Tag Archives: parenting

Welcome to the Movies, Baby Girl

It’s a time-honored right of passage in the modern age — a child’s first movie.

Dad’s got the booster seat and popcorn. Mom’s praying they’ll make it to the end credits without a meltdown. The kid is simultaneously awestruck, bored and overwhelmed by the need to pee. It’s a beautiful thing.

I have hazy but evocative memories of my early cinematic experiences — the horror of Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty,” the trauma of “Bambi,” unimpressed by “Annie,” bewildered and fascinated by the stop-motion monsters of “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”

My daughter is nearly 9 months old and far too young to go to the movies, let alone watch them in earnest at home. But this movie-loving mama is dreaming of the days when she’ll be old enough that I can share my favorite films with her.

In anticipation, I’ve penned this letter.

Dear Baby Girl,

You may think now that the world is a pretty wonderful place, but wait until you discover a little thing we like to call the movies. Your life will never be the same.

Here are the movies I can’t wait to show you, just as soon as you’re old enough.

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The Original “Star Wars” Trilogy,” 1977-1983: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … there was “Star Wars,” and the Force was with it and it changed your mommy’s life. At the late-blooming age of 14, your mama saw “Episode IV — A New Hope.” It wasn’t even in the theater. It was on TV, but the spectacle of this galactic battle of good vs. evil sparked in your mother an enduring awareness of the power of the movies.

It’s gratifying to see that, all these years later, kids are still discovering and loving George Lucas’ little space opera. If I had my way, you’d never hear a word about those so-called “prequels,” but for better or worse, “Star Wars” lives on, and on, and on, and on … . There will soon be yet another “Star Wars” trilogy for your generation, my dear. I hope it’s worthy of you.

(And once you’ve met Han, Luke and Leia, there’s a certain fedora-wearing archaeologist I’m dying for you to meet.)

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“Beauty and the Beast,” 1991: Child, let me tell you a story. You know how everyone feels about “Frozen”? How they can’t stop singing the songs, can’t stop talking about Anna and Elsa and Olaf, how they get excited every time they hear “Let It Go”?

Well, child, that is how your mama feels about “Beauty and the Beast.”

For some of us, it remains the quintessential Disney animated classic, having hit theaters at that pivotal point in our childhoods when we believed in magic and true love and happily ever afters. Gorgeously animated with unforgettable music — Idina Menzel’s got nuthin’ on Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson — and a peasant-turned-princess who is smart, compassionate and loves to read, this fairy tale can’t be topped.

I hope you adore it and want to be just like Belle. The end.

Except that’s not the end because there are dozens and dozens of other Disney classics I can’t wait for you to experience, from “Snow White” to “The Little Mermaid” to “Tangled.” And then there are the Pixar movies, and the Disney-Pixar movies, and the live-action Disney movies, like “Mary Poppins” and “Pete’s Dragon.” Thank Walt — these movies will bring you joy for a lifetime.

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All the Miyazaki Movies, 1984-2013: Once you’ve seen the Disney movies, baby, it will be time to graduate to the beautiful, dreamlike world of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, films like “My Neighbor Tortoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Yes, these exquisitely hand-drawn marvels can be dark and strange, but it will be good for you to discover that there are different, more inventive ways to tell stories, that other cultures are full of delights to discover and that imagination is boundless and will transport you to new and exciting places.

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The “Harry Potter” Movies, 2001-2011: You’ll read the books first, of course, and when you do it will be one of the definitive moments of your life. I’m a firm believer that J.K. Rowling’s epic series of heroism, magic and wonder is timeless, a classic any generation will respond to. Warner Bros.’ fine movie adaptations will help you relive the enchantment.

Unlike some parents, I don’t worry that you’ll pick up some witchcraft by watching them. I only hope you’ll learn what it means to be a friend, to be loyal and to choose the light over the darkness.

For that same reason, I can’t wait until you’re old enough to be spellbound by Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. These movies brought comfort to your mother and millions of others in dark times. I hope they’ll do the same for you.

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“Casablanca,” 1942, and “Singin’ in the Rain,” 1952: When it comes to classic movies, honey, your fate has been pretty well sealed. It just so happens you were born to a mother who binges on Turner Classic Movies instead of soap operas or the CW.

