We all Deserve (aka: Movies are for Everyone)

Around a week ago, I jumped on the bandwagon and purchased a ticket to see Avengers: Endgame. Not just any ticket, either. Since I was going to see the highly anticipated movie by myself, I decided to splurge and see the movie in 3D XD. The ultimate film-going experience, with a giant screen and unbeatable surround sound. The price? $19 per seat.

I know. Way too much money. But it was my Solo Date Night. I wanted to have fun luxury-style, with cushy leather reclining seats, extra butter topping on my popcorn, and a frosty-cold cup of Blue Moon beer with a twist of orange. (Because that’s how we do cinema in my neck of the woods).

As the previews were beginning, I was vaguely aware of a trio of people taking their seats just to the left of me. They were a little talkative, but hey, it was only the previews. So I munched my popcorn and settled in, waiting for the movie to begin. Soon enough, the lights went down, and our feature film began.

Somewhere to my left, someone’s voice cut into the silence of the theater. I ignored it. But just as I was getting absorbed by what was happening on the screen, the person to my left began to talk again. And again. This continued throughout the first half hour or so of the movie. I am a patient person. Very patient. But I was beginning to grit my teeth a little. I mean, come on. $19 tickets, people! Don’t we all deserve to relax and enjoy a good movie without one person messing it up by talking through the film?

At first, I tried an innocuous little shh! Usually, that’s all it takes for people to get the hint and clam up. (Although once, the shh approach escalated the situation, and I found myself sitting next to a hostile noisy person who was apparently offended that I was offended by her rudeness). The shh was ineffective. My neighbor continued to chatter. At last, now quite distracted from what was happening on the screen, I whispered to the person to my immediate left, “Can you please ask your friend to quiet down?”

The woman responded with, “He’s autistic.”

Ugh. I immediately felt like the worst person in the world.

Here I was, so focused on my feelings of irritation, and my own sense of what I deserved. But for people with autism, many things, even sounds or lights or touch — things that wouldn’t bother many of us, can cause just as much irritation to them as the sound of one person’s voice in a movie theater was causing me. In fact, for some people with autism, their reactions to such stimuli can be pretty intense.

And deserving? Sure, for $19, I deserved to be relax and be entertained by a good show for a couple of hours. But then, so did the people to my left, including the patron with autism. So do people in wheelchairs. So do families who care for people with autism and other disabilities. We all deserve a break from reality, and movie theaters (and restaurants, and other public places) should not be exclusive spots where only certain people get to spend their recreational time.

Funny how easy it was to tune out the talking and enjoy the movie once I adjusted my attitude about it. The movies should be a place for all of us to sit back, enjoy our buttery popcorn and beer, and slip into a world of fantasy, if only for a couple of hours.

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The Rewatcher (aka: Again and Again and Again)

Since Twitter told me that today is #NationalBookLoversDay, I totally thought I would write a post about books. That makes sense, especially since I’ve read about five books per day since I was three years old. I could pretty much write your ears off about books.

But then I started thinking about how much I enjoy it when a book I’ve loved has been turned into a movie or TV series. It is a kind of magic to see the artistic interpretation of a beloved story, to watch it all unfold on the screen. Sometimes, the story becomes unrecognizable (*ahem* Ella Enchanted/A Little Princess/The Stepford Wives *ahem*). But sometimes, the result is just as wonderful — and occasionally better — than the book (The Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter 1-4 / Game of Thrones).

Then my thoughts took yet another twist. As I contemplated favorite titles of books and movies and TV shows, something important occurred to me. Here we are, living in the age of endless movies and TV shows at our fingertips. Just press a few keys, and you can stream one of thousands of titles. You never have to watch the same show twice! It is rather fitting for today’s disposable culture. Watched that series already? Move onto the next one. Tired of your stuff? Replace it all. Tired of your family, your friends? Toss them out, get new ones.

It is quite possibly my least favorite thing about modern American culture.

I am not fond of the disposable lifestyle, preferring, instead, to own few quality possessions, which I try to take care of. I rarely choose to dispose of friends or family, either, unless their presence in my life is harmful. People are too precious to be thrown away or forgotten.

My fondness for permanence spills over into my film and TV show selections, as well. Though I occasionally enjoy finding new series to binge on, or fun new movies to watch, I am, and have always been, a rewatcher. What’s a rewatcher? Someone who watches the same films and movies again and again and again, because she adores them and can’t get enough.

I have watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least twice. Every episode of Friends at least three times. Every episode of Alias, The Office, Smallville at least twice. I latch onto the characters, await familiar scenes with anticipation, laugh yet again at their antics and cringe at their follies. And films? I can recite every line of The Goonies and Back to the Future. I have fallen in love with Noah and Allie’s romance again and again. I have memorized the charades of Will and Viola in Shakespeare in Love. And my favorite film of all time? I have watched Pride and Prejudice once every single year since it was released in 2005.

