It’s New Year’s Eve tomorrow and we have yet another chance to start something new and fresh. All of the movie picks this week have characters who have decided to hit the reset button. which one would you pick for our movie of the week?
One of my favourite acts of the late great Chris Farley is his “Chris Farley Show” skit on Saturday Night Live. He would interview popular celebrities like Jeff Daniels and Paul McCartney awkwardly pointing out obvious highlights from there career, then following up with, “Remember that?” He would almost always ask if they’d seen Die Hard, then follow that up with, “Remember that part where…”
Yes, Chris, I did see Die Hard, and yes it was awesome. And I have to say: action movies set at Christmastime are pretty cool in their own right. But I think their very existence may hold a deeper meaning of sorts. Their subject matter and high octane scenes stand in contrast to the peaceful holiday that forms the backdrop. Once the carols, holly, bells, and lights are unleashed in the late fall, it is easy for us to forget that violence still carries on in our world regardless. It doesn’t take a break.
A bomb goes off on a tourist bus in Egypt. A tsunami hits Indonesia. A child dies of a curable illness at an international border. Thousands of “Rohingya” (a minority Muslim group in Myanmar) flee for a neighbouring country to escape the destruction of their homes, oppression, rape, and ethnic cleansing. The kind of violence that none of us really want to talk about.
But one of the beauties of Christmas that is good to recognize and acknowledge this season is its glimmer of hope in the midst of such violence. This brings to my mind one of my favourite Christmas songs, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
It surprised me to learn that this song was recorded when my parents were teenagers. They were the same age I was when George Michael released “Last Christmas.” It also surprised me to learn that the words were put to paper in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People were listening to their radios shaking in fear, wondering if they were going to be hit with a nuclear bomb. The lyricist, Noël Regney, was amoung such people. The WWII vet was fearful, but was also inspired during this difficult time seeing two mothers walking their babies in strollers in NYC. “Said the night wind to the little lamb…Pray for peace people everywhere.”
His song described the great star that shone for the “child sleeping in the night” who would “bring us goodness and light.” But that star was described in such a way that also mirrored the horror of a nuclear missile hurling towards its target (“with a tail as big as a kite,” “ringing through the sky… with a voice as big as the sea”). The contrast is chilling. But the hope in the song pierces through. Negney and the song’s composer, Gloria Shayne Baker, could not perform the song together at that time without getting overcome with emotion.
There is always hope. Always a light. So please pray for peace people, everywhere.
And no, that light isn’t John McClane jumping from an explosion in a hijacked hotel. Yippee-ki-yay…
Congratulations Die Hard. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
BEST ACTRESS: Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) in Batman Returns.
BEST ACTOR: Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard.
BEST QUOTE: “What did one shepherd say to the other shepherd? Let’s get the flock out of here!” — Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon.
Knowing violence doesn’t take a break at Christmastime, it’s pretty refreshing to hear stories about those rare times when it did. If you haven’t done it yet, please check out Joyeux Noel (2005). It’s in my top ten favourite Christmas movies. Based on true stories, too.
It wasn’t long ago when my mother reminded me that “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” was most likely written about (maybe even in) Yarmouth, NS. Well, as you may have seen/read from CBC there’s another Maritime community that has a bit of a yuletide claim to fame.
We are all familiar with “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a poem later dubbed “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or “The Night Before Christmas” that was originally published anonymously almost two centuries ago. Scholars have debated whether or not this really was Clement Moore’s work, but most give him credit. And to add to it all, a little connection with New Brunswick’s capital city throws in some logs to keep that fire of literary debate interesting.
Those of you familiar with Fredericton know of Odell Park, named after the Odell family who invested a lot into the community as well as the province. Turns out Jonathan Odell—a loyalist, politician, minister, propaganda writer and, get this, secret agent!—had been good friends with the author’s parents while in NY. As time went by, Odell was chosen to be the godfather of their only child, Clement.
Clement stayed in contact with his godfather via personal visits and written correspondence, and when Odell died in 1818 he continued to keep in touch with the family. Many of these letters are kept in the New Brunswick Museum in Fredericton, and in that collection of documents there is also a handwritten copy of this famous poem. Apparently, it looks like it was penned by Odell’s daughter, Mary. There are a lot of theories as to how and why this is in the collection, but it does help affirm Moore’s authorship. The date of the copy is just one year later than when the poem was first published, and the family evidently had kept it all this time not to prove anything at all. They simply valued this document, obviously because they valued Moore himself.
Something Julia Wright of the CBC highlighted was some of the differences in the copy. I’ve never understood why a name like “Donner” was used, let alone “Comet.” But according to the news article the Odell copy of the poem contains the names “Donder and Blixem” for the reindeer, suggesting the meanings to be respectively “Thunder and Lightning” in Dutch. Actually in Dutch it’s “Dunder” for you fans of The Office.
