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Holiday film reviews
I actually watched these last year, but here are reviews of two Christmas-themed films that I have not yet posted. Enjoy!

Four Christmases
2.5 stars

An unmarried couple whose relationship is practically defined by avoiding their divorced parents are suddenly forced to spend Christmas visiting all four of their's a holiday version of Meet The Parents. You can see the stereotypes, the humiliations, the slapstick and the discomfort coming a mile away, and as cringe-inducing as it is, you just can't look away. You just know it's going to be bad, but you can't help sticking around to see just HOW bad it will be. On top of that, Four Christmases is so star-studded that there will probably be something for everyone SOMEWHERE in it, whether they are country-music lovers, Broadway followers, devoted Christians or fans of National Lampoon. So a LOT of people are going to end up seeing it, whether it's really worth all that attention or not.

To its credit, Four Christmases takes a bit of a higher road than Meet the Parents does. The two main characters are definitely humiliated, both by their families and by the media, but I could tell that the film was pulling its punches just a bit. It was indeed frustrating and embarrassing, but it could have been worse. And since it didn't go completely all-out in tearing down the main characters, Four Christmases was able to show the familial craziness ultimately pushing the couple closer together instead of pulling them apart. Vince Vaughn and the excellent Reese Witherspoon actually drew sympathy rather than pity as the beleaguered protagonist couple, and when the movie finally transitioned from humiliating to heartwarming, there was a sense of fulfillment from a logical conclusion (in addition to the relief that it was all over). Even though most of the myriad parents and siblings were irritatingly over the top, the actors playing them (Robert Duvall, Kristin Chenoweth and Jon Voight in particular) were still pretty watchable on the whole. And on a personal note, I was excited to see the insanely gorgeous film-newcomer Katy Mixon (with whom I have actually shared a stage!) sharing the screen with Duvall, Vaughn and Witherspoon.

The thing is, though, no matter how nicely a holiday bow Four Christmases wrapped its ending up in, it's still a film that starts because of dishonesty and cowardice, is driven by humiliation and frustration, and has the viewer constantly thinking "what ELSE can possibly go wrong?" right up until the end. Some people may like that kind of movie on principle, but I am not one of them.The film also featured Jon Favreau being an arrogant muscleheaded jerk (much like in I Love You, Man), which just bothered me a lot. So while I definitely liked Four Christmases much, much more than I liked Meet the Parents, that isn't really saying much, and the film still wasn't either funny enough or heartwarming enough to warrant a second viewing or a purchase.

Nothing Like the Holidays
3 stars

Interestingly enough, I watched this film immediately after I watched Four Christmases. Both films involve family, and some of the quirks and craziness that goes with family reunions around Christmas. But while Four Christmases is ultimately meant to be a comedy, Nothing Like The Holidays is a family drama. It does have some laughs, but it is much more emotional than humorous.

Nothing Like The Holidays takes the strong central ties of an Hispanic family and subjects them to a good deal of stress. One son has just returned from Iraq and just wants to feel at home again. Another is a successful businessman in another city, engaged to a Caucasian coworker, and wanting little to do with his Latino roots. One daughter is a struggling waitress across the country but has told her parents she's a successful actress. Other siblings and cousins have stayed in the area and remained close to the parents, but have their own issues as well. The mother wants grandchildren but suspects her husband is having an affair, and the father thinks he may be dying. In other words: everyone longs for a loving, warm, family Christmas, but each one wants it only on his or her terms. Voices are raised, secrets are uncovered, fingers are pointed, and everyone is shoved way out of their comfort zones. It's not easy to watch, but as the adversity builds, the viewer gets to see just how much the family members really do care about each other, and what seems ready to fall apart slowly starts to come back together.

Logically, Nothing Like The Holidays features some of the best Latino and Latina (or at least Hispanic-looking) actors around today. Freddy Rodriguez, John Lequizamo and Luis Guzman anchor the cast, Vanessa Ferlito makes a great appearance (her first since Death Proof, I believe), Debra Messing is excellent as the one white woman in the middle of the Hispanic family issues, and Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Pena captivate the audience. Best of all, amidst all this Latino star power, the star of the film is really the family itself, not any one big name. And that, more than anything else, is what makes Nothing Like The Holidays work. Where Four Christmases is about families making their ways apart, ...Holidays is about a family trying to make it together. It's not a great film, but that aspect makes it, at least, a good one.

And in the words of another Christmas-themed movie, RENT: Merry Christmas, bitches! See you next year.


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I haven't seen Four Christmases so I can't say anything about that. Although I will say that even though I like Vince Vaughn, the trailer for the movie didn't appeal to me.

Nothing Like the Holidays was a good one. I like movies that center around family and the different struggles they face in trying to actually BE a family. Plus, Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, and Luis Guzman can do no wrong in my book.

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