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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Hello, everyone, and Happy New Year.

The MovieDruid was somewhat surprised to find that New Year’s Day has no national releases scheduled.  So, after much brain wracking for an idea, I offer you this modest list of movies with memorable New Year’s Eve scenes or themes.

Enjoy.

“Holiday Inn”

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Synopsis: Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover have been vaudeville partners for many years but when Ted announces that he and Jim’s girlfriend, dancer Lila Dixon, are going to set off on their own, Jim decides the time has come to retire. He buys himself a farmhouse in New England and settles into the country life but soon realizes that he has an opportunity to do something special. He decides to open his inn to the public, but only on major holidays. Things are going well for him until his old partner Ted shows up and sets his sights on Jim’s new friend, Linda Mason. The film introduced the song White Christmas.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Though much better known for the “White Christmas” scene, “Holiday Inn” does offer not one but two, count ’em two, New Year’s Eve scenes book-ending a year of holidays.  For any fan of the classics of the ’40’s this is a special movie.  I mean, after all, how can you go wrong with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby during the holidays.

“The Poseidon Adventure”

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Synopsis: The Poseidon, an ocean liner larger than the Queens Elizabeth and Mary combined, is charting its course on New Year’s Eve. Just after midnight, Captain Harrison spots the mother of all tidal waves. It is the last thing that Harrison and practically everyone else onboard sees before drowning — the Poseidon is turned upside down, with only a handful of survivors. The ten lucky ones — including Mike Rogo , Linda Rogo, Acres, Belle Rosen, and Manny Rosen — led by no-nonsense minister Frank Scott, desperately attempt to climb from the top of the ship to the bottom.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This film, of course, opens with a New Year’s Even party and everything goes to hell in a handbasket from there.  The original version from 1972 is eminently superior to the very flawed 2006 remake starring Kurt Russell.  Truly one of the greatest disaster movies of all time.

“When Harry Met Sally”

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Synopsis: Harry and Sally meet when she gives him a ride to New York after they both graduate from the University of Chicago. The film jumps through their lives as they both search for love, but fail, bumping into each other time and time again. Finally a close friendship blooms between them, and they both like having a friend of the opposite sex. But then they are confronted with the problem: “Can a man and a woman be friends, without sex getting in the way?”

MovieDruid’s Comments: Truly the best romantic comedy ever made, bar none.  Somehow this film manages to stretch itself beyond its genre to make a film that even guys I know who abhor the “chick flick” have enjoyed it.  Stunning direction by Rob Reiner and writing by Nora Ephron, but the career defining performances by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are what truly make this film work.

“2010” – MovieDruid “I Know It Doesn’t Fit, But What The Hell” Award”

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Synopsis: In this sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a joint American- Soviet expedition is sent to Jupiter to discover what went wrong with the U.S.S. Discovery against a backdrop of growing global tensions. Among the mysteries the expedition must explain are the appearance of a huge black monolith in Jupiter’s orbit and the fate of H.A.L., the Discovery’s sentient computer.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Released a full 16 years after it’s predecessor, “2010” was not nearly as strong a film as it’s predecessor.  However, it is an interesting movie and, at times, a bit of a head trip.  It is definitely worth a look if for no other reason than Dave trying to save himself from the demented computer as H.A.L. serenely asks “What are you doing, Dave?”  Classic cinematic moment.

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With New Year’s Eve approaching rapidly, many of us turn our thoughts to champagne, noisemakers, and singing “Auld Lang Syne” off-key with friends and loved ones. Traditions abound this time of year, and New Year’s Eve is no different from Christmas in that respect.  For many of us, New Year’s Eve just isn’t the same without one thing.

The eternal teenager himself, Dick Clark.

The man was a part of the Times Square celebration as important as that big shining ball of crystal and light that drops every year.  But, as I look around these days I see that the tradition of dropping the ball in Times Square has spread across the countryside and taken root in towns big and small across America.  Just about everywhere these days you find towns raising or dropping something significant on New Year’s Eve, and these items have much more story in them than the simple ball in New York.

