Focus On: Yakima Canutt

A real cowboy stunts his way to success.

Stuntmen and women rarely get recognized for their amazing work in film and on television. Most of them live their lives out in complete anonymity and pass away with no awards or trophies. They make actors that are paid more than them look much better than they ever could on their own. They risk their lives day in and day out for a paycheck and nothing more. A few of them go on to become directors, writers, and stunt coordinators.

Yakima Canutt.

One of the most successful and daring stuntmen to ever grace the screen was Yakima Canutt. Born in Colfax, Washington on November 29, 1895, to John Lemuel Canutt and Nettie Ellen Stevens, Enos Edward “Yakima” Canutt would have a long and storied career in rodeo and both in front of and behind the camera in film.

Canutt won multiple rodeo championships and event titles in the 1910’s-1930’s. In the early 1920’s, Canutt began acting primarily in small roles thanks to his friendships with popular western stars of the day including Tom Mix and John Wayne. Canutt and Wayne were especially fond of one another, and as a result, worked together in multiple films.

Canutt (L) with John Wayne.

Canutt became well known for being a brilliant stuntman and ended up working on tons of westerns and other films. Not only would Canutt do most of the stunts in the film, he was willing to train the actors to do some of the stunts themselves. He also gained a reputation for being an extremely safe worker which would lead to more opportunities in his later life.

Canutt was also known for developing new stunts and/or suggesting changes to stunts to make them look more realistic and exciting. He worked on fight sequences, riding sequences, and tons of other stunt techniques and tactics to not only make the actors look good, but the film as a whole.

If you’ve watched any of Republic Pictures’ classic serials, you’ve most likely seen some of Canutt’s work. He also held a contract with Mascot Pictures. Some of the more famous serials that he worked on include Spy Smasher (1942), Zorro Rides Again (1937), and Dick Tracy Returns (1938).

Canutt’s greatest stunt as chosen by film historians and stuntmen alike is his classic “drop” scene in 1939’s Stagecoach. For the stunt, Canutt was dragged under a team of galloping horses and moved from the front of the team to the back and then climbed back onto the stagecoach. The stunt has been used many times since and is considered to be one of the most famous stunts of all time.

As Canutt aged, he realized that he would need to change occupations in order to continue making a living. He soon began working as a director, specifically as a second unit and action director. He would go on to become just as successful as a second unit director if not more successful than his work as a stuntman. Some of the films that he worked on included A Man Called Horse (1970), The Swiss Family Robinson (1960), and Ben-Hur (1959). Canutt was responsible for the legendary chariot race in Ben-Hur along with Andrew Marton. The planning stages for the sequence lasted about one year and the actual filming took place over five weeks at a cost of one million dollars.

Yakima passed away in 1986 at the age of ninety years. Despite influencing countless stunt workers and featuring in or directing portions of tons of famous films, his greatest accolades came in the form of induction into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame, an honorary Academy Award, a Golden Boot, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much progress in the recognition of stunt workers to this day.

Thanks for reading this Focus On feature about Yakima Canutt. He’s just one of many men and women that have sacrificed their bodies to get the perfect shot for films.

Focus On: Bryce Dallas Howard

Not just daddy’s little girl…..

Despite a film career that didn’t really get its start until 2004, Bryce Dallas Howard has proven that she can handle just about any role you throw at her be it in front of or behind the camera. Her career started in 1989 as an extra in Parenthood, a film that was directed by her father, Ron Howard, who’s sort of a big deal when it comes to directors. I won’t waste any time talking about his successes (this post is about Mrs. Howard, after all), but just know that you’ve probably seen more than one of his movies in your lifetime.

She continued to appear in smaller roles until she began her stage career and it was while performing onstage that she drew the attention of M. Night Shyamalan, who cast her in his 2004 film, The Village. From there, Howard would go on to star in films that ranged from major blockbusters and tentpole franchises to Academy Award nominated films and indy flicks.

Howard seems to be quite comfortable starring in films that challenge her as an actor. She’s one of the few actors in Hollywood that, at least in my opinion, doesn’t have a “type” of character that she always portrays. She can play the villain, the heroine, the diva, the innocent, or the seductress and do it with style. I love it when actors actually act instead of playing themselves in a certain situation and Howard does this in all of her roles. She becomes the character instead of portraying herself as the character. She’s a freaking amazing actress!

