Category Archives: Reader Response Welcomed

Have Yourself A Little “Arthur Christmas”

How’s your December been so far? Mine’s been a mixed bag, to put it mildly. First some minor car trouble. Then a head cold for the hubby and sinusitis for me. Followed by a spike in “crappier-than-thou” behavior that seemed to crop up everywhere, from national politics to the workplace to our weekday commutes. All pesky, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Then the news from Sandy Hook Elementary. Followed by a string of local almost-copycat incidents, ranging from the wretchedly immature to the truly frightening. What is there to do, except spend some extra time with loved ones, put some change in the bell-ringer’s bucket, and re-read Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells” several times, hoping that that last verse is true?

Well, try giving yourself a holiday gift by putting “Arthur Christmas” into your DVD player, or your online movie queue. It’s inventive, funny, sweet and beautifully made.

For me, it provided a refreshing break from a weary month that seemed beset by a bizarre trio of luchadores: Shrieking Commercialism, Contrived Sentiment and True-Life Horror. Why “Arthur Christmas” is not more widely known mystifies me. Here’s some of what it packs into a mere hour and 40 minutes: an immensely detailed concept of how Santa Claus’ massive enterprise works, with glimpses into its past; a goofball pair of Christmas slippers; and a sly and affectionate portrait of three generations of a decidedly imperfect family. All delivered with Aardman Animations’ unique approach: less treacle than Disney/Pixar/DreamWorks, with every bit as much real humor and originality.

Fellow wonks, I think movies are powerful. Whether a flick is great, so-so or awful, when it’s viewed at the right time by the right audience (whether that audience is one person, or a crowd), it can inspire change. So I wish I could tell you that “Arthur Christmas” has the ability to make all the misguided in this world straighten up, fix whatever messes they’ve made, and start treating other human beings decently. But even the most ardent believer in the power of cinema would be wrong to make those claims. So it’s more in the spirit of lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness that I’ll be reaching for my DVD shelf, to move “Elf” and “Polar Express” (whose animation style is starting to look slightly more creepy with each passing year) to make room for “Arthur Christmas”. Hope whatever winter holiday(s) you celebrate(d) is/are (a) good one(s) for you, and here’s to 2013.

P.S. The song that provides the basis for the title of this entry was written by Ralph Blane, a fellow Okie. It’s one of my favorites, especially the versions that don’t shy away from that last verse: “If the Fates allow … Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” Doesn’t get much realer than that.

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No Blood on that Popcorn, Please

Despite having grown up during the heyday of slasher movies, I prefer my flicks to be free of gore, or at the very least to use blood and guts sparingly. So when I get a yen for a movie with a supernatural tone, I look for one that’s essentially a ghost story, rather than a horror movie.

Ghost movies enjoyed a brief rise in popularity following “The Sixth Sense”. I enjoyed that one, but here’s another that I prefer, and urge you to check out: “Stir of Echoes”:

It seems that “Stir …” never became as popular as “Sixth Sense”. Not sure why – “Stir…” is more genuinely creepy and less sentimental, it moves at a faster pace, and it uses the familiar elements of the ghost story in a contemporary setting to make a memorable observation about how humans treat (and mistreat) others they perceive as outsiders, or otherwise less-than-normal.

(Apparently there’s also a later movie called “Stir of Echoes: The Homecoming”. I haven’t seen that one and can’t vouch for it.)

Any ectoplasmic flicks you recommend, fellow wonks?

Happy Halloween.

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Would You Watch Flicks With A Goat? Would You Watch Them In A Boat?

Watching movies in a boat, with a goat For true cinema wonks, the answer is always “Yes!” (unless the goat has neglected to bring along some chevre to share, or the boat is loaded with people who talk during movies and have come equipped with crying infants and jangling cell phones.)

Funny how much the physical setting we’re in affects our impression of a film. Recently my husband and I found ourselves in a makeshift drive-in in Medicine Park, Oklahoma while we were on vacation. There we were, minding our own goat cheese, ambling down the main drag in the soft evening air, when a big parking lot across the street sprang to life with an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies”, projected onto a screen just slightly too big for someone’s living room. So husband and I found an open park bench and passed a pleasant 20+ minutes in the company of Jed Clampett and kin, along with dozens of fellow Okies watching from lawn chairs and the beds of pickups.

Turns out this was only the beginning: as soon as the final notes of Flatt and Scruggs died away, “The Flying Tigers” blazed onto the screen. Husband is a lifelong fan of the Duke, and I’ll watch just about anything, especially if it’s older than I am and in black-and-white. So we watched as long as we could, til the park bench became too hard and we weren’t sure we could find our way in the dark back to our charming cottage if we waited any longer. Next morning, the drive-in was gone like Brigadoon (although the coffee and outstanding baked goods at Mrs. Chadwick’s were wonderfully real).

