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Christmas First Watch Review – The Ref (1994)

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Ah yes, Christmas is, first and foremost, a time for family. Mind you, with a family like this one I can understand why people going off skiing somewhere distant or stock up on microwave roast meals and keep the curtains closed. Throw in the heightened fears of burglary surrounding houses full of brand new gear and a film that combines a dysfunctional family and a cat burglar and you have the makings of a cinematic nightmare.

Or so you might think. Instead we have a a comedy with just the right amount of cringe and plenty of laughs. But then The Ref is another recommendation from Terri. This time it is one of her favourites rather than her mother’s so let’s hope she has inherited the same good taste. I am seriously thinking about setting up a recommended reviews section. Either that or get Terri on the team! So please take note, if you have any favourites that we haven’t seen, drop us a line in the comments below.

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Mary, Gag Your Grandma

I have to admit that, on first look, I didn’t know how much I’d get from The Ref. My first thought was that it was a sport film as in The Referee. I don’t know a lot about sports in my home country and as for US sports, well, I could write everything I know on a small postage stamp while using a very broad nibbed marker. Still, I had a quick read of the IMDb summary and realised that I was wide of the mark. I also realised that, when it was released over here it was called Hostile Hostages which is a much more accurate description. So what is The Ref about? 

In short, we have a wealthy couple; Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur  – Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis. Their relationship is on the verge of falling apart for a variety of reasons and they are spending Christmas Eve in a marriage counselling session. While they are in therapy, a cat burglar (Gus – Denis Leary) is cracking a safe. It goes well until he is thwarted by some Home Alone-esque booby traps. While making his escape he kidnaps Lloyd and Caroline and goes back to their house to hide until the immediate police activity dies down.  Enter the rest of the bickering and bitching family along with a drunken neighbour. They have to take unusual  steps to get through the night.

Connecticut Is The Fifth Ring Of Hell

One thing that threw me was the billing order at the start; Kevin Spacey was listed third! It reminded me of when I rewatched Shallow Grave and Ewan McGregor was listed third. Now I know that Mr Spacey is having career difficulties of, allegedly, his own making but I just assumed he was top billed for everything he was in back in the nineties. Similarly I was surprised to find out that this was the film debut of JK Simmons. I know that he’s a similar age to me so I just assumed he had been acting since he was in his late teens or early twenties rather than his late thirties. Still, I think he is marvellous. I would watch him in anything; if he were British I’d be doing a bio of him!

Four years later Kevin Spacey went on to win an Oscar for playing a beleaguered, harassed husband with a wife called Carolyn and some odd neighbours.  Now I’m not insinuating that American Beauty copied The Ref but it was obviously a dry run for Kevin. I won’t say any more about what happens because I think you owe it to yourselves to track down a copy of The Ref/Hostile Hostages and give it a watch. It is, very probably, one of the best films you have never seen…probably never heard of!  And, once again, I have to thank Terri for the recommendation.

Movie Grade: A

Classic Movie Rewatch Review – Trading Places

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6 responses to “Christmas First Watch Review – The Ref (1994)”

  1. This is on my watch list. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Rob Williams Avatar
    Rob Williams

    I saw that Terri had mentioned it to you in the Stalag 17 comments. I enjoyed her other recommendation (We’re No Angels) so I was keen to see her next pick!

  3. Whoa — I never expected to see this! Happy you got a kick out of it, Rob. I can’t wait for my son to fly in later this week so we can have our yearly watch. It’s one of our must watch films every Christmas.

    Know what else is? The Man Who Invented Christmas. That became my new favorite Christmas movie, replacing long-time tops Die Hard, a few years back and will remain my #1 for the unforeseeable future. It fills my strong nerd side with all the Christmas joy. 🙂

    Cheers on ya, Rob!

  4. Rob Williams Avatar
    Rob Williams

    I don’t know why you were surprised to see this…everything you’ve said so far made sense and your recommendations have been top notch! When you make the effort to suggest a film to watch I’ll be watching it. I think of it in the same way that I approached reading professional reviews; find a reviewer who says similar things to what I would have said and likes similar things. That way I know whether or not to listen to future recommendations. Trust me, Terri, whenever you make a suggestion in future I’ll be tracking it down for a looksee.

    The exception has to be with your recommendations this time. Obviously, I’ve seen Die Hard many times and it is one of the “classics” that gets a reshowing on the big screen; I have taken advantage of that for the last few years. I have, though, also seen The Man Who Invented Christmas! I remember going to see it in the cinema when it came out and and bought it to watch at home straight away. Dan Stevens is excellent in everything I’ve seen him in; action, comedy, drama…he can do the lot. Throw in an incredible supporting cast: Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, and Miriam Margolyes are all treasures. They must be if Christopher Plummer gets knocked back to fourth place!

    I hope you have a great holiday and enjoy plenty of festive films with your family.

    Thanks for all your suggestions Terri, and I’m looking forward to see what you bring to my attention in 2023!

  5. Thank you, Rob! It’s fun to chat films with others…especially those kind strangers who seem to enjoy and share similar tastes.

    Once the topic of holiday movies subsides, I’d love to exchange our Top Two (or Three) all-time favorite movies.

    Here’s to happy and safe holidays!

  6. Rob Williams Avatar
    Rob Williams

    Indeed it is! I don’t follow sports in any way, shape, or form so I was never one for propping up the bar talking about last night’s match. However, I will chat about films with anyone! I’m no expert so I can’t pontificate on mise-en-scène or rack focusing but I do like to witter on about a good story or an impressive special effect.

    Top two or three? I admire your discipline! A short while ago I wrote an article about my favourite films and intended to keep it to my top ten. Then I started remembering more and more and before long it was over twenty and I finally called it quits at fifty and I’m seriously thinking of a volume two! If you missed it, it’s here.

    All the best wishes for whatever you celebrate and hoping next year will be even better.

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