Tuesday, December 29, 2015

George Kaplan

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react." - Charles Swindoll

I recently spent a rainy Saturday afternoon watching one of my favorite films North by Northwest.
It stars Cary Grant who gets mistaken for a man named George Kaplan, who has ties with the CIA and espionage.

Cary Grants character Mr. Thornhill is an advertising executive who gets kidnapped and then realizes they've got the wrong man. He then goes to great lengths to prove to them he is not George Kaplan.
His proving to them he wasn't George Kaplan would take him on an escape journey from New York to Mount Rushmore and subsequently all points in between, as Thornhill tries to decipher what information they so desperately want from him. Since this is a suspense thriller from the suspense master himself Alfred Hitchcock, one would expect all of the twists and turns within such a story.

But..my thinking afterward was, "Wouldn't it have been easier for Grant to prove who he said he was, rather than having to prove who he wasn't?"

After all, Thornhill was a big time advertising executive at a big company, naturally he had people to vouch for him and his school records would also acknowledge who he really was. Not to mention his medical records, family, friends. But like I said, this was a Hitchcock film so there has to be a little intrigue and suspense to want us to watch this film.

In our life we will unfortunately come across people who will mistaken us for being something or someone we are not. It will be easier for us to discredit them just by staying true to who we really are, instead of going to great lengths to prove them wrong. As Dr. Seuss would say,

"Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!"


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

"Remember, last time we under estimated that little bundle of misery." - Harry, the bandit

This is one of the few Christmas movies to have made a sequel. And fortunately it is the only one to be just as successful as the original. If it weren't for Macaulay Culkin agreeing to play Kevin again, this movie may not have been made. Five years later they ended up making a couple of more sequels without Culkin, which ended up being duds, of course.

Home Alone 2 came out in 1992 to bring us further along on a McCallister family tradition-
losing Kevin, only this time it's in New York. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern continue their antics too, reprising their roles as the Wet Bandits, but now known as the Sticky Bandits.

So, just one Christmas after leaving Kevin home alone for the holidays, it couldn't possibly happen again could it? At least this time Kevin actually makes it to the airport with his family, who are running late to catch their flight to Miami. It is within the hustle and bustle of the busiest time of year for air travel in Chicago's O'Hare airport, where Kevin and his family get separated. Kevin lands on a plane for New York while his family is jetting off to palm trees and sunshine.
It is at the luggage carousel in Miami's airport where the McCallister's suddenly realize who's missing...
"We did it again!", Kevin's mom exclaims, before passing out.
Kevin in the meantime, realizes he is on the wrong plane, but take's quite delight in the fact he is somewhere else.
"Who wants to spend Christmas in a tropical climate anyways."
What I loved about first watching this film, and still do, is following Kevin around the big city of New York at Christmastime. All of the Christmas lights, decorated window displays, the Christmas trees all lit up, and the magical sound of Christmas bells jingling in the cold air. Kevin carries with him a Christmas spirit we even encounter in the first film; a Christmas spirit his own family doesn't acknowledge. His family would rather spend Christmas somewhere else than at home gathered around the Christmas tree.
Even when finding himself either left at home or left somewhere other than with his parents, the money God's are always with him. This time around Kevin happened to be carrying his father's bag which contained his dad's wallet with cash and credit cards. A wad of cash and credit cards to a kid in New York City? Where are you going to go? Why, to only the grandest most luxurious place in
 New York, the celebrity ding-dang-dong of hotels The Plaza.
Kevin finds a way to squirm his way through the hotel desk clerk with his father's credit card and checks into a hotel suite. But falls under the suspicion of the hotel concierge, played by Tim Curry who at one point in the film is displayed as a complete look-a-like to the Grinch. One of the humorous bits between Kevin and the hotel concierge happens in Kevin's suite. Tim Curry's character Mr. Hector sneaks into the room to see if  Kevin's story of why he is alone is true. Kevin is already aware and plants an inflatable Bozo in the shower disguised as his dad, using his Talkboy recording device to pretend his dad is singing in the shower. This humiliates Mr. Hector who gets caught by Kevin and is now at the mercy of Kevin and will do anything the kid wants. Kevin is catered to a limo and cheese pizza to see the sights of New York on Christmas Eve.
Again, this is another Christmas film I enjoy because of the relationships that are built:
Kevin bonds with a philanthropic toy store owner, Mr. Duncan, who is donating all of his Christmas Eve sales to a childrens hospital. Kevin even donates $20 of his father's money to help the kids.
Kevin would eventually save Mr. Duncan's toy store from the notorious Wet Bandits, who have broken out of prison and now call themselves The Sticky Bandits. Of course, how could there not be a Home Alone sequel without Kevin dueling it out and recharging his inventive pranks in stopping the crooks from stealing from good people.
Kevin also finds himself befriending a homeless woman in Central Park, known as the Pigeon Lady.
The two of them share hot chocolate in the attic of Carnegie Hall as they listen to the Philharmonic Orchestra. Kevin learns the Pigeon Lady had her heart broken in the past and is afraid to let anyone in. Kevin gives her some sound advice,
"If your not gonna use your heart, why worry about it getting broken?"
Of course, the end of this film unites Kevin with his mother and family. But more importantly Kevin has inspired confidence in the Pigeon Lady to not be afraid to take a step forward in befriending others. For when we open our hearts toward others we are opening up a greater gift, one of friendship.
Merry Christmas everyone!


