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Archive for the 'Film Critics Blog' Category

Holden On – A remarkable film about a teen’s struggle with mental illness

Monday, June 12th, 2017

No longer your average boy-next-door, Holden Layfield weaves audiences through his harrowing tale in this film set in the early 1990s. After succumbing to a secret battle with mental illness, Holden evolves from a beloved, small town Georgia football player to a lost, self-medicating prophet. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Samantha M. comments, “I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other…This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.” See her full review.

Holden On
By Samantha Marcus, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 17

This exceptional film brought out all of my emotions, which is why it is one of my new favorites. I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried within minutes of each other. I’m glad I was able to express my emotions, because that is what makes me relate to a film. This film helped my heart grow bigger and make me more empathetic towards others.

Based on a true story, Holden On is about a 17-year-old boy named Holden Layfield, who lives in a small town in Georgia and is a star athlete. Playing football like a professional, Layfield receives multiple college scholarships and is ready to begin a new chapter in his life. But, he has a big secret: he is battling a mental illness. Over a two year period, Layfield tries to keep his illness to himself and transforms from a fantastic football player to a prophet who believes he can save the world.

Matthew Fahey portrays Holden in a remarkable fashion. He acts very humble, which illustrates how kind-hearted Holden truly is. However, because of his humility, it is difficult for Holden’s family to decipher his thoughts. Fahey makes you believe that Holden is completely fine and, because he isn’t, it makes the plot even more intriguing. Steve Ellis’ portrayal of Zinte, Holden’s best friend, is humorous. Zinte truly cares about Holden and it is evident through their five year friendship. Ellis characterizes Zinte as comical, joking around with him to cheer him up. But, he is unaware of Holden’s issue. These lead actors left me on the edge of my seat for the entire film.

 I love the music in this film because which is from the 80s, opening with “It’s the End of the World” by R.E.M. The film is set in the 90s, but the music is from an older era and includes bands such as Suzie Rose and Tommy McCarthy. My favorite parts of the film are when Holden is in a situation and the camera shifts towards his point of view. For example, Holden tackles another team player on the football field before the game begins. The camera cuts to Holden’s thoughts, displaying a visual of what is going on in his brain. I enjoyed how Holden narrates his thoughts when this occurs, because I could empathize more with him.  

The message of this film is that you are not alone, even if you’re battling mental illness. Talk to your friends, family or a professional about your feelings, because there is someone who is always willing to help. Mental illness is common and not many people are aware of the help available to those who are suffering. That a movie has been created to address the issue touches my heart.  

Be forewarned that Holden resorts to drugs to cope with his illness yet, this film has such an impactful message that I wish every kid could see it. We can all help those who are dealing with mental illness. I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 16 to 18 as well as adults. Go to Iamholdenon.org to read about the nationwide movement supporting treating mental illness through artistic expression. Also, catch this film when it comes out June 7, 2017. It is one that you don’t want to miss.

My Cousin Rachel – Suspense, passion and psychological intrigue

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

A young Englishman plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms. KIDS FIRST! Juror Juanita L. comments, “The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat.” See her full review below.

My Cousin Rachel
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

I like this film for several reasons. The detail and beauty of the 19th century in the settings of the house and grounds captivated me. The suspense and mystery of finding out just who Rachel (Rachel Weisz) is and what will happen with Phillip (Sam Claflin) kept me on edge of my seat. Expect candles, beds with draperies, bonnets, bumpy wagon rides and scything — as well as a modern-minded female character who may or may not be up to no good in pursuit of money.

My Cousin Rachel, adapted from a book set in the 19th Century and written in 1951 by Daphne du Maurier, is a combination of suspense, passion and some psychological glimpses of men and women in often intriguing and obsessive relationships. The story is about a rather naïve young bachelor who struggles to decide if his deceased guardian’s charming widow is the woman of his dreams or a cold-blooded killer and gold-digger seeking an inheritance. Among those disturbed by Phillip’s sudden obsession with Rachel is Louise (Holliday Grainger), his confidante since childhood who has long harbored her own unrequited crush on him.

There a moment of sexual violence when Phillip holds Rachel’s arms, demanding her to “kiss me!” and she forcefully tells him to stop and let her go. He briefly chokes her. We also see the couple having sex with their clothes on.