So please keep my blog in your bookmarks so that web surfing historians two centuries from now will see that it was actually me who wrote all these elegant posts of the most refined prose.
My apologies to My Girl (1991). I would have written more about you, but this story just grabbed me by the collar and bitch-slapped me, demanding my attention. But the distinction still goes to you. So…
Congratulations My Girl. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl.
Best Actor: Other than Culkin, I’d pick Joe Pesci in his return role as Harry Lime in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Best Quote: “Suck Brick Kid!” — Daniel Stern as Marv Merchants in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
I’d like to add a little defense for McCauley. He was criticized and gossipped about a lot as a kid and grow up to hear everyone saying how he “used to be cute” and now is so ugly. It’s not wonder drugs and other demons got a hold of him. And lately he adopted a creepy, even ghastly look and made sure we all saw it. Well, considering all that has been said about him, he may have been doing that on purpose. All of you people who don’t even know me think I look terrible? I disgust you? Well, how do you like me now? If that’s what he was doing, then good for him.
If anyone has any kind of appreciation for 90’s movies they must have at least one movie other than Home Alone that they love. Of course, HA is one of those Christmas movies that gets watched every year, hence the choice to use him as a springboard for picks. Which of these would you choose?
I used to get confused about the star in the Nativity scene: did the magi see the star in the east, or did they come from the east and see the star in the west? I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone say “star in the west” but then there’s the semi-popular “A Star in the East” tune. However, it does say “rise us up shepherd and follow.” So maybe the shepherds’ flock(s) were to the west of Bethlehem and they were the ones who saw the star in the east?
Unfortunately, Matthew is the only source we have (biblical one anyway) that gives details of the visit of these wise men. Yes, it’s true we don’t know how many there were; and though many believe they came from Persia, Matthew only says “the east.” Gee thanks Matthew. Throw us a bone dude!
So it is clear that they did, indeed, come from the east. And though we usually picture a star hanging in the sky in a particular direction that they “followed” (like a fixed point for a direction to take), stars move position from night to night. And we know it would’ve taken them many many days to get where they ended up, including a pit stop at Herod’s place to ask, “Say, you haven’t seen a king around here have you? Not a king like yourself, but you know, a real king.”
So either it hung rather low and remained stationary in a western direction, or they read stars like a lot of astrologers do/did: they interpreted it. In other words, it wasn’t like a beacon calling “Over here! This way!” but more like a symbol with a message in it giving them the details they needed for what to look for and where to go find the foretold king.
Either way, I love that it brought east and west together. It is amazing, not to mention frustrating, how historically we are divided by directions and territories. The broadest sense could be the global east vs the west as in eastern countries like India, Iran, China, etc vs western countries like Canada, the US, France, etc. Then in a country there can be east coast vs west coast or easterners vs westerners. East side of town vs west side of town, usually divided by a river, railroad tracks, or a highway. You can even have a division on a campus in this manner. So, in the nativity scene we have two cultures coming together, and I have no doubt they were as different, strange, and perceptively threatening to each other as we tend to be today, or even more so.
Growing up I had a worldview that saw most of the world not knowing this Christ child and, therefore, would be destined for hell. That is, unless we go visit them all and fill them in. But here’s a story where very knowledgeable and influential figures from another culture who take their cues from their own medium (astrology; also note they weren’t visited by a Judaeo-Christian angel) and end up in one of the most iconic scenes in the Christian faith. Yes it was two years after the shepherds, but they are still a part of the story. And they worship! Now, maybe this means that no matter what the culture or point of origin, everyone will eventually bow down to Jesus. But is there a chance that it could also mean that those from the other side of the world / the river / the street may have another way to get to the destination we’re all seeking?
Nah, probably not. I mean we’ve always held that for this all loving God to allow Muslims or atheists to live in heaven would just not be fair. The loving thing to do is send them to a place of torment for all eternity. So we cannot be pluralistic.
But we can hope the Christ child is, can’t we?
Congratulations West Side Story. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Rita Moreno as Anita in West Side Story. I actually haven’t seen this movie yet. Nor have a I seen Rebel. Yet. But I heard a powerful story about Moreno and the actors playing the Jets gang in an intense scene in this movie. Look it up on the IMDb page under trivia.
Best Actor: James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause.
Best Quote: “I don’t believe in surrenders. Nope, I’ve still got my saber, Reverend. Didn’t beat it into no plowshare, neither.” — John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers.
She famously played the little girl, Susan Walker, who helped Santa when he got tied up in the American judicial system in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), but Natalie Wood went on to star in many more successful movies after that. Which one would you choose to be this week’s movie?