There are a lot of them. We don't believe a minute of them. Yet the key to them is milking real charm from real people
reacting in real time.
For instance, before I offer this review of the easygoing Chicago-based Puerto Rican Christmas
picture "Nothing Like the Holidays," I should point out that I am a fervent admirer of "The Family Stone."
It has been one week since my last viewing; with Christmas edging closer, I expect to fall off the wagon again,
probably late at night.
"The Family Stone," which crams in more concerns than a season of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," has everything: silent looks,
walks in the snow, a dying parent, uptight outsiders who feel distant from the clannish family, a clip of "Meet Me in St.
Louis," a deaf son, a gay son-in-law and an improbable finish, after which everything's fine. Yet, I don't write that
with a wink and nudge -- I love "The Family Stone" so much I watch it in July.
Then again, to spin Tolstoy ever so slightly: All happy families in holiday movies are alike, but all unhappy families
in holiday movies, these days, they're pretty much alike too.
"Nothing Like the Holidays," if you are a sentient being on this planet, should strike you, after a short glance
at a short TV commercial, as crushingly familiar ("The Family Stonendez"), done before, done last week, done every
year, the latest holiday film about a varied, dysfunctional everyday family that comes together at Christmas,
lugging a 12-car pileup of anxieties, then tidying up every one, in a warm red bow, within 98 minutes.
A tweak, of course, is required with each new holiday film, to preserve the illusion that you are not buying a new
ticket to an old movie. It's not much of a twist, but it's more thoughtful than you would expect.
Director Alfredo De Villa is as interested in the rhythms of these families, and the details of their lovingly worn
middle-class homes (painted metal railing on the stairs, decorations on the kitchen sink), as with the cliches he's
expected to deliver (and does).
The primary family here is the chaotic, everyone-doing-everything-at-once Rodriguez clan, who haven't spent a
holiday together in years: Jesse (Freddy Rodriguez) is back from Iraq, nursing survivor's guilt and a romance with
an old flame (Melonie Diaz); sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito) is a struggling actress with modest success in Los
Angeles, waiting on The Phone Call From Her Agent That Could Change Her Career; Ozzy (Jay Hernandez) is Jesse's
childhood friend, itching to strike at the gang who killed his brother (Ozzy is also smitten with Roxanna, and
Roxanna with Ozzy); Alfred Molina plays the mountainous patriarch, unfaithful to his wife (Elizabeth Pena),
both of whom hold tight to a grim secret; Luis Guzman drops by as the big, loud family friend.
Oh, yes: John Leguizamo jets in as the rich New York businessman with a rich, white high-powered wife (Debra Messing),
whom we know is high-powered because she wears a Bluetooth. Their biggest contribution to the Circus of Complications is
they haven't had grandkids -- or as the family calls their inevitable offspring, "Sorta Ricans."
Likewise, "Nothing Like the Holidays" is Sorta Rican, too -- sorta authentic, when it allows this big wonderful cast to
talk to each other, catch up, laugh, evade. Those hundreds -- nay, thousands -- of subplots?
Practical ways of throwing
actors together, and nothing more; watch the way their faces brighten in conversation, the smiles that spread slowly
across their faces in moments of genuine warmth. It's what we need at the holidays, and it's the modest goal of a
modest little holiday picture like this -- to capture something heartfelt and real, finding anyone doing anything
and meaning it, regardless of how patently false the situation seems.
Sounds like the holidays to me.
Nothing Like The Holidays Movie Trailer
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including some sexual dialogue, and brief drug reference).
Running time: 1:38.
Starring: John Leguizamo (Mauricio); Freddy Rodriguez (Jesse); Debra Messing (Sarah); Alfred Molina (Eddy); Elizabeth Pena (Anna); Vanessa Ferlito (Roxanna); Luis Guzman (Johnny).
Directed by Alfredo De Villa; written by Rick Najera and Alison Swan; photographed by Scott Kevan; edited by Amy Duddleston and John Coniglio; music by Paul Oakenfold; production design by Dan Clancy; produced by Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. An Overture Films release.
This charmless film concerns two lifelong friends, played by Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, whose competing weddings, mistakenly scheduled for the same day at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel, turn bride-to-be against bride-to-be. Half the comedies made in Hollywood are based on the premise of boy-men acting like idiots. Switching the gender and toning down the vulgarity to a PG level offers only change, not improvement. Hathaway in particular deserves better material.
Based on a book by Bishop T.D. Jakes, this film is a faith-based love story, secondarily about God's role in the care and feeding of an L.A. couple's turbulent marriage. Thanks to Morris Chestnut, whose warm, easy screen presence was an asset way back in "Boyz N the Hood," and to Taraji P. Henson, a by-the-book scenario (described by screenwriter Brian Bird as "sort of a male version of the film 'Waiting to Exhale'") ends up being pretty entertaining.
