Happy New Year everyone! Of course I had to review the 2011 movie New Year’s Eve on New Year’s Eve. Unlike its spiritual predecessor Valentine’s Day, (read that review here) New Year’s Eve is way more pointless. It is still directed by Garry Marshall though. While Valentine’s Day made sense to be a romantic comedy featuring several stories, New Year’s Eve is not a romantic holiday. Drunk love maybe, but this movie is a real stretch. Any mild enjoyment I found in Valentine’s Day is completely lost here. Every paycheck hungry celebrity in the movie doesn’t try at all. Each story is more cheesy and forced than the last. Including: doing stuff you didn’t get to do before the year is up, planning a New Year’s party, New Year’s pregnancies, young New Year’s kissing, trying to fix the ball drop, meeting someone on New Year’s, and getting trapped in an elevator on New Year’s Eve. Yes, it’s just as dull as it sounds. So don’t waste your time with New Year’s Eve. All in all, I had a pretty great year. Starting this blog was a particularly life changing highlight. Thank you for taking the time to read!
Giant is the late James Dean’s third and final acting performance. Sadly, Dean only made three movies in his short life. Unlike his other two performances, Dean actually doesn’t star in Giant. It actually stars Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. James Dean is much more of a supporting player this time. Giant is a western epic that’s 3 hours and 21 minutes long. The length didn’t bother me, because the story was interesting. Giant takes place over the course of several years, following the love story of socialite Leslie Lynnton and Texas rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. Their entire lives are depicted including: when they meet, get married, have children, and when their children have children. I was actually amazed at how ahead of its time the movie was. Themes of female empowerment, racism towards hispanics, and the cost of power are all explored (bare in mind that this came out in 1956). James Dean plays Jett Rink, a surly ranch hand who taps oil and becomes a millionaire. Some of it had to be shot with a stand in due to his death the year before. He was also posthumously nominated for a performance that included old age makeup (the closest thing to him aging). Giant may not be the most memorable James Dean movie, but like East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, it’s a landmark movie that everyone should see.
Rebel Without a Cause is the late James Dean’s second starring role. Sadly, Dean wasn’t able to see it, because he died in a car crash the month before its release. Which was a bit of cruel irony considering the subject matter of the movie. Rebel Without a Cause was the James Dean movie I wanted to see the most. Mostly because of the impact it had on American pop culture. Dean’s red jacket, blue jeans, and slicked up hair is legendary (Philip J. Fry anyone). Rebel Without a Cause is about a group of troubled teenagers who cope with their problems in their own (sometimes dangerous) way. Rebel Without a Cause was one of the first movies to depict teenagers this way. By showing them questioning authority and doing dangerous things like drag racing. James Dean plays Jim Stark, a young man trying to deal with his parents conflicting behavior. That’s where the famous line “You’re tearing me apart!” comes from. Natalie Wood plays Judy, a young lady who feels like her father doesn’t love her anymore, so she acts out by wearing racy clothes. And Sal Mineo plays Plato, his parents abandoned him and his nanny takes care of him. They all come together and help each other through the drag racing death they just witnessed. Probably the saddest thing of all is that all three of these actors died by unnatural circumstances. Rebel Without a Cause didn’t earn Dean an Oscar nomination, but it is easily the movie he will forever be remembered for. See it and be amazed.
East of Eden is the late James Dean’s first starring role. Sadly, it’s also the only movie Dean saw in its entirety. I had often heard film buffs talk about how brilliant James Dean was in such a short amount of time. So I checked out the James Dean collection and I watched every movie, one night after the other. East of Eden is a down-to-earth tale about two brothers (something I can relate to) who strive for their religious father’s affection. East of Eden also draws heavily from The Bible. Specifically the story of Cain and Abel. James Dean plays Caleb Trask, a bitter young man whose just discovered his absentee mother owns a brothel. He also feels like his father loves his brother, Aron, more than himself. Things get even more complicated when he falls for his brother’s girlfriend, Abra. I was immediately convinced that James Dean was a great actor when I saw this performance. Dean plays Cal with a sort of raw emotion that feels relatable. All he wants to do is prove himself to his father, but even that isn’t enough in the end. Dean received his first Oscar nomination for what is arguably the best performance of his career. East of Eden will most likely only be remembered for James Dean, but you should definitely check it out for the great movie that it is.
