There are two schools of thought regarding this American teen comedy, made by the man who also brought us SIXTEEN CANDLES, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, PRETTY IN PINK, UNCLE BUCK, HOME ALONE and BEETHOVEN (the dog, not the famous musician!).

John Hughes was one hell of a film-maker, and, had he not died of a heart attack in 2009, no doubt he’d still be making movies today. He brought fame and fortune to the young actors and actresses of the so-called Brat Pack, chief of whom was his own personal muse, the fabulous Molly Ringwald.

Anyway, to return to those two schools of thought? The first one puts the case that ‘FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF’ is the best ‘Eighties movie ever made, besides THE BREAKFAST CLUB.

They maintain that it’s an utterly joyful, entertaining, enjoyable and escapist romp about an endearingly cheeky teenage boy who dares to do what some teens only ever dream about: cut school a month before graduation and enjoy an hilarious jaunt through downtown Chicago- Hughes’s other muse- with his best friend Cameron Frye and his girlfriend Sloane Petersen, who each have to cut classes as well.

Well, it’s true there are some really good laughs in this film. My son nearly died laughing at the bit where Ferris’s best mate Cameron puts on a funny fake accent to give the mortified Principal Rooney a severe bollocking, and I love the bit where the same Principal watches his student Sloane Petersen tongue-kissing her ‘father’ by his car when he comes to collect her from school on the Big Day Out. The look on Rooney’s face!

‘So, that’s the way it is in that family, eh…?’

Okay, so which of us doesn’t want to ditch school or work or whatever else once in a while to visit an art gallery, blag a freebie meal from a posh restaurant, attend a baseball game and sing Beatles songs from the top of a float to amuse a roaring crowd of German-Americans?

We all feel like that at times, but we have responsibilities to ourselves and others and we can’t just drop everything at the drop of a knicker elastic to go gallivanting. Ferris and his pals, though, they do it all, in a day they’ll never forget.

There’s a second school of thought, however, that views Ferris Bueller as a thoroughly spoiled, selfish little prick who, in fact, is ruining the lives of the people around him. Look what happens to poor Principal Rooney when he tries to catch Ferris out in his blatant truancy and disrespect for his school, his studying and his teachers.

Poor old Ed (Rooney) loses his shoes, destroys his (probably) one good school suit, is humiliated at being conned by a student (Ferris!), gets high-kicked in the face by his student’s sister, is accused of housebreaking at the Buellers’ house, gets a dressing-down from another student (Ferris’s pal Cameron!) posing as a parent and is mauled by the Bueller’s vicious dog. Bit of a pattern developing here, much…?

Rooney is the Principal Seymour Skinner to Matthew Broderick’s Bart Simpson. Rooney is the determined ‘non-giving-up school guy’ who just keeps getting thwarted by the deviant mind of a schoolboy. He’ll be in therapy for this for years to come, you mark my words, and the name ‘Ferris Bueller’ will remain a terrible trigger for him forever…

And what about poor Cameron Frye, Ferris’s bezzie mate? Ferris is the cause, let’s face it, of Cameron’s dad’s posh Ferrari crashing through the garage window and down into the vegetation below. To be fair to him, Ferris says he’ll take the blame and apologise to Cam’s dad, but Cam won’t hear of it.

He says he’ll stand up to his dad for the first time in his life, but that could be dangerous for Cam. His dad’s clearly a bully, someone who talks with his fists or whips off his belt the instant a wife or child dares to answer him back. This has all the hallmarks of a very risky domestic violence incident waiting to happen, and it’s not like we’re around to see what happens next…

As for poor Sloane Peterson, well, Ferris might have offered to marry her in the film, but the reality of the situation is that he’ll be off to college next semester, or in the fall, as they say it over there, and Sloane still has one more year of high school to go.

He’ll leave her behind as easily as he’d shed an ill-fitting jacket, and she’ll be left alone, heart-broken, forced to console herself with the handsome captain of the football team and his big dreamy eyes and his enormous… oh, er! Maybe things won’t be so bad for poor old Sloanie after all…

I love Edie McClurg as Grace, the long-suffering school secretary to Mr. Rooney, and a very young Charlie Sheen as a ‘bad boy’ who’s down the cop shop when Ferris’s sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey from DIRTY DANCING) is there and urgently needs kissing, lol.

The joy-riding car valets/garage attendants are hilarious; if Cameron actually knew what was happening to his dad’s precious automobile while he’s downtown watching Ferris entertain the crowds with a Beatles song at the Von Steuben Day Parade…!

Enjoy the film anyway, then ask yourself as objectively as possible; Which school of thought are you…??? Ferris Bueller as hero or selfish wanker? It’s up to you…

All together now… ‘Oh yeah…!’





