Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Month of Movies - December Holiday Edition

Moving on from November, we enter a winter wonderland of movies. It was a blizzard of genres, but we managed to watch a few holiday classics.

The Debt (Redbox)

Helen Mirren. That's all you need to know.

This movie (2010) was very good, even though it's not at all what it's advertised as. If you watch the trailer, you think you'll be embroiled in an intense espionage thriller, where a Nazi monster comes back to haunt three agents who were supposed to have eliminated him on a secret mission.

What you won't find here is plot twists, chase sequences, fight scenes, or any other hallmarks of an action/spy movie. What you get is a carefully crafted drama about human nature under duress. 

It's a far quieter movie than expected, and I was not satisfied with the ending, but it is worth a watch for the fine acting. Helen Mirren is superb, as is Jessica Chastain.

Big Trouble (Family Video)

I love walking down the aisles of a video store, waiting for a title or image to catch my eye. I saw this 2002 comedy and thought it looked fun and zany. Tim Allen is another one of my favorite comedies, from Home Improvement, Jungle 2 Jungle, Galaxy Quest, and even The Santa Clause.  

This movie is nothing but pure caper madness and definitely worth your time. You've got the hijincks of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, an ensemble cast that's stuffed to the brim with amazing comedians, and a crime plot that's as improbable as Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction.

Shanghai Noon (VHS)

Oh Jackie Chan, this is not your finest work

Even waiting for the glimpses of his amazing martial arts is not enough to save this movie (2000). Owen Wilson is adorable, but this is a nostalgic stinker. At least the bathtub scene is still hilarious. 

Pushing Tin (VHS)

Awful. Sheer 90s awful. We lasted 15 minutes and shut it off. 

Plot as relayed in a cheesy narrator voice:

Two air traffic controllers go toe-to-toe in a battle of the egos. Insert multiple sequences of them showing off and trying to outdo one another. I'm a man, I have testosterone, grr! Enter pretty lady as plot complication. Likely will have to bond over trying to avert a crisis. Only by working together to save lives can they put their difference aside (ha, IMDB says I'm right about the ending!).

Jane Eyre (DVD/Netflix)

I taught a Women in Literature class recently and assigned the book. Wanted to treat my students the last night of class to a film adaption. 

I tried the Mia Wasikowska / Michael Fassbender version from 2011. I was sorely disappointment. The film is beautifully shot and I loved that the vast majority of the dialogue was directly from the book, but it completely missed the mark. It takes the gothic romance genre too literally. There is no love and light between the characters, only tears and oppressive broodiness.

I grew up on the Charlotte Gainsbourgh / William Hurt rendition from 1996. I had good memories of the film so I didn't screen it before showing it in class. I was a little disappointed to find that this adaption is hardly any better. 

Too much is condensed, altered, and omitted to be faithful to Bronte's intent. At least you want to cheer for this version of Jane and Mr. Rochester. I've been told that some of the mini series do the book better justice ...

Christmas Vacation (VHS)

I never watched this movie as a kid. Not once. I think the first time was in high school and I think I liked it but didn't fall in love with it.

Mike hadn't seen it either until we watched it for the first time last year. Now I think we have a new Christmas tradition on our hands. Chevy Chase, another goofball master, captures so much of what makes us all go a little crazy around the holidays ...

Home Alone (DVD)

Ok, let's be honest about this 90s movie trend. We've been tapping into our childhood, in search for something perhaps no more psychological than a warm fuzzy.

Home Alone is a modern classic and it is still delightful to watch. Everything about it is flawless. Perhaps it's why I like the two Chris Columbus Harry Potter movies (I know, I'm admittedly in the minority). There's a special quality infused into Columbus films, like Mrs. Doubtfire and Stepmom. Plus when you have a score by John Williams, oh man.


Neat thing I noticed for the first time - the entire movie is decorated in red and green. Every single inch of the screen, from the house to character clothing, uses that color scheme. Christmas is literally everywhere! 

White Christmas (Netflix)

As a movie buff, I sometimes obligate myself to "catch up" on classics that I wouldn't normally pick but are important in film history. It's why I'm still slogging my way through AFI's Top 100 lists ...

Whenever I talk holiday movies with folks, I always get ragged on for not having seen this one! So I hunkered down one Saturday morning and tried to get in the Christmas spirit with this 1954 Technicolor classic.

