Movie #80: Home Alone (1990)

Director: Chris Columbus

Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, and John Candy

Academy Award Nominations (1991):

Best Music, Original Score: John Williams

Best Music, Original Song: John Williams (music), Leslie Bricusse (lyrics) For the song ‘Somewhere in My Memory’

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Kevin McCallister (Culkin) is a pest to the rest of his family.  Eight years old and inquisitive as any 8-year-old can be, he always seems to be getting into trouble.  He wishes he didn’t have a family, and his wish came true, at least for a few days.  In a mad rush to get to the airport for a flight to Paris, the McCallisters leave Kevin at home alone.  Adjusting to life on his own, Kevin realizes and has to fight off the Wet Bandits, Harry (Pesci) and Marve (Stern), two thieves who are robbing all the homes in Kevin’s neighborhood while they’re on vacation.

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This photo can sum up the entire movie.

No seriously.

Very few films, at least that I can think of, are so heavily dependent upon and driven by one character.  That character is a kid, which adds a unique dynamic to the film.  Watching it now, there’s a certain child-like wonder that makes this film enjoyable.  It’s also interesting to see how much the world has changed in the past 20 years.

John Hughes and Chris Columbus created a charming, witty story told with brute honesty and realism in the eyes of an 8-year-old.  There’s a reason why this film grossed over $500 million internationally.  Home Alone is fun for kids and entertaining for adults.

Though he had some prior acting experience, most notably as Miles Russell in Uncle Buck alongside John Candy, Macaulay Culkin became a household name with Home Alone.  Though he would fizzle out just 5 years later, his time as one of the most successful child actors was well-earned.  He embodied the child that his classmates would think was the greatest ever, but whose parents would dread having him over.  

Home Alone would not have been as successful with any other kid in the starring role.  Culkin had the quick wit and there was a nice balance of breaking the fourth wall with the audience, but he was still cute enough to be funny when he tried doing the things adults would do.

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The sub plot with Marley (Blossom) was particularly touching.  His scene in the church with Kevin is probably one of my favorites in the movie.  You can see that each person has something they’re afraid of, and each helps the other out by seeing things from through the others eyes.

homealonepesci  Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern work great together.  Harry is clearly the brains of the operation, though it wouldn’t have taken much to be the brains over Marv.  They play two dimwitted petty criminals in such a way that they appear scary enough to children, but just entertaining enough for the rest of us.

Having cornered the young moviegoers market with films like The Breakfast Club, John Hughes created another gem that appealed to younger audiences, but was still fun enough for older audiences to enjoy.  I’ve taken some time to really let this film soak in.  It’s been years since I watched it, and the more I think about it, more critiques are coming to mind.

While Home Alone has some truly classic moments: Kevin putting on the aftershave, the classic one-liners, etc., they seem a little too over the top for me to enjoy now.   Perhaps I’m becoming more cynical and find Kevin to be more of a pest than anything else.  He’s funny, no doubt, but it could have been toned back a bit.

It’s interesting to watch it over 20 years after it originally came out and wonder how different the world is.  I believe there have been 5 films within this franchise.  I think I’ve seen the third one once, but I don’t think I’ll even bother with the other two, without Culkin, they seem kind of pointless in my opinion.

Home Alone is a fun film with a great lead character.   It’s a film I could see myself watching every few years around the holidays.  I would recommend it, but only in moderation can I enjoy it now.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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Movie #79: The Sound of Music (1965)

Director: Robert Wise

Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn, Peggy Wood, Charmian Carr, Heather Menzies, Nicholas Hammond, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright, Debbie Turner, and Kym Karath

Academy Awards (1966):

Best Director: Robert Wise

Best Film Editing: William Reynolds

Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment: Irwin Kostal

Best Picture: Robert Wise

Best Sound: James Corconan (20th Century Fox-SSD), Fred Hynes (Todd-AO SSD)

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Julie Andrews

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Peggy Wood

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color: Boris Leven, Walter M. Scott, Ruby T. Levitt