I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 as well as some adults. I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.  It opens nationwide June 9, 2017 so, be sure to go check it out and discover for yourself the mystery of Rachel!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monterey Pop By Terry Solowey

Monday, June 5th, 2017

I was catapulted back in time watching the classic rockumentary Monterey Pop.  In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, D. A. Pennebaker, the original director supervised, restored and re-mastered this amazing documentary with vibrant color and sound.   Ushering in the 1967 Summer of Love, he captures the beginning of a new era of rock n’ roll music as well as a counterculture life style. This was just the beginning of the big concert formats.

Legendary performances introduce us to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding along with a diverse cast of more known artists at that time – Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas & The Papas, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela and Ravi Shankar.

We observe behind the scenes’ preparations, hear concerns about crowd size, expecting 50 to 55,000 (a small number compared to the legendary Woodstock Festival of 500,000).  We must remember that this concert set a precedence for what was to come, including other charitable music events such as Live Aid and Farm Aid.

I was a teenager in the 60s and remember seeing the original film when it came out in 1968. Legendary moments of Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire and Pete Townshend destroying his are captured along with the facial expressions of an audience in amazement, shock and awe!  Janis Joplin’s performance is mesmerizing in both her stage presence and her voice.  Mama Cass’s reaction to her performance is captured in posterity and lives on. This was just the beginning of my concert going years and I enjoyed reminiscing and singing long with classic songs like “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Today” by Jefferson Airplane among others.

Two performances really stuck out to me. Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” captured in a silhouetted camera shot, engaged the audience to sing along with him and the amazing close of the film and concert featuring Ravi Shankar, who introduced us to the sitar, the tabla and Indian ragas.  It was in this close that the director truly captured the audience’s reaction in a meditative state to a different style of music. As I looked at the audience, I related to the counter-culture clothing, hats and painted flower-power faces. The standing ovation of appreciation at the conclusion is quite remarkable and inspiring.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it to baby boomers to reminisce as well as the generations that followed from age 8 to 18 and beyond. This film allows you to witness and enjoy a remarkable and classic time in music and the beginning of a new consciousness. It opens in New York on June 14, in Los Angeles on June 15 and across the country on the weekend of June 16, alongside a new celebration of the festival in Monterey, California!

 

Hooray For OLD Hollywood By Clayton Pickard

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Last month, while visiting a college, I came upon a film on TCM called The Best Years Of Our Lives.   It’s a post WWII film about the difficulties soldiers faced in acclimating back into society after being in combat. Directed by William Wyler, it was released in 1946 and stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March and Dana Andrews. While watching the film, I had an epiphany that older movies flow much better than many current films. There isn’t any rush to change scenes, which allows the viewer to better comprehend what they’re watching. The pace also gives the actors and directors more breadth. I was really able to appreciate the humor of Myrna Loy.

This weekend, I watched Casablanca for the third time (one of my mother’s favorite films). Released in 1942, it is directed by Michael Curtiz and stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid. Casablanca is a WWII film taking place in French Morocco.  What I really love about this film and other old movies is that they have amazing close-ups, which allow the viewer to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of the stars’ faces. In this film, they show close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman that are heavenly.  Casablanca reveals the ambiguous complexity of right and wrong, unlike most movies of today. It shows the flat out truth of life, that there are no easy answers.

I also screened North By Northwest, which I’ve seen on DVD and at Film Forum. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it stars Cary Grant, Angie Dickinson and James Mason. It is a thriller/ adventure film made in 1959 about a clueless advertising executive who is mistaken for an American spy. The most extraordinary aspect of this film is that everything is shot on location, without any special effects or CGI. The iconic crop duster and Mount Rushmore scenes are done on location. This creates a real sense of verisimilitude, whereby the viewer feels as if it’s happening to them.

While I used to have a prejudice against old movies. Now, I am gaining an appreciation for them and starting to slowly move away from all the typical Hollywood blockbusters.

 

 

American Black or British Black: Why the Discussion? By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

 

Samuel L. Jackson recently spoke about how British black actors have recently been heavily cast in roles that he feels would have benefited more had they been filled by American black actors. He was referring to actors such as David Oyelowo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Daniel Kaluuya. Jackson stated that while these actors are doing fine jobs, the roles of Martin Luther King or Chris Washington could have been more judiciously played by American black actor. Let’s evaluate this.