Honestly, this isn't my cup of tea. I don't mind musicals, but this one is over-the-top cheesy. As much as I tried, I couldn't get into it. Unhappily for me, Irving Berlin knows how to write catchy songs and I had a rough two weeks following this viewing. 

But I can at least say that I've seen this now. I also checked off my first Bing Crosby film so silver lining :)
The Way Way Back (Redbox)

Thought this looked like a cute coming-of-age comedy. Can't go wrong with Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, and Alison Janney (love her!). It even has Jim Rash in it, the dean from Community.

Despite the cast, this is not an uproariously funny film. It's more of a dramatic exploration of the modern family as told by a teenager trying to find his place in the world. A good indie flick on its own (Fox Searchlight knows what it's doing), but suffering from misleading advertising.

Worth checking out if you're a Sam Rockwell fan (he plays his usual self) and seeing Steve Carell play a massive jerk. 

Charlie's Angels (VHS/DVD)

I blame Sam Rockwell for this. We were talking about his other roles and I mentioned to Mike that he plays the bad guy in one of the Charlie's Angels movie. He was dubious so I tentatively asked him if he wanted to watch them with me.

These movies are a guilty pleasure. They're campy, totally improbable, filled with ridiculous humor, and full of girl power parading around in tight clothes and heels.

We turned our brains off and laughed.

Little Women (Netflix)

For some reason, I associate this story with Christmas. Maybe because there are many scenes set in winter? At any rate, I branched out from my staple 1994 Winona Ryder version to see what Katharine Hepburn could make of my hero Jo.

This George Cukor film (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story, and many Hepburn-Spencer Tracy pairings) is a fine adaptation. It was done in 1933, right in the thick of the Depression. It's a rose-tinted, sappy version of a simpler time. I don't say this cynically, but it makes all the sense when trying to get down-trodden folks to shore up a few pennies to escape into the theater for an evening. 

It was a nice trip into the past and I'll get a hold of the Elizabeth Taylor 1949 version next. And at the rate Hollywood is recycling old material, I bet we'll see a Little Women adaptation in the near future. It would be interesting if they took the basic story and placed it in modern times. Hmm ... no one steal that script idea!

American Hustle (Movie Theater)


This movie was nothing short of glorious fun. I cannot emphasize how highly this film deserves every award it's been nominated for. If you hated Silver Linings Playbook (which I enjoyed), never fear, this is truly a comedy. It's dark, a signature of David O. Russell, but the humor leads the way.

The casting is perfect and the acting sublime. Russell is fantastic at taking over-the-top characters, putting them in a preposterous situation, and letting his actors steal the scene.


January was so busy that we've barely watched any films. Check back at the end of February when we've had some downtime!

A Month of Movies - November Comedy Edition

You know, it's odd how few holiday plans we had this year and yet November and December flew by at an alarming pace!  I'm still trying to grasp that it's February ...

So here's a double post on what's been in our DVD queue lately.  

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (VHS)

I adore goofball comedies. I always loved watching parodies with my dad, like any of Mel Brooks films, Hot Shots: Part Deux, The Naked Gun, and Airplane. Austin Powers is no different. The slapstick, groan-worthy puns, clever references, outlandish characters, nonsensical plot - I'm sold.

Hadn't seen this movie in ages and Mike and I were still busting up a gut. So many quotable lines! It's crazy to think that this was released in 1999 though ... oh high school ...

Catching Fire (Movie Theater)

While we watch a fair number of movies, it takes special motivation to actually go to the theater. I'm just not willing to spend $20 for both of us to be disappointed. So I try to be selective about which movies we see.

I saw the first Hunger Games movie when Mike was deployed and immediately went out, bought the book, and sat down to read it in one sitting. My mom even sent him the books in his care packages.  

While I know some don't agree, I think the first movie is really good and a strong adaption. Catching Fire, however, takes the series to a whole new level. I loved every minute and even cried 10 minutes into it. Everything was on point, and yes, some stuff was left out, but that happens with every book-to-film translation. 

The key is that they got the essence and feel of Book 2. This will not be a trilogy where the second movie is only a weak bridge between the first and second! 

Father of the Bride (VHS) 

Such an adorable movie! Steve Martin is hands-down my favorite movie comedian. He's so personable and warm and he's got the best "you've got to be kidding me" face. 

