Home Alone (1990) PG
This funny family movie is great to watch during the Christmas season or anytime. The family of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) leaves for France for a Christmas vacation and accidentally forgets him.
The eight year old who everyone thinks is helpless defends his home against bungling burglars by outsmarting them with inventive booby traps. Culkin is endearing as Kevin, and Joe Pesci is great as one of the burglars. The late John Candy makes an appearance as the Polka King of the Midwest. Sequels were made but are not as good as the original.
Some local trivia: the nativity set used in the film is currently owned by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Darien, Illinois, and is displayed at Christmastime. Another piece of trivia: the house in Winnetka where the movie was filmed is now for sale.
Hairspray (2007) PG
Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), an overweight and goodhearted teenager, is able to live her dream and become a regular member of her favorite TV dance program, The Corney Collins Show,which seems to be Baltimore’s version of American Bandstand.
This lively musical is set in 1962 when segregation was prominent. The issues of prejudice and integration are dealt with in an upbeat manner. See John Travolta transformed into Tracy’s plus sized mother. I finished my viewing with a smile on my face and songs in my head, especially “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” (sang by Queen Latifah).
Also costarring Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron, Allison Janney, James Marsden, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brittany Snow, and Christopher Walken.
Hairspray was based on John Waters’ cult film Hairspray (1988) which spawned a Broadway musical and this movie version. Check out the music with the CD Hairspray: original Broadway cast recording.
The Great Buck Howard (2008) PG
The versatile John Malkovich plays the Great Buck Howard, a mentalist who is trying to make a comeback. Told from the viewpoint of his new personal assistant, Troy Gable (Colin Hanks), a law school dropout and would be writer, the story keeps viewers guessing as to what’s real and what’s not. While dealing with Buck’s eccentricities, Troy learns valuable life lessons.
You will be intrigued as the story unfolds. Reporters label Buck as a has-been and his act cheesy, but his audiences still love the old-fashioned stage show, including guessing numbers and finding the fee for his performance hidden in the audience. He makes the impossible seem possible. Will he succeed at his next big act of large scale hypnotism and cement his legacy?
The story is inspired by the Amazing Kreskin who was featured on the Johnny Carson Show 61 times. Watch the special feature, “The Amazing Kreskin.”
Babies (2010) PG
This fascinating, charming documentary shows the growth of four babies living in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco from swollen bellies to one year olds. With minimal words, no translation is needed. I really enjoyed the background music.
Watch the babies bond and interact with parents, siblings and other children. See them as they explore their surroundings, crawling, and learning to talk. The documentary shows contrasts in the babies’ lives, from their environments (modern or primitive) to the animals they encounter (both farm and domestic). But no matter their circumstances, all of the babies seemed happy and well-adjusted.
Also check out the special feature that shows them at three years old.
I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) PG-13
This is a poignant tale about a woman, Juliette, (Kristin Scott Thomas) who is released from prison after fifteen years and goes to live with her younger sister, Léa, and her family. In the beginning of the film, Juliette is guarded, stiff, and unemotional. People are uncomfortable around her when they learn about the crime she was convicted of. Gradually the real Juliette emerges.
Thomas was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance. The English Patient was another excellent film she starred in.
In French with English subtitles or dubbed in English.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) PG-13
Come take a look behind the scenes of the fascinating world of haute couture and Valentino, the world-renowned fashion designer. This film focuses on two shows: a 2006 collection show in Paris and a 2007 retrospective show in Rome celebrating his 45 year career. The film crew follows Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, his longtime business partner and companion, through the lengthy process from design to show. It’s amazing how much preparation and work it takes.
The documentary is interspersed with film from Valentino’s earlier days where he was influenced by the silver screen. View a world of fashion few have access to, including the elaborate parties, glamorous gowns, celebrities, and elaborate sets. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of his five pugs. The film touches on the ownership of the company. A drawback is that most of the film is spoken in French and Italian with English subtitles.
One of the special features shows Valentino traveling between his homes in Paris, Rome, Gstaad, and New York and the perfectionism that goes into maintaining them.
Leatherheads (2008) PG-13
Starring George Clooney (also the director), Renee Zellweger, and John Krasinski, Leatherheads is an old-fashioned movie about the early days of professional football when there were no rules and the public viewed it as beneath college football.
In the 1920s, to keep pro football alive (and financially afloat), Dodge Connelly (Clooney) recruits war hero and college superstar Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) to play for the Duluth Bulldogs. Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) is a Chicago Tribune reporter trying to discredit Rutherford’s war record. Lexie grows close to both men – but who’s she going to end up with in the end?
For more on the early days of professional football, check out What a Game They Played by Richard Whittingham (1984) and America’s Game by Michael MacCambridge (2004).
Enchanted April (1992) PG
This is a feel good movie about two English women in the 1920s who agree to rent a castle in Italy for a month to get away from their dreary lives in London. To share costs, they recruit two other women. The sunny, colorful setting opens all their senses and helps them get a new perspective on their lives. This is one of my favorite movies. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim.