How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
★★ / ★★★★
The Grinch (Jim Carrey) was born in Whoville, a place where everyone loved Christmas, but he ran away to live at Mt. Crumpet because he was bullied as a child for looking different. He grew up to hate Christmas and was absolutely willing to do anything to ruin Whoville’s good cheer. When a little girl (Taylor Momsen), doubtful of what Christmas was supposed to be about, suggested that the residents gave Grinch a chance to be a part of them, it just might be the perfect opportunity for him to ruin Christmas once and for all. Based on Dr. Seuss’ book and directed by Ron Howard, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was harmless, silly, and colorful which almost made it a perfect movie to watch around Christmastime. I just wished its heart was the priority instead of the comedy. Admittedly, despite the many slapstick scenes that made no sense whatsoever yet without a doubt would appeal to younger children, I did laugh at Carrey’s manic energy and deranged facial expressions. I smiled at the small chaos he created like giving little girls a saw and encouraged them to run around with it. I especially loved it when the filmmakers were brave enough to allow the mean, green Grinch to look into camera and comment on things like kids being desensitized by movies and television nowadays and the dangers of stress-eating. The latter was especially hilarious because most of us are guilty of it during the holidays. The Grinch mentioned the innate commercialism of the holiday as well. Some may perceive it as distracting but since he was a cynic, I thought it was appropriate for his character. While it was amusing because of Carrey essentially carrying the picture, I yearned for more moving moments. A bit of silence would have gone a long way. Naturally, the Grinch was a lonely creature. Although the material provided background information about why he decided to live by himself, it felt too superficial. I kept waiting for the film to explore the Grinch’s feelings of abandonment at the gut level. Furthermore, didn’t his parents look for him after he ran off into the snowy mountains? How did he meet his adorable dog? There were some unanswered questions that should have been answered or at least acknowledged. After all, without really understanding the misunderstood creature, how could we buy into his eventual change of heart? We wouldn’t just love him because he decided to return the toys he stole in the first place. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” didn’t quite steal my heart but it managed to entertain. Hats off to Carrey for shining through the green costume and make-up.
Life as We Know It (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Holly (Katherine Heigl) and Eric (Josh Duhamel), complete strangers to one another, were supposed to go out for dinner because their married best friends thought they would get along swimmingly. But they called it quits before they even reached the restaurant. Holly thought Eric was a child trapped in a handsome man’s body, while Eric thought Holly was a pretty but uptight blonde who had no idea how to let her hair down for a change. But when their best friends died in a car accident, they were named as one-year-old Sophie’s guardians. Holly and Eric had to try to put their differences aside to take care of the baby. “Life as We Know It,” written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson, were labeled by some critics as emotionally bankrupt because it used death as a source of commercial comedy. I’d have to disagree; plenty of films out there, especially dark comedies, have used the same topic and they received critical acclaim. I say why not as long as the film retained a certain level of respect. The movie didn’t feel malicious toward its subjects. The characters may have felt more like caricatures at times but, in general, it had a bona fide sense of humor. I just wish it had stayed away from too many gross-out humor involving vomit and changing diapers. Two or three of those scenes were more than enough but we were given about seven. The heart of the picture was Holly and Eric’s strained relationship. They tolerated each other but they obviously didn’t like each other. They were so used to having their way because they were single. The only thing they had to focus on was their career. Holly ran a business as a caterer (typically feminine) and Eric worked behind the scenes in a sports network (typically masculine). The story was most interesting when it focused on how they tried to change themselves and each other as they hoped to raise a healthy child. They had to break their typical feminine and masculine roles in order to be well-rounded parents. Their various approaches to parenting were rarely perfect–certain decisions were downright stupid like Eric leaving a baby to a cab driver just so he could go to work–but that was what made them charming. Through trial-and-error, they learned from their mistakes. Another source of conflict was the romance between Sam (Josh Lucas) and Holly. They should have had more scenes together instead of the unfunny scenes with the colorful neighbors (Melissa McCarthy) and the nosy Child Protection Services agent (Sarah Burns). We saw that they cared for each other but their situation was far from optimum. Holly was in a critical state of transition while Sam was ready to settle down. I was glad there wasn’t a typical rivalry between the two men in Holly’s life. “Life as We Know It,” directed by Greg Berlanti, had good elements but it was ultimately weighed down by too many slapstick humor and heavy-handed metaphor such as Holly’s business expansion reflecting Holly, Eric, and Sophie’s life at home. It could have been stronger if the writers eliminated comfortable but unnecessary clichés and taken more risks.
