Holiday Inn


Holidays are inn.

Holidays are inn.

(1942) Holiday (Paramount) Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon, Leon Belasco, Marek Windheim, James Bell, John Gallaudet, Shelby Bacon, Joan Arnold, Edward Arnold Jr., Loretta Barnett, Irving Berlin, Ruth Clifford, Muriel Barr, Jane Novak, Lora Lee, Teala Loring. Directed by Mark Sandrich

hollynquill-2013

Although not strictly a Christmas movie (Christmas was but one of several holiday sequences filmed for the movie), it continues to be remembered as one and of course the presence of the timeless Christmas classic song “White Christmas” – which would win an Oscar for Best Song that year – guarantees this film a place in the annals of Christmas films.

The lightweight plot concerns a song and dance trio comprised of Jim Hardy (Crosby), Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Dale). Jim and Lila are preparing to leave the act get married and retire to a farm in Connecticut but Lila has second thoughts and instead leaves Jim for Ted in order to continue dancing. Jim is heartbroken and follows through with his decision to leave show business for farming.

Farming turns out to be easier said than done and Jim decides to turn his farm into an inn that is only open on holidays. In order to attract crowds, he hits upon the idea to present entertainment themed around each holiday. Wanna-be entertainer Linda Mason (Reynolds) manages to get a try-out and becomes a featured attraction and as the crowds begin to pour in, Ted and Lila are contracted by Jim’s agent Danny (Abel) to work at the Inn.

However, it’s no longer Ted and Lila – she’s left Ted for a Texas oil millionaire. Ted, looking for a partner, decides to come by the inn and is struck by Linda’s talent and beauty but Jim has fallen for Linda too and goes to extreme lengths to keep Ted from her. However when Linda discovers what Jim’s up to, especially when Ted arranges for a studio honcho to sign him and Linda, she leaves Jim and takes up with Ted, intending to marry him.

Once again Jim is devastated but even more so. His maid Mamie (Beavers) urges him to go to Hollywood and fight for the woman he loves. Jim resolves to do just that but is it too late?

The plot is paper thin and the story is incredibly dated. Modern audiences may groan at some of the twists and turns and there’s no doubt that the movie is definitely a product of its times. There is an enormous charm about it however and you really can’t go wrong with Crosby crooning and Astaire dancing up a storm. Those are the kinds of elements that can elevate any sort of movie.

There is a scene in which the performers put on blackface and perform in an idiom which today is considered racially offensive. Some networks such as AMC who air the movie from time to time will cut that sequence out. Most of the DVD versions do have it in the original form with the offending scene intact and Turner Classic Movies, who have a policy not to edit or alter their classic movies in any way, does air the movie in its original form. Those who are offended by such depictions should be aware that it is there however.

That aside this is a movie that remains a heartwarming classic. Some families make it an annual tradition to view this on Christmas day if for no other reason than to hear Crosby crooning the classic “White Christmas” the way it was first seen by the general public (he would go on to sing the song in two other movies). While generally I wouldn’t rate a movie as dated as this one this highly, the flaws of the film are overcome by its stars and by the Irving Berlin songs that elevate this above B-movie fare.

WHY RENT THIS: Timeless Irving Berlin songs. Cute plot. Astaire and Crosby.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Very dated.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some smoking if that kind of thing bothers you.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The popular hotel chain took its name from this movie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The commentary is not only by film historian Ken Barnes but also includes some archival comments from Crosby and Astaire.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Broadway Melody of You Name It

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Last Holiday (2006)


Gerard Depardieu missed lunch but Queen Latifah lets him eat a finger or two.

Gerard Depardieu missed lunch but Queen Latifah lets him eat a finger or two.

(2006) Comedy (Paramount) Queen Latifah, Gerard Depardieu, Timothy Hutton, LL Cool J, Alicia Witt, Giancarlo Esposito, Jane Adams, Mike Estime, Susan Kellermann, Jascha Washington, Matt Rose, Ranjit Chowdhry, Michael Nouri, Jaqueline Fleming, Emeril Lagasse, Lana Likic. Directed by Wayne Wang

We are most of us so busy making a living that we forget to actually live. Our noses are so far down to the grindstone that we fail to notice the blue sky and sunshine above our heads. We certainly are prone to forgetting that our lives are short and can end without warning; so many of us leave it with so many of our dreams unfulfilled.

Georgia Byrd (Latifah) works at a New Orleans department store giving cooking demonstrations and selling cookware. She is crazy about co-worker Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) but is far too shy to make a move. She goes home at night and watches cooking shows, making gourmet recipes that she serves to a neighborhood kid (Washington) while she consumes Lean Cuisine frozen meals because she’s dieting.

