Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Movies - Part 4

Well, we have come to the end of the line. Here are my final two favorite Christmas movies of all time. Up until now there hasn't been any sort of order and with the next one the same goes; however, the final film is one of my ALL TIME favorite movies and resides up in the top 5 on that list. So I am saving my favorite holiday movie for last.

The Holiday (2006) Starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black. This film is the most recent one added to the list since it only came out 5 years ago. This was another surprise rent one day and not a theatre attended movie. It's a romantic comedy that takes a twist on finding the right person. Two women, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, both have relationship issues and decide to switch houses for the holidays. One lives in England and one lives in America. While on their holiday escape they meet a couple of guys worth looking into (Jack Black and Jude Law). That's all I will say about that since I have feeling many of you haven't seen this film, but I know you girls out there can probably relate to these girls' dilemmas. My favorite part of this movie is Kate Winslet's character's friendship with her elderly neighbor - a former Hollywood screenwriter. Here is one of the best scenes from The Holiday....oh, and may I just say I would go to England in a heartbeat for Christmas...then again, the other goes to LA...oh, that would be a tough decision for me.

Drum-roll, favorite Christmas movie of all time is:

While You Were Sleeping (1995) Starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher and Peter Boyle. I know what you are thinking. 'What?! REALLY?! Are you nuts?' And my only response is emphatically YES, I am crazy but I just love this movie!! I know I am in the minority here when it comes to this one, but when I first saw this 15 years ago I fell in love with it. There was just something about the romance story, the main character, played by Sandra Bullock, and the combination of the "family" dynamic in While You Were Sleeping that just spoke to me. It's not the best film ever produced; It didn't win any Oscars but Sandra Bullock was nominated for a Golden Globe; And most of you probably never saw it. Don't worry I have seen it enough for all of you. I honestly can't tell you how many times I have seen it but I am on my second DVD - and watch it at least 5 times a year. I am crazy, I know, but this is my go to movie whenever I need a pick-me-up, in the mood for a little romance or when I just want to relax. My kids watch this movie with me and make fun of me at how much I smile while I am watching it. Most of you won't see what I see in this film and I am okay with that. We all have our movies that speak to us and no one else. And While You Were Sleeping is mine and I am not embarrassed to say it anymore :-)

I didn't post a scene from my favorite holiday film but here is a link to the first 9 minutes on YouTube. The entire movie is on there. If you want to see just how nuts I am, take a gander. While You Were Sleeping

So, there you have it. My top 11 favorite Christmas movies of all time. I know there are a few that are missing on here that you may think I need to list, but I had to weed it down to this. There are more Christmas movies I enjoy, but when I want to get in the holiday spirit these are the first that leap to mind.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Movies - Part 3

We are getting close to the end of my favorite Christmas movies.

Home Alone (1990) Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Catherine O'Hara and Daniel Stern. Yes, I liked this movie. First, it's a John Hughes film (well he wrote it and Christopher Columbus directed it). Second, what kid wouldn't have wanted to stay in their house and create all those booby traps for the robbers?  And we all are kids at heart, right? Third, and you are probably not going to believe this, but it reminded me of another one of my favorite Christmas movies: Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard. I always thought it was just me but someone finally broke it down and compared the two films. Just check this out and you'll see what I mean.

Scrooged (1988) Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe and Bobcat Goldthwait. Okay, you are wondering where A Christmas Carol is on this list - well, here you go but this one has Bill Murray in it. Need I say more? Alright, I will say more. We have all seen several versions of A Christmas Carol from the first one in 1901 to last year's version with Jim Carrey in 3D, of course. And there have been A LOT of versions. Check here if you don't believe me. But out of all the adaptations Scrooged is my favorite. Here's the original trailer.

It's a Wonderful Life  (1946) Starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. Really, what Christmas movie list would be complete without this film? It's THE quintessential story of hope. When your life appears to have veered off path or in a way that you thought made you unhappy, It's A Wonderful Life is there to remind you that you are in the right place in your life, loved and, above all, needed in other's lives. I know years ago it seemed this movie was on every channel, 24 hours a day and it got overplayed. Back then I will admit I never watched it. I was a stubborn teenager who refused to watch most black and white movies - yes, ME! It wasn't until my mid 20's when I finally succumbed to the fact that It's a Wonderful Life was worth watching; and I now watch it once a year. Spoiler alert: The ending chokes me up every single time. Yep, just watched it again. Now where are the tissues?

Alright, there are only 2 more movies to go. I wonder what they'll be?

To Be Continued

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Preview: Being Flynn

I am always interested in stories about writers, then you add Robert De Niro and you've got me hooked. Then I read this was based on actual events by a writer and his memoir. The title of the book 'Another Bullshit Night in Suck City' by Nick Flynn. Another intriguing piece of the puzzle. With a little more research complete, I discover Paul Weitz directed this film. He also directed About A Boy, which I loved. No reviews in yet, but I am putting this on my list to see - just wish I knew when it was scheduled to be released.


Directed by Martin Scorsese, GK Films, 2011. Starring Asa Butterfield, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Lee, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Kingsley.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family.

