Mid-Week Tangent: I went to see Dumbo (and cried like a baby)

As a grown woman, inching closer and closer to being categorized as middle aged, I dragged my better half to see the new Dumbo movie this past weekend. We saw the first preview for this newest rendition back at Christmas, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I had been counting down the months and days until its release date.  And so, this past weekend we braved the afternoon matinee, with all its threats of loud and obnoxious children, to reconnect me with a fresh take on a childhood favourite.

How was it? It was everything I wanted it to be. I spent most of the movie trying desperately to fight back tears, and failing miserably.

Now, let me clarify a few things, because it wasn’t actually a great movie. Sure, it was directed by Tim Burton, who I love, and it had a decent cast, but at the end of the day the character development and dialogue were pretty lacklustre. I honestly don’t remember the original cartoon’s storyline enough to say with certainty that the storyline took some major deviations, but I suspect that it did.  But what it lacked in things that typical movie goers might look for as a sign of a good film, it more than made up for in things that tug on my personal heartstrings.

You see, I am an emotional train wreck when it comes to three things that Dumbo had in spades: 1) sad animal eyes (CGI generated, but heartbreakingly sad nonetheless) 2) ostracized misfits and 3) babies separated from their mothers, or really any family members separated from each other. While everyone around us, including the small children, seemed relatively unfazed by Dumbo’s struggles, there I sat with tears streaming down my face, crushed by the immense injustice and sadness of it all. And yes, by ‘it all’, I mean the life of a fictional, cartoon elephant. It may sound ridiculous, but then I would also argue that only a monster wouldn’t make the leap to contemplating the immense injustice and sadness that exist in the real world around us. And that is why I cried like a baby.

I cannot say that you would have the same experience watching Dumbo. In fact, you might loathe it as many reviewers appear to. What I can say is that for me it was exactly the emotional release that I was looking for…and I was beyond grateful for the darkness of the theatre hiding my tears.

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Mid-Week Tangent: (mini) Bookstravaganza III

I am still chugging along with my reading. I actually meant to hold off on this post until I finished my current behemoth of a novel (weighing in at a whopping 1000 pages!), but I fear it will take me weeks to finish, and by then I’d also have six books to review, which just seems like too many to reasonably digest. So I’ve split this Bookstravaganza into a mini-bookstravaganza and will cover off on 3 recent reads. I’ll come back to the next three as soon as I finish my current beast of a book.

This week’s edition brings us some lighter fair. I’ve been on a rampage with autobiographical-ish celebrity books of late, but I’ve also been steadily digesting books about German-occupied France and WWII in general, so I threw one of those in for good measure. Happy reading!

The Freedom Line (Peter Eisner)
Non-fiction written in a storytelling style always makes me question the accuracy of the stories themselves. It’s not the big events of this book I question, as I’m sure they are historically accurate, but there is a lot written about individual’s internal feelings and thoughts.  Even by interviewing those involved, it seems like writing in-depth descriptions of internal states would necessitate some serious creative liberties. While it enhances the readability, it made me feel as though I was reading a book written by someone who, in fact, wanted to write historical fiction vs. historical non-fiction. Still, the insight into the vastness of the network of individuals committed to transporting allied airmen to safety, and the focused efforts of the Germans to infiltrate these networks, was enough for me to overall enjoy the read.

Talking as Fast as I Can (Lauren Graham)
As I mentioned, I’ve been very into celeb auto-biographies these days. They have provided a nice foil to my often intensely dark works on German-occupied France. I picked this up in a discount bin at a local bookstore for next to nothing, which is the only reason I bought it. I’ll be honest, Lauren Graham’s characters on TV shows often annoy me and I was mostly curious about whether her art imitates life. I was pleasantly surprised by the book. For the most part, it’s no deep read.  But there are moments. My actual favourite part of the book was a letter written by her alter ego “Old Lady Jackson”, who misses simpler times. I found it to be a rather poignant statement on being present and paying attention to the world around you. Overall, if you were a Gilmore Girls or Parenthood fan, you will likely enjoy a few (though not a lot) behind-the-scenes glimpses into what it was like on set.

In Such Good Company (Carol Burnett)
This was such a disappointing read. I love Carol Burnett. When I was a kid,  my grandmother babysat us while we were on summer break and we watched Carol Burnett (and Price is Right, and Perry Mason) reruns every single morning. I loved that show. I wasn’t expecting the book to be funny, necessarily, and I am not sure it was Carol’s goal with this book anyway.   For me, the issue with this book is that I really wanted to hear what it was like to work with the cast and to hear more of Carol’s own stories. I mean, after all the title is In Good Company.  But the short vignettes about the cast and guests left me wanting more, and too much of the book was devoted to scripts of entire sketches which, as far as I’m concerned, didn’t play out as funny in writing. Thankfully this was also a bargain-bin find, because I would not have wanted to pay full price for this one.

