from which it is based, but the film capitalises on this message and makes everyone feel like they wish they had there very own Grinch just to remind people what Christmas is really about.

Usually I find Jim Carrey's acting (particularly in comedies) over the top and I've always thought he's the type of actor you love or, as The Grinch would put it, 'loathe entirely'. However in the Grinch, Carrey's animated and excessive performance suits the role perfectly. Perhaps this has something to do with the character's cartoon origins, but it's one of those times where you actually forget that its Jim Carrey and believe that he is The Grinch. The same can also be said about the world around him for that matter. Whoville is masterfully created as if straight out of a child's imagination which is helped along by brilliant narration by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins, keeping the film in touch with its literary roots.

Besides the Grinch, the main character of the film is Cyndi-Lou (Taylor Momsen), a young Who wondering what Christmas is really all about. She someone that we can all relate to, we've all felt sometimes that we're not really getting why people go to so much trouble around Christmas and how its becoming a commodity rather than a celebration. And the fact that it is a little girl who is having these feelings makes the message even more poignant. My favourite moment of the movie is when Cyndi-Lou sings 'Where are you Christmas.' I cry every time I watch that. I don't know why, it might have something to do with the fact that I cry at absolutely anything I watch in a film, or maybe its because there's something so pure and so innocent about this performance that really gets me.

Whoville is probably the most christmassy place you can let your imagination go and before Christmas I like to visit it at least once just to get in the mood and remember that Christmas doesn't come from a store...

"...Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Twas the Night before Christmas...

5.The Santa Clause (1994)

You would think that a plot involving Father Christmas falling off the roof of house to his death sounds a bit unsuitable for children, but you'd be wrong.

The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen in one of his better film roles, is all about what happens when Scott Calvin, a work-obsessed single dad is trying to convince his only son Charlie that Santa exists whilst not really believing it himself. But everything changes when Charlie convinces his father to take over Santa's job when he falls off the roof.

The Santa Clause is not really that unconventional, Christmas stories centred around the theme of 'believing in Santa Claus' are common (see Miracle on 34th Street (1994) and The Polar Express (2004)for perfectly good examples of this). But what is different is the way that the film tackles the problems of the non-nuclear family at Christmas especially in relation to children.

This film was never going to be an award botherer and it does come with its own brand of stateside cheese in parts, but its one of my Christmas guilty secrets and a great one for the kids.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

What's this, What's this..

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The anti-Christmas story, and not really one for very young impressionable children, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the only film on the countdown that creeps me out a bit. Even now. But that's sort of the point.

Produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, it's visually and thematically stereotypical of this pair's beautifully gothic and eerie style and delivers an Christmas story that flies in the face of convention.

On top of this, a great musical score by Danny Elfman keeps the audience tapping their feet particularly to Oogie Boogie's song (which is coincidentally my favourite song of the film!)

So if your looking for something a bit edgier with a storyline and moral message about Christmas that you can't see clunking down the road from about a mile away, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great film to watch to get you in the mood for Halloween... I mean Christmas.

All Aboard!

7. The Polar Express (2004)

The newest film in the countdown, this is the first Christmas I have watched The Polar Express. I've avoided it for the last 5 years because of one thing, the character animation. And finally, after some cajoling I gave it a chance.

My opinion is unchanged. There really is something creepy about the way the people are animated in this film. There eyes are sort of lifeless and too close together and the children's faces in particular are devoid of the emotion and excitement they should, considering the circumstances, be showing. The elves are also a little bit disturbing particularly the elf modelled on Steve Tyler of Aerosmith which appears towards the end of the film.

However, it seems a bit unfair to be too judgemental about the animation of the characters when animating realistic human characters is no easy feat. Which is probably why a lot of Computer animated films avoid it by either stylizing the appearance of human characters as in Up (2009), or avoid showing the human characters as much as possible like in Toy Story (1995). And what is lacking in character animation is made up for the magical and breathtaking journey The Polar Express takes us on.

I happen to know that this film is one of my nephew's favourite Christmas films even though he wasn't even born when the film was released. I can understand why he likes The Polar Express so much; His two favourite things are trains and Christmas. And so every year from about October running up to Christmas he watches it over and over again.

