Home Alone (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★
The McCallister household was frantic a few days before Christmas because the entire family and a few relatives were about to head to France for vacation. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), one of the youngest of the kids, felt neglected because his siblings and cousins wouldn’t take the time to help him pack his luggage. Not even his parents could take a minute of their time to aid the plucky youngster. So, during dinner, Kevin acted out and was sent to sleep in the attic as punishment. The next day, everyone slept in and had forgotten they had a flight. As a result of their hustle and bustle, they boarded the plane to Europe completely unaware that Kevin wasn’t with them. “Home Alone,” written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, was a huge success commercially because it played upon one of a kid’s and a parent’s biggest fear (being alone at home while burglars tried to force themselves in and leaving behind a child, respectively). One of the many smart elements about the film was the fact that the two criminals (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) were kept outside of the house for the majority of the picture. Kevin was forced to create many creative and funny diversions to make the robbers believe that the house had people in it. Much to Kevin’s advantage, the two criminals were complete idiots. (Their modus operandi was leaving the water running in the sink after they’ve looted the place.) What made the film much better than a typical child-in-trouble story was Culkin’s energetic and hilarious performance. He was as cute as a marshmallow but he was precocious so he was able to pull off lines that adults might say. His facial expressions–may it be surprise, joy, or teary-eyed sadness were simply priceless. Surprisingly, I found the slapstick comedy thoroughly entertaining. It wasn’t done just because it was convenient. The slapstick was a result of Kevin using household items (and his toys) as a defense against men who wanted to hurt him. When someone slipped on the ice or when someone was hit on the head with an iron, I couldn’t help but wince as if I was the one in pain. But the whole experience was enjoyable because we didn’t want the villains to get their hands on our tiny but brave protagonist. What did not work for me as much was the creepy-looking neighbor (Roberts Blossom) who turned out to have a heart. The scene dedicated to exploring the man’s backstory (a typical one at that) slowed the story’s momentum. Nevertheless, “Home Alone” is a very charming film. More that twenty years have passed since its release, but it still holds up as one of the favorite family movies often played around Christmas. I cannot image anyone not being entertained by its sharp wit, heart, and manic energy.
Four Christmases (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
“Four Christmases,” directed by Seth Gordon, was about a couple (Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn) who decided to go to Fiji for Christmas instead of visiting their relatives. Unfortunately, due to the weather, their flight was cancelled so they chose to visit their four divorced parents (Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight). I loved how this picture started because the lead characters were happy with where they were in life; they weren’t constrained by marriage and people’s expectations about what people in a relationship should do or be. I thought it was a smart way to start because the couple was very modern and it was easy for me to relate with them. However, as the two visited their families, the couple’s way of life was challenged by traditions such as getting married and having kids. And what’s worse, they started buying into the ideas. I was surprised (not in a good way) because I thought the couple was so much stronger in their stance of not having to have children (even though I don’t necessarily agree with it) and getting married. As the picture went on, the more I became annoyed because its modern feel became traditional and it really was not necessary at all. Instead of standing out from other Christmas-themed movies, it started blending in with them and I was left unimpressed. I liked the movie best when it was just Witherspoon and Vaughn talking to each other whether they were in a bar, their home, in a family’s bathroom, or in a car. They had such a great chemistry because their characters were different from each other and, as actors, they had a perfect sense of comedic timing. They were able to talk to each other in a rapid-fire way and I enjoyed that feeling of constantly having to catch up to them instead of being bored. What could have been a good movie set in a Christmas backdrop became convoluted with slapstick, annoying and condescending characters, and unnecessary sidequests (such as the painfully unfunny trip to the church). It would have been so much more refreshing if Vaughn and Witherspoon simply jumped from one home to the next and convinced the audiences why the two of them never wanted to spend the holidays with their families without all the marriage-and-having-kids-will-make-you-happier-as-a-couple lesson. Maybe it was trying too hard to be liked. I wished that the rest of the material was as intelligent and successful as the characters we met during the first twenty minutes.
