Thursday, December 29, 2005
This sequel to Meet The Parents is one of the rare sequels that is actually worth seeing. Added to the original cast of this excellent comedy are Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman as Greg’s parents, Bernie and Roz Focker. Greg Focker (Ben Stiller), his fiancée Pam (Teri Polo) and her parents, Jack and Dina Byrnes (Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner), travel down to Florida in an enormous RV in order to meet Greg’s parents before Greg and Pam marry. Included on this trip are the Byrnes’ grandson, and their cat (who can flush).
Greg’s parents are priceless. Roz is a sex therapist, coaching senior citizens out of their home. Bernie is a lawyer, but stayed home when Greg was small to raise him. Bernie and Roz delight in exposing Greg’s personal and embarrassing secrets to the Byrnes family. Dina likes them soon enough, but Jack is difficult to win over. Not just anyone can enter his Circle of Trust. Jack resorts to some covert operations CIA style to try to get more information about Greg and his past. The shenanigans tumble one after another to set loose gales of laughter (from the audience). Particularly funny are some situations having to do with the Byrnes’ grandson, including his first words. Parenting styles couldn’t be more opposite.
I recommend this film for a good laugh. Two families joining their lives through marriage is never an easy thing to do, and it is likely that these two families will make yours and your in-laws seem tame by comparison.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Sarah goes to San Francisco in search of Beau to find out if he is her father. Beau turns out to be a real womanizer (no surprise there; what other kind of man would sleep with a both a mother and her daughter).
Will Sarah succumb to Beau’s charms? Will she return to Jeff? What really happened between Beau and Sarah’s mother? Was her parents’ marriage a loveless union? And who was the real seducer, Beau or Sarah’s grandmother?
These are some of the questions that are answered in this thoroughly entertaining movie. No, it’s not Academy Award material; but now and then, pure entertainment is just what we need. The actors do a great job portraying their characters. And I found it very touching as Sarah learns about the mother who was taken from her so prematurely during her early childhood. Sarah does eventually learn the truth about her parents, her grandmother, and the infamous Beau Burroughs, and the knowledge sets her free. I do recommend this film. After all, some family had to be the inspiration for The Graduate.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
I think I know why. The American movie-going public is just plain bored and disgusted with movies about boxing. The film is rated PG-13, which means children under 13 years should have parental guidance to see it. I wouldn’t recommend this film even to my 19-year old niece! I wouldn’t recommend it to adults either. Now I know how Ebert and Roeper must feel having to sit through awful movies just because they have to write about them.
Any other film with these actors would have been great. Russell Crowe plays James Braddock, a boxer during the Depression era who overcame obstacles to keep his family together, and to be a great fighter. Renee Zellweger plays his wife, and Paul Giamatti plays his trainer/manager. I have no issues with Mr. Braddock as a person, and I believe he did overcome many obstacles to keep his family together during the Depression. But so did a lot of other people.
If Hollywood really tried, they could come up with another story of hardship leading to success. But instead they filmed this movie about a “profession/sport” that has grown men beating each other up (and sadly, grown women as in Million Dollar Baby). Audiences don’t want to go to theaters to watch boxing, and they don’t want to watch it at home either. Even Mrs. Braddock hates boxing, and tells her husband to stop letting his children spar with him. She lays down the law and announces that no child in her family will grow up to be a boxer. They will go to college and get good jobs elsewhere. Way to go, Mrs. Braddock!
Russell Crowe was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his performance, as was Paul Giamatti for his performance in a supporting role. It is not Russell’s year for an award. I can see why Mr. Giamatti was nominated however, as he does a really fine job as the manager risking his own financial stability in order that Mr. Braddock can have one last chance. Mr. Giamatti is a fine actor, as he has shown us previously in Sideways.
Other than Mr. Giamatti’s performance, the film falls short. The cinematography is inferior. I know it was dark during the Depression, but this film is too dark to even see clearly. I can’t think of any reason you should go out and rent this film. If any of you have seen it, please comment about it here. I’d be interested to hear whether you agree or disagree with me.
(The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has rated Cinderella Man PG-13 for intense boxing violence and some language. Henceforth, when I quote the MPAA ratings, it is verbatim for my readers’ information. Many of my readers prefer to avoid films with violence, and this is a way for me to alert you to whether there is sufficient violence in a film for it to be noted in the MPAA ratings.)
