Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

Great Christmas Films To Watch This Season

Hey everybody! Christmas is coming up on us fast, which means it is time to deck the halls and set up the Nativity scenes. To spread a little more Christmas cheer, I thought a list of Christmas films was in order.

Here’s a look at the movies I like to watch to get in the Christmas spirit:

Related imageThe Muppet Christmas Carol

This is the Christmas film I have watched since I was a tyke. Christmas is never complete for me without at least one viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol. It is a fun movie all around – and it is best viewed, in my ‘umble opinion, in the lead up to Christmas Day.

Related imageRise of the Guardians

Okay, technically, the story in Rise of the Guardians is set three days before Easter. It has nothing to do with Christmas except for snow, Santa Claus (North in the film), and a lot of presents.

Still, this is a great movie, and it is well within the spirit of Christmas. It may not be truly seasonal, but I feel I can recommend curling up with the family to watch this movie during the Christmas season – before or after Christmas Day. Either time in December works.

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The Polar Express

Now this film has a much stronger claim to the Christmas season than Rise of the Guardians. It is perfect Christmas fare. The songs for this film are also really good. My personal favorite is When Christmas Comes to Town.

Of course, children will not be the only ones to get a kick out of the The Polar Express. It is a pity they do not make musicals in live action films the way they used to; now, one has to look for great song and dance sequences in animated films. Do not misunderstand – I like the animated routines just fine. But what is wrong with live actors and actresses dancing and singing on screen?

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A Charlie Brown Christmas

My best memory of this show is when the Peanuts gang re-decorates Charlie Brown’s pathetic little fir tree. When Charlie Brown returns, the gang shouts “Merry Christmas!” and sings one of the best renditions of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing ever recorded. This is probably one of the reasons why that particular carol has always been one of my favorites. A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the best films ever made for this season. But you needn’t take my word for it – just watch it yourself!

Image result for frozenFrozen

Yes, I know. Disney’s Frozen has an even slighter claim to the Christmas season than Rise of the Guardians. It takes place in the middle of summer, for cryin’ out loud! And everybody has already written practically everything there is to write about it!

All true, readers, but the fact is that I promised a friend I would list this film with my Christmas favorites. And Frozen is a great family film, so it will also be on many a Christmas entertainment menu this year and beyond.

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White Christmas

 I suppose it is no surprise that Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s White Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas films of all time. The movie follows Crosby and Kaye, whose characters are World War II veterans turned successful song and dance performers. The two meet a sister act who also have a song and dance routine and are headed to a Vermont hotel to work for the proprietor.

Almost right away, Crosby and Rosemary Clooney’s character fall for each other. But when the four reach Vermont, they find everything warm and sunny when everyone was expecting – naturally – snow!

At the hotel, Crosby and Kaye find their former general from World War II is the owner. What is more, the lack of snow has led to no customers for the former general, who is on the verge of losing his establishment.

I will avoid spoiling the rest of the film for you, readers. All I will say is that this is a fun Christmas movie, with great songs performed by some of the best singers from a golden era. White Christmas is essential viewing for the season, in this writer’s view. If you get a chance to see it, give it a try. I doubt it will disappoint!

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It’s a Wonderful Life

Anyone who has watched NCIS from the beginning knows that a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life was a Christmas tradition in Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo’s immediate family. I have only seen this film (all the way through, at least) once in recent memory.

Starring one of my favorite actors from Hollywood’s “old guard,” Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life tells how the owner of a small-town savings and loan company runs into severe financial trouble. At this crisis, the worst Stewart’s character has ever faced, the audience is shown just how much difference one life can make in the world. While Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a reminder to the well-off and comfortable to use their gifts for the good of others, It’s a Wonderful Life reminds viewers of the importance of living, period.

Image result for Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, with Matt Smith as The Doctor

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, with Matt Smith as The Doctor

Doctor Who is not among the top ten of my favorite shows to watch. However, I did develop a fondness for Matt Smith’s Doctor through these two Christmas specials. The first, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, retells Dickens’ classic as only the loony writers for The Doctor’s series can, while the next Christmas special, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, takes its name from the famous second book of C.S. Lewis’ Narnian ChroniclesImage result for Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, with Matt Smith as The Doctor

Of the two, The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe has more laughs in it than A Christmas Carol. I definitely recommend you find and watch these shows, even if you are not a Doctor Who fan. I was not, and am not, a Whovian but I enjoy these particular shows no end!