Happy reading y’all!

Mid-Week Tangent: Things I Learned this Holiday Season

Happy holidays, and here’s hoping you all enjoyed your version of a fabulous Christmas Day. Can one still say happy holidays post-Christmas? I sort of assume that the holiday season carries us safely through the new year, so I say yes. Regardless, as you bask in the remainder of the holiday glow, I hope to entertain you with tales of what I learned in during the 2018 holiday season. Rest assured, the list is not long. My goal is to get you back to either more holiday festivities, online Boxing Day shopping, or whatever you’re doing on this fine Wednesday, as soon as possible.

My Not-so-big List of 2018 Holiday Discoveries

1. Peppermint Bark Oreos are a thing, and they are delicious: Most flavoured Oreos, to me at least, sound like both ill-conceived ideas and utterly repulsive. On a whim, we picked up some peppermint bark Oreos expecting them to have minimal peppermint flavour but figuring that, at two bucks a pack, it was worth the risk. Colour me surprised. Not only do they have more peppermint flavour than I’d imagined (not a ton mind you, but more), but they have the extra bonus of the crunchy bits characteristic of actual peppermint bark. If you’re like me, you’re probably already over holiday sweets and overindulgences, but I urge you to buy a pack of these before they’re gone for the season. Oreos freeze well. Just sayin’.

2. Christmas novels are a genre of fiction, and they are horrifyingly bad: I suppose this is a blatantly bold over-generalization given that I have bought and read precisely one Christmas novel in my entire life, but if the one book that I bought was any indication of the overall genre, I can safely say that I have no desire to read another. I naively assumed that the books had to be better than the made-for-television movies based on the books, but I am no longer convinced this is true.

3. You can watch too many made-for-television Christmas movies: We really doubled down on the holiday movies this year, filling our entire PVR with upwards of 40 holiday “gems”. At first, and even though they were awful, we powered through them like champs and I genuinely thought that there would be no stopping us. But somewhere around the third week of heavy viewing it became harder, and then by the fourth week viewing dropped substantially and by the time Christmas rolled around, well, let’s just say there are about 25 movies still left on our PVR that we will surely never watch.

4. Hanson has TWO christmas albums…and both are better than you think: Look, I spent years being too cool for Hanson, but let’s all be honest, I couldn’t have written ‘MmmBop’ as a child and you probably couldn’t have either. And now that it’s not on the radio 24/7, I can actually admit that it was pretty damn catchy. Well, somewhere along the way this holiday season I discovered not one but two Hanson holiday album and I’m here to tell you that aside from a couple dud tracks (which virtually all albums have) they are pretty freakin’ festively fun.  The 1997 album is by far the better of the two, but even the one made just a couple years ago is better than most modern Christmas albums I’ve heard. Don’t let the season pass you by without streaming it.

With that, I leave you for the evening. May my discoveries spark your own, perhaps adding a little extra sparkle to what’s left of the holiday season.

Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movies of the Week

Ho-ho-here we go again with another collection of Christmas movies to share with you. If you missed previous editions, never fear! You can find them here, here, here and here.

This week we still have a couple doozies of made-for-television holiday fare to share, but we’re also mixing it up with a couple of legit movies. I’ll be honest, my appetite for the television holiday movies has weakened substantially and we’ve been finding ourselves reaching instead for actual movies. The closer we get to Christmas, the more movie quality matters to me. Enough preamble, let’s get to it!

Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa: You may recall that we watched Christmas in Evergreen earlier in the season, so of course we had to check out the (sort of) sequel. Relatively speaking, this one wasn’t as good as the first (which still wasn’t great), but it did feature all the hallmarks (see what I did there, Hallmark holiday movie fans???) of the made-for-television Christmas movies: big city girl travels to small town and falls in love with the town…and a man, misunderstandings almost get in the way of love, ice skating dates with hand holding, cookie decorating dates where sparks fly, and someone who’d lost the Christmas spirit getting it back in spades. It’s a whirlwind of holiday stereotypes, but it’s not the worst we’ve seen so I give this one a solid two trees.

Just in Time for Christmas: This one was a real doozy, friends. I’m going to save you a bunch of time by advising you strongly not to waste your time watching. Where was the Christmas in this movie??? Nowhere to be found. This one took place at Christmas but there were virtually no references to the holidays whatsoever and the movie had nothing at all to do with the holidays. If you’ve read any of my past CMOWs you know that’s a major pet peeve of mine. The one small moment of brilliance in this one was Christopher Lloyd (of Back to the Future fame) making a time travel joke. Well, that and the fact that I was mesmerized by how Christopher Lloyd barely looked older in this movie than Back to the Future, which was made over thirty years ago!?! But I assure you that one chuckle and one age defying man doth not make this worthwhile. This one, in fact, gets zero trees.

