Sunday, December 21, 2014

Film Reviews: Fred Claus & Four Christmases

"Fred Claus"  ** (out of ****)

I guess "Fred Claus" (2007) could have been a good movie. But it would have to be radically different from the version we see on-screen. One would suppose you can kind of, sort of, maybe, see the possibilities of a story dealing with Santa Claus's older brother Fred (Vince Vaughn), who grows up to resent his famous, he would claim over-achiever, brother, St. Nick (Paul Giamatti).

But the problem I had with a movie called "Fred Claus" is it lacks joy. I know, I know this is Hollywood and you can't really expect a religious movie about Christmas, but, even in the secular Christmas world of Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the red nose reindeer, the movie lacks visual splendor, lacks a "feel good" quality and has a terrible (not for the retailers though) message about how every child needs a toy on Christmas morning.

There are some fragments about family and personal responsibility but the movie has no energy, and places no real emphasis on these themes.

Finally the last problem I had with the movie was Vince Vaughn. He basically plays the same character in every movie. He has one style of "acting", the ability to only play one character. That character doesn't work in a Christmas movie. I don't mind watching Vaughn in something like "The Internship" (2013) or "The Break-Up" (2006) but he lacks the holiday cheer needed for a Christmas themed movie. Even when his character makes a "transformation" he is still playing the character the same way.

"Fred Claus" feels like a one note movie. It is not a fully developed idea. Someone said, wouldn't it be funny if Santa Claus and an older brother, that was ignored. And they decided to leave it at that. And I have to say, what terrible casting to put Paul Giamatti in the role of Santa Claus. Nothing about Giamatti lends itself to the role. Who ever looked at Giamatti and said "that man should play Santa Claus in a movie"?

"Four Christmases"  ** (out of ****)

Vince Vaughn returned to the Christmas themed movie a year after "Fred Claus" and starred in "Four Christmases" (2008) with Reese Witherspoon.

Although "Four Christmases" has the word Christmas in the title and takes place on Christmas Day, it is actually a romantic comedy built around the old, boring, cliche that men are afraid of commitment and don't want to get married or have children.

The movie is set around the premise Brad (Vaughn) and Kate (Witherspoon) are a young, wealthy, liberal couple that enjoys spending time together. For example they take dance classes together and go on vacations. They also live together but have decided they don't want to get married because as they say, marriage puts a lot of stress on the relationship. "Four Christmases" is full of original observations like that (can you sense the sarcasm?).

The couple plans to take a vacation on Christmas Day to the Fiji Islands, in order to avoid spending time with their family. But, due to bad weather, their flight has been canceled. A news reporter is at the airport when the couple finds out about their flight and begins to interview them live on the air. As a result, Brad and Kate's divorced parents see the newscast and each invites them to spend Christmas with them. Making it a total of four Christmases.

Like most Hollywood, liberal Christmas movies there is nothing religious about the movie. Yes, there is a character that is suppose to be a Christian woman but she is presented as a bit of a kook and is having a fling with her pastor. There is a church scene in the movie that is mostly played for laughs and could have been a moment when the movie could have had a sentimental scene showing the viewer and the characters what Christmas is about. Whether or not you like it, Christmas was, is and always will be a religious holiday. True, retailers, liberals and secularist have commercialized it, but it is a religious holiday nonetheless. A time when believers celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

But there is no mention of Christ, not one character attends midnight mass. The movie has characters argue over presents, talk about Santa Claus, the torment of being with family and how unruly children can be.

"Four Christmases" is sit-com material. No depth to any of the characters, no big laughs, no clever or smart observations about people and no Christmas spirit. It is a romantic comedy at its core and in an attempt to cash in on Christmas, had the movie take place on Christmas and put the word in its title. A movie like this could have taken place at any time of the year and very little would have to be changed. But then someone might say, but that wouldn't be original. What? You thought "Four Christmases" is original?

Hollywood has to learn to become a little more comfortable dealing with religion. Have you noticed they stopped making Christmas themed movies around this time? They simply don't know what to do anymore and are too afraid to make a Christmas movie where characters acknowledge religion. Too bad.