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We’re No Angels

The original We’re No Angels with Peter Ustinov, Humphrey Bogart, and Aldo Ray is great fun. I will avoid giving you spoilers on this film, readers. Suffice it to say, do not buy or borrow the remake this Christmas. When it comes to this film, it ought to be the original or bust!

Well, there you have it, readers. These are some of my favorite films to view during the Christmas season. I have left out some great tales in this list, but I do not want to overwhelm anyone! It is a short list full of the Spirit of Christmas – small, and seemingly insignificant, but more beautiful than any jewel, and true as the Star that guides us all.

Merry Christmas, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

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Songs from The Polar Express

It’s that time of year again, readers!  The time when you can hear “sleigh bells in the snow” and children are eagerly anticipating Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve!

With all due respect to the sleigh bells, I thought these songs from one of my favorite films – The Polar Express – would bring some cheer via your computer this December.  Not all of the songs below are actually from the movie; several are from the era in which the film is set.  But I knew a couple of these songs almost off by heart before The Polar Express even came out.  And they are in the film, so why not add them to the post?

You may have to redirect from my blog to youtube to hear some of these, unfortunately.  I cannot seem to find videos of certain songs that do not require redirection to that site.  I do not recall having this problem before.  Hopefully it will not happen too often in the future.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

The Polar Express

Hot Chocolate

That’s all I Want (When Christmas Comes to Town)

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town by Frank Sinatra

White Christmas by Bing Crosby

Winter Wonderland by The Andrew Sisters

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas by Perry Como and the Fontaine Sisters

Silver Bells by Bing Crosby

Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) by Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters

Believe performed by Josh Groban

One More Point in Saving Mr. Banks

You may or may not have seen a post I did a little while ago about the film Saving Mr. Banks, readers. In it, I spoke about a line Walt Disney uttered in the film: “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

I wrote then about the way this statement affected me personally. (Among other things, it made me cry quite a bit.) Thinking more about this scene, and the movie in general, another line in the film struck me.

Throughout the movie, which shows Walt Disney doing his utmost to convince Mrs. Travers to allow him to make a film out of her Mary Poppins book, Disney again and again says that he wants to “make something beautiful” out of her story.   And he does not just want her permission to do this. He wants her help to do it.

How many of us use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with a film? Really, how many of us do that? I know I do not use the word “beautiful” to describe a movie. In fact, listening to Disney say it, I was inclined to squirm a little. How can a movie be “beautiful”?

I guess the better question is, “How could it not be beautiful?”

We do not use “beautiful” very much these days, readers, with regard to stories. Whether they are in print, song, or on film, “beautiful” is an adjective rarely attached to a story. Or, if it is applied, it can sometimes be applied to a film for the wrong reason.

A viewer might say that he thinks films such as Pacific Rim, Star Trek (the latest reboot), or Noah are beautiful. By this he could mean that he believes the CGI effects are beautiful. I will not disagree that CGI effects are impressive. I like Avatar simply for the CGI effects, and I would indeed call them “beautiful.”

I cannot say that about the story in Avatar, which is simply cowboys and Indians on another world. And the Indians win. I believe that I have watched Avatar a total of two or three times since a friend sat me down to see it first.

In contrast, I have watched Mary Poppins too many times to count since I was introduced to it as a child. Of late I have not watched it as much, but compared to Avatar, I would say that the story of Mary Poppins is a “beautiful” story. The story in Avatar I would call, politely, “mediocre” – at best.

So why would Disney call a prospective Mary Poppins film “something beautiful”? He would say that because a good story, just like a good photograph, painting, or song, is an expression of beauty. Beauty lifts us up. It reminds us of what is good, true, and permanent. That there is more to life than what we see, and that we rarely experience the “permanence” we can often feel but are rarely allowed to see with our eyes.

Parents often complain – laughingly – that their children almost endlessly watch a particular movie or movies over and over again, until they (the parents) are well and truly fed up with it. Why do children do this? Why do they watch the same film(s) time after time, when they know every line by heart?

I would guess it is probably because children have a sense that attracts them to beauty, which is crushed – or tamed – out of them as they grow up. I remember watching lots of films several times in the same week as a child. I never got tired of them. I enjoyed new stories, but the older stories were my close friends, and I did not want to leave them out of my fun.

Today, however, many storytellers – whether they work in the medium of print or film – are running away from beauty. There are others who embrace it, such as those at Disney, if only because it is their bread and butter. Others continually try to tear it down and destroy it.