As of late, yes, black Brits have been coming to the U.S. and taking roles in American films. They give stellar performances as Americans and create memorable cinema. Is that bad? Not necessarily so. After all, they’re still within a minority and represent an underrepresented community. Their country of origin shouldn’t matter. However, there is a reason behind their recent surge in Hollywood.

Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are noted thespians. They’ve been trained and have experience on the stage and that translates in their screen performances. The problem is that, they’re beginning to be a part of a minority. The likes of Ejiofor and Oyelowo are trained in England, a very theatrical country. Film is still secondary to theater there and so, actors in Britain get classical theatrical training. For the most part, thespians still garner more respect than film actors (excluding Jack Nicholson). Having theater experience is essential to be respected as an actor and Americans increasingly ignoring that. They start in film and never venture into theater until after they’re established such as Jake Gyllenhaal or Leonardo DiCaprio.

When these thespians come to the U.S., they’re cheaper than American black film actors, have more respected training and can speak with impeccable American accents. Why wouldn’t they be hired? And why does that create a rift within the entertainment community? It should inspire American black actors to seek more theatrical training. And while Sam Jackson meant no harm with his statement, there’s a rather large debate over whether or not Hollywood should keep hiring black actors from overseas and not support more American black actors. All I can say is: it’s a business. A very cutthroat business, that’s all about survival of the fittest. If a group of actors comes into Hollywood better trained, does that mean another group of actors should complain about their roles being taken away? No. It means they should sharpen their skills and advance their training.

So before this becomes a bigger issue than it should, let’s just acknowledge that, what matters in the end is good cinema. So whether Martin Luther King’s story is told by a Brit or American, as long as it’s told well, it doesn’t matter. Movies are about stories and the imagination. Those don’t see color or nationality.

Plastic is Forever – An Interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze by Juanita Seon Leary

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

The Philadelphia Environment Film Festival, the first of its kind in the city of Brotherly Love played Earth Day Weekend, April 21 through 23, 2017 at the historic Prince Theater in downtown Philadelphia. The festival opened on Friday night, honoring Fisher Stevens, director of the critically acclaimed climate change documentary, Before the Flood and closed on Sunday with James Cameron’s classic award-winning film, Avatar. The festival showcased dozens of new shorts and features from international and domestic filmmakers celebrating the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day.

Despite the rainy day and the March for Science rally, film, environmental and art enthusiasts of all ages attended the festival.  Festival founders Debra Wolf Goldstein and Alexandra Drobac Diagne said “We are extremely passionate about combining powerful moving imagery on the silver screen with educational and inspirational knowledge about the current state and future of the beautiful planet we all call home.”

My favorite part of the festival was viewing the Youth Block of Films and having the opportunity to interview the award-winning young filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother Dawn D’Haeze. Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever was featured at the festival. Here is an excerpt of my interview with filmmaker Dylan D’Haeze and his mother and producer, Dawn D’Haeze.

Juanita: Welcome Dylan and Dawn D’Haeze to KIDS FIRST! Thank you for the opportunity to talk with me and share with our KIDS FIRST! audience points about your wonderful documentary Plastic is Forever.  Congratulations on being the youngest winning filmmaker at San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and winner of its 2017 Environmental Award. Dylan, what sparked your interest in plastic pollution?

Dylan: Thank you, Juanita. I am home schooled and it started as a project for school and, as I researched and answered the questions about plastics I became concerned about how plastic can damage the earth.

Juanita: Why did you did decide to create this documentary?

Dylan:  I made this documentary because I’ve learned about plastic pollution and how it’s affecting the planet in a very bad way. As a kid, it scares me and I feel powerless. So, I decided to make a documentary about plastic pollution and teach kids how they can help solve the problem.

Juanita:
Do you have a favorite filmmaker of director?

Dylan:  Yes, my favorite director is Kip Anderson, director of Conspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.

Juanita: What challenges did you face in bringing your son’s ideas to life?

Dawn:   Our biggest challenge was getting interviews. People were reluctant because they did not know us. However, as we continued it got better.

