Gratitude for Great Movies Big and Small

An unknown but wise person once said, “Gratitude is the best attitude,” and I for one couldn’t agree more. A group of great films were featured during a record-breaking week of giving thanks for movies big and small (oh, and family, friends and feasts galore), leaving moviegoers (and studio executives) with the best attitude. Following an early, extended movie weekend, box office results rolled in, and we found the sun refused to set on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part II as it rested comfortably once again at the #1 setting with $64 million in ticket sales over the five-day holiday weekend. James Bond continued to watch the Skyfall from the #2 location with $51 million while the #3 spot went to Lincoln, who celebrated an all-American holiday by  joining his box-office buddies with $34.1 million. The newly-released animated Rise of the Guardians rose among the ranks to the #4 position with $32.6 million. Also new to theaters and sailing in at 5th place was the adventure-filled Life of Pi with $30.2 million domestically.

Teenage vampires, an American President, British spy, and the profitable Life of Pi, not to mention Christmas’s biggest star, Santa Claus, illuminated seaside movie days all the more during the most gratifying of weeks.

What movies were you most grateful for this week?

Pieces of Family Film Life

There are so many remarkable Thanksgiving films to choose from but my go-to one this year is the 2003 independent film Pieces of April starring Katie Holmes as 21-year-old April Burns, the black sheep of her estranged family. April is determined to host a memorable family Thanksgiving dinner in her cramped New York apartment with the help of her well-intentioned boyfriend (Derek Luke).

She definitely gets the memorable part right but for all the seemingly wrong reasons (a broken oven and the turkey hitting the floor are just a few in a series of mishaps).  In desperation, a ‘domestically challenged’ April turns to her neighbors (including the awesome Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Lillias White and Sean Hayes) for help in preparing her Thanksgiving feast as her dying, disapproving mom (Patricia Clarkson), tolerant dad (Oliver Platt), siblings and senile granny (John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and Alice Drummond) take a stressful road trip from nearby Pennsylvania, discussing the pros and cons of their destination along the way, unaware of the state of April’s neighborhood and graffiti-plagued building or that her boyfriend is black.

Although we the audience know calamity is this meal’s main course, the film remains optimistic even and perhaps especially, during its painfully relatable familial moments. Pieces of April personifies dysfunctional family life in all its light and darkness, making for a must-see film.

This character- driven film shows up on every “Best Thanksgiving Films” list and deserves every accolade. What makes this a go to film for me is how much I liked every flawed character even when I didn’t like their behavior. In particular, I really admired our stalwart heroine April who tries so hard but is clearly and hilariously in over her head. I hoped against hope that everything would come together for her. The complicated and comforting family connection and her innate desire to salvage it, especially in light of her mom’s advanced cancer, were palpable. I naively imagined her argumentative clan would walk through the door of her dark abode and somehow see the light. They’d embrace her with open arms while complimenting her on her cooking and creative décor as they joyfully announced her mom’s cancer had magically disappeared somewhere between Pennsylvania and New York. Next, they would admire her  well-dressed boyfriend Bobby as he lavished April with her heart’s desire (including a personal chef because she obviously could have used one of those). While that lofty dream (spoiler alert) fails to come to fruition, there is hope for the somewhat broken Burns crew and I’m left clinging to those fractured, hopeful pieces.

That’s what good movies do; they bring out the optimist in me. I see a happy ending even in the midst of utter chaos.  While the family may be broken, the unit as a whole strangely fits together, demonstrating that minor miracles can happen; even if only in the form of a homespun Thanksgiving dinner whose memory miraculously lingers long after the dishes are done…

For everyone celebrating Thanksgiving, hope yours is both delicious and memorable!

An Entertaining Feast

Looking out at the ocean just beyond the horizon, a brand new movie day is rising, and I for one couldn’t be more thankful. There’s so much to celebrate in the land of Make Believe, where colored sunsets and starry heavens are the norm.  This week seems like an appropriate time to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for from family, friends, and fabulous feasts to, of course, fantastic holiday films!

Staying Home For the Holidays? Who can blame ‘ya, with an entertaining assortment of Thanksgiving movies reminding us of what we should be truly happy for (even if it’s just not being a part of odd fictional families).

Upon checking in to the Holiday Inn, a calamity-prone Hannah and Her Sisters hoped for an early white Christmas and an escape from their never-ending drama. Thankfully, no Ice Storm occurred for our wayward movie travelers who journeyed by Planes, Trains & Automobiles with healthy appetites for casserole dishes and other families’ catastrophes.

Along with the aroma of turkey and all the trimmings lingered the Scent of a Woman, who was all too eager to sample the fine cuisine. Desert, naturally, involved a visit with Willy Wonka and (a trip to) the Chocolate Factory, which was so much better than Aunt Millie’s Cranberry Surprise! The Pieces of April’s apple pie that didn’t burn were happily indulged by a few brave souls who, following a well-deserved nap, witnessed their very own Miracle on 34th Street (otherwise known as happy families celebrating on every festive corner).

A sentimental day rivaling that of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving was had by all, who looked forward to the Hollywood version of Christmas soon to come…

What movies will make your Thanksgiving even sweeter?

The Sound and the Glory

According to Alfred Hitchcock, “If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.”  That’s what I love about movies; they’re so much easier to follow than real life! Sure, when you come in at the middle of, say, The Hunger Games, you’re going to wonder in confusion what’s with all that to-the-death fighting. If you miss the beginning of Men in Black III, you’ll be left asking why they have suddenly gone retro; you may also be curious to know what brought Magic Mike to the stage if you come in mid-striptease (or maybe you won’t need an explanation for that one).