Do you want proof of this? Check out the films that have come out recently. Along with the latest Marvel films, Disney’s Maleficent, Cinderella, and Frozen, we have such movies as The Purge, The Purge 2, The Hive, Gallows, and other trash. Yes, I called those films trash, and I will do so again. They are garbage, the vile refuse of small minds that take pleasure in “tearing the old world down,” to quote Alexander Pierce of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

These “storytellers” are not telling stories. They are not making films. They are propagating nihilism. They are worshipping destruction, death, and horror. And they have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, to call it “art.” “Art doesn’t have to mean anything except to its maker,” they howl hoarsely. “We’re giving people what they want. We’re giving them reality!”

Pardon me a moment, readers, but this is nonsense. No, actually, it is worse than nonsense. It is lies.

Art is not a collection of carpet fluff glued together to resemble a poodle. Art is not a bed covered in empty vodka bottles or a canvas someone spilled thirty cans of paint onto, and art is NOT anything like The Purge or The Hive.

Art is a manifestation of beauty. Everyone can see and recognize beauty, and they can either love it or hate it. Everyone who loves beauty is gifted with expressing it in some way, from a waitress smiling at a customer to a director doing his utmost to turn a great book into a remarkable film.

And everyone who hates beauty will try to destroy it. They will try to destroy those who use their talents to express beauty. One of the first targets, therefore, will be the painters, songwriters, storytellers, and others who make beauty visible for all to see.

These haters of beauty try first to shout and beat these great artists into submission. Finding that shouting does not work on all, they instead whisper and sneer, making themselves look reasonable and more real than the beauty these artists portray.

Everyone says they can make art. And someone who makes a good movie, writes a good book or a song, or paints a beautiful picture, has proved their worth. But those who paint death, horror, destruction, and malfeasance of every kind yet call it “art” are liars, cads. They are the Wormtongues of our age, the useful puppets of the Sarumans that feed them the falsehoods and monstrosities they then display for all to see.

No longer is a storyteller believed to bring order to a chaotic, brutal world and give people a taste of what true reality looks like. No longer is a storyteller expected to bring hope to the people again and again, to give them characters that will live forever, safely cherished in the viewers/readers hearts.

No. Instead, the Sarumans say storytellers are supposed to revel in the transient. They are expected to give form to passing feelings, fleeting fads, and to lift up the slime at the bottom of the gutter and proclaim it art. This is now the anticipated path of an artist.

G. K. Chesterton said on his deathbed that there was only the light and the dark, and every man had to choose which he would serve, for which he would live and die.

What do these sides, the light and the dark, look like? Look to your heart, readers. Who rides there? Captain America? Aragorn? Luke Skywalker? They are the emblems of the light, the ideals of those who choose goodness, right, and truth. They are what these people truly strive to be. All who live according to the light, who love the day and the stars at night, they fight for the light. They are the true Avengers, the real Fellowship of the Ring, and the living Jedi Knights. To believe in beauty, to fight to keep it present in the world – that, readers, is choosing and fighting for the light.

What do those who serve the darkness look like? Whom do they carry in their hearts? Loki, Saruman, Hannibal Lecter, Thanos – these are examples of the outriders of evil. It is these who are carried in the hearts of those who serve the darkness. They, like these characters, have rejected the light. For them it is better to rule in the dark than to serve in the light. Non serviam, they say. Those who are minions of evil resemble these wicked characters in some manner.

It may not be an obvious resemblance, of course. Does not Crossbones wear a mask? Do not Saruman and Thanos hide behind useful puppets like Gríma Wormtongue, Loki, and Nebula? Does not Hannibal Lecter do his work where none can see and stop him? And was it not Loki who was told by Coulson, “You’re going to lose.”

“Am I?”

“It’s in your nature.”

“Your heroes are scattered,” Loki answered, “Your floating fortress falls from the sky… Where is my disadvantage?”

“You lack conviction,” was Coulson’s prompt, true answer.

Why would evil wear a mask if it were so utterly convinced that it had nothing to fear? Evil wears a mask because it does have something to fear, something far greater than itself. The Light is what it fears, and for that reason true storytellers serve the Light.

This is why I blog about stories which I know are beautiful. This is why I blog about characters and songs I know to be beautiful. This is why I write. There is no other reason for this blog. If there ever was another reason, it has long since passed away. Writing about beauty is one way of making beauty visible to the world again and again. Of bringing order, if only for a few paragraphs, to a chaotic society. Of giving hope, however small, where it is needed most.

Excelsior, readers!