Juanita: Describe how you felt when you went to the beach in Hawaii.

Dawn:   The beach we shot is a two-hour drive from the city. The road is very rough and very rocky.

Dylan: The beach is covered with plastic and they had a clean-up before we visited. So much plastic, it has in the past reached almost 10 feet high. The broken pieces are becoming part of the beach. It was awful.

Juanita: What is your next step to realize your goal of showing kids they are not powerless and that their daily actions affect our future?

Dylan:  This documentary is one in a series of films I’m making called Kids Can Save The Planet. The next film will be about climate change and I’m really looking forward to start filming again soon!

Juanita: Dylan and Dawn, thank you very much for speaking with me today. I want to mention that Dylan’s film, Plastic is Forever is playing now at KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals nationwide so, be sure to check with your local festival to see if it is playing there. We look forward to your continuing series, Kids Can Save The Planet and wish you the best in your filmmaking endeavors. It’s heart-warming to see a young person such as yourself tackling this important issue.               

 

 

 

The Pleasures of Oscar Season by Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Monday, January 30th, 2017

From December through February is the time of year I love best because there are so many substantial films out in theatres, be they Hollywood, Indie or Foreign films. This year especially has brought us so many terrific movies such as Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Moonlight, Lion and 20th Century Women. All of these films have been nominated for Best Picture, except 20th Century Women, which was my favorite film of the year.

I was fascinated with all the catchy, get me up dance numbers in La La Land. I thought it captured the essence of the beginning of a relationship, when two people first fall in love. Lion is so emotionally harrowing, but captivating at the same time. Dev Patel portrays grown up Saroo so well and has justly been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in it. Manchester by the Sea is a spectacular, but serious, family film that is very relatable because of its teen protagonist. This film is the flat-out truth about how horrible or exciting life can really be. It doesn’t pull any punches. It just tells an honest story about a dysfunctional family. 20th Century Women is a hip, pop and lock sort of punk rock movie that young teens will love. I am very surprised that it was not nominated for Best Picture.

Out of the nine Best Picture nominations, I have only seen three. I plan to see many more over the next few weeks before the Oscars. I meant to see Moonlight for the past two months, but the subject matter seems so intense. I also look forward to seeing Hidden Figures. The trailer makes it seem like an important feminist take on the moon landing. Everybody seems to love Arrival, but I usually don’t enjoy alien movies. This one sounds rather interesting, since it’s about a linguist trying to decipher the Alien language.

I have seen three out of the five films up for Best Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings, The Red Turtle and Zootopia. The two that I haven’t seen are Moana and My Life as a Zucchini. My Life as a Zucchini is a great “title.” It’s the premiere film this year at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, so I will probably see it there. I believe Kubo is the most creative and enchanting film up for the award. Can’t wait to see who wins the Oscars for all of these. Until then, I’ll just keep judging and guessing.

Fences – Lives Up to its Award-winning Status! by Juanita Seon Leary

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Fences_1.jpgFences is the story about an African-American father struggling with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. KIDS FIRST! juror Juanita Seon Leary comments, “Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status.” See her full review below.

Fences,
By Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror                       

I saw Fences as a play with James Earl Jones years ago and was very anxious and looking forward to seeing the filmed version. Adapted from the stage play by August Wilson (who also writes the screenplay), it lives up to its award- winning status. I am a fan of both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis who star in this film.

Throughout the film, we see life through the eyes of Troy (Denzel Washington) an African American man struggling with issues of race and economics and all the events of his life.  He lives with his family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.

Fences opens with Troy and Bono (Steven Henderson) riding on the garbage truck. As they work, they talk about the inequality of their jobs.  Troy questions why “a black man cannot drive the truck”? He asks the question to his supervisor who is a white man and is facing possible firing. so it is thought. Troy and Bono arrive at Troy’s house and we begin to learn about a fence.  It is Friday and payday. We see Troy and Bono sharing a bottle of liquor.  Troy tells stories and his wife Rose (Viola Davis) sits on porch and interacts to keep Troy honest. We learn about Troy’s past, his excellent skills in baseball, time he served in jail and how he met Rose.