This got me thinking about the different environments I’ve watched movies in, aside from the usual living room/auditorium/theater settings. Actual drive-in theaters (not the DIY Medicine Park kind) were a little past their peak by the time I came along. Neither of my parents was that interested in trying to watch a movie with squirmy or drowsy kids from inside a car using a tinny sound system, surrounded by others trying to do the same (or not). So I have only one very hazy memory of being at a drive-in as a youngster, as well as a couple of visits as an adult to the Admiral Twin in Tulsa, Oklahoma with husband. (The films we saw at the Admiral Twin were “Desperado” and “Waterworld”. The drive-in setting wasn’t particularly kind to either one.)

Here are a couple of other offbeat settings I’ve encountered, and the movies I saw there:

  • The restored Orpheum Theater in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, for “Lilo and Stitch”. This is the only two-story movie theater I’ve ever been in. (I think our showing was upstairs.) Kinda cramped, but the caged bird in the lobby added to its charm.
  • The dining hall of a nursing home in midtown Tulsa, for “Boys Town”, “White Christmas”, and several other old flicks. At one time, my church did kind of a “movie ministry” at one of the local nursing homes. No big agenda, just a way to spend a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon a month with older folks who didn’t get many visitors. Showing movies that they might remember from their younger days seemed like something we could manage without requiring too much time or expense. We did get a few audience members each time, most of whom shuffled in and out, or dozed through whatever VHS tape we were able to coax the home’s balky VCR to play.

What are some unusual settings that you’ve watched movies in? (And would you recommend these environments to others, or not?) Share your experiences in the Comments, won’tcha?

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Movie-Geeking for Dollars

In a perfect world, games based on extensive knowledge of movie trivia would be played for high stakes, like poker in Las Vegas.

Dream with me, won’t you?

Of a world where knowing the meaning of the phrase “pre-Code” gets you long-overdue rewards like fabulous accommodations, booze and food. All us cinema wonks could finally be rewarded in meaningful ways for those countless hours we’ve spent in front of movie, TV and computer screens, soaking up the kind of knowledge that in the real world will only get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks if it’s accompanied by at least $1.75.

And forget just visiting a Las-Vegas-type place to participate in these movie trivia games once in a while. Why not move to this imaginary paradise and become a professional movie trivia buff? As long as you keep your trivia knowledge sharp, it’s practically a guaranteed living. None of the stomach-churning risk of being a full-time poker player.

Think of the glitzy tournaments we pro-geeks could all compete in! Streamed live over the Internet, televised worldwide and beamed throughout the cosmos. The Super Bowl would fade in comparison. IMDb and Netflix would work themselves into a fever, begging for the privilege of sponsoring the film-wonkiest among us.

Finally a response from the rest of the world that’s more encouraging than the “Get away from that @#!! screen and go out for some fresh air!” we’ve all heard so painfully often. Every species possessed of even the most rudimentary eyeball, ear and brain would be transfixed to the point of requiring adult diapers because they couldn’t bear to miss a second of this clash of the cine-trivia titans. No matter how near-sighted and large-bottomed our film obsessions had rendered us, we’d each be enrobed in a flattering tunic completely covered with the shimmering logos of our adoring and loyal sponsors, and seated on our own (surprisingly comfortable) mountain of gold ingots.

During the competition our every utterance – to say nothing of our silences, carefully timed to heighten the audience’s already-fascinated tension to a new and deliciously unbearable height – would be hailed as both witty and wise. And when a victor finally emerged from this fantastic-bombastic brain-battle, he or she would be offered prizes such as a crown, the enthusiastic attentions of a harem-full of his or her preferred gender(s), and having the president of their choice chiseled off Mount Rushmore so that his or her countenance could be added. The also-rans would receive consolation prizes in the form of new piles of gold ingots, big enough to serve as ottomans to those ingot mountains they already have.

But when it comes down to it, we cinema trivia geeks are a humble folk with simple needs. After a decent interval of considering each of these fabulous prizes, the winner would cast down his or her eyes and shyly say, “Y’know, all I really wanna do right now is watch a movie.”

And so all of the competitors would shuffle amiably together to a venue of the victor’s choosing – be it drive-in theater, multiplex, art house or the basement of her or his childhood home – sit down in whatever posture they each find most comfortable, and, as they have so many times before, turn their gazes to the screen, and feel that familiar thrill as the lights dim and a flickering image begins to illuminate the truth.

The End

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