A Christmas Story (12/22/12 & 12/24/12)

A Christmas StoryMovie Two Hundred Ninety Two and Two Hundred Ninety Six

A Christmas Story is about a young boy’s quest for the ultimate Christmas gift: a BB gun.

Based on a memoir by Jean Shepherd (who narrates as adult Ralphie) about growing up in the 1940s in Indiana, the story focuses on the Parker family; brother Randy (Ian Petrella), and parents (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) as told from the perspective of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley). Ralphie longs for an official Red Rider BB gun much to the chagrin of his worrisome mother and teacher.

My original plot overview basically covered the entire movie from start to finish so I had to hack off much of it just to keep this manageable. I have mentioned A Christmas Story as being one of my favorite movies ever and it’s a movie I have seen so many times it would be impossible to even guess the number. In fact, it’s unique that I only watched it twice this year since I usually watch it four or five times – in a row, often. It’s a tale I relate to and it’s a film I find hilarious every single time I watch it. To explain the importance A Christmas Story has to me would be impossible since I don’t wholly understand the appeal myself.

There are several Christmas movies that we usually watch during the season but to me, it’s not Christmas until A Christmas Story has been watched. Even now, more than a week after Christmas has come and gone, writing about A Christmas Story puts me back in the mood for Christmas. It’s kind of like when you drive past a BBQ restaurant and get hungry just smelling all those delicious meats (sorry, vegetarians).

Even in spite of my undying love of A Christmas Story, I would struggle to recommend it to someone that had never watched it before. I’m really not sure how much nostalgia has warped my perception of it. My wife had never really watched it before she met me and I believe she’s now a convert of the Almighty A Christmas Story, but I’m not sure if she really loves it the way I do even though she’s watched it a few dozen times by now.

To me, A Christmas Story is synonymous with the Christmas season. It’s a film I will never tire of and will force everyone around me to watch at least once a year. I even have a working replica of the Red Rider in the movie. I can hardly wait until next December rolls around so I can get a few more viewings of A Christmas Story in.

I give it 5 “stuck!”s out of 5.

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Love Actually (12/19/12)

Love ActuallyMovie Two Hundred Eighty Nine

At least eight different, intertwining tales of love at Christmastime in London come together in Love Actually.

The different stories –

  • Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rock star looking to stage a comeback with a new Christmas album with the help of his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher).
  • Juliet (Keira Knightley) marries Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) but learns that Peter’s best friend, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is in love with her.
  • A writer, Jamie (Colin Firth) finds his girlfriend sleeping with his brother and travels to a remote French cottage where he falls in love with the Portuguese cleaning lady, Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), who doesn’t speak English.
  • Harry (Alan Rickman) finds himself attracted to his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch), and his wife, Karen (Emma Thompson) begins to suspect something when she finds a gift for her.
  • David (Hugh Grant), the new Prime Minister, falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of his household staff.
  • Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), mourn the loss of their wife and mother. Sam has also fallen for his American classmate and Daniel decides to help him win her over.
  • Sarah (Laura Linney) has had a crush on a coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), for years but their relationship is constantly interrupted by calls from her mentally ill brother.
  • Unlucky in love in London, Colin (Kris Marshall) decides to travel to America to find a girl, or girls.
  • John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) meet while filming as body doubles for various sex scenes.

Wow, do you have all that? It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds as each of the stories is short and all of them overlap in some way. Characters crop up in different stories and the golden thread of the film is love. Love Actually is surprisingly one of the best romantic comedies I’ve ever seen. Love Actually is incredibly charming, honest, and funny and it’s a Christmas movie to boot. In fact, it’s the only Christmas movie I can think of that has nudity, so that doesn’t hurt.

There is a lot to keep track of in Love Actually and some of the story lines play out better than others, but the film rarely feels like it is trying to pull in too much. The only real disappointment comes if your favorite story lines don’t wrap up as fully as others. The cast is so varied that even if you have an aversion to an actor, they likely aren’t on screen long enough to get under your skin. When I was reviewing Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, I noted that Keira Knightley bothered me in that film, but here she is pleasant.

I had seen Love Actually a few years ago and vaguely remembered a few of the characters and their stories, but the film felt fresh to me. I could see moving Love Actually into regular Christmastime movie rotation, but it’s also complex enough to have it be “new” every few years. Regardless, I know it’s past Christmas but let Love Actually into your heart and onto your screen when the seasons rolls around again next year.