You Again (2010)
★ / ★★★★
In high school, Marni (Kristen Bell) was bullied by the head cheerleader (Odette Yustman) because she was a geek. She was labeled as a loser with glasses, ugly bangs, and pimples so she didn’t have any friends. Marni was traumatized and grew to hate the idea of high school over the years. About ten years later, we saw that Marni had a great career in public relations. In fact, she recently had gotten a promotion before she headed home to her brother’s (James Wolk) wedding. To Marni’s horror, Joanna, the woman her brother was intending to marry, turned out to be the very same person who made high school a place of fear and humiliation. “You Again,” written by Moe Jelline and directed by Andy Fickman, casted wonderful actors but none of them were given much to do. Marni’s mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Joanna’s aunt (Sigourney Weaver) had an entirely predictable subplot that was directly and eerily related to Marni and Joanna’s rivalry. Betty White, as adorable as she was, was stuck playing the grandmother who had the funny one-liners. Even Victor Garber’s character was painfully one-dimensional as the unaware father whose only notable feature was that he liked to eat with a blindfold because he was convinced that not seeing the amount he ate made him lose weight. I wouldn’t have minded the poorly established supporting characters but the four women should have been at the forefront. The filmmakers’ job was to paint a portrait of them with varying degrees of depth and complexity. They failed. Marni and Joanna’s games were understandable. They might have been adults but they were young. Ten years isn’t a long time to forget high school memories especially if one had been scrutinized and bullied. I understood why Marni was still angry. I even understood why she wanted some form of revenge. At the same time, I felt like Joanna was genuine about starting over, to change from being a person she didn’t like to a person that she and others can love. Most of us deserve a second chance. However, the mother and the aunt’s relationship should have been explored deeper because it was a key element in the four women finding resolution and closure. The relationship between the two former best friends should have been the mirror in which the younger women realized the error of their ways. Instead, we were given a series of slapstick humor but not enough exploration of the real pain behind bullying and broken friendships. I felt that the material was deathly afraid to look at its own heart. Great comedies have proven that a comedy picture fails to work without some level of emotional investment between the characters and the audiences. “You Again” was like watching a freshman sitcom that was cancelled after only three episodes.
★★ / ★★★★
Imagine going into a minor operation and waking up two hundred years later. You’ve been told that, due to minor complications, you have been frozen without your consent. That is exactly what happened to Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) as he woke up and learned that everything was different. Everything we thought was bad (like smoking) is now good, and everything we thought was good is now bad. The two scientists who revived Miles gave the protagonist a mission to seek refuge within the Underground, an organization that wanted to overthrow the country’s oppressive leader and thus change the government. Along the way, Miles fell in love with a spoiled party girl named Luna (Dianne Keaton) who enjoyed having fun with an orb (equivalent to getting high) and having sex that lasted for about two seconds in a machine. Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman, “Sleeper” was an interesting hybrid of science fiction and slapstick comedy. It had some great one-liners and truly memorable (albeit campy) images such as when the main character stumbled upon giant fruits and vegetables and when he disguised himself as a robot butler. I had fun with the scenes when the scientists would attempt to learn more about the 20th century by asking Miles questions of what he thought about the images thrown at him. When Miles responded, there was joy in Allen’s signature wit and tongue-in-cheek bravado in tackling usually serious topics such as cloning and political assassination. The references to pop culture came hard and fast, sometimes overwhelming, but consistently deserving at least a chuckle. However, I thought its type of comedy was depressingly one-note. Initially, I enjoyed the slapstick such as when Miles woke up from his extended sleep and he had no control of his limbs. He reflected Gumby’s movement at best or as if he had a neurological disorder in which electrical impulses had complete control of his body. It was funny without trying. But when the cops closed in on Miles and he had to escape, it resulted to cartoonish manner in resolving the matter at hand. For instance, the protagonist would simply grab a big branch (or anything that was available) and bash everyone on the head. Naturally, Miles and Luna would occassionally hit each other accidentally and it was supposed to be funny. I just didn’t get it. The cheesy, Saturday morning cartoon music made what did not work all the more unbearable. Directed by Woody Allen, I must admit that the film could appeal to people who are magnetized to its brand of humor. I thought it had moments of originality. I just wished it did not rely too much on the physical jokes and had focused more on its witty wordplay.
