Over the holidays, I did some movie watching (gee, what a surprise) with the other movie freak in my family, my mom, and went to see a flick at the theater with her and also one with my brother.  It was a banner movie-watching holiday!  Here are some observations about these movies, old and new.

It’s Complicated Is Simply Funny

This is a silly film that could have been a throw-away in lesser hands. But the loads of talent involved in It’s Complicated makes it hilarious and very worth watching. Who would have thought that an older-set romance could be so much fun?  My favorite moment was probably when Meryl Streep, all giggly from realizing she’s having an affair with her ex-husband and even lying to her grown kids about it, catches herself and suddenly realizes how goofy she’s being — priceless facial expressions.  John Krasinski is adorable as the secret-keeping Harley.  B+

The Blind Side Is an After-School Special

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film. But after all the hype I had heard, frankly I expected more. The Blind Side follows in the tradition of movies based on sports-connected true stories like Rudy and We Are Marshall but fails to inspire in the way that these films did. Why is that? One reason may be the lack of loquacity of its main character. Big Mike doesn’t talk much. It’s part of his character and makes sense, but it also makes it difficult for an audience to connect with him. The lack of connection is aggravated by other characters talking about and to him in simple terms. The after-school special feel of the film comes from its simplistic treatment of complex issues. It surely could not have been quite so easy for Leigh Anne Tuohy to get her family on board and to keep her household in order. Were there really no fights, no ill effects, no resistance? One small glitch is hinted at when Leigh Anne tells Michael he’s ruining the expensive couch he’s sleeping on, so she’ll clean out the guest bedroom for him. Perhaps it would have helped to see this damage and other understandable domestic complications, making the story more realistic at a visceral level. She’s also able to quiet friends and relatives with a “Shame on you” when they worry about “a large black boy” in the house with her young daughter. I don’t know many good friends or real family who wouldn’t storm over to see just how this situation was shaping up. Despite Oscar buzz, I see this as a rental.  C- 

Bon Appetite! Julie & Julia Is a Delicious Film

More than once, I have heard people talk about Julie & Julia as a combination of a great performance by Meryl Streep with a so-so performance by Amy Adams. I’m here to say that, in my arrogant opinion, this is not the case. This is a rare movie that combines two storylines and still manages to coalesce into an enticing whole. The portrayal of Julia Child’s life as she began her culinary career may be more exotic and certainly benefits from the amazing acting talent of Streep (not to mention a wonderfully understated performance by Stanley Tucci); someone expressed a sentiment that I will echo here: Could anyone else have portrayed a character like Child without turning it into a caricature?  However, the modern-day New York world of Julie and her husband (Chris Messina) is no less fascinating as a study in human nature and circumstance. In fact, the strongest reason that this true story is so compelling is the similarity in mindset of these two women, though their individual experiences were a world and nearly a generation apart. I’m not a big Nora Ephron fan, but this may be her best film yet, truly enjoyable and heart-warming, and not in a shallow Hollywood-y way.  A

A Few Old Favorites

Mom and I popped in a few DVDs to which I want to give a shout-out, having been reminded of how much fun they are to watch.

Chances Are (1989) is a very silly little movie about a reincarnated husband, played by Robert Downey Jr. opposite Cybill Shepherd as the still-grieving wife.  Ryan O’Neal and Mary Stuart Masterson round out the cast.  This is a perfect no-brainer flick for a lazy Sunday afternoon, fun to see for the cast alone.  C+

Monsters, Inc. (2001) is Pixar at its best, with John Goodman and Billy Crystal voicing the lead roles of animated monster characters that audiences get to know and care about more than some live action characters.  A

The Tender Trap (1955) is a film we caught on TCM one afternoon, and it was just the ticket for post-Christmas cheer.  Frank Sinatra is a New York playboy caught in the “marriage planning” of debutante Debbie Reynolds. David Wayne and Celeste Holm play Sinatra’s best friend and “other fiancee,” respectively.  It’s a barrel of old-fashioned laughs in the vein of the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson films!  B-

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) was an early directorial effort from Barry Levinson (Bandits, An Everlasting Piece) and, although it is decidedly not within the cannon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, it is a great deal of fun to watch.  B-

[Yes, I know!  I still need to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie with one of my favorite actors, Robert Downey Jr., though I’m a little afraid of what the martial-artsy adaptation will be like. Stay tuned; I’ll let you know.]

For more movie recommendations, check out my new book, A Book Full of Movies!

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