Valentine’s Day (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Valentine’s Day,” written by Katherine Fugate and directed by Gary Marshall,” was an ensemble romantic comedy with many high-proile names that followed the footsteps of films like “Love Actually.” There are only three things one has to know coming into this movie: all of the characters are connected in some way, it is at times unapologetically cheesy with its typical (but funny) one-liners, and it is a good Valentine’s Day movie to watch with friends or special someone. Even before the film was released, I heard a lot of negative comments about it because people are not keen on the idea of a movie capitalizing on a holiday that “isn’t even real.” I say get over it because such moaning will not stop movie studios from releasing movies such as this; it’s a business and no matter how much you complain, money is money at the end of the day. Personally, the main reason why I wanted to see this film was because some of my favorite celebrities were in it like Jennifer Garner, Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher (even though I change my mind about him quite often), and Bradley Cooper. From the trailers, I knew exactly what to expect and, surprisingly, it was much better than I thought it would be. Even though only two to four characters out of the twenty-one were fully developed (Garner and Kutcher as best friends failing to see that they were meant for each other; Hathaway and Grace as one lacking awareness of the other being a phone sex operator), it was fun to watch because it had a certain self-awareness–that none of it should be taken seriously because the characters’ lives revolved around falling in love. We are smart enough to know (or at least we should be) that the movie was simply trying to provide us an escape from our busy lives, whether our lives may revolve around our studies, our jobs, and countless other circumstances. As for the negatives, I wished that the main characters were cut down to fifteen. Even though I thought the scenes with Taylor Lautner and Taylor Swift were amusing, their scenes didn’t do much when it came to the big picture other than comment on the fact that teenage love based on supercifial similarities was a good foundation for a potential heartbreak. (Well, at least that’s what I got from it.) I also wished that Jessica Biel’s scenes with her eating junk food and being neurotic were cut, while preserving her “I hate Valentine’s Day” intact and ultimately seeing Jamie Foxx as a perfect match for her. My favorite storyline has go to be the one with Cooper and Roberts meeting on a plane. I still think Roberts is one of the finest actresses because she has a perfect way of portraying sadness in her eyes. It was pretty subtle but when Cooper voiced out his assumptions that Roberts was on her way to see her special man, that specific look that Roberts gave him immediately made me realize that it wasn’t the case. “Valentine’s Day” is indeed a typical romantic comedy but if you know what to expect and you have an open mind, you will have a good chance of enjoying this flick. But if you come into the film in a bad mood or expecting the worst, prepare yourself to analyze every single flaw and not enjoy the movie. In other words, save your money or buy yourself a box of chocolates instead. Maybe that will make you happy.
Nothing Like the Holidays (2008)
★ / ★★★★
A Puerto Rican family gathers during the holidays and a lot of their secrets come pouring out at the dinner table. If this movie didn’t remind me of “The Family Stone” a little too much, I would’ve liked it a little more because I constantly found myself comparing the two. While “The Family Stone” had real dramatic weight to it, “Nothing Like the Holidays,” directed by Alfredo de Villa, only injected the drama just so that it would feel sad on the surface. Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Peña were having marriage problems, Freddy Rodríguez just arrived from Iraq and everyone thought we was some big war hero, John Leguizamo wanted to have kids with his wife (Debra Messing) but she considered her career as more important, and Roxanna Rodriguez was viewed by her family as a big Hollywood actress but she couldn’t bring herself to say that she was quite the opposite. I quickly grew tired of the big arguments and everyone being loud. At least when I’m with my family, although it may be loud and everything seems to be happening at the same time, things are interesting and we feel united. In this picture, we don’t get that certain feeling of warmth because their liking for each other doesn’t seem all that genuine. It’s as if the actors didn’t connect with one another or their characters; they’re just different people placed in a room and are forced to interact with each other. It was painful and awkward for me to watch. When the characters don’t have anything to say, the movie features a whole lot of dancing scenes as filler. I found myself constantly looking at the clock and asking myself when it was going to be over. The side journeys that each character took didn’t resonate so I felt like the lessons they learned were very contrived. “Nothing Like the Holidays” is definitely nothing like the holidays (my holidays anyway) because it lacked one of the most basic things: being fun. It suffered greatly because it was too formulaic. It actually didn’t need the sappy drama because the key lies in the human interactions and comedy that comes with the attractions and repulsions of each varying (sometimes histrionic) personalities.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I hate giving good-hearted comedies bad ratings and reviews but it’s one of those things I have to do for the sake of giving an honest critique. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” stars Kevin James as a security guard who tries to stop criminals from robbing an entire mall during the busiest shopping time of the year. James’ character is someone one can root for because he is a genuinely good guy but doesn’t quite reach for his full potential because he tends to put others before himself. Unfortunately, a main character that the audiences want to root for isn’t enough to save this movie. Like “Get Smart,” this film featured most of its funniest jokes in the trailer so when one is actually watching the movie, it becomes too underwhelming or disappointing. The story is also way too safe. James falls for one of the girls who run a booth at the mall (played by the adorable Jayma Mays) but he can’t quite ask her out because of his own insecurities. After stopping the robbers (come on, you knew how it was going to end), he suddenly gets the courage to go for the things he wants. It’s all been done before and other films have done a way better job. I was more interested with James’ mom and daughter instead of the whole criminals-taking-over-the-mall bit. I get that it was trying to make references to the “Die Hard” series, and I did chuckle from time to time, but it was not as funny as it should have been. I didn’t really feel a sense of danger for any of the characters so I wasn’t invested in what was about to transpire. Overall, this movie is very forgettable because it’s as light as cotton candy. If James is given a better script for a future film project, I know that he can excel if he keeps his energy as much as he did here. I do appreciate his enthusiasm for the role but at the same time everyone else should deliver as well. I’m going to have to say skip this one unless one really wants to watch a safe, family-friendly vehicle.