Here are just a few of the films that she’s starred in over her short career and the role that she played in each of them (in no particular order):

  • The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) – Victoria
  • Jurassic World (2015) – Claire Dearing
  • The Help (2011) – Hilly Holbrook
  • Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Gwen Stacy
  • Rocketman (2019) – Sheila Eileen
  • Lady In The Water (2006) – Story

Howard has also found success on the small screen having appeared in Black Mirror, Family Guy, and Arrested Development.

That’s only one aspect of Howard’s career, though, as she has followed in her father’s footsteps and taken control of the action behind the camera as a successful director. Howard has directed a number of shorts and the documentary, Dads (2019). In possibly her biggest directing gig, she has directed two episodes of Disney+’s The Mandalorian. Those two episodes, Sanctuary and The Heiress are, at least in my opinion, two of the best episodes of the series. I see more success as a director in her future.

On top of all of that, Howard just comes across in interviews as a person that you would want to be friends with in real life. She appears to be an extremely caring and gracious person who not only appreciates the opportunities that she’s been given over her career, but takes each of those opportunities seriously. Plus, and this is just a personal thing, I believe that she is absolutely gorgeous. From her red hair to that amazing smile, I’m absolutely smitten with her. It would be really cool to meet her someday.

So there you have it, a quick look at the rising star that is Bryce Dallas Howard. She’s a brilliant actress, an awesome director, and somebody that I have had a major crush on for quite a few years. I hope that you enjoyed this glimpse at this amazing woman, and I thank you for reading my post.

Focus On Christmas: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

“I Told You, George. I’m Your Guardian Angel.” – Clarence

Considered by many to be one of the best films ever made, It’s A Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and a ton of other wonderful actors. Released in 1946, the film didn’t meet expectations and floundered about until it found its audience on television. It has since become a film traditionally viewed at Christmas time.

The film centers around the life of George Bailey (Stewart), a wide-eyed dreamer that plans on leaving the sleepy little town of Bedford Falls only to end up an anchor for the community. A series of tragedies force George to give up his dreams of becoming an adventurer and he stays behind in Bedford Falls in order to keep the family business, a Building And Loan company, out of the money-grubbing hands of Mr. Potter (Barrymore). Potter is quickly buying up property in the town and forcing others out of their homes and businesses. The only person standing in his way is George.

As George battles Mr. Potter, he watches as his brother becomes a collegiate football star (George paid his brother’s way through college) and eventually a war hero. George’s friend Sammy (Frank Albertson) becomes a wealthy business owner and others in the town make their own way (some not as successful as others). George marries Mary Hatch (Reed), and the two struggle to make ends meet, all the while helping out many people in the community.

When things finally seem to start falling into place, George’s uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell), accidentally loses an $8,000 dollar deposit that will keep the bank from forcing the Building and Loan to close. In actuality, Uncle Billy accidentally hands off the money to Mr. Potter, who sees an opportunity to end the problem that is George Bailey.

Desperate, George realizes that he is worth more dead than alive and decides to commit suicide. It is at this point that Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) jumps in to stop George from killing himself. On a mission to earn his wings, Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born. The result shakes George to the core and he decides to live just a little bit longer. In the end, the town comes together to help George save the Building and Loan and the entire town itself.

Everyone talks about the performances of Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Henry Travers. That talk is justified, as they give brilliant performances in a film full of great performances. That being said, I believe that two other actors in the film deserve a little attention of their own. Bobby Anderson portrays George Bailey as a child. He gives an amazing performance, easily setting up the role for Stewart to take over in adulthood. Anderson establishes George Bailey as a selfless hero willing to risk his own life to help others.

The other actor that deserves more recognition is Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick, the local temptress with a heart that isn’t doing as well in life as her appearance would lead one to believe. Grahame dominates the few scenes that she has in the film and she ends up being one of the most likeable characters in the movie despite being somewhat of a foil to Mary Hatch in her pursuit of George Bailey. Sadly, Grahame’s career never got the recognition that it deserved and her life was cut short due to complications from breast cancer.

