Life Is A Highway

The search to find strong women in film can, for most, come to an abrupt yet refreshing end when the opening credits to Thelma and Louise first appear on the screen. This Ridley Scott ode to women, women’s lib, inner strength, and camaraderie, set against the backdrop of the ever-popular road trip genre, embodies the very definition of strong women in film.

First, there’s Thelma, who is a submissive housewife, burdened by an overbearing, absent husband, and who is afraid to stand up for herself in any, way, shape, or form; she cowers at the very thought of leaving the house for the weekend by herself. Second, there is Louise, who is hardened by life’s misfortunes, jaded to the world, shut off to outside influence, watching her life move past her from the hazy, smoky diner in which she finds herself waiting tables every day.

Louise, through some convincing, manages to pull Thelma from her non-peaceful home for a weekend of camping and fishing in the mountains. On the way, the two stop for some drinks and dancing, and find themselves in a dangerous situation that results in a high-speed exit for the two ladies who were just out for a good time. They ditch their plans for camping in the mountains to instead make for Mexico in an attempt to avoid being seen by any police.

And it is at this point at which their journey truly begins. Not a geographical journey, per se, but a spiritual one; an awakening, if you will.

Thelma and Louise, while on the road to salvation, find in each other an inner strength to cope with the world that neither knew the other had. Thelma, who only days before agreeing to go on the camping trip in the first place, begins to see all the world has to offer for her outside the confines of a dreary, drab house controlled by a chauvinistic pig of a human being. And Louise sees in Thelma the cloudy memories Louise has of the joys of living life to its fullest, and she starts to rise from her rock bottom, opening herself up again to the world to which she so many years ago shut herself out.

As the two women carry on, through more trials and tribulations than they can count, they learn something else about themselves: they don’t need to take any shit from anybody. By the film’s climax, they’ve decided collectively that anything coming in between them and their liberation, particularly anything that even remotely resembles facets of their former, caged, unfulfilling lives, well . . . it ain’t gonna stand in their way for very long.

And so, Thelma and her road trip with her best bud, Louise, compose on the big screen what many women the world over had been waiting to see: an anthem for strong, independent, willful women everywhere and anywhere who don’t yet know the strength waiting inside of them, just itching to get out and make a mark in the world. And this anthem reminds those women that sometimes that little push they are waiting for to get started actually comes from within. Or, from a pal who forces them to go on a vacation.

I’m Not Afraid – I Have No Fear

Most of the movies I have seen in my lifetime – not at, but most – have been movies I intended to see. I made a conscious effort to go to the theatre, Blockbuster, HBO, use my DVR, tape off of network TV and fast forward through commercials, get up early, or stay up late.

But there is that handful of flicks upon