Humph. Clearly, I’m in the wrong business. As a struggling writer, no-one ever feeds me delightfully coloured-and-flovoured macaroons from a charming china plate or sends me shoes and dresses one could literally imagine dying for.

That’s because I’m not the bleedin’ Queen of France, lol. And, in some ways, of course, I’m glad I’m not, because I get to keep my head on my shoulders. On the other hand, I’ve never lived as deliciously as Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis the Sixteenth of France…

Kirsten INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE Dunst- she plays Claudia- does a fabulous job as Marie Antoinette of France, who starts life as Marie Antonia, the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.

In 1770, her mother gives her in marriage to Louis-Auguste, the young Dauphin of France, in order to cement relations between France and Austria, though the poor girl is often referred to disparagingly by her new countrymen-and-women as ‘the Austrian’ and treated like an outsider or an alien even after years at court.

Her new life at the Palace of Versailles in France is one of ridiculous, stuffed-shirt-style restrictions (see what a rigmarole they make out of her getting up and dressed in the morning!) mingled with jaw-dropping opulence and eye-popping splendour. You’ve never seen the like of her bedroom in the Palace. It’s like something out of a beautiful dream.

Her days, once she starts getting the hang of things, are spent drinking champagne, even at breakfast, eating the most divinely-coloured and presented pastries, giggling and bitching with her handmaidens about the other multitudes who all seem to live at the palace on the tax-payer’s dollar, and trying on the most fabulous clothes and shoes you’ve ever seen in your life, all sent to her by France’s top designers.

The suffocating nature of the court means that Marie Antoinette is never alone, and doesn’t seem to be encouraged by anyone to explore her creative side, by drawing, painting, singing, writing, reading or engaging in intellectual conversation. To most of France, though, I suppose she just represented a working womb…

Her husband, who becomes King Louis the Sixteenth of France at age nineteen after his own father dies, isn’t up to much as a husband. For a whopping eight years, Louis and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, don’t produce so much as a semen stain in the baby stakes.

Then, ironically, kablamo, two sons and a daughter, possibly the result of Marie Antoinette’s older brother explaining the mechanics of love-making to Louis in terms of the younger man’s obsessive interest in lock-smithing and key-making. Well, I suppose you might say there’s a key for every door and a door for every key…

For Marie Antoinette, the appearance of children would have ended eight years of being sniped at by nasty, spiteful courtiers for her supposed barrenness. It was her husband’s ineptness in the bedroom that kept her childless; that, and maybe her mother telling her by letter every five minutes that her place, first as the Dauphine of France and then as Queen, was only secure as long as there was an heir to the throne. Way to pile on the pressure, Ma!

I love Asia Argento as the stunningly sexy Madame Du Barry, mistress to the horny old King, Louis the Fifteenth of France. Marie Antoinette refuses to acknowledge Madame Du Barry initially, as she’s a commoner hastily married off to a toff so she can come to court and be with the old King, but when she’s urged by her advisors not to snub the woman, she eventually sees the wisdom of their words.

Comedian Steve Coogan is great in his role of Austrian diplomat and Marie Antoinette’s chief advisor, Florimund Claude, Count of Mercy-Argenteau. It’s his job to point out when the young Queen is failing in her duties or committing social gaffes, but he does it so nicely she doesn’t hold it against him.

Marie Antoinette is not very popular with the people of La Belle France. They call her ‘Madame Deficit’ due to her outrageous spending on clothes, luxuries and entertainment, including gambling. Meanwhile, France’s economic situation is dire and the ordinary people are suffering terribly from hunger and disease.

Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, keeps to the palace of Versailles for her plot and doesn’t venture out onto the streets of France where a revolution is fermenting, which is an interesting take on the situation. She doesn’t ignore the Revolution, however. We know when the shit is about to hit the fan all right…

What a glorious display of colour, what a cool soundtrack for such a period movie (The Cure, New Order, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam and the Ants all feature), what magnificent settings and fantastically elaborate costumes and hairstyling!

The super-lavish film won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, and Marie Antoinette’s darling little (Austrian) puppy dog, Mops, walked off with the Palme Dog, just for showing up and looking adorable!

A gorgeous film overall, best-looking thing I’ve seen all year, and I’ve seen yer man who works in the Spar by the… Oh well, no need to blab my private business on the Internet. Enjoy the film; and don’t forget, it leaves Netflix on New Year’s Eve…!

PS, what about her famously unsympathetic line, ‘Let them eat cake?’ Did she say it? Did she not? She actually says in the film that she didn’t…! Do you believe her? Watch the film and try to work it out!





Astrid: Just give them your credit card number.

Ray, wailing: But I don’t know my credit card number…!

Astrid: It’s on your credit card, Ray…

I bloody love this film. It’s a rock-and-roll comedy spoof about a fictitious ‘Seventies rock band who get the chance to relive their glory days once more and take a second stab at their last concert, which ended badly and in a nightmare of hostility and acrimony between the band members.