This film hits home with me on multiple levels. Without going into too much detail about my personal life, I’ve been in George Bailey’s shoes before. I’ve also been in the position of other characters in this film. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, especially if you’ve been in George’s position before, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself both laughing and crying during the film.

Thanks for reading my review of It’s A Wonderful Life. I hope that you’ve enjoyed my Focus On Christmas series this month, and I plan to do more Focus On features in the near future.

Focus On Christmas: Krampus (2015)

“We Know You Still Believe In The Big Fat Creeper.”

The most recent film on my Focus On Christmas series this year is 2015’s Krampus. The film is a horror/dark comedy Christmas tale loosely based on the legend and folklore surrounding Krampus, a pre-Christian Germanic being that has become a part of Christian traditions in many regions of Europe. While there are tons of variations of Krampus floating around, he’s basically a demonic goat-man that captures bad children and, depending on the region, whips them, kills them, murders them, eats them or drowns them. He does all of this just before Christmas. He is essentially Santa’s hit man.

According to the film, when Christmas spirit dies somewhere, Krampus shows up with a ton of evil elves, demonic toys, and cackling cookies, and throws all offending parties into Hell. He allows all of his wicked friends to torture, assault, and, in a few cases, eat, some of the offenders before sending them to their doom. Age is not a factor to Krampus or his entourage.

In the movie, young Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) is one of only two members of the Engel family that still believes in Santa Claus and the spirit of Christmas. The other family member that believes is Omi (Krista Stadler), Max’s grandmother from the old country who not only believes in Santa, but Krampus as well. Max has an older sister named Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) who is protective of him and his innocent ways, but is slowly distancing herself from him due to her interests in her boyfriend, social media, and the life of a teen in general. Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), are also a tad distant to one another.

When family arrives to celebrate Christmas with the Engels, Max is pushed to the limits by his cousins, Stevie and Jordan (Lolo Owen and Queenie Samuel). The duo taunt him and read his note to Santa Claus aloud at the dinner table. Embarrassed and angry, Max tears up his letter and tosses it out into the night.

A blizzard sets in and the entire city appears to have lost power. Beth goes to check on her boyfriend and doesn’t return. Tom and his brother-in-law, gun-happy Howard (David Koechner), attempt to find her in the blizzard but are attacked by an unseen creature beneath the snow. They return to the Engel home and secure it as best as they can and wait for whatever might be attacking them and their neighborhood.

Howie, Jr. (Maverick Flack), is yanked up into the chimney by a gingerbread man later that evening. Omi reveals to the family that the loss of their Christmas spirit has brought Krampus to their home. She tells them of her own encounter with the demon and Krampus’ toys attack. They split the family up inside their home and start picking them off one by one. The adults battle as best as they can with evil teddy bears, a monstrous cherub, gingerbread men, a diabolical robot, and a massive jack-in-the-box that eats children.

Things come to a head when Krampus’ elves show up and pick off everyone except for Max, his parents, and his cousin, Stevie. They make a break for an abandoned snowplow but the elves and the creature in the snow finish all of them off, save Max. He soon finds himself facing off against Krampus. Can he save his family? Will Santa’s shadow drag the entire Engel family to Hell? You’ll have to watch Krampus to find out!

The film is surprisingly good. It features a very strong cast that give excellent performances. Koechner is especially good in this film, as his Allison Tolman (Emergence, Fargo), who portrays his wife. Also delivering a solid performance with minimal screentime is Conchata Ferrell (Two And A Half Men, L.A. Law, E/R). Her role is a tad limited, but she has some of the best lines in the movie.

The effects in the film are almost entirely practical. From the demonic cherub and evil teddy bear to the masks worn by Krampus and his elves, the practical effects used add to the horror elements of the story. CGI is used for the gingerbread men, Krampus’ tongue, and Krampus’ fast movements across rooftops. It’s also scattered in a few other places but it blends in very well with the practical effects in the movie.

If you haven’t watched this film yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s one of the best Christmas horror films out there, although I must admit that the competition is pretty slim. That being said, it’s still a very good film worth seeing.

Thanks for reading my post. Just a few more days until Christmas!

Focus On Christmas: One Magic Christmas (1985)

Don’t Let The Title Fool You

One Magic Christmas is one tough movie to watch. Despite having a title that conjures up visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, this 1985 G-rated Christmas film offers up unemployment, robbery, murder, holiday depression, a fatal car chase, and the threat of homelessness. Sounds really magical, right?

