Thanksgiving movies

Free Birds

Year: 2013
Directed By: Jimmy Hayward
Written By: Scott Mosier, Jimmy Hayward, David I. Stern and John J. Strauss


It suddenly dawned on me tonight, on the eve of Thanksgiving, that I haven’t reviewed a movie with a Thanksgiving theme. Over the past couple of years at least I have liked to drop a movie review that correlated with America’s mostly passed over holiday. So suddenly did the realization hit me that I had little to no time to consider an appropriate film. In years past we have reviewed Dutch and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, both excellent movies for the holiday. This year on short notice I had little time to consider before the most practical film of all was suggested by Amber. So, I may have dipped into my children’s fledgling DVD collection for this title that I think works all too well.

There are several films made for my children that I find myself liking just as much as they do. Titles that immediately come to mind are The Croods, Big Hero 6, and of course this film. Pixar makes great films for all ages too but all too often now they are trying to make me cry and it pisses me off. I will never get over that bullshit at the end of Toy Story 3. I’m referencing the scene in which all the toys find themselves in the trash compactor with no hope of escape. Instead of trying to come up with some new escape plan they all hold hands and accept their imminent death in what last for many many seconds before they are saved. Come on Pixar, why don’t you just kick me in the balls and make me cry honestly??? It’s obscene to have this kind of moment in a children’s film and nothing makes me feel sillier than bawling my eyes out in a Toy Story film.

I find that I cry far more often in children films than in adult films these days. I am unashamed of it in most cases but Pixar gets under my skin because they are just laying it on too thick. In The Croods when the dad has to throw his entire family across the gap in the Earth only to be left behind himself I cry like a baby, but that’s different. There’s the father daughter aspect that hits me in the heart and I feel like they earn my tears honestly. Pixar cheats by going too hard for that punch in the gut, and really letting the moment linger.

This movie however does not make me cry at all and in fact it’s quite the opposite as the laughs keep on coming. I think the story about these turkeys time traveling to get themselves off the Thanksgiving menu is hilarious. The two main characters are voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson making the movie that much cooler. You even have a lot of other great voices filling up other roles like Amy Poehler, Keith David, Colm Meaney, and even George Takei. They all sound fantastic and deliver on a script that will keep you laughing.

It’s easy the older we get to dismiss animated films for being nothing more than babysitters for the youngins but if you sit down and watch some of them with them you might find yourself surprised. I didn’t particularly like Boss Baby, but for every five of those movies there’s a Shrek, Wall-E, an Up and I know I’m starting to contradict myself naming a few Pixar films but those are exceptional films and Pixar has, in the past made some truly exceptional movies.

So if you get bored with parades and football this Thanksgiving day check out this movie with your kids. You will probably be surprised to find out you enjoy it just as much as they do. Whatever you do try to do something to celebrate the family fun day and not move immediately to Christmas. Take some time to eat turkey, congregate with loved ones, sit through at least one ridiculous argument, and honor the memory of a make believe history. If you already have your Christmas lights up shame on you, that’s Friday work. Tomorrow, that’s all about family, fun, some drama and a lot of thankfulness. I hope you all have a happy one and find plenty to be thankful for.

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Year: 1987
Directed By: John Hughes
Written By: John Hughes


This is one of those classic films that I just never got around to seeing. I grew up with John Hughes films but this one somehow eluded me. It’s lingered on my to-do list for a long time and when I finally decided to watch it I thought it would be better to watch and review in correlation with the holiday it is about. It just so happens that this Thanksgiving is a big one as tomorrow Amber and I will be hosting our families for Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.

I’m not quite sure how it is that I haven’t seen this movie at any point over the last 28 years. As a film fan who has seen such a wide variety this seems exceptionally weird for several reasons. First, I am a fan of John Hughes and have seen nearly every one of his films. Secondly, I am a big fan of both Steve Martin and John Candy. Coupled with the fact that I’ve seen so much this is just an unusual anomaly.

John Hughes movies are typical but we are endeared to them because they center on typical scenarios we can all relate to. Coming of age in high school, family troubles during the holidays, skipping class to have the greatest day of your life, or in this case, being stuck with an annoying man on a long and difficult trip. His movies have a timeless quality that will always be funny no matter how far we get from the 80s. They also feature life lessons that we can all learn from.