I give it 4 “to me, you are perfect…”s out of 5.

PS – I could not have written this review without the help of Wikipedia.

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Elf (12/17/12)

ElfMovie Two Hundred Eighty Six

Elf is the story of a child being adopted by elves in the North Pole and returning to New York City as an adult to find his real father.

After a baby crawls into Santa Claus’s (Ed Asner) bag and brought back to the North Pole, Santa and his elves have no choice but to raise him. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) raises Buddy (Will Ferrell) as his own, but when Buddy towers over all the other elves and isn’t quite the toy-making genius they all are, he starts to suspect something isn’t right. Papa Elf tells buddy that his real father is Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and lives in New York City, so Buddy decides to go and live with his biological father  and spreads holiday cheer to everyone around him.

Yeah, I’m going to be that guy that is still reviewing Christmas movies after Christmas is over, sorry.

Elf is one of the handful of films in my regular holiday rotation but unlike Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story, it’s a film that I generally only watch once a year. I love  Elf almost as much as those movies but I think the lack of nostalgia for me makes Elf a great movie to watch but once a year is enough to satiate me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I will always consider Buddy the Elf to be Will Ferrell’s greatest role. The naive but pure-hearted Buddy is a great character and Ferrell is perfect for it. Elf is a movie that could have easily been crude and loud, but Ferrell keeps it in check and knocks it out of the park. The supporting cast is great too with Zooey Deschanel, Peter Dinklage, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Amy Sedaris, Artie Lange, Jon Favreau (also the director of Elf), etc. While I’m on the subject, why doesn’t James Caan get better work now? He’s great.

Where my two aforementioned favorite Christmas movies both have a sometimes cynical take of the holidays and focus on the follies, Elf focuses on Christmas spirit and believing in miracles. The childlike sense of wonder the film exudes makes you really want to believe in Santa and this really sets it apart. It’s not quite a movie for kids, but it’s definitely a movie for the whole family. There’s the perfect balance of humor for all ages here and throw in all the holiday stuff and Elf is just an absolute joy to watch.

I give it 4 “my finger has a heartbeat”s out of 5.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s (12/16/12)

Breakfast at Tiffany'sMovie Two Hundred Eighty Five

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a young New York socialite resistant to love ends up falling for a man in her apartment building.

After eating a pastry and drinking coffee while window shopping outside Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) heads home to her New York City apartment. She tries avoiding her date from the night before, and buzzes her neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney) to let her in. The next morning, Holly is awakened by her own doorbell ringing and a new tenant is trying to move in. She invites him in and learns his name is Paul Varjak (George Peppard).Soon, Holly tells Paul she needs to visit Sing Sing prison and deliver a coded message as a “weather report” to a famous mobster. As Paul learns more about the true Holly Golightly, he falls for her despite her adherence to keeping up appearances of her lifestyle.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s fans be warned, I was not at all charmed by this film. Within minutes of the film starting, Mickey Rooney’s horrifyingly racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi almost made me turn the film off but I pressed on thinking it was just a sign of the times. Then I discovered the film was not supposed to be a comedy and Mr. Yunioshi seems to be injected, superfluously I might add, to add some “humor” to the movie. Disgusting. But my distaste for the film didn’t end there.

I also kind of hated Holly Golightly as well. I don’t understand why so many girls see her as a role model. She is lying about who she is, she is only interested in money, she doesn’t seem to actually believe in love, she is superficial, it’s hinted that she’s a call girl, she is mentally unstable, etc. Maybe she is “real” and just trying to find herself but that wasn’t my impression of her. I had never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s but have seen Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly emblazoned on all sorts of memorabilia and while watching the film I kept asking myself  “why?”.

Now that I’m (maybe) done bashing Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I will praise the film’s sense of style. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Mad Men and while I was kind of hating Holly Golightly I did like her manner of dress.

I really don’t know why I was so put off by Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Perhaps it is just one of those movies so many people talk about that you just assume greatness. Now I know how all those folks feel that don’t like Citizen Kane. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was recently just admitted to the National Film Registry and I kind of cringed when I read that news. Maybe if they recut the film without Mr. Yunioshi it would leave a better taste in my mouth.