Here’s just a sampling of the items being used to bring in the New Year just around me in Central Pennsylvania:

  • Harrisburg uses a Strawberry (the area in which the celebration is held, across from the state capitol is called (Strawberry Square)
  • Lancaster (the Red Rose city) and York (the White Rose city) both use roses of the appropriate color (hearkening back to the War of the Roses between York and Lancaster in England)
  • Lebanon uses a bologna (Lebanon Bologna is a local delicacy)
  • Hershey uses a Hershey Kiss
  • Hummelstown uses a lollipop (there was once a lollipop factory in the town)
  • Elizabethtown uses an M&M (the factory is nearby)
  • Dillsburg uses a pickle (do I need to explain that one?)

And that is just a sampling.  It’s amazing how the tradition has spread through even small towns in America.  Dick Clark may not be Rockin’ in the New Year anymore, but the standard he set for us certainly seems to be living on.  So, while you’re drinking a toast to the New Year and singing off-key, remember that it all started with Dick Clark.

The ball may have been dropped in Times Square before him, and may continue to be dropped without him, but he made it an institution that spread a tradition throughout the country.

This has always seemed like the strangest week of the year to me. 

We’ve just gotten through the madness of Christmas, and the madness of New Year’s Eve lurks on the horizon.  But somehow, during the intervening week a strange quiet seems to settle on the world.  Somehow between all the people who simply take the week off and the faintly menacing knowledge that yet another year is about to close its books, we seem to develop a softness.

The thing about it is, even though there is a strange quiet around us, it does not feel calming in the least.  It feels much more like the quiet that comes just before a major storm breaks out.  It is the hush of resignation in the face of nature’s fury.  In this case, though, nature is represented not by the howling winds or drifting snow banks, but by the inevitable and unstoppable march of time.

I think all of us begin to feel a bit more sharply the steps of time during this week.  We have celebrated with our families, and have known a period of joy and contentment, but now are faced with a single week during which another year slows down and finally stops.  And, as we see that slowing taking place around us, as we see the calendar march inevitably toward the final moments of the year, we begin to become more reflective.  Pensive, even.

What have we seen this year?  What have we accomplished?  Did this year lead to steps forward or backward in our lives?  Did we love and live as we should have or did we squander the time?  The questions gnaw away at the edges of our subconscious and even emerge into the conscious mind as we begin to make resolutions.

Quiet reflection and meditation on what has been and will be can be a healthy and fulfilling exercise, but ultimately we cannot alter the past or future.  Dwelling on the past, which nothing can change, can be self-destructive.  Living entirely in the present can be irresponsible.  Thus, there is danger in becoming ties up in time’s passage.

We are all here in the quiet.  And, I believe that if we try to love one another the passage of time won’t be so frightening.  You don’t have to like the people you meet everyday, but try to love them in the spirit of fellowship that we all have as human beings.

As this year runs down and the quiet descends, I can say only this: live your life such that if you were to be gone tomorrow people would remember you and smile.

Merry Christmas to all my friends in MovieDruid land!  I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and Santa treats you well.  (Though, knowing my readers there are a lot of lifers on the naughty list reading this.)  This year’s Christmas releases look to be some of the better ones in the last few years.  And, with national release dates for the Oscar contenders that didn’t make it past New York and L.A. in December coming in January and February, things are definitely looking up at the cinema.

So, grab a glass of warm holiday wine and a Christmas cookie and check out what’s coming your way…

“Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel”

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Synopsis: “Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” brings back our favorite furry brothers, Alvin, Simon and Theodore. Because of a freak accident involving Alvin and Dave Seville, they go to live with Dave Seville’s cool cousin Toby and must enroll in school just like every other kid. School presents new challenges to these rock stars, like dealing with peer pressure, school sports and of course, girls! By “girls” we mean the Chipettes who are managed by Ian Hawke, the Chipmunks greedy former manager who wants to turn them into the next big thing. At the outset, there is a rivalry between the Chipettes and The Chipmunks but in the end they realize that they make great friends and a great musical team!