I think the oddest thing for me about this movie is trying to buy into John Candy as the obnoxious guy. Granted he plays the part well I just find him too likeable as an actor. I remember being sad when John Candy passed, he was an actor I had grown up watching and I was 10 when he died. He was probably the first celebrity I was attached to who passed away and I was consciously aware of it. John Candy was a really and truly funny person who was hard not to like. We should cherish every opportunity we have to see him in something.

I have always liked Steve Martin and I cannot figure out how I hadn’t seen this movie for that alone. When he loses it on the rental car lady with a barrage of fucks I laughed out loud and had to rewind it to see it again. I’ll never understand what happened to Steve Martin and why he failed to have long term success in acting. I think Martin is a really funny man and I love some of his classic films. He was particularly funny during the 80s when this movie came out.

This has been a fun and funny movie that I can easily foresee myself watching again come next Thanksgiving when I’m looking for a movie that fits with the season. I enjoyed watching it for the first time and have that feeling that it is the type of movie that will get better the more I watch it. Hughes movies have that quality too which is another reason they are always memorable.

If anybody out there is reading this now then wish us good fortune on our holiday tomorrow. With hope it will be the first of many Thanksgiving dinners at our home. If you yourself are looking for a movie to get you in the spirit of Thanksgiving this one qualifies and if you haven’t seen it take it from me that you have missed out. Don’t be like me and miss out on something really enjoyable like this.

With hope I find a Thanksgiving movie to watch on the eve of the holiday every year but there are little to choose from. The holiday is largely overshadowed by its bigger sibling, Christmas. Maybe next year we will watch Tommy Boy. Which is a movie I love but suddenly realize is practically a rip off of the concept we see in this movie. Fitting given I actually think of Chris Farley as a new age John Candy although Farley only outlived him by a few years.






Year: 1991
Directed By: Peter Faiman
Written By: John Hughes


Earlier this month I wrote about the absence of Thanksgiving in the face of Christmas consumerism and promised we would covered a Thanksgiving themed film.  This is the film I was speaking of but I’ll admit it’s a bit of a stretch.  The only real connection this film actually has to the holiday is that it takes place on the way to Thanksgiving dinner.  In truth, up until the end it tends to feel more like a Christmas film because of the snowy setting the main characters travel through.  They are on the way to Thanksgiving though and we do see them eat turkey so I think it still counts.

I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and it was first coming on HBO in the early 90s.  For years afterwards I had wanted to see it again but had forgotten all about it until coming across it again a couple of months ago. It’s a funny movie but at times it does get a bit too real and turns from funny to awkwardly dramatic. Still, there is value to be had in any film made by John Hughes and this one has his stamp all over it.

When I first revisited this movie the first thing that came to mind was the obvious resemblance that Ethan Embry playing the part of Doyle had to the film’s writer John Hughes. Let me know if you see it.


It’s there right? It gives me the impression that John Hughes actually was this kid Doyle at one point in his life.  I don’t know this because admittedly I do not know much about the life of the late John Hughes other than the films I have seen from him.  There does seem to be a pervasive correlation among many of his films which makes me think he probably took plenty of chapters from his own life when delving into his writing for films.  A long road trip as we see in the first Vacation or in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (next year’s Thanksgiving film) for example. An adult and child duo surviving the hard way when they are down on their luck like in Curly Sue. There is also the theme of unique family situations and how they get along during the holidays as we see in many of his films. He may have correlating themes in many of his films but that is hardly a problem when they were all so great.  John Hughes was a great writer and filmmaker who left a significant stamp on the industry and our culture in this country. He was a significant loss a few years ago but we will always have his many movies to carry on his memory into the future.

Ed O’Neill may go into full hobo mode a couple of times in this film but I don’t think the film would have been of any count without him.  He never really got off the ground with a significant film career but he has always been a big player when it came to acting on television.  I was never a fan of Married with Children because it was just too much toilet humor for me but it was still a big hit by and large with TV watching fans.  After airing for ten years the show made its mark and did plenty to entertain many people despite what I thought about it. He is now starring on another hit TV show that is arguably already more famous than Married with Children ever was.  I am not the biggest fan of Modern Family but it is a funny show and I specifically like him on it.  O’Neill has a real natural quality about him that makes him very likable. I think he was a perfect fit for the “working class” man he portrays in this movie and I think he is really funny in the part. I think if someone else would have been cast in the part of Dutch the movie may have been more successful when it came out but I don’t think the movie would have been better.  Ed O’Neill makes this movie worth watching.  Everything from him carrying Doyle out of his school against his will to continually getting beat up by this child and right up until the end when he pulls the air gun on Doyle at the Thanksgiving dinner is hilarious.  This movie was both a critical and financial flop but it has gained a small amount of popularity over the years and I think that has a lot to do with Ed O’Neill’s performance and how he carries the film.