And that's the only thing that would make this film better, to watch it as a child with all the innocence and excitement that children should have at this time of year. To actually believe that such a place exists and that such a journey can take you there.

Make the bell ring again, go on give it a chance. Watch The Polar Express this Christmas.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Violence and a sprinkle of Christmas Cheer.. No, this isn't Die Hard.

8. Home Alone (1990)

What more could you want than a bit of senseless violence at Christmas? And what's the family favourite that delivers it better than Father Christmas on caffeine? Why, Home Alone of course. Admittedly the violence is presented in a slapstick, cartoon style and so as a kid you don't think too much about the consequences. And even though the baddies are pretty bad you know they're never going to get killed. Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) are real life Wile E. Coyotes.

But watching Home Alone as an adult (if i can be classed as that) you start to think ludicrous things like 'oh that's not realistic, Harry would at least have been hospitalised with 2nd degree burns if his head was set on fire like that; And Marv would really need to have a tetanus shot after stepping on that rusty nail.'

It's like, it's not bad enough that Christmas isn't as good when you grow up, but you cant even enjoy a bit of mindless violence without your stupid sense of reality trying to ruin your fun.

However, whilst watching this film it occured to me that even with the drabness of old age you can't really ruin Home Alone. Simply because it allows you to remember what Christmas used to be like. Not because as a child it was tradition to throw paint cans off the landing onto unsuspecting visitors heads, but because I remember watching Home Alone as a child. Because I remember watching it at Christmas and I remember the excited feeling related to the viewing experience.

So if you're feeling a little bit lacking in Christmas spirit, watch Home Alone (in glorious VHS for authenticity if you can) and sit under the Christmas tree, look up at the lights and remember for a little while what it was like to be a kid at Christmas.

And here's an oh-so special trailer of the film. So do as 'The Culkin' says and sing along..

Don't say I never treat you!

Monday, 7 December 2009


9. Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually is another one of the Christmas films that you could really watch anytime of the year and you'd still enjoy it. With a huge cast of some of Britain's most accomplished stars it's a bit a rollercoaster in terms of what it offers and what you come to expect from Richard Curtis and the Best of British.

Yes, there are some bits that are annoying artificial and yes, some characters too for that matter (you know who you are!) But overall Love Actually is up there with It's a Wonderful Life for feel-good films. It can melt even the coldest heart like a blob of cream on a warm minced pie.

Richard Curtis is probably one of the best writer/directors around for knowing how to make an audience feel a certain way. And Love Actually is a prime example of this as his weaves his sentimental magic through several inter-linking storylines that revolve around different types of love and romance.

Not all are as fluffy as the main storyline involving Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister and his tea lady (Martine McCutcheon). Undoubtedly the best storyline of the film involves the superb Emma Thompson as the quintessential middle-class mother and wife whose allusions of perfect family life come crashing down around her as she realises that her husband (Alan Rickman) is involved with another woman.

Each storyline clearly works to evoke a different emotion. Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln's plays out for drama; Central to Martin Freeman and Joanna Page's story is a sort of naughty British postcard type of comedy; And Liam Neeson's recently widowed character evokes a strong sense of Pathos as we see him help his struggling step-son (Thomas Sangster)win over his first love.

Central to all these chapters is, of course, love. And that's sadly probably why it is one of my favourite Christmas films. Because although I'm aware I'm being irritatingly insipid in saying this, Love is important. And Christmas is one of those times where we actually get to admit that. It's when we witness it most too. So you might as well revel in it, go on take a look. Because as a wise old toff once said:

'Love actually is all around.'

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Christiana's Christmas Countdown

Well that's the first time my name's come in handy... thanks mum.

Tis the Season to spend the odd lazy afternoon watching all those Christmas films that give you that warm toasty feeling inside. But sometimes the pressure to watch all these films before the big day can be a bit much. So here it begins. My top ten must-see movies for the perennial season. Some choices may be controversial but it's obviously a matter of personal taste. Which I might add, I have plenty of.

So here we go.. Let Christiana's Christmas Movie Countdown begin!