There are so many old movies I want you to see  — “Bringing Up Baby,” “Roman Holiday,” anything starring Fred and Ginger, everything by Hitchcock. I don’t want you to be one of those kids who automatically dismisses a film because it’s black and white or because it’s too “old-fashioned.”

I’ll start with “Casablanca” because I’d like you to know there is at least one perfect movie in this world. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And I’ll finish with “Singin’ in the Rain” because it is one of the most exuberant, funny, irresistible musicals ever made. I hope you sing “Good Morning” and “Moses Supposes” to me until my ears bleed.

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“Alien,” 1979: If I have anything to do with it, you won’t be seeing Ridley Scott’s supreme sci-fi thriller for many, many years. I don’t want you to have to go to therapy to get over the sight of one of the slimiest, nastiest, scariest movie monsters in cinema history.

But when you’re old enough, there will be a time to watch “Alien.” I want you to know that, like Sigourney Weaver’s tough, resourceful and determined Ripley, you can be the hero of your story.

And here are just a few more, because it’s so hard to narrow down this list:

“The Princess Bride,” 1987: Because someday when you’re no longer a child, this hilarious and sweet fairy tale will help you find that childlike joy again.

“Back to the Future,” 1985: If you don’t see Robert Zemeckis’ ultimate time travel romp, it will cause a rift in the space-time continuum and Marty McFly and Doc Brown will have to go back — or is that forward? — and fix it.

“The Goonies,” 1985: This ’80s classic will inspire you to seek your own adventures. And because the Truffle Shuffle. And Goonies never say die.

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” 1982: At first, Steven Spielberg’s kid-pleasing gem will scare the living daylights out of you. E.T. is cute, but also creepy in a wrinkly sort of way. Once you overcome those fears — and a possible aversion to Reese’s Pieces — this kiddie classic will teach your little heart how to feel.

“Hugo,” 2011: This film is so lovely and whimsical and tells the story of the movies that mommy loves in a way I think you’ll understand. Besides, this is the only film by the great Martin Scorsese that I want you to see until you’re at least … I don’t know … 35?

All my love,

Mama

What movies were you most excited to share with the kids in your life? What movies are you looking forward to showing them?

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Up All Night With Turner Classic Movies

Being a movie critic is the best job in the world. You get paid to watch films and, even better, to discuss them endlessly in a running dialogue with readers. I would never complain about the best job in the world, but it does have a down side. Keeping up with the latest releases, in theaters and on DVD, is an enormous, time-sucking task, so I rarely had the opportunity to go back and revisit old favorites.

As a kid, I was a voracious consumer of classic film. My tastes were cultivated by parents who weren’t afraid of movies shot in black and white or made before the ’80s. My grandmother would call us to her room to watch musicals like “My Fair Lady,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and that charming duo, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The result was that my little brother became obsessed with tuxedos, my parents were forced to listen to our renditions of show tunes on a loop during car trips and my siblings and I developed an enduring love for the classics.

That love never disappeared but it diminished during the 13 years I spent as film critic for a local newspaper. Sitting down and revisiting a gem made more than 30 years ago was a luxury of time I could rarely afford. Sometimes I’d fantasize that my boss would insist I take a year-long sabbatical to do nothing but watch Turner Classic Movies. That never happened while I was at the paper, but the fantasy did come true in an unexpected way.

At the end of December, I had a baby, a daughter who, as most infants do, required constant care through the wee hours of the night. As a new parent, I was subjected to a level of sleep deprivation so intense it made my head spin. Since my husband was working to keep that little mouth fed, I was on night shift and, let me tell you, those were some long nights. As any insomniac knows, there is no loneliness as profound as the loneliness of being awake after 2 a.m. As delightful as my new baby was, as I sat with her in my arms in the darkened living room, it was all too easy to cave in to the enveloping blackness, a despair that the morning would never come. I felt like I was the only person left in the world.

When I remembered Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel that shows vintage flicks all day and all night, a light broke through the gloom. My husband was bemused to see our DVR fill up with 1930s screwball comedies, war pictures and Westerns, Technicolor musicals, black and white melodramas, cheesy sci-fi oddities and legendary foreign films from the 1960s and ’70s — whatever struck my fancy when I stood at 4 a.m., blinking bleary-eyed at the television screen.

Hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz became my best friends. The chiming sound of the late-night TCM promo was a cheerful beacon, cutting through my mental fog. I felt like a human being again. And I learned a lot.