An ex of mine introduced me to it in the early 2000s, one of the few truly decent things he ever did for me, the prick. When my daughter was old enough, I watched it with her, and this Christmas Eve, we introduced my teenage son (her younger brother) to it together.

He’s now as big a fan as the pair of us. We laughed, we cried, we simultaneously shouted ‘Noooooooooooo!’ when Les had to go back up on the roofs. It was like the time we first watched ‘THE FULL MONTY’ or ‘EAST IS EAST’ with him. Luvly jubbly.

Strange Fruit is the name of our fictitious rock band, who crashed and burned and died a humiliatingly public death onstage at the Wisbech rock festival in the late ‘Seventies. Even God had a hand in their downfall, and you’d think he’d prefer to be neutral in matters like rock festivals, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, twenty years later, the son of the original promoter of the Wisbech Rock Festival wants to put on an anniversary gig, with the Fruits on the bill, amongst others. It falls to Karen, the band’s Girl Friday, and Tony Costello, an original Fruit who’s now a condom salesman, to round up the rest of the band and see if they’ll agree to ‘surf the nostalgia wave’ like the other ‘70s groups are going to be doing…

Some band members will be harder to round up than others. The original singer, Keith, ‘OD’d in front of a Little Chef’ back in the day, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle proving too strong for him. His brother Brian, guitarist and the love of Karen’s life, has disappeared and seems to be dead as well. Karen, a single mother of a daughter now and a bored tour guide, is gutted that she won’t get to reunite with the one man she’s ever really loved…

Of the living Fruit members, Bill Nighy does a superb job as Ray, the singer who took over from Keith when Keith overdosed. Still insecure and unsure of himself, he lives in an English country mansion which he urgently needs to sell because he’s flat broke.

Recovering alcoholic/drug addict Ray’s beautiful bitchy Scandinavian wife Astrid, a terrifically funny character, keeps him on the straight and narrow, away from the booze and other band members associated with his bad days.

She’s not remotely impressed to see Karen and Tony turn up at Ray’s daughter-by-his-first-wife’s wedding to ask Ray if he’ll get back with the band for the Great Wisbech Reunion of 1998…

Karen: How are Kirby, Steele and Oakes these days, Astrid…?

Astrid, confused: I never listen to their music…

Jimmy Nail is fantastic as the angry Les Wickes, the Fruit who was most upset by the band’s implosion. Married now with two kids to support and a roofing business he despises, he loves the idea of the reunion but has no time for poor, fragile and frequently wrong-footed Ray, who took over as singer from Les’s beloved but deeply flawed friend, Keith.

Can Les keep his hostility towards Ray under wraps long enough to get the reunion in the bag? Can Ray stand up to Les’s bullying, because that’s what it is? As mad-for-it Fruit’s roadie and the film’s narrator Hughie (Billy Connolly) might say, ‘we wait with bated breath…’  

Timothy Spall is hilarious as Strange Fruit’s drummer, Beano, now a plant salesman in a nursery. Still living in a caravan on his mum’s farm, he hasn’t changed a bit since the ‘Seventies. There’s been ‘zero growth,’ as Ray tells him when they’re back on the road together.

Well, one thing’s changed. He has a rather terrifying woman from the Inland Revenue chasing him across country- and across Europe- now. Beano dreads the moment she catches up with him, but I wonder if he might not enjoy the experience after all? I mean, what’s the worst she can do to him…? Snigger.

Luke is the cool young guitarist the Fruits add in to make themselves look younger and happening again, much to the delight of Clare, Karen’s teenage daughter. All they need now is their distinctive-looking tour bus, and they’re off on a tour of small European towns and villages that DO NOT make it easy for them.

It’s a baptism of fire for the band of clashing egos, big dreams and (occasionally) small minds that can either end well or go disastrously wrong. Which will it be? We wait with bated breath…

The film is warm, funny, emotional and thought-provoking, a heart-breaking study of what it means to have a second go at the old brass ring, with lines of pure comic gold included just for ha-has. Hughie: I love the smell of vomit in the morning!

There are some gorgeous flashback scenes of the band in the ‘Seventies, ‘dropping acid in the Druids’ Circle,’ and a whole soundtrack of fantastic songs were penned for use in the film. Naturally, I’ve had the soundtrack album since the 2000s, man.

As the film was written by the fellas who also did the scripts for PORRIDGE, AUF WIEDERSEHEN PET and THE LIKELY LADS, it was always going to be a truly funny, warm film with a lot of love in it, but with a bit of a kick to it as well. It’s on my Top Ten List of Favourite Films Ever, and my wish for you this Christmas is that, if you haven’t seen it already, you get to watch it in 2023.

It’s a sign; a message from the gods of rock ‘n’ roll…!






‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’



‘You can’t stop him writing. It’d be like stopping him breathing.’

‘I wouldn’t want to be known as the man who killed Anton Chekhov.’

‘The worst thing’s my haemorrhoids. I’ve had them for years but, now, it’s like they’ve taken on a life of their own.’

I think this is my favourite screenplay of Michael Armstrong’s, and this is the guy who penned the screenplays for MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970), a gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth-century witch-burnings, THE BLACK PANTHER (1976), the story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975, and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982), the only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

This screenplay tells a part of the story of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the Russian medical doctor, playwright and short story writer whom some people consider to be the greatest writer who ever lived. Certainly he’s Michael Armstrong’s personal favourite author. I devoured the screenplay book as if it were a shockingly sexy bonkbuster or unputdownable thriller, not even setting it aside to eat.

It’s so full of gossip, inside information, humour, bitchiness and wit that it makes you feel like you’re genuinely privy to a slice of Anton Chekhov’s life, and that it was a life of variety, romance, learning and culture mixed with the inevitable sadness and loss.

When we meet the man himself, he is living in splendour in his mansion with his doting mother Yevgenia, his embittered father Pavel, a failed shopkeeper who used to beat his offspring savagely when they were young, a servant, Katerina, a drunken but satisfactory cook called Darya and, most important of all, his devoted sister Masha. Masha adores Anton and is prepared to embrace a life of perpetual spinsterhood in order to be able to take better care of him. That’s some sisterly devotion.

Anyway, the screenplay starts off with Chekhov reacting with anger to a poor reception of his play, THE SEAGULL. He is determined to have done with the theatre from then on. Until his pal, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko decides, A, to open his own theatre company, and, B, to include Anton’s play THE SEAGULL in its opening season…

Anton: ‘No thanks! I’ve already had my fingers burnt twice. A third time and I’d probably be entirely incinerated.’

Chekhov has some fixed ideas about his own value as a writer:

Anton: ‘… the reason I don’t pursue writing exclusively is because I don’t personally think I’m all that good at it whereas I find being a doctor a more reliable and, indeed, rewarding job. If you’d like an analogy, you might say, I’m married to medicine and writing’s my mistress…’

He also comments: ‘I’m just a short story writer considered fashionable in drawing room circles but of no real worth elsewhere.’

So, will Chekhov allow his chum to perform THE SEAGULL in his theatre? That remains to be seen, dear reader. But hear this. Chekhov is full of statements of intent and fixed ideas about things, but he has been known to change his mind.

For example, here’s what he thinks about marriage:

Anton: ‘I’ll never get married. I know women too well. They’ll lie to you at least five times before they’ve even had time to wear out a pair of shoes.’

So, why, if he feels so strongly against mawwidge (The Princess Bride), I mean, marriage, why does he find himself thoroughly spliced in holy matrimony to one of Russia’s most famous actresses, Olga Knipper, halfway through the book? Heh-heh-heh. Looks like Russia’s hottest literary bachelor has been caught, hook, line and sinker…

Masha and Olga are friends at first, until Masha discovers that Olga, whom she supposes to be a gold-digging hussy and social climber, has gone and married Anton on the sly. Well, I never…! The very idea.

Each of them struggles to be mistress of the house and mistress to Anton, while Anton is content not to make a choice but continues to let himself live comfortably and do his writing and doctoring while being fussed over and pampered by his two ladies. The scenes where the two women openly fight over this one man are hilarious, and could just as easily be set in today times. ‘Get yo’ filthy hands off my fella, bitch!’

Mind you, the poor chap is dying…

Anton to his doctor: ‘Dr. Obolonsky, let’s save a lot of time by my saying I do know what’s wrong with me. My brother Nikolai died of it. I know there’s no cure.

Dr. Obolonksy: How long have you known you’ve had it?

Anton: Since the first signs. The only thing I haven’t been certain of was its state of advancement.

Dr. Obolonsky: Until today.

Anton: Until today.

We know this from quite early on, so we can see how Chekhov tries to live his life in the present without worrying too much about the future, in so far as it’s possible for him to do so. He writes his plays and his stories, and he carouses and hobnobs with the great artists of the day like Ivan Bunin, Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy, even Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the famous composers.

He has his family, who worship him, and Olga, who double-worships him, lol, though he claims not to like all the fussing. Yeah, right. Here is Anton, telling his sister Masha the almost outrageous conditions under which he has agreed to marry Olga:

Anton: ‘I told her I wasn’t remotely interested in marriage unless it guaranteed absolutely no change in my life, whatsoever; not in my working habits, my relationships- especially with friends and family . . . and with you, my dearest and closest and only true friend.’

Masha: ‘And she agreed?’

Anton: ‘Yes.’

Masha looks at him cynically. ‘And you believed her?’

Anton: ‘Yes.’