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life: Conclusion

"I been savin' this money for a divorce, if ever I got a husband."

Annie, upon giving up her money toward helping George Bailey

George begins to pay dividends upon choosing to stay in Bedford Falls and run his father's company 'The Building and Loan' as he sees the business prosper. That is until Christmas Eve when Uncle Billy misplaces an $8,000 dollar deposit which falls directly into the hands of the evil Mr. Potter.

When George fails to find the money while retracing Uncle Billy's steps to the bank, fear begins to settle within him. George finds himself in such a dilemma he would land himself  at the office of Mr. Potter begging for a loan to replace the missing Building and Loan money. George suddenly realizes what he's done, crawling himself to beg at the knees of the one man he distrusted and disliked the most.

"You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!

If you know the story here is where George begins to have second thoughts and doubts of his life and the choices he's made. It is where George begins to finally seek for help from the One person he should have in the first place.

"Dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way...show me the way."

George realizes he is worth more dead then alive with his life insurance policy, as he thinks about Mary and the kids. George Bailey is about to jump off the bridge when down from heaven comes Clarence the Angel to save George and renew his life in a dramatic way.

Clarence decides to show George how life would be like if he had never been born, a chance for him to see the world without him in it. He shows George Bailey: his brother Harry drowning as a child, his wife Mary becoming an old maid, no more Building and Loan and everyone living in the slums of Potterville.

George realizes through this trip back in time with Clarence the Angel just how much his life touched others and made an impact in the entire town of Bedford Falls.

"Help me, Clarence, help me. I want to live again!"

When Clarence the Angel brings George back to reality, George suddenly has a different view of his life as Clarence reminds him,

"You see, George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"

 George excitedly runs home with a renewed outlook on life while he runs through the town of Bedford Falls wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. At home is Mary and a crowd of friends gathered to support George Bailey in his time of need. As we are reminded,

"No man is a failure who has friends."

And of course, Clarence the Angel finally gets his wings for helping George Bailey.

Sometimes in life we don't acquire a thankful heart until we have been challenged like George Bailey. Whether it's with our health, our finances, our home and family, we truly don't know what we have until something comes along to challenge us. Just like George Bailey all it takes is a simple cry for help and God will answer. And if you look closely, it may even be in the form of an angel.


Monday, December 14, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life: My Movie Review

"The three most beautiful things to hear: 'Breakfast is served, lunch is served, and'...."
- Uncle Billy

Ahh yes, the classic of all classics. This is my first attempt at writing about this 1946 Christmas classic, the film most people call the number one film of all time. There is so many messages within the confines of this movie it would be hard to fit it all in one post, so I'm going to break it down into two posts.