However sterling the craftsmanship, the film adaptation of Richard Yates' 1961 novel -- an excoriating portrait of a
mid-1950s marriage built on sticks, straw and delusion -- inflates the meaning and buffs the atmospheric surfaces of
the story, rather than digging into its guts.
But when stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet unleash their
character's demons, "Revolutionary Road" loses its tight, controlled sense of composition and air of solemnity
and, in human terms, matters.
Director Ron Howard's screen version of the Peter Morgan play allows Michael Sheen and Frank Langella to re-create their stage roles as David Frost and Richard Nixon, respectively. Frost's people paid Nixon's people $600,000 for the disgraced former president to sit for a series of television interviews taped in 1977, not quite three years after Nixon resigned. Watching Frost lock rhetorical horns with his subject made for a riveting postmortem on a fall from power. Howard's film pours old-fashioned theatrical juice into a cinematic bottle and lets the actors drink it up. R (some language).
A deft, beautifully built play has made it to the screen with its dramatic juice intact. John Patrick Shanley adapted and directed his stage piece set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, pitting Meryl Streep's Sister Aloysius against Philip Seymour Hoffman's Father Flynn, who's suspected of an improper student relationship. PG-13 (thematic material).
Here's yet another holiday film about a varied, dysfunctional family that comes together at Christmas, lugging a 12-car pileup of anxieties, then tidying up every one, in a red bow within 98 minutes. But director Alfredo De Villa and his ensemble cast (which includes Alfred Molina, Elizabeth Pena and John Leguizamo) manage to generate legitimate warmth and make it all work. PG-13 (thematic elements including some sexual dialogue, and brief drug reference).
The year's least necessary remake stars Keanu Reeves as interplanetary visitor Klaatu, first introduced in the 1951 original. This time, Earth's sins are more climate-based than warfare-based. Klaatu has come to issue a warning to Earth's leaders: Either treat your planet with more care or prepare for mass extinction. Reeves' portrayal offers little spark or surprise. Klaatu is a blank, and all around him, the flying spheres and "Mummy"-inspired digital swirls of schmutz are strictly routine. PG-13 (some sci-fi disaster images and violence).
The Lockni people invite the homeless, winged Nohrin to stay in their land, and the Nohrin then seek to seize control of peaceful Jhamora. "Delgo" is proof that not everyone with access to the tools and talent pool to make an animated film should be allowed to. It's a focus-group film, from its all-star voice cast (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr.) to its mash-up of a plot and "cuddly" critters acting it out. PG (sequences of fantasy action violence).
Director Rachel Stevens' odd little picture plays more like a stoned marketing department's idea of the blues than the real deal. This is entirely a stylistic exercise, hollow and ugly, studded with a handful of hard-to-recall musical numbers and original songs (Etta James, Dr. John), and so desperate to come off like a fever dream that the very edges of the picture are smudgy and gauzy. R (some sexual content, drug use and brief violent images).
Adrien Brody plays record exec Leonard Chess, who built a music empire in the 1950s with the help of stars such as Chuck Berry (played
exceptionally well by hip-hop artist Mos Def) and Etta James (played not so well by Beyonce Knowles).
Alan Rickman stars as a snotty chemistry professor married to a forensic psychiatrist (Mary Steenburgen). After the prof
wins the Nobel Prize in chemistry, his son is kidnapped by a sociopath with a taste for blood and a plan to extort $2
million in ransom money.
Overnight-delivery specialist Frank Martin (Jason Statham) must once again move dangerous cargo. His wrist is strapped with a bracelet that explodes if he strays 75 feet from his car, which holds the package. The best sequences involve Frank's inventive ability to stay close to his vehicle, but otherwise, it's Frank's charismatic, unruffled dexterity in the face of impossible odds that rivets. PG-13
The story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy, but not since Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has Sean Penn played such a serenely happy individual. Penn is superb as the martyred San Francisco city supervisor, America's first widely acknowledged openly gay elected official. He was killed by Milk's former colleague, Dan White (Josh Brolin, also excellent), minutes after White's fatal shooting of Mayor George Moscone in 1978. R
En route to love, and to save his ranch from the clutches of a rival, a cattleman known as "The Drover" (Hugh Jackman) guides a prim Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman), a crew of mixed-race outcasts and 1,500 head of cattle across thousands of miles of Australia during World War II. The second half of director Baz Luhrmann's first project since "Moulin Rouge!" develops some momentum. But you have to pass through the first half to get to the second, by which time you may find yourself drowning in high-fructose Aussie corn syrup. PG-13
Christmas itself will survive this acrid, wince-worthy holiday film, but barely. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn (who both need new agents) play a carefree couple who routinely lie to their respective divorced parents about being unable to visit around the holidays. But bad weather ruins their trip to Fiji and strands them in an airport, they're interviewed on TV, and their families see it, so to save face they speed-visit all four sets of caricatures. The cast, which also includes Sissy Spacek and Robert Duvall, is far better than its material. PG-13
This highly anticipated, surprisingly low-key vampire movie is a film of intelligent strengths and avoidable weaknesses, a modest adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's publishing phenomenon. It's faithful to its source material, and it's better written than Meyer's frothy book. Teen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) relocates from Arizona to Washington, where she falls for tortured, sensitive vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). Director Catherine Hardwicke was right to concentrate on getting the smoldering down between her stars, but her film lacks visual magic.