One day at work she hits her head and loses consciousness. She is taken to the store infirmary (do any department stores really have those? Outside of Harrods in London I mean) where Dr. Gupta (Chowdhry) takes a CAT scan on the used machine he has just received and to his horror discovers several brain tumors – products of the rare condition Lampington’s Disease. The size and location of the tumors indicate that Georgia is in the final stages of the Disease and has only a few weeks. The operation that might save her may well do no good at all and the prohibitive cost of the potentially life-saving surgery is something her HMO won’t cover. Georgia hasn’t the time to contest it.

She decides to spend her final Christmas season at the Grandhotel Pupp in Kylovy Vary, Czechoslovakia. It’s an exclusive resort but Georgia has been frugal and has accumulated a pretty good amount in her 401k so she cashes it out and flies out to Czechoslovakia. Why there? Why, her favorite chef – Didier (Depardieu) is the executive chef there.

Once there she intends to indulge herself and pamper herself with spa treatments, skiing lessons and of course sampling one of everything from the Chef’s menu. He is so grateful that she is not another diet-conscious American requiring substitutions of “healthy” ingredients that he comes out to meet her himself. This draws the curiosity of a neighboring table where Senator Dillings (Esposito), Congressman Stewart (Nouri) are sitting, as well as the man who is wining and dining them – Matthew Kragen (Hutton) who happens to own the department store chain where Georgia was formerly employed. He sics his assistant Ms. Burns (Witt) with whom he is also having an affair with on Georgia to find out just who she is. The paranoid Kragen is concerned she’s out to ruin his deal that the support of the politicians is crucial for.

Her can-do attitude and positive outlook are inspiring to the lot of them and the more enchanted they become with Georgia, the more suspicious Kragen gets. He gets the officious Gunther (Kellermann), a hotel concierge, to go through Georgia’s things. Gunther discovers that Georgia, whom all the others (as well as the hotel staff whom Georgia treats with kindness and respect – something they aren’t used to) assumes is extremely wealthy, is a store clerk in one of Kragen’s stores. But her triumph quickly turns to shame when she discovers a letter that Georgia has written instructing hotel staff what to do should she pass away while she’s at their hotel.

Sean, in the meantime, decides that he needs to tell Georgia how he feels about her (it turns out the feelings were mutual) and decides to fly to the hotel to do just that. However a blizzard has made getting there precarious and Georgia herself has decided she’d rather spend her last days at home. Will the two be able to get together before the end?

This is a remake of a 1950 comedy starring Alec Guinness in the role Queen Latifah plays here. It’s a very different movie, somewhat more witty and a good bit darker (there’s an astonishing twist that you WILL not see coming near the end of that picture that is absent here). This is much more heart-warming, a kind of a warm hug on a winter day by a beloved friend. Latifah shows her chops as a leading lady; she’s done a lot of comedies both before and since but this is really in many ways the best of the lot.

Georgia starts out kind of mousy (which is really playing against type for Latifah) but good-hearted and as she finally comes out of her shell and allows herself to live we get a sense of the joyfulness she has inside her. She simply learns to enjoy the things that are good in life; good food, good friends, taking risks and trying new things. It’s a lesson not all of us learn in many more years of life than Georgia has lived.

The supporting cast is particularly solid, with kudos going to Depardieu as the chef who feels underappreciated (although with the foodie revival of the last few years he may be feeling better these days) and Hutton who’s Keegan is a greedy paranoid bastard but not altogether without saving graces. LL Cool J, who has become quite accomplished as an actor since on L.A. NCIS shows some good chemistry with fellow rapper Latifah.

This isn’t a particularly remarkable story – even in 1950 when Guinness did it this was pretty tried and true stuff. It’s simply done very well here, largely due to the screen presence of Latifah who makes the audience feel like old friends. Much of why the movie works is due to Latifah who simply makes this movie a vehicle for her personality. While some of the dialogue is clumsy and has the characters saying things that human beings don’t say in reality, it can be overlooked if for no other reason for the warm fuzziness coursing through your veins when the end credits roll.