One Magic Christmas: Okay, I admit this one is a nostalgic classic for me. I remember seeing it in theatres when it first came out, way back in 1985 (!!). If you can get past the low-budget, very 80s quality of the movie, you are in for a bit of a tear-jerker that is brimming with legitimate holiday magic. There is Santa, elves, an angel and a whole lot of really heavy moments en route to helping a mom reawaken her long lost Christmas spirit. This one’s hard to find on television these days, or DVD for that matter, so your best bet is probably Google play. This one gets my golden stamp of approval, and if you watch it and don’t love it, I hate to be the one to tell you that both your heart and Christmas spirit are clearly dead.

Office Christmas Party: Truth to be told, we discovered this one last year. While it really doesn’t have much to do with the Christmas spirit, I let that slide because it’s completely weird and hilariously wonderful. If you love Jason Bateman (which I do), you will love this. It features a whole host of strange and wonderful characters, as you would expect in any office, who bad together to throw the office Christmas party of their lives in a last ditch effort to save their office from being shut down by an evil Jennifer Aniston. I know, it sounds awful, but trust me it’s funny as hell. And sometimes you need something lighter around the holidays. It’s a four-tree fun festival.

With that, I wrap up the last of the Christmas Movies of the Week for 2018. It sounds sadder than it is; I’ll still be watching holiday movies, I assure you. But by the time next Wednesday rolls around, Christmas will be officially over (WHY!?!?!) and many of you will be winding down your festive celebrations (sacrilege!). Happy holidays y’all. May these CMOW posts have brightened your holiday movie watching this holiday season!

Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movies of the Week

Hello and ho, ho, ho! I’m back this week with another instalment of Christmas Movies of the Week.  We’re getting closer and closer to Christmas, and my movie watching consumption certainly hasn’t dropped. There are far too many movies to review, and so little time, so today I bring you only the best of the best, by which I mean the ones that I remember well enough to write about, and which I either need to encourage you to check out or urge you to avoid at all costs.

If you missed previous instalments, you can find them here, here, and here.

Journey Back to Christmas: I was super excited for this one because, in my mind, Candace Cameron Bure is usually a pretty good sign that a holiday movie will be of reasonable quality. That was before a magical time-travel-inducing Christmas comet came into the picture. Candace is transported into the future, where everyone assumes she’s some sort of holiday grifter set to take advantage of their community instead of, you know, someone suffering from some sort of mental health issue. A cop takes her into his home but–surprise twist–they don’t really fall in love (a Hallmark Christmas movie first!!), because her heart belongs to her husband, who’s still back in the 1940s. Will the magical Christmas comet take her back in time again or will she be stuck in the future? I’ll spare you having to watch it: she gets back to the 40s. Skip this one. Candace Cameron Bure or not, it gets one tree.

The Magic Stocking: A young girl is gifted an old stocking at a holiday craft fair, which turns out to be magical. Every day the stocking falls off the mantle and some sort of meaningful gift appears inside it. Naturally, no one except the young girl actually believes its magic at first, but soon they’re all sold on this stocking’s power to bring back Christmas magic and heal broken hearts.  This one’s not as bad as it sounds, but trust me that my bar has been lowered substantially with the number of movies I’ve watched this year. I most appreciated that this featured some Christmas magic and not just a love story (although, to be fair, the love story is still there too).

A Christmas to Remember: A Martha Stewart-ish food television icon loses her memory in a car accident and finds a new small-town home, her long-lost Christmas spirit and love while recovering from her amnesia. Bonus points for falling in love with the man who almost ran her over after her accident.  Aside from all the implausible plot details, there was something about this one that took it from one Christmas tree to two. Perhaps that something was the half bottle of wine I drank while watching it…

Hope at Christmas: The one followed the made-for-television Christmas formula to the T.  There was a move from the big city to the small town, gingerbread houses, misunderstandings between potential new loves, and a rapid romance that developed over (I think) five days. It was the stuff that TV holiday movies are made of, chock full of major implausibilities, like buying a book store on a whim or  reading a whole book without noticing that the guy you’re sort of dating is the author on the book jacket. Sigh. Really the enjoyment in this one was its ridiculousness and predictability.

Not a great week in movies, as you can see, but I’m still optimistic that I’ll get another three-tree status movie before the season’s done.

Mid-Week Tangent: Christmas Movie of the Week, Netflix Edition

We are firmly into December, my friends, and that means I can safely resume Christmas Movies of the Week without appearing to be a little fanatical in my Christmas enthusiasm (which I am). Never fear, despite not posting since this post and this post, I assure you I’ve been sticking to a steady diet of all the best and worst holiday movies on television.

