We’ve all heard, had and grown bored of the Die Hard ‘is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-Christmas-film’ debate, but don’t we all have festive favourites that raise the same question? Here, your Pod Syndicate family share some of their own ‘left-field Christmas movie’ choices.
Ghostbusters II (1989) – Noel, Beyond the Neon
People don’t like Ghostbusters II. And I get it, it’s a much weaker film than its predecessor. It lacks the magic and the chemistry of the first film, the jokes don’t land as well, and the climax is less visually impactful. But one of the things people dislike the most – the attempt do ‘do the same with a bit extra’ – is one of the things that probably endear it to me the most.
From the extra stripes on the Ecto 1 to the Run DMC upgrade of the Ray Parker Jr. single… even the overly confident logo refresh, it’s a film that wants you to get onboard and enjoy yourself. And with a cast of characters it’s such a pleasure to see again on screen, I’m always happy to oblige. It was a movie I was hyped for back in ’89, with a soundtrack cassette I had in heavy rotation well ahead of its arrival. And as I recall, I was as content with it back then as I am today as part of my pre-Christmas rewatches.
What makes it a left-field Christmas choice? Well, as if winter and New York City aren’t enough (which they are), there’s just enough of a whiff of cinnamon and roast chestnuts about it elsewhere to embolden its holiday credentials. The wardrobe choices (Janine’s dress, Dana’s shirt, Winston’s long johns) and interior design (Peter’s apartment, the mayor’s office) are all heavy on the red and green, and if you wanted to read a little deeper, there’s the incessant bickering, group singing and a dancing toaster (which feels like exactly the kind of useless novelty gift you might get at this time of year). Does that make it ‘a Christmas film?’. I dunno, but it does make it a lovely festive feature I’ll never get bored of going back to.
Go (1999) – Adam Lowes
Wedged between his beloved directorial debut Swingers and the first film to unleash Jason Bourne into the cinematic world (The Bourne Identity), Doug Limon’s Go is a fun, knockabout crime caper set during the festive season.
While the film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as other Xmas-tinged cult favourites, the holidays factor heavily in proceedings, particularly with the down on her luck Ronna (played by the great little-seen Sarah Polley). Her supermarket employee character is facing eviction during the worst time of the year, which spurs her on to make a fateful and disastrous decision which pretty much fuels the intertwining plots.
Limon has real fun playing with the Christmas setting, particularly in the early segment of the film as Ronna and her two buddies desperately drive around a grungy, tinsel-strewn LA. Their desperate attempts to sell a bundle of aspirin masquerading as ecstasy see’s them venture to a huge Christmas-themed warehouse rave, which is a lovely visual time capsule of that late nineties, garish-looking neon clubbing style that seems to have been enthusiastically embraced by US teens of that era.
If the Xmas rave isn’t enough to position the film as a left-field Christmas choice, you only need look no further than the sight of a young, sexy Timothy Olyphant as drug dealer Simon – naked from the waist up and wearing a Santa hat – as he switches from menace to seductiveness while dealing with Ronna’s mishandling of his product.
Trancers (1984) – Mike, Chin Stroker VS Punter
There is absolutely no logical or practical reason for Trancers (1984) to be set at Christmas. Schlockmeister Charles Band’s zombies-meet-Terminator rip-off was already a likable oddity, fusing Blade Runner’s grizzled Marlowe-esque sci-fi noir (Tim Thomerson plays the wonderfully named Jack Deth) with a grimy neon-punk aesthetic. But the inexplicable Christmas setting, and the fun it has with the accoutrements of the season, really push it over the top into trash-classic territory.
I remember renting Trancers during the great democratisation of film video rentals ushered in. Low-budget creators like the Full Moon Features would rub shoulders with the more respectable studio releases they emulated. I remember being drawn in by how Trancers smartly (in its own way) and amusingly reused the time-travel conventions of Terminator (villains being sent back ‘down the line’ into bodies of their ancestors, to kill off family members of the ‘present day’ government) as well as how gleefully it plastered on other genre concepts such as the villain’s ability to possess (or trance) people to do his bidding as blotchy-faced Zombies. Then there was Jack Jack Deth’s ability to slow time with a watch. Take that Wachowskis; Trancers was doing bullet time in 1984.
Thanks to the Christmas setting we get to see a shopping-mall Santa transform into a gurgling, murderous zombie and do battle with our trenchcoated hero, while families and children look on in horror (“We’ve got trouble at the North Pole” the mall security radios in as a boy cries “He shot Santa Claus”). We also get a very memorable sequence in a punk club as the band scream and spit their way through Jingle Bells. Helen Hunt, in a very early role, is introduced as working as an elf to the aforementioned zombie mall Santa. The constant reminders of it being Christmas, combined with the urban neon of the films aesthetic almost feel like something out of an early Tom Waits song celebrating the lowlifes and cocktail bars of LA.
So why is Trancers set at Xmas? Beats the hell out of me. It could just as easily not have been, but here’s the thing: a Christmas setting can often elevate films in intangible ways. Batman Returns’ (1992) Christmas setting (it’s final line is Bruce Wayne wishing Alfred a Merry Christmas) just gives the film it a little extra secret (cranberry?) sauce and Trancers, an already memorable film, is made even more so by being given this additional context.
The Last Boy Scout (1991) – Marc, Film Basterds
Let me take you back to the halcyon days of early 90s R-rated cinema, a time when Bruce Willis still cared (and had hair) and having a Wayans Brother in your film didn’t mean it was a comedy only my podcasting life partner Ian Loring would like. It was also a time where Tony Scott was being thrown blank cheques to do whatever – and Shane Black was boxing off buddy action movies with aplomb.
Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) is ex secret service, and now an embittered alcoholic private directive, his wife’s having an affair with his best friend, his kid hates him and he thinks he might have fucked a squirrel to death. Jimmy Dix (Marlon Wayans) is a quarter-back football star, who’s banned from playing football, a drug addict and his girlfriend has just been murdered. Their lives collide as they get punched, kicked, thrown off bridges, blown-up and more trying to uncover the shady dealings of professional sports gambling.
The Last Boy Scout is all the best of everyone involved. Willis has never been better. Sure, Die Hard is an action masterpiece and at its centre is Willis being charismatic in the role that made him, but here he’s playing the other side of the coin. Willis here is broken charisma, with a melancholy to his quips and sarcasm. Marlon Wayans is the movie star he should have continued to be. There’s a power to his range and, with the aid of Tony Scott’s unique framing, lighting and ambiance, he’s allowed to show a depth of emotion you’d never expect now from a Wayans sibling. However the star of the show has to be Shane Black’s script. Honestly, go find it and give it a read, it’s a piece of meta brilliance – poking fun at the opulence that Black’s talent has afforded him.
As an alternative Christmas Movie The Last Boy Scout may not get the attention Willis’s Die Hard gets, or be as much of a cult favourite as Black’s very own Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also set at Christmas), however for me it’s a classic that should have its time. So remember water is wet, the sky is blue and The Last Boy Scout is a bona-fide masterpiece.