I give it 2 the only scene I really liked was the opening title sequence out of 5.

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Captain Slickpants (12/15/12)

Captain SlickpantsMovie Two Hundred Eighty Three

A strange guy obsesses over asking out a waitress at his favorite restaurant and believes he finds his chance when she loses her wallet in Captain Slickpants.

We see Gregg (Ben Dietels), living alone in his deceased grandmother’s house, doing unique aerobic exercises and lighting off Roman candles in the yard. He opens his computer to see his best friend Steven’s (Ryan Lintner) video blog talking about how Gregg is going to finally ask out Vanessa (Danielle Dietels), a waitress at Gregg’s normal hangout that he has been obsessing over. After missing his chance and finding out that Vanessa is quitting at the restaurant, Gregg thinks all hope is lost until he finds Vanessa’s wallet in the parking lot and takes it as a sign that he has one last chance to ask her out.

You most likely have not heard of Captain Slickpants, I hadn’t either until I was contacted by Ben Dietels, who aside from starring in the film, also wrote and directed it. You can find more info about Captain Slickpants at the BPO Films website.

I’m always a bit weary about indie movies but I actually really enjoyed Captain Slickpants. It’s a simple story and is obviously made with love. I laughed a few times and was pretty impressed by the film considering it’s production seems to mainly consist of a few friends that enjoy making movies. It’s really what indie films should be. The only real complaint I have about Captain Slickpants is that the volume of the soundtrack is uneven, I had to adjust the volume on my TV two or three times because the music was too loud or the dialogue was too quiet.

Captain Slickpants is obviously not going to be for everyone. I thought there was a bit of a Napoleon Dynamite vibe to the film and the main character, Gregg, but others may not have that same feeling. I know indie comedies can be totally hit or miss with most folks, especially actual indie productions such as this, but I was left quite charmed by Captain Slickpants.

I give it 3 Captain Slickpants trailers out of 5.

If you think you might like a light quirky indie movie and want to give Captain Slickpants a shot, I can definitely pass on my copy of the film for viewing. Since it was sent to me for promotional purposes I wouldn’t feel right keeping it for myself and I’d like to help the filmmakers out. Email me at Andy@AndyWatchesMovies.com if you’re seriously interested.

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Assassination (12/15/12)

AssassinationMovie Two Hundred Eighty Two

A Secret Service agent must protect repeated attempts on the First Lady’s life in Assassination.

Jay “Killy” Killion (Charles Bronson), a Secret Service member coming back from sick leave is assigned to the newly inaugurated First Lady, Lara Royce Craig (Jill Ireland). Lara is condescending and unappreciative of Killy does not make things easy on him. Lara acts like a spoiled brat, constantly undermining him and insisting on the uselessness of his protection until several assassination attempts are made on her life and she begins to understand the Killion is the right man for the job of protecting her life.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I freaking love Charles Bronson. To me, there are no bad Charles Bronson movies, there are simply Charles Bronson movies. Still, I am not immune to recognizing the flaws in some of these films and Assassination is definitely not one I would recommend freely. Of course, we do have Charles Bronson being a total badass, but by this point in his career, he had better, more memorable roles as a badass.

Jill Ireland, Bronson’s wife in real life until her death, either annoys me or makes me swoon and unfortunately, her character in Assassination is meant to be irritating and she pulls it off almost too well. I wanted her character to actually get killed pretty early on in Assassination because Charles Bronson can be a badass with or without her in the movie. Still, I love that Bronson and Ireland worked together so often and there’s something to be said to see them both onscreen, regardless of how annoying she can be.

Assassination has everything one would expect from a Charles Bronson movie – guns, violence, and an awesome mustache. The fact that Bronson’s character is called “Killy” really shows that the screenwriters wanted little more from the film than Charles Bronson killing people, I think. While Assassination isn’t high up on my favorite Bronson films, it does the job.

I give it 3 videos of the best scene of Assassination out of 5.

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Home Alone – Nostalgiathon [guest post]

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When a family leaves their eight year old Home Alone, he proves to himself and his family that he “didn’t burn down the joint” and that he’s capable of being man of the house.

