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Passions and Reflections …

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Ruby:  Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war “a cloud over the land” but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say “Shit, it’s rainin’!”

COLD MOUNTAIN (Movie)

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Certain movies come to have extra meaning for us.

Stories of longing, or joy, or sorrow, or zany moments…

It’s because they reflect ourselves back to us as if we’re standing buck-naked in front of a mirror… we realize, “This is MY story” … sometimes we don’t even realize why we’re feeling this …

Or we watch longingly and tell ourselves, “I wish this was MY story“…

And of course there are many that we view and genuflect, “Thank God this ISN’T my story.”

I think this is why I’m not a big fan of sci-fi or horror movies (But of course I’ll be going to see the new Star Wars!). I don’t see my reflection anywhere in the picture.

And most times I definitely don’t want to see myself there. I don’t feel a personal connection to having a spaceship battle or slashing someone’s throat, spattering pools of hot crimson blood. They can be fine for an hour or two of escapism and entertainment, but they won’t find a place on my favourite flick list.

Movies – when I stop munching popcorn long enough to pay attention –  are often my mirror and where the reflection unearths my passions and what the future holds.

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Throughout life, passion is a result of struggle.

For the young, the struggle is to attain an identity and become a functioning adult.

For the middle-aged like myself, the struggle is to find meaning whilst a blanket of heightened sense of mortality envelopes us.

Meaning and purpose for these years should revolve around issues bigger than which buffet to patronize, or which toilet paper is softest on my bum.

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There are light fluffy Christmas flakes, tiny little daytime shooting stars wafting from the grey sky outside my window as I write this.

Little pillows of cotton fluff adorn the tips of the towering Ponderosa Pines and I can hear chickadees chirping through the chilly air as they forage for seeds to keep their systems running warm and smooth.

December, with it’s shorter, colder days is a perfect month to reflect and take stock …

To me, a balanced, healthy person needs to look after a number of areas within their life to sustain what we might describe as happiness, a calm reflection of what is important to them.

We can wake up each morning and allow life to happen to us, wearing a blindfold while teetering on a cliff’s edge, waiting for a sharp breeze to send us plummeting …

… or we can arise with a determination to shape our direction with our eyes wide open and bright, skipping confidently along the rim of the Grand Canyon, seeking ideas and plans for a vigorous, well-lived life.

Life should be a little like doing core exercises at the gym. It’s not always obvious that as we pile on the crunches, strengthening the middle, it supports all of our other regions so they perform at their best.

In this life that is MY movie, my core … here are just a few of my miscellaneous December life reminders and reflections:

  • look after my own well-being – if you always give those around you the oxygen mask first, what good are you when you’re the first to die?
  • writing – helps me discover the inside me that hides away, even from myself. Life is filled with mysteries, none so great as who we ourselves are.
  • creativity – I have to nurture the seeds and persist in writing, music, cooking, anything that requires imagination and deeper thought. Not every moment, every attempt produces a work of fine art, but fine art will never appear unless my bum appears in the seat to make the attempt. Over and over.
  • investing – the life I live and person I choose to be is not going to come about unless I can sustain a livelihood. Taking time to read and digest, and then make good judgments about investments is critical.
  • physically – life itself is under threat if the physical body isn’t maintained. Our ability to function and thrive in daily life rests on a healthy, fit-based lifestyle.
  • finding growth – the mind needs its workout as much as the physical body. Learning and growing by experiencing new and unique challenges gives us verve and enthusiasm.
  • spiritual peace – a calm place to breathe and reflect – whether through religion or meditation or yoga or laughter – supports and cushions each difficulty we face. Life isn’t ever going to be easy no matter the amount of $$ in our bank accounts, so a steady base carries us past the trials we inevitably encounter
  • love – family and friends are the personal glue that holds our lives together. The Christmas spirit is alive in each of us when love is a part of our days.

Passion of many colours, textures and flavours is what makes my heart beat loudly in my chest.

