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.
West Side Story (1961)
★★★ / ★★★★
“West Side Story” is pretty much an updated version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Instead of Montagues vs. Capulets, it’s the Sharks vs. the Jets, Puerto Rican immigrants and second generation Americans, respectively. I’m not very interested in musicals but I had to see this one because it’s considered a classic. Although I was pleasantly surprised with how well-made it was, I was also disappointed because it’s not very consistent in its quality. After it delivers one great scene, a pointless and aimless scene comes right after it, which balances out into mediocrity. Although the songs are memorable and some even made it to the modern media consciousness, there were some musicals numbers that tried to do too much. For instance, in one shot the characters are singing in a dimly-lit backdrop; the next frame introduces a glaring use of color in order to symbolize certain emotions when it really didn’t need to do it. Certain techniques like that became distracting and they took me out of the emotions that I was feeling at the time. Natalie Wood as Maria (a Shark) and Richard Beymer as Tony (a Jet) had strong chemistry so I was interested in what was about to happen to their relationship. I wish the film had focused more on them instead of the rival gangs. I think Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, the directors, spent too much time on the gangs just hanging about, bickering, and acting stupid. Not to mention those scenes were a bit lame (in this day and age) so I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I got what the directors were trying to do: To paint a picture that youth is the time to make mistakes and how teenagers are forced to grow up once they learn to take responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that they should spend about half the movie trying to get that message across. I felt like this movie could’ve been condensed from two hours and thirty minutes to an hour and forty minutes. Still, I’m giving this a recommendation because some parts were very strong such as when the film tried to tackle the issues of immigration, racism, groupthink, and us vs. them. Those social themes made this a musical with a brain even though it may not seem like it at first glance.
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