Nothing Like the Holidays (dir: Alfredo De Villa)
In the first act of this holiday film, set at the epicenter of a Christmas reunion of a Puerto Rican-American family, the men in the family fruitlessly attempt to take down the gnarled, knotty old tree that sits like a creaky sentinel in the front yard. The thing is so tough and tenacious that even the chainsaw grinds away against it. This is the kind of film where that ugly old thing doesn’t just survive the various attempts, it’s embraced as a part of the family home. That pretty stands in for the rest of the film.
The big event is the homecoming of youngest son Jesse (Freddy Rodríguez), after three years in Iraq. Struggling actress sister Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlito), “our little movie star,” arrives from L.A., and financial professional brother Mauricio (John Leguizamo) arrives with his wife Sarah (Debra Messing), doomed to be the outsider. comes on at first like a brittle, uptight alien, a New York professional always out on outskirts of the chummy warmth and busy hubbub while fending off her mother-in-law’s pushing demands for a grandkid. And so on. To quote the description in the studio’s press notes: “In the course of one eventful week, traditions will be celebrated, secrets revealed and major life decisions made.”
Director Alfredo De Villa doesn’t play it for the kind of knockabout comedy so often seen in these films (like the shrill hit “Four Christmases”). This is calmer and cozier, with characters who appear to genuinely enjoy spending time together, even if they don’t always seem to be from the same family. Molina’s generous spirit brings a paternal warmth and Luis Guzmán’s smart-mouthed cousin feels right at home, but the rest of the cast never quite gets that lived-in chemistry.
The remainder of the film comes from the dysfunctional family-gathering playbook (apparently every Hollywood screenwriter has one). Cultural details (like the paranda, a traveling party of Christmas carolers) give it a distinctive flourish, but at heart this troubled but happy family is pretty much like every other: a lot of spats, a few laughs and a lot of embracing loved ones, imperfections and all.
Read the complete review at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here.
My Name is Bruce (dir: Bruce Campbell)
Bruce Campbell revisits the horror comedy that made his career in his directorial debut in this spoof, shot in and around Medford, Oregon (where the actor has made his home) and the town of Gold Lick (which, yes, is a real town in Oregon).
The tongue-in-cheek horror comedy bubbles out of the same goofy humor and genre-love as the “Evil Dead” movies, but Campbell is no Raimi. As director, he trips through gory gags and gallows humor with more tenacity than talent, while onscreen he mugs shamelessly. Troubadours narrate in musical interludes. Campbell fans will get a kick out of it. The rest of the world will likely find this spoof a little too insular and indulgent.
Read the complete review at the Seattle P-I here.