10. Meet me in St. Louis (1944)

Perhaps not an obvious choice as it's not technically a Christmas Movie, Meet Me in St Louis' structure is set around the four seasons of the year. But the highlight is most definitely the Christmas sequence of the film. Meet Me in St. Louis is not only one of my Christmas favourites but is also,in my humble opinion, one of the best musicals of the Classical Hollywood era.

Judy Garland gives a terrific performance alongside the astoundingly talented 7 year old Margaret O'Brien particularly during Garland's show stopping performance of 'Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.'Filmed towards the end of the Second World War, this song is beautiful and sad emphasising the anxieties of the time, the loss of loved ones and the importance of family and solidarity. A theme and a mood that encompasses the whole film.

It might not seem like the cheeriest of choices to get you in the festive mood but there's something oddly comforting about this segment of the film that reassures anyone unable to get to grips with the idea that Christmas is always the happiest time of the year. The Nostalgic setting of turn of the 20th Century and the feeling of a simpler and happier time also reiterates the unsettled milieu.

The film is also beautifully and skillfully directed by Vincente Minelli, specifically during scenes with Judy Garland where Minelli's evident love for the lead actress is shown through his attention to detail in the soft-focus, framing and mise en scene of the piece.

Meet Me in St Louis
is probably one to ease you into this seasonal period. If its early December and you're not quite sure whether you're ready for full-on festivities, for comedy, an excellent musical score and brilliant performances all round, you could probably do a lot worse than Meet Me in St. Louis.

Oooh, they just don't make 'em like they used to, do they?!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Cloudy with a Flash of Brilliance

Based on a popular American children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is perhaps one of the more bizarre film titles of 2009. Sony's latest computer animation feature could lead you to believe that it's another tediously formulaic kids flick with the sole purpose of cashing in whilst keeping the little ones quiet for an hour and a half.

Well it's not quite that simple.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is formulaic. You can see the cogs of the story working. You can extrapolate that the nerdy professor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) will get together with the secretly geekier weathergirl Sam Sparks (Anna Faris). You know the protagonist will get his father's approval in the end. And you can't help but anticipate that Flint's invention will only take so much before disaster strikes and choas ensues. But none of this really matters (especially to a 7 year old who is probably to busy wishing it would snow ice cream, and to a 22 year old for that matter!) Because despite its predictability, the film is sophicatedly funny (but still quite silly and non-sensical) whilst bragging an animation style all of its own.

The stylized computer animation of the film lends itself to such a ludicrous and imaginative story and allows itself differentiation to the aforementioned cash-cow CGI animations. These animations have all fallen into the same trap. Sub-standard and churned out on a monthly basis, they attempt to keep up with the effortless style and finesse of the undoubtedly unrivalled animation studios at Pixar. This is a trap that Cloudy manages to avoid. With less resources, time and money other studios expect to recreate something which Pixar have got down to a fine art. So instead of jumping on the bandwagon, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs goes against the grain and comes up with something completely unique. And that is a true recipe for success.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Oh, Gavin and Stacey's back on. Tidy.

The third and final series of Gavin and Stacey started this week, and it did not disappoint.

The first episode was full of ridiculously funny and embarrassingly familiar moments that make the series such a joy to watch. It may be regarded as fluffy and sentimental, and it might not be as racey as say Channel 4's experimental stuff, but who cares. It's well written, funny and full of odd but lovable characters.

Although the title suggests that Gavin and Stacey are the main characters in the sitcom, they're the least interesting. There's no 'Will they? Wont they?' keeping you hooked with these two and even when they break-up you always know a reconciliation is on the cards. For me, the real stars of the show are the proriferal characters. Characters like Bryn (Rob Brydon), Pam (Alison Steadman) and Doris (Margaret John) who aren't always central to the storyline, but certainly steal the show.

But don't take my word for it. If you missed it you can catch-up by watching on iplayer.

And here's a little taster to get you in the mood.

By far the funniest moment of this week's episode:

The new series of Gavin and Stacey is on Thursdays at 9pm on BBC1.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Just when you think British TV couldn't get more cringe-worthy.