Well, don’t let those things deter you from seeing this film. Skillfully directed by Philip Borsos (The Grey Fox, The Mean Season) and featuring a cast of strong character actors, One Magic Christmas might be rather depressing, but the payoff at the end is well worth it. It basically gives you a worst-case scenario and turns it on its head with a little Christmas spirit.

The film focuses on the Grainger family. The father, Jack (Gary Basaraba), has recently lost his job. The family home happens to be owned by the company that Jack used to work for and he and his family now have to move out by January 1st. This puts a ton of pressure on his wife, Ginny (Mary Steenburgen), who has lost all hope not only for her family, but in Christmas as well. Cynicism has its hooks deep in her soul and she struggles to give her children, Abbie (Elisabeth Harnois) and Cal (Robbie Magwood), a reasonably decent Christmas while her husband remains the optimist in the family, believing that things will work out in the end.

When things look like they can’t get any worse, an angel named Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton) arrives on the scene to warn little Abbie Grainger that things actually will become worse, but to not be afraid. In just a matter of minutes, Ginny loses her job, Jack is murdered by a desperate man robbing a bank, and Abbie and Cal are driven off of a bridge to their sure deaths by the robber when he steals their car to escape the police.

Then something magical happens.

After these terrible events and with the threat of being homeless looming, Ginny has pretty much given up all hope. Honestly, though, who can blame her? She literally loses her husband, her kids, and her job in one chaotic moment. Her Christmas spirit is completely wiped out. Miraculously, the children are found alive and brought home to Ginny. Happy to have her kids back, Ginny is still crushed by the loss of her husband and all of the other problems that have piled up on the family over the year.

That evening, Gideon takes Abbie to meet the big man himself, Santa Claus (Jan Rubes). Abbie hoped that Gideon, being an angel, could bring her father back to life, but Gideon said that the only person powerful enough to do such a thing would be Santa. Unfortunately for Abbie, Santa can’t bring her father back, but he does give her something that he believes will restore her mother’s Christmas spirit. You’ll have to see the film to find out what happens next, but rest assured that the ending is a whole lot happier than the rest of the film.

This film is very depressing, especially if you have experienced any of the hardships or losses that the Grainger family face in the film. I actually cried a couple of times because there were things that some of the characters go through that I’ve suffered myself. The film’s cinematography adds to the highs and lows of the plot and the pacing is artistically brutal. While watching the film you want things to get better, but they only get exponentially worse. Once the movie takes you to the brink, it brings everything back to a reasonably happy ending.

Borsos does a fine job of directing the film, but his cast is what makes this film worth watching. Mary Steenburgen (Back To The Future III, Elf, The Help) carries the film as Ginny Grainger. Steenburgen was already an established actress (she won an Academy Award For Best Supporting Actress in 1980) by the time that she appeared in One Magic Christmas, but her career continued to blossom and has included multiple award-winning performances since being in that film. Harry Dean Stanton, a prolific character actor who has appeared in films such as Alien, The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke, and Pretty In Pink, is creepy at first as Gideon, but eventually warms up to the viewer as his true intentions are made known. Steenburgen might carry the film, but the weight is lifted off of her shoulders just a bit by a young Elisabeth Harnois as Abbie. Harnois would go on to appear in a string of children’s films and television shows including Adventures in Wonderland and My Date With The President’s Daughter, make supporting appearances in shows such as Highway To Heaven and Charmed, take on lead roles in successful series like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and star in a number of Christmas romance films. She was nominated for a Young Artist Award for her performance in One Magic Christmas. Also keep an eye out for Sarah Polley (The Weight of Water, Go, Splice) and Elias Koteas (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Prophecy, Shutter Island), who have bit parts in the movie but would eventually go on to become stars in their own right.

One Magic Christmas is a tough film to watch. Despite this fact, I highly recommend it. Parents with younger children might want to preview the film before letting their kids see it, as it deals with some major issues. It won’t be on the Hallmark Channel any time soon, but it’s a powerful film that shouldn’t be missed. As of this writing, I do believe that it is available on Disney+. I have it on DVD.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be reviewing Krampus (2015) later this week and plan on reviewing at least one more film this weekend before releasing my final review of the Christmas season on Christmas Eve.