Typical bloke, wanting it all his own way.

When Masha is told by a friend, Ivan Bunin, that she should use Anton’s marriage to Olga as a great opportunity to go off and start enjoying her own life, she replies: ‘My own life? I don’t even know what that is.’

Well, now’s your chance, Masha, love.

Anton gets so lonely when Olga is off actressing. He says on one such occasion to Maxim Gorky: ‘Melville’s a good writer but he does go on a bit,’ to which Gorky replies: ‘Clearly a great white whale’s no substitute for an absent wife.’ Snigger.

Those of you who know me and my writing will know that I’ve been reviewing Michael’s screenplay books for the last few years. The gorgeous thick book of THE FINAL CHAPTER OF DR. CHEKHOV (1990) makes for deeply absorbing reading.

It, or any of Michael’s glossy and luxurious film script books, would make the perfect Christmas present for the film fan in your life. Or you could buy it for yourself, and to hell with them…! You know they’re only gonna buy you a LYNX gift set in return…

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:



Happy shopping!

‘Once you can actually see death directly ahead of you, beckoning to you: days, months, years suddenly seem to fly by, which makes you very conscious of your mortality . . . and that, I find, is a most humbling experience . . .’ Anton Chekhov to a friend.





I bloody love this film, the quintessential ‘Eighties film no matter which way you look at it. It’s directed by the same guy who did SIXTEEN CANDLES, WEIRD SCIENCE, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, PRETTY IN PINK, UNCLE BUCK, HOME ALONE, BEETHOVEN and BABY’S DAY OUT, so you can see that it was in safe hands, the hands of a master craftsman of the American teen comedy genre.

It’s the story of five disparate individuals who, much to their disgust, get called into their high school by their headmaster for an all-day detention on a Saturday, of all days.

They are highly suspicious, dismissive and even contemptuous of each other at first, because they each fall into different ‘categories’ of American high school-goer that don’t often mix or gel with each other, namely, the princess, the athlete, the brainiac, the social recluse and the rebellious bad boy-slash-criminal.

But, by the end of the long, often trying day, the five end up coming together and discovering that they have a lot more in common with each other than they could ever have imagined.

They’ve learned a lot about themselves and about each other over the course of this day, and, going forward, what they’ve learned might just help them to feel a little more compassion for their fellow students whom, in the past, they might have simply dismissed as not being relevant to them and their lives.

 All five actors and actresses belong to a group that, in ‘Eighties film-making terms, was known as the ‘Brat Pack,’ a group that also included the likes of Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. My favourite Brat-Packer is Molly Ringwald; I’ve just always liked her for some reason. I loved her in the Stephen King mini-series, THE STAND, as well.

Here, she plays Claire Standish, the ‘princess.’ She’s rich, pretty and popular, so how could she possibly have any problems or underlying worries? You’d be surprised. I love when she takes out her lunch at lunch-time and reveals it to be a beautifully packed and presented sushi dish, complete with chopsticks…!

When Judd Nelson as angry rebel and loner John Bender asks her what it is, she looks at him as if he must have been living under a rock not to have heard of sushi. She’s such a privileged girl…! Bender, of course, has no lunch, as he comes from a violent, abusive and neglectful home, the kind of trailer trash set-up you might see in an Eminem video.

This goes some way to explaining why he has such a massive chip on his shoulder and why he rails against authority at every opportunity. He and the Vice-Principal of Shermer High, Mr. Vernon, go at each other hammer and tongs, because Vernon gets his kicks out of domineering over the kids in his care. It makes him feel like a big man, helps him to forget his frustrations about how his own life has turned out.

Bender is like a mixture of bad boy Bart Simpson and school bully Nelson Muntz from THE SIMPSONS, and Vernon makes an ideal Principal Seymour Skinner, who can’t bear to have his feeble authority questioned or his prissy Sunday school sensibilities affronted.

There’s one scene in which Vernon keeps assigning Bender detention on top of detention, for his mouthy inability to shut his trap when it matters, that could have come straight from THE SIMPSONS. Bender even says ‘Eat my shorts’ at some stage, and when he turns his attentions to prom queen-in-waiting, Claire, it’s like the time good girl Lisa Simpson has a crush on bad boy Nelson Muntz.

The handsome Emilio Estevez as Andrew Clark, the athlete or ‘jock,’ rubs Bender up the wrong way because they’re both alpha males. Andrew is ashamed of the reason he’s here in Saturday detention, maybe because he’s a better man than his dad, whose motto, ‘winning is everything,’ is ruining Andrew’s life.

Anthony Michael Hall as nerdy virgin Brian Johnson has another incredibly sad reason for being here in detention. If Vice-Principal Vernon had dug a little deeper into the flare gun business, instead of just laying down the law as usual, he might actually have been able to help a kid in his care for once, and earn those $31,000 buckaroonies a year…!

