THE HOLIDAY. (2006) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE HOLIDAY. (2016) WRITTEN, DIRECTED AND CO-PRODUCED BY NANCY MEYERS.
STARRING KATE WINSLET, CAMERON DIAZ, JACK BLACK, JUDE LAW, SHANNYN SOSSAMON, RUFUS SEWELL AND ELI WALLACH.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

People were telling me for ages that this was a great movie, I should watch it and why hadn’t I watched it already, and so on. So, then, I watched it on Netflix last weekend and guess what? I hated it, even though I normally love top actresses Kate TITANIC Winslet and Cameron Diaz of VANILLA SKY fame.

I just found it mushy, sickly and unbelievable, and, you know me, I’m immensely gullible and will willingly believe most any romantic scenarios put before me for my edification, but this one just didn’t pass muster with me. The behaviour of both female leads left me ashamed for the whole of womankind, and no kidding.

And I can’t stomach the sight or sound of Jude Law, who, as you’ll all know, is generally considered to be a Grade A heart-throb. But not by me. Does that make me unusual? I don’t honestly mind if it does. I am unusual, lol.

I would have tolerated the floppy-haired, Liz-Hurley-dating Hugh Grant in the Jude Law role. He’s posh and privileged and no stranger to wearing a dinner jacket, but he’s funny, warm and endearing as well, even when he’s playing a cheating bastard. He’s brilliant in romantic comedies like NOTTING HILL and ABOUT A BOY. What might have been, eh?

Kate Winslet plays Iris Simpkins, a society columnist for an English newspaper. For years and years and years, she has been letting a posh prick of a writer- with curly hair- called Jasper Bloom string her along something terrible. She gives him free editing and writing advice for his books, and he offers her sex in his car when he gets a minute.

She buys him a thoughtfully chosen first edition of a book he loves for Christmas, and he gets her nothing, that’s the kind of non-relationship ‘relationship’ they have, and still she simpers about after him like a moonstruck puppy. Iris Simpkins indeed. Iris Simpers, more like.

Even when he gets engaged to someone else right under her nose, she can’t even muster up the balls to speak harshly to him or, better yet, tell him to sling his hook. Instead, she abandons her gorgeous, picture-perfect cottage just a few minutes’ drive from London to go haring off to the home of a movie producer in Los Angeles, in a daring, slightly too trusting, even foolhardy move known as a ‘house swap.’

The house belongs to Cameron Diaz’s character, Amanda Woods, who’s every bit as much of a ‘simperer’ as Iris Simpkins, the simpering Queen of the Simperers. Amanda has been cheated on by her boyfriend Ethan, and, after a lot of ‘how could you do this to me?’ and ‘get out of my house!’ and other relationship-related drama (all initiated by Amanda, a talky little thing), she packs a bag and flies to England to Iris’s house.

The ladies are swapping lives, to a certain extent, as well as just bricks and mortar. They each meet new blokes as a result of being domiciled in each other’s residences. For Iris, it’s a laid-back film music composer called Miles Dumont, played by the adorable and cuddly Jack Black, an actor I love and who I’d fancy over Jude Law any day of the week. Miles is being messed about by his cheating actress girlfriend, Maggie, played by Shannyn Sossamon, but is deeply attracted to Iris, so we’ll see how that works out, as if we couldn’t tell…!

Iris really meets two new men, strictly speaking, because she befriends Arthur Abbott as well, an elderly neighbour of Amanda’s who used to be a script-writer in the Golden Age of Hollywood a million years ago.

Played by the still-sprightly big screen legend Eli Wallach (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, 1966), Arthur helps Iris to grow a pair and develop some much-needed gumption around blokes. Iris, a fitness fanatic, in turn helps Arthur to get in shape for a big Hollywood retrospective of his work being held to honour him. Sweet, and just about bearable in terms of the mushy factor…!

Meanwhile, in England, in the picture-perfect Christmassy snowscape that is Iris’s patch, Amanda is initiating sex with Iris’s book editor brother Graham Simpkins (Jude Law), when he turns up pissed on her first night and looking for a place to crash.