Focus On Christmas: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

A Very Griswold Christmas

1989 saw the return of the doomed Griswold family to the big screen in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The prior films in the series saw the Griswold clan heading out on an American road trip (National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983) and a European adventure (National Lampoon’s European Vacation, 1985). In this outing, the family stays home for a traditional family Christmas.

Chevy Chase returns as the optimistic Griswold patriarch, Clark, and Beverly D’Angelo reprises her role as his loyal wife, Ellen. Along for the ride are there children, Audrey and Rusty (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki), the only primary cast members to be recast with each film.

Hoping to have a nice family Christmas, Clark and Ellen welcome their respective parents and other relatives into their home. They also get a surprise visit from Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid, in one of his most memorable roles) and his wife, Catherine (Miriam Flynn), both of which were featured in the first Vacation film.

The plot is fairly simple. Clark attempts to have a traditional family Christmas but in true Vacation style, everything falls to pieces. Clark gets a Christmas tree that’s too big for the family car and the family home. Clark goes overboard on Christmas lights. Clark has to bail out Eddie’s family and Eddie returns the favor when Clark’s boss, Mr. Shirley (Brian Doyle-Murray), shorts him on his Christmas bonus. There’s even a lovely store clerk (Nicolette Scorsese) that Clark makes a fool of himself in front of while Christmas shopping.

Basically if you enjoy the Vacation films, you’ll enjoy Christmas Vacation. It’s the most profitable film of the series featuring the original cast and also considered to be the best by critics. In my opinion, the first two films in the series are better, but as far as Christmas films go, this is pretty solid Christmas classic.

The film is the first major studio feature for both Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki. Lewis would go on to have a major cinematic career starring in films such as Cape Fear (1991), The Other Sister (1999), and Natural Born Killers (1994). Galecki’s career would explode on television. After a few years of portraying Darlene’s boyfriend David, Galecki’s character eventually became a part of the main cast of Roseanne (1988-1997). He would then have roles, primarily supporting, on television and in films for the rest of the decade and then into the early 2000’s. He also starred on Broadway in numerous roles. In 2007, he was cast in The Big Bang Theory as Leonard Hofstadter. He would remain in the role until 2019 when the wildly popular series would end its run.

Another actor in a supporting role in this film who was about to hit it big was Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Margo Chester, one of Clark’s snobby neighbors who falls victim to many of his misadventures. Louis-Dreyfus was starring in Seinfeld (1989-1998) at the time of Christmas Vacation’s release, and the series was about to find its audience and become one of the most beloved comedies of all time.

Other cast members included John Randolph, Dianne Ladd, Doris Roberts, Sam McMurray, and William Hickey, all of whom have had successful careers on television and/or the big screen.

I enjoy watching Christmas Vacation at least once or twice during the holiday season. It’s not my favorite Christmas movie, but as far as some of the more modern Christmas films go, it’s one of the better ones. Check it out for a few laughs this Christmas season.

As always, thanks for reading my post. I’ll have another Christmas film review in a few days!

Focus On Christmas: Unaccompanied Minors (2006)

A Change Of Flight Plans

Despite having a surprisingly solid cast and a decent plot, Unaccompanied Minors (2006) failed to take off with film goers. I personally enjoyed the film and happen to be one of the few people that actually saw it in the theater. My daughter tagged along with me and she enjoyed it as well.

The film tells the story of five unaccompanied minors who are sent to the UM room at an airport when all of the flights are cancelled on Christmas Eve. Five of the six sneak out of the room and go on individual adventures hoping to find something to entertain them until the flights are allowed to take off again. They end up getting captured by airport security, but when they return to the UM room, the younger sister of one of the kids and all of the other minors have been sent to a local hotel until flights resume the next morning. Not wanting his little sister to wake up without a present from Santa Claus, one of the minors, Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), thinks up a plan to escape the room again and bring his sister, Katherine (Dominique Saldana), a present. One of the airport’s relations managers, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), sets out to stop the kids at all costs. One of his workers, Zach (Wilmer Valderrama), ends up trying to help the minors. Pratfalls and laughs ensue.