Each good story has a concise beginning, middle and end with enough entertaining ebbs and flows to keep the audience along for the entertaining ride. The films of 2012 proved to be no exception. We quickly understood what made a stuffed Ted tick, what ultimately prepared Spider-Man to become so Amazing and what exactly The Perks of Being a Wallflower were.

During the Cold Light of Day, we had Total Recall of every fantastic film moment as Hope Springs throughout the magical land of make believe. We understood The Campaign to make 2012 a memorable movie year and had no Trouble With the Curve. We were wide awake at Red Dawn, watching excitedly as The Man With the Iron Fists put up his dukes in the direction of Wreck-It Ralph, who had strengths of a different kind and appealed to moviegoers of all kinds.

Whether in silence or in sound, Alfred Hitchcock understood the art of film in all its uncomplicated, glory-filled wonder, earning him the subject of an upcoming movie, appropriately titled, Hitchcock, chronicling the rich life of the ultimate “Master of Suspense.”

From seaside days to starry nights, wishing you a weekend filled with movie-style suspense and sensational stories.

I, for one, can hardly wait!

The Challengers, the Champions and the CIA

An exciting, diverse group of movies opened this weekend, ready to duke it out, box-office style, with last week’s reigning champions. Would the sophisticated James Bond’s Skyfall rise above the childlike Wreck-It Ralph, who ruled the Hollywood playground last week?

Could the limited-released Lincoln be Taken 2 a higher Flight than them all?

Those questions were quickly answered, as Daniel Craig’s James Bond caused an impressive Skyfall, pounding the cinematic competition and coming in first with a record-breaking $87.8 million, making it the best Bond debut ever (which is quite impressive considering there have been, count ‘em, 23 of them). Last week’s ‘numero Uno,’ the kid-friendly Wreck-It Ralph, placed a wholesome second with $33.1 million added to Tinstletown’s kiddie till. Denzel Washington once again took an impressive Flight, landing safely at third place with $15.1 million.

Government affairs remained the hot topic of conversation in both the White House and the Movie Manor this week with intense, politically-infused films rounding out the Top 5. Ben Affleck’s CIA Argo-ego earned a politically correct $6.7 million while another CIA agent, this time in the form of Liam Neeson, was Taken 2 Istanbul by questionably hygienic Albanian gangsters but brought back $4.0 million to this week’s United States’ box office sales.

Whether your interests lie in superspies or CIA’s, arcade games or Albanians gone bad, viewed seaside or nationwide, there is plenty to choose from this week at the movies…

Until next time, enjoy a magnetic movie week!

The Movie Goer’s Guide to Great Animated Films

Innocent but imaginative Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbes fame, once mused, “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” Six-year-old Calvin’s starry-eyed view of the world, I assume, is significantly different from that of the typical frazzled adult. I image he lives a life filled with animation, wonder and color (and lifelike stuffed animals). Perhaps he would like the grown-ups in his world to take a (movie) break from their jobs and household chores and hole up in their own little island paradise filled with candy and creativity, a respite from shorter days, colder nights (and long lines at their local Wal-Mart). Once there, maybe they’d focus on stars of every kind, not just the ones found in a darkened sky, and they’d see the space between the sun and the sky through special, innocent eyes. Possibly they’d see humanity in all its childlike wonder, as the creators of this year’s animated films surely did, and become inspired by the marathon of feel-good animated films that invaded our movie theaters in 2012.

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax encouraged the dreamer in everyone while a Brave princess showed a lot of strength and heart. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted traveled well through America on friendship and loyalty, Ice Age Continental Drift glided along entertainingly on that same significant theme, as Frankenweenie, Hotel Transylvania and ParaNorman got everyone in a family-loving, appropriately eerie, Halloween mood. Wreck-It Ralph is currently causing anything but destruction at the Box Office, as the villain in the arcade game strives to provide inspiration instead of his usual annihilation. Ending the year determined to land on the right side of the Naughty and Nice list is the eternally good (but with an edge) Santa Clause and his fairy tale cohorts who valiantly meet the Rise of the Guardians to save their holiday-laden kingdom.

Whichever family-friendly films you choose, in the land of animation, there’s always time to find the child within and to look with wonder at the stars…

Hope your weekend is filled with childlike wonder and stars!

The Good Guys Come in First this Week at the Movies

An insightful yet anonymous author once stated, “To be a star you must follow your own light, follow your own path, and never fear the darkness, for that is when the stars shine the brightest.” Could that unknown stargazer have been referring to the lights in Hollywood, which never seem to dim?  As a soft breeze lights the way to the ultimate in movies this week, the days are anything but dark. This week’s cast of characters, however, could use a sunny seaside retreat as they face heavy drama of the major motion picture kind. Strangely, everyone wants to be the hero this week, with varying degrees of “superman” success. A pilot (Denzel Washington) with an until-now hidden drinking problem takes a heroic yet controversial Flight leading him straight into infamy while The Man with the Iron Fists (Wu-Tang Clan) struggles with his own notoriety as he searches for the steely hero within needed to save China’s Jungle Village, his adopted town. Heroes apparently exist in the animated world as well as Wreck-It Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly), tired of always being the guy who wrecks things, becomes determined to save the day in his own arcade-game loving way. Next up, The Details are unimportant to a family man (Tobey Maguire) who tries to save his yard (and his sanity) from a destructive family of raccoons. Finally, a retired rock star (Sean Penn) declares This Must be the Place when he takes a road trip on his father’s behalf on a gallant hunt for a Nazi war criminal.

With twinkling eyes, our heroes reach the end of their journey and find magic within the movie mayhem, following their own well-lit path, where every star shines the brightest on the big screen…

Hope everyone has a great time at the movies this week!