WHY RENT THIS: Really heart-warming. Latifah shows that she can carry a film on her own here. Depardieu is a whole lot of fun here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The dialogue can be awkward. A bit too rote in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few sexual references but nothing too overt.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Georgia is serving Sean duck hash on toasted baguette, the Food Network chefs who were advisors and on-site chefs had to substitute for the duck in Sean’s portion because actor LL Cool J doesn’t eat duck.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a couple of Wolfgang Puck recipes that you can make at home, as well as an interesting featurette as to how this remake nearly hit the screen in the mid-80s…starring the late John Candy, which was shelved at the comedian’s death until Latifah’s agent read it and thought it would make a great starring vehicle for his client.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.3M on a $45M production budget; the movie failed to recoup its production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Holiday

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: John Dies at the End

I Don’t Know How She Does It


I Don't Know How She Does It

It just doesn't get any more romantic than a loving embrace in snowfall.

(2011) Comedy (Weinstein) Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Kelsey Grammer, Olivia Munn, Seth Meyers, Christine Hendricks, Jane Curtin, Mark Blum, Busy Philipps, Sarah Shahi, Jessica Szohr, James Murtaugh. Directed by Douglas McGrath

There are few people I have more respect for than the working mother. It is very much like juggling alligators; if you mess up even on one gator, you can find your whole world crashing down around you.

Kate Reddy (Parker) is just such a creature. She works as an executive at an investment bank’s regional office in Boston; she has a crusty boss (Grammer), an overqualified assistant named Momo (Munn) who disdains Kate’s commitment to her job, and a backstabbing co-worker (Meyers).

Outside of work she’s got a bitchy mother-in-law (Curtin) and a devoted friend (Hendricks) who thinks Kate has it all together but like most moms, does a lot with smoke and mirrors. She also has a saintly husband named Richard (Kinnear) who is an architect who is just getting a major promotion at his job. She too is working on a big promotion – by coming up with a brand new retirement fund that will appeal to both investors and the bank’s brass as well. She is given a hunky partner to work with – Jack Abelhammer (Brosnan). It also means that she’s going to be traveling to New York a whole lot.

That means guilt for missing her kids life and further guilt for neglecting her husband. It means being made to feel less of a mom by the stay-at-home supermom (Philipps) that works out while her kids are at school and takes advantage of party planners for her kid’s birthdays. Does anybody remember when getting pizza and a cake was enough for a child’s birthday party?

Of course, we all know that sooner or later the gators are going to come crashing down and take a bite (or several) from Kate whose two children are precocious and adorable and well-adjusted which doesn’t sound like any kids I know. We also know that her work career will take off and promise even more travel, putting more strain on her marriage. Isn’t that how it works for all working moms?

This is a movie that has been taking enough lashings from critics to make a Roman galley slave blush. I would venture to guess that most of the critics taking shots at it are not working moms. I was with one when I caught it in the theater and she was quite affected. She thought that the issues that Kate faced were very relatable. That’s a big plus in my book.

I’ve never really warmed to Sarah Jessica Parker as an actress. She’s always seemed shrill and a bit too neurotic for my tastes. She still is here, but the role really calls for it. Kate has a great deal of stress on her and sometimes stress makes us do desperate things, like buying a pie at a deli and trying to disguise it as homemade.

Greg Kinnear is one of the more likable actors out there right now, and he does saintly husband as well as anybody. Despite Kate consistently leaving him holding the bag at home and seemingly dismissing his career as less important as his own, he continues to support her in every way imaginable.

Pierce Brosnan is another solid pro who pretty much always delivers. Here he’s a sweet and respectful colleague who rather than taking credit for her work gives her props. Yeah, sounds like a lot of investment bankers I know – not that I know many. Still, the moral and kindly businessman is not one we see in the movies much these days.

The movie is purportedly a comedy although there is a lack of laughs here (although to be fair, Da Queen found many things funny that were well out of my experience range). It also lacks the gravitas and depth to be a decent drama, which kind of leaves the movie in this limbo of neither one nor the other and not be satisfactory overall.

This definitely has limited appeal which is just fine. If you’re a mom and you work, you’re going to find a lot to love in this movie. If you love a working mom, you might see a bit of insight in there. If you don’t have a working mom in your life, you might want to pass this by – there’s not a lot here for you. That’s all good, but just a word to the wise – be aware that this movie is definitely skewed to a specific demographic and if you don’t fall within it, you might wind up wondering if the local multiplex still gives refunds.

REASONS TO GO: Kinnear and Brosnan are awesome. This is definitely a role well-suited for Parker. The issues that come up for Kate are very relatable for working moms.

REASONS TO STAY: Not funny enough to be a comedy nor does it really have enough depth to be a good drama either.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and a bit of innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director McGrath also writes a political commentary column, “The New Flapjack,” for The New Republic.

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly this will do just as well at home as it will in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Drive