The film features two subplots. Katherine and Spencer’s father (Rob Corddry) sets out to pick up his kids at the airport in his biodiesel fueled car but experiences a ton of mishaps along the way. His misadventure provides a few nice laughs. The other subplot involves one of the minors, Timothy “Beef” Wellington (Brett Kelly). Beef is a tenderhearted child with an imposing figure. His family believes that he is too old to play with “dolls” and hate the fact that he keeps an Aquaman action figure in his pocket and talks to it as if it is his friend. He makes plans to find a Christmas tree for Katherine.

The plot of this film is actually based on a true story by Susan Burton on the public radio show This American Life. I don’t know how close to the actual story that this film plays, but I would assume that the writers, Mya Stark and Jacob Meszaros, took a lot of liberties with the chaos that the kids cause in the film. The story was pretty solid, but critics shredded the film to pieces.

That being said, the strength of this film lies within the performances of its cast, both main and supporting. Dyllan Christopher is likable as Spencer and he has great chemistry with Dominique Saldana as his sister. He also has some wonderful chemistry with Gia Mantegna, daughter of Joe Mantegna, who portrays Grace Conrad, a snobby rich girl that isn’t exactly as snobby as the other kids originally perceive her. Tyler James Williams portrays Charlie Goldfinch, the nerd of the bunch that provides a lot of the humor in the film. You might recognize him from Everybody Hates Chris or The Walking Dead. Quinn Shephard portrays Donna Malone, the scrappy tough kid of the bunch. She and Williams play off of one another very well in the film. Brett Kelly portrays a character that somewhat dim but extremely thoughtful of others. It’s not too much of a stretch from the character of Thurman Merman that he played in another Christmas film, Bad Santa.

Lewis Black and Wilmer Valderrama are excellent playing against one another. Black is relentless in his attempt to capture all of the kids and Valderrama takes a softer approach. Along with this pair of stars, the film also has a surprisingly large amount of cameos by actors who, at the time, were either about to make big breaks in film and television, or had established careers already. Just a few of the cameos and supporting cast included in this film that have had or currently have great careers are Mindy Kaling, David Koechner, Paget Brewster, Teri Garr, Mario Lopez, Kristen Wiig, and Rob Riggle. Also be on the lookout for comedy legends Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, and Mark McKinney (all from The Kids In The Hall) portraying Guards In The Hall #1, #2, and #3.

This film didn’t fare very well in cinemas. It failed to turn a profit for Warner Bros. Despite its amazing cast, a pretty good story, and direction by Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks, The Office, Mad Men) in one of his earliest films, the movie just couldn’t find its audience. If you haven’t watched it, perhaps take a look at over the holidays. It’s not a great film, but it is worth a look, especially if you have kids.

Thanks for reading. I’ll have another review real soon!

Focus On Christmas: Home Alone (1990)

A Perfect Storm

John Hughes, writer of iconic films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Mr. Mom, joined forces with Chris Columbus, director of hits such as the first two Harry Potter films, Adventures in Babysitting, and Mrs. Doubtfire, to bring audiences across the world one of the biggest films of all time: Home Alone.

The film starred Macauley Culkin as Kevin McCallister, an eight year old boy that wishes his family away for Christmas. Through a series of unfortunate events, his wish is granted. He’s left behind by his family as they leave to celebrate the holidays in France. Two less-than-intelligent cat burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci) , who’ve staked out Kevin’s neighborhood, set about looting the empty homes of Kevin’s wealthy neighbors. They soon discover that Kevin is home alone and make plans to overcome him and clean out the McCallister home.

But Kevin ain’t having that.

It what is quite possibly one of the funniest physical comedies in history, Kevin squares off against Marv and Harry. He uses BB guns, Micro Machines, tar, ice, a “classic” movie, feathers, Christmas ornaments, paint cans, an iron and more to protect his home from the duo, better known by the name, “The Wet Bandits.”

Pesci and Stern (in most scenes, their stunt doubles) fall down stairs, slam into brick walls, are set on fire, get feathered, walk on broken ornaments, get hit in the chest with crowbars, get shot in the crotch and face with a BB gun and more as Kevin protects his domain. The result is laugh-out-loud scenes supported by sequences of Kevin’s mother, Kate (Catherine O’Hara), attempting to return home to her son. Her own adventures are far less physical, but one entire sequence with John Candy (who improvised all of his lines), is just as funny in its own right.

