Sunday afternoons were so boring when I was a kid it was positively life threatening. With shops shut and only three channels on television it seemed like the whole world ground to a halt at the end of each week. There wasn’t much to keep us amused except the post Sunday roast, Brussels sprout induced farting session from Dad, asleep in his armchair. It didn’t get much better in the evening when television for those nearer to death kicked in. Songs of Praise and The Antiques Roadshow were a shitty way to end the week for a ten year old boy, their dread inducing theme tunes reminding me that school was now only a few hours away. Thank the Lord then for the Sunday afternoon movie. For the uninitiated, a Sunday afternoon movie has to be a jack of all trades. It has to have action for the boys, love interest for the girls, plotline and humour for the men, hunky actors for the women. It has to be family friendly with a sprinkling of the risqué. It has to be easily watchable, timeless in quality and not too overlong so that Mum isn’t late in preparing Sunday tea. These days I rather suspect that the concept of everyone sat around the telly on a Sunday afternoon to watch a film has been lost. There’s Homebase to visit, internet fluff to download, online gaming to attend to, trips to the gym, the weekly shop and so on and so forth. For all my moans about Sunday’s being boring when I was a nipper, in growing years I miss the time when the country slowed down for a day and put its feet up with a buttered crumpet and another viewing of The Great Escape
. Come back Thora Hird, all is forgiven.
- THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
The perfect Sunday afternoon movie really is an unsung genius. It has to entertain the kids without scaring or boring them, whilst sneaking in enough mature material to ensure Mum and Dad don’t nod off. To be able to pull off this double trick is an accomplishment of rare movie making brilliance. Inspired filmmakers would do well to cast their inspiration nets back seventy two years to Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). Based on Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Fleming’s movie wasn’t the first film adaptation, a silent era version arriving way back in 1910. Fleming’s version was a landmark though, the first mainstream movie to offer all round entertainment for all ages. It took more than just Fleming’s hands to bring Baum’s fantasy tale to life. To start with EY Harburg and Harold Arlen had to throw in their fantastic musical accompaniment, all time classic songs including "Over The Rainbow” (which came close to being edited out of the film by meddling studio execs) and "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”. Then there was the impressive use of Technicolour, a marvel at the time, employed masterfully to signify Dorothy’s transition from dreary Kansas to the stupendous Oz. A number of other directors had an uncredited hand in the shoot, whilst all manner of contributors helped with translating Baum’s story into a workable script. Then there are the timeless performances of the cast, Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley. The bright characters will keep the wee ones amused, while the darker undertones (winged monkeys, melting witches) ensure the journey is enthralling for adults as well. An even more sinister sequel based on Baum’s second and third Oz books, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, was made by Walter Murch in 1985 entitled Return To Oz (1985). It set the record for the longest period of time between a film and its sequel at forty six years.
Tasty Morsel – If you fancy turning Fleming’s picture more mysterious still, try pairing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon with it. The album is said to run in parallel with the film when both are started simultaneously. Fans call the phenomena Dark Side Of The Rainbow.
- JAMES BOND (1962 TO PRESENT)
"Dear Points of View, last Sunday I was dismayed to see on my TV screen scenes of verbal and physical abuse, female nudity both north and south of the border, cold blooded murder, and …oh wait, it was only Bond”. There’s nothing like a 007 movie for slipping some filth and debauchery past the Great British public. Whilst many folks re-tune in to Radio 2 just to be offended by something they were told would offend them, the Mary Whitehouse crowd wouldn’t dare say anything negative about our James. And you can’t really blame them; the British super spy is truly the end-of-a-leg. For twenty three films now the man has provided cinematic viewing that satisfies all comers. The ladies have their debonair hero to lust after, the lads have the pre-credit sequence with barely concealed bush. And everyone enjoys the scenes of high action and the cheeky Carry On-esque humour. Bond's world has changed significantly since his first outing in 1962; world conflicts have come and gone, and the technology used to fight them has changed immeasureably. It raises questions over how Dr.No (1962) and Skyfall (2012) can inhabit the same universe. The latest theory is that "James Bond" isn't one man but a codename assigned to different MI6 agents over time; hence the ever changing face of "Bond". Everyone has their favourite though and its the suave Sir Roger Moore for me every time. The man they call "The Eyebrow” was always the underdog when it came to debating the best Bond, but that only made me love him more. His series of Bonds had the perfect blend of action, story and humour, my personal faves remaining Live and Let Die (1973) for its blaxploitation overtones, and A View To A Kill (1985) for reasons I can’t explain. But whatever your favourite Bond, Bond girl, theme tune, gadget, action sequence, or setting you can’t go wrong with plumping for any of the 007 outings for a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the TV.