MovieDruid’s Comments: I was never a fan of Alvin & the Chipmunks when it was a Saturday morning cartoon.  I never saw the original feature film because, quite frankly, it looked fairly inane.  This one doesn’t look much better.  I understand that it is family friendly entertainment, and that I am not the target audience.  But, I truly believe that kids are a bit smarter than this.  If we toss low brow entertainment at them at an early age, they will never really appreciate the smarter and deeper pieces that come out amidst the drek like this.

“Up In The Air”

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Synopsis: Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man who loves his life on the road, is forced to fight for his job when his company downsizes its travel budget. He is required to spend more time at home just as he is on the cusp of a goal he’s worked toward for years: reaching five million frequent flyer miles and just after he’s met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This film is getting a fair amount of Oscar buzz, and I can understand why.  The film has a nicely understated feel to it that should be perfect for the development of a plot that looks to fall somewhere in the middle ground between comedy and drama.  And, if this is the feel they are going for, tapping Jason Reitman (“Juno” & “Thank You For Smoking”) is an excellent decision.  The casting is also very well thought out.  George Clooney (“Ocean’s Eleven” & “Michael Collins”) has, in my opinion, truly come into his own since making the transition from the small to large screen.  His charisma and natural manner makes him an excellent choice for the lead in this film.  Vera Farmiga (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” & “The Departed”) is an actress who has shown the ability to convey great intensity as well as depth that has been very impressive.  Overall, this looks to be a well plotted and directed film that is deserving of your attention.

“It’s Complicated”

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Synopsis: Jane is the mother of three grown kids, owns a thriving Santa Barbara bakery/restaurant and has — after a decade of divorce — an amicable relationship with her ex-husband, attorney Jake. But when Jane and Jake find themselves out of town for their son’s college graduation, things start to get complicated. An innocent meal together turns into the unimaginable — an affair. With Jake remarried to the much younger Agness, Jane is now, of all things, the other woman. Caught in the middle of their renewed romance is Adam, an architect hired to remodel Jane’s kitchen. Healing from a divorce of his own, Adam starts to fall for Jane, but soon realizes he’s become part of a love triangle. Should Jane and Jake move on with their lives, or is love truly lovelier the second time around? It’s — complicated.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I have high hopes for this one, but great fears as well.  The cast is where my hopes lie.  Meryl Streep (“The Hours” & “The Devil Wears Prada”) seems to be able to turn nearly anything she touches to gold.  Actresses of her caliber are a rare treat, and I find it difficult not to take in project she takes on for fear of missing another masterpiece.  Likewise, but to a lesser extent, we have Alec Baldwin (“Heaven’s Prisoners” & “The Hunt for Red October”).  I have always liked his work, and am happy to see him having something of a career resurgence.  The real worry I have is the director, Nancy Meyers (“The Holiday” & “What Women Want”).  While I have enjoyed some of her films, they do tend to lack a certain depth that would make them great, instead relying on the “cute” factor of her premises.  Here’s hoping that is not the case here.

“Nine”

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Synopsis: “Nine” is a vibrant and provocative musical that follows the life of world famous film director Guido Contini as he reaches a creative and personal crisis of epic proportion, while balancing the numerous women in his life including his wife, his mistress, his film star muse, his confidant and costume designer, an American fashion journalist, the whore from his youth and his mother.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This looks to be a lavish musical charged with multiple stars, huge production numbers with extravagant costumes and sets, and the like.  Something in the vein of “Moulin Rouge.”  In that, it looks like from a music and visual context the film should succeed beautifully.  However, the mixing of deep story into that context with character actors like Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York” & “In the Name of the Father”) involved seems like they are trying to make two films and crush them together.  The result looks somewhat stilted and awkward.  Thew real question becomes can director Rob Marshall (“Memoirs of a Geisha” & “Chicago”) successfully weave these two styles together into a cohesive whole?  I think the jury is still out on that one.

