Sunday, December 30, 2012

It (Was) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Lengthy title with parentheses. My obsessive-compulsive meter is going berserk, indeed. Nevertheless, I wanted to imply a holiday theme in this post. I am aware that Christmas has passed a while ago (only five days, yet everyone has seemingly slipped out of their holiday comas), and I hope you all had a very merry one. I, myself, spent the actual day with my mother: I made Belgian waffles for the first time, and they were scrumptious. Afterwards, I spent the following days with my dad, watching a variety of movies, not limited to Christmas-themed ones, which is quite a shock. Usually, we eagerly look forward to the moment when watching holiday movies is fitting; however, this year was rather a gloomy slump. I do not mean to say we had a depressing time together, just not as yuletide-fun as expected during the holidays. The movies we watched this week (a mere three days) ranged from conversational thrillers and dramas to comedies both inappropriate and "raunchy". To my delight, we did manage to (re)watch two of my all-time preferred (dislike the word "favorite") Christmas movies, ones I feel worthy to call classics. I'll provide a brief review for them both, while also mentioning a certain Christmas "classic" that I disagree with in terms of its revered status.

The Family Man - I named this first because I watched it first, and to indicate that this is the all-time classic Christmas tale. The tale itself is very predictable and therefore can appear to be corny, though it is corny in the sweetest, most heat-warming of ways. There are two types of corny--those that make you gag, and those that make you swoon--and this movie definitely applies under the latter. Directed by Brett Ratner of the Rush Hour trilogy, The Family Man follows the what-if scenario of Jack Campbell (played by Nicholas Cage), a successful and content (no, happy) businessman, who is approached with the proposal of seeing how his life would have turned out if he had married Kate Reynolds, his college sweetheart (played by Tea Leoni). Actually, Jack is forced into such a what-if scenario by the "guardian angel" (played by Don Cheadle) who perceives Jack's wealthy and blissful lifestyle as corrupt and unfulfilled. So, he sentences him to an unexpected change of scenery: mundane, suburban domesticity. For a brief interval, I shall criticize the situation objectively, not taking the overall idea of the film in consideration. Jack Campbell is successful, wealthy, and sincerely happy as an investment broker; the fact that he is employed in such a corporate-evil, fast-lane career, however, gives him an exterior image of being unsatisfied with how his life turned out. Enter a "friendly", "well-meaning" spirit of goodness, who transports him (without his permission, mind you) to an alternate universe where he chose love and family over a career. True, the family life proves suitable for many people, including Jack eventually, though it just isn't meant to be for others. Jack was one of those others who did not fancy life as a family man (say, that's the title). Amazingly, he became fond of his new children and began to cherish his alternate life with the lovely Kate. This was when Don Cheadle decided to seize Jack from this warm new life he had just grown accustomed to. What exactly did he teach Jack then? That he made a mistake in choosing the business life, one that he now must live with in misery because he had seen a glimpse of where the other path would have taken him? Gee, that's just dandy. Anyway, back to the movie in all its tenderness. This movie is such a joy to watch on the actual Christmas day because, well, it's wonderful: the script has just the right amount of innocent sentiment and the perfect balance of cynicism and naivety. At first, Nicholas Cage (superbly) demonstrates skepticism and disdain towards the humdrum lives of suburban folk, for it is very different from the fast lane of Wall Street. Then, just as convincingly, Nicholas Cage slides into life as a father and husband as if it were fate. In a way, Jack views idyllic suburbia with the same questioning appraisal as the audience, and, just as his hard skepticism melts away, so does ours. Brilliant filmmaking. Love for his adorable daughter--the rare sort of child actress that is genuinely adorable--is clear in his eyes, as well as reminiscent love for his wife, as if it had never left. Acting in its finest, I reckon. The best of Nicholas Cage, also, who is known for his monotonous and brooding drawl. If the holiday mood has drifted well past (or passed) you this year, please do not neglect in watching this wonderful film. Consider it your New Year's resolution.