One might think that rewatching might lead to boredom. But not for me. Each time I watch, I learn something new about my favorite characters. I see a gleam in his eye that wasn’t there before, or hear a tone in her voice that changes the meaning of that scene. I find new things to appreciate — the camera angles, and how they added to the tension. The way the sunlight cast the perfect light and shadows to add to the mood. The timing. The costumes. The way the score consisted of the same song, played over and over, and yet, it works beautifully.

I find new reasons why this film, this character, became my favorite.

Books are the same way. I guess you might also call me an avid re-reader, too. Brave New World. The Harry Potter books. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Hunger Games. There will always be room for more books in my repertoire, and more films or TV shows on my screen. But every so often, the newness gets old. And I must return time and time again to the arms of the stories I treasure most.

Disneyland Tessering (and other Magical Things)

I know. There is bug splat all over my car. It’s pretty grody to look at, and I’m sure the next-door neighbors are frowning at my carport. But I’m not ready to wash it off. Not yet.

My two youngest teens and I just got back from a week-long vacation. It started as a plan to spend Ski Week (aka Presidents’ Week) in Southern California, touring colleges. Yes, it’s true. Teen #2, my 16yo former gymnast, is a junior in high school already. Sensing our time together at home slipping away, I suggested we make this college tour trip super-fun. “How about we spend a day at Disneyland?” I said. *Insert shrieks of enthusiasm from the kids*. In the end, our plans included one of my daughter’s friends, and extended to two days on our favorite sunny SoCal beach, followed by two days in the Happiest Place on Earth.

So off we went, road-tripping through our state, plugging our noses as we passed “Cow-alinga,” admiring the miles of golden hills and farms, and even being surprised by a snowstorm as we drove through the Grapevine. Seriously. Snow, in Southern Cali. So cool, right? That was the beginning of the magic.

The next big Magical Thing was the beach. The amazing blueness of the sky and surf, and the empty golden sands, like the beach was open just for us. (Okay fine, it was freezing cold, an the other beachgoers were probably gathered indoors somewhere with a heater. But still).

Magical Thing #3 was the poke restaurant we discovered, which had macaron ice cream sandwiches. They exist, guys. They exist. And you have not lived until you have tasted one.

Then came the biggest Magical Thing of all. No, it wasn’t getting pictures with both Mickey and Minne Mouse without even waiting in line (though that was pretty rad, too). No, it wasn’t the part where Star Tours was better than ever, and Soarin’ Around the World was better than ever, and Radiator Springs Racers was our favorite new ride and well worth the wait. Nor was it seeing the Black Panther drive by, or meeting Captain America, who was fresh out of lectures, but had a funny story to share about his friend, Thor.

No, the most Magical Thing happened when we just happened to be strolling past the castle on Thursday afternoon. A woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if our family would like to participate in a photo shoot to advertise the new A Wrinkle in Time film, which is coming out next month.

Would we! My son and I had already read the book and can’t wait until the movie is released. So naturally, we said yes. I signed a couple of wavers, then they handed us free t-shirts and directed us to a roped-off area, where we waited with about one hundred other Disneygoers. “Have your phones ready,” the woman advised me. I wondered why.

And then…it happened. The crowd around us erupted into huge cheers. Then they stepped up onto a podium a few feet in front of me — Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and the Queen herself, Oprah Winfrey. *Insert Screams*

Ohmigod! I was so starstruck, I forgot about the cameras snapping photos of us. Only the top of my head, and my hand, holding up my cell phone made it into the official shot (just to the right of Reese Witherspoon). But who cares? My kids and I got to be part of a very cool, very magical movie promotion along with some of the most talented and famous actresses ever. Eeeeeek! The entire experience took our level of Disney magic to a whole new level. In fact, I think we may have tessered right out of the park and straight to Neverland for a while. I’m still kind of floating there, as the pixie dust hasn’t yet worn off. How did we get so incredibly lucky?

Somehow, we managed to return home safely, though still in a daze of wonder, high on Disney Magic. There are still suitcases to be unpacked. And there’s my car, covered in road trip bug splat, in need of a wash. But that doesn’t even bug me right now. I want to savor this magic, as all magic moments in life are meant to be savored, treasured, and remembered during the times when life seems to have lost its shine. We all need a little magic, sometimes, to remind us why this wonderful, beautiful life we have is so very worth living. May you have your next magic moment soon.

The Lady with the Chalk (aka: Heroes All Around Us)

Yesterday, my teens and I watched Unbreakable, a 2000 film by M. Night Shyamalan. It was such a good movie. Super, you might even say. Afterward, I couldn’t help but ask my kids, “How would you feel if you learned that one of your parents was actually a superhero?”

