Please Give (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
A married couple (Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt) living in New York City bought the apartment next door in hopes of expanding their home. All they had to do was to await the death of their elderly neighbor (Ann Morgan Guilbert) so they could move in and make the necessary changes. But the old woman, helped by her two granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet), did not seem to show any sign of passing away any time soon. “Please Give,” written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, was an effective comedy, which at times made me feel uneasy, because it showcased unlikable people doing and saying things that were, in the least, inappropriate. In others words, it captured real life. Even though it made me feel uncomfortable, I constantly laughed because I could imagine myself making the same decisions as the characters did here. Many scenes were familiar. For instance, while at a restaurant or a diner, we could hear banal conversations of others from a few tables away. There were also scenes where the characters expressed, without holding back, their anger toward their grandparents without regard for people, mostly strangers, who just happened to be there. I liked its honesty despite how painful certain truths were. I also enjoyed how I wasn’t quite sure whether the director was being emotionally sincere or poking fun at the characters as it moved from one scene to another. When Keener decided to volunteer for mentally challenged kids, on one hand, I was touched because I was reminded of the time when I used to volunteer at an Alzheimer’s facility. On some level, I felt like she was serious about wanting to commit and make a difference on those children’s lives. On the other hand, I thought it was very amusing because Keener’s character was such an insecure person but was not even aware of it. She felt like helping the world (she found giving money to homeless people rewarding) but she had important unresolved issues such as her guilt regarding her job and her increasingly difficult relationship with her pimply-faced teenage daughter (Sarah Steele). When the material became emotionally complex, I thought it was at its best. “Please Give” focused on people’s insecurities and their inability to deal with the way they saw themselves compared to how they thought the world perceived them. Best of all, in order to remain honest with the material, the ending gave a sufficient sense of closure to its characters without being melodramatic or heavy-handed. It felt just right because, while not every problem was solved, I felt like the characters would continue to be a work in progress.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
★★★ / ★★★★
A year after the McCallisters accidentally left Kevin alone at home during Christmas, the family decided to go to Miami for vacation in hopes of getting some sun. Once again, the parents (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) overslept the night before so the family had to rush to the airport in order to catch a plane. But they didn’t leave Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) at home this time around. They actually lost him at the airport because Kevin followed a man with the same coat as his father which resulted to our little protagonist boarding a plane to New York City. The sequel to the highly successful “Home Alone” proudly followed the same formula as its predecessor which was not necessarily a bad thing. While it was slightly weaker than the original because it did not feel as fresh, this installment was still entertaining because Culkin was still endearing as young Kevin and he had a knack for solid comedic timing mixed with being cute as a button. The fantasy of being in the Big Apple, staying in a fancy hotel, and spending as much money as possible was something that we can all to relate to. I have to admit I did salivate when I saw the obnoxious amount of candy and ice cream that surrounded Kevin in his hotel room. The two idiotic burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) from the first movie escaped from prison (now calling themselves “Sticky Bandits”) and planned to rob a toy store in which all of its profits were supposed to go to a children’s hospital. Kevin heard about their evil plan so he planned to punish the two in a relatives’ house currently being renovated before handing them over to the cops. The confrontation scenes were much longer and much more violent. I especially enjoyed the scene with the seemingly endless number of bricks being thrown at the villains. It was very violent but no one lost consciousness or died (there wasn’t even a drop of blood). It felt like watching an episode of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner–the slapstick came hard and fast but every chuckle and laugh was earned. I was surprised that a giant hammer or an avalanche did not make an appearance. “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, embraced its cuddly simplicity, but both children and adults would most likely find it very entertaining. Everything felt bigger in scope with excellent supporting actors like Tim Curry as the suspicious hotel clerk and Rob Schneider as the bellboy who just wanted a generous tip but couldn’t get any. It is unfortunate that most sequels lose the energy and charm that made the original material so fantastic. Luckily, It wasn’t the case here.
