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!

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