Chicago is currently the last musical ever to win Best Picture. It was also the first musical to win since Oliver! in 1968. I don’t have a problem with that, I just wish it was for something more deserving. Don’t get me wrong, I really do like Chicago, but Best Picture seems like a little much. Although most of the cast did receive an acting nomination (Catherine Zeta-Jones won). I guess the Academy was still unwilling to award a fantasy Best Picture (i.e. The Lord of the Rings). If you’ve read my “about” page you know I live in the Chicago area. So I’d love anything set in places I’m familiar with. I first saw Chicago in school, then I watched it at home, and then I saw it again in another class. The thing about the movie is that it’s just a stage musical put to screen. I’m fairly certain everything that happens in the play is the same as what happens in the movie. The songs are great and it feels more unique than other musicals, because the movie is kind of part play part movie. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, Chicago is about two women who get imprisoned for murder. Velma Kelly is a showgirl who murdered three people including her husband and sister. Roxie Hart is an aspiring vaudevillian who murders her lover whom she thought would get her into show biz. They both end up with the same lawyer who eventually gives more attention to Roxie. I guess that’s the main problem with musicals turned movies. Chicago doesn’t exactly have main characters that you root for. The songs take your attention away from the mixed moral message. I love a good musical, but I wouldn’t take Chicago too seriously if I were you.
Boyz n the Hood is about as real as you can get with the hood. I actually saw Straight Outta Compton (see that review here) before Boyz n the Hood. They left anything having to do with the movie out of Straight Outta Compton (save for a few mentions of it). So I knew I needed to see Boyz n the Hood at some point. So Happy Kwanzaa, here’s Boyz n the Hood. As I’ve said in other reviews, this isn’t the kind of race movie I’d normally watch. But I can set aside the movies intense/dramatic tone and just see it for what it is. And what it is is incredible. Ice Cube makes his acting debut and he’s a natural. A group of kids (later teens) grow up in their increasingly violent neighborhood. They make life changing decisions all while dodging drive by gunshots. Boyz n the Hood is all about Black-on-Black violence. Which the movie says is the cause of the most death in the African American community. Like I said, Boyz n the Hood feels real and it is very intense. In the end, the message is clear. You either continue living in a cycle of violence and eventually get shot or you get out and have a long fulfilling future. A powerful message that earned first time director John Singleton an Oscar nomination. Making him the first African American to get one. He was also 24 years old when he directed it! That makes him the youngest director ever to get a nomination. Boyz n the Hood is just overall a very significant and important movie.
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. If not one of the greatest movies of all time. Merry Christmas everyone! It’s a Wonderful Life is a perfect feel good film and Christmas classic, but it might surprise you to know it didn’t start out that way. Director Frank Capra was known for charming all-American pictures like You Can’t Take It with You and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Based on the 1943 Philip Van Doren Stern short story “The Greatest Gift,” Capra and RKO Pictures immediately saw its potential. Like the book, It’s a Wonderful Life is about a suicidal man who sees what his life would have been like if he’d never been born.
Whether it was the depressing premise or the fact that it was widely released in January, It’s a Wonderful Life was unsuccessful at the box-office. Though it was still nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture. I can’t argue with The Best Years of Our Lives, but It’s a Wonderful Life has become an annual tradition. Copyright confusion allowed it to be broadcast on TV several times around Christmas since the 70’s. It’s a Wonderful Life is beloved by generations, but I actually didn’t watch it when I was younger. Though I have seen many parodies based on the clever concept. I myself have wondered what my life would be like if I was never born. It’s a Wonderful Life is a heartfelt experience that made me appreciate life and Christmas even more…
It’s a Wonderful Life is a quintessential Christmas movie even though only the third act takes place during Christmas. Most of the 2 hour & 10 minute movie recounts the wonderful life of George Bailey. Though intended for Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart was born to play the lovable banker who nearly throws away God’s greatest gift. It was a comeback role for Stewart who was busy serving in World War II. The experience had a profound impact on his performance. The movie begins with angels answering prayers to help George Bailey. Angels in Heaven are represented by the Stephan’s Quintet galaxy and all angels must earn their wings by helping others. Clarence Odbody is everyone’s favorite guardian angel who doesn’t appear on screen until the third act. Henry Travers is no stranger to kindly old men trying their best. Clarence is shown George’s entire life from childhood to adulthood. It’s a Wonderful Life shows just how much one person can affect the people around them. As a child, George saves his brother Harry from drowning in a frozen pond. Causing him to go deaf in his left ear.