Funny Farm (1988)
★★ / ★★★★
Happy couple Andy (Chevy Chase) and Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith Osborne) decided to move out of New York City and into the country so Andy could work on his novel. They anticipated to live an easier life with far less worries while in the country. But from the minute the Farmers left the city, something went wrong in every turn starting with the movers getting lost overnight. Eventually, the unfortunate events and eccentric small town ceased to become amusing as various elements challenged Andy and Elizabeth’s marriage. I am the most difficult person to please when it comes to slapstick comedy so I was surprised that I actually enjoyed this film. The movie offered a variety of situations in which something funny happened and not simply relying on, for example, someone carrying a big cake tripping over a cord and the cake goes flying onto someone’s face. I liked its humor most when it came at the most unexpected time. For instance, a typical gardening session led someone to find a coffin buried in the yard, a modern-looking door from the outside turning out to be somewhat of an old-fashioned door when touched, and the ongoing joke about pay phones inside the home. But my favorite scene was when Andy, beaming with excitement and happiness, allowed his wife to read a few chapters from the book he had been working on for quite some time. Her reactions, from being forced to read during their anniversary to her struggle in expressing what she really thought of the novel in progress, were priceless. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud because most of us could relate to her situation. Do we tell the absolute truth or do we sugarcoat certain facts (which essentially is tantamount to lying)? However, I would have given the movie a recommendation if the last twenty or thirty minutes did not become so depressing. What kept the script afloat for the majority of its running time was the couple’s natural chemistry and ability to forgive each other for just about anything. So when the story took a serious turn and the friction between the couple was magnified, I stopped having fun and the subsequent attempts at humor felt forced. The pacing took a drastic halt and it did not feel like the same movie I was watching before. “Funny Farm,” directed by George Roy Hill, had great energy behind its creative ideas. When the jokes worked, they worked well, and when they did not, it was almost forgivable. Aside from its misguided last third, the rest might have been formulaic but, as a whole, it was still delightful to watch.
Annie Hall (1977)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Annie Hall,” written, directed and starring Woody Allen, is considered one of the best romantic comedies in film history even though the couple did not end up together in the end. Alvy (Allen) wanted to determine what went wrong in his relationship with Annie (Diane Keaton) so we were taken back in time and given the chance to observe the major and minor events in their journey. The film was undoubtedly quirky but its intelligence and insight about how it was like to be in a relationship was what took this film from greatness to being a pop icon classic. My favorite scenes were when Allen decided to use elements that could have disrupted the narrative. For instance, I had loads of fun with the split-screen when the director wanted to compare Annie’s WASP family to Alvy’s Jewish family during a meal. The former was reserved, everyone masticated with their mouths closed, and had perfect posture at the table. On the other hand, the latter, like my family, consisted of many overlapping voices, gossip became a source of entertainment, and all sorts of etiquette was thrown out the window. Allen’s willingness to take risks showed me that he was confident about his project and that’s a key ingredient to make a successful picture. I also admired the film’s many references to pop culture and literature and the energy that drove them forward. I did not live in the 70s nor do I read a lot of classic novels. I did understand more than half the jokes but when I did not, I did not feel dumb or left out. That was when the energy became essential because there were about ten jokes in under a minute so I didn’t have a chance to linger on the fact that I did not “get” something. Furthermore, I loved that the director injected various types of comedy in the material. Some of the comedy were slapstick (the lobster scene), anecdotes (when Alvy vividly described his childhood experiences), blunders (a Freudian slip by Annie), and even some repartee between the two leads in the bedroom and the issue of sex and gender roles were put under the spotlight. Alvy and Annie could have easily been caricatures in less capable direction. Instead, the protagonists had great depth. They surprised us because of the inconsistencies in their beliefs and actions, they kept us watching because they spoke of and did things we, one way or another, had thought of and done, and they moved us because it was like watching two good friends deciding to go their separate ways. Clever in its approach in which irony penetrated every scene, “Annie Hall” was not simply as ode to romance but also an absolute love for creative and inspired filmmaking.
Back-Up Plan, The (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Jennifer Lopez had been absent from being a female lead actress for quite some time so I was really looking forward to Alan Poul’s “The Back-Up Plan.” Zoe (Lopez) made a proactive decision about having a kid via artificial insemination because she thought she would never find the guy for her. But the moment she stepped outside the clinic, she met Stan (Alex O’Loughlin), a nice, down-to-earth guy who wasn’t bad on the eyes with dreams of leading his own humble business. They didn’t get along initially but after a series of coincidences, the two eventually fell for one another. While I did like the two characters because they were charming and had undeniable chemistry, the material was just not funny. Some aspects of the film that were supposed to be funny but actually dead on arrival include the Single Mothers and Proud support group, Zoe’s incredibly transparent friends, and its lack of commitment in dealing with the serious questions about being a single parent. There were moments when Zoe had a chance to think about her future and whether she really wanted to stay on the path she had chosen but as soon as mood turned a little too serious, the movie would cut to a different scene and deliver slapstick infantile comedy. Not only did it take me out of the moment but I also felt emotionally cheated. The picture also lacked focus. I got the impression that the material was supposed to be from a mother’s perspective but it eventually lost track of its vision by establishing a series of scenes when Stan would meet a stranger at a park and discuss the struggles of fatherhood. While it was nice on the surface, I thought it was completely unnecessary. I already liked Stan and hammering the point that he was a good guy left me impatient. For me, I just saw it as another excuse to not deal with Zoe’s increasingly difficult preganancy, physically and emotionally, as she struggled with trusting Stan to stick around because the father and her child were not biologically connected. I think the movie would have been so much better if it had decided to take either the comedic or dramatic route. In an attempt to balance both, it managed to excel at neither path because every single step was formulaic and uninspiring. In the end, the elements of true exploration about how it was like to be a middle-class single mother were there but it tried too hard to be everything at once. The message of the film was vague–assuming that it wanted to communicate something in the first place. But then again maybe it just wanted to be a typical and too safe a romantic comedy.