“Sherlock Holmes” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

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Synopsis: Sherlock Holmes has made his reputation finding the truth at the heart of the most complex mysteries. With the aid of Dr. John Watson, his trusted ally, the renowned “consulting detective” is unequaled in his pursuit of criminals of every stripe, whether relying on his singular powers of observation, his remarkable deductive skills, or the blunt force of his fists. But now a storm is gathering over London, a threat unlike anything that Holmes has ever confronted…and just the challenge he’s looking for. After a string of brutal, ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson arrive just in time to save the latest victim and uncover the killer: the unrepentant Lord Blackwood. As he approaches his scheduled hanging, Blackwood — who has terrorized inmates and jailers alike with his seeming connection to dark and powerful forces — warns Holmes that death has no power over him and, in fact, his execution plays right into Blackwood’s plans. And when, by all indications, Blackwood makes good on his promise, his apparent resurrection panics London and confounds Scotland Yard. But to Holmes, the game is afoot. Racing to stop Blackwood’s deadly plot, Holmes and Watson plunge into a world of the dark arts and startling new technologies, where logic is sometimes the best crime-fighting weapon…but where a good right hook will often do the job.

MovieDruid’s Comments:  I am a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I have read most, if not all, of his stories about the inimitable Sherlock Holmes.  And, I highly recommend them to anyone.  However, here we have the classic characters interpreted by a new voice, and the result is fascinating.  After all, what do you expect when you give the creative force for “Sherlock Holmes” to talented people like director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch” & “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) and stars Robert Downey, Jr. (“Iron Man” & “Natural Born Killers”), Jude Law (“Road to Perdition” & “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”), and Rachel McAdams (“State of Play” & “The Notebook”)?  This group have been on the cutting edge of some of the most incredible films of the last few years individually, together, with a new twist on the characters created by Doyle, they look to be on the verge of creating another triumph.

I have always been a dog person.  My family has owned dog’s for the bulk of my life, and they have always been an important part of the family.  My memories of each one are dear to me even though they are also painful at times for the loss.

When I cam to Pennsylvania, I knew that one of the things I was getting involved in was having a new dog around.  His name was Colby, and he was a big, 80-pound bundle of energy and love.  At our first meeting, one I had been nervous about since I knew he was very protective of his owner (now my wife), he jumped into the backseat of our car and after looking me over for a few seconds greeted me with a friendly lick on the cheek.

We were buddies from that moment forward.

Colby was a huge part of our lives.  He rode in the car with us everywhere.  We bought him his own hamburger or ice cream when we went through McDonald’s or Dairy Queen drive-thru.  He laid on the bed with us to watch movies and tried to catch the snow when we shoveled the driveway.  He was a part of our family, an equal in the household.

He was, in short our best friend.

He was also a staunch protector.  I will never forget the spring day we ordered a pizza and didn’t hear the delivery man knock on the screen door.  Colby perked up a bit, but stayed with us.  That is, until he heard the screen door open and someone step inside.  At that moment, he was off like a bullet.  By the time I caught up with him he was halfway across the living room and the pizza guy was fleeing in terror from a flash of black and white fur and teeth.

Colby isn’t with us anymore.  A few months ago time and infirmity caught up with my dear friend.  When we realized that just standing and walking has become all but impossible for him we made the impossible decision.  We held him as he passed, and I have wept more for him since that day than for any other canine companion I have ever had the joy of knowing.

In two days it will be Christmas.  Our first Christmas without Colby with us.  The first Christmas he will not check out all the presents trying to find his.  The first Christmas he will not rip open his own gifts, sometimes consuming half a bag of Beggin’ Strips before we can stop him.  The thought of that hit me this morning and I have been fighting the tears ever since.  Rather unsuccessfully.  I miss him terribly, and probably always will.

They say that the best bargain man ever made was with the dog.  We would give them little more than a little food and they give us unconditional love and eternal companionship.  My wife and I gave our own unconditional love and companionship to Colby, and received back something that can’t be expressed in words from him.  I know that somewhere out there, he is laying in fields of sweet grass and patiently waiting for us to come home.  When I get to heaven I expect to be met by a sweeping tail and a flurry of happy barks.