My 13 year-old replies, “If I found out that Dad was a superhero, then I’d be shocked. Like, what the heck? But if I found out that Mom was a superhero, then I’d be like, oh. Okay.” He shrugs. No big revelation there. My daughter nods in agreement.

This has been a long-running theme in our family. You see, no matter how much I try to dissuade them, my teens are convinced that I am either a). A superhero in disguise, b). A CIA operative, just like Sydney Bristow; or c). a super hacker. Or possibly a combination of all three.

“Please,” I say each time the topic comes up. “I am just an ordinary, cookie-baking mom who works in a cubicle at a tax agency.”

“Su-u-ure,” one of my kids will answer. “Perfect cover.”

I’m not sure what led my kids to believe that I am somthing greater than I appear to be. Maybe it’s my hopelessly INTJ prsonality. Maybe it’s my ability to run very fast (though nowhere near the prerequisite superhero speeds displayed by the Flash). Or maybe it’s my steady lack of close friendships. Superheroes know how difficult it can be to form attachments while keeping their true identities a secret.

It is flattering that my kids think so highly of me, I guess. But I would prefer that they look arond them to honor the real heroes that walk among us. No, not cape-wearing comic-book characters with extraordinary superpowers to fight gainst supervillains. I’m talking about the real people who help humankind with their courage, altuism, and sense of duty. Police officers, firefighters, soldiers. Teachers, surgeons, and even regular people, from time to time. The heroes who save lives, offer hope to those who have lost hope, pick up the lost and set them on the right path.

Not long ago, I encoutered one such real-life hero in my own neighborhood. While out for a run one day, I came across something that made me stop in my tracks. A large, colorful chalk design had transformed a section of the sidewalk into a work of art. “You are needed here and now,” the message read. My heart soared with the positive impact of those simple words. As I continued to run, that day and in days to come, I came across more of these beautiful, uplifting messages, as did my daughter, as did other people in our neighborhood. They brightened our day each time. They filled our sails with wind.

And then, one day, we happened to spot the woman who was responsible. She wasn’t wearing a cape or a super suit. She was an ordinary human being, anyone’s neighbor from Anywheretown. She probably didn’t even realize that the offerings she had left had such an enormous impact on the people in our neighborhood. In fact, she seemed surprised, and perhaps a little timid as I thanked her for making such a difference.

Can you imagine what our world would look like if each one of us strove to become a hero in our own small way? No, not a superhero. We don’t need X-Ray vision or Iron Man suits or the ability to fly to save lives, or to make someone’s life better. Maybe all we need is to care a little deeper. To show our compassion for those who are less than ourselves, rather than our disdain. To use the gifts we have been given to do good, rather than to do harm. To offer someone a genuine smile and encouraging words to give them a positive boost. Maybe all we need to save each other, to be something greater than we are, is a piece of chalk and the willingness to make the world a better place for the people around us.

 

Lights, Camera, Action! (aka: Family Movie Night)

family movie nightIn our house, nearly every Friday night is Family Movie Night. With three kids and busy schedules, it is not always an easy date to keep. But whenever we can, my three kids and I love to curl up on the sofa, eat homemade pizza and popcorn, and watch a movie together.

Of course, it can be tricky to choose a movie that everyone will enjoy. My 15 year-old tends to favor exciting movies filled with action, like The Matrix or the Bourne Identity series. My 13 year-old daughter goes moony-eyed over typical “teen girl” movies, like Mean Girls or Divergent. Meanwhile, my 10 year-old still loves the Disney videos and adventurous kid films that the rest of us have seen nearly 100 times, like Finding Nemo or Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney Finding Nemo

And then there’s me. While I am happy to watch just about any movie, I have an affinity for the Great Films – films which tell a good story, are supreme examples of their genre, or portray the depths of the human experience in a unique way. Some years ago, I was introduced to the Criterion Collection. For those of you who are classic film virgins, the Criterion Collection is a tremendous library of some of the most prolific, outstanding, and or groundbreaking films of all time. The films are not always as well known, though the directors may be. They often feature themes and plots which require some thought and reflection on the part of the viewer. And no, they are not usually wrapped up with a neat, colorful little Disneyland happy ending like most films we are accustomed to today. More often than not, the films from the Criterion Collection leave the viewer rather unsettled, by introducing a disturbing ethical dilemma, then refusing to offer a neat solution. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have sat, watching the credits with wide-eyed incredulity and a sense of injustice. How could the director have allowed the film to end there? Why did the protagonist make such a choice? And for the next day or two, I walk around in a daze, chewing on the deep moral issues raised by the film like a piece of succulent grilled meat.