The film has excellent scenes that let us feel and see the streets of Pittsburgh. The main center of action is the backyard. There is a baseball on a string and Troy’s baseball bat.  Rose asks Troy to build her a fence. At one point, Bono speaks to Troy about fences.  “Fences are built to keep something or someone out or to keep something or someone in.” He lets Troy know that Rose wants to keep him and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo) inside.  In Fences, we see the relationship and interaction of a father with his sons. His older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) comes by on paydays to ask for a loan and his younger son Cory wants to play football to attend college. 

Fences is excellent and has many lessons and messages. Because of the language and suggestive references, I recommend it for ages 14 to 18 and believe that many adults will enjoy it also. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.  It opens on December 25, 2016 so be sure to check it out.

  

 

 

 

Jackie – A Biopic Display of Grief and Its Inhibitor by Willie Jones

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Jackie.jpgJackie is a portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, then Jacqueline Kennedy. Jackie places us in her world during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination. Known for her extraordinary dignity and poise, here we see a portrait of the First Lady as she fights to establish her husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot” that she created and loved so well. This is an R rated film for brief strong violence and some language but we felt it important enough in terms of its historical content to review. We do recommend it for ages 14 to 18. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “Jackie is a biopic about more than Jackie Kennedy. It is a display of grief and its effects on its inhibitor. The assassination of JFK is used as a backdrop to present a portrayal of grief as something raw and gritty.” See his full review below.

Jackie
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. Age 17

Jackie is a biopic about more than Jackie Kennedy. It is a display of grief and its effects on its inhibitor. The assassination of JFK is used as a backdrop to present a portrayal of grief as something raw and gritty. The grainy cinematography expresses that. Additionally, the film humanizes a famous figure, that is all too familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Natalie Portman plays the famous First Lady and what a transformation it is. Portman’s last great performance was in 2010s Black Swan and she is in rare form in this film. From the walk, to the signature voice, Portman embodies the ticks of Jackie Kennedy that we’ve come to know. That alone is impressive. Then, Portman adds the emotional layers to the caricature we’re accustomed to and Jackie Kennedy suddenly becomes human. Natalie Portman portrays the grief of a famous figure and makes it something down-to-earth and relatable. This performance is one to be remembered for its sensitivity, vulnerability and depth. Behind that voice is a tremble of sadness and beneath those eyes are memories of seeing a husband killed. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career, not simply because she plays a real person who is a famous figure in history, but because she makes that figure unfeigned.

Supporting her are veterans John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig. Sarsgaard plays JFK’s brother, Bobby Kennedy. His characterization is spot on and his eyes tell a lot. There is a brooding guilt beneath his eyes and in his face that comes out very perfectly played in a scene near the climax of the film. Gerwig and Hurt play the confidants of Jackie Kennedy, each in his own way playing the wisdom and empathy proper to each spectrum of Jackie’s grief. Billy Crudup challenges Jackie’s notion and speaks from a perspective of his search for truth. He truly attempts to uncover and peel the celebrity off of Jackie and give us the raw confession of her lies and motivations.

To further the raw portrayal of grief is the cinematography of Stephane Fontaine and the direction of Pablo Lorrain. The documentarian behind-the-scenes style plays to the fervent nature of the film. The grain of the film, conceivably, could be a testament to the imperfections of Jackie Kennedy. Perhaps the cinematography and, at times, sporadic direction is a representation of how imperfect our idol Jackie Kennedy really was. Furthermore, the editing and cinematography are sometimes very eerie, meaning there are tracking shots that come off woozy and pieces of editing that scatter. They are brilliant pieces of filmmaking because they reflect Kennedy’s mental state. It’s actually quite brilliant how much of Jackie’s emotional state is presented without a word of dialogue, but only with Portman’s face and the direction of Pablo Lorrain.Willie1.jpg

Personally, my favorite aspect of the entire film is the score by Mica Levi. The score can be described as haunting. It is laced with a foreboding, calamitous tone that injects dread to the film. It drives the grief into our catharsis and, at times, actually weighs down on us. Then, in the midst of the heavy slightly off-pitch stringing, comes a higher pitched sound that injects a sort of longing for something happier. I can’t fully express how beautiful and sad and astute the score is.