Tasty Morsel – Of the many actors in the running to wield the Walter PPK those that came closest at the various times of recasting include Sam Neill, James Brolin, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Colin Farrell, Adam West, Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds, Richard Burton, Jeremy Brett, Christopher Lambert and Clive Owen.
- THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
No Easter Sunday, or just about any other Sunday for that matter, would be complete without at least five showings of The Great Escape (1963) on BBC One and Two. Its a statutory obligation that the film be shown at least once a month on terrestrial television, set down in "ye olde English lore” long before John Logie Baird set to work. But if the Beeb are going to clog up our schedules with endless repeats they may as well choose a classic, and they don’t come anymore revered than this John Sturges directed boys-own yarn. The basis for the film was the autobiographical book of the same name by Paul Brickhill that told of the large scale escape from the German prison Stalag Luft III during World War II. To tell this inspiring tale of daring-do Sturges grabbed a large net and scoured the studios of Hollywood scooping up as many great names as he could find. The pile of bodies that was eventually dumped on set included Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Donald Pleasence. Rarely has there been such an impressive collection of manly acting talent. Couple this with a script that turned nearly every scene into a stand-alone classic (the McQueen motorcycle jump, the tunnel digging, the train confrontation) and an Elmer Bernstein theme tune that became the unofficial English national anthem, and the end result was a film of nigh-on untouchable perfection. Lest we forget we are watching a film about the horrors of World War II the conclusion includes a chilling firing squad end for some of our heroes.
Tasty Morsel – A made for TV sequel was released in 1988 entitled The Great Escape II: The Untold Story, starring Christopher Reeve. Donald Pleasence also returned but was this time on the side of the Germans playing a nasty SS officer.
- THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
If you’ve never had the aural pleasure of the Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band’s rendition of The Sound of Music, check it out. You’ll never watch the film in the same light again. For me it makes a family friendly viewing experience enjoyable, and Sunday afternoons are always about compromise. You might want to cosy up in front of Manhunter (1986) but that’s not going to go down well with the kids. You’ll have to pick something more universal and just hope that next time a film for the family has to be picked they will remember your small act of concession. Julie Andrews is a tasty sort, in an older girl-next-door kind of way so you could do a lot worse than picking Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965). For god sake don’t plump for Mary Poppins (1964); Dick Van Dyke’s faux London accent has been known to drive many a family man to homicide. The Sound of Music (1965) is wonderfully shot, has some classic tunes and even a dark undercurrent of Nazi entanglement. You’ll have a heart of stone if you aren’t humming and weeping over the final "So Long, Farewell”. Based on the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein stage musical the film really does live and die by its epic musical numbers. From the opening "The hills are alive…”, to the thoroughly impressive "Do-Re-Mi” performance and enchanting "Edelweiss” its hard not to be enthralled by the many iconic renditions. But before you get all doe-eyed remember that the musical was itself based on the 1949 memoir The Story Of The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta von Trapp. The memoir was adapted in 1956 by a West German film company who tried to portray a realistic version of the Trapp story. Native Germans and Austrians were not particular impressed by how Wise depicted the occupation of Austria and to this day the film remains unpopular with some.
Tasty Morsel – Despite massive popularity at the box office, critics were unimpressed by the film, with infamous reviewer Pauline Kael particularly unmoved, calling the movie "the sugar-coated lie people seem to want to eat”.
- ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (1975)
Before computer games dried up every adolescent boy’s imagination most pre-teen lads would go through various stages of interests. One of my youthful dalliances was with dinosaurs and anything to do with their sand soaked skeletal remains. But when it came to the movies there wasn’t much decent dinosaur based fun to be had. Spielberg had yet to thrill us with Jurassic Park (1993) and Raptor (2001) was a distant direct-to-video twinkle in Roger Corman’s eye. Thank goodness then for Robert Stevenson's nugget of joy One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975). Its sole dinosaur representative might have been a bit on the anaemic side but the film it was in was a classic. Based on the 1970 David Forrest novel The Great Dinosaur Robbery the film tells the tale of a special microfilm smuggled out of China and hidden in the skeleton of an Apatosaurus in London’s Natural History museum. We tail a dastardly group of Chinese spies battling with a band of elderly English ladies to retrieve the film. While the original novel was written with a more adult audience in mind, set in shady New York rather than the Big Smoke, Stevenson’s movie ditches all earnestness and splashes gleefully in the absurdities of its plotline. The climax sees the massive dinosaur skeleton that holds the film stolen from the museum and carted around our capital in one of cinemas most unlikely but heart-warming chase scenes. Think massive skeleton on wheels hurtling around misty London back alleys being pursued by the most far-fetched group of thieves imaginable. It is this hair raising finale coupled with some expect performances from some of Hollywood’s old guard, most notably Peter Ustinov, that make the film the perfect example of entertaining family fare (racial stereotypes aside) that will engross every member of the audience from eight to eighty.