The movie's look is definitely dated (so 1991), but it comes off in a nostalgic way. A friend and I remarked that they just don't make family movies like this anymore. I mean, when was the last time you saw a film that celebrated the father-daughter relationship in this way? 

Bill Engvall stand-up comedy (Netflix)

Confession - I've never watched the Blue Comedy Tour, I definitely cannot stand Larry The Cable Guy, and Jeff Foxworthy can be ok in small doses.

I can't remember why we choose Bill Engvall one night, probably because I don't like super raunchy humor and Mike loves his catch phrase "here's your sign." I immediately appreciated his stage presence, observations on life (particularly marriage and family), and storytelling. 

We've now watched Here's Your Sign, 15 Degrees Off Cool, and Aged and Confused. I even started watching the latest season of Dancing with the Stars because he was on there!  I'm kind of curious to watch his TV show, particularly as I love all things Jennifer Lawrence too ...

Peter Russell: Notorious (Netflix)

When we had cable, we loved catching Friday night stand-up on Comedy Central. It's how we got into Gabriel Iglesias and Maria Bamford. It's such an awesome way to end a dismal week at work. Laughter really is the best medicine.

After we'd exhausted our Bill Engvall options, we elected for a random pick based on the description. I like comedians who can do a lot of voices or impressions and Peter Russell is pretty decent. Not too offense and a few funny stories about growing up in an immigrant family. Not amazing, not off putting, relatively amusing. Not particularly motivated to seek out any of his other specials though.

101 Dalmatians (Netflix)

Oh yes, we watched the 1996 live version of this Disney classic. Didn't I tell you we had varied tastes?! All I can say is that we'd both had a bad day, it was available on instant streaming, and puppies. Lots of puppies.

Oddly enough, this movie is pretty funny and Glen Close is simply marvelous as Cruella de Vil. So over the top, so sublime, so perfectly committed to the role.

The Switch (2010)

Haters gonna hate, but I really do like Jennifer Aniston. I never even watched Friends in its heyday, but I loved her in We're the Millers, Horrible Bosses, Just Go with It (even more surprising, an Adam Sandler movie I like!), Bruce Almighty, Rumor Has It, and Office Space.  

Sure, there have been some perfectly awful movies she's been in. I couldn't get through more than 20 minutes of Friends with Money, Along Came Polly is just a weird movie and she and Ben Stiller don't have the best chemistry, The Bounty Hunter is pretty ridiculous, I haven't seen The Break-up nor do I want to, and Wanderlust is just obnoxious. I'm not even sure where to classify Marley & Me (there's that puppy thing again).

She and Jason Bateman were so funny in Horrible Bosses that I thought The Switch would be gold too. It's not. It's not awful, but it's just not a comedy in my mind. It's more of a drama between two long-time friends with one or two chuckle-worthy moments. Even Wikipedia classifies it as an American romantic comedy-drama. And you know Wikipedia is never wrong.

This is the End

I bravely stepped outside of my comfort zone for this movie.  I'm not overly fond of the cast, I hate stupid comedies, there aren't any female characters (aside from a pretty awesome Emma Watson but she has a small role), and the premise is pretty redonkulous. But Mike was in need of a brainless comedy that night so I obliged.

Surprisingly, this film works. Every actor plays a version of themselves for the ultimate form of parody and the obvious references to other post-apocalyptic movies are done with a loving hand. It's definitely rated R though and its humor will appeal to a 13-year-old boy (as well as the adult version), so you are duly warned.

The Heat (Redbox)

I grew up on a bunch of buddy cop movies, like Lethal Weapon, Men in Black, Rush Hour, even Turner & Hooch and K-9. Having been a cop in the military, Mike also loves Hot Fuzz and The Other Guys

The minute I heard about The Heat, I was all for it. Finally, a buddy cop movie with women! And two of the best female comedians out there - Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. I really wanted to see this in the theater to support it but just never had the time. 

The Heat absolutely delivers! There's slapstick, hilarious exchanges between Bullock and McCarthy, and real friendship and growth between the characters. 

There's a scene where McCarthy's character can't get out of car because of close parking and once she does, she starts slamming the door in rage and muffled curses. Because I have never done anything like that before (ahem), I was in stitches. There's also a moment where Bullock gives a double bird to a room full of male supervisors that was unexpected and epic.

More importantly, The Heat shows women as competent professions despite their flaws. Or maybe because of their flaws. Either way, we need more characterizations that show women just like men - as humans first.

Check out what we watched in December