Question: What gives you purpose and makes you feel like you fit into the world? Well, we all have something, at least we should. Think about it.

This is the message at the heart of Hugo and I think a pretty darn good one. It shouldn't matter if you are 12 or 72 years-old, we all need to feel like we belong, someplace where we know we serve a purpose or what's the meaning of it all. Yes, it's a pretty deep, philosophical thought for a movie that I thought was geared towards kids primarily. However, my kids enjoyed the movie and I hope somewhere deep inside they understood what the movie was trying to convey.

The story begins with a boy, an orphan, who lives in a train station in Paris in the 1930's. You find out why he is there with a few flashbacks but really the story revolves around another story line which is revealed much later in the film. The boy's name is Hugo and his adventure is to find his purpose or to make sure his purpose is real, but how he goes about that will remain a mystery in this review.

There was a great surprise, well for me at least, as Hugo's story unfolded. I really want to say more but, as usual, don't want to spoil it for you. However, on the whole I found the storytelling to be a bit on the dull side. Not sure what happened with it but Hugo ran slow. Even with the part of the story line I really liked, it didn't suck me in as I think it could have.

The movie was in 3D and the beginning was absolutely stunning with its effects. When the adventure part of this story was front and center the 3D was awesome. However, the majority of the movie was more of a drama and the 3D lost its luster; and soon I found it annoying to have to wear the glasses. I am not a huge fan of 3D movies, by the way, so for you fans out there I am positive you will enjoy that part of the movie.

On a bright note: The boy who played Hugo was delightful, and he has the bluest eyes I have ever seen on a human being. I almost think they may have been digitally enhanced. Anyway, he did a great job on the whole, even though there were parts where the film-makers showed children behaving more like adults than children, and that happened here. I still think he did a good job as the lead character of a Scorsese film.

Most children should enjoy this film and I recommend you take them to see Hugo. For adults, sadly, this was not one of Scorsese greatest films.

My favorite part: The discovery of the message in the film. There is this great scene, on a Paris bridge with Notre Dame in the background, between the 2 children. A great line was spoken by Hugo. A great line!

My least favorite: Sacha Baron Cohen, I am afraid to say. His character was too much of a caricature for me.

Rating: PG
Length: 127 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10

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Artwork courtesy of IMDb - no copyright infringement intended

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Movies - Part 2

Alright back to Christmas movies and the ones I love. Now this part of the list might be just for movie fans above a certain age. So, you may want the kiddos to leave the room for this one.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation  (1989) Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis and Randy Quaid. Out of all the National Lampoon movies, this one is by far my favorite. I don't know what it is exactly about this film that makes me love it so much..oh wait, yes I do. It's hysterical! It's a Murphy's law family holiday, at it's finest. We all have had those relatives that show up in a Winnebago - okay, maybe not. However, there are in-laws that take over your house, holiday lights that you work so hard on appear to not work and we all have over cooked a turkey, right? Now this movie isn't all jokes and giggles. Here's one of my favorite scenes. Enjoy.

The Ref (1994) Starring Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis. Another one of those great finds upon renting a DVD one day over a decade ago. The Ref may be one of the funniest movies with it's quick wit and the family dramas that are forced to come to light. Denis Leary is a thief who stumbles upon a family in deep crisis and he ends up fixing the family on Christmas Eve just so he can escape the police. Now Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey are two actors who can spew the most intelligent insults that still make you laugh. The dialogue in this film was brilliant. Here is one scene to prove my point. (Warning: profanity).

Die Hard (1988) Starring Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and Bonnie Bedelia. Now you are probably wondering why I put this on my list. Well, it does take place during Christmas vacation when John McClane comes home to his wife in LA only to run into a terrorist attack. That's pure Christmas cheer, isn't it? Okay, this may not be the most Christmas-y movie on my list but I love it just the same. It's funny, action packed and it hosts some decent one-liners. Plus, it introduced Alan Rickman to us Yanks (thank you). Watch the trailer for Die Hard and remember how great this film was and try not to laugh at how they used to make trailers.

To Be Continued....

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Friday, November 25, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Movies - Part 1

The family table has been cleared, leftovers put away and the storage boxes of holiday ornaments are just starting to pop to mind. I might almost be ready for Christmas but not just yet.

Are you wondering how I get in the mood for the holiday season? It's not the music, although I do love a tune or two of festive cheer. Nope, it's not the shopping for the family Christmas tree either. I wish it were the weather, but where I live I am still wearing shorts, T-shirts and going barefoot. Come on, this should be obvious..... Yes, it's with movies! What else?

Instead of reviewing a movie today (although I am going to see Hugo later on this afternoon), I want to share with you my top 11 favorite Christmas movies. Yes, 11. Why, you ask? Because this list goes to 11.

In no particular order:

White Christmas  (1954) Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. This classic Christmas film was one that I HAD to watch every year growing up. This one never gets old for me. The music, the story of loyalty and even a little romance mixed-in is just the right combination for me to keep this on the list. White Christmas is old Hollywood with the large sets and theatrical performances. They just don't make movies like that anymore. Plus, White Christmas, the song, is one of my favorite Christmas songs (and something that I wish for every year). This is a classic for a reason.