Ally Sheedy plays friendless goth recluse Allison Reynolds, a girl whose reason for being in Saturday detention is perhaps the saddest of all. Who is she really? Slutty nymphomaniac? Compulsive liar? Or just a girl who desperately needs a friend?

Will the Shermer Five discover that it’s actually peer pressure and parental pressures that are the real enemies here, and not each other? Will Cupid’s arrow land anywhere significant? Will Bender do his nine or ten extra detentions? Who will pay for the damage he does to the vent and various other parts of the school he’s ruined? God knows. Don’t worry about it. Just sit back and enjoy a delicious slice of nostalgia served piping hot with a side-order of comedy.





Wow. This is a bit of a strange one, is this. It’s the latest screen adaptation of celebrated British writer Charles Dickens’s most famous oeuvre, A CHRISTMAS CAROL (it HAS to be the latest; it only dropped on Netflix on December 2nd!), but with a twist.

It’s an animated re-make of my son’s favourite Scrooge adaptation of all time, the all-singing, all-dancing 1970 version with Albert Finney. This 1970 musical version was very obviously intended to be the new OLIVER! THE MUSICAL, which preceded it. Despite some terrific songs (THANK YOU VERY MUCH being a case in point), the 1970 SCROOGE just didn’t hit the dizzy heights that OLIVER! managed to.

What I don’t understand in the case of this new animated musical version is this; why re-make an old version? Why not just make your own completely new musical version? Unless they thought that the songs in the Albert Finney version were just too good not to trot out again in this new millennium…? Who knows? The new version is very kindly dedicated to Lesley Bricusse, the deceased British composer who penned the 1970 film.

So, are there are differences in the plot or characterisation between this and previous SCROOGE adaptations? Well, yes, heaps, lol. Here, perennial miser and moneylender in Queen Victoria’s London, Ebenezer Scrooge, looks a lot younger, fitter and more dapperly-dressed than the usual scruffy, red-nosed, warty-faced Scrooges of old. He’s fleet of foot and not at all decrepit, which is a little unusual all right. He even says ‘Merry Christmas’ freely and of his old volition, albeit sarcastically, which wouldn’t be at all something the regular Scrooge would do, not even for a bet…! He’d choke on it, truly.

And he even owns a dog, an adorable bulldog called Prudence, who completely steals the show with her love, loyalty and funny faces. You know when dogs look at you with their heads on one side as if to say, ‘urrr?’ She does this so beautifully. And Scrooge treats her well, unlike Bill Sykes and poor Bulls-eye in OLIVER! Can anyone, i.e., Scrooge, who owns a dog be all bad? Well, I suppose once more we only have to look to old Bill Sykes for our answer…!

Scrooge’s annoying, Christmas-loving nephew is called Harry here and not Fred, and he’s very generous on the subject of his horrible uncle Scrooge because Scrooge once loved and was loved by Jen (Fan in other versions!), Harry’s beloved mother who died one Christmas Day giving birth to Harry. This is the main reason Scrooge has always hated poor Harry, which of course is a very unfair way to treat someone who was born under such tragic circumstances.

Anyway, the three ghosts- of Christmases Past, Present and Future- all visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve in order to show him the error of his ways. They don’t show Scrooge in his old school (‘I was a boy here!’), and there ain’t no Mrs. Dilber, neither, more’s the pity. It’s not like it wouldn’t be in keeping with the situation.

Scrooge’s lugubrious, gossipy old housekeeper always has an eye to the main chance, and if that means stripping Scrooge’s scrawny corpse’s bed of its linen and bedcurtains, well, who’s to say that it’s wrong or disrespectful of her? He won’t be needing ‘em where he’s going, cue a hideous gummy cackling…

I like the feisty Ghost of Christmas Past, who is made of candlewax, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is mildly scary enough to give viewers a- very mild- thrill. The songs are great, but then we already knew this from hearing them in the 1970 Albert Finney version. Nice to hear ’em again, though.

This is a mildly- there’s that word again!- entertaining and enjoyable Christmas film, but if you’re ever in a situation where you’re told that you can only watch one more Christmas film before you die, then don’t choose this one. Just go with DIE HARD again.

Oh, and by the way, my local library is hosting a season of festive fillums this Yuletide, and first up is DIE HARD. Soooooooooo, if DIE HARD is not a Christmas movie, y’all, then how comes it’s on this list…? I’m just saying, is all. Enjoy the new SCROOGE movie, all you Dickens-heads out there, and Happy Christmas…!  






‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’








Wow. This film is surely a forgotten or overlooked gem. It’s the deeply gripping and compelling story of ex-military man Donald Neilson’s bizarre and excessively violent crime spree, that took place between the years of 1972 and 1975 in England.

