Home with family for the holidays, the NYC bustle behind me, and I finally get my movie marathon opportunity. So I took that one-pound box of Russell Stover and a local brew, dove into a mountain of fuzzy blankets, and dragged the family along to check a few films off my list. ‘Tis the season to revisit some favorites, hit the classics, or check out buzzed highlights of this year and last. Aside from some excellent repeats of ‘The Kings of Queens,’ here were my screen-time picks (in order of worth-while viewing):
The Family Stone – My favorite Christmas movie, this one was a no brainer. Garnering laughs and tears at all the right moments, the story has depth and character. Not too far off from some households I’m sure, Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings his conservative girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet his progressive family for the holidays. All does not go as planned, to say the least, but there is a tenderness underneath the calamity of it all that hits home. Written and directed by Thomas Bezucha, the winning cast of diverse characters also includes Diane Keaton, Craig T. Neslson, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Elizabeth Reaser, Brian White, Tyrone Giordano, and Paul Schneider (just to name the lot).
Maleficent – Not the best of the bunch, I took this film with a grain of salt. This loosely adapted take on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (years since I’ve seen the original) makes a hero and villain out of Maleficent (played here by Angelina Jolie). Where the original Disney version does not look on the bright side of her evil, director Robert Stromberg’s version treads with a lighter touch. Characters like King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and Aurora (Elle Fanning) also stray from familiar footing, but surprisingly I was still satisfied watching it. Like ‘Snow White and the Huntsman,’ Hollywood could afford to makes changes and though the classic story is barely intact, there’s still enchantment here that kids especially will enjoy.
The Winds Rises – Hayao Miyazaki (‘Ponyo,’ ‘Spirited Away,’ ‘Princess Mononoke’) directs another beautiful film, and 2014 Oscar nominee for best animated feature, about a young Japanese boy Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English version) who chases his dream of designing airplanes. The film follows him into adulthood as he moves up the career ladder in designing fighter planes during WWII. Like his other works, Miyazaki has a knack for capturing a graceful side of the imagination, whether they are simple elements (like the constant wind) or more inventive sequences (Jiro’s dreams for instance). And let’s not forget the visual prowess.
North by Northwest – Looking up an actual classic (yes, the one where that famous man runs from a plane) is well worth the Netflix snail mail. Having recently been recommended this 1959 Hitchcock film by a screenwriting instructor after our class analyzed one of the film’s sexy encounters between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, I wanted to get the big picture so to speak. While I had to backtrack to keep the espionage story straight, I was surprised by the details I liked most; charging Grant’s character with drunk driving (a mistake that still withstands time and Grant lets some goof shine here), their old-time rolled and quick way of speaking on screen, Mt. Rushmore in the final scenes looking quick real for its time, and Saint’s sharp dialogue, amongst many others. Hitchcock deserves his credit for this spy game and don’t forget to catch his cameo.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Last but not least and yes, off the couch and to the theater for this one. In Peter Jackson’s latest, the battle is the movie – the whole movie. Dwarves, elves, and men fight over the Lonely Mountain’s treasure as orcs rise to challenge them, and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) remains the moral compass. The fighting loses some identity as it evolves into a calamity of survival and the entire movie takes places in the mountain’s locale, so the incredible journeys that have been signatures of the Tolkien franchise feels a bit null. But with an average length book split into three films, I think the ultimate turnout of the third succeeds, and with an end scene to smile about. One mystery left though – Bard (Luke Evans) puts the Arkenstone in his pocket after a failed bargain mid-movie. The film leaves it at that. A bit funny, but considering we know the next ‘Fellowship’ chapter already, it may have been nice to know where it went. Just saying.
Much enjoyed overall and now onto award season catch-up. The list will go on…