I realized that I had never really paused to appreciate Sidney Poitier and his graceful mastery of acting. After a marathon of “The Defiant Ones,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Lilies of the Field” and “The Slender Thread” — in which he spends most of the film on the phone with Anne Bancroft, trying to talk her out of suicide — I was left dazzled by his dignity and playfulness.

I rewatched 1947’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a childhood favorite that is an entirely different animal from Ben Stiller’s recent, surprisingly wonderful remake, and laughed aloud at Danny Kaye’s physical comedy antics. A scene in which Mitty struggles awkwardly to move a chair while holding a teacup should be among the most celebrated moments in comedy, but I fear few people have even seen the film.

Diving into the deep end once again with that swimsuit-clad goddess — Esther Williams — a favorite of my grandmother, I marveled at how much bang these classics gave audiences for their buck. It wasn’t enough to simply tell moviegoers a good story, these films also delivered numbers conducted by famous orchestra leaders, solos by jazz or opera singers, tap dancing interludes or an elegant ballroom dance, a choreographed water ballet or a fashion show. The clothes were stunning. The settings were exotic. These were the days when people got dressed up to go to the movies and the studios were careful to give audiences what they wanted. Hollywood really knew how to put on a show.

What else did I learn during my late nights with TCM?

Everyone wore the most fabulous negligees to bed and the men wore ridiculous smoking jackets over their shirts and pants. Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford and every other leading lady worth her salt could not drift off to sleep unless she was swathed in a feminine cloud of silk, tulle, ribbons and lace.

I remembered why I love Doris Day movies, all that pert, wholesome perkiness mixed, like a dry martini, with ribald sexual innuendo. In contrast, as an adult, I found the beloved screwball comedy “His Girl Friday,” starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, to be much darker and more problematic than I recalled, a scathing but weirdly blithe indictment of media carelessness.

I discovered the rakish charms of Melvyn Douglas, a suavely mustachioed screwball comedy king who starred opposite Greta Garbo in 1939’s “Ninotchka.” I was struck again by the blistering chemistry of the radiant Katharine Hepburn and her on and off screen love, the rumpled but sexy Spencer Tracy. I never knew that Jimmy Stewart actually sang and tap-danced — albeit it briefly — in the 1936 Cole Porter musical “Born to Dance.” He wasn’t half bad.

I watched Rosalind Russell vamp it up in “Auntie Mame” for the first time ever. How is it possible that I existed without seeing this sublime comedy?

Other firsts for me included “The Red Shoes,” the phantasmagorical masterpiece that influenced Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” with its mouth-watering production design, “The Bicycle Thief,” which crushed me with just about the saddest ending ever.

What I learned most of all is that the films of Hollywood’s heritage are indeed glorious. They are called “classic” for a reason. That isn’t to say they’re perfect. One of the things that astonished me was the rampant sexism and racism of Golden Age films, in which women are routinely punished for desiring a career over a husband and minorities are resigned to play dim-witted servants.

Despite their flaws, these movies have endured for decades, passed from one generation to the next like treasured artifacts. Scholars have attributed their magnificence to the great studio system that spawned them, to superior methods of writing, acting, filming and composing. Whatever the reason for their success, I think what makes an old movie truly great is not that it was shot in beautiful black and white or stars a timeless legend. It’s that the movie nudges us into feeling something deeply.

One particular lonely night spent with TCM stands out to me among the dozens and dozens of lonely nights. I was watching “Singin’ in the Rain,” lulling my baby to sleep to the watery sounds of the title song.

“What a glorious feeling. I’m happy again,” sang Gene Kelly, swinging himself around the lamppost in a scene that has been viewed millions of times by millions of people.

Once again, Gene Kelly splashed in a puddle. Once again, he sang. My heavy heart lifted.

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I Hope My Daughter Grows Up to Be a Nerd

Several years ago, when my husband and I still attended the San Diego Comic-Con — back when it was more fun than exhausting — we would occasionally observe a couple pushing a stroller through the crowd, grim looks on their faces as the Red Sea of sweaty fanboys refused to part for them.

“They’re nuts,” I used to say.

It was time for me to eat my words when we decided to take our 3-month-old daughter to WonderCon Anaheim, the cozier little sister to San Diego’s towering pop culture extravaganza.