It was characterised by a lot of idiotic bungling, not to mention impulsive actions and poor judgement on the part of Neilson. The police were baffled for a while by the messy and seemingly poorly-planned crimes committed by the man the press dubbed ‘the Black Panther’ because he always wore a black hood and was quick and light on his feet, this last being pretty much his only redeeming feature as a criminal. Other than that, one would be obliged to say, I fear, that he greatly sucked at committing crimes, lol.

He starts off in the film robbing a load of country post offices with his shotgun while wearing his ‘Black Panther’ disguise. He usually ends up botching the job, however, like the time he accidentally sprays an ammonia solution intended for his victim into his own eyes.

How bizarre it must have been for the poor post-master in his pyjamas, to open his door and then find the would-be robber falling all over the place, screaming and pawing frantically at his temporarily blinded eyes! I call that poetic justice.

Neilson invariably wakes up the people he’s trying to rob and then, of course, the whole operation goes tits-up and he ends up running for his life, having shot someone fatally and escaped with only a few bags of coins for his trouble.

Even the way he’s trained himself to run with rocks in his backpack and stones in his clothing so that he can carry away coins from a burglary just shows us what a pitifully small-time crook he is. He’s even then only thinking in terms of pennies and tuppences.

He gives his wife and daughter a miserable life, with his monosyllabic bullying, shouting and domineering. ‘Dirty! Clean it better! Clean it again!’ He treats them both like raw recruits under the rule of a prickly sergeant-major.

He disappears for weeks on end, telling his wife he’s ‘looking for work,’ so why does he never have any money? Because his money-making schemes and plans never come to anything, that’s why. Why doesn’t he just work a normal job for his money? He mightn’t be rich, but at least he wouldn’t be in constant danger of being picked up by the cops for burglary and murder.

It’s clear that the happiest days of Neilson’s life were spent in the army. He spends hours dressing up in his old kit, poring over old photos of him and his army buddies doing army things.

He should never have left the army, as he’s only comfortable there; he’s probably perfectly happy with the rules, regulations, strict timetable and structure, regular meals and bed-times and showers and changes of linen, etc. He clearly loved the company of other men, the camaraderie of living and working side-by-side with them.

He’s never been happy or comfortable in or with civilian life. He probably got married and had a child because it was expected of him. Now three people are miserable because of it, and Neilson treats his family like underlings in his own private army. No wonder they can’t wait to see the back of him when he goes off on his ‘jaunts.’

It was said of mass murderer Ed Gein that he enjoyed prison immensely- the regularity of things, the company of living people- because it was far preferable to the way he was living outside on his own.

I imagine that Neilson would have loved prison nearly as much as he’d loved the army. It’s much the same deal. Three hots and a cot, things happen at the same time every day, you keep your mouth shut and follow orders and you’re surrounded by other men like you who aren’t going anywhere either for a while.

Neilson is also a highly dangerous man, however, probably a sociopath, one who throws tantrums like a child when he doesn’t get his own way and who blames others for his own failings. We see this with our own eyes in the film. For the safety of the public, he needs to be kept away from society forever.

He decides to up his game for what I presume he doesn’t know is to be his last ever ‘job,’ the abduction for ransom of sixteen-year-old Lesley Whittle, the heiress to a motor coach transport company. Neilson plans the kidnapping down to the nth degree, but he complicates things as usual and, as usual, it comes off disastrously for all parties concerned. 

He spends countless hours in preparation, making lists in his notebook, checking his plans, his outfit, his travel routes and his ammunition, guns and equipment before he goes out on the ‘job,’ but it still all goes haywire. Why?

Well, I’m sorry to say that he just looks and sounds like one of life’s failures, a nobody who thinks small and is going nowhere. Why doesn’t he do a regular job and make money that way, as I said earlier? He’s handy enough. I wonder why it never occurs to him to pursue a life outside of crime?

It’s a very hard film to watch, because of all the innocent people in it who are hurt almost randomly by Neilson. Contrary to claims levelled at it at the time of release, however, it most definitely is not a sensationalistic piece of exploitation film-making designed to titillate and arouse the viewer.

Certainly not. It treats the painful subject matter delicately and responsibly, and the lasting impression of the film is one of deep sorrow for the victims of Donald Neilson, a petty little man who obviously thought he was bigger and vastly more important than he was.

The script-book, from which the film is of course made, is beautifully and tightly written. There’s not a single extraneous word in there, not one word there that does not sing most eloquently for its supper. The film, therefore, is not bogged down by endless monologues and verbiage. It moves along at a cracking pace.

And, yes, it shocks us, but not gratuitously. There are no scantily-clad busty blondes in it, shrieking at the presence of the hooded man pressing a gun into an expanse of soft white breast before he throws the woman down on the bed and brutally rapes her. Sorry if that’s what you were expecting…!