The Criterion CollectionSadly, my kids just can’t see the greatness of the Criterion Collection films. “Mo-om…not another black and white movie!” they complain. So I have learned to save these films for the weekends when the kids are away. After all, the point of Family Movie Night is not to persuade my children to think like me and enjoy what I enjoy most. The point is two hours of fun and laughter as we bond together as a family – even if that means watching Finding Nemo for the 100th time.

Great Picks for Family Movie Night 

The Goonies D.A.R.Y.L.
Pirates of the Caribbean Homeward Bound
Earth to Echo The Parent Trap (both)
The Indiana Jones films Freaky Friday (both)
The Hunger Games Akeelah and the Bee
The Harry Potter films Big Hero 6
Catch Me if You Can Night at the Museum
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen Jumanji

Got any more suggestions? We are always looking for new ideas.

Great Criterion Collection Films for Beginners

The 400 Blows (1959) 12 Angry Men (1957)
Bicycle Thieves (1948) The Virgin Spring (1960)
The Game (1997) Walkabout (1971)
Rashomon (1950) My Life as a Dog (1985)
Au revoir les enfants (1987) Cria cuervos (1976)

 

50 Shades of Terrible Writing (aka: Stop Biting Your Lower Lip!)

fifty shades film actors

Ooh, Mr. Grey…whatever do you plan to do with that tie?

Yesterday was the big day — the release date of one of the most highly anticipated movie trailers this year. That’s right — Fifty Shades of Grey has at last been made into an NC-17 film for our viewing pleasure. Fifty Shades of Guilty Pleasure. Fifty Shades of Smut. Fifty Shades of Oh-My-God-Is-That-Even-Possible? That adorable pair of fun-loving sex addicts will be portrayed by actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. (Oh my — is it just me, or did the temperature just spike a few degrees in here?)

Cue the giggling teenagers! Cue the feminist backlash! Cue feeding frenzy of housewives with longing in their eyes! Cue the scandalized conservatives holding angry picket signs in front of movie theaters across the nation!

The uproar surrounding the Fifty Shades film is unsurprising. After all, when the books first hit the shelves, they released a firestorm that had half the nation burning with desire and the other half burning with outrage. (Now I am giggling to myself, imagining a horde of Sarah Palin wannabes and male-bashing misandrists chasing down poor Christian Grey and attacking him with his own private stash of sex weapons).

Yes, I read Fifty Shades of Grey. And one of the sequels. For purely educational reasons, of course. 😉 And here’s the thing: these angry hordes have got it all wrong. You see, they are burning books over the issue of sex. Consensual sex between two adults. Yes, violent, wild, passionate sex. But still — two consenting adults. Yes, sadomasochistic sex, sex with riding crops and cuffs, sex with toys I have never even heard of before. But still, two consenting adults, behind closed doors (or elevator doors, at least), who are clearly turned on and happy with their choices. cuffs for the couple

Sex, control, and BDSM is not the thing that the world should be protesting. The thing that seriously sucks in the 50 Shades books is the writing. The books are filled with repetitive language, over-baked adjectives, and such unrealistic dialogue that I had to remind myself that it wasn’t meant to be a humor novel.

An example of a typical line from Fifty Shades: I can tell from his accent that he’s British. (You don’t say! Well, British accents have a way of cluing us in).

Another literary jewel: “Argon? It rings a distant bell from chemistry class—an element, I think.”

If not for the fact that I was reading on my Kindle app, I would have thrown the book across the room after that line. Seriously. Bad writing like this should be a crime. Forget protesting the upcoming movie — I should start an outraged literary group and lock E.L. James’ editor in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain to pay for exposing us to such filth (the bad writing, not the sex). Maybe I will. But first, I really should go and read the third book in the trilogy. Laters baby! little red riding crop

Life in Queue (aka: TV Binge Week)

So apparently, this is Hulu Binge Week, when Hulu is encouraging viewers to glue themselves to the sofa and veg out for a few hours with a TV show marathon. Woo-hoo! Another great excuse to slow down and play the couch potato for a while. Well, in theory, anyway. The truth is that I have been bombarded with studying, homework, and school projects, which makes it hard to find the time for marathon-viewing. And anyway, as I tweeted yesterday in honor of #HuluBingeDay:

 

Heehee. Okay, maybe not everything. But thanks to Hulu, Netflix, and too much free time (before classes began), I managed to watch every season and episode of Gray’s Anatomy, Parks and Rec, House of Cards, Scandal, Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order SVU, some telenovelas, Breaking Bad, and quite a few other shows, not to mention a few dozen excellent films from The Criterion Collection, many of which are available for instant streaming on Hulu. So at the moment, my personal queue is rather lacking. Any suggestions?

Yes, I know how this looks. If I were seeing this from an outsider’s perspective, I would be tempted to say, “Wow, you really should get a life.” My response? Okay, sure…tell me on which website I can download A Life, and I will happily add it to my queue. 😉