Seeing Life Like a Child: Lessons From a Kid’s Matinée

I’m a bit of a movie buff and most any genre will do. I still remember when my wife and I went to our local theater to watch the children’s movie, The Smurfs 2. It was a matinée no less; we were by far the oldest people there.

I enjoyed the sequel, perhaps even more so than the first one. As a bonus, both stayed true to the original cartoon series, protecting the theme and characters, while smartly extending the storyline. Overall The Smurfs 2 provided us with some charming entertainment.

The movie, however, also had some over-the-top, slapstick scenes. The first time this happened, my wife and I snorted a bit and shook our heads with incredulity. “I can’t believe it,” she whispered. She groaned and rolled her eyes in disdain. Had we been alone, I’d have surely done the same back to her, but before I could, the kid’s laugher overwhelmed me. Theirs wasn’t a pleasant chuckle or even a spontaneous giggle but a deep, unrestrained belly laugh that permeated the theater; perhaps, it was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen.

I couldn’t help myself. I laughed, too. Yes, the scene was stupid (by my standards), but the kids delighted in its excessive, exaggerated buffoonery – and I delighted in them.

Similar scenes followed. I laughed aloud. Not that it was funny, but I enjoyed it simply because they enjoyed it. Their laughter became my laughter; their glee produced my glee.

As we grow older, we risk becoming jaded, cynical, and hard to impress. We tend to hold back emotion and restrain ourselves. These kids reminded me just how foolish that is.

May that part of me never grow up. May I always delight in seeing life through the eyes of a child.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan lives in southwest Michigan with his bride of three decades. In addition to his affection for movies, he looks forward to the day when pizza and popcorn are reclassified as major food groups. Visit peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Three Reasons Why Firefly Failed

It’s been said Gene Roddenberry pitched the original Star Trek TV show as “a western in outer space.” I can appreciate the simplicity of that statement, but think it’s a bit off the mark. However, that would’ve been perfect for the TV show Firefly. Firefly truly was a western in space. (Lest you think the idea a bit crazy, consider the movie Cowboys and Aliens.)

Firefly, like Star Trek, also had its pilot episode rejected — and was then given the green light to shoot a second one.

Firefly debuted ten years ago and only lasted half a season. This was not because of any problems with the show, but with its network. There are three reasons why Firefly failed:

1) The shows were aired out of sequence: Though each show was self-contained, it also built on the prior one. There’s no excuse for showing them out of order.

2) It was often preempted: It’s hard to build a following if people can’t form a habit of watching you each week.

3) The plug was pulled too soon: Only 14 episodes were shot and only 11 aired. Had it been given a full season, an audience would have developed. It was in the unaired episodes that the story really took off.

Firefly creator Joss Whedon had a unique concept, an intriguing story line, and a seven-year story arc mapped out. Had the network not bungled it, Firefly could have been the next Star Trek.

I encourage you to check out Firefly, but don’t watch them in the order aired, rather in the order they were filmed (as listed in Wikipedia and Netflix).

[Tip: The original two-hour pilot was named Serenity, as was the movie sequel, shot in 2005. Watch the pilot Serenity first and the movie Serenity last.]

Bourne is Back!

I’m a big fan of the Bourne movies. Not because of the over-the-top action or excessive violence, but because of the intriguing story line — and the slowly unveiling connection between Jason and Nicky.

After the third movie, I wanted more and was understandably excited when a fourth one was announced. Alas, my enthusiasm was short-lived. Jason and Nicky are not part of this latest installment; there will be a new batch of characters for us to follow. This latest movie, “The Bourne Legacy,” will open in a few days.

So, I will never learn what Nicky meant when she said, “It was difficult… for me… with you. You… really don’t remember, do you?” There is certainly more there to be revealed, but what is it?

Bourne is back, but it’s not the Bourne I wanted.

Knight and Day

I recently watched the movie Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Given that it looked like an over-the-top action flick, I had low expectations for it.

I was pleasantly surprised.

I thoroughly enjoyed Knight and Day.  The subtle humor, often delivered with deadpan seriousness, delighted and amused me.  I found myself laughing frequently throughout their wild and implausible romp.  At times I laughed harder than for any movie I’ve seen in quite some time.

There is just one thing that perplexes me: I’m not sure if Knight and Day was supposed to be a comedy.

“Bandslam” Rocks

Netflix suggested that I would like the movie Bandslam; they were right.

Bandslam centers around a high school battle of the bands, offering credible musical performances in an interesting story line: misfit Will is recruited by popular Charlotte to “manage” her fledgling band.  This is what he is uniquely skilled to do, quickly assembling an eclectic group of musicians to round out the sound and smooth their rough edges.  In the process he turns a wannabe rock group into a convincing and competitive act.

The movie stars Alyson Michalka (from the group Aly and AJ) as Charlotte Banks and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) as Sa5m (“the five is silent”) in convincing performances.  Although Sa5m’s connection with Will is expected, Charlotte’s interest in him is perplexing.  Additionally, Lisa Kudrow (Friends) plays Will’s mom in a small, but interesting supporting role; David Bowie makes a cameo appearance.