In Winnetka, Illinois, it’s the night before the McCallister family flies to France for Christmas to visit extended family. The house is filled with the excitement of Christmas and preparing three families under one roof for a transatlantic flight. A burglar posing as one of Chicago’s finest (Joe Pesci) is doing checks for home safety during the holidays, to which the the patriarch Peter McCallister (John Heard) assures him that they’ve taken the proper precautions. When one of the youngest, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), begins acting out of sorts his mother (Catherine O’hara) sends him to an attic bedroom without dinner.

Due to a power outage, the McCallister family oversleeps and must rush out of the house to catch their flight. They inadvertently leave Kevin home alone and he’s left thinking he made his family disappear. While alone, he spends his time eating junk food, grocery shopping, cutting down a Christmas tree, and overcoming his fear of the basement. During this time, the house is being monitored by the “Wet Bandits” played by Harry Lime (Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) as they pick the perfect night to rob the house. Kevin catches on to their plans and creates a boobytrap-filled house to buy time while he calls the police.

Home Alone easily my number one Christmas and Nostalgiathon movie pick. As Andy can tell you, I can recite the entire movie along with the sound effects [ed. note – it’s true, she can]. In fact, my plot description was four paragraphs before he whittled it down to the necessary details. As a kid, I thought Kevin was the coolest and I was never allowed to be left home alone when I was 8. I was also really jealous that he got to set up all the Christmas decorations by himself because that was one of my favorite things to do. My brother and I watched Home Alone year-round and quizzed each other on different parts of the dialog. I even had the Home Alone board game. I have so many wonderful memories surrounding this movie.

As an adult, I feel the movie has done well over time in spite of the changes in technology that would have probably rendered it impossible. From the cool pranks, the Chicago setting, and awesome cast (namely, John Candy) Home Alone literally has everything I could possibly want in a movie.

My childhood dream came true this past summer when I got to see the actual McCallister house, eat a piece of “Little Nero’s” pizza, and answer Home Alone trivia questions as part of a scavenger hunt. For me, the Christmas season is not complete without at least one viewing of Home Alone yet I often quote the movie throughout the year.

I give it 5 “Buzz, your girlfriend…woof” out of 5.

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Christmas Vacation (12/13/12)

Christmas VacationMovie Two Hundred Seventy Nine

The Griswold family is back and hosting a Christmas Vacation.

The Griswolds, led by misguided patriarch, Clark (Chevy Chase), wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis), and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki), set out to get a Christmas tree. Clark has decided he wants to host this year and has invited both sets of parents. When his cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) shows up with his family, the house gets a little more full and nearly everything that can go wrong does.

The great thing about Christmas Vacation, or any Vacation movie for that matter, is that the mishaps are relatable to most of us. One of the best lines from the film comes from Ellen when she says “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” It’s not that Christmas means misery for us it’s that the stress of the situation and bending over backwards to accommodate family tends to be a bit miserable. While I don’t think anyone has really had a Christmas disaster like the Griswolds, the situations are least well-guided and we see that. All the Vacation movies are just about a family man trying his best but with a cloud of accidents and follies following him and Christmas Vacation is no different.

There are so many great, memorable scenes from Christmas Vacation that make it the holiday classic it is, but my favorite that cracks me up every single time is the cat chewing the tree lights under the recliner. Clark shopping for lingerie is a close second. It’s so hard to choose, though! So much great dialogue, so much great physical comedy, and the perfect storm of Griswold-y goodness. It wouldn’t be Christmas without some Christmas Vacation.

I give it 4 Christmas tree squirrels out of 5.

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The Mummy [1999] (12/11/12)

The Mummy [1999]Movie Two Hundred Seventy Seven

When an archaeological team find a lost ancient city they awaken an ancient curse of the The Mummy.

In ancient Egypt, in the city of Hamunaptra, high priest Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is involved in an affair with the Pharoah’s mistress, Anck Su Namun (Patricia Velasquez). After Anck Su Namun kills herself, Imhotep tries resurrecting her soul, but is caught by the Pharoah’s guards and mummified alive and cursed. Flash forward to the 1920s, Evelyn “Evy” Carnahan (Rachel Weisz), an Egyptologist, is presented with an unusual box by her brother, Jon (John Hannah) that contains a map to Hamunaptra inside. Jon confesses that he actually stole the item from Rick O’Connell (Brandan Fraser), who is about to be hanged. Evy and Jon save Rick and the three decide to try to find Hamunaptra only to discover a rival set of adventurers are looking for the same treasure and in their search, the two teams awaken Imhotep.

