Yes Man (2008, Directed by Peyton Reed) English 5

Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp, John Michael Higgins

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(5-Okay Film)

Inconsistent. Broad. Amusing.

Carl Allen (Carrey) is in a deep funk. Ever since his wife left him, he’s given up on all relationships. Surprised by an old colleague (Michael Higgins), Carl, uncharacteristically, accepts an invitation to a motivational seminar, led by guru Terrence Bundley (Stamp), who extols the power of saying yes. Perhaps going too far, Carl begins saying yes to everything, which leads him to meeting the free-spirited Allison (Deschanel). A good vehicle for Carrey with some clever moments, the premise is a bit too obvious, the crisis and immediate resolution too contrived. I enjoyed Yes Man. It has a few good, comedic scenes, appealing leads, but suffers from a couple of unfunny scenes and a basic plot.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(62)

 

Midnight in Paris (2011, Directed by Woody Allen) English 10

Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Léa Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates

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(10-Masterpiece)

Intelligent. Wonderful. Humorous.

Pure blessed fantasy from perhaps the screen’s greatest comedy writers, Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s finest. Gil Pender (Wilson) is a would-be novelist turned Hollywood hack vacationing with his self-centered girlfriend, Inez (McAdams), in Paris. Gil, a nostalgia enthusiast, loves Paris and wishes he would have stayed last time he visited, instead of going to Hollywood to write scripts. This time around he wanders into an unexplained time leap that takes him to Paris of the ’20s, where he converses with his heroes Fitzgerald (Hiddleston) and Hemingway (Stoll) among others. He also meets the beautiful mistress of one Pablo Picasso, Adriana (Cotillard), and begins to question what he really wants in life. As someone who looks at the past with rose-colored glasses at times, the film speaks to me, and it’s a source of endless fun to see how many artists and writers you can recognize passing in and out of Gil’s adventure. Lovely to look at, listen to, and imagine, Midnight in Paris is fantastic.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(61)

Spanglish (2004, Directed by James L. Brooks) English 8

Starring Adam Sandler, Paz Vega, Téa Leoni, Cloris Leachman, Sarah Steele, Aimee Garcia, Thomas Haden Church

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Messy. Stirring. Vivid.

Painfully awkward at times, rapturous at others, Spanglish stars Paz Vega as a single mother, Fleur, who moves to California with her young daughter to find a better life. After years of struggling, she finally ventures outside of California’s tight-knit Mexican community and finds employment with the dysfunctional, wealthy Clasky family led by John (Sandler), a chef, and his neurotic wife, Deborah (Leoni). Evoking Ethan Frome to a degree, the kind but unhappy John and Fleur develop feelings for one another as Deborah pursues her own affair. It’s a messy state of affairs for these characters and the film doesn’t attempt to tidy them up. I think it’s a gift and a curse. On the one hand, Spanglish isn’t completely satisfying, but on the other, it’s a unique, thoughtful, engaging film with characters I care about. Sandler has shown, in this and other films, that he is capable of strong work, and Vega gives a terrific performance in the lead. James L. Brooks is one of the best comedy writers of the past few decades, and though this doesn’t measure up to his best, he’s still great.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(51)

Naked (2017, Directed by Michael Tiddes) English 3

Starring Marlon Wayans, Regina Hall, Dennis Haysbert, Eliza Coupe, Minka Kelly, Scott Foley

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(3-Horrible Film)

Inane. Unfunny. Rip-off.

This Netflix original film starring Marlon Wayans is not the most miserable movie experience I’ve ever had. That’s the best thing that can be said for it. Yet another Groundhog Day wannabe clone, Naked puts its star, on the eve of his wedding, through an endless time loop that begins with him waking up naked in an elevator. The premise isn’t very funny and neither is the resulting film. The mystery-someone’s trying to sabotage the wedding-is the most enjoyable part of the film, and yet, it’s as complex as a ziploc bag. There’s nothing in this film to keep us engaged, and the repetition only makes it worse.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(46)

Christmas Challenge Film #3: Home Alone (1990, Directed by Chris Columbus)

John Hughes was a genius  of comedy writing. I’ll just list his credits: National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Mr. Mom (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), Breakfast Club (1985), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), Uncle Buck (1989), Christmas Vacation (1989, which I’ll probably watch before this challenge is through), and Maid in Manhattan (2002) among other films. He was amazingly prolific. Look at the years those films released. Deviating from my plan to start my Christmas Challenge with movies I hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t seen in a long time, I watched one of his films I didn’t include in that list: Home Alone. Written and produced by Hughes, Home Alone was the biggest success of his career, and, like all of his work, funny, creative, and emotional; also a tremendously powerful piece of nostalgia for me. It’s probably one of a first handful of movies I’ve seen in my life. A wonderful film, so when I saw it flash across the Netflix popular tag, I realized its been a few years since I last saw it, thus I felt compelled to watch.