Monday, December 26, 2005
Crash, rated R, has an all-star cast including Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillippe, and Loretta Devine. To get so many accomplished actors in one film, I figured the screenplay must be pretty good, and I was not disappointed. The film is nominated for best screenplay, and Matt Dillon is nominated for best supporting actor in the upcoming Golden Globe Awards. This was one of the best films I have seen all year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up in some of the categories at the Academy Awards.
As the film progressed, I was reminded of Grand Canyon which was released in 1991, as the characters similarly weave in and out of each other’s lives, and both films are are about race relations in Los Angeles. The characters are complex, and just when you think you have one figured out and placed in a category (good or bad), something happens that tests that person and shows them and the viewer that life and the choices they make are not all that predictable.
It is a film about how racial stereotypes, and past history perpetuates hatred between the many cultures that make up Los Angeles: African-American, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic. The characters confront each other about those stereotypes and philosophize to each other about what it means to be a part of a certain race or group. Despite the philosophizing, never does the dialogue sound preachy, although definite points are made.
I don’t want to give away too much of the film, because some of its beauty is from the unexpected that occurs between these people struggling to get through life. However, I will share that the film deals with relationships between the police and Los Angeles citizens. It contrasts African-Americans, some of whom are professionals with respected jobs, who are embarrassed by those of their race who are common thieves. A Hispanic man living a new life away from gang involvement has to calm and comfort his daughter because she is scared of random bullets coming through the house. An Iranian daughter tries to help her father, who has been mistaken for an Arab, even so far as taking him to buy a gun to protect his store.
Those are just some of the characters in Crash, and the actors are amazing. Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon particularly have difficult roles to play and make their interactions so real and believable. I don’t know if this film will help anyone be less prejudiced, but it definitely made me think. It hasn’t been that long ago (less than 40 years) since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and race relations remain a multi-layered and complex issue. As long as thoughtful films like this are being made, it gives me hope that more and more people can learn to understand themselves, and each other, better.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Spanglish was written and directed by James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets). I was happily surprised at the depth of this comedy, and found it to be quite touching. The film stars Adam Sandler (50 First Dates), Tea Leoni, and Cloris Leachman.
Flor (Paz Vega) immigrates to Los Angeles from Mexico hoping for a better life for herself and her daughter Cristina (Shelbie Bruce). Flor eventually decides it would be beneficial to work one job rather than two so she can keep a better eye on her blossoming daughter, and ends up employed by the Clasky’s, Deborah (Tea Leoni) and John (Adam Sandler).
Flor does not speak English when the Clasky’s first hire her, and Cristina is forced to translate for her. There are no subtitles in the film, which is unusual, but I decided that it helped create the kind of atmosphere and difficulties that a family in their situation must find themselves in while trying to communicate.
This film is told from the point of view of Cristina, who has written an admissions essay to Princeton. She is looking back on her life with her mother and the choices her mother made for their family. Spanglish is really a film about honor. Flor has to make decisions to maintain the integrity of her family, both as an employee of the Clasky’s and as a woman.
This is because the Clasky’s are not a functional family. Deborah is a horrible mother, John is struggling with his work as a chef, and living with them is Deborah’s alcoholic mother (Cloris Leachman). Over a summer spent at the Clasky’s summer residence on the ocean, John and Flor become attracted to one another. They are simpatico, talking easily and often emotionally about their children and the decisions they make as parents.
When school begins in the fall, Cristina has a scholarship to the same school the Clasky’s daughter attends. Flor is growing increasingly uneasy about Deborah’s involvement with her daughter. Deborah meanwhile breaks down and tells John the secret she has been keeping from him. John leaves the house and runs into Flor. He invites Flor to his restaurant where he cooks her dinner. These scenes between John and Flor are very charged and sensual, and all too brief. Flor makes her decisions for the good of herself and her daughter, the decisions her daughter later has come to accept and appreciate.
I actually liked this film better than As Good as It Gets. I don’t recall it getting much press at the time it came out in theaters, and that is a shame. Adam Sandler is particularly good as the troubled chef not wanting to get too much acclaim, preferring a simpler life, and who is a good husband, who for many years has overlooked his histrionic wife’s drama.