Elf (2003) Starring Will Ferrell, James Cann, Zooey Daschanel and Bob Newhart. This film came out of nowhere, and I was sort of skeptical when I heard Jon Favreau directed movie this movie. Now I like Favreau as a director, but at that point in his career he wasn't particularly known as a director. I knew of him from Swingers and 'Friends' only. So I did not see it in the theatre but ended up renting it later. Upon first viewing, I fell in love with Elf, the character (a.k.a. Will Ferrell) and this film. I believe I even watched it again right after I finished it and have watched it every year since. (Yes, I own this one.) The story was original, charming and funny - very funny. If you have not seen this one, put it on your queue. Kids and adults will love this family tale. Here's a link to a song that I enjoyed in Elf.

Love Actually (2003) This hosts an ensemble cast. Here are just a few of the actors: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, and Keira Knightley. Again, like Elf, I am pretty sure I didn't see this in the movie theatre but once I rented it, it quickly leapt on to my top 10 - I mean 11 - Christmas movie list. I actually watch this movie several times a year because it's not only about the holidays but the varying degrees of love. There are several tales interwoven together in Love Actually - some happy, some not and some that are just there for you to ponder. Just as complicated as love is in real life, Love Actually tackles the complexities of love so that everyone who sees this movie can relate to one or more of the story-lines.... My favorite song from this movie is preformed by Kelly Clarkson, and is not a Christmas song but I relate it the holiday season just the same.

To Be Continued...

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just Watch This!

I just had to share this. My mother sent this to me. Thanks mom - this was GREAT!!

The Descendants

Directed (and co-written) by Alexander Payne, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011. Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges and Robert Forster.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Question: Can you feel sympathy for a character that neglected or ignored his family but then suddenly has to pay attention when thrust back into the responsibility of being a parent? Honestly, you have to answer that one for yourself. For me, I could not. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know but will give you my thoughts on the film; and I will let you decide on your own after you see it.

I went to my first movie theatre screener last night with The Descendants. Since the end of the movie, I have been mulling this story over trying to figure out if I liked it or not. There is a lot of buzz about this movie, specifically about George Clooney and Alexander Payne (who last came out with Sidewayswhich I loved), so I was really looking forward to this film. However, something fell short for me with the story and its main character.

The movie started out with panoramic views of Hawaii (some beautiful and some not-so) with Matt King (George Clooney) giving his first narrated monologue. Usually narration kind of annoys me or I think it's overused today but know sometimes it is necessary and beneficial in certain films. For The Descendants it was actually a perfect fit. In fact, the opening narration struck a chord with me. Pay close attention to what he says about living in paradise. From that point I was really enjoying the film and attentive of all introductions of characters and story-lines but somewhere along the way the film sort of lost me.

I suppose I should back up a little. A brief (very) synopsis of the film. Matt King is a father, husband and lawyer who is the trustee of a large parcel of land in Hawaii that has been in his family's possession for over a 100 years. He is quite wealthy but doesn't spend his inheritance and works all the time for his law practice while pretty much ignoring or neglecting his immediate family. A tragic accident happens to his wife, who ends up in a coma, and things start to unravel for him.

All of the above is revealed within the first 15 minutes of the movie; and you meet a distraught man who has no idea how to cope with the sudden responsibility of taking care of his daughters. He even reveals "I'm the back-up parent." When I first heard that line in the previews, I thought he and his wife were either separated or divorced. So when I found out differently I had difficulty sympathizing with this character, and in certain scenes it made it even harder to see his plight. Pay attention to his first "talk" with his wife in the hospital. That made me retreat as a spectator and become very cautious, but I waited for some sort of redemption for his character after that.

That is all I will say about that because I feel I have gone against my norm and revealed a little too much.

So let me focus on other details for now: George Clooney did an excellent job portraying a man in crisis. He may be one of a handful of actors that can just sit there, silently, but still reveal so much emotion and depth. Don't believe me? Well, watch Michael Clayton, an excellent film, but the last 5 minutes of it proves George Clooney's talent of silent acting. He was brilliant.

In The Descendants you will see him use that gift again and again. I won't be surprised if he is nominated for many awards for this role. However, I just never developed much sympathy for his character despite what he went through during the movie. Perhaps I just saw his character's arc differently than most, because after the "talk" with his wife and then later there was a scene he shares with the young fellow, who is friends with his daughter, just left me cold. It is all about perception, I suppose. You all may see something different.

Alexander Payne has created other characters that maybe many don't care for or find a kinship with; but somewhere over the course of the movie you understand them, feel for the character or the character redeems themselves in a pure, honest way. However, in The Descendants, he did not win me over with the main character. Many may disagree with me but that is how I saw it.

Sorry, this may not be the typical movie review for me or that I may have just changed your mind on seeing the movie. Many reviewers saw the opposite from me; and George Clooney did perform beautifully, so I am not saying don't see it. Just keep an open mind.

My favorite part: Perhaps I forgot to mention that it is quite funny at parts. I did giggle.

My least favorite part: Realizing what it takes for some people to fully understand that their neglect really affects others.

Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10

Based on the novel by the same name: The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)

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