The film has plenty of heartwarming moments as well. The eventual reunion with Kevin’s family is nice, but my favorite moment is whenever Kevin visits the local church to seek a little heavenly advice about protecting his home and getting his family back. In the church, Kevin runs into Mr. Marley (Roberts Blossom), an elderly man that lives near Kevin and who all of the local children are afraid of seeing. The pair talk about facing fears and their conversation is tied up at the end of the film when Marley reunites with his own family. It’s a very touching moment in an otherwise hilarious film.

Aside from those already mentioned, the film featured a solid cast of supporting actors such as John Heard, Angela Goethals, Gerry Bamman, Kristin Minter, Kieran Culkin, and Billie Bird. The standout supporting cast member, in my opinion, was Devin Ratray as Buzz, Kevin’s oldest, meanest, and densest brother. Ratray’s career might not be as prolific as some of his fellow castmates, but he’s managed to appear in quite a few films and television shows including The Tick and Mosaic.

When the film was released in 1990, it quickly became one of the most popular and successful films of all time. According to the Netflix series The Movies That Made Us, the film was initially going to be produced by Warner Bros. When the budget proposal was given to Warner, however, they refused to cough up the funds and 20th Century Fox scooped it up instead. The film went on to be the third highest grossing film worldwide behind only Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial once it left theaters.

The film left an impression on audiences in the early 90’s and it continues to do so today. It has been released multiple times on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, and is available for streaming. It fired up the career of Culkin, who would go on to star in a number of films that never quite matched up to the success of Home Alone. A sequel starring most of the original cast was made in 1992. Home Alone: Lost In New York proved to be a popular film, but it failed to match even half of the first film’s gross. A third sequel, Home Alone 3, featuring a new youngster in a completely new story, failed to clear the 100 million dollar mark. Two completely forgettable made-for-television sequels were also produced.

I love this film. I’m not ashamed to admit that. I still laugh out loud every time Marv or Harry take a shot from Kevin, get hit with an iron, or get set on fire. This is a solid family film and it’s one of a very small group of Christmas movies that recommend owning.

Thanks for reading my post. Another Focus On Christmas post is coming your way this weekend!

Focus On: Kurt Russell

Pretty Much Everywhere

With almost one hundred acting credits to his name, Kurt Russell has one of the longest and most storied careers in motion pictures and television.  I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything that I’ve seen him in over the years.  In this Focus On feature, we’ll take a look at Mr. Russell’s amazing career that is nearing sixty years in the making.

His career started in 1962 as an extra on an episode of Dennis The Menace.  He then went on to appear in episodes of shows such as Gilligan’s Island, The Fugitive, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Gunsmoke.  In 1963 he had a bit part in It Happened At The World’s Fair with Elvis Presley.  He also starred in multiple television series as a regular cast member including shows like The Travels of Jamie McPheeters.


As Russell grew older, he began a highly successful run in Disney films such as Follow Me, Boys (1966), The Barefoot Executive (1971), and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969).  He would star in ten films between 1966 and 1981 for the company, the last one being the animated The Fox And The Hound as well as appear in multiple roles on Wonderful World Of Color.  His big break came in 1979 in the TV movie Elvis, in which he portrayed the King himself.  Russell was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of Elvis and despite having such a long and popular career, it would be the highest award that he would ever be nominated for as of this writing.


1980 found Russell in the comedy Used Cars.  In 1981, Russell took on the first of many iconic science fiction and action roles as Snake Plissken in John Carpenter’s Escape From New York.  These two films would set the tone for the rest of Russell’s career as he would (and continues to) star in numerous comedies and action/sci-fi roles.


Horror fans know Russell for the role of R.J. MacReady in the sci-fi horror thriller The Thing.  Also directed by John Carpenter, the film made a modest four million over its budget and was trashed by critics.  It has since gone on to garner a massive cult following (including myself).  Russell and Carpenter would team up again in 1986 for Big Trouble In Little China.  The film bombed at theaters, but found its audience on home video and went on to become yet another cult classic for Russell.