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.
Death at a Funeral (2010)
★ / ★★★★
A dysfunctional family dispersed all over the country came together for a funeral. Secrets were revealed, drugs were accidentally taken, old flames encountered each other, a nude man decided to hang out on the roof and threaten suicide–but none of it was particularly funny because the movie was confined in going for the obvious laughs. Even worse, the picture was directed by Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men,” “The Shape of Things”), so I expected a certain level of wit, intelligence and insight in terms of what it meant to mourn and how one’s opinion of somebody else would change when a critical piece of information was revealed. Instead, the movie focused on the surfaces of problems aided by weak acting by otherwise good actors. I did enjoy James Marsden as Zoe Saldana’s high-as-a-kite boyfriend who took some “vicodin” but I wish I could have known him more. I wanted to know how it was for him to constantly be rejected by her father because the father thought the boyfriend was not good enough for his daughter. Of course, there was the race issue which the film constantly brought up but it never tackled the subject with elegance or even an ounce of respect. Being a person of color, even I thought some of the things that were said or the way certain scenes were executed were borderline racist. It made me feel uneasy but I highly doubted it was on purpose as a LaBute project (more commonly) would like its audiences to feel. Chris Rock, as one of the deceased’s sons and arguably where the heart of the film should have been, played a blabbering fool and I did not feel any ounce of sadness because his father died. He let his rivalry with his successful brother (Martin Lawrence) get in the way of spending final moments with his father. In the end, I grew to dislike both of them because they so self-centered. If I had been in that funeral with them, I would have showed them a piece of my mind. I’m not saying that the film needed to be sad because we were at a funeral. My point is that it should have had a sense of balance between sensitivity and willingness to push the envelope. The characters were all the same when they should have been different from one another. Not everybody had to run around screaming or yelling. What about the silent man in the corner? “Death at a Funeral” is a remake but I’m not going to bother comparing this to the original because, as I’ve always said, each work has to stand on its own. This movie failed on multiple levels because it wasn’t willing to look inside itself. It had no idea between having a twisted sense of humor (which I love) and featuring idiocy from one scene to the next until the credits.
Sex Drive (2008)
★ / ★★★★
A virgin (Josh Zuckerman) decided to drive across the country using a car he stole from his hypermasculine brother (James Marsden) with his best friends (Amanda Crew, Clark Duke) to finally lose his virginity to a girl (Katrina Bowden) he met online. I expected this movie to be somewhere along the lines of “Superbad” because it essentially had the same premise and sense of humor. It turned out to be much worse because, unlike “Superbad,” “Sex Drive” was stuck in the slapstick approach and unfunny sex jokes instead of eventually telling a story that was entertaining and worth sitting through. One of the biggest problems I had with this movie was the fact that the three lead characters spent too much of their time being stranded on the road. How could a road trip be fun if the audiences were forced to watch characters doing absolutely nothing? Sure, the movie had Seth Green as an Amish person who loved being sarcastic (he was one of the two good things here along with Marsden) but other than the scenes with Green, the rest of the supposedly funny scenes fell flat. I also think that the movie didn’t take advantage of its premise. Online hook-ups are becoming more common these days (I actually know some people who participate in it) but instead of really commenting on that issue by balancing seriousness and comedy, it took the one-dimensional route of best friends finally realizing they had feelings for each other. It was like watching a rated R version of a Disney movie where everyone learned a story in the end. It wasn’t refreshing or amusing so I just wanted it all to end. Directed by Sean Anders, “Sex Drive” was definitely an effort to sit through with infuriating characters teeming with unnecessary insecurities. They had no redeeming qualities because they kept making bad decisions that wouldn’t ultimately help them become better individuals. It made me wonder if people like them really existed and if they did, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. I kept waiting for Zuckerman’s character to realize that everyone he knew who made fun of him for being a virgin were losers and they would always be losers. Unfortunately, he didn’t so the picture didn’t have that edge and angst I was looking for. In the end, he was just a very bland main character wh also happened to only have a one-track mind when it came to sex. While it did have funny moments with Marsden and Green, those weren’t enough to convince me that “Sex Drive” was worth seeing because it lacked heart and an iota of intelligence.