We’re supposed to melt like butter on the hob when we observe that he’s not just a tousle-haired English posh bloke-slash-heart-throb combined, but also a ‘tragic’ widower with two ‘adorable’ little daughters to bring up alone.

I forget their names. Probably Daisy and Lily, or Poppy and Araminta, or some such country garden Englishness. Either way, I’m afraid my own heart remains stonily unmoved at the sight of a single father and his sprogs, but Amanda can’t throw herself into Gray-Gray’s arms fast enough.

The scene where she is running, in high heels, along a snow-covered country lane, to reach him and the cosy domesticity he brings with him all the faster is completely unbelievable. It’s just not possible to run that fast in the snow in high heels. Even if you’re Hollywood superstar Cameron Diaz.

Call me cynical, but have you ever noticed that she’s really only got one good move? That’s right, it’s when her mouth widens into that gorgeous smile. She’s beautiful all right, but I don’t know if there’s much else going on there behind the glitz and glamour.

A bit like the film itself, maybe. Some nice packaging to disguise the basic lack of any real substance underneath. Oh, I just don’t like this movie. It’s upsetting to see women being so badly jerked around by such, sleazy self-serving blokes.

Dustin Hoffman has a cameo role in the video store scene, though, which was nice. Apparently, he was in there just by a coincidence and wandered over to see what the story was and what they were filming, and they just gave him a spontaneous cameo on the back of it. That’s how you do things when you’re Hollywood royalty…!

Much as I love Dustin Hoffman, though, I was nearly even more excited to see the video store itself, I must admit. What an emporium of magic and wonderment these places used to be in their day! We should never have just let them die out like that. Anyway, happy holidays to you all and enjoy THE HOLIDAY if you decide to watch it. Just because I hated it doesn’t mean that you’ll hate it too…!

  AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

 

A CASTLE FOR CHRISTMAS. (2021) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

A CASTLE FOR CHRISTMAS. (2021) DIRECTED BY MARY LAMBERT. STARRING BROOKE SHIELDS, CARY ELWES, LEE ROSS AND DREW BARRYMORE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I loved this schmaltzy Christmas romantic comedy, even if there’s enough cheese and corn in it to feed a family of five for a year. I love Cary Elwes- who the hell doesn’t?- and I have no objections to Brooke Shields, whom I’d only ever seen in THE BLUE LAGOON, her 1980 film. (No, I’ve never seen Pretty Baby, her controversial 1978 film, though I’d like to, it’s meant to be good! Oooops, just heard it’s been ‘cancelled,’ I’m obviously too late!) Both stars are now well into their fifties and still looking absolutely fantastic, and that’s no word of a lie.

I love Brooke as Sophie Brown, a bestselling American author and newly-divorced mother of a daughter in college, Lexi. Sophie flees alone from the US to the wilds of Scotland at the start of the film, in order to escape the furore that occurs when she kills off the heroine’s boyfriend in her latest in a series of romance books.

It’s a bit like in Stephen King’s terrifying book MISERY, when Jaames Caan- yes, I intentionally put two ‘a’s in his forename as well as his surname, lol, it’s got more balance that way!- kills off the character of Misery Chastaine in his series of MISERY books. Now, if he’d had the sense to high-tail it to Bonnie Scotland straight after he’d done this terrible ‘murder’ of a beloved fictional character, he might be walking straight on his two hind legs today, so think on’t…!

Anyway, Sophie doesn’t just select a destination randomly by sticking a pin in a map. She chooses Scotland because her late father’s ancestral village is there. Apparently, he used to work as groundskeeper (Willie?!) for one of the Dukes in the castle of Dun Dunbar, an estate near the village. She flies there hoping to recapture some of that old childhood magic.

What happens is that she immediately falls in love with the village, the non-stop-knitting and surprisingly ‘woke’ villagers, the fabulous castle of Dun Dunbar and, also, its grumpy fecker of a laird in the form of one Myles Dunbar, played by the still blonde and still trim Cary Elwes.

They have one of those relationships where they get off to a terrible start and hate each other’s guts, but then they fall in love and they fall really, really hard for each other. Sophie thinks Myles is arrogant and rude and up himself- he is!- and Myles sees Sophie as some rich Yank who swans in with all her ideas and her money and her American-ness and starts taking over everything. You can’t really blame him for this.

