Tag Archives: Christmas

The Radio Times IS Christmas

You can forget your John Lewis adverts, your X Factor and Strictly closing stages, even the Boots catalogue with its multitude of 3 for 2s, the sign that Christmas is almost upon us is simple – the double issue of the  Radio Times.

TV Quick and the free pullout in The Daily Mail are merely pretenders to the TV listings throne.

It’s the one issue of the year that I’m certain to buy, even in this scrolling, series linked day and age there is nothing quite like sitting down with the weighty issue, a cuppa and a highlighter.

When I was at Uni it always caused a bit I an issue as the regional variations – which always seemed to be far more significant than they are these days – were o no use whatsoever when I got back to my mum and dads. It never diminished the joy of circling or putting a line or question mark against programming though.

You know that you won’t end up recording or even watching most of the items that you strike off, but that almost isn’t the point, it’s just fun going through spotting old favourites and seeing what film big guns the channels are unleashing on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

We’ve probably all seen them umpteen times, or even own them, but  for some reason it matters not, seeing them introduced preceded by a spinning globe etc with those words “and now on BBC One…” just adds something special.

Of course ‘back in the day’ it used to mean buying both the Radio Times and TV Times and cross referencing everything, not to mention whether it was going to be recorded on the front or back of a video tape and did I have enough space on tapes before getting a new pack of E240s on Christmas morning?

Unwrapping new VHS tapes was also a joy, not only did they have an almost impenetrable outer layer but then each tape was also individually wrapped – it was one extreme to another though so was either that or you’d try taping on a tape that had its tab removed (shock horror, quick somebody find some Sellotape!)

If you’ve still got any old VHS knocking about then invariably you’ll have the tail end of the previous programme, listings for the rest if the evening/following day (“and with Jim Davidson’s Big Break at 615, that’s your Saturday night entertainment on BBC One”) or John Ketley giving you a late weather update.

Back to the Radio Times, it hasn’t changed that much and there’s still the traditional how many pages of holidays are there remark annoyingly smack bang in the middle of the listings for Christmas Day.

Like any good and regularly leafed through edition its cover will perish and become detached well before the fortnight is out from being thrown across the room, shoved down the side of the sofa and having numerous drink tested and splashed over it…but most of all it will be loved as much this year as it was the last.

Previously on Christmas Day…

Such a lot can happen in a year, it doesn’t really seem five minutes since last Christmas, that’s Christmas 2013 and not the Wham song you understand.

They’ve remained under a tarpaulin for a year to the day almost, but here are Isabelle’s  first really rather excited moments from Christmas 2013 with a really rather successful hoodwink of how Father Christmas made it in despite no fireplace.

Clearly Saturday evenings watching Beadle’s About weren’t a complete waste of time.

S-Now that’s what I call music: The Snowman and the Snowdog

Ever since seeing The Snowman and the Snowdog last Christmas Eve I’ve fallen in love with the mesmerising score and music by Ilan Eshkeri and Andy Burrows.

It was like Christmas come early then when I saw the score and songs for sale.

At the earliest opportunity it ended up in the CD player and whilst Isabelle was happily dancing round to it, something magical happened.

Sure, she’d watched it a gazillion times at the beginning of last year but hadn’t seen it this year yet, but as soon as the score started Isabelle was able to pinpoint the action that was happening that very moment just from hearing the score on its own.

Daddy, now they are in plane, now they are in the sleigh and the Snowdog has weed on the floor – referring to the scene where it lays in front of the fire and starts to melt.

Isabelle ended the session listening to the single version of ‘Light the Night’, the bit in the animation where The Snowman, the Snowdog and the little boy take flight, which saw Iz soaring round the living room thanks to me carrying her round…no doubt we’ll be taking to the sky again this evening.

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The Snowman and the Snowdog

The-Snowman-and-The-Snowdog[1]It took over a year to make and included over 200,000 sheets of paper, with each cel painstakingly hand drawn, and is the sequel to a Christmas favourite, but does The Snowman and the Snowdog bark up the right tree?

The short answer is happily a yes. The original version of The Snowman, based on the Raymond Briggs classic book, is part of our Christmas DNA. It’s up there with Bond, Eric and Ernie and Del Boy as a Christmas perennial.

We know each beat, each pencil stroke almost, and still take that small leap with the boy and the Snowman when they leave the confines of the garden to those, quite literally, soaring chords.

The Snowman and the SnowdogIt’s a relationship we’ve had for 30 years so to return to something so well-known and so beloved was always going to be a challenge, at least you can’t call it a quick cash-in! Now, there is a new Snowman on the block…one Snowman and his Snowdog to be precise.

As much as The Snowman was part of my childhood, I was seven when it was first broadcast, I’m hoping this new Snowman will be as much a part of Isabelle’s.

Like most sequels it is bigger in scope, rather than flying over Brighton and the surrounding area, this time we have London and the OXO Tower, Big Ben and the London Eye.

pagebanner_dog[1]The moving sketchy pencil drawn backgrounds had an air of welcome familiarity about them as soon as it started, almost as if CGI had never happened. It was almost like a time machine and it was nice to have that look and retro feel of the original that allowed us to believe that the tale unfolding before us inhabited the same universe as the original.