Best Cinematography, Color: Ted D. McCord

Best Costume Design, Color: Dorothy Jeakins

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Salzburg, Austria, 1938

Maria (Andrews), a postulant in the local abbey is assigned as the new governess for the von Trapp family.  Georg von Trapp (Plummer), an ex-naval officer grieves the loss of his wife and runs his home like one of his ships.  As Maria encourages the children to sing and play, Georg remembers and brings music back into the home for the first time since his wife’s passing.  As time passes, Maria and Georg fall in love and marry.  Meanwhile, the Nazis move to occupy Austria, and Georg must decide whether to take a commission thrust upon him in the German Navy or flee with his family to Switzerland.

This is one of many films I’ve watched a number of times when I was younger, and it’s interesting to re-watch it now that I’m older. I suppose it’s because my perspectives have changed, which is natural when one grows up.  The Sound of Music is a film that has had such a broad appeal over the years that I just can’t see it ever fully going away.  Yes, there’s a live production of it on NBC tonight, but that to me serves as a testament to how popular and enjoyed the original film still is today.

As a film shot in 1965, The Sound of Music has a lot of great cinematography.  I watched the 40th Anniversary DVD edition for this review, and I really enjoyed the long, scenic shots throughout the film.  Robert Wise, who had directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and West Side Story, among many others, had really mastered the craft at this point in his career, and the care given to the cinematography and balance of story really helps the musical numbers and plot flow smoothly throughout.

A number of key roles could have gone to other actors.  Julie Andrews, who was 30 at the time of this film, gives a very standout and mature performance as Maria, a free spirit and genuinely caring to the point of being somewhat naive of a person.  She strikes a nice balance of being fun but firm.  The real life Maria was much stricter, and in contrast Georg wasn’t so hard of a task master as he is portrayed.  However, for the purposes of the film, Andrews does great.

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Christopher Plummer was not all that thrilled with his performance and the film in general.  However, over the years he has come to appreciate The Sound of Music’s place in film history.  I don’t know that he gave the best performance, but he does a good job in his transition from grieving father seeking control to appreciating his family and learning to love them again and falling in love with Maria.

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Earning an Academy Award nomination for her performance, Peggy Wood does a wonderful job as the Reverend Mother.  She brings a great motherly dynamic for Maria, and serves as a strong, wise counsel.  Her scenes are among my favorite in the film because she helps Maria make sense of all her confusion.  There was also a good balance of her screen time, I think any more would have diminished her character, and any less would have made her far less effective.

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Not to be overlooked, the real star of The Sound of Music has to be, of course, the music.  Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers have no doubt created a masterpiece collection of songs.  They are, I would imagine, among the most widely-known songs from film.  My personal favorite, and one of my all-time favorite songs, is Edelwiess.  Since 2005, an annual “Sound of Music Sing-A-Long,” which has featured members of the cast and some of the actual Von Trapp Family Singers has been hosted by the Hollywood Bowl.  It has sold out every year.

The Sound of Music  is a good example of how a story is “based on real events.”  There were a number of changes from what actually happened.  Maria and the Captain were married for a number of years before the Nazi occupation.  The von Trapp family had also lost a great deal of their wealth.  The Captain was seriously considering taking the commission with the Nazis more out of financial necessity than anything else.  Salzburg is also nowhere near Switzerland, so fleeing and hiking through the mountains would have been entirely impractical.  By the time the film was made, the von Trapp’s had long since sold the rights to their story.

soundofmusicmariacameoThe real Maria von Trapp makes a cameo in the film as one of the three ladies shown just to the left of Julie Andrews.

Entertaining, enjoyable, and timeless, The Sound of Music has stayed popular and beloved for nearly 50 years.  With fun musical numbers, strong character chemistry, and breathtaking scenery, this film has a wide range of appeal that can be enjoyed by someone 8 to 80, everything in between and more.  It goes without saying that this is not the last time I will watch this film.   I am looking forward to sharing this with my family down the road.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.