We booked a hotel attached to the Anaheim Convention Center, packed up the million items of baby ephemera required for an overnight trip with an infant, outfitted the little munchkin in a yoda hat stitched by a crafty cousin and made the pilgrimage to our favorite geek mecca. Our baby’s “Doctor Who”-worshiping aunt came along for moral support.

Soon I had become one half of THAT couple, maneuvering a stroller through hordes of spandex-clad superheroes, unidentifiable anime critters and hairy dudes declaring, via T-shirt, their allegiance to DC or Marvel. As the husband headed off in the direction of the Warner Bros. panel, the aunt and I waited for the exhibit hall to open and my tiny daughter got her first eyeful of the convention’s colorful passersby.

As Batmen in black body armor, Stormtroopers armed with blasters, gender-bending Thors and Lokis, wispy Elsas from “Frozen” and a guy painted entirely silver to look like a certain surfboard-carrying comic book character paraded in front of her, my baby’s eyes grew wide. She had entered a strange new world.

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That’s when I got to thinking. Many parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers, Olympic gymnasts or the president of the United States. Those pursuits are certainly admirable but when I think about my daughter’s future, I have a different fate in mind. I really hope she grows up to be a nerd.

I suppose the odds are in my favor. My little girl wakes up every morning in a house littered with the traces of her parents’ geekdom. Posters of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” line the walls. Display cases full of Legos dominate the living room. Boxes of action figures are crammed into closets. Shelves overflow with books, many of them science fiction and fantasy. And on the mantle over the fireplace sits one of those fancy replica lightsabers, a cherished Christmas gift from dad to mom. In this house, Sunday nights are dedicated to “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” the latest “Star Wars” news is hashed over and then rehashed and though we’re not a big comic book family, you’d better believe we’ll be there Friday when the latest Marvel movie hits theaters.

Most of our friends are nerds, too. Unlike the stereotype, they’re not 35-year-old men living in their mothers’ basements, playing World of Warcraft and guzzling Mountain Dew. They’re well adjusted, intelligent, productive members of society who also happen to read feminist comic books, debate the merits of “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” play “The Elder Scrolls” online, re-read the Harry Potter books annually, line up at midnight for movies, countdown to the next seasons of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” and get excited about Hayao Miyazaki.

These are some of the coolest, smartest, most fascinating people I know and that’s why I hope my daughter doesn’t choose to rebel against her nerd heritage in favor of a boring existence. Many people slog through life doing the bare minimum — going to work, going home to spend the night sitting in front of some reality TV show.

Nerds want more. They’re not satisfied with reality and the status quo. Their imaginations are always churning, always musing, always wondering: wouldn’t it be cool if … time travel was possible, vampires existed, the zombie apocalypse happened, there was life on other planets, some rich dude with a cave and clever gadgets could save society from the evil within or if a British time lord could alter the course of history.

Nerds are passionate and playful. When they care about something they really care. They don’t do things by halves. They’re obsessed and they want to share that obsession with you. They’re not content to just watch or listen, they want to live it, collect it, wear it on a T-shirt, write about it in an Internet chat room, join a club or — as evidenced by the number of people who indulge in cosplay at WonderCon and similar events around the country — transform themselves into their favorite characters.

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Some would argue that such obsessions are childish, pointless and don’t make a difference, but the sheer momentum of nerd passion has turned comic book and fantasy movies into a billion dollar industry in Hollywood, resurrected cancelled television shows, united scores of disconnected individuals and, yes, even accomplished some good in the world. Take, for instance, The Harry Potter Alliance, thehpalliance.org, a self-described “coalition” of Harry Potter fans who have launched campaigns for literacy, equality and human rights around the world, donating books to impoverished kids, sending disaster relief supplies to Haiti, building a library and pressuring Warner Bros. about the use of child labor in the manufacturing of Harry Potter chocolates.

I’d go so far as to say that the world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit nerdier. I hope my daughter grows up to love a television show dearly, to take an enthusiastic stance when it comes to “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Marvel or DC, to adore a movie so much she can’t stop talking about it, to create a costume so she can “become” her favorite cartoon character, to acquire a ravenous taste for books, especially fiction and fantasy. I hope she embraces and is embraced by other nerds as warmly as I have been embraced by them. If she can find it in her heart to do this, I know she’ll be happy.

Photos by Fawn Kemble