The Mithril Guardian

Saving Mr. Banks

When I first heard about Saving Mr. Banks, I thought, “Oh, great, another brainless Hollywood idea. Somebody in the break room must have said, ‘I’ve got it. Let’s make a documentary about Walt Disney.’ Wheee.”

I really, truly, one hundred percent respect and love Walt Disney. I grew up on almost all the original Disney films – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and so on. So the idea of seeing Hollywood maiming this great man’s character did not appeal to me in the slightest.

Well, sometime back, a couple of my friends saw part of Saving Mr. Banks. At one point, Tom Hanks (who portrays Walt Disney in the film), said something that made both my friends respond with something on the order of, “Mithril has to see this!” They said it at once, interrupting the film.

They almost never do that.

I agreed to see the film, keeping my reservations – and earlier contempt for the movie – to myself. I sat down with my friends to watch it. About midway through the film, I started to sniffle. Then, a few minutes later, I broke down and cried.

I never, ever, thought I would do that during this movie, and I cannot remember the last time I cried while watching a film. I did not even cry during The Battle of the Five Armies, for heaven’s sake! But when this film showed one of the songwriters performing “Tuppence a Bag,” I lost it. The water works kept coming, on and off, after that. By the end of the movie, it was a miracle the room was not flooded. It took me another hour to calm down, and even then I was still sniffling.

Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how Walt Disney worked very hard to get the movie rights to P. L. Travers book Mary Poppins, so that he could make it into a film. He had promised his daughters that he would make the film, and Saving Mr. Banks tells us how he kept that promise.

As the movie explains, for twenty years Disney kept asking the author of Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers, to give him the rights to turn her first book into a movie. But Mrs. Travers keeps refusing, until she runs into money trouble. Then her agent insists that she go see Mr. Disney, who has agreed to let her have creative input on the screenplay. Anything she does not like will be taken out of the script. She has final say. She can refuse to hand over the rights if she does not like the way Disney and his team are handling the movie.

Mrs. Travers finally caves in to her agent’s pleading and flies to California. The rest of the movie shows us just where the idea for Mary Poppins came from, why the film was almost never made and why Mrs. Travers loved Mary Poppins as much – if not more – than any of her fans.

I will not go into the details of that story here. One, I do not want to spoil the movie for you, readers. Two, I might start crying again – and then I will not be able to type to finish this post!

But what, you may ask, was the thing Walt Disney said that made my friends immediately agree that I should watch the movie? It is very near the end (and I cried while I watched it), so I will try not to spoil too much. But Mr. Disney was so determined to make Mary Poppins a film that, when Mrs. Travers abruptly returned to England in a fury, without signing over the rights and without an explanation, he immediately followed her there.

Before he did, though, he learned that her name was not really P. L. Travers. That was her pen name; her real name was Helen Goff. Travers was her father’s first name, and she loved him so much that she took his name as her pseudonym, insisting people call her “Mrs. Travers” in order to hear her father’s name over and over again.

Back to what Walt Disney told her near the end of the film. I do not know if it is really what he said to her in that interview, but from what I know of Walt Disney (admittedly, I do not know him by anything except reputation), it sounds like something he might have said. He told her (as best I can recall through the waterworks), when he was convincing her that he would never do anything to Mary Poppins to ruin it that, “See, that’s what we storytellers do. We bring order to the world. We give people hope, over and over again.”

Excuse me – but I need to stop for a tissue.

*Ahem.* He was right. Storytellers do just that.

The world is a hard, nasty, chaotic mess. No one needs to look any further than the newspaper or the TV news channels to know that. The reports on which Hollywood stars are dating whom drown out the story of a nine year old girl shot and killed while doing her homework in her Chicago home. The videos of Planned Parenthood selling aborted children’s body parts are ignored in favor of the news that a famous lion was killed by a foolish dentist. Two hundred other lions were killed as well by different people in the same country, but even they do not get the spotlight.

What kind of a world is this? It is a world filled with horror and darkness, and that affects us all. It affects some more than others. Babies who could grow up to change the world are killed so that those who kill them can make a profit off their bodies the same way arms or drug dealers make money off of weapons and drugs. A nine year old girl working on her school assignment is killed before she can grow up and decide how she wants to change the world.

The rest of us watch it all happen, either unwilling or unable to do much of anything to turn back the darkness. For those of us who do anything, or at least try to do something, we relate well to what Cap is reported to say in the Civil War trailer, “Saving everyone we can doesn’t mean that we can save everyone.”