I highly recommend this film to you. It mirrors a part of Los Angeles, both the privileged white class, and the 48% of Los Angeles that are the working Hispanics. I liked how the film resolved all the conflicts between its characters with integrity and honor.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) have a song and dance team with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale). Lila becomes engaged to Jim, but doesn’t want to join him at his farm in Connecticut. She and Ted run off together to continue their career in show business, while Jim heads to his farm. Jim gets the idea to turn the farm into Holiday Inn, a place where shows are performed on major holidays only. Along the way, aspiring performer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) joins Jim’s productions at the inn. Lila meanwhile dumps Ted and he shows up at the inn intoxicated. He dances a crowd-pleasing dance with Linda, but fails to remember who she is in the morning. Thus begins Ted’s search for his perfect dance partner, and Jim’s attempts to keep the two of them apart. (Fred Astaire had two shots of bourbon prior to the first take for the drunken dance scene, and one shot before each subsequent take. They stopped at the 7th take, which is in the movie).
Bing and Fred are great as friends who always seem to fall for the same woman, and then try to outsmart each other. Bing was about 39 years old at the time of this film and Fred was 43 years old. You’re probably seeing them at the prime of their talents here, and the screenplay is a classic romantic comedy, well written and directed.
The film is in black and white, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing it. The dancing and comedy are enough to make up for it. One of my favorite pieces is the 4th of July performance. This film was released in 1942, and the number is a not so subtle reminder that we were at war, and what freedoms we were fighting to protect. Another interesting little segment is the confused turkey on the calendar trying to pick which Thursday in November should be Thanksgiving Day. It’s a reference to President Roosevelt’s wanting to change the date of Thanksgiving.
Why not get both Holiday Inn and White Christmas for a night of some of the best classic musicals Hollywood ever made? Watching these two films always puts me in good spirits, and I hope they have the same effect for you.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Drew (Ben Affleck) says the wrong thing to his girlfriend Missy just before Christmas and she breaks up with him. Desperate to not be spending Christmas alone, Drew goes to his childhood home, and pays the family now living there $250,000 to let him stay with them for the holidays. Tom (James Gandolfini) sees the dollar signs, and his wife Christine (Catherine O’Hara) reluctantly agrees to the plan, even though their teenage son is not happy to be giving up his room to this stranger. Drew even hires an actor to play his grandfather, whom he affectionately nicknames Doo-Dah, to complete the family.
That’s where the fun begins. Actually, from the first few opening scenes, we know this is not going to be a typical Christmas movie. Seeing Grandma take gingerbread men out of the oven with frowns painted on all their little faces is one clue, and what she does afterwards is shocking if it hadn’t been for those depressed little cookies. This film is about the unfortunate people who greet depression instead of Christmas cheer in December each year.
Drew sets about recreating his family, and doing all the traditional family Christmas rituals, and then their older daughter Alicia (Christina Applegate) shows up. She is not happy about having this crazy man spend the holidays with her family. Ben Affleck is really quite superb in this role, and is totally cut out to do comedy. He really shines in this film, and the other actors are great in their unique roles as well. The situations that arise are very funny.
The film takes place in Chicago and the suburbs. For anyone who’s ever been to northern Illinois, you know there are no mountains there; not even close. Despite this fact, Drew takes Alicia tobogganing down a mountain complete with a forest that could only be in the Pacific Northwest. Other than that, I really liked the film and laughed out loud. I liked that it was in Chicago, as the holidays are a magical time in the Windy City, decorations on every street and storefront, and the hope of snow in the air.
This film is also a little romance. Tom and Christine work at rekindling their love for each other, and Drew and Alicia grow more and more attracted to each other as the hours pass. If you want to see a romantic comedy that is also about families and Christmas, this is the film for you.
Monday, December 19, 2005
The Polar Express
by Chris Van Allsburg. It is an animated film, but the work is so extraordinarily real, you’ll forget you’re watching animation.
On Christmas Eve, a young boy who is beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, discovers the Polar Express boarding outside his front door. It is heading straight to the North Pole. He hops aboard where he meets other children clad in their pajamas, all hoping to meet Santa Claus.
The conductor is unmistakably Tom Hanks, with a huge pocket watch to help him stick to the schedule. All sorts of adventures arise en route to the North Pole, many of them taking on the dimensions of a roller coaster ride. I’d love to see this film at an IMAX theater for just that reason. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find it playing at an IMAX in your town. There is also plenty of classic Christmas music, sweet songs sung by the children, and wonderful scenes of magic reindeer flying through the sky, Santa and the huge red sack of Christmas presents in tow. Our young hero is given a special gift by Santa, and for a while, still believes.
Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame (another of my favorites), directed the film, and it is a delight from beginning to end. It is rated G, and young and old alike will enjoy this film. There are lots of beautiful messages about the spirit of Christmas in this story. The conductor tells our young hero as he disembarks the train, “One thing about trains; it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” I recommend you board Polar Express this holiday season.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
takes place during Christmas, the film was not intended to be holiday entertainment when it was first released in 1946. It has since become a classic associated with Christmas, and is cited by many as a favorite movie to watch during the holidays.
The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed as Mary Hatch-Bailey and Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter. It is a film about the hopes and dreams of George Bailey, and how they never quite materialize. This is partly due to the machinations of Mr. Potter (an early version of the greedy corporate executive). George has dreams of traveling the world, of building things, of having a million dollars. As his life unfolds, reality doesn’t even come close to his aspirations.
George’s father and his Uncle Billy run a small building and loan company, an institution Mr. Potter yearns to make his own. George again and again stays in Bedford Falls to work at the building and loan, setting aside his dreams year after year. During this time, he marries the girl who has always loved him (played by Donna Reed). Four children soon follow, and George struggles to support his family.
On Christmas Eve day, Uncle Billy misplaces an $8,000 deposit to the bank (the money is found by Mr. Potter who uses the opportunity to set into motion the final demise of the building and loan and thus George Bailey). George is at his lowest point. Mr. Potter points out he is worth more dead than alive, and George considers suicide. This is why I don’t think of It's a Wonderful Life as a Christmas movie. The film deals with George’s depression and desperation, and is really a drama with elements of comedy and romance. The careful observer notices the clues that George hasn’t been happy with his life for some time, and the incident of the lost money sends him right over the edge.
Before George can throw himself off a bridge into the turbulent, cold waters of the river, an angel intervenes. An angel named Clarence, who is from another era. Clarence realizes that the way to help George is to show him what the world would be like had he never been born.
As George and Clarence walk through a world where George doesn’t exist, he grows frantic as all the familiar places, friends and family he has taken for granted are nowhere to be found. He finally realizes he really does love his wife, his children, and his life. Once George realizes he wants to live, Clarence brings George’s world back. The ending results in all his friends coming together to help him out.
Largely because of James Stewart’s wonderful performance, the audience can empathize with George’s feelings about his life, and I think that is why this film is beloved by so many. The screenplay is also excellent. Mr. Stewart gets to deliver some great romantic lines, and his passion to his character remains from beginning to end. I recommend this film as one of the classics of all time.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
It’s a romantic comedy, filmed entirely in Utah on Robert Redford’s Sundance property. The film was written and directed by Kate Montgomery, and it’s a clever script, well rendered by the actors.
Joe Clouds on Fire (Sam Vlahos) begins to tell his story as he is driving his old beat-up truck along a mountainous road. He has been corresponding with Tina Littlehawk (Mariana Tosca) who lives in New York, and his letters have impressed Tina. She decides to pay Joe a surprise visit, and books a room at the resort where Joe’s son, Ray Clouds on Fire (Tim Vahle), is the general manager. She does not use her real name, wanting to check things out with Joe anonymously.
Ray is anxious about a review that will end up in a prominent travel guide, but doesn’t know the identity of the person who will be judging the resort. The staff mistake Tina for the real reviewer, who is Stu O’Malley (M. Emmet Walsh), a grumpy alcoholic estranged from his daughter.
To further complicate the case of mistaken identity, Tina thinks that Ray is her pen pal Joe, and Ray thinks that Tina is the anonymous reviewer for the travel guide. Ray and Tina begin to fall for each other, and around them are all the resort staff, a colorful group of characters, each with their own quirks and endearing qualities.
Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves, Thunderheart) plays Earl, the resort’s vegetarian chef, who is chagrined at Ray’s request that he also serve meat to the diners. There are so many funny jokes throughout that it’s hard for me to pick my favorite. Wes Studi has a cameo appearance playing himself, and there is an adorable mouse running about the resort that is as much a character in the story as the people around him.
The music is mostly Native American in influence. There is a beautiful rendition of Silent Night, sung in the Ute language and accompanied by R. Carlos Nakai. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and hope you get to see it in your own local theaters this holiday season.
Friday, December 09, 2005
The Grinch hates everything about Christmas, the presents, the feasting, the music and games, but especially he hates the singing. He hatches a plot to steal Christmas from the Whos, employing only his dog Max in his secret scheme. After he steals every physical part of the Whos celebration, he retreats to the mountains to throw it all off the top of a peak. But he hears the Whos singing on Christmas morning, and has a moment of satori. He couldn’t steal Christmas after all because its spirit is inside the Whos. He returns all that he has taken and joins in the celebration.
