Weekend Roundup: It’s a Wonderful Life and The Blind Side

You can say I had a ‘Capra’-laden weekend. On Friday night, I finally get to see the all-time Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life for the first time with my movie-nite gals. The next day, my hubby & I caught The Blind Side at a local theater, and even in its fourth week of release, the theater’s still more than half-packed (it’s #2 at the box office this week). One reviewer called The Blind Side as veering a bit closer to Capra territory. That’s a debatable point surely, but both movies share something in common in that they’re unabashedly affecting and pack such emotional wallop as my eyes were swollen by the time the end credits rolled. Coincidentally, I also saw an oldie-but-goodie rom-com with none other than Nicholas Cage called It Could Happen to You (about a NYC cop who gives a waitress a $2 million-dollar tip), which was also regarded by some reviewers (such as this one) to be a bit Capra-esque in its warmth and simplicity.

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It’s A Wonderful Life

There’s little wonder why this movie never fails to make it to anyone’s Top Christmas Movies list. As Rockerdad said, it may be heavy on melodrama but it’s such a rewarding experience with an uplifting moral message to take stock of one’s life, no matter how seemingly destitute we think it is. I absolutely fell in love with it and wish I had seen this sooner! Not having grown up in the States, there are lots of classic movies I haven’t had the privilege of seeing. But after watching this — and listening to Prairiegirl and Rockerdad’s classic-flix discussions — I definitely have to acquaintance myself with some of them (though there are a few I’ll never have interest in seeing, i.e. The Wizard of Oz).

As this is the first James Stewart movie I’ve ever seen, I must admit I really enjoy watching him. I don’t know if I would’ve enjoyed it as much if the role had gone to Cary Grant (it almost did, according to IMDb trivia). I have to admit I like Stewart more acting-wise than Grant when I first saw him in To Catch a Thief. Stewart’s journey as George Bailey is so moving that after mere minutes of watching the movie, I was fully invested in his character. It’s not so much that I was watching an actor named Jimmy Stewart, but I was watching this guy George living his ‘wonderful’ life, despite the not-so-wonderful moments it threw at him.

Besides Stewart, the acting is superb all around. Donna Reed is perfect as Mary in her acting debut, she reminds me a lot of Olivia deHavilland (Melanie in Gone with the Wind) who was offered the role. Her telephone scene with Stewart was brimming with restrained romantic tension that was breathtaking to watch. Even more incredible is that according to the DVD Special Features, that formidable scene was done in one take! Lionel Barrymore, like Rockerdad said, plays the Scrooge-like villain so brilliantly there were times I almost wanted to throw my remote at him! But Stewart really made this movie. His transition from a buoyant optimist to a downtrodden, broken man is utterly believable and heartbreaking — we can all relate to his George Bailey and more than empathize with him. Even when he was being a jerk to his family, you feel for the imperfect hero that Bailey was.

I was also amazed to learn that the town of Bedford Falls was a set, all four acres of them was all built in the RKO’s studio Encino ranch! Some parts obviously looked like a set, but for the most part it looks impressively like a real small town. I LOVE the fact that it’s in black and white. There’s a colorized version of this, which is a shame as they should’ve left it in its black & white glory. Even Jimmy Stewart himself was one of the most prominent critics of this process, calling it ‘denaturing’ when he appealed before congress against it.

The best part of the movie course is the unabashedly positive message about appreciating one’s life and what a gift it is, not just for ourselves but for others whose life we touch. It’s also quite rare to see movies these days where a prayerful Christian family is depicted in a favorable light, and as someone who believes in a God who indeed answers prayers, that’s a gratifying thing to behold.

5 out of 5 reels

Which brings me to another inspirational movie I saw the very next day …
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The Blind Side

This flick is definitely one of the unexpected indie hits of the year, even beating the tween vampire juggernaut that is New Moon over the Thanksgiving weekend (even for just a day it’s still impressive!).