Tasty Morsel – Keep an eye out for a number of Carry On cast members popping up in small roles, including Bernard Bresslaw, Jon Pertwee, Joan Sims and Amanda Barrie.
- BEETLEJUICE (1988)
There was a twelve month period at the end of the eighties when actor Michael Keaton had the world at his feet. Having wowed the critics in Clean and Sober (1988) and captivated audiences with Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) he landed the role of a lifetime as the titular hero in Burton’s Batman (1989). It should have been the part that catapulted him to superstardom. Instead, thanks to a poor script that gave Batman short shrift, Keaton’s Bruce Wayne struggled to step out of Jack Nicholson’s colossal Joker shaped shadow. Batman Returns (1992) aside, Keaton spent most of the nineties filling small parts in smaller films, until Quentin Tarantino finally put his acting talent to good use in Jackie Brown (1997). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There was a reason most people had Keaton pegged for the big time after Beetlejuice; he was damn good in it. As the titular "Betelgeuse” the actor crafted a performance that showed him to be Johnny Depp long before the goateed performer had heard of Scissorhands or Sparrow. Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin play a pair of deceased newlyweds trying to protect their idyllic home from an obnoxious family who are trying to move in. To help them scare the new residents into leaving the couple seek the aid of fellow spirit and "bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse. But Betel has plans of his own. Despite Keaton’s usually restrained on screen persona, his Betelgeuse is a manic tour de force. And although he is the villain of the piece his colourful antics are the reason to give the film a viewing, "I’ve seen The Exorcist about a hundred and sixty seven times and it keeps getting funnier every single time I see it!”. Burton’s unique visual and comedic sensibilities that we have all come to know so well got their first mainstream airing and his first big hit remains as refreshing today as it was in 1988. Gruesome fun for all the family.
Tasty Morsel – Burton originally wanted his childhood hero Sammy Davis Jnr. to play the title role, but the studios vetoed his choice.
- BIG (1988)
There are some people in life that are just born nice. Murray Walker, Dave Grohl, Mary Berry, Gandhi, these folks are built out of lovely and wouldn’t know what a mean sentiment was if it crawled up behind them and cracked them over the head with an iron bar. If these darlings ever formed some sort of World Congeniality Council there would only be one choice for chief, Hollywood’s most delightful performer, Sir Tom of Hanks. Being that it is a physical impossibility to feel any ill-will towards Hanks he was the perfect choice to play Josh Baskin, a thirteen year old boy who thanks to a fairground fortune telling machine is transposed into the body of a thirty year old man in Penny Marshall’s Big (1988). It’s a premise you might approach with caution, a grown actor lolloping around pretending to be a stroppy teen. But Hanks does a brilliant job of filling the shoes of the adult Josh. Thanks to his keen eye for a great toy (and that performance on the giant floor piano), Baskin lands a job at a large toy corporation advising the company owner Robert Loggia of the best products to stick on the market. Baskin has his best friend Billy for company, once he convinces him that he really is a child in an adult’s body, but Josh soon comes to like his new adult surroundings. Billy and Josh’s distraught mother take a back sit, while amorous co-worker Susan (Elisabeth Perkins) becomes the focus of Josh’s attention. It is this uncomfortable coupling that adds a slight frisson to proceedings, and raises some dubious questions that the film tip-toes awkwardly around. This is, in essence, a twenty-seven year old woman romantically pursuing a thirteen year old boy. But the dangers of straying into paedophilic territory are carefully avoided and the films heart remains warm right up until the concluding return to the status quo. The movie launched its own small sub-genre of body-swap movies, 18 Again! (1988), Vice Versa (1988), Freaky Friday (2003), 13 Going On 30 (2004), but none of them touched the charming likeability of Marshall’s movie. Worth seeking out is the 2007 special edition dvd which features the 130 minute extended cut.
Tasty Morsel – In 1996 Big was turned into a Broadway musical, lasting 193 performances from April to October of that year.
- INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
Despite the undoubted quality of Spielberg’s first two Indiana Jones movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), what Harrison Ford’s titular hero was lacking was a sparring partner. Raiders had feisty ex-lover Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), but her bluster was limited to one bar brawl scene. She was replaced in Temple with the chemistry free nightclub singer Wilhelmina Scott (Kate Capshaw) and the annoying Short Round (Jonathon Ke Quan). Fortunately for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) Spielberg surrounded Indy with plenty of appealing sidekicks, and in particular a worthy cohort in Indy’s old man, Henry Jones. Even though he was only twelve years older than Ford, Sean Connery made a perfect Jones Senior and the dialogue between the two actors zipped back and forth. Spielberg matched the tomb ransack opening of Raiders with a swashbuckling intro featuring supposed future Indiana, the late River Phoenix. Many other sparkling moments were dotted throughout the movie, from Indy’s premature demise over a cliff face, to a close call on a Zeppelin, "No ticket!”, and the final challenges to reach the Holy Grail, complete with the trademark melting face demise for the lead bad guy. Indy’s quartet of companions was nicely rounded out by Denholm Elliott’s bumbling Marcus Brody and John Rhys Davies fervent Sallah. It made for a perfect end to the Jones trilogy. That was until 2008 when Spielberg filmed a long rumoured part four, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). The returning characters were developed well (including an Indy / Marion reunion) and embodied all the best Indy elements, right up until the god awful ending when aliens in a flying saucer smashed their way out of the Temple of Akator.
Tasty Morsel – Rumours abound of a fifth instalment in the franchise, with Indy’s son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) supposedly taking more of a central role.
- JURASSIC PARK (1993)
The late writer Michael Crichton had already paddled in the waters of Hollywood success by the late eighties, his novel The Andromeda Strain adapted in 1971 by Robert Wise, and Crichton himself directing his The First Great Train Robbery in 1979. Continuing his style of fact infused writing, whilst working on a television screenplay with director Steven Spielberg (that would later become the hospital drama ER) he hit on the idea of dinosaur cloning and the possibility of creating a future island theme park filled with the recreated beasts. Spielberg’s inbuilt movie gold alarm went into overdrive and a small bidding war kicked off over Crichton’s eventual novel Jurassic Park. Universal Studios eventually cut the writer a house sized cheque to secure the rights for Spielberg, with the film pre-production starting before Crichton’s novel was even published as the director set about recreating the summer blockbuster ideal he had started a couple of decades earlier with his first creature feature Jaws (1975). The result was the true advent of modern cinema, with computers and CGI taking over mainstream movies. What makes Jurassic Park (1993) the perfect Sunday movie, aside from the genius of Crichton's storyline and Spielberg's set-pieces, is the cast of characters. There’s an onscreen equivalent for all the family, a brother, a sister, a Mum, a Dad, a white bearded granddad, and even a weird Uncle Jeff. Each character has their moment of peril and heroism as the classic styled adventure mirrors its plotline drive of the ultimate theme park ride. Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum traded leading man duties as two equally successful sequels followed, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001), the first sequel based on a critically championed sequel novel by Crichton himself. A third sequel was discussed soon after the release of part three, but soon entered the familiar sequel holding pen known as Development Hell. Then in January 2013 Universal confirmed part four would reach cinemas on June 13th 2014, with Colin Trevorrow directing. Story rumours circle the possibility of a complete story reboot.
Tasty Morsel – Harrison Ford turned down the role of Dr. Grant that went to Sam Neill.
- NATIONAL TREASURE (2004)
Serious fare aside (Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)), why is it that Nicholas Cage always looks like he’s taking the piss when he acts? Most of the time it’s very distracting but give the man the right pantomime material and his borderline nod / wink approach can work a treat. Following Raiders of the Lost Ark’s success a stream of behatted and dusty treasure hunters took to the big screen in search of box office treasure, Romancing The Stone (1984), King Soloman’s Mines (1985), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). You can’t really go wrong with any of this crop as the fortune seeking formula is fairly water tight particularly for the Sunday afternoon slot. One of the genres guiltiest pleasures and best vehicles for Cage’s odd acting style is Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure (2004). The Jerry Bruckheimer produced hit has the perfect mix of historical intrigue and action set piece to make it palatable to anyone with half a brain. The plot is a ripe old chestnut, the dubiously named Benjamin Gates (Cage) a master cryptologist quests for the treasure of the Knights Templar hidden somewhere in the United States by the Freemasons. The characters are just as cliché, Sean Bean’s one note Brit villain, Justin Bartha as the supposedly smart but thick as shit sidekick, Diane Kruger as the obligatory love interest, Jon Voight repeating his Tomb Raider absent father routine. But the journey is an undeniably fun one all the same, with Gates managing the unlikely task of bringing American history to life surprisingly well. You’ll be impressing your friends with tit-bits about the Declaration of Independence and the Freemasons for days after.
Tasty Morsel – A worthwhile sequel was released shortly after, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007), with most of the cast returning to track down an underground city of gold.