As he says himself, Sophie really is everywhere, all of a sudden. She’s buying the castle from him because she loves it, and he hasn’t much choice in the matter as he’s stony-broke and he just can’t afford the upkeep any longer. She’s a firm favourite with the villagers, who all read her books and are thrilled to have her here in their twee little village. They teach her to knit and everything, for goodness’ sake.

Myles’ best friend, Thomas, who also helps him keep the castle afloat by running tours and operating the gift shop, thinks that Myles has been alone too long and that Sophie would be great for him. Even Hamish, Myles’s adorable woof-woof, is dizzy with love for Sophie. This could be the romance of the century, but naturally there’ll be a few flies in the ointment to sort out first. The course of true love and all that…

If you like men in kilts and loads of unoffensive Scottish slang, you’ll love this film. No-one says ‘och aye’ in it, though, strangely enough, and that’s the most Scottish phrase I know. If you love beautiful woods and snow-capped trees and fabulous Christmas decorations and lights, you’ll go crazy for this film, because it’s genuinely gorgeous and festive to look at.

I love that the couple, no longer in the first flush of youth, are so awkward and nervous about dating again after being out of the game for so long; it’s really sweet. I love that Sophie bravely decides to change direction with her books and write the one that means the most to her at this point in time. Drew Barrymore as ‘Herself’ is a little scary-looking. Has she had some work done? And is it okay to still ask that? I don’t want to be ‘cancelled’ too, lol.

I didn’t like the suggestion that the laird of the manor, the something-th Earl of Dunbar, is somehow better than the villagers because he lives on a big estate in a big fancy house and they rent their much smaller homes from him.

He’s only the Earl by an accident of birth. He is not better than the villagers because he lives in a bigger house, keeps himself aloof from them and has a Great Hall in which to hold parties. Am I allowed to say that, even? God Almighty, it’s tough being a writer in these ultra-politically correct times.

Myles seems to have kept himself remote from the villagers for this last while, and he’s mortified to suddenly become the centre of attention because of Sophie and their great romance, which has all the villagers tickled pink. The film is heart-warming and ‘feel-good’ to the nth degree, though it might be too soppy for some folks’ taste.

There are some massive plot-holes, of course, and there’s some really strange editing involved. This isn’t CITIZEN KANE. And I’m really disturbed as to the fate of one couple, the Donatellis, who appear in the film briefly, asking for a room at the village inn. Their scene seems as if it might be portentous, important, significant, meaningful even, but then, after this one scene, they literally never appear again.

Did something ominous happen to them, inside the world of the film? Were they kidnapped for ransom? Have they been abducted by aliens? Are they still alive, even? If you have any information at all as to the fate of this poor, poor couple, who, after all, only wanted a bed for the night at Christmas-time, then please, for the love of puppies, contact your nearest police station. There might still be time to save them.

Wait a minute. A poor couple, who only wanted a bed for the night at Christmas-time? Where have I heard of that situation before? A thought is coming to me, it’s not here yet, not here yet. Oh yes. It’s here. Here it is. Oh yeah. I forgot to buy sprouts. Happy Christmas…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

LOVE HARD. (2021) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

LOVE HARD. (2021) DIRECTED BY HERNAN JIMENEZ.
STARRING NINA DOBREV, JIMMY O. YANG, HARRY SHUM JR. AND DARREN BARNET.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

My kids and I have been really enjoying watching what we call the ‘Bad Christmas Movies’ on Netflix lately. We call them this because they’re not usually up to the standard of the so-called ‘Good Christmas Movies’ not featured on Netflix, like WHITE CHRISTMAS, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, etc., but also because some of them are pretty awful.

That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some bright little gems in there too, sparkling away happily under all the dross. Your Honour (pompously, of course), if it please the Court, I find LOVE HARD to be one such movie.

It’s called LOVE HARD on account of the two Christmas movies discussed and referenced by the protagonists in it: LOVE ACTUALLY and DIE HARD. Yes, according to the lead girl, DIE HARD is a Christmas film, so either state your case for the opposing view or get over it, lol. It’s probably better, too, that they went with LOVE HARD for the title of the movie, as its alternative, DIE ACTUALLY, isn’t as festive. Ahem.