Shirley, Shirley, Shirley.

Ahem, Dame Shirley that is.

There I was sat watching Children in Need Charity Concert, (you know that charity TV event that people switch off when they realise it's not Comic Relief, it's that other s*** one) and who should come on stage but Shirley Bassey.

Great, I thought. Looking forward to a bit of Goldfinger, maybe some Diamonds are Forever. And sure enough she starts singing Diamonds. So naturally I start singing along doing my best Shirley. And I gets to thinking, wouldn't it be great if Kanye made a guest appearance and performs the popular remix with her right honorable self.

No, don't be silly, not for Children in Need. Comic Relief would be able to make it happen, but let's not build ourselves up for disappointment. And then who should enter stage left. No surely not, it can't be, it is...

No it isn't.

It's Dizzee Rascal, probably the UK's equivalent of Kanye West. A depressing fact in itself. And did no-one think to tell him, 'erm Mr Rascal, I think this has done before...' And it actually sounded good, and had a point.

And just when you think it couldn't get any worse, The Dame starts cutting a rug. And not in a Madonna 'hey, she's still got it' way. But in a 'oh god gran's worked out the combination key code for the drinks cabinet,' sort of way.

Do my eyes deceive me, is that man playing the violin having a good old giggle. Yes he is. And who can blame him. I know I am.

Then Snow Patrol come on to the stage and introduce their duet, saying something along the lines of 'We've got a very special guest here tonight, you've already heard her sing tonight,' so you think okay the dame's back for round two.

So I pick up the phone.

Quite impressive really, after only just being on stage.

And then I memorise the number.

But you think, well she's a pro, naturally she'd be asked back for more.

Credit Card at the ready.

'Ladies and Gentlemen... Cheryl Cole.'

Maybe I'll ring later.

And just in case you missed, watch Dame Shirley and Dizzee getting on the good foot and doing the bad thing... well not exactly but you get what I mean.

The footage is actually from someone in the audience, so you can't see the violinist.. so if you're curious I suggest watching this clip whilst looking in a mirror. Imagine you have a violin and that's pretty much what he looks like.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

You Can't Stop the Beat

Something occurred to me. No actually a few things occurred to me whilst I was stood in the kitchen, cooking, washing up, hanging out the washing and singing along to my favourite songs from the motion picture soundtrack to hairspray:

1)Women are good at multi-tasking.
1a)Men probably are but have never thought to try
1b)For some reason, I'm in a very sexist mood.

2)Germaine Greer would be disappointed at my domesticity.

3)Snow White is probably rolling in her grave at the sight of me.

4)You can't please anyone most of the time.

And most importantly

5)World leaders and people on suicide watch should be made to watch musicals, Thus bringing about world peace and showing people who are at the end of their tether that a good old song and dance will probably make things better... Unless you're watching Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. Don't do it.

In other news, I have decided that with no musical experience whatsoever and a disregard for rhythm, I, Christiana Brockbank vow that I will one day write a feature film of the musical genre. It may not be The Wizard of Oz, it may not even be the horror hybrid that is Grease, but it will be mine. And on the off chance it is bearable, I can die happy. And even if it's not, at least I will have made them laugh....

I'll leave you with a very memorable moment from Singin' in the Rain. Should be 'Make Em Laugh,' but this bit's even better. Just watch those feet go.

Take it away boys...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

I'm a COD widow: facebook group

No this is not a group for women who have lost their loved ones through deep sea fishing.

Although it's actually just as tragic.

The hi-larious term COD widow has been adopted by women suffering through their other half's obsession to with the new Call of Duty game Modern Warfare 2.

Why not just cut to the chase and become a COD divorcee. It's much more realistic.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Merry November!

Well it's that time of the year again. Every single shop in town is desperate to tell you how disorganised you are and how Christmas is just around the corner. The Christmas lights are up and everyone keeps saying 'hasn't this year gone quick.'

Well it's not over yet actually and I'm determined not to get too stressed/excited just yet. And here's why..

Because it ruins it.