As an adolescent, George prevents his distraught drugstore boss Mr. Gower from poisoning a subscription. H. B. Warner actually slapped the child actor, but Mr. Gower is grateful for his interference. As a young adult, George reconnects with the love of his life Mary Hatch. Although Stewart was previously paired up with Jean Arthur, the charismatic Donna Reed captures his heart just as well. Mary has been in love with George ever since they were kids. Along with a flirtatious Gloria Grahame as her friend Violet. George and Mary are a perfect couple who share several iconic scenes before the Christmas finale. First they end up falling into the pool at his brother’s high school dance. Then he promises to lasso the moon for her after singing their favorite song “Buffalo Gals.” The classic down home Frank Capra feel wouldn’t be complete without the entire town greeting each other with “Hee-haw.” George is loved by just about everyone in his small town of Bedford Falls. Except for his archenemy Henry F. Potter. Mr. Potter is one of the most hated Christmas villains of all time for good reason.
Since It’s a Wonderful Life is inspired by A Christmas Carol, Lionel Barrymore uses what he learned from playing Ebenezer Scrooge. Mr. Potter is a shrewd businessman seeking to own the entire town and establish cheap homes at high prices. The only thing standing in his way is the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. The Bailey family consists of his brother, father, and mother played by the same actress who played Stewart’s mother in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Thomas Mitchell plays the absent minded Uncle Billy who means well despite making mistakes. His unorthodox pet raven is the same raven seen in You Can’t Take It with You. When George’s father dies, Mr. Potter makes several attempts to seize control, but George gives up his own dreams just to save the town. Harry goes to college in his place and George marries Mary after she turns down the more wealthy Sam Wainwright. Another inspiring scene shows the newlyweds pay out of their own pocket when the bank runs out of money.
George and Mary don’t have much, but they live in the broken down house that they used to make wishes on. They start a family and welcome neighbors into the Bailey Park housing development. Meanwhile, Harry becomes a war hero after saving the lives of over a hundred soldiers. George never leaves Bedford Falls, but he reaches the end of his rope one fateful Christmas Eve. The most despicable thing Mr. Potter does is hide $8,000 from the bank that Uncle Billy accidentally hands him. George is so distraught that he takes it out on his entire family. Pete is practicing vocabulary, Janie is practicing piano, Tommy is being a kid, and Zuzu is in bed with a cold. George’s downward spiral leads him to yell at Zuzu’s teacher and get punched by her husband after praying. After crashing his car, George considers suicide, but Clarence finally jumps in to help.
It’s a Wonderful Life flows so well that you don’t notice how long it takes to get to the well known climax. George and Clarence are a nice duo who manage to lighten up the heavy material. Similar to A Christmas Carol, Clarence shows George a dark alternate reality where he was never born. Bedford Falls is now a degenerate town full of mean people called Pottersville. Without George, Mr. Gower was arrested, Uncle Billy was institutionalized after Mr. Potter seized control of the bank, Harry died along with the soldiers he was unable to save, and a closed off Mary became an old maid. It’s a sad reality, but the message is truly powerful. Bert & Ernie (no relation to Sesame Street) pursue George who finally breaks down. I cry every time George prays to God for his life back. George is so overjoyed that he runs through town wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!