My only complaint with this film is very minimal. Sometimes the dialogue gets a little too cinematic for the tone of the film. Additionally, the plot occasionally gets slightly recurring and seems to be a bit lethargic.

With that said, I give this move 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18. This film is in theaters December 2, 2016 so, be sure to go check it out.

Magic at the Theater By Keefer C. Blakeslee, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

CHRISTMAS.STORY_1.jpgIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. I love the Holiday Season for many reasons – being with loved ones, giving presents and of course, winter break! During this time, I like to catch up with any films I missed by creating a holiday watch list. Most people have a list of things they want for Christmas but all I want, and need, for the holidays is to watch movies with my family. Whether it’s a classic film like my favorite, A Christmas Story or a newly released film such as Hidden Figures, I make a watch list. My family and I then grab our hot cocoa and snuggle up by the digital fireplace. I was at home watching my mother’s favorite film, White Christmas, with Danny Kaye flying through the air and singing his heart out when he raises a question that sparked this blog. In one of the musical numbers, he sings, “The theater…The theater… What’s happened to the theater?” Now, in the context of this song, when he refers to the theater, he’s talking about the stage. But, it made me think about movie theaters today. White_Christmas3_1.jpg

Movies have become so easily accessible because of online outlets such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. So much so, that people would rather stay home and watch movies on their smaller screen. I can’t say I can blame them. There are many good reasons to do that. You’re more comfortable. You don’t have to worry about other people talking or texting. And, the biggest thing is its much CHEAPER. These are all very valid and understandable cases. However, I truly believe that movie theaters are magical places and, to always watch films at home can be an injustice to some films that need to be seen on a big screen. I’m not saying that you should go to the movies all the time. I just want to defend a place I hold dear and maybe encourage you to visit the theater during this season of joy.

As I have mentioned countless times, I grew up with the movies, as many of us have, and I have many memories going to the movie theaters. One of my fondest memories is watching The Polar Express on the big screen, which is a yearly tradition at my hometown theater. People are encouraged to come in their pajamas and, when the lights go down, we board the Polar Express.  At the end of the film, we are given golden jingle bells so that we never forget to “believe.” Not all movie theaters do events like this, but it brings up the point that movie theaters are like trains that transport you into worlds of stories.

Picture this: You’re in your seat, the gigantic screen stops playing ads and becomes blank. Then the house lights slowly dim until you’re in complete darkness. The only light is small aisle lights. It’s completely silent. No phones. No outside noises. Just the anticipation of what’s going to be shown on screen. Finally, the film begins and, by then you forget you’re in a theater. You’re immersed in the film.

Granted, this is a romanticized scenario. Sometimes there are people in the theater who break this illusion by using their phones and, even the movie can damage the experience by its lack of interesting characters or an engaging story. With that said, when everything goes according to plan, the experience is exhilarating. When you’re at home you’re tempted to check your phone every minute and you have other distractions. When you go to the movies, it’s like signing a contract that, for the next 90 minutes you are disconnected with the outside world.

The movies are also a sanctuary for people. Films do, or at least should, spark humanity and empathy. Whether it’s joy, sadness oKeefer.2014.5.jpgr even anger, people respond emotionally. I’ve mentioned this on our radio show before, but I’m still touched by this. I recently saw the film Loving which is based on a true love story about an African American woman and a white man struggling to protect their marriage and their life during a time of strong prejudice in the 1960s. While in the theater, I was surrounded by interracial couples. Next to me there was an older couple, a white woman and an African American man, and when the film ended, the women turned to her significant other and said, “This is our story.” Then she kissed him on the cheek. You can’t see rare moments of humanity like that at home.

I’m the type of person who loves listening in on conversations after a movie ends because everybody is a film critic. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull bits are cut out.” Since we are all living life, humans have a connection with films. That’s another reason why I love the movie theaters because it brings people together. When watching a movie, complete strangers in one room laugh, cheer or even cry together. It doesn’t matter your faith, race or sexuality, we are all connected by the love for stories.

I could go on to talk about the importance of preserving the movie theaters, but I think these two points are the most important. The cinema is a portal that transports you out of this world and, when you return, your soul has changed. That is something that home entertainment systems just can’t capture. Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in the New Year.

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