★★ / ★★★★
A baby orphan snuck into Santa Claus’s bag of presents and ended up in the North Pole. The baby was named Buddy and raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and whole-heartedly embraced by the elfin community and strange creatures that lived there. But when Buddy became an adult (now played by Will Ferrell), he became more of a nuisance to the elves due to his size so he traveled to New York City to find his biological father (James Caan). The movie started off with promise because it was creative with its joke about a man who was so out of his element but was blind to the fact. Even more amusing were Buddy’s scenes with people in utter disbelief that he actually believed in Santa Claus with fervor to spare. Ferrell did a wonderful job playing a wide-eyed boy stuck in an adult man’s body. The slapstick comedy worked because kids like to put themselves in physically uncomfortable situations. However, the film failed to reach an emotional peak and establish a resonance like the best movies that took place around Christmas. While Ferrell’s interactions with Caan were amusing, I didn’t feel a genuine connection between the father and the son. When the son hugged with enthusiasm, the father reluctantly put his arm around his son to pat him on the back. There was no real growth between them. Too much of film’s running time was dedicated to the biological father’s challenges at work (which did not add up to much) instead of focusing on the problems at home (Mary Steenburgen as the very accepting wife was a joy to watch). I wish there were more scenes between Buddy and a salesgirl who loved to sing named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). Farrell and Deschanel may not have chemistry (the film unwisely pushed their relationship to a romantic direction), but watching their friendship grow put a big smile on my face. Jovie always looked sad (which was ironic because I’m assuming her name came from the word “jovial”) and did not like to put herself in potentially embarrassing situations. Buddy was all about attracting all kinds of attention. Nevertheless, they got along swimmingly. While the majority of the film was about Buddy’s attempt of reconnection with the human world, the last twenty minutes was more about people believing in Santa Claus. I was left confused and I thought it was completely unnecessary. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that typing up dramatic loose ends was riskier than generating more pedestrian laughs. I thought the last few scenes were a desperate attempt to cover up weak storytelling. Directed by Jon Favreau, “Elf” had its share of funny and silly moments but its story needed a lot of work. Maybe the elves should have worked on the script so it could have had a bit of magic.
Mary and Max (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Mary (voiced by Toni Collette) was an earnest but unpopular eight-year-old girl living in Australia and Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was a whimsical Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrome living in New York City and the two became pen pals in the middle of the 1970s. Initially, the two seemed to not have much in common other than the fact that they both loved the same television show because of the vast age difference, but as years went by we learned that loneliness was only one of the many things that strengthened their friendship. What started off as a cute story of a little girl believing that she was found by her parents at the bottom of a beer mug turned into an insightful exercise in animation with lessons such as what it really means to love ourselves despite our flaws and eventually reach out to others who might be in a similar situation as us. Like the best animated films, we come to know Mary and Max not just as characters from colorful and black-and-white worlds, respectively, but as people who likely exist out there in the world. They openly shared their goals in life, their insecurities, and in what ways they believe their pasts have helped shaped who they were. I loved that the picture did not shy away from showcasing negative emotions such as disgust, jealousy, and greed. I enjoyed the movie from an entertainment angle because it was very funny due to its quirkiness but the more I think about it, the more I’m impressed with the script’s level of intelligence and the subtle ways the characters changed over their many years of often very touching correspondence. Even though the picture lost its way somewhere around the introduction of Damien (Eric Bana) as Mary’s love interest, the final few scenes moved me because certain events were handled with such beauty and maturity. Instead of emotionally cheating the audiences, what had transpired felt right and true to itself. Written and directed by Adam Elliot, “Mary and Max” is an astute, dynamic and character-driven film that is appropriate for both children and adults. Despite some of the issues it tackled such as depression, addiction and losing faith to a higher power, there are important lessons to be learned from the movie (while some lessons were taken upside down for the sake of irony). Best of all, I admired the film for its honesty without sacrficing imaginative details that are worth exploring upon second viewing.
Going the Distance (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Garrett (Justin Long) lives in New York and works for a record company whose main goal is to find bands that have the potential to be popular even though they’re not necessarily talented. Garrett finds his job unrewarding because he genuinely loves good music despite a band being non-commercial. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is an summer intern for a newspaper in New York who resides in the Bay Area with her sister (Christina Applegate). Being over thirty years old, she’s still in school because she once derailed her career plans for a guy. Garret and Erin meet and they get into an initially undefined long-distance relationship. Written by Geoff LaTulippe and directed by Nanette Burstein, “Going the Distance” is without a doubt a commercial romantic comedy but has an edge because it is actually believable in terms of how it’s like to be in a modern relationship. The script contained extremely funny lines and situations, the supporting characters (Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis as Garrett’s best friends) were used in a smart way but never overshadowed the leads, and we believe that Garrett and Erin had something special so we are invested in the story. The small details were the things I appreciated most. I liked how the camera consistently focused on the man–the thoughts that were running around in his head and the pain that he must be feeling because