Voiced by John Travolta, the chief asset in a bland ensemble struggling with its material, Bolt is a canine who headlines a TV show co-starring his longtime owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus). Bolt has never been told that his life-or-death adventures are fake, so he's the star of his own depressing version of "The Truman Show." Complications separate Bolt from Penny, sending him to New York City, where his superpowers, which he believes to be real, are useless. This animated Disney feature is stingy on wit, charm, jokes and narrative satisfactions.
This lovely, vinegary holiday film from French writer-director Arnaud Desplechin is a simple picture about complicated people, the members of the extended Vuillard family. Taking place over a few days around Christmastime, the film's narrative may be more conventional than Desplechin's earlier work ("Kings and Queen," "My Sex Life ... or How I Got Into an Argument"), but it's as juicy and tonally unpredictable as anything he has made. Catherine Deneuve heads a fine cast.
Chilly-eyed Daniel Craig is the right man for the James Bond franchise, and his second outing confirms it. The trouble is, Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster's Ball") demonstrates that not every director is well-suited to Bondland. There's plenty of action, but half the time it's visually incoherent. The tale picks up minutes after the end of 2006's "Casino Royale." Bond is after the shadowy Quantum organization for killing his lady friend. PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, and some sexual content). 1:45. 2-1/2 stars.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is a ruthlessly effective paean to destiny, leaving nothing to chance. It also has a good shot at winning this year's Academy Award for best picture, if the pundits have anything to say about it. Every arrow plucked from director Danny Boyle's quiver takes aim at the same objective: to leave you exhausted but wowed. An 18-year-old (Dev Patel) in the former Bombay, India, is suspected of cheating his way to national fame on the Hindi version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" R (some violence, disturbing images and some language). 2:00. 3 stars.
This unusual vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme is an unexpectedly droll game of three-card monte disguised as an action film that turns into a (fake) reality-TV-style documentary and then into a hostage thriller. The star's star has waned, and he has child-custody battles to wage, as well as a drug-and-philandering rep to cloud his recent past. When Van Damme finds himself embroiled in a heist and then a hostage situation, he must draw upon his inner Van Damme to resolve it. The film is more a novelty item than a fully formed work, but it's very entertaining. R (language and some violence). 1:32. 3 stars.
The animated "Madagascar" (2005) made a mint, but this sequel is a better film -- less manic, more easygoing. Marooned on Madagascar, Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) yearn for home in the Central Park Zoo. The penguins rig up an old, busted plane and zing the quartet (plus stowaways) not to Manhattan, but to Africa. PG (some mild crude humor). 1:28. 3 stars.
Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott mentor a medieval-fantasy-prone teenager (the invaluable Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played "McLovin" in "Superbad") and a trash-talking preteen (Bobb'e J. Thompson) in this sloppy but diverting comedy. The last 20 minutes, climaxing with a Dungeons & Dragons-type battle re-enactment, redeems much of what comes before. R (pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity). 1:43. 2-1/2 stars.
Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac play a couple of estranged backup singers who uneasily reunite for a tribute concert dedicated to their recently deceased front man. Crass but not without laughs, and Mac gets most of them. Too much of "Soul Men" relies on violent slapstick and Viagra jokes, but the two stars are having fun, and the fun translates when the script loosens its straps. Mac and Jackson transcend this hopped-up version of "The Sunshine Boys." R (pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity). 1:43. 2-1/2 stars.
Nothing Like The Holidays. A remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi film about an alien visitor and his giant
robot counterpart who visit Earth. Drama | Sci-Fi with Keanu Reeves as Klaatu. Release Date: 12 December 2008
Nothing Like The Holidays starring Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman Movie Review | Michael Phillips Reviews Nothing Like The Holidays Nothing Like The Holidays Movie Review & Movie Trailer
Nothing Like The Holidays stars Meryl Streep & Philip Seymour Hoffman.
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