Every year I go with the flow, starting conversations with people in shops about how I cant believe there's only just over a month to go. Then I start panicking about buying just the right presents for everyone. And then I decide it's not too early to watch Muppet's Christmas carol just to make sure I reach my quota of watching it at least 4 times before the big day.

And at this very moment I'm watching the over-long Christmas M&S advert with more toffee-nosed celebs than you can shake your zimmerframe at. It's a desperate attempt to make you think that you're not good enough to shop there, but if you do you will be. Sadly it works. Mince pies taste so much better when endorsed by Stephen Fry sprouting cheesy innuendo (Perhaps he should see a doctor about that).

It's all a vicious cycle really until you get to about the week before Christmas and decide that you really wish it was all over and done with. So then you have to go through it with gritted teeth when you'd really just rather curl up into a ball until the whole ordeal is over and done with. This happens without fail every year but this time I'm going to learn from my mistakes.

But it didn't used to be like this. Adulthood has taken a good intentioned celebration and turned it into a marketing strategy that makes everyone feel like crap.

Remember when you were little and you just used to sit there being fed an alternating diet of chocolate and turkey until the occassional present was thrown at you. The year I got a bike was particularly memorable for that reason.

Everywhere shops and advertisements are trying to get you to panic about every little last detail, stuff that makes you forget the most important part about Christmas.

No not baby Jesus (he's had enough wild parties to last him an eternity).


with family and friends and maybe some new people too. Because nobody cares if you forget to buy the stuffing, little timmy really doesn't need another selection box, and that person you got for secret santa doesn't really care what you get them. Just relax and enjoy November, It's such a neglected month.

Friday, 13 November 2009


I wonder. Has anyone made a program that does a little 'ping' in the style of an old fashioned type writer when you write a certain amount of words on the computer? I don't know if it's just me but there's definitely something about that little 'ping' that you get after a completed sentence on the typewriter that I find really satisfying. It's a little bit like the typewriter's saying,

'Oh well done you, that one was tough but you made it. Why not write

Oh ok then, I think I might. Thanks typewriter, you're my bestest friend.

I think I may have just cured writer's block for the 21st Century. 'Ping!'

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Room 101

In life, don't you find there are certain phrases and words that irritate you so much you want to throw a large text edition of the urban dictionary at the perpetrator of these crimes against the English Language?

No, well you're obviously the moron sprouting all these empty sentiments.

Shame on you!

There will therefore be a ban on certain words and phrases on this blog. This list is not exhaustive and will get bigger.

Suggestions welcome to the Room 101 of English Language:

(unless actually referring to the true definition of the word i.e. Something which gives one a sense of awe.)

Possibly the wankiest of terms, neither making you want to chill or relax. Just punch someone in the face.

Good times/Bad times
Popularised by Justin Collins and used every tom, dick and harry with really nothing better to add to the conversation. In short hand, verbal diarrhoea.

If you're 15, American, blonde and just walked off the set of Wild Child the use of this term is vaguely acceptable. BUT only because its expected, all the rest of you should know better.

Originally the title of Attila the, this word has been adopted as the shortened version of the affectionate term honey. Always to be spoken in a sickly, patronising tone. Reason for spelling is not clear, may be linked to evaporation of gene pools.

Another annoying phrase from another annoying television star. This time Seth Cohen from The O.C helped get this gem into the urban dictionary. User's beware, if it sounded geeky when he said it, just imagine what it sound's like when you say it.

Is the world really that we need to use acronyms for phrases that you don't really need in the first place. I'm almost tempted to say it's Redonkulous, but I won't.

I could really go on forever, its surprising how many stupid things people say, but I'm bored now.

So FYI hun, I'm gonna chillax for a bit. You guys have been awesome, OMG! Good times

See that's what you sound like.

Hurrah she speaks!

Well here it is, the first blog entry from yours truly. Eagerly awaited it may not be, but definitely outrageous in content. Alright, maybe not. But you don't have to go just yet do you? Take a look around, there's not much here yet but I'm pretty sure there's going to be some pretty amazing posts. Some might even call them life-changing. Some might liken them to the works of great authors and poets. Some might be heavily medicated. But hey, an audience is an audience! Let the games begin.