If Cold Mountain‘s Ruby is right and “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit

… isn’t it reassuring to know it’s bullshit of our own making … finding our own joys in the days we have, choosing to be a true reflection of the person that looks back at us in the mirror?

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I’m Dreaming of a … Christmas Movie …

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White-Christmas-1954-15
Sisters …
Sisters …
There were never such devoted sisters
Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her …

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I’m a total sucker for chick flicks. 

So I should be one gloriously happy dude at this time of year.

Most Christmas movies tend to fall into the chick flick category, right?

Have you noticed that the Christmas movie racket has gone into overdrive apeshit production?

Old-time comedienne Lucille Ball, in her classic chocolate assembly line sketch wouldn’t be able to keep up with the output of Christmas moviemaking these days … it just might be a syndicate run by Harlequin. The plethora of made-for-TV-Christmas movies has snowballed out of control.

Even my tender girly-boy heart finds most of the Christmas movie scenarios just too cheesy, syrupy, sickly sweet.

Of course I don’t hate all Christmas movies. As a matter of fact I love a lot of them.

Formulas are everything in making a Christmas movie … heart strings must be tugged in just the right way.

A great Christmas movie must have a solid character(s), conflict that moves the story along, and deepset emotions that help us identify with the characters.

What we want is a big EMOTIONAL drive, heartfelt connection to the characters, and a sweet dollop of breath-releasing catharsis at the finish line.

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And truly, to have a memorable Christmas flick, it must contain at least one of the following scenarios (I’ve given examples with each scenario):

  1. Workaholic Character – A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE WALTON’S – The Homecoming
  2. Someone Wants To Shut Something Down – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
  3. Somebody Dead Or Is Dying – PRANCER
  4. Someone Straight Up Is Santa Claus – THE SANTA CLAUSE, MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
  5. Someone Is or Becomes Unemployed – NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS
  6. Someone Has To Repeat Christmas – A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
  7. Someone MUST Find Love Via Christmas – ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, WHITE CHRISTMAS, JUST FRIENDS
  8. Car Accident – ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS
  9. A Wacky Mixup – ELF, HOME ALONE
  10. And no matter what, make sure it’s snowing during the climactic scene, which takes place on Christmas Eve.

Sure, I can watch Christmas movies to have my heart twisted until tears spring from my eyes, but really I watch them for the simple pleasure of smiling at the end – of going on a journey with a glorious sunset trailing off into the sea.

So, less than two weeks out, here’s a list of my holiday favourites, followed by a couple of films often mentioned on TOP 10 lists that had a lot of potential but left me disappointed:

Anne of Green Gables (1985) – not a Christmas movie at all, but I first saw it with my little kids years ago at Christmastime, and so it leaves me with a warm Christmas-y feeling. A wonderful iconic Canadian story highlighted by an amazingly precocious Megan Follows as Anne. The beating heart of the story is the theme music by Hagood Hardy that brings a welling of tears to my eyes in its first few bars every time.
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One Magic Christmas (1985) – a quirky Christmas film warmed by charming performances by Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton as Gideon, the guardian angel. The film dives into darker, more realistic themes than you get in most Christmas movies, strange for a Disney flick. The ultimate message of the film is heartening and poignant – even for those who may have long-since stopped believing in Santa and magic.

White Christmas (1954) – the standard by which Christmas movies really should be made. It’s fluffy as all hell but who cares. Snow, romance, classic songs sung by classic voices (Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney), dancing and a just-syrupy-enough finish.

Elf (2003) – goofy and innovative with a Will Ferrell ELF character that is slapstick but not over-the-top crazy. I wish they had worked out a better “Santa” ending in Central Park, but there’s enough charm and humour to make it a keeper.

Prancer (1989) – a somewhat dark film that somehow pulls it off because of a real reindeer and a farm girl that nurses the wounded animal  she believes is Santa’s PRANCER, hoping to bring it back to health in time for Christmas. Filled with earnestness and heartache and hope. If your Christmas is too much take and not enough give, I prescribe hot chocolate, some hot popcorn, and a viewing of Prancer.