We are not God. But many of us pretend to be, and it only furthers the darkness. In a world like this, where is the hope? Where is the order? Where is the sense, the sanity?

You all know how big a fan I am of Marvel Comics. I am a big fan of a lot of stories. I listed some of them, in movie form, at the beginning of this post. I pay attention to the news about upcoming Marvel films. I blog about stories. I daydream about stories.

There are a lot of people like me. Some attend the Comic Conventions and other such events around the globe. They learn to speak Klingon; they dress up as their favorite characters; they pay huge amounts of money for an action figure or a film prop, and they are as ecstatic over a new story in their favorite genre as they are when they learn someone in the family is going to have a baby or is getting married.

Others do not show their love of stories by dressing up, learning Klingon, or spending gobs of money on a new action figure. But they still love the stories. They still love the characters. They still catch the latest movie, book, television episode, etcetera. Why? None of this is real. As Mrs. Travers says in Saving Mr. Banks, “Mary Poppins is not real.”

“She’s real to me,” says Disney. “She’s real to my daughters. She’s real to all your readers. She’s there when we need her.”

People who go to Comic Conventions are mocked a lot. I have never been to a Comic Convention, but I have heard the snide things people say when they speak about those who go to these events. “Yeah, Jake went to Comic Con this year. He dressed up like Superman. Can you believe it? He’s forty and he’s still dressing up. Not to mention getting excited over a stupid comic book character. Ha ha ha!”

And that is Walt Disney’s point in this scene. Mary Poppins is not a stupid character. Superman is not a stupid character. Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, the Avengers, the Fellowship of the Ring, Luke Skywalker – none of them is a “stupid character.”

Yes, these characters are not real people. I will never walk down the street and accidentally meet the Steve Rogers I find in Marvel’s comic books. I will never meet Luke Skywalker, Optimus Prime, Col. Jack O’Neill, Aragorn, or any of my other favorite characters in the flesh.

But that does not make the characters any less real. That does not mean they are not there, within me, ready to be there for me when I need them most.

As an example, remember the end of The Two Towers? Frodo has just tried to kill Sam, but he has recalled himself in time and pulled back. He has done what Gollum decided not to do when his friend Deagol discovered the Ring. “What are we doing here, Sam?” Frodo asks, horrified and sick with the knowledge of what he nearly did.

Sam says, “I don’t know. By rights, we shouldn’t even be here. It’s all mixed up!”

Then, more quietly, Sam adds, almost to himself, “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? Folks in those stories, they had a lot of chances to turn back only they didn’t. They kept fighting, because they were holding onto something. And that’s what we’ve got to do, too.”

“What are we holding on to, Sam?” Frodo asks, still scared. Still lost. Still hurt.

Sam turns to him, helps him to his feet. “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo,” he answers, “And it’s worth fighting for!

I do not know Klingon, and getting me to dress up is harder than putting socks on a crow.   I used to think I was crazy for all the attention I paid to stories, those snide comments about Comic Convention attendees ringing in my ears. What makes me any different than them, I would wonder. I do not dress up or speak Klingon, but I am still practically a walking encyclopedia when it comes to certain stories. I still care more about a good story and the characters in it and get angry at writers who mistreat those characters than I care about having lunch, going for a walk, going shopping, or other such things. What if I’m nuts?

Doubtless, readers, some of you probably think I am nuts. But I do not think that. Not anymore.

Because, in Saving Mr. Banks, in that one scene where he tells Mrs. Travers that “Storytellers bring order to the world and give people hope, time and time again,” I learned what I really am. I may not be a great storyteller, and I do not know about giving people hope time after time. But I know I want to be and do both of those things, and that I am willing to fight to be a storyteller and to give hope to people, over and over again, during this “Long Defeat.” And that I am willing to fight any and all aggressors who deny the value of stories and their characters.

I am a blogger, a storyteller. I am naïve. I have limits. I cannot be everywhere at once, read minds, change shape, or protect everyone. I cannot love everyone in the world, though I have a special place in my heart for all of you, readers.

But I can write. I can appreciate a good story. Because as Samwise the Brave said, “There is some good in this world. And it’s worth fighting for!”

So that is what I am going to do, as best I can, and I am heartily thankful to those friends who sat me down to watch Saving Mr. Banks. I am grateful to those who made it, to those who made Mary Poppins, the book and the movie. And most of all, to the One who made me and all the good things and people in this world, I am very, very grateful, beyond words.

Catch you later, readers.

The Mithril Guardian