Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

MEUNF watches ‘Christmas’ TV movies

My eternally-un-named friend has a secret addiction

In the run-up to Christmas, my eternally un-named friend has been endlessly watching ‘Christmas movies’.

Not the big-budget Hollywood ones.

The low-budget, no-star, never-meant-for-cinema ones.

The TV-fodder that ends up on seasonal ‘Christmas movie’ channels and only screens for a few weeks in the lead-up to Christmas.

She has been doing this for a few years. 

I decided I had to have a talk with my eternally un-named friend about her worrying addiction…


JOHN: Why did you first decide on this downward path?

MEUNF: It was a few years ago when I started watching them – on Channel 5. It does rot your brain cells slowly, though.

JOHN: What’s the appeal if you don’t admire them?

MEUNF: I watch them for… well, no, sometimes it’s really, really irritating and you wish you handn’t bothered – like eating something you really didn’t want to eat. 

JOHN: You were telling me there is a point in every Christmas movie where the woman wears red…

MEUNF: Or green. It’s usually a coat, but it’s often a jumper.

JOHN: So they don’t start off wearing red clothing but there comes a point in the movie when they start wearing a red dress or a coat or jumper?

MEUNF: A coat. It’s usually a coat. A red coat or a green coat. Because it’s a Christmas movie.

JOHN: So there’s an emotional change and it suddenly bursts into…

MEUNF: No, no. No emotional change. A woman goes to a town and she’s supposed to only be there for the afternoon and she is wearing a grey coat but – Oh dear! Something’s gone wrong! – They’re snowed-in sometimes or a train isn’t running. So she has to stay overnight. 

Next thing you know, she’s in another colour coat the next day which is green. Then the next day it’s another colour coat which is red. So she has three coats with her when she had gone away expecting to stay for only one day.

JOHN: The first coat is always grey?

MEUNF: Yeah.

JOHN: These are American movies.

MEUNF: Yeah.

JOHN: This chat came about because we accidentally stumbled on three Christmas movies and you were able to tell me what would happen in the plot development of each movie.

MEUNF: Well, there was the one on a train this afternoon. That was a much more complicated story than usual. It actually had a plot. 

JOHN: There was a plot twist at the end.

MUUNF: Yes. The whole thing had been set up by the director for his secretary.

JOHN: What age are the women in these movies?

MEUNF: In their twenties. Mostly twenty-something going on for thirty-odd.

JOHN: But the one we saw this afternoon, in the train, unusually…

MEUNF: …had an older man, yes.

JOHN: And he unusually had a relationship with an age-appropriate woman.

A generality of Christmas movies NOT mentioned in this piece. Please do not sue me…

MEUNF: Sometimes someone has a child or they become a widow or widower and that’s fortunate for the next door neighbour who happens to come along and ‘help out’ at some point.

JOHN: Have you ever watched any of these Christmas TV movies that had a sad ending?

MEUNF: (PAUSE) No… Well… (THINKS) Erm erm… Erm… No.

JOHN: They’re all American. So they have to have happy endings. Does anything awful even happen in the middle? In a British movie, at least something appallingly awful would happen in the middle.

MEUNF: Oh! There was one that WAS a British version of a Christmas movie. It was set in Britain and was a bit ‘reality’, so you had different family set-ups. Someone had their stepson not come along and one of the children was going to be ‘sectioned’ – sent into a mental home. But it ended up very boring. It didn’t work. It tried too hard. it included all the aggros of Christmas.

JOHN: Isn’t that good? Because it showed real emotions?

MEUNF: There was something wrong about it, though. It was too… too… There WAS a moment where you thought Well, maybe this will be good… 

…and then it wasn’t.

JOHN: Did it have any humour in? Because American Christmas movies made to fill TV slots don’t seem to have any real humour in them.

MEUNF: (LAUGHS) Well, it amuses ME when they’re cocking it all up and seem to have forgotten that someone was related to someone else. Either the editing has failed to pull it together or they’ve forgotten what the storyline was.

JOHN: Have you seen any of these movies that actually worked?

MEUNF: Well, there were a couple that were quite good – but, then, I have seen a lot! There were days when I’ve sat through two in a row. Over the last couple of weeks this year, I’ve seen at least fourteen. 

JOHN: Only fourteen?

MEUNF: (LAUGHS) At least. I’ve been watching Dress to Impress in between… 

JOHN: Because?

MEUNF: Because they’re shorter! And funnier.

(The pitch for Dress to Impress is: “Three fashion savvy competitors take part in a shopping showdown to win a blind date with a style conscious singleton.”)

JOHN: What made the two ‘good’ Christmas movies you saw ‘good’?

MEUNF: You cared about the main characters. It does matter. If the guy is reasonable-looking and the girl is… 

JOHN: …is…?

MEUNF: The trouble with actresses is that sometimes their personality is a wee bit errghh. You don’t warm to them and then you don’t care about what happens.

You want to like the main female character because you want to identify. When you don’t really like her, you sort-of think: Oh, poor guy!

JOHN: When you say you don’t really like an actress, you don’t mean you DISlike her, but she’s a bit bland?

MEUNF: No, you do slightly dislike her, actually, because her personality is a bit caustic, a bit harsh.

JOHN: This doesn’t sound like my idea of an American schmaltzy movie.

MEUNF: When you think: Oh they’re REALLY spoilt! Or They’re REALLY expecting drivel. And it IS drivel.

JOHN: And they all live in big houses…

MEUNF: Yeah and everything is just too, too much… But if you care about the female character because she’s got a pleasant persona…  if she’s a trier, someone who makes an effort to do things rather than someone who’s just passive and expecting good things to happen…

But sometimes it’s actually the actual female actor who, you think, you wouldn’t really like in real life. You know what it’s like? I mean, you’re beginning to warm to Keanu Reeves…

I’m beginning to warm a bit to Keanu…

JOHN: Erm… yes… 

MEUNF: Can we stop talking for a bit so I can find something interesting on television?