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Kevin McCallister (child superstar, Macauley Culkin) is kind of a brat. He’s supposed to be anyways, though I’ve always taken his side in that long introductory scene. He seems fine. It’s his massive family that seem rotten. They’re all gathered together (aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, mother, father, bed-wetting cousins), preparing to go off to Paris, France the next morning, where they’ll spend their Christmas. Kevin wishes he had no family, and tells his mother so after fighting with his bullying older brother, Buzz. She sends him to bed in the attic to cool off. The next morning, an electrical outage keeps the alarm clocks from working, and the McCallisters oversleep. In the madhouse scramble to get dressed and get over to the airport in time for the flight, the McCallisters forget about bratty Kevin, asleep in the attic. He wakes up to an empty house and believes that his wish has come true. No family, and a big, beautiful house all to himself for Christmas. It promises to be a barrel laughs until he figures out a couples of robbers, Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern), plan to steal from every house on the block, including his. Seeing as all the neighbors are out of town, Kevin decides that it’s up to him to protect his house, and booby traps the joint leading to the pretty well-known, spectacular final thirty minutes.

Hughes was big on mixing laughter with tears, and gave all his comedies a sense of pathos that was as memorable as the jokes. In Home Alone, he gives us Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) desperately trying to make it home to her son and a subplot with Kevin’s elderly neighbor who’s been estranged from his son. The laughs, meanwhile, come fast and easy. Kevin is a precocious, remarkably resourceful kid, and it’s fun to see him outsmart the adults, especially Pesci and Stern’s dimwitted but menacing robbers. Pesci is one of those performers who can pretty much make anything he says funny. Maybe it’s his voice. He amuses me.

Macauley Culkin was one of the most famous kid stars of all time. He did other films, but he’ll always be remembered for slapping his hands to his face and screaming in Home Alone; a gift and a curse, I’m sure. He’s really good, a natural, carrying a film and selling the outlandish idea of an 8-year-old being smarter than adults.

Technically speaking, Home Alone’s not much to write about. It’s an inspired idea delivered straight and told plainly, like all of Hughes’ films, even ones like this that he didn’t direct. John Williams’ score mixed with the exciting soundtrack that includes the Drifter’s version of White Christmas is a major component of Home Alone’s success. Some critics harp on the film’s implausibility. Seems like a waste, since the premise is clearly absurd and the film is worth suspending disbelief. It’s fun. I might end up watching it again before Christmas is over.

(8-Exceptional Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

Monkey Business (1952, Directed by Howard Hawks) English 5

Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe

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(5-Okay Film)

Star-studded. Free-wheeling. Unsuccessful.

Monkey Business is an earnest attempt at recreating the screwball style of comedy which was popular in the late ’30s, early ’40s, but had already gone out of style long before 1952, when this film was released. Starring Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn, and Marilyn Monroe, you couldn’t find a better cast. Directed by Howard Hawks, who made a couple of the finest screwball comedies in His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby, Monkey Business doesn’t quite work. The zany antics and energy that were so wonderful and amusing in Bringing Up Baby strike me as juvenile here. Perhaps that’s a strange complaint to make about a film in which the characters take a formula that causes them to revert back to their youth. At the comedy’s center is a lovely, loving marriage between Grant and Roger’s characters, and this works, but the stakes aren’t high enough; there’s not a serious enough threat to their inevitable happiness. Too bad.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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High Spirits (1988, Directed by Neil Jordan) English 5

Starring Peter O’Toole, Steve Guttenberg, Daryl Hannah, Liam Neeson, Beverly D’Angelo, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Riotous. Inconsistent.

High Spirits has the ingredients for a really good comedy. Peter O’Toole plays owner, Peter Plunkett, who sees his shabby, secluded hotel in Ireland going to pieces, and quickly devises a scheme to pick business up. He’ll pass his hotel off as a haunted resort, and appeal to the paranormal enthusiasts, but as the first wave of tourists roll in, he discovers that the place might actually be haunted. One of the main problems of the film is star, Darryl Hannah, as Mary, a lovely ghost who is saved by one of the tourists, Jack (Guttenberg), and subsequently gushed over. She’s playing an Irish lady, which means she does an Irish accent (which is notoriously difficult to do). Hannah’s accent work is distracting and mars many of her scenes, key scenes at that. Jack and Mary’s romance is meant to be one of the main charms of the film, and it doesn’t come off thanks to that accent. O’Toole on the other hand proves once again to be a fantastic comedic actor. Unfortunately, he’s not in this film more. Overall, there’s much to enjoy. High Spirits is silly fun, but something as small as a main character’s accent really did hamper the entire picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(21)