I was a bit cautious tackling The Mummy again, but after being in Universal Studios, my wife and I discovered a great ride there based on The Mummy movies. While The Mummy has not aged flawlessly, it still holds up quite well and is still my preferred version over the 1930s film starring Boris Karloff. While the special effects were, at the time, bleeding edge, The Mummy has some CGI effects that don’t quite look dated but are close to it. Still, for a blockbuster summer adventure movie, The Mummy holds its own in most regards.

There are undoubtedly some horror aspects to The Mummy but it is by and large an adventure film meant for a wide audience. There are lots of gags and one-liners that lighten the mood but most characters get at least one chance for either some slapstick or comedy routine and after awhile it started to grate on me a bit. Or maybe Branden Fraser just kind of bugs me, I’m not sure. With the rumblings of yet another Mummy movie coming soon, I hope they shift the focus to more horror/action-adventure and leave some of the lighter aspects out. It may drastically darken up the film but after enduring attempted joke after joke, some even with pauses for laughter it seems, I’m up for a dark version of The Mummy.

I can’t speak much to the sequels and spin-offs, but I’ve always been fond of The Mummy. It’s probably not going to make it on any of my ‘favorites’ lists but it’s a fine, solid film that I certainly wouldn’t mind watching every few years or so.

I give it 3 the most shocking thing is how different Rachel Weisz looks out of 5.

PS – If you get a chance, check out the ride for The Mummy at Universal Studios (in Florida, not sure about California), it’s pretty amazing.

PPS – I would have sworn Billy Zane played Imhotep…

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Lilo & Stitch (11/24/12)

Lilo & StitchMovie Two Hundred Seventy

In Lilo & Stitch, a lonely Hawaiian girl finds a friend after an alien fugitive crash-lands nearby.

Dr. Jumba Jookiba is under galactic trial for illegal experimentation and his experiment #626 is used as evidence of this, a creature of his own design. Jookiba is to be transported to prison and 626 is to be sent to an abandoned asteroid, but 626 takes escapes from the ship and ends up landing on Earth, in the Hawaiian Islands. 626 gets hit by a truck and is taken to an animal hospital, thinking it’s a weird breed of dog. A young girl named Lilo, who is being taken care of by her older sister, adopts 626 and names him “Stitch”. As the galactic council searches for 626, Lilo and Stitch bond and they learn the true meaning of ‘ohana (family).

When my wife (then girlfriend) and I traveled to Disney World about 6 years ago, Lilo & Stitch merchandise was freaking everywhere and we felt kind of out of the loop since we hadn’t seen it. Flash forward to present day and we decided we needed to finally see Lilo & Stitch before heading to Disney World again. Neither of us were very impressed by the film, and Stitch had a lessened presence, but at least we understood it.

Oddly enough, Lilo & Stitch is the film that brought back the use of watercolor painted backgrounds in Disney features, a practice mostly given up around the 1940s. The animation style is also unique to Disney films and even the character design is atypical. I found the entire art style pretty fantastic and when the story started to bore me I found myself staring at all the backgrounds. It is easily the strongest single aspect of Lilo & Stitch in my mind.

One thing that has always bugged me about central characters that are horrible people but we are supposed to cheer them on, even if they aren’t improving themselves or anyone around them. For most of the film, Lilo is an annoying kid. Yeah, she’s had some hard times…but she punches a classmate in the face for no real reason. Cute behavior to teach kids, Disney. The dysfunctional family life (sister raising kid, social worker trying to take the kid away) also seems really deep for a movie with such juvenile jokes. It would be hard to recommend Lilo & Stitch to really young kids, but most of the stuff would go right over their heads and they would be in it for Stitch acting silly anyway.

As an adult, I found very little to like about Lilo & Stitch outside the production values of it. The story didn’t grab me, nor did the characters. It wasn’t a movie I hated watching but seeing it once was probably enough for me. However, Lilo & Stitch is certainly a unique Disney animated film, for better or worse.

I give it 3 Elvis Presley plays a large role for some reason out of 5.

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