Story Telling 101

The best story tellers paint a picture in few words.  They illustrate the situation with vivid colors and active verbs.  They draw you in and capture your imagination.  They engage you with each and every fascinating detail.

The best movies do the same.  Every angle, every shot, every sound strengthens the story and allows the viewer to experience the highs and lows of the characters and follow the progression of the narrative to its final climax and resolution.

Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel works his magic to rebuild a devastated football program.
Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel works his magic to rebuild a devastated football program.

The 2006 film, We Are Marshall is a good example of a movie that takes you along for that ride.  In the final play of the pivotal football game, we sit on the edge of our collective seat to learn if the player will catch the ball and save the day for the team, the coach and the school.  But the film makers didn’t just set a camera in the bleachers and let the play run.  No.  They tell the story of the entire year in that one play.

The scene requires two minutes and 44 seconds, from the lineup over the football to the award of the team ball.  And in that short amount of time, editors place 104 different clips.  They tell the story from every angle.  They give you a close up, a wide shot, from under the ball on the line, from the stands.  The film makers take you back in time.  They return you to the game and they help you celebrate the win, moving you from anticipation, to grief, to celebration.

The best story-tellers can do that.  The best movies can do the same.  We Are Marshall is just such a movie.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Again

One of my favorite films for Christmas is Jim Carey and Ron Howard’s version of the Grinch.

Yes, I know that it was a SPLAT on Rotten Tomatoes.  I know that it still gets painful reviews each year. I know that children cry when they are asked to watch the film.

But I like it.  It makes me laugh.  And for my family, it is the perfect movie to watch this season.  Jim Carey isn’t any Jimmy Stewart and the Grinch isn’t any Wonderful Life but it still remains a classic in this house.

Wishing for a White Christmas

The Austin Family is a little sappy when it comes to Christmas movies.  We like a good story, a little song and dance and a sweet ending.  And so, it figured that the first DVD we pulled from the shelf this year was White Christmas.  There’s just something about the singing, dancing, romance, comedy and costumes that grabs us.  Throw in the big finish as the big doors open and the snow falls behind the set and you catch us every time.

We started our seasonal viewing with this film as we put out some of our decorations and drank some eggnog.  It was a great way to start this year’s holiday season.

Let the Movies Begin

My actual spreadsheet to help track this year’s Christmas Movie Experience.

Yes, yes…I love movies.  I think I’ve made this perfectly clear.  But a good Christmas movie is even more special to me and there is nothing I enjoy more than pulling out my box of videos and getting ready for the season by watching one movie a day.

This year, I’ve made an Excel spread sheet listing the best seasonal movies of all time.  As I watch each one, I’ll be able to check off the list and make sure I make my way through all 35 videos before Christmas day ends.  In the process, I will ensure world peace and seasonal harmony across this great land.  Don’t ever say I’m not a team player.

Sure, my goal is lofty but we must dream big.  Right?


Let The Countdown Begin

In my world, Thanksgiving is the kick-off event for the next few weeks of Christmas cheer.

Midnight Clear: One of my favorite Christmas albums of all time.

I’ve loaded over 1,000 songs on my Spotify play list. I have everything from the Jackson 5 to John Denver.  I’ll be listening to music that ranges from the beautiful melodies of Penny Rodriguez to the chipper chatter of the Chipmunks.  I’ll jam to 243 versions of Silent Night and Frosty the Snowman.  When I’m done, I’ll start all over again.

The perfect movie to kick off the Christmas count-down.

I’ve made the list of the best Christmas movies of all time and pulled the Christmas videos and DVD’s from the attic and dusted them off for the marathon that begins today with one of the best:  White Christmas.  I’ll move on to the Christmas greats of Scrooged and Die Hard and then settle on the classics like Charlie Brown and A Wonderful Life.

It’s been a long year and I need a little Christmas Cheer.  I’ll do everything I can to make it happen…even if it means overloading on some music, holiday decorations and cheesy movies.  I’ll get into the Christmas Spirit, at any cost.

A Little Christmas Cheer: The Polar Express

The 2004 movie, Polar Expressed is based on the fantastic children’s classic by the same name.  The musical score has become synonymous with high school orchestra concerts around the country (I’ve heard it performed half-a-dozen times in the last four years).  The art is true to the book’s original illustrations artfully done by the book’s author, Chris Van Allsburg.

I don’t LOVE this movie but I certainly enjoy Tom Hanks and his multiple roles.  Hanks plays everything from the Hero Boy, to the Hobo on the train, to Santa himself!  It is just another reason to love Hank’s work and the primary reason I own this film.

The story, for those of you unfamiliar with the film is of a boy who has lost his belief in Christmas in general and Santa Claus specifically.  His journey on the train bound for the North Pole reawakens his faith in the Big Fella and rekindles his trust in the magic of Christmas.  Sweet.

That said, the eyes of the characters freak me out!  They NEVER look another person in the eye and roll around in their heads like legally blind baby-dolls made in a dark Taiwanese factory.

I love the music, am moved by the story, and can’t get enough of Tom Hanks but those eyes keep me from watching this movie more than once a year…and even that is pushing it.

A Little Christmas Cheer: It’s A Wonderful Life

Released in 1946, this American classic has become a regular visitor to the Austin home.  This fantastic film is the first Christmas movie we watch every year and this year was no exception.  We pulled out the video cassette and enjoyed our favorite Bailey family two full weeks before Thanksgiving.  It isn’t uncommon for us to watch this great film two or three times in the season and every-so-often during the remaining 10 months of the year.

I will not insult you by summarizing the film’s story line.  Let me just point out that in my darkest hours, when my own life had no meaning or purpose, this movie was a persistent reminder that life had value, even when I couldn’t find the meaning.

In truth, my life is a mirror image of George Bailey’s.  His story is my own.  The love he experiences at the end of the movie; the support of his family and community as they come to his rescue, touches my heart every time.  (That AND my wife is just as lovely as Donna Reed.)