Notably, all the actors in this movie do their own singing; there is no lip-syncing or dubbing, allowing viewers to enjoy the performances without the typically constant reminder that the performance is staged.  Of significance is the band’s impromptu cover of the 70’s mellow pop ballad “Everything I Own,” turning it into a memorable, upbeat rock/ska performance .

If you like good music, or simply enjoy an interesting plot with compelling characters, check out Bandslam.

As for me, I’ll check out the next movie Netflix recommends.

Did Avatar Hit Too Close to Home?

Reportedly the largest grossing movie of all time in China is Avatar, ballooning up to $76 million in a couple of weeks.

That meteoric trajectory is about to stop, however; the movie was essentially banned in China when showings of all 2-D versions were abruptly halted this week.  (The 3-D and I-Max versions will still be shown through February.)

Apparently, bloggers and activists began drawing parallels between Avatar the movie and China’s large land developers’ grab on the land of the locals who merely want to live simple, peaceful lives.

Doesn’t China’s suppression of Avatar then become an admission of guilt?  After all, if there were no validity to the allegorical allusions, then allowing the movie to continue would not be problematic.  However, suppressing the source of the dialog only seems to confirm that the allegations have merit.

Did Avatar hit too close to home with the Chinese power elite?  That seems to be the case.

My Netflix Reviewer Rank

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Netflix, the online movie rental site.  In addition to making movie selections, I spend time rating movies so that Netflix can make recommendations of other flicks that I might enjoy; it generally works quite well.

After watching one obscure selection online, Netflix asked me to write a review for it.  Since there were no reviews posted (which shows you how obscure it really was), I happily reviewed it.  After doing so, I was assigned a “reviewer rank.”  I started at around 500,000, meaning that there were half a million who has a more favorable rank.  This started me writing reviews (60 so far).  In part, this was because I enjoy movies and writing, so reviewing them was an obvious extension. However, my competitive nature also wanted to see how low I could push my reviewer rank.

The rankings are updated weekly, and I feel compelled to check mine out.  Usually, it moves up or down by a few hundred points.  Ironically, the movement doesn’t always track with my activity.  For example, I’ve seen my rank improve when I submitted no reviews, and I’ve seen it decrease when I have submitted reviews.

I suspect another factor in the ranking is the percentage of people who find my reviews helpful.  But that’s impossible to tell, since there is no way to do a controlled test with all the other reviewers making their own submissions.  I’ve also wondered if submitting “Top Ten” lists is a factor (I’ve made 10 so far), as well as doing the social networking thing by making “friends and favs”connections (which I’ve yet to pursue).  Again, there is no way to verify that.

Sometimes my reviewer rank makes huge jumps,anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000.  I assume that means Netflix tweaked their formula.  This is fun when my rank improves, but disconcerting when it drops.  A couple a months ago, I had worked up to a rank of13,381, but a month later, it plummeted to 104,010.

That sure made me lose interest.  Even so, I’ve worked back to 85,696.  But when the rules can apparently change without warning, the effort to earn a good rank looses some of its appeal.

Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is a Vegas cabbie who just wants to do his job and stay out of trouble, but when two teens flash a wad of cash and give a cryptic destination, he reluctantly obliges.  The teens are actually aliens, sent by their parents to retrieve an experiment to determine earth’s suitability for their race’s inhabitation.  The results of the test, however, show how their own dying world can be revived, but an opposing faction seeks to suppress this truth and is planning an imminent invasion anyway.

The trio enlists the help of Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a discredited UFO expert.  Together they race to the top-secret government installation on Witch Mountain to retrieve their spacecraft so that the “kids” can fly home with the evidence to stave off the attack.  In addition to US military and government opposition, they face a killer robot, sent from their home world, to hunt them down.

Fans of the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain will enjoy some pleasing and subtle tie-ins, including cameo appearances of the original stars.

This is an action packed movie, with something for everyone, that is sure to please.

4 stars

My Favorite Sci-fi Movies

Here are my list of favorite Sci-fi movies, which is perhaps my most appreciated genre.  Originally, the list was too long.  So I pulled out most of the space movies and flicks about time to be on separate lists.  (I’ve already posted my “space” list and the “time” list will be forthcoming.)  As you can see, the list is quite varied.

Alien Nation
Back to the Future
Back to the Future Part II
Back to the Future Part III
Clockstoppers
Cocoon
Daredevil
E.T. (1982)
Ghostbusters
I, Robot
Innerspace
Jurassic Park
Men in Black
My Stepmother is an Alien
Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
Transformers
Tron

My Favorite Comedy Movies

Here are my favorite comedies.  Sometimes the humor is subtle; other times I smile; and occasionally I laugh till there are tears in my eyes and my stomach hurts.

 

Big

Cheaper by the Dozen

Clueless

Coneheads

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Jack

Kindergarten Cop

Legally Blonde

Miss Congeniality

Monster-in-Law

Mrs. Doubtfire

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

She’s All That

She’s the Man

Sister Act

Sydney White

The Kid

The Parent Trap (1998)

The Trouble with Harry

The Waterboy

The Whole Nine Yards

Tommy Boy

Tootsie

Uncle Buck


How many of these would make your list?