Feast On These Holiday Flicks

Fred Claus

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, John Michael Higgins

Directed by: David Dobkin

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Run-time: 1 hour 56 minutes

Stater rating (out of five): *

Having a saint as a sibling is bound to cause tension in the family, especially if that person is responsible for bringing joy to millions of children around the world.

Fred, played by Vince Vaughn, knows a thing or two about that.

Ever since he was a boy, Fred has been living in the shadow of his younger brother, Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti). After all, St. Nick is a beloved international figure who is happier, jollier and fatter than Fred, and no amount of good deeds or honor roll bumper stickers could ever compete with that. His mother (Kathy Bates) never misses an opportunity to criticize Fred, repeatedly asking why he can’t be more like his brother.

Santa delivers gifts in one night, using a sleigh and flying reindeer while Fred has a dead-end job as a repo guy in Chicago. As Kevin Spacey’s character later puts it: The smaller, twisted tree is never able to grow to its fullest as long the other one stands in the way of its light.

In need of some quick cash, Fred begrudgingly heads to the North Pole to help Santa prepare for the upcoming holiday. Fred riles up the elves, replacing a constant loop of cheery Christmas music with rock ‘n’ roll, and generally makes a mess of things just in time for Clyde’s (Spacey) visit to the factory. Clyde is a snarky accountant bent on shutting down Santa on the pretense of it not being efficient enough.

It’s unfortunate such an excellent cast, including a sparse Rachel Weisz as Vaughn’s love interest, is wasted on this film. In fact, Weisz’s part seems more of a last-minute afterthought. It’s as if the producers asked, “Hey, where’s the romance?” and then cast someone far out of Vaughn’s league as a last-ditch effort. Flying reindeer? Sure. Elves? OK. But it’s hard to suspend belief when it comes to their relationship. And just to up the feel-good factor, an orphan and his dough-eyed puppy make an appearance.

Fred Claus is everything a holiday movie shouldn’t be but usually is a sappy, contrived 120-minute lump of coal. The laughs are few and far between and are mostly at the expense of Vaughn’s shorter co-stars. Note to Hollywood: Ninja elves are only funny for so long.

This Christmas

Starring: Chris Brown, Loretta Devine and Delroy Lindo

Directed by: Preston Whitmore II

Distributed by: Sony Pictures

Premier Date: Nov. 21

Run-time: 2 hours

Stater rating (out of five): ***

There’s always a chance that holidays with the family could go terribly wrong. After all, who doesn’t keep secrets from her mother, cousin or aunt?

Christmas is about family, love and coming home. This Christmas captures that essence and throws in other issues that make an extremely believable film.

The movie stars one family, the Whitfields, who have been separated because of different careers and lifestyles, but all come back together for Christmas. Each member of the family has its own baggage that it keeps hidden from Ma Dear (Loretta Devine), the mother. However, each secret comes out in it’s own way, including the mother’s.

The movie starts with Ma Dear and Joe (Delroy Lindo) preparing for the family to come back home. The scenes then flash to each piece of the family and what they are doing at that point in time. Quentin (Idris Elba) is a saxophone player at a club who owes a couple of bookies some money. We catch him in a chase scene. Lisa Whitfield (Regina King) and her husband Malcome (Laz Alonso) are shown feeling awkward with each other and Malcome’s business.

Once This Christmas returns to Ma Dear’s house, the family slowly filters in and we meet more members: the military son, the college student daughter, the college graduate daughter and of course, “Baby” (Chris Brown), the stay-at-home son.

The normal family thing to do when everyone is in one area is bicker and poke fun at one another, and that’s what the Whitfields do. Quentin surprises the family by returning home to escape the bookies who are after him. We are then introduced to the hostility between Quentin and Joe.

Joe is new to the family. The Whitfields’ original father, Senior, left the family and moved to England to pursue a music career. Quentin is hostile toward Joe for trying to take Senior’s place.

In the days leading to Christmas the secrets begin to unfold: Baby can sing, the military son is actually AWOL, Quentin owes that money and he doesn’t know that Joe is living with Ma Dear and Malcome is a sneaky man.

The family slowly falls apart all under one roof. Fights ensue and people go to jail. Quentin tries to escape the family and succeeds.

But like any Christmas movie, there’s always one person who brings the family back together to a happy ending. In this case, it’s an object.

The plotline of the movie is very believable to anyone who has gone home for Christmas. The family deals with issues of infidelity, near-poverty and race issues. While these things don’t sound like issues that your family experiences on a daily basis, it sets a line of comparison that most families can relate to.

The movie has an extremely strong cast of characters, which makes it easier to watch and believe. This movie will be the perfect Christmas Eve movie to end a perfect Christmas Eve.

Wristcutters: A Love Story

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon and Shea Whigham

Directed by: Goran Dukic

Distributed by: Autonomous/Lions Gate

Run-time: 2 hours

Stater rating (out of five): ****

Far from what the controversial title implies, Wristcutters: A Love Story is a film about how taking the easy way out didn’t turn out the way the characters imagined. The film features stars Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) and Shea Whigham (All the Real Girls) who come across each other in this strange world filled with only other people who’ve committed suicide. A world where everything is a little more uncomfortable than what it should be, nobody smiles, and the weather is far from favorable.

Whigham recently discussed his role as Eugene, the odd but endearing Russian rocker whom Fugit’s character Zia befriends.

Q: The film deals with the touchy subject of suicide. What are your feelings in regards to how it was handled?

A: (Director) Goran Dukic handled it as well as you could possibly handle it. It’s a dramedy and it’s really funny. I think it’s a very funny film, but it’s not knee-slapping funny. It’s funny because you find yourself in these situations. At the end of the day it’s not about suicide. At the end of the day it’s that there are other options out there. It’s attainable, don’t take the easy way out.

Q: What do you think attributes to an idea that it’s uplifting even though it deals with suicide?

A: I want to make sure that people know it’s OK to laugh at this film. There’s humor that Goran captured without trying to be funny. Everyone in the piece ends up finding love. It adds to that. The thing that I think makes it magical is that it doesn’t try hard, it just happens. They just got it. It just flows in and you’re on this ride. Even though its out there. I truly bought into that and the smiling. I totally bought it. Each time I get something out of it. It’s that beautiful each time.

Q: In the movie, the actors weren’t able to laugh or smile. How hard was that to do?

A: It was very difficult. We tried to say, “Go a day without doing it.” Because as an actor your job is to express your emotions and act that way. Whether you’re happy or clenching through your teeth, in the end it’s such a part of that world.

Q: What is your character, Eugene, looking for in Wristcutters?

A: I think that with Eugene, I don’t think he’s consciously looking for anything. The glass is always half empty with him. If you don’t push things it comes to you. I love that aspect of things. Friendship and kinship finds love in the process.

Contact all correspondent Robert Checkal at [email protected].

Contact all correspondent Megan Rozsa at [email protected].

Contact all correspondent Jinae West at [email protected].