Mary is an unsung hero when she manages to gather the entire town to help donate money to help George. Harry calls him the richest man in town as they sing “Hark the Herald Angel Sing,” followed by “Auld Lang Syne.” The perfect ending is only complete when the young Karolyn Grimes says “Everytime a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” Nothing is more heartwarming than Clarence finally earning his wings. It’s a Wonderful Life is timeless despite being shot in black & white. Unfortunately, it was a victim of early colorization. Only in black & white can you experience the true beauty of the story. It’s a Wonderful Life was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director Frank Capra, Best Actor James Stewart, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Recording. They sadly didn’t win a single award, but it did earn a Technical Achievement Award for creating a new form of artificial snow. Though it was a long process, It’s a Wonderful Life earned its reputation as a rewatchable Christmas experience.
A Christmas Story is practically unavoidable. Every Christmas day TBS airs a 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story. If you haven’t seen it that way, then you’ve probably seen it some other way (I personally first found out about it as a VHS trailer). What I think makes A Christmas Story stand the test of time, is its timeless themes. We all have crazy home lives, we all had a bully, we all at some point wanted something for Christmas that our parents wouldn’t get us. Sure the movie exaggerates things, but it’s very relatable. Basically, Ralphie is a kid who just wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas, but everybody tells him “You’ll shoot your eye out.” He tries asking his mother, his teacher, and even a mall Santa (all of them say the same thing). While most Christmas movies take place on Christmas Eve, with only a few minutes spent on Christmas day. A Christmas Story actually goes into full detail what happens on Christmas day, morning to night. It would be a simple enough premise if not for the many many subplots. The most iconic parts of the movie include: the tongue on the flag pole, the leg lamp, the pink bunny pajamas, the bully Scut Farkus, “Oh fudge,” Ralphie’s brother’s coat, the Santa slide, and Ovaltine. Needless to say, A Christmas Story will more than keep you occupied. A Christmas Story is one of the all time best Christmas movies ever made.
Elf is easily one of the funniest Christmas movies ever made! It’s become a Christmas classic for its story, humor, and heart. Like most Christmas movies, I saw Elf when I was in school. My 5th grade class was nearing Winter break and we watched Elf. It didn’t take me long to realize Elf was awesome. I only wish my teacher didn’t fast forward a scene where they said a naughty word. Fun fact: Elf actually airs completely uncut on TV, because there’s nothing offensive or objectionable in it. Which leads to my next point. Elf is sort of the only Will Ferrell starring movie I like (or have seen). He’s never really been my all time favorite comedian, but I think he’s hilarious in Elf. I guess I should give him a chance in other movies, but I’m getting off topic. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen Elf, here’s the story. Buddy is a human that accidentally ends up in Santa’s bag when he was a baby. One of the elves decides to raise him and Buddy ends up thinking he’s an elf (despite being taller than the other elves). When he learns the truth, Buddy’s father and Santa tell him that his real father lives in New York. His arrival in New York brings laughs, joy, and hope for those who’ve forgotten to have Christmas spirit. There’s also a sweet love story in the mix. That’s what I love most about Elf. Among the countless hilarious scenes in the movie, it really is a feel good Christmas movie. One that I’ve been watching almost every Christmas season since I first saw it.
Fred Claus is just confusing. Is it supposed to be goofy slapstick or heartfelt sentimentality? One second a man attacks an army of Santa’s, the next second a kid gets taken into foster care. Then we got Ludacris the elf followed by not so naughty kids getting presents for the first time. Like I said, confusing, but not as confusing as Paul Giamatti playing Santa Claus (that still confuses me to this day). Fred Claus is about the less than successful brother you never knew Santa had. Apparently when you’re a saint (St. Nick), your entire family becomes immortal. Vince Vaughn plays Fred, a man that has resented his brother for decades. Some of the brotherly stuff works, but it’s bogged down by ridiculous moments. There’s also a subplot about a businessman trying to shut the North Pole down. Things like that make the movie extra weird. Like most Christmas movies I never planned on seeing, I saw Fred Claus in my middle school class. Then I watched the whole thing at home with my brother. I haven’t made a tradition out of it, but I don’t hate the movie. Some of it works, but a lot of it doesn’t. Fred Claus is just meh.