So, I say: “Merry Christmas, Colby.  You’re a good dog, and an even better friend.”

The last few years have seen an absolute explosion in the number of people using social networking sites.  Communities like MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook have grown to immense proportions.  In fact, I have even begun to partake in them a bit as a means of communication among some of the groups I run with and to keep up, to a greater or lesser extent, with old friends.

The popularity of these sites has brought a new trend along with it.  Hundreds of small games and applications from FarmVille to Mafia Wars have sprung up within these communities.  Until I began blocking most of the notifications my personal pages was flooded with daily news of the exploits of everyone on my friends list in their various and sundry games. 

Now, I admit, I tried several of these games out for a time.  I even enjoyed them for a while.  But after a time, they just became tedious.  So, I stopped really looking at them.  I don’t think I have actually loaded any of them up in several months.  But, I still get the gift requests, the group invites, and the like for the games.  But, I did begin to notice something interesting: the people who seemed to be the most hardcore about these games were many of the same ones who would chuckle or roll their eyes if they heard me mention World of Warcraft or another MMO I was playing.

This fact was reinforced to me when a friend of mine mentioned that he had noticed a similar thing amongst co-workers who gave him a hard time about his World of Warcraft play, but had become addicted to these mini games on the social networks.

The more I think about it, the more this amuses me.  A whole crop of people who look upon me and my brethren in geekhood with disdain are now hip deep in these miniaturized and watered-down versions of the same sort of game they feel marks me as a social misfit.  It makes me laugh to think of the time they have spent hunched in front of their screens feeding fish, planting crops, or rubbing out a rival mafioso.  They don’t even seem to understand what they have become.

All I have to say is Welcome, my newfound Brothers and Sisters!  Welcome to the Geek Nation!

I was driving to work last week listening to a local morning show do one of their typical trivia games.  The woman who called in answered the Christmas-themed questions with excitement and enthusiasm.  That is, until she was asked what Clarence received at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  She guessed correctly (his wings), but admitted she had never seen the film.

I was somewhat taken aback.  How can someone in America have managed to avoid seeing “It’s A Wonderful Life”?  Who would want to?  The movie is, by all definitions, a classic.  But, as soon as I had that thought I remembered something else.  There is a documentary among the special features on my DVD for the greatest film ever made, “Casablanca,” called “As Time Goes By.”  The documentary, narrated by Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall, tells the tale of the making of the film.  One of the points it makes is that “Casablanca” was just another film at the studio at the time.  The executives didn’t even necessarily see it is one of their big films of that year.

And, when you think about it, that’s the case with every classic out there.  They were all just another movie being released that year, seemingly no different from any other.  But, why do we remember and cherish films like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Star Wars,” and “Casablanca,” but forget films like “6000 Enemies,” “The Cassandra Crossing,” or “Escape from Crime” which were released those same years?

In short, what makes a classic?  One would imagine the answer would be simple, but I argue that it is very complex. 

The reason one movie is remembered and another forgotten is, of course, in many ways dependant on the quality of the film.  And, this applies to the truly awful (“Plan 9 From Outer Space”) as much as the Oscar winners and other great films.  But it goes well beyond that.  Truly classic pieces of art, whether they be movies, books, paintings, plays, or any other form of artistic expression, find some way to connect to us at a level that is almost undefinable.  They draw our psyche in and communicate something on an almost primal level, often unexpectedly.

It is the ability of these artistic endeavors to show us the shared experience of being human, with all its highs and lows, fears and failures, love and hate that makes them so special to us over the years.  It is that moment of humanity as a larger concept that endears us to these works.  They stir something in the primal soup of our collective psyche that allows us to remember that we are not alone in this world.  There are others sharing this ride through the universe and we all of us can find some small piece of common ground somewhere.

So, this holiday, grab a classic out of your DVD collection or catch one on TV.  Watch Jimmy Stewart yell Merry Christmas to Bedford Falls.  Listen to the Cowardly Lion sing about being the King of the Forest or Sam play “As Time Goes By.”  Heck, toast the season with a glass of Ovaltine with Ralphie while you’re at it.  All your old friends are there waiting for you. 