It's a Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and was directed by Frank Capra, known for directing many epic films in the history of cinema. Believe it or not, Cary Grant was first offered the role of George Bailey but contract talks fell apart so Stewart would take on the role.
As for Donna Reed, this was her first of over 20 movies she starred in.
George Bailey has his heart and mind set on leaving the small town of Bedford Falls,
"I want to shake the dust off this crummy little town and explore and conquer the world.
And then I want to come back and build skyscrapers and bridges and...."
For those of us who've seen this movie a hundred times, and never get tired of watching it, know that George Bailey's destiny is not quite what he had imagined. One of the main character points throughout this film is based upon relationships.
We have George as a child saving his brother Harry from drowning in an ice pond, to which their brotherhood builds on throughout this story.
George and his relationship with his father, someone he admires and looks up to. His father ran Bedford Falls Building and Loan, helping people get out of living in the slums run by crusty old Mr. Potter to owning their own elegant house in Bailey Park.
And of course there is Mary played by Donna Reed, whom would eventually marry George, the man she had a crush on since grade school. One of the more humorous scenes between the two is when they meet at a high school dance after having not seen each other for a few years. A couple of pranksters open up the retractable floor while George and Mary have the attention of everyone on the dance floor. They go from clicking their heels and swinging to swimming. The dance floor scene with the retractable floor which opens up to a swimming pool is one of Hollywood's most magical scenes, but turns out really isn't so magical. This scene was filmed at a Beverly Hills high school where the retractable floor really exists and is known as the swim gym.
We also have the relationship between slumlord Mr. Potter and George Bailey.
"Mr. Potter, the meanest, richest man in Bedford Falls who hates everyone
 and everything he can't have." - Mary
The relationship that all of us may acquaint with most is that between George and Clarence, an angel sent down to help George in his time of trouble. Clarence the angel needs to earn his wings and will do so if he can transform George Bailey's way of thinking and living.
George Bailey wants to do something big and important in life. Little did he know that he could do that in his own little community. With his father's passing and his brother Harry off to college, George unwillingly takes over his father's business The Building and Loan. George lays aside his own dreams and desires and realizes within him fulfilling other people's dreams of owning their own home, he is accomplishing what he set out to do. He just needed help in seeing that. And of course, Clarence the angel teaches him that through showing George how things would have been if he hadn't been born.
To be continued tomorrow.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Polar Express: My Movie Review


"Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train." - Charles Barkley

Although this quote has no significance to the film Polar Express, I like it and thought is was worthy of getting you to chuckle. Humor is great, it can add years to your life expectancy. And so can dreams and imagination especially when we were once little kids. For some reason all children like trains, everything from our first choo-choo train to having our very own model train that we could control as they railed around the tracks. I believe that is why this 2004 Christmas film has turned into a cult classic, not just for children but us adults who like trains too, specifically steam engine trains.

