Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 12

          I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. We are already up to the twelfth day of Christmas (Movie Marathon). I wonder what my stocking got for me. 

Home Alone (1990)

           So here we are three days later and the stocking has given me the film that would spawn Home Alone 2. I haven't watched the original Home Alone in years. In fact, I was probably still in junior high the last time I saw it. Regardless, I have some pretty strong memories of it and, unlike its sequel, they are positive ones. I wasn't allowed to see Home Alone during its theatrical run, and I'm not exactly sure why this was the case. I mean, while my parents adhered pretty strictly to the MPAA's ratings system, Home Alone was only rated PG. That doesn't matter too much because we did rent the film on VHS in the 1991 holiday season so I wasn't left far behind the pop culture curve.
           If I am being honest, this movie is one of the reasons for this entire project. I was recently introduced to the Purple Stuff Podcast. That podcast includes Matt from Dinosaur Dracula, and more relevant to me formerly of the website I wasted much of the early 2000s on, X-Entertainment. As such, I burned through the back catalog. On (at least) one of the episodes they mentioned this film and it made me realize how long it had been since I'd seen it. That coupled with a need to find some creative outlet and my desire to get in to the holiday spirit forged this project and by extension this blog. What all of this means is that I am happy with this pick and that you should listen to the Purple Stuff Podcast.


           Home Alone opens at the McCallister house. The place is simply packed and everyone is moving at a hectic pace. We soon find that the assembled extended family are all going to Paris for Christmas. The youngest McCallister, Kevin, is apprehensive about the trip and is seemingly constantly in the way through no fault of his own. In the entryway of the house there is a police officer who is trying to find an adult to talk to but is instead caught in a deluge of children. When the pizza delivery guy shows up with the dinner that was ordered, the officer finally has his opportunity. He explains to Kevin's father that there are a lot of crimes this time of the year and they are just making sure everyone is taking proper precautions. Kevin's dad responds that they have locks on the doors and their lights on a timer. Finally, after talking with Kevin's mom the officer learns that they are leaving tomorrow for Paris. With this, the officer departs.

A face you can trust.

           At dinner, Kevin is distraught that no one saved him any cheese pizza, the only kind he likes. His older brother, Buzz, goads him on and Kevin shoves him, causing soda to spill on to the passports. The rush to stop Kevin and Buzz's altercation creates more chaos and soon the whole family is scolding Kevin for what he has done. Kevin can't believe that he is taking the blame as Buzz drew a response from him, but Kevin is sent upstairs to bed regardless. While on his way upstairs he tells his mom that he wishes that he would never have to see any of them again. He wishes that he was alone.
           During the night, a winter storm causes a branch to fall on a line taking out both power and phone service. This results in the family oversleeping and having to rush to make it to the airport on time. In the panic of trying to get going, a glaring mistake is made. Kevin is left behind. Upon waking, Kevin thinks that his wish has come true. He has the whole place to himself, no extended relatives or siblings to harass him. With this, we are treated to scenes of Kevin enjoying his new found freedom.

Wearing shoes while jumping on the bed; that is how you know he is truly living it up.

           However, the seeds of the film's ultimate conflict are soon revealed. We find out that the police officer from the start of the film is actually one half of a team of burglars named Harry. Together with his partner, Marv, they have been casing homes in the area to figure out which ones will be unoccupied and when. The prize jewel of their efforts is none other than the McCallister house. They make an attempt on it but are scared off when, upon hearing noises from outside, Kevin turns on the porch lights.
           The next day, Kevin goes shopping for a toothbrush which he accidentally ends up stealing when he runs from his neighbor, Old Man Marley, that Buzz has made up frightening rumors about. On his way home, Kevin sees activity at a neighborhood house and thinks it odd as he though that family was going out of town for Christmas. While thinking about this, Kevin is almost struck by a van driven by Harry and Marv. Kevin recognizes that Harry, now in a plumbing van, is the officer who was at his house. Kevin begins to put two and two together and flees from them. The crooks make another attempt on Kevin's house but Kevin has rigged up mannequins and cardboard cutouts to simulate activity in the house to thwart their efforts again.
           The next day, Christmas Eve, the crooks risk a daylight surveil of the McCallister home and discover that Kevin is the only one there and that they have been tricked. They decide to come back and rob the place after dark at 9 that night. Kevin overhears their plan and puts his own into motion. He goes out and talks to Santa and makes clear that all he wants for Christmas is his family to return. He then stops at the local Church and there he actually talks to Old Man Marley. They have a good conversation and Kevin rushes home. It is eight o'clock and he only has one hour to prepare. Kevin lays out a series of traps and readies himself for the burglars impending arrival. Things go mostly to plan and Kevin is successful in injuring the crooks and thwarting their efforts. Eventually they head him off when he tries to lead them through to a neighbor's house. However, just as things seem dire for Kevin, Marley comes to his rescue.

Stepping on broken glass in bare feet is painful but also relatable, unlike the traps from the sequel.

           With the crooks arrested, Kevin returns home and finishes setting up for Christmas. Although still alone when he wakes up, his mom soon arrives back home followed shortly by the rest of the family. Kevin is glad to see all of them and they are impressed that he managed to look after himself, even going so far as to go grocery shopping. The whole family has learned a lesson about caring for and respecting one another.

Final Thoughts

           I was originally kind of worried that having watched the sequel first would have some how blunted my reaction to this film. I am glad to say that this was not the case. If anything, seeing its inferior follow up so recently only made me appreciate just how well this one works even more. The quiet moments watching Kevin deal with everyday challenges on his own makes the more bombastic parts stand out better. The interplay between Harry and Marv is more grounded and believable rather than cartoonish. Further, they seem like competent and capable threats instead of bumbling morons. The traps in this one work better as well. Some of them are still fairly brutal, but the two worst of them (Marv being hit in the head with an iron falling from about 8 feet and Harry's hat being lit on fire) are tame in comparison to most of the ones from the sequel. The adult who ends up saving the day is a better story element as well. There is a reason Kevin is afraid of Marley initially and Kevin's ability to get over that fear represents clear growth for his character. Hell, Marley is even given an arc of his own that gets resolved by film's end.

Seeing Kevin buy milk makes the whole movie better, seriously.

           So, this probably isn't necessary for me to say but, if you are trying to decide whether to watch Home Alone or its sequel this holiday season the obvious choice is to go with the original. It is a really fun, light seasonal watch. I honestly wonder why this hasn't become a broadcast staple for some network the way that A Christmas Story has for TBS. It is just as quotable. I have to wonder if the lackluster sequel worked to take some of the shine off of this movie. That would be a real shame as Home Alone is definitely worth your time.

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