After all, they’re classics.

The news recently has been filled with the ever more sordid details of the private life of Tiger Woods.  Every day seems to drag more and more unsavory details out into the light of day.  And, while some in the media and around the various blogs and message boards seem to revel in seeing someone who climbed so high take such a hard fall, I don’t.

Frankly, I find it exasperating.

As I’ve read the stories I have found myself thinking back to an incident in 1993 when Charles Barkley, then playing for the Phoenix Suns, made the statement: “I am not paid to be a role model.  I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”  The storm of controversy around that statement was incredible at the time.  But, here’s the thing.  He chose to go into a highly public and visible profession.  He chose to accept the multi-million dollar contracts.  He chose to have his name and likeness on everything from replica jerseys to posters.  By making that choice, whether it is what he wanted or not, he became a role model.

The problem is that the men and women that are in positions of influence have forgotten that this is the case.  And, that applies whether you’re talking about Plaxico Burress shooting himself with an illegally carried handgun, Winona Ryder shoplifting at Macy’s, or South Carolina governor Mark Sanford claiming he was walking the Appalachian Trail while taking a private plane to visit his Brazilian mistress.

Or, of course, Tiger Woods having enough marital indiscretions to constitute a harem.

The news these days is full of scandal and controversy from athletes, actors, and politicians who seem to think their wealth and power allows them to do as they please with no consequence.  This would be infuriating all by itself.  But, when you consider that these are the people who our children see in the positions and vocations they aspire to.  When they see athletes lying about their steroid use or actors going on drunken, bigoted tirades or politicians hiding money in freezers what does that say to them?

I have news for all of them.  When you choose to be a public figure you choose to be a role model.  That comes with the position, prestige, and power.  There may not be a “role model clause” in that multi-million dollar contract, but when you sign on that line you take that responsibility.  If you don’t want to be a role model, then stay out of the limelight.

You don’t get all the perks with none of the responsibilities.  Life doesn’t work that way.  Not even for the rich and famous.

Hello, everyone.

Well, here we are, tomorrow will mark a mere week before Christmas.  What does that mean for us cinematically?  It means another light release week as the studios save a few of their big ones for Christmas Day release.  However, we are treated to one of the most truly fascinating films of the season this week as James Cameron dishes up his latest creation.

As a note, the MovieDruid will make his normal Thursday appearance on Christmas Eve.  There is one national release on Wednesday, December 23, but the bulk of the releases are Christmas Day, so I will not be altering te schedule next week.  Also, look for my review of “The Princess and the Frog” on the MovieDruid Reviews page now, and within the next few days I will be replacing it with my review of “Invictus.”  As always, if you missed a review, they are all available at the bottom of the Reviews page.

So, finally, let’s get on with it…

“Did You Hear About the Morgans?”

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Synopsis: Highly successful Manhattan couple, Meryl and Paul Morgan, have almost-perfect lives-except for one notable failure – their dissolving marriage. But the turmoil of their romantic lives is nothing compared to what they are about to experience when they witness a murder and become targets of a contract killer. The Feds, protecting their witnesses, whisk away the Morgans from their beloved New York to a tiny town in Wyoming, and a relationship that was on the rocks threatens to end completely in the Rockies– unless, in their new BlackBerry-free lives, the Morgans can slow down the pace and rekindle the passion.

MovieDruid’s Comments: How many times is Hollywood going to rehash the “witnessed the murder/put in witness protection/fish out of water” routine?  It’s a formulas that has been exploited so severely it hardly seems serviceable anymore.  The director, Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice” & “Music & Lyrics”) must be a close personal friend of High Grant, because he doesn’t seem to like directing anyone else.  And that, my friends, is a problem for me as I have never been a fan of Mr. Grant’s work.  Having Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City” & “Striking Distance”) helps a little, but her work outside “Sex and the City” in recent years has been sparse and disappointing.  I can’t see a reason to recommend this one unless you are a Hugh Grant fan, because this looks like just more of the same from him and Marc Lawrence.