Anyway, to the plot. Natalie Bauer is a modern girl-about-town who lives in Los Angeles and writes about her bad dates and train-wreck romantic life for a dating app. The readers lap it up. The more disastrous the date, the better they like it, the ghouls. But then, one day, Natalie starts an online relationship with Josh, 30, from Lake Placid, New York, based mainly on his photo, which portrays him as a hunk…

Their online relationship becomes super-hot, very fast. He makes her laugh, he reads her to sleep, he’s there for her- via this app, of course- when she wakes up in the morning and when she goes to sleep at night. Natalie’s in love. Crazy in love. So, when Josh casually remarks that he wishes they were together for the upcoming Christmas, Natalie mulls it over- for, like, a second- then hops on a plane to New York to surprise him…

It’s Natalie who gets the biggest surprise. Josh has apparently ‘catfished’ her, meaning that he’s used a photograph that’s not of himself to attract her to him online. The real Josh falls down in the looks department, and Natalie is devastated. Still, she’s the one who flew 3,000 miles to ‘surprise’ a stranger, so who is she to grumble…?

She livens up, however, when she meets Tag, the man whose photo Josh has used to ‘catfish’ her. Tag is a real man who actually exists, in fact he’s a friend of Josh’s, and Natalie totally falls for him, again based purely on his looks. The dorky Josh, who still lives in his parents’ basement, works in their ‘outdoors gear’ store, which he hates, and has lived a fairly girlfriend-free existence thus far, makes a bargain with her.

If she stays with him for Christmas and pretends to be his girlfriend in front of his family, he will fill her in on Tag’s interests and hobbies and, basically, get her noticed by Tag and even get her going out with him, which is what Natalie thinks she wants.

Natalie agrees to Josh’s zany scheme, but only because she fancies Tag so much. But does she really want what she thinks she wants? And, even if she does, should she get it? Fate might have other plans for the desperate dater…

The funniest scenes? The hilarious karaoke session in the pub (‘and I would anything for love, but I won’t do that…!’) and the Lin family carol-singing expedition, in which Josh’s patronising older brother Owen attempts to steal the limelight- yet again- with his show-boating.

Owen has always loved lording it over Josh with his lovely wife and his handsome good looks, so, when underdog Josh has a chance to come first in their parents’ eyes for a change, we’re all totally rooting for him.

I was happy with the ending. At first, I was afraid that Nat would get with Tag and a dorky female with poor social skills and braces on her teeth might be rolled in for Josh. That would have made me so darned mad, with its outmoded stereotyping message.

Good-looking people should get with other good-looking people. Dorks and so-called ‘losers’ should only marry other dorks, etc. But why shouldn’t the dork, for once, get the girl? Why shouldn’t opposites attract, for once, or the lead girl decide that she’s looking for something more than just vapid good looks for a change?

And why the dickens should anyone, male or female, have to change themselves and pretend to be someone they’re not, pretend to like stuff they’re not into, just in order to bag a boyfriend or a girlfriend? Good on this film for not ending in the obvious way, and sorry if I’ve just completely spoiled the ending for you, lol.

By the way, is DIE HARD a Christmas movie? The answer is, apparently, Yippee Ki Yay, m*therf*cker…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

LAST CHRISTMAS. (2019) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

LAST CHRISTMAS. (2019) INSPIRED BY THE SONG OF THE SAME NAME BY WHAM! WRITTEN BY EMMA THOMPSON AND GREG WISE. DIRECTED BY PAUL FEIG.
STARRING EMILIA CLARKE, HENRY GOLDING, EMMA THOMPSON, MICHELLE YEOH, PATTI LUPONE, SUE PERKINS AND PETER SERAFINOWICZ.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a fairly entertaining Christmas romp, if you don’t mind a few plot holes and cliches and slightly far-fetched storylines. It’s the story of Kate Andrich, the adult daughter of Yugoslavian immigrants living in London in modern times.

Kate’s a bit of a mess. She couch-surfs amongst her friends because she doesn’t have a place of her own, and she’d apparently rather be homeless than go back and live with her parents. Yes, Emma Thompson as a Yugoslavian immigrant from ‘the old country’ is a bit of a nightmare, but at least she adores her quirky daughter with a mother’s love and care.