JOHN: Tell me how you can watch bland films when…

MEUNF: …It’s when you’re doing something else and you don’t want to concentrate too much on what the storyline is.

After watching a few, you usually know what’s been going on when you’ve left the room. You don’t need to think about it. It’s just something going on that’s totally unimportant.

You don’t have to concentrate. It’s obvious what’s going on and you just know what’s going to happen – usually from the very beginning!

It’s like paint-by-numbers or one of those things where you just add water and the colours appear. Simple. No effort.

But if you go to a movie in the cinema and see some of the films you… the John Wick movies… You think: Who’s that? What happened there? Why did that happen?

JOHN: Now you are talking movie-movies, though.

Maybe the John Wick movies are like wild Christmas TV movies. Best not to think too deeply about the details. The plots are on another planet. No hint of any known reality. I just sit back, ignore the plot and let the visuals flow over me. It’s like bathing in ultra-violent ballet.

Well, on second thoughts, maybe they’re NOT like Christmas TV movies…

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Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves’ new movie “Man of Tai Chi” shooting in Beijing

During the night, on the long train trip back to Beijing from Pyongyang, I mention that, since an accident in 1991 in which I was hit by a truck, I have not been able to read books. I can write books, but I cannot read them.

Our English travel agent guide tells me he was recently mugged in the street in Bristol. “They hit me on the back of the head with a baseball bat,” he told me. And roughed me up a bit at the front, too. I have had difficulty reading – and slight speech problems – since then. It’s very frightening when it affects your mind.”

I develop a slight toothache.

As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Yalu River which divides North Korea from China, two smiling strangers (everyone was smiling) separately observed to me how strange it was to feel that entering China was returning to ‘freedom’.

A woman I did not know said to me, smiling: “It’s like a weight has been lifted.”

Somewhere between a station signposted Tanggu and Tianjin city, I noticed there were satellite TV dishes on some of the old, single-storey peasant homes. Not Party buildings, not notable buildings, not in any way rich homes. And occasional clusters of buildings had solar panels on their roofs; possibly communal buildings; impossible to tell.

Then, for mile after mile after mile, a gigantic new elevated road/train track was being built. Make that plural. Over mile upon mile upon continuous mile, new highways, new tower blocks were being built. It is as if the country is building a new city like Milton Keynes every week or a new London Docklands nationwide every few days.

So very different to when I was last here in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

The irony with China is that, in the Cultural Revolution – the Chinese call it the ‘Ten Year Chaos’ – of 1966-1976, the Red Guards wanted to destroy the past, to start from the ‘now’ and build a new society. That now has happened. The irony is that it is not the future they envisaged; it is the future they feared.

Would this giant leap forward have been possible in a country without the unstoppable anti-democratic will and irresistible totalitarian power to push it through? Who knows? But it is an interesting thought/dilemma.

As we arrived at Beijing railway station, someone told me they had seen on BBC World TV that the North Korean satellite launched last week had exploded shortly after launch. Back in North Korea, of course, they will ‘know’ that Satellite 3 was a glorious success and will ‘know’ the giant leaps which their country makes continue to be the envy of the world.

If you live in a self-contained village isolated from all outside knowledge – or, indeed, in The Village in The Prisoner TV series – you know only what you know. There are no known unknowns, only unknown unknowns.

Living standards and social/technological advances are comparative. The North Koreans can see for themselves – they ‘know’ – that their society has advanced in leaps and bounds – from the electricity pylons of the 1980s to – now – mobile telephones and three satellites in space. And they have seen the tributes brought to their leaders by the admiring leaders of other countries.

China – with 7.5% growth per year – is living the advance a stagnant North Korea falsely believes it is making.

In the afternoon, in Beijing, I go into a Bank of China branch. It is in a suburb of the city. The door guard and staff look shocked that a Westerner has wandered into their branch.

I get a ticket to go to the cashier. A recorded message on the loudspeaker tells me when my number – Number 46 – is ready to be dealt with and which cashier to go to. The recorded message is in Chinese… then in English. Like the road signs, the metro signs and many shop signs. It is not just for my benefit. Each customer announcement is made in Chinese… then English.

At the cashier’s desk, facing me, is a little electronic device with three buttons marked in Chinese and in English. By pressing the appropriate button, unseen by the cashier, I can say if her service has been Satisfactory or Average or Dissatisfied.

Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

About half an hour later, near the Novotel and the New World Centre shopping complex, I pass a woman with one eye, begging. Welcome to capitalism. Welcome to China 2012.

Close to a nearby metro entrance, an old grey-haired woman is lying flat on her back, immobile, on the pavement. Beside her, by her head, a middle-aged man, possibly her son, kneels, rocking backwards and forwards, bobbing his head on the pavement, as if in silent Buddhist prayer. A large sheet of paper with Chinese lettering explains their situation. Passers-by drop Yuan notes into a box.

Welcome to China 2012.

At dusk, walking back to my own hotel from a metro station on one of Beijing’s busy, modern ring roads – a 45 minute walk – I see some movie trucks belonging to the China Film Group – dressing rooms, a director’s trailer, equipment vans.

Further along, down a side street, they are shooting second unit photography for a movie called Man of Tai Chi – actor Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut – in an area of grey, old-style, single-storey streets just a 15 second walk off the busy ring road.

In Pyongyang, the North Korean film studios had clearly been doing nothing. But they wanted – they liked – to pretend they have a thriving film industry.

In China, they do.

But they also block Facebook, Twitter and, indeed, this very blog you are reading.

Welcome to China 2012.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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