“Avatar” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

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Synopsis: “Avatar” is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people.

MovieDruid’s Comments: James Cameron (“Titanic” & “The Abyss”) has always has a reputation for pushing the envelope, both as a storyteller and technologically.  Anytime he takes on a project he does it with a passion that few directors in Hollywood seem to have anymore.  and, he appears to have given us another fascinating vision with “Avatar.”  First off, he has pushed the envelope technologically once again, using CGI and other effects to an end that is nothing short of gorgeous.  But, beyond that the word is that he has mad use of 3D technology in a way that will be a definition of the concept going forward.  I have criticized 3D in the past, but after seeing its use in “A Christmas Carol” I am slowly being won over.  Add to the technology a cast that includes Sam Worthington (“Terminator Salvation” & “Hart’s War), Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek” & “Vantage Point”), Stephen Lang (“Public Enemies” & “Gettysburg”), Sigourney Weaver (“Alien” & “Death and the Maiden”), Michelle Rodriguez (“Fast & Furious” & TV’s “Lost”), and Giovanni Ribisi (“Boiler Room” & “Gone in 60 Seconds”) and you have the typical James Cameron synergy of talent,story, and technology that almost always fuses into greatness.  As a side note, the film is being released in normal, 3D, and IMAX 3D versions.  I only pop for a few films on IMAX a year because of the cost, this will be one.

I have mentioned before the lifelong love of books and reading that was instilled in me at an early age.  This time of year I always think fondly of the Christmas themed books of my youth from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to various adaptations of the Christmas story.  However, one that always stands out if “The Polar Express.”

As most probably know, this book was turned into a feature film by Robert Zemeckis a few years back using the motion capture technology he subsequently used for “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol.”  I’ve come to cherish the film almost as much as I cherished the book.  The reason for this isn’t the incredible visuals, the wonderful performances, or even the sheer Christmas joy.  It is because of a simple message it communicates throughout, but especially in the final twenty minutes or so.

It can be summed up in one word: BELIEVE.

In this modern world it can be easy to scoff at that concept.  Santa Claus is something that most relegate to their youth, a mere memory of what we once were at Christmas.  But, I submit to you that Santa Claus is indeed alive and well.  He is even now hitching up his sleigh and preparing to bring joy around the world as he does every year.

Now, I know I sound crazy to some, but what I speak is true.  I know it in my heart, because I BELIEVE.  Santa is all around us if we would just take a look around.  He is the true spirit of the season and he will always be there for us.  Santa isn’t about presents and trees, though.  He is about brotherhood.  He is about faith.  And, perhaps most importantly, he is about belief.

Santa lives in the hearts of people who brave the winter weather to flood their yards with electric lights to praise the season.  Santa lives in the eyes of the man who reaches out to his fellow man with a helping hand.  Santa’s sleigh bells are the sound of children’s laughter as they bask in the wonder of the holidays.  Santa is the smile that plays on our lips as we feel the strange warmth in the winter wind blowing around us this time of year.

Wherever people join together to share the simple joy of this wonderful time of year, Santa is there, drinking to their health.  Wherever someone weeps or mourns for someone who is not with them in this season, Santa is there with a hand on their shoulder to comfort them.  Wherever people remember that Christmas is more than gifts, candy, and brightly colored paper, Santa is there.

I believe, and I always will.  I was taught at a young age that Christmas is a joyous time, not because I get to tear open packages, but because of what the season represents.  And, whether you hold the Christian faith or not, the joyous energy of the season can be infectious.  We are all wanderers through this same life.  A time of joy amidst the pain and sorrow of the world can unite us.

So, don’t relegate Santa to that box of forgotten and unused dreams.  Look around and see his hand everywhere around you.  See his smile in the happiness of the season.  Listen for his sleigh bells on the winds of the night.  Let yourself be a beacon of joy, hope, and peace this Christmas.

And, above all, BELIEVE.

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