Another cult classic for Russell is 1987’s Overboard, a comedy that featured Russell’s longtime partner, Goldie Hawn.  The duo had been together for about four years when the film was released and despite bombing at theaters, it gained an audience on home video and television.  It is also one of my wife’s favorite films.

The world premiere of Marvel Studios’ 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.' - Arrivals

Russell and Goldie Hawn at the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, 2017.

The 1990’s saw Russell’s star grow substantially.  He appeared in a number of highly successful films including Backdraft (1991), Unlawful Entry (1992), Tombstone (1993), Stargate (1994), Executive Decision (1996), and Breakdown (1997).  Despite these successes, though, Russell appeared in a few bombs as well.  As usual, some of these bombs have become cult classics.  Some of the better “bombs” from Russell’s career in the 90’s includes Soldier (1998) and Captain Ron (1992).  Russell also reprised his role as Snake Plissken in the 1996 bomb, Escape from L.A., which featured a hilarious surfing sequence with Peter Fonda.  It was directed by John Carpenter, adding another film to the Russell/Carpenter roster of films.



The 2000’s found Russell holding his own as an older man in action films, westerns, dramas, and comedies.  Some of his most popular roles since 2000 include Coach Herb Brooks in Disney’s Miracle (2004), the superhero father named Steve Stronghold in 2005’s Sky High (also a Disney film), Stuntman Mike in 2007’s Death Proof, and John “The Hangman” Ruth in 2015’s The Hateful Eight.


Of course, Russell’s biggest recent role is Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017).  It’s also one of my favorite performances by Russell despite it not being one of my favorite Marvel films.  Some of my other favorite Russell roles include Coach Brooks, Wyatt Earp, and The Hangman.


I’ve been a fan of Kurt Russell as long as I can remember.  He also seems to be a pretty cool guy off camera as well.  I especially enjoy listening to him talk about filming Tombstone.  He is often credited by Val Kilmer, who portrayed Doc Holliday in the film, as the person that kept the film from derailing during its production.  Russell is one of the most successful steady working actors in cinema.  He isn’t always listed with big name stars from the 80’s and 90’s like Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson, but he had just as many or more roles than all of them during that time.  He had major successes and terrible bombs, but he always seems to return for one more film.

In short, Kurt Russell is awesome.

Thanks for reading.  Be sure to check out some of Kurt Russell’s work.  Of all of his films, the ones that I highly suggest checking out are (in order of release):  Follow Me, Boys, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Elvis, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China, Tango & Cash, Tombstone, Stargate, Miracle, and The Hateful Eight.



Focus On: Alan Cumming

A True Star

Welcome to the first of what I hope is many editions of Focus On, where I’ll showcase one performer, artist, or band that has greatly influenced my life in some way.  Each post will briefly introduce readers to the artist, and hopefully encourage them to seek out more of the artist’s work.

First up is Alan Cumming, a star of film, television, and the stage, who has impressed me with his massive body of work.  I was first introduced to him in the Circle of Friends back in the 1990’s.  From there I saw him in films such as Emma, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and Get Carter.


What really made me a fan of Cumming, though, was his brilliant performance in The Anniversary Party, which featured a solid cast that included Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Parker Posey, Jane Adams, and many more.  After seeing the film, I actively sought out more of his work.


Of course, most of my readers probably recognize Alan Cumming from either his performance as Nightcrawler in X2, the second X-Men film, or as Fegan Floop in the Spy Kids films.  If you’ve seen him there, be sure to check out some of his lesser known science fiction and fantasy roles such as Glitch from the SyFy Channel miniseries Tin Man or his work as Judas Caretaker in another SyFy miniseries, Riverworld.


Oh, and if you were hooked on the pop sounds of the Spice Girls back in the 90’s, you probably already know that he was in their feature film, Spice World.  If not, I highly suggest you see that film if for no other reason than to see how bonkers that film and those ladies could be on the screen!


Alan Cumming has been in entirely too many films and television series to list here, so I highly recommend that you take a look at this work.  He’s a brilliant actor, a defender of LGBT rights, and an all around cool person.


As always, thanks for reading.  I really hope that any of you that haven’t seen Mr. Cumming’s work before will seek out some of his performances.  You won’t regret it!