It’s a nice little Christmas story to watch (only 26 minutes), and just as relevant today as it was 39 years ago when it was released.
Monday, December 05, 2005
Kevin is the youngest of five children, and mistakenly gets left behind when his family flies to Paris for the holidays along with his cousins and aunt and uncle. The family hasn’t treated Kevin all that nicely, and he had made a bedtime wish that they would just disappear. When he awakens the following morning and they have flown off to Paris without him, he thinks his wish came true.
Kevin conquers his fears and becomes quite self-sufficient while his family is gone. The Wet Bandits have targeted his house as one of the choice homes to rob while people are away for the holidays, and the defense Kevin devises to protect his home is ingenious, complete, and very funny. Watching Marv and Harry as they make their way through Kevin’s booby traps makes me laugh out loud!
Kevin also makes friends with his scary neighbor, whose reputation has been fueled by tall and untrue tales of his murderous past. Both the neighbor and Kevin learn something about themselves and their families from each other. The neighbor reaches out to his estranged son and family as a result, and Kevin realizes that even though his family is not perfect, he loves them and would like them to come home.
This is a good movie, and I highly recommend it. Also featured are John Heard and Catherine O’Hara as Kevin’s parents, and a great cameo appearance by John Candy. Kevin’s mother and family are understandably upset when they realize Kevin is missing, and his mother’s quest to get home from Paris as quickly as possible results in her meeting the Polka King of the Midwest (John Candy). The writer and producer is John Hughes (remember his name?), and is directed by Chris Columbus who is now involved with the Harry Potter movies.
I’ll review the sequel to Home Alone another day.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
White Christmas is mainly a romantic comedy set to music and dancing, with a sentimental bent and nod to those who served in World War II. The story is about a show business duo, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), who end up at a Vermont resort just before Christmas with the Haynes sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen), who have their own song and dance act.
Bob and Phil encounter their former general from the army (Dean Jagger) who is now owner of the resort in Pine Tree, Vermont. The trouble is there is no snow to bring in the guests. Thus begins an elaborate plan to get folks up to the resort, and pay tribute to the general at the same time.
Meanwhile, Bob and Betty are falling for each other. Interspersed through all of this are great musical numbers. Vera-Ellen is an incredible dancer. She looks like she’s about a size 2 with legs that just won’t quit. Danny Kaye does a very good job singing and dancing his role, and his comedic timing couldn’t be better. The segment where Phil and Bob dress up like the sisters to mime their act is hilarious, and I read, filmed on the first take.
If you have older folks, grandparents and such, coming to your house for Christmas, this is the perfect film to rent or buy. Watching it reminded me of my parents and aunts and uncles who loved watching these stars and this film, and introduced me to them. I grew up dreaming of a White Christmas, and welcomed the snow that would magically transform our dreary winter world into a carpet of white. I hope White Christmas brings some of that magic to you.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Steve Martin plays Neal Page, a marketing executive flying home from New York to Chicago to be with his wife and three children. John Candy is Del Griffith, a shower ring salesman who befriends, or should I say latches onto, Neal.
The O’Hare airport is closed due to blizzard conditions, and Neal finds himself stranded in Wichita with Del. Their journey across the frigid Midwest is filled with complications, and yes, all modes of travel are utilized, including buses and catching a ride in the back of a semi-truck headed to Chicago.
Neal finds Del to be the worst possible company, and their relationship has its ups and downs throughout the tale. Neal begins as a levelheaded, nice man whose patience is tested, and we watch as he ultimately succumbs to being the difficult traveler we wouldn’t want to meet. Del proves to be ingenious when trouble appears, and ultimately a nice man, someone you’d like to be friends with, even if only for his loyalty.
I like this film because it makes me laugh out loud, the ending brings a tear to the eyes, and because the two comedians do such an excellent job portraying the many emotions that arise on their cross-country journey. I also can’t recall many films lately that feature two men (not two women, or a man and a woman) making their way through a situation that tests them individually and as a team, and we see each of them grow by the end of the film.
Look for an early cameo by Kevin Bacon, and keep the tape playing once the credits begin to roll. I just let it keep playing as I regrouped after the film listening to the music, and was treated to a funny little segment at the end of the credits, something I think you’ll also enjoy.