Getting a Moviecation

I like movies as much as the next guy, but a problem I’ve experienced since childhood is inability to sit still long enough to watch any in full. As a kid I was resigned to missing parts of the picture to get a snack or visit the bathroom just to move, and as an adult I tended to clean or cook during screen time.

The major result of this is that, like Beca in the clip above from Pitch Perfect, I never grew to fully appreciate film the way many others do, though this began to change when my son’s interest in the medium sparked and, over the years, intensified. He’s always liked watching movies, and I’m unsure at which point it really began to be something special for him, though I can say where his ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) obsession burst to life: at our library’s showing of Iron Man, a flick I was sure to have pretty much zero interest in but, hey, that’s what parents are for, right? Besides, I kind of like Robert Downey, Jr. and it made me recall my own brothers with fondness, it being titled, seemingly, to appeal mostly to male moviegoers.

I actually, pretty much, basically, somewhat, really liked it. OK, OK. I was hooked. (I even began later to call out, “Turtle, assemble!” in mornings when it was time to walk out the door.) As we caught up with movies already out on DVD and attended showings as pictures were released, my reading boy transitioned to this new love a sort of reverse habit he’d already possessed since some time: seeking out the novels to pair with his movie collection. And that was really magical because it entailed a merging of our interests and hundreds of hours of time spent discussing plots, characters and holes together with favorite scenes and actions. This grew as we both did: into talk of character arcs, three-act structure and the hero’s darkest hour, along with camera technique, balance* and continuity editing. We could share and show details even though at times it resembled people speaking to each other in foreign but closely-related languages. His love of film and my literature background nurtured each other and we found more in common to explore and examine than not.

It was a fairly amazing moment when I realized that much of what I loved about a great story in words can be satisfyingly combined with cinematography and other film technique to contribute to one’s enjoyment of various tales, and how special it was for me that I was learning it from my child. He was giving me a movie education. A moviecation.

By this time I’ve watched a number of movies with Turtle, some so I can keep tabs on what he’s seeing (a parent’s job never ends), others for the ordinary entertainment angle. Today, it is my pleasure to share some films, Turtle chosen, that we’ve watched together and that, for a variety of reasons, have stuck with me. These are films I likely would not have chosen without him, but now that I’ve seen them, not only has my own life in the moviegoer context been enriched, so too has my reading and writing process.

In no particular order:

For some reason, this Jack Lemmon movie’s blurb didn’t attract me very much and I had to be persuaded to watch what turned out to be a fantastic film. The tale of an aspiring businessman who rents his apartment by the evening out to wealthy upper-management types so they can conduct their trysts, The Apartment brings us quickly to a late evening when Lemmon’s character is growing tired of the arrangement, simultaneously aware he has to keep it up if he wishes to maintain his upward trajectory for promotion. Soon we are witness to woeful, hilarious and sober consequences and find ourselves rooting for the character of our choice as woven events become knotted and everyone seeks a way out—except me, as I became so entangled in each scene that I spoke aloud to characters, signaled approval (or not) and could almost feel the blood coursing through my veins in anticipation. I really had had no idea what to expect when I started to watch, and it stayed that way throughout. I also loved being able to view an older version of the New York business world, at a time we know was not exactly innocent (contrary to some descriptions), yet the individualized portraitures bring us surprise anyway, creating a sort of longing for a previous time.

Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, Daniel Day-Lewis portrays Daniel Plainview, a silver miner who becomes a successful oilman thanks to his ingenuity and ambition, along with a little luck. His obsession and temper, however, also play a role in the creation and destruction of his own future as he attempts to preserve it from the threat of competitors. While easy to characterize There Will Be Blood as a portrayal of capitalism, as opposed to the greed extant in any system, such a representation strips the film of its examinations of isolation, faith, family–and lack of–betrayal and self-preservation. Day-Lewis won best actor for his performance in this film full to the brim of captivating scenes and a glimpse into our nation’s past.

Coco initially appealed to me for its riot of colors amidst a celebratory aura that champions the remembrance of those who came before, a sentiment I heartily share. Its theme revolves around the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and focuses on Miguel Rivera, who accidentally winds up amongst the deceased, as he attempts to follow his musical passion despite his family’s prohibition of it. Studded with the famous Pixar “Easter eggs,” the scenes are remarkably detailed and captivating, and its most famous song, the poignantly memorable Academy-winning “Remember Me,” is utilized and performed in a variety of contexts and versions throughout the film. Viewers can’t help but be moved and charmed by its vibrant animation and layers of narrative that appeal to the universal need to know where each of us comes from. For those, like me, who rank Toy Story 3 or Ratatouille amongst Pixar Studios’ best, Coco gives them a serious run for their money.


*How elements such as light, sound, and movement work together within a film’s visual frame.

Stay tuned for more movie chatter and explorations of other great stories!

Check out my developing movie playlist and diary over at Letterboxd.

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