Almost Christmas


Danny Glover is never too old for this sh...stuff.

Danny Glover is never too old for this sh…stuff.

(2016) Holiday Comedy (Universal) Kimberly Elise, Danny Glover, Omar Epps, Mo’Nique, Romany Malco, Nicole Ari Parker, J.B. Smoove, Jessie T. Usher, John Michael Higgins, Gabrielle Union, Nadej Bailey, Alkoya Brunson, Marley Taylor, D.C. Young Fly, Keri Hilson, Gladys Knight, Chloe Spencer, Gregory Alan Williams, Tara Batesole, Jeff Rose, Tara Jones, Rachel Kylian. Directed by David E. Talbert

 

Christmas is a time for family. When a family member is taken from us, it can leave an awfully big hole. Sometimes trying to fill that hole can only make it deeper.

Walter Meyers (Glover) is the patriarch of the family and he is gathering his family together for Christmas, but it will be the first one without his wife Grace (Kylian), who passed away recently. She was the one who did most of the cooking and her box of recipes was filled with absolutely magical dishes, in particular the sweet potato pie that Walter adores. Sadly, nobody can find the box and so Walter is left to try to recreate the pie recipe with unfortunate results.

Still, the family does gather – divorced Rachel (Union) who is trying to put herself through law school but the financial means just aren’t there. She and her more successful sister Cheryl (Elise) can barely speak a civil word to one another, but Cheryl’s husband (Smoove) isn’t exactly a catch. Christian (Malco) is mounting a political campaign which keeps his cell phone twittering but also may require him to make compromises that will put him at odds with his father. Finally, there’s the youngest – Evan (Usher) – who’s a college football star. He’s just recovered from an injury in time to play in a holiday bowl game, but continues to take the pain meds he’s addicted to, partially to numb the pain of his mother’s loss.

Also present is Aunt May (Mo’Nique) who has made a career as a backup singer to some of the biggest stars in music but which has kept her on the road for too many Christmases. Now she’s trying to help Walter adjust by providing some exotic meals which the family isn’t quite prepared for, and by keeping the alcohol flowing.

Add to the mix Rachel’s old flame and next door neighbor Malachi (Epps) and a houseful of kids and you have a recipe for chaos. However, the rivalry between Rachel and Cheryl threatens to upend what good feelings there are there and tear the family apart. It would take a Christmas miracle to repair the damage.

In the 70s, we were treated to sitcoms about African-American families like Good Times and The Jeffersons and in a lot of ways this movie owes its pedigree to those pioneering shows; the former in vibe, the latter in layout. The family economic circumstance is (with the exception of Rachel) in the comfortable middle class.  The family is used to a heart-warming Christmas of lots of food, nice presents and a comfortably big home. It’s the kind of Christmas we all dream about.

Most of us want a heavy dose of heartwarming with our Christmas movies and Almost Christmas delivers on that front, thanks largely to Glover whose personality fits this role like a (‘scuse the pun) glove. It is also nice to see Mo’Nique onscreen. The Oscar winning actress is onscreen far less than I would like; she’s an amazingly gifted actress who elevates roles that could be campy and gives them heart, as she does here. While to my mind it is Danny Glover who makes the most of his role, the entire cast is top notch and takes each of their roles and run with them, even though there is an element of cliché to the film. Yes there are family squabbles and crises, but you just know it will end with the family pulling together. Nobody wants to see a Christmas film in which the family implodes.

I would have liked to have seen a little more background context, particularly to the Rachel/Cheryl feud which is never explained, for the most part we get fully fleshed-out characters which is something of a Christmas miracle given the size of the cast. Quite frankly, I expected this to be a rote Christmas movie with really no meat on the bones but I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong on that score. No, this isn’t reinventing the genre to be sure but it does confirm the best aspects of it. For a lot of people this is going to be a perennial Christmas movie. Count me among those people.

REASONS TO GO: This is one of Glover’s best performances in years. This will definitely give you a case of the warm fuzzies.
REASONS TO STAY: Very much a been-there done-that kind of movie. Some of the family dynamics shown here don’t really have any rhyme or reason.
FAMILY VALUES: Some adult thematic elements, some brief sexual material, occasional profanity and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the third time Usher has played a football player onscreen.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/24/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 49% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Gathering
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Office Christmas Party

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New Releases for the Week of June 19, 2015


Inside OutINSIDE OUT

(Disney*Pixar) Starring the Voices Of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Louis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan, Paula Poundstone. Directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen

When a family moves to San Francisco, 11-year-old Riley is bummed to the max. Her parents don’t understand her, mainly because the emotions that live inside her head – Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust and Sadness – have accidentally gone amuck inside her head. The emotions are conflicting over how to handle all the things going on in her life – a new city, a new school, new friends, a new life, and the loss of everything familiar. Battle stations – things are about to get a little heated in Headquarters…

See the trailer, interviews, a promo, a clip and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website .
Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opens Thursday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements and some action)

5 Flights Up

(Focus World) Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Carrie Preston, Josh Pais. An elderly couple in Brooklyn have lived in the same apartment since they were young, never dreaming that their Williamsburg neighborhood would become gentrified and one of the most sought-after addresses in the city. Now having trouble mounting the five flights of stairs to get to their apartment, they reluctantly decide to put their apartment on the market. An unlikely sequence of events, combined with overeager realtors and snotty bargain hunters combine to make them wonder if they wouldn’t be better off just walking away.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: PG-13 (for language and some nude images)

ABCD 2

(UTV) Varun Dhawan, Shradda Kapoor, Prabhu Deva, Dharmesh Yelande. An Indian dance troupe with three outstanding choreographers head to Vegas for an international hip-hop dance championship. However, internal pressures threaten to tear the team apart.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Bollywood Musical
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Anarchy Parlor

(Gravitas) Robert LaSardo, Sara Fabel, Jordan James Smith, Tiffany DeMarco. A group of college friends traveling in Lithuania go to a tattoo parlor to commemorate their travels in ink. Instead, they are captured and tortured by the Artist who has more sinister ideas as to what to do with them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall
Rating: NR

Dope

(Open Road) Shameik Moore, Zoe Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise. Malcolm is treading a fine line in navigating life in a brutally tough neighborhood in Los Angeles, looking to escape by going to college. However, a chance encounter at a party leads him along a different path. Set in the 1990s with a classic hip-hop score, this was a critical hit at Sundance.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Urban Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity and some violence, all involving teens)

Felix and Meira

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Martin Dubreuil, Hadas Yaron, Luzer Twersky, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse. A Hassidic Jewish wife and mother in Montreal is lost in a highly structured life. She meets a Secular young man, mourning the death of his estranged father, in a bakery. The two begin an innocent friendship which in turn becomes something more which forces her to make a choice between the life she’s always known, or being with the man she loves.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for a scene of sexuality/nudity)

Gemma Bovery

(Music Box) Gemma Arterton, Fabrice Luchini, Jason Flemyng, Isabelle Candelier.  A rural French village and in particular its baker find their lives transformed by the arrival of a British couple whose name reflects the heroine of a classic Flaubert novel that was written in that very village. When her life begins to mirror that of the heroine of that novel, the baker tries to prevent her from meeting the same tragic end as Madame Bovary. This was a big hit at the recent Florida Film Festival and you can read my review of the movie here.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: R (for sexuality/nudity and language)