Like the original it wasn’t without its heartache. I knew as soon as I saw the old dog lifted from the moving lorry coupled with lingering shots that we would soon be saying farewell to it in the back garden. I’m not sure what young kids made of this but being a dog owner this was harrowing enough for me on Christmas Eve (it was also repeated on Christmas Day).

After having moved into the house a young boy finds the original Snowman’s hat and scarf under the floorboards, passing on the baton to the next generation. Soon enough it is snowing and we find ourselves at the snowman building scene where we first meet the two characters of the title.

snowman[1]2012 may have been the Chinese year of the Dragon but when it came to film and TV it was certainly the year of the dog with Uggie at the Oscars and BAFTAs after his star turn in The Artist, Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent and now, the Snowdog, prestigious cover star of the Christmas Radio Times no less (AKA the Christmas Bible).

Who could not help but fall in love with him and his ears made of socks. Nevermind flying through the air, he’ll be flying off shelves when his soft toy version arrives (and yes, I have been looking). It isn’t here yet but the question ‘where can I buy a Snowdog’ was ranking high on a Google search.

And, yes, as in the original it was exhilarating to see all three characters take flight. For me this is the stand out moment of the film and the animation is perfect, it gets me everytime. You can see the ‘take off’ moment here in the trailer.

Of course ‘Walking in the Air’ has become synonymous with the original flight sequence, it almost a character in its own right. The original was recorded by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty and not Aled Jones, that was later for a Gas advert.

To try and emulate it (as they did of sorts with a young Charlotte Church with the animation of another Raymond Briggs piece, The Bear) would be wrong but they had to get it right as in the original that is the signature moment of the whole film.

For me, what accompanied The Snowman and the Snowdog taking flight captured the whole sequence perfectly. ‘Light the Night’ by former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows is an instant classic and I don’t quite know what it is but I have to compose myself when hearing it or seeing that sequence to hold my emotions in check. I’ve found myself taking in a sharp breath several times when it starts, with its tinkling introduction, as it’s just so full of a whole myriad of feeling and rather melancholy. It just all  fits and captures the moment wonderfully with an ever-building crescendo and leaves it, deservedly, racing round your head.

Bringing back some traditional Christmas spirit in the music, to both ‘Light the Night’ and the rest of the film’s music is composer Ilan Eshkeri, who did an equally amazing string-heavy score for Stardust, both fantasies of course, and the score for this very much emulates that in its epic and soaring feel.

The original was nominated for an Oscar, the sequel may have been too light to gain anomination this year, but Academy Award nod or not it is already a winner in the eyes of my two-year old daughter. She must have seen it about ten times already and it was the very first thing she asked for after being away for New Year, the first think we did was ‘K’ it on our Sky +, deleting it in error at our peril!

The Snowman and the Snowdog has certainly melted this little girl’s heart, and her mum and dad’s along with it too. I think secretly we are quite pleased when she says she wants to watch it again.

Of course, like the original, there has to be a somewhat downbeat ending (I won’t give it away for anyone that hasn’t seen it yet) but perhaps the saddest ending of all is the dedication in the credits to Producer, John Coates. He Produced the original and was instrumental in getting The Snowman and the Snowdog (quite literally) off the ground but sadly passed away before completion.

His legacy will live on each and every Christmas though…or throughout the whole year in our house if Isabelle continues watching it at her current rate of knots..

xmas12640[1]For me The Snowman and the Snowdog echoes the original whilst leaving its own set of paw prints to produce a successful and pleasing continuation of a classic. Isabelle was transfixed by it and it really filled her with a sense of awe and wonder. It was nice to have something new yet felt traditional at the same time. It’s an instant Christmas classic.

The Goat of Christmas Present

Some people go to Blackpool to see the lights, we ventured to Summerhill Garden centre near Basildon, Essex.

Being Essex, as you can imagine there was plenty of Christmas bling, including an upside down Christmas tree of all things! With it being a merry blingmas of sorts that also meant the yuletide nod to The Only Way Is Essex with, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, TOWIE ‘inspired’ baubles with the words reem, vajazzle and wellgel inscribed on them.

There was also in indoor water fountain section which just reminded of the end of Gremlins, so I guess with that being set at Christmas it just made it all the more festive in my filmic eyes.

We also encountered a menagerie of wire frame, illuminated and sparkling figures (sounds like TOWIE again doesn’t it) from Father Christmas, a snowman and Christmas deer – insert your own joke about it getting more expensive every year here.

Isabelle loved the white deer, especially as there were baby ones as well, so she didn’t need any persuading to gently pet and stroke them…the only problem was that she thought they were goats.

The caused much merriment with the surrounding public as Iz was stood pointing at the ‘Christmas goats’ and shouting goats at the top of her lungs.

 

Gremlins

To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in a Time Machine

It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 8o’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness and evococativeness.

The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Wallas are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical and scary in equal measure.

It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future again in many respects, remember when that happened?

Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

Tis the season to be jolly…scary: On the Feast of Stephen

Over the next four nights I’ll be presenting four self-penned Christmas ghost stories that hopefully owe more to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents rather than Christmas presents.

Our first tale of seasonal chills sees a man who discovers the hard way that a dog is for life, not just for Christmas…

On the Feast of Stephen

Steve hated Christmas. He hated everything about it. In fact he went out of his way to make it as horrible an experience as he could for as many people. His only pleasure was other people’s misery.

He knew that people loved their animals, so every year on the run up to Christmas Steve would go round trapping and hiding other people’s cats and dogs in his cellar and then enjoy hearing the distraught owners travel out in all weathers to try and find them, but they never did…and this year would be no different.

This had gone on for years and whenever people came prying or asking too many questions he would simply pack up his few belongings and move on. It wasn’t a problem as there was only himself to worry about and no one ever noticed him when he was there so they would miss him even less when he was gone.

This year he had done himself proud and managed smash his own ‘previous best’. His haul this year though had been gained at considerable risk as normally he would pick up cats and dogs from the street or tied up outside shops, but this year for the first time he had broken into backyards and garden sheds.

There was no doubt that he would have to move before next Christmas as such daring raids had undoubtedly aroused suspicion, but he knew that no one could touch him. He even used to joke to himself that even the police had no leads, when in fact often that was all that often remained of people’s canine companions.

Still, just to be on the safe side Steve had joined hordes of locals on searches of the local area such as woods, streams and the local quarry. He had even helped fly poster the usual local shop windows and lampposts.

Steve always ensured that he kept one of the photocopied ‘missing’ photos that he would neatly put into a ring binder file, alphabetically in the name of the pet of course, so he would always have a memento.

And to think that his teacher had always told him that he would amount to nothing and he would never make a difference to people’s lives. Well this would show his English teacher, Mr Orsett, this would show all of them. Indeed, all those years ago Mr Orsett’s cat, Bilbo, a beautiful tortoiseshell, had been his very first ‘prize’ and from then he had never looked back.

The ‘booty’ Steve had collected was plentiful and varied as he laid claim to the usual menagerie as well as rabbits and even a ferret! Time for celebration indeed as Steve purchased the largest turkey that money could buy.

Come Christmas Day, Steve, complete with crumpled paper crown from a cracker, ate like a King and gorged himself. He ensured that no morsels were tossed to the animals below. If he heard their cries and whimpers then he would just turn up the volume of the tirade of festive repeats on television to drown it out.

As usual Steve fell asleep in a drunken stupor in the chair. As he slept he felt something suspiciously like a cat brush against his leg. Can’t be, he thought, as he knew the door to the cellar was firmly bolted. Then he felt his hand licked by something that felt like the tongue of a dog. He woke with a start and peered round the darkened room, lit only by the flicker of the television…nothing.

He drifted back into sleep. Again he felt something against him, this time he heard the noise of padded feet on the floor. It sounded like a small dog, a Jack Russell he thought. He rose from his slumber as he remembered that he had not “kept” a Russell for at least a couple of years. Suddenly he felt the clenching of teeth against his naked hand. The wound burned as the Jack Russell hung on for dear life.

As Steve whirled round in pain he sent empty beer cans flying in all directions. He stopped momentarily as he noticed that the entire room was full with rag-tag dogs and cats, dogs and cats that he had thought he had long seen the back of, dogs and cats that had come for some justice. Stood at the front leading the army of quadrupeds was a tortoiseshell cat, its fur stood on end, claws drawn for attack and eyes wild with revenge. It let out a migraine-inducing hiss that penetrated every bone of Steve’s body.

Finally he managed to prize the Russell from his hand, along with half of his skin, and retreated back to the only safe haven that he could find, the cellar door. He hadn’t heard any noises down there for a while so knew he would be safe. As the animals crept slowly forward, Steve finally managed to flee into his dark, dank place of sanctuary.

He stood at the other side of the door until the noise of clawing and whining ceased. Through a crack in the door he could see that the living room was now empty. Steve chuckled to himself as he knew those animals wouldn’t be getting out no matter whether they were upstairs or down below in the cellar. There was no food left as he had eaten it all just as his beloved mother had taught him to.

Satisfied that the coast was now clear Steve went to open the door and when he found those ‘vermin’ he would start pulling fur as any normal person would pull crackers. He’d be ready for them as was something he had been looking forward to all day, feeling somewhat rejuvenated after his Christmas Day snooze.

Steve yanked at the door but it would not budge. He hammered at the heavy wooden panels until his hands bled. Whether it was the noise he was making or the smell of blood from his self-inflicted wounds that had roused them he wasn’t sure, but roused them he had, there was no doubt of that. Steve heard several large growls and hisses. These noises were not the ghosts of pets past but the very real and very hungry ones of those of Christmas present.

The other side of the door Bilbo the cat curled up by the door and purred contently. The purring increased in intensity and Steve held has head as it shook his very brain. Holding his head he moved back from the door and stumbled backwards landing awkwardly. He felt something snap as he fell.

Steve fell from the steps right in front of the dozen or so dogs and cats, even the rabbit and ferret were there for the ensuing fun. The huge German Shepherd was the first to investigate but certainly not the last to enjoy the feast of Stephen.