Every once in a while, though, we take a break from the made-for-television variety and upgrade ourselves to Netflix. Last week, we checked out one of Netflix’s new seasonal additions: The Christmas Chronicles.  In a way, it was great because it reminded me that Christmas movies actually exist, compared to the made-for-television variety which are essentially just love stories that take place around the holidays. But in another way, it was awful, because it raised the bar on our holiday film watching to a level that no TV movie can ever seem to reach.

I have to admit, through the first 10 minutes or so I had my doubts about this one. The whole kids-with-attitudes thing really interferes with my sense of holiday magic, and the older brother was a little too obnoxious for my liking.  But then the holiday magic entered the picture and I was won over by (in no particular order):

1. Kurt Russell as a rough-and-tumble-but-still-big-hearted Santa: He’s not all ho-ho-ho (in fact, he claims that’s a myth–much like Santa being fat), but he still remembers all the kids’ names and brings enough warmth to make him ultra Santa-esque. Plus watching him get the whole jail house rocking to Santa Claus is Back in Town was worth watching the entire movie to see.

2. Adorable elves: I’m not usually one for animated creatures, but the elves were freaking adorable. And one of them carried a chain saw, which is pretty fantastic.

3. Winston from New Girl as a Santa-believing cop: I never loved Winston on New Girl. He was just…okay. But I loved him in this movie. He was one of the first to believe Santa. Granted, he saw the reindeer take flight and it would be pretty hard not to believe after seeing that, but still.

4. Actual Christmas magic: As far as I’m concerned, too many holiday movies these days just take place around Christmas, but fail to capture what makes the holidays magical.  That’s all fine and well every once in a while, but sometimes you want to dive deep into true holiday magic–the kind where Christmas is on the line, and it takes some sleight of hand by Santa Claus to get things on the right track.  This movie has holiday spirit in spades, and you will find yourself rooting hard for Christmas to be saved even if you think of yourself as a Grinch.

5. A cameo by Oliver Hudson: Because, in my opinion, when it comes to Oliver Hudson, a cameo is still enough to make the movie.

So without giving away the plot details (aka the holiday magic), let me just say that you need to watch this movie, particularly if you’ve yet to find yourself in the holiday spirit. I promise you it will up your Christmas enthusiasm by at least ten percent.

Mid-Week Tangent: our 2018 TV addiction

It seems every year there is some sort of new show that captures our attention and for which we develop a love that borders on obsession. I think last year it was Ozark, and probably Stranger Things and the OA the year before. I mean, we’re clearly not original in our TV addictions, but what is life if you don’t watch all the same things as all the other people?

At any rate, I’m prolonging the embarrassing reveal, which is that this year, at the ripe ages of 39, which feels far too old to become enthralled with what is essentially a televised talent competition, we have become hopelessly addicted to The Voice. We look forward to it every week. We devote two entire nights to watching it. We’ve even shut ourselves into a hotel room just to make sure we caught the episodes while we were out of town. That’s commitment. And frightening.

What is it about The Voice? I could say it’s Kelly Clarkson, who I love for reasons I don’t even fully understand. But that’s only a part of it. I could say it’s because the singers, for the most part, all seem legitimately talented right from the audition stages, unlike the show’s predecessors like American Idol. But that’s only a part of it too. The show just has a quality about it that drew us in right from the first time we decided to give it a go, based on my partner’s parents’ recommendation no less (if you don’t take your television viewing tips from 70 year-olds, you are not living).

You cannot underestimate the lure of this enigmatic magical quality. It allows us to put up with the fact that we hear each singer’s back story every. single. episode as though there are other viewers out there that lack our commitment to watching weekly.  It allows us to put up with Adam Levine and his wretched track pant outfits. In fact, against our better judgment, we’ve started to actually like Adam Levine. I know, it’s beyond perplexing.

Before The Voice, if you had asked me whether I would ever care about a singing competition, I would have laughed in your face, and yet here I am, steadfastly caring about each week’s outcome. We fiercely stand for our favourites, and against our least favourites.  I exhale with genuine relief when America votes to keep my favourites, and I’ve developed such a dislike for some singers that I yell at my television when America doesn’t kick them to their rightful place on the curb. I haven’t had such strong reactions since the first seasons of So You Think You Can Dance (may it rest in peace). We have, it seems, unnatural attachments to strangers, and we are fully okay with it.

Judge if you will, but then I challenge you to give it a try next season. At first you’ll just sort of be lulled in by some good singers and Kelly Clarkson’s charm, but I promise you within an episode or two (or three at most) you’ll be hit by the sledgehammer that is The Voice’s undefinable and magnetic quality. You just wait.