Love Actually - A close second in beloved Christmas cinema. I simply adore this one--simply adore it, I say. It's one of the first starry ensemble holiday films (among Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve) and, I'd say, the very very best one of them all. There are several stories within this charming romantically yuletide picture, allotting an opportunity for each member of the audience to be soothed into a warm aura. More than once have I let out a hopeless-romantic aww, which may or may not assure your own sentimental reaction towards it. Allow me to elaborate. Hugh Grant portrays his typical character--witty, charming, and utterly irresistible in all senses--in the form of an easy-going Prime Minister of Britain, and he falls for his cute, plumpy, down-to-earth assistant, Natalie, in an adorable display of ideal affection. (I may describe each couple's scenario as either adorable or a display of ideal affection. Or both.) Emma Thompson portrays an ordinary housewife (sister to Hugh Grant's prime minister) who finds her husband--Severus Snape himself, Alan Rickman--straying from the family when he becomes seduced by his (obvious and thrill-seeking) secretary. Her acting is beyond marvelous, for the scene when she realizes his slip of faith is so touchingly poignant. (Watch it for yourself, if you'd please.) Liam Neeson portrays a new father who must serve as the parent to his dead wife's son a bit too eagerly, yet this is understandable since he does love the boy like a father; also, the little boy claims to be in love, so he feels help is needed. Bill Nighy, in a humorously sublime performance, plays an aged, naughty rock star whose friendship with his tubby manager is adorably dear. From here on, I'm afraid I'll be relying on a thesaurus for various word assistance. Each scene is divinely presented to strike some emotional string within the viewer, somehow. Many people tend to groan with annoyance when presented with such an ensemble-holiday picture, claiming it is too cheesy or obnoxious, and I ask them why. I implore you, if you happen to be one of these sour individuals, why movies that happen to involve some expected sweetness is immediately trite and unfavorable? Why is the presence of a nifty group of fine actors instantly seen as appalling? Personally, I love seeing a numerous amount of actors, whether I like them or not. I guess that makes me a melodramatic sap with no taste in good cinema, is that it? Well, sir, I whole-heartedly accept that, if it means I can enjoy such a sensational holiday treat. From the awkward, yet somehow adorable, pornographic encounter between shy actors; to the hilariously unrealistic American experience with a cockney British fellow and gorgeous girls; to the romance shared across a language barrier, which includes Colin Firth and a delicate Portuguese woman; and all the way to the very end, when the ties each story has with one another are realized, and they are all greeting their loved ones at the airport. Sound intrigued? If so, as with The Family Man: Take the satisfying, heart-warming stroll through this lovely British romance around the holiday season next year. Love, actually, is all around.

It's A Wonderful Life - Now, I did say I would only mention this one, in the beginning. Recall that I had said that I would provide a brief review of two excellent Christmas pictures, then mention a supposed Christmas classic that is not all it is "hyped" to be. (I quote "hyped" because I do not consider that a word. Not really a word at all, I reckon.) Indeed, this may come as a shock to those innocent many who adore this film and watch it every year around the holidays. And to them I say: You are incorrect. Not only does it star James Shhtoowahrt, that bothersome actor of the past whose New England drawl is enough to not watch any of his films, but the entire movie is an absolute let-down. Based on word of mouth, I did expect some drama, like that mean Mr. Potter screwing George Bailey and Christmas being ruined, but it is much more depressing than I anticipated. Who would want to feel so gloomy on Christmas? It angers me, actually, that the general public does watch this and place themselves in such a depression. Somehow, this desolation in the film is transformed into warm tenderness and all that "god bless us everyone" joy. Well, I (and it seems I alone) do not see the happiness in the end. Sure, they retrieved the money they had lost, and Mr. Potter suffered in the end...but where is the classic, amazing novelty? Granted, a classic cannot be deemed novel because it is, in fact, an older film. So why even mention novelty? How is this a classic, and not The Family Man? How is this better than that? Just because it's one of the first Christmas films? Please. The film follows George Bailey, once he's lost his business and will to live, and his perception on life if he were never born. Sound familiar? Well, it is the first of its kind, I'll admit. I feel the concept is taken from a book, though, so not all that novel. Basically, George sees life wouldn't be so great without him, he returns to make life wonderful, it's a wonderful life, yada yada yada. Christmas classic? I think not. Brief enough of a mention? Indeed. Don't waste your time if you haven't seen this "classic" unless you're one of those insufferably curious folk. Seriously, please don't.

Well, I don't know about you, but I am rather satisfied with myself that I've written this holiday-themed post, as I had wished to do. Very fine, indeed. I certainly hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Take into consideration that the time it takes you to read it took about four times as long to write. I am surrounded by distractions, and I tend to delay on occasion. But you know all that. In case I don't have access to the Internet tomorrow, or I simply will not be up to contributing my pleasantly eccentric musings. Though, be consoled to know that only dire circumstances will keep me from sharing my view on the past year. That's right, a year in review is coming soon, like tomorrow. Hope you had a magical holiday, once again, and glad to see your shining faces as always. Good evening.

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