Friday, September 9, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Home Alone (1990), Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)

 
Christmas Marquee
 
 
Home Alone
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
starring
Macauley Culkin
Joe Pesci
Daniel Stern
John Heard
Roberts Blossom
Catherine O’Hara
Devin Ratray


 

I was thumbing through some old video reviews of a famous critic who shall remain nameless (Roger Ebert), and his former partner, now deceased, who will also remain nameless (Gene Siskel) when I decided to get their take on the original Home Alone. I tried to guess whether either one of them or both of them would give it the old thumbs-up-a-roonie. It’s just a little thing I happen to do on that web site to see how well I know my critics and their tastes. It’s not a very easy task because as you know, the only thing consistent about some movie critics (like me) is their inconsistency in their criteria that they use to judge films. I finally predicted that one of the nameless critics (Ebert) would give it a mild thumbs up, and the other critic (Siskel) whom I always considered a bit more staid and proper when dishing out his weekly reviews would not like it at all. I was wrong in my prediction of course. They both hated it. Oh well, you win some you lose a few.

Their main complaint with Home Alone was that it was totally unrealistic. That’s understandable criticism and certainly worthwhile………..wait a minute…are you freakin kidding me?  Unrealistic?  A movie about an eight year old kid being left at home to fend for himself for three days while warding off the most bumbling burglars ever to hit the big screen with traps even the most creative adult couldn’t imagine is not supposed to be realistic!  Shhheeesh.  It’s just supposed to be entertaining!  Talk about your two Christmas Critic Scrooges!


 


Let’s face it, most Christmas movies are not going to have a whole lot of realism involved in the plot. Generally speaking there is always going to be a certain amount of fantasy, and if not that then the film will be full of the most manipulative plot contrivances imaginable to try and tug at your Christmas heart strings. It’s a time honored tradition that has continued year after year, although quality wise that tradition has taken quite a beating with some of the latest entries like Christmas with the Kranks and Jingle All the Way.

McCauley Culkin

 

In case somehow you missed it, the original Home Alone centered around young Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), whom through a series of plot contrivances is left alone in the family’s two story upscale home in an equally upscale neighborhood while his parents, brothers, sisters and cousins one and all go flying off to Paris. And having been left alone, Kevin wastes no time celebrating the event by invading his brother Buzz’s room, jumping on the beds, watching movies he was banned from and as Kevin describes it, watching trash and eating rubbish.

It is not long however before Kevin realizes that there are a couple of inept burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci), breaking into all the homes in the neighborhood and that the McAllister resident is tops on Harry’s list.  It is up to Kevin not only to grow up in a hurry, but to find a way to protect the family homestead from invasion.

Joe Pesci

 

Daniel Stern

Meanwhile, his parents Peter (John Heard) and Kate (Catherine O’Hara) realize that Kevin is missing.  So in Kate’s desperate attempt to return home any way she can, she ends up hitching a ride in a U-Haul with a Polka band led by the late John Candy. Since he is home alone with no brothers and sisters in sight,  Kevin is forced to face his fears.   In this case his fear comes not only from the furnace in the basement, but also in the form of his next door neighbor Marley (Roberts Blossom) who is rumored to be a deranged maniacal mass murderer.

Roberts Blossom

I have to admit that the first time I saw Home Alone, I was taken aback by the way McCulkin’s Kevin had been written in the opening scenes. He seemed to be quite the obnoxious little brat, or to put it another way:  Everything I hate about kids in movie all rolled into one.  But once we see the treatment he receives not only at the hands of his assholish brother Buzz (Devin Ratray), his cheapskate Uncle Frank ( Garry Bamman), and the rest of the McAllister clan, it doesn’t take us long to begin to sympathize with the little tyke.  It also helps when your kid actor turns out to be able to act up a storm and be both funny and sympathetic at the same time.

At some point when you were a kid didn’t you just wish that for one day, maybe two, you could run amuck and do whatever you wanted to with no parents scolding you or sending you to the attic as Kevin’s parents do?  Of course, such a reality in real life would be a lot different. The Kid would be scared to death, the parents would probably be brought up on child endangerment charges, and the police would have found the kid right off the bat and hauled him down to children services to be stashed away in a foster home.  But would anyone besides Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel want to have that realistic lump of coal in their Christmas stocking?

Nothing in this film is suppose to be believable. It was never meant to be anything more than a Holiday Feel Good fun fest with what I think are some of the funniest sight gags since Moe was last seen beating the crap out of Curly and Larry.  Hell, we know Kevin is in no real danger, just as we knew the stooges were going to be around for the next film short.  So why be hell bent on expecting realism in a fairy tale such as this?

When Kevin is keeping his precocious self busy hammering Marv and Harry with icy walk ways torches, heated doorknobs, tacks, , broken tree ornaments and, swinging paint cans, it’s a page straight out of the Three Stooges playbook. It would not surprise me one bit if writer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus weren’t fans. And just like the stooges, Harry and Marv always seem none the worse for wear and manage to magically pop back up to harass poor Kevin once again.

Buzz


And no matter what later opinion you may have had of him, it is Macaulay Culkin that made these films what they are. He was simply the right child actor in the right role in the right place at the right time. Most kids would have made the mistake of being either too precocious or would have have gone in another direction playing Kevin as annoying and obnoxious brat (Problem Child anyone?). But whether attribute it to director Columbus or Culkin’s acting ability, there is no mistaking that he found the right balance. Sadly, if it hadn’t been for his overbearing and overly greedy show business stage door father who eventually soured Culkin on Hollywood and soured the studios on him, there's no telling what Culkin could have done as witnessed by the fine turn he did in his supporting role in Saved as the wheel chair bound Roland.

Bigger Playground


As for the sequel, it was practically a scene for scene rehash of the first movie, with New York City providing the stage for Kevin’s antics instead of his Chicago Homestead. Of course the wet bandits are back once again, the traps are much more elaborate, Brenda Fricker is the bird women substituting for Roberts Blossom as the person Kevin is first afraid of then befriends. Tim Curry is on hand as the Hotel Manager who quickly become suspicious of the little kid whose parents are never around, Rob Schneider is an obnoxious bell hop which is a fitting role for him, and Eddie Bracken hangs around as owner of a toy store. But you don’t mess around with success do you when your original raked in the cash to the tune of almost $600 million world wide.

Brenda Fricker


The bottom line is this: Younger kids will always love these films, most adults will be mildly amused at them, and failing that they will at least find them tolerable while the kiddies watch. And they may just put you in the Holiday Spirit. As for Home Alone 3, it too had basically the same premise as Number One and Number Two. However, minus Culkin and the Wet Bandits, it was nothing more than a lump of coal in your Christmas Stocking. Then again, Ebert, who gave Number one two and a half stars, and number two a weak two stars, somehow decided Home Alone Number 3 was a masterpiece at 3 stars. Now what was I saying about consistently inconsistent critics?

But unlike Mr. Ebert, yours truly is a model of inconsistent consistency which leads me no choice but to give Home Alone a B+ and Home Alone II a C+.  Both movies are now out on Blu-ray and the original film has Culkin and Director Christopher Columbus doing a commentary.  I certainly will have to be seeing about an upgrade for that one.  And here is a special video I made for a Sims story I wrote quite a few years ago.  It’s Bette Midler singing Somewhere in my Memory which you will readily recognize as the theme Home Alone. 

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