I must admit I was intrigued after hearing all the positive reviews on this. This isn’t the kind of flick I usually rush to see at the theaters, as I prefer more action or sci-fi fares to a tearjerker drama any day. When I say this one is a tearjerker, I truly meant it as my eyes were rarely dry in the 2-hour plus running time! The movie is inspired by a true story of an African-American youngster Michael Oher who’s taken in by the Touhys — a wealthy white family in the South — who ended up helping him realize his full potential as an NFL-caliber football player.

As M. Carter stated in her always well-written review, The Blind Side is heavy on heart-tugging emotion but light on schmaltzy sentimentality. I had a pretty high expectation given the positive reviews and still I was pleasantly surprised by it. It’s an inspiring understated drama thanks largely to Sandra Bullock’s assertive but guarded performance. I’ve always liked Bullock, she always comes across very genial and relatable, but she really won me over here with her sensitive portrayal of Leigh Ann Touhy. She’s already nominated for a Golden Globe this year (a dual nominations as she also nabbed one for The Proposal) and she truly deserved it.

The rest of the cast isn’t bad, either. Kathy Bates is always watchable as Michael’s Tutor, while Quinton Aaron’s performance as Michael really tugs your heart strings, even if he’s a bit awkward at times. Country star Tim McGraw is surprisingly charming as Sean Touhy and the pint-sized Jae Head (who looks even more diminutive compared to big Teddy bear that is Big Mike) provides comic relief for the movie. The one with least to do here is the Touhy daughter Collins (interestingly enough she’s the daughter of British musician Phil Collins).

The Blind Side wasn’t marketed as a Christian movie, but it paints a refreshingly flattering picture of a Christian family. The real-life Touhys are devout believers but the movie is never preachy. As the same time it also doesn’t shy away from showing the characters act out their faith and being thankful to God. The filmmakers also portray the enviably harmonious family dynamic — including the amiable relationship between Leigh Ann and her husband Sean — that feels genuine and natural.

But the most touching of all is Leigh Ann’s unexpected connection with Michael. Despite their contrasting walk of life, they’re kindred spirits, like M. Carter said, and their bond feels heartwarmingly sincere. There’s a part when she was told by one of her friends over lunch that she’s changing Michael’s life, Leigh Ann replied, “No, he’s changing mine.” That maudlin sentiment is sneer-proof as it was delivered with real earnestness.

What a fitting movie this one is for the Holiday season. Like Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life, it inspires us not only to be thankful for what we’ve been blessed with, but also to share them joyfully.

4 out of 5 reels

Have you seen these films? Please share your thoughts on ’em below.

This Just In: Ridley Scott’s ‘Robin Hood’ Teaser Trailer

Wooo hooo! This is just what I need to cheer up a dreary Tuesday! Robin Hood is one of my top ten most anticipated 2010 flicks, so I’ve been impatiently waiting for this. Let’s just say the kick-ass, rockin’ trailer doesn’t disappoint!
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Obviously you know the gist of the legendary hero of Sherwood, but here’s some tid bits about the casting and production of the movie. The trailer is what I would expect from the likes of Ridley Scott, it looks like Gladiator gone medieval, with the same grit and valor of his Oscar-winning movie. I also adore Cate Blanchett who’s a perfect choice as Maid Marion, and my fave character actor Mark Strong once again plays a villain as Sir Godfrey. In this article, Strong explained his role’s transition from Guy of Gisborne to Godfrey, and that his character is ‘a bit of a bastard,’ “I play King John’s right-hand man who is a bit of a bastard – there’s lot of horse riding, lots of threatening people with enormous swords.”

The rest of the impressive cast include Matthew MacFayden, William Hurt, Danny Huston and Max von Sydow. Post Avatar, this will surely be one of the most hyped-about flicks next year, along with Inception and Iron Man 2, which is released a week before Robin Hood comes out in May 14th. Can’t wait!