Love the Coopers

LoveTheCoopersI went into the theater to see Love the Coopers (2015) hoping only to kill some time before seeing the Beatles tribute band, American English at a very nice Irish pub, Ballydoyle.

What I didn’t realize was that I was in store for a whole lot more…

The film’s trailers didn’t make things look particularly appealing.  And the film came and went pretty quickly through the first-run theaters (I saw it at a local second-run theater, The LaGrange).  And, if its overall IMDB rating of 5.8/10 is any indicator, it didn’t appear to inspire many glowing reviews.

I’m here to change that.

First, a little context is in order.  Even though I’m now on vacation (always a good thing!), I’ve found myself in a decidedly non-Christmas-y mood – sometimes even a little short of temper and irritable lately.  While this is never a recommended outlook, it’s even less so at the most joyous time of year.

So I saw this movie…

As we the audience were getting introduced to the Cooper family, I found that it appeared everyone in the film was in a decidedly non-Christmas-y mood as well as being a little short of temper and irritable.  This, for better or worse, provided a means of instantly connecting with all of them.  Perhaps if I were in a different frame of mind I might have dismissed them as being “unlikable”; but not now.  For the time being, these folks were my peeps.

  • Charlotte just wants to make a “perfect” family gathering at Christmas – no matter what the cost.
  • Sam just wants to go with Charlotte on a long-planned (and delayed) trip so the couple can re-connect.
  • Hank just wants to have a job again. Any job. Please…
  • Charlie just want the girl with whom he’s smitten.
  • Bo just wants to find the perfect Christmas present (but it can’t cost too much).
  • Madison just wants to be, seemingly, a potty-mouth in front of adults at every conceivable opportunity.
  • Aunt Fishy just wants… perhaps, to live happily in her own version of the world.
  • Bucky just wants family – even when one of them isn’t related to him.
  • Emma just wants to get out from under the self-imposed shadow of her sister, Charlotte.
  • Eleanor just wants, ultimately, to feel loved for who she is rather than who people think she should be.

Ok, you’ve met them.

What we witness of the Coopers in this unexpected gem of a movie is a slice of life around Christmas Eve.  Unlike what the trailers would have you believe, there’s not a lot of comedy here.  And, really, there shouldn’t be (leave that to Griswolds in their own classic film). Here, things are much more matter-of-fact – and that’s a good thing.  For some reason, it called to mind an amazing Christmas movie (which wasn’t a Christmas movie) that I saw last year, The Miracle of the Bells.  Nice touch.

And what we experience (or at least, what I experienced) during this slice of life isn’t “heart” or “celebration” or even “inspiration”.  Rather, I – perhaps in part due to the mood I was in – experienced … compassion.

What a wonderful gift at Christmastime!

I suspect this film won’t be for everyone.  Its reviews bear this out.  That, however, doesn’t make it unworthy – just not particularly mainstream.  Give it a try anyway; you might just be touched by it.

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As Christmas approaches – and it seems to come quicker every year – I find it helpful to get past the trimmings and trappings (although they’re quit nice) and be open, even reaching, for something … Higher.  This, at least in my humble opinion, can apply regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or even lack thereof).  Therefore, I wish for each of you to be touched sometime during this wonderful season, by something – be it the coming of Christ in your heart, a renewed spirituality, the warm embrace of family, an unexpected kindness either bestowed or received, a precious moment of nostalgia (perhaps listening to The Three Little Dwarves) – whatever it is, may it warm your heart.  And with that in mind, may I wish everyone a:

Merry Christmas!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

CharlieBrownChristmasAh, Christmas…

It’s my favorite day and my favorite time of year.  (Ok, the fact that it’s also my birthday doesn’t hurt either – although on that count I’ll always be second banana…)

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a great Christmas movie that wasn’t about Christmas.  Today I’m blogging about something that really is about Christmas:  A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).

It seems that good ol’ Charlie Brown is having a hard time coping with the commercialization of Christmas (which is quite impressive for someone who’s still in grammar-school).  Yet the true meaning of Christmas appears to be just outside his grasp.

After a series of unfortunate-yet-typical scenarios with the Peanuts gang, Charlie Brown, in exasperation, cries out to anyone who might explain to him the true meaning of Christmas.

With that cue, Linus takes to the stage (they’re rehearsing for a Christmas play), and in his plaintive little voice, he recites the following:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; goodwill toward men.”

Then, walking over to his friend, Linus adds, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

With that, Charlie Brown picks up his twisted wreck of a Christmas tree and leaves the auditorium a different person from the one he was just a short time earlier.

Although I’m sure you’ve seen this transformative little gem a million times already, I’ll leave the rest of what happens to savor on your next viewing…

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This is my last blog of 2014 (my next will appear in January 2015 and recount our annual New Year’s Eve celebration). Therefore, I’d like to leave you with this thought for the Christmas season: Whether it be by way of a simple reminder as recited by Linus above (and how many of you read it “hearing” Linus’ voice?), an unexpected call from a far-away friend or family member, or even a random act of kindness from a stranger filled with Christmastime merriment, may all of you – like Charlie Brown – find that pure, simple, spiritual joy in your hearts this Christmas.  And may it linger for you throughout the new year.

Merry Christmas!

The Miracle of the Bells

MiracleOfTheBellsA Christmas movie that isn’t about Christmas.

That’s a good way to sum up The Miracle of the Bells (1948).

Actually, it might be better to say that it’s a great Christmas movie that isn’t even remotely about Christmas.

Perhaps a word of explanation is in order…

There have been many Christmas movies that aren’t really about Christmas (aka the celebration of the birth of Jesus.)  Certainly, some take place – at some point – at Christmas (It’s a Wonderful Life being one of the best examples; however, Christmas doesn’t enter into that movie until it’s nearly over.)

And, for the record, one of the sweetest scenes in The Miracle of the Bells takes place on Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant.

Still, what runs both wide and deep in this film is love.

Not romantic love, mind you (although that does make an appearance as well).  Rather, this film centers around a different type of love.  One that strives only to benefit others, even at great personal sacrifice.  We’re also treated to the type of love that shows understanding when scorn or resentment might be so much easier…

Now, might not sentiments such as these find themselves comfortably wrapped in a bow and placed, ever so tenderly, underneath the Christmas tree?

I think so.

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Frankly, until I saw it listed as part of The Tivoli Theater’s annual Christmas movie celebration, I’d never even heard of this wonderful little film.  Man, am I ever glad they decided to show this not-really-a-Christmas movie at Christmastime!