Those of you who know me and my writing will know that I’ve been reviewing Michael’s screenplay books for the last few years. The book of THE BLACK PANTHER (1976) makes for absolutely compelling reading. It, or any of Michael’s glossy and luxurious film script books, would make the perfect Christmas present for the film fan in your life. Or you could buy it for yourself, and to hell with them…!

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:



Happy shopping!




I love this Christmas film, though it has certainly divided opinion between those who think it’s brilliant and those who think it’s a little too dark and mean-spirited to be a perennial Christmas favourite, and yet here we are, lol.

 It’s a re-telling of the traditional festive story of Charles Dickens’s, in which a mean old miser is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and is taught by them the true meaning of Christmas. What is the true meaning of Christmas, you ask?

Well, I would say it’s to let others into your heart at this emotional time of year, and to try and do as much good for them as you would have them and others do for you. I think that’s it in a nutshell, but you may of course have your own interpretation.

For some people, it just represents a break from work and a microwaveable turkey dinner for one. For television bigwig, Frank Cross (played by Bill Murray), it means keeping his staff and crew working late into the night on Christmas Eve on a live version of the Charles Dickens’ story, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Sounds like a pretty big ask, doesn’t it?

Not for the cynical, battle-scarred Frank Cross, who damned well didn’t get where he is today (IBC Television President) by pussy-footing around the employees’ feelings and needs. Did ‘e ‘eck as like, as they say down Weatherfield way. If Frank’s stuck in work on Christmas Eve, slaving away over a hot script, then so will his workers be, goddammit!

Frank is so scabby that he gifts the people he doesn’t give a shit about- his devoted personal assistant Grace and his kindly brother James- a poxy IBC towel for Christmas, whereas the top network executives he feels he has to kiss up to all get Hi-Fi stereo-slash-VHS-recorders.

Grace’s kids (one little fella has been unable to speak since he witnessed his father’s death) to their mom when she finally gets home: ‘Mommy, mommy! Where’s your bonus?”

Grace: ‘I’m drying my hair with it…!’

Anyway, so much for Frank Cross and his much-vaunted kindness and generosity! His old deceased boss Lew Hayward, played by the handsome John DYNASTY Forsythe, comes to Frank to tell him that, due to his Scrooge-like ‘Bah! Humbug!’ mentality, he can expect the Three Spirits in due course.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is an obnoxious taxi driver played by David Johansen of the predating-glam-rock-and-punk band, the New York Dolls. Frank is shown by this ghost how he cruelly dropped the love of his life, Claire (Karen Allen of Indiana Jones fame), for the lure of showbiz money and glamour. Claire works in a homeless shelter now, but she’s still crazy in love with Frank, more fool her…

The Ghost of Christmas Present is a delightfully violent fairy played by horror movie star Carol Kane, who once starred in one of the scariest horror films ever made: WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. (‘Have you checked the children?’)

Frank, through the ball-breaking, ass-kicking little tiny fairy, learns that he pays his personal assistant Grace a pittance which doesn’t go far enough in enabling her to support her hungry family, and that he’s treated his brother James disgracefully, even though James still loves him and wants to be pals with him again.

Frank is finally urged to change his selfish ways by the Ghost of Christmas Future, who shows him what it feels like to be cremated. Yes, cremated, and I don’t fancy it either, lol. And what’s even worse than being cremated? Being cremated with no-one there to mourn for you because you were such a curmudgeonly so-and-so in life…

Bobcat Goldthwaite as fired IBC employee with a grudge Eliot Loudermilk also features in the transformation of Frank Cross, as does a rather frightening glimpse into Grace and Claire’s cold, bleak futures… the futures that will happen if Frank doesn’t make the effort for them now. Will Frank get off his smug, comfortably insulated network hiney and step up to the plate…?

Robert Mitchum, star of the Golden Age of Hollywood (CAPE FEAR, RYAN’S DAUGHTER, THE WINDS OF WAR, WAR AND REMEMBRANCE, etc.), plays Preston Rhinelander, Frank’s boss, and Preston’s wife, interestingly enough, is portrayed by a lovely lady called Maria Riva, the daughter of none other than acting royalty, Marlene Dietrich.

Bill GHOSTBUSTERS Murray is great when he’s doing anything, but he’s probably at his best when he’s administering death by a thousand verbal paper cuts to his co-actors, that is to say, when he’s being supremely bitchy, catty, cutting, sarcastic, insulting, you name it, he can do it. He’s got a repertoire of insults that STRICTLY’s Craig Revel-Horwood would die for, dawling, and that’s saying something…!

SCROOGED is up there with NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, DECK THE HALLS and all those other terrific Christmas films that we re-watch every year even though we know them upside-down and inside-out by now. They’re as much a part of Christmas as sage and onion stuffing and wrapping paper, so let’s watch ‘em all again this year and to hell with the begrudgers. It’s only once a year, after all…