National Lampoon’€™s Christmas Vacation (1989) – a zany piece that makes me want to laugh in spite of myself. Poor Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), just can’t get anything right – something I often identify with –  and does such ridiculous things that we all identify from our own worst moments that we won’t even admit to ourselves.
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Home Alone (1990) – an unbelievable storyline of an 8 year-old accidentally left behind from a family trip to Europe. It carries us smiling along with its wit and humour, some touching moments with a lonely neighbour and a madcap finale that could only happen in a movie. Great fun.

It’€™s a Wonderful Life (1946) – a cranky and charming Jimmy Stewart classic with an oddball angel Clarence that takes Stewart on a trip into a world where he was never born. Stewart gives a wonderful performance of a difficult character. A character all of us are familiar with … a person looking to find himself/herself and the struggle for finding what it is in life you really want to do. George Bailey teaches us the most important lesson of all, that life, although a long and challenging road, truly is wonderful…

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as a little girl who’s been told by her cynical mother that Santa doesn’t exist steal this film. I like this version a lot more than the updated attempt starring Richard Attenborough as Santa (1994).
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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – well, I’m a sucker for the Muppets so my bias probably shows here. But, the film possesses heart, whimsy, and an infectious joy. Michael Caine gives a masterful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge and who just can’t love Miss Piggy as Mrs. Crachit?

muppet xmas

The Santa Clause (1994) – Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, who replaces Santa after he falls off the roof. The plot is original, the script is fun, and the pace is surprisingly even. It’s not a classic like Scrooge(1951), or Home Alone or It’s a Wonderful Life, just a pleasant family Christmas film. The characters are likable, even though the parents are a bit clichéd and the film a tad too overly sentimental in places. Just a fun movie to eat popcorn to.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – the Grinch is a character Dr. Seuss could only have written for the malleable face of Jim Carrey. A great cartoon short adapted into a full-length movie with flowing rivers of colour and costumes and of course, the wonderful gargantuously green Mr. Grinch himself. What child could resist such a beautifully evil beast?
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Disappointments:

The Polar Express (2004) – CREEPY!! This is supposed to be serious animation but it just gives me the willies. I don’t like horror movies and this qualifies as one that gives me bad dreams.

A Christmas Story (1983) – little Ralphie and his dad are both characters who push my irritation button from the get-go for no particular reason. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’d like to take that Red Ryder BB gun and aim it directly at Ralphie and his obnoxious dad.

………………..

It’s nostalgic to watch an old friend – a movie we love –  each year as a tradition. It’s Nanaimo bar or Mom’s fruitcake without the scale creep.

Movies, like songs, take us back to years and events in our own lives that play inside our heads, inside our dreams.

And what is Christmas all about if it isn’t about dreams.

charlie brown xmas

A Canadian Boy’s Wintry Night …

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fa_oldpond_o

Early December was an exciting time for me as a kid.

Sure, Christmas was coming soon.

Christmas tree lots jettisoned broad, bright beams of light into the dark night sky to announce their Scotch Pine locations.

Mom mixed and baked multi-coloured fruitcakes, punched out warm, buttery-scented shortbread in Santa and bell shapes, and Food For The Gods squares were layered with sweet pink icing.

Black and white versions of Charlie Brown’s mournful Christmas tree and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’s stop-action encounter with Misfit Toys were the latest TV phenomenons.

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But even more important than all of that Christmas magic? MORE important!

I could finally put on my hockey skates once again.

Ice formed on the rinks, in the ponds, and Mom flooded the backyard rink after we went to bed.

I would lace up my hand-me-down, beat-up leather CCM skates and transform into Davy Keon, or Jean Beliveau, or Bobby Orr or Boom Boom Geoffrion. I’d fold newspapers into a long narrow bundle and slip them under my pants for shin pads and I was ready.