It’s funny but it wasn’t until I looked this movie up on IMDB that I realized Ethan Embry was the kid who played Doyle.  I have seen Embry in a number of films over the years but had no idea he was Doyle because he looks so different as an adult. The character he plays in this film is a bit too much as far as douche bag kids go but he comes a long way by the end of the movie.  Shooter McGavin is present in this film playing the adult douche bag type of character that he plays so well.  It’s nice to see Dutch get the last laugh on this guy at the end of the movie.  I actually like Christopher McDonald but he finds himself in this type of role all too often and it seems too easy for him to pull off.

This is a funny movie but things get to be a bit too dramatic near the end as things continue to get worse for Dutch and Doyle.  When I was a little kid I specifically remember having this phobia about being lost on the road.  I once rode through Washington DC with my grandmother and nearly panicked when she got lost in downtown thinking we would never find our way home and we had neither food nor water. My parents used to love telling that story as one of those adorable things kids will say anecdotes.  Yet I remember really being afraid and when I look back now I think it was because of this movie that I got scared. I know for a fact I had seen this movie more than once long before that incident took place. Having seen what Dutch and Doyle went through when they were on the road and had run out of both money and luck put a specific type of scare in me. It was the irrational type of fear only a small child can feel but having pinpointed where it came from years later is really interesting. I think the fact that this movie made me paranoid about something like that as a kid says something about how dramatic the tone gets near the end.  I always think it is a mistake for a comedy to get dramatic. It really just sticks a fork in a completely opposite emotion and makes it really difficult to get back in the right frame of mind for laughing.  It makes sense in the story for Dutch and Doyle to be turned away from a restaurant because they look homeless or for them to have to stay in a homeless shelter because they have been robbed.  It makes for a better story but it does nothing for the comedic tone of the film.

As I said earlier this film was both a critical and financial flop.  So much so that Married with Children actually made multiple references to it over the years and made fun of it for being a failure.  You have to appreciate Ed O’Neill for being a good sport and being able to take shots at himself.  I actually happen to think there is a lot to like about this film and really enjoy it.  I understand why it didn’t succeed though and think it was for the very reasons I have discussed already.  Ed O’Neill didn’t have the street credit so to speak to fill the theaters and the film takes too much of a dramatic tone at times.  What I haven’t discussed is the nature of Doyle’s situation and how it relates.  While I have seen plenty of comedies succeed while covering the complications of divorce I feel like it is a really difficult thing to do.  It worked in films like Mrs. Doubtfire and It’s Complicated but having grown up as a child of divorce I tend to find these films difficult to watch.  Some people may like them but I don’t think there is anything funny about divorce or the lives the survivors have to live afterwards.  Doyle is very much a troubled kid and it’s the direct result of his upbringing.  It’s nice to see the light come on for him and to see his life appear to get much better, but it can be a painful reminder of reality at the same time and reality never has such a happy ending.

Despite its dramatic elements I still really enjoy this movie.  I think Ed O’Neill is so funny and has so many memorable scenes I freely overlook the type of things that would otherwise turn me off of a film. Nobody makes a holiday classic quite like John Hughes and while this hardly qualifies as a holiday classic we do see a turkey by the end of it and I insist that makes it count. Thanksgiving may get overlooked sooner and sooner every year but when the day finally comes it’s still here and it’s still as great as it always was.  It’s a wonderful time to spend with family and friends and to break bread together.  There really wasn’t any reason for us to do a film for this holiday either because this holiday isn’t for movies.  It’s not a date movies are released to theaters on and it’s not a good time slot to play films for TV ratings. That’s because this holiday is about family, food, and FOOTBALL.  As the big movie fan I am I am here on Thanksgiving telling you not to watch a movie today but to tune into the NFL and watch Megatron or the Cowboys or this year’s hopeless Super Bowl champs tonight.  Spend time with loved ones and enjoy the day while it is here, in the blink of an eye it’ll be back to business as usual and we’ll all be Christmas shopping.