The Polar Express was the first film to highlight human characters animated using the live action performance capture technique, and stars Tom Hanks voicing six different characters in the film.
The dazzling visualization mixed in with a story of enchanting adventures aboard a steam engine train not to mention the music, makes this movie a delight for any age.
There is something to be said of dreaming of a steam engine train pulling up to the front door of your house, and the conductor suggesting you climb aboard to take a trip to the North Pole.
Why it's every child's dream now isn't it? And that's what the Polar Express does indeed, fulfill kids imaginations of taking a train ride to the North Pole.
It took me a while to notice, but of the three main children in this story only one name is given, that of Billy who lives on the poor side of town. Even though the three kids never ask for each others name, their relationships to each other begin to bond purely out of the actions of their hearts toward one another. That in itself is a message.
The first boy in this enlightening tale is referred to as hero boy within the credits.
One of the goals of riding to the North Pole was to get the children to believe in Santa Claus. Just as I noted in last week's film review, you need to get little children to believe in something at an early age, so when they become older they will believe in something greater. As hero boy wakes to the tooting sound of the train at his front doorsteps on Christmas Eve night, he runs out there and is warmly greeted by the conductor who reads from his notes about hero boy, "No photo with Santa. No letter to Santa. No cookies and milk for the big guy. So, you coming aboard?"
Hero boy is hesitant at first, which is another sign of his lack in believing.
"Do you know what kind of train this is? It's a magic train to the North Pole", says the conductor.
Hero boy climbs aboard. Once he sees a bunch of kids in the rail car, he becomes a tad more comfortable with his surroundings. When Billy the poor kid declines to get on board at first, the train slowly begins to pull away. That's when hero boy pulls the emergency brakes cord and the train suddenly stops. The once hesitant Billy climbs aboard.
One of my favorite scenes is when the conductor played by Tom Hanks asks the children if they are thirsty for some hot chocolate. All of a sudden in comes the singing and dancing waiters to serve the kids hot chocolate in mugs too big for their tiny fingers. What makes this train ride an enjoyable one is the music throughout the film. It will make you want to climb aboard your local Metra train and begin to sing and dance. On second thought, you may not want to try that unless your conductor is Tom Hanks.
Along the train ride to the North Pole the 3 main child characters experience various adventures along the way. This is what brings us to the edge of our seats with oooh's and ahh's, as we feel like we are riding along: the steam engine train whistling it's way round and round the bend of snowcapped mountains, the fast moving feet of wolves trampling through the woods along the tracks as we see their breath in the cold midnight air, the flight of a soaring eagle, and hundreds of caribou crossing the tracks and bringing the train to a sudden halt. These are just some of the wizardry that is experienced as you watch Polar Express.
Upon their arrival to the North Pole, and seeing the giant Christmas tree and hundreds of elves, all of the children are star struck at what awaits them, except for Billy the poor kid who exclaims,
"Christmas just doesn't work for me."
As the three children get lost in their adventure at the North Pole, they find sure delight in a surprise ride in Santa's sack of toys as they wisk their way through the skies above the North Pole. Once their visit and the wild ride comes to an end and the Polar Express is ready to take them home, all of the children including Billy can now exclaim, "I believe."
The conductor reminds them, "Sometimes seeing is believing and sometimes the most real things we can't see."
I love the advice Santa gives to Billy upon resurrecting his heart,
"You've made new friends. No greater gift than friends. The true spirit of Christmas is in your heart."
Whether you are a seven year-old child or an adult of seventy-seven you will enjoy this film, and if you should find yourself dreaming of a Polar Express stopping in front of your house to take you for a ride remember,
"One thing about trains, it doesn't matter where they are going, it's deciding to get on."


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Miracle on 34th Street: My Review

This is my seventh year of doing Christmas movie reviews and I still enjoy writing about them just as much as watching them every Christmas Season. I am amazed at how many people in various countries choose to read my Christmas reviews in the heat of summer, maybe just to cool off, don't you think?

"Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

Miracle on 34th Street has always been one of my favorites, and I always find it ironic that way back when this film was made in 1947 they had to deal with the commercialization of Christmas too.

The film stars some movie greats from that era: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, a young Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Kris Kringle. And if you look closely you will even recognize William Frawley who played Fred in the I Love Lucy sitcom of the 60's.

Mrs.Walker, played by Maureen O'Hara, is in charge of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and needs to find a quick replacement for Santa Claus who's a bit intoxicated. And what to her wondering eyes shall appear, but a genuine look-a-like Santa who really goes by the name Kris Kringle.

Kringle does such a great job playing Santa in the parade, and why wouldn't he, Mrs. Walker hires him to play Santa Claus at Macy's department store. Kris Kringle doesn't need to play Santa, because he really is, and that's how this story unfolds.

The entire story revolves around one simple word, a word we all struggle with in various ways, the word believe. Kris Kringle has the inevitable task of convincing the judicial system that he is who he claims he is and needs to get Mrs.Walker to believe in people, but also finds himself having to transform an unimaginative little girl named Suzy (played by Natalie Wood) to believe not just in him, but to believe in anything.

This past viewing of this film made me realize how much Mrs. Walker messed up her child's head.
Mrs.Walker carries with her doubts and fears, doesn't believe in people, and she passes that off to her daughter raising her not to believe in anything. As a second grader, Suzy doesn't believe in anything or anyone because her mother has shut down what all little kids need; to be able to use their imagination. Mrs. Walker in her defense explains that if she allows her daughter to believe in fairy tales she might grow up to believe in anything and everything. It is here that you can tell Mrs. Walker needs help in her parenting skills. The first step in believing as an adult is learning to believe as a child. Whether it's believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, we all need to start somewhere.

"Getting children to believe in something is just the beginning of having them believing in something greater." - Me

Upon first meeting Suzy and learning of her mother's inept ways of raising her, Kris Kringle teaches Suzy how to pretend by using her imagination for the very first time as they pretend to be monkeys. It is at this moment where we can actually see Suzy being able to be just who she really is, a child.

While portraying himself at Macy's, there..I said it, he's really Santa Claus, Santa begins to have an effect on the children who sit on his lap. When one child asks for a fire engine and Kringle says yes, the child's mom steps in and says Macy's doesn't have that toy anymore. That's when Santa gets in BIG Trouble! He suggests to the mother another store to purchase her precious son's toy.

 Wait?!! If Kringle really is Santa, why would he tell the boy's mother where to purchase the fire engine? Ha! Never thought about that one, did ya'? On with the story...

At first, Kringle is in trouble for sending customers to different stores, but Macy himself catches on when customers are thanking him and his employees for their kind Christmas gesture, and Macy decides to make it their Christmas agenda. Obviously a marketing ploy to get more business. One of the more noteworthy quotes from this film comes from Kringle during the whole fiasco of sharing Christmas Spirit and helping people get what they need, no matter what store it's from,

"Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind."

 Kringle gets sent to a department store psychologist and is given an exam because he thinks he really is Santa and his employment history is checked and verifies him as being Kris Kringle. So now Santa is in a sack of trouble and Mrs. Walker's neighbor Mr. Gailey an attorney, decides to  take on the case as Kris Kringle is sent to permanently live at Bellevue Mental Hospital.

This is where we get to really see how messed up Mrs. Walker really is with her human condition. She gets upset that Gailey has quit his prestigious law firm to defend Kris Kringle, calling Gailey's resignation an idealistic binge over some lovely intangibles. Mrs. Walker just has no faith in the common good of people and it shows.  But Gailey having spent time with Kringle is convinced that he truly is Santa Claus and tells her that one day she might discover that those lovely intangibles are the only worthwhile things.

This is why I love Mr. Gailey and everything he represents. He has a heart for people, believes in the common good of people, and is willing to stick his neck out to help people. But this is also a result of Gailey having developed a relationship with Kringle. Whereas Mrs.Walker struggled with relationships on all levels due to her own failed marriage, as she so readily admits in this story.

The courtroom trial I always found to be humorous, especially when the prosecutor's young son is called to the witness stand by the defense and is asked to identify Santa Claus in the courtroom, to which young Tommy quickly points to Kringle without hesitation. The judge asks for more physical evidence to prove Santa Claus is real. With all the newspaper headlines filling their front pages with Santa on trial, the post office figures out a way to get rid of all the sacks of letters to Santa they have collecting dust in the basement. They send the sacks of letters to the courthouse. 

So Kris Kringle gets pardoned and is declared to be the one and only Santa Clause. But more importantly he's changed Mrs. Walker's heart into believing in people. Some will say it was more important in fulfilling Suzy's desire and Christmas request for a house with a tree swing, which comes into fruition in the end. But I believe it was more important for Mrs. Walker's heart to change because she has many more years of raising her daughter Suzy.  Like Mrs. Walker, we too struggle with believing in people. But as Maya Angelou would say,

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."