Kate boozes and eats junk food and has one-night stands with total strangers and doesn’t get enough sleep. She doesn’t look after herself at all. Yep, she’s a mess. And, even though her friends love her, she keeps letting them down and accidentally destroying their stuff and being downright irresponsible around them.

It’s as if everyone else around her has grown up except Kate, who even ‘outs’ her sensible older sister Marta to their parents in a fit of spite, an act which alienates her sister from her, and maybe even some viewers as well. That’s not Kate’s story to tell, after all.
 
Kate works as an elf in an all-year-round Christmas shop run by Michelle Yeoh as ‘Santa,’ but she keeps letting Santa down with her complete and utter flakiness and disappearing acts and being on her phone all the time when she’s meant to be working. It’s actually really sad when Santa’s beautiful store gets broken into and trashed one night because Kate carelessly forgets to lock up properly behind her when she clocks off.

Kate wants to be a performer, a singer, and we see her going to various auditions and flopping badly each time. Comedienne Sue Perkins and actor Pete Serafinowicz (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, BLACK BOOKS) each have funny little cameos on the different casting panels.

Kate is starting to think that she’s lost ‘it,’ but what’s happened in her life that everything is suddenly so messy, messed-up, dreary and hopeless? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that, one day, right out of the proverbial, a handsome and endearing guy called Tom Webster drops into her life and gradually, inch by inch, Kate begins to look at things in her aforementioned life through a different, and certainly more gratitude-based, viewfinder…

The film attempts to be very, very politically correct and inclusive. Marta’s girlfriend is black, and Kate’s friends whose couch she stays on are in a mixed-race relationship too. Kate has a trans doctor, and there are disabled and mixed-race people galore at the homeless shelter that Tom gets Kate involved in. It’s just too PC for words.

That being said, wouldn’t Emma Thompson’s Eastern European accent murdering songs from ‘the old country’ count as cultural appropriation, one of the new ‘sins’ against political correctness? I just don’t know any more. It’s all very complicated.

By the way, I loved that Patti LuPone turns up- very randomly, maybe she’s a friend of Emma Thompson’s or something!- in Santa’s Christmas shop as a customer. Patti starred in a sort of teen family drama from 1989-1993 called LIFE GOES ON, which I loved.

She played the mom of the goody-goody Thatcher family. There was a dreamy guy in it called Jesse, who was the boyfriend of Patti’s screen daughter Becca, and it was really shocking and so sad because Jesse was HIV-positive, and we all had big crushes on him and wanted to mammy him because he was sick, oh my, those were the days…!

I also love the way that Kate, a basically selfish person, learns in this mostly enjoyable and entertaining film that she’s not the only person in the world with problems, and that there are more ways than just one to look at something.

Example. Did you ever walk down the other side of a street you’re accustomed to walking regularly, only to discover that the street looks completely different from the other side and you even see things you never noticed before?

I particularly liked that Tom teaches Kate to look up occasionally. Yes, a bird might shit in your eye, but there’s a whole beautiful world up there above eye-level that you’re missing out on if you just keep your eyes trained on the ground.

I also love Kate and Tom’s secret garden, and the fact that this is a new Christmas movie for us to watch that’s not LOVE ACTUALLY, which I’m quite tired of by now. All that LAST CHRISTMAS is really lacking is the wonderful Bill Nighy, looking bemused and saying ‘…arse, head and hole…’ for some mad reason.

Better say a word about the music of George Michael and WHAM!, which is featured throughout the film. To be honest, I preferred Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet to WHAM! way back in the ‘80s, although I’ll admit that LAST CHRISTMAS is a great Crimbo song and the video is iconic, to say the least, if a bit cheesy.

I definitely prefer the music of George Michael to the music of WHAM! Songs like FAST LOVE and his duet with Elton John DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON ME mark him out in my mind as a superior singer-songwriter. By the way, Andrew Ridgely supposedly has a cameo in the film but I obviously wasn’t quick enough as I seem to have missed it. Let’s hope you have better luck…!

    AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
 
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
https://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Stops-Sandra-Harris-ebook/dp/B089DJMH64
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234