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I was a star on ice.

Nothing … I mean nothing … was better than feeling those skate blades come into contact with ice for the first time of the year as I stepped through the rink’s gate. It was a full blown kiddie orgasm.

To feel the slide … to hear the intoxicating swoosh of a freshly sharpened skate blade on hard ice. Wushhhhhh ….. wushhhhh … getting ever faster as you swooped around the corner of the rink.

Chill winter air rushed over my ruddy pink cheeks, a Montreal Canadiens toque kept my head toasty.

School would let out at 4 o’clock, and I would deliver my Hamilton Spectator newspapers to my 35 customers. Then I was free.

Remember how summers lasted for years when you were a kid? Two months would go on and on and on … it was fabulous.

Just like that, winter evenings lasted hours and hours.

This allowed oodles of time for under-the-streetlights road or playground hockey with my neighbourhood buddies.

And if we were lucky and the city workers were active like midnight elves, an ice rink would miraculously appear out of nowhere in the park across the street, complete with old wooden boards fashioned into a hockey arena structure.

With or without ice, most times we would just set rocks or pieces of wood on the ground to mark the goalposts.

And occasionally, just occasionally, one of our group would come into a shiny red-posted goal complete with netting as an unexpected gift. We were terrible opportunists too. We’d invite someone to play with us just because they had their own net. No other reason.

Such a treasure. A real goal to shoot balls and pucks into.

With a real net, when you scored a goal there was no need to run 50 metres down the road to retrieve the wayward tennis ball “puck”. It stayed inside the net. Luxury. 

School homework and projects had to wait until 8 or 9 pm so that the last slapshot – the last slapshot that scored the settling goal, aimed at Dave or Hugh or Larry or Jerome playing goalie – could be enjoyed in the chilly night air.

When it was time to wind up the night’s play, we’d all agree that the next goal would be the winner. Didn’t matter if the score was 7-2. “Next goal wins!” The excitement of scoring that winning goal was intense.

And finally, when the cold weather had settled in with determination in Southern Ontario, there was ice on the outdoor skating rink at Parkdale Arena. Organized hockey could begin.

The Parkdale Steelers, my hockey team for the season, would contact me and I had a schedule of upcoming games.

In my really young years I was a hockey star.

This was mainly – solely actually! – because few kids had spent enough time on skates to stay on their feet for more than 5 or 10 strokes across the ice.

My Mom’s homemade backyard rink and a couple of season’s skating help from my sister Betty and brother Gord had me well trained for remaining upright and also to hold a puck on my stick blade for a trip the length of the ice surface.

I had done my 10,000 hours of preparation with icy-frozen toes to show for it.

LAR GORD HOCKEY TIFF (1)

Hockey Stars in backyard training… brother Gord and me in my CCM’s and newspaper shin pads dropping the game puck …

By default I was the “hot” scoring ace for a few years. Nobody could stand long enough to stop me. To this day I still possess and treasure my MVP patch as the Wayne Gretzky of my Atom hockey league.

With each passing hockey season, the magic drained from my skates and I became just another body on the team. Other kids grew bigger than me, stronger than me, faster than me. I loved playing still but my “star” turn was over.

I stopped playing hockey a few years ago.

Nowadays I only skate a couple of times each winter, usually indoors but sometimes I get up into the Okanagan hillsides where outdoor skating is still a winter pleasure.

When my skates come into contact with the frozen water and I hear the cutting, swooshing sound beneath my feet, I feel the same elation I felt as a kid.

The ice rises up and gives me a warm sentimental hug and says… “get out there kid and score some goals“.

And for a few moments in my mind, I hear my friends’ echoing voices shouting under the streetlights with snowflakes rushing past, I see the satisfying swish of a tennis ball in the back of a net, I smell my Mom’s vanilla-scented shortbread.

I feel a happy December warmth inside like James Stewart returning to Bedford Falls after his fateful winter’s night with Clarence the Angel.

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