he is very attached to the girl. It stood out to me because there were studies I’ve read about, compared to a woman, a man feeling more pain than he lets on when a romantic relationship is broken. And even though it wasn’t addressed directly, there was probably an age difference (Garrett’s age was undisclosed). I thought about why the two main characters valued certain things over others, their maturity levels, and the pros and cons of being in long distance relationship. Even though, on the surface, Garrett and Erin had a lot in common, they also had a lot of differences but somehow the director was able to highlight what great chemistry they have without resulting to being sappy and so we want them to be together even though not all of the characters believed they would make it. “Going the Distance” is an unexpectedly fast-paced comedy that manages to capture the diversity and the hustle and bustle of New York City (I actually liked the scenes with purposely bad lighting because it felt that much more realistic). It’s an intelligent film that isn’t afraid for both men and women to directly talk about sex and address what they really need in order to be happy. The movie even had time to refer to the economy’s impact the job market. I strongly believe that couples, not just the girl, will find themselves enjoying this laugh-and-loud romcom.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s been two years since the first highly successful “Sex and the City” movie and the same amount of time had passed since Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the four best friends–Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis)–decided to go to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid trip because they figured they could use a break from their respective battles regarding career, marriage, having kids, and menopause in New York City. As usual, hilarity and drama ensued when the girls visited bars, talked about sex and faced their problems before heading home. Although not as glamorous as the first (though it certainly did try), I enjoyed this installment because it took us somewhere new, featured a culture other than New York City’s, and there were moments of real sensitivity such as when Miranda and Charlotte talked about their frustrations about work and raising kids. I liked that it didn’t try too hard to top the first movie except for the very cheeky, self-aware, over-the-top gay wedding (with Liza Minnelli singing and dancing to “Single Ladies”) in the first twenty minutes. However, there were some elements that I felt were unnecessary like the appearance of a former lover (John Corbett) that was solely and conveniently designed to make Carrie realize how much she really loved Big and how petty she was for worrying about becoming a “boring couple.” Most of the lessons were pretty obvious (at least to me) but the main reason why I’m a fan is because of the fashion and the glamour. I guess most people don’t realize that the whole thing is supposed to be a farce. I mean, who in their right minds would wear designer clothing in the middle of the desert? It irks me when I read reviews from both critics and audiences concerning the movie’s characters being shallow and the plot being unrealistic. But I guess the joke is on them if they come into the movie expecting the events to reflect real life. For me, “Sex and the City 2” delivered the goods because I got exactly what I signed up for: about two and a half hours to escape my problems and realize how good my life is in comparison. At first glance, these women might be bathing in jewelry, expensive clothes and ridiculously well-designed apartments but they have so much unhappiness in their lives. Sometimes, they even create their own problems in order to make their lives more interesting. As for those who claimed that the movie was politically incorrect, I say it’s nothing new. In fact, the television show flourished because it was exactly that–politically incorrect. “Sex and the City 2” is a good movie to watch with your best gal friends because it’s not just about romantic relationships but also friendship. I just wished that the guys (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis) were in it more so we could see things from men’s perspectives from time to time.
Date Night (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Steve Carell and Tina Fey star as a married couple who decided to go to the city on their date night to get away from the ennui of their busy schedules which mostly revolved around work and their kids. To spice things up a bit, they decided to go to an exclusive fancy restaurant which required reservations months in advance. Since they didn’t make one, Carell and Fey decided to pretend to be another couple–a couple involved in theft and currently being pursued by corrupt cops (Common, Jimmi Simpson) who seemed to work for the mob of some sort. When I saw the trailers for this film, I knew I had to watch it because casting arguably the funniest people in Hollywood right now is genius. What I loved about this movie most was not because of the story–mistaken identities, a couple feeling like their marriage lacked spark; I’ve seen it all before–but because of the chemistry between Fey and Carell. They matched each other’s awkwardness and both had great comedic timing. The two actors managed to pull off genuinely tender moments between them where I couldn’t help but feel touched. They were a believable couple and that’s why I cared about their characters. Written by Josh Klausner and directed by Shawn Levy, the script and the filmmakers allowed the two leads to play on their strengths and let the awkwardness linger to the point of saturation. But “Date Night” was as funny as it was exciting. The scene when the two cars (one owned by constantly shirtless Mark Wahlberg, a conceit I was glad that the actor embraced) couldn’t uncouple from one another was a definite standout. It was so much fun to watch, I wished that I was in that car with them. However, I did wish that the side characters had more screen time. For instance, Leighton Meester as the babysitter, Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as the couple about to get a divorce, Taraji P. Henson (who I love in those “Tyler Perry” movies) as the honest detective, and James Franco (doing his “sparkly eyes” thing that I’m always impressed with) and Mila Kunis as the weird but hilarious couple involved in blackmail. Nevertheless, the movie was so much fun and the adventures all over New York City reminded me of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Those who are in the mood for good-natured comedy with a spice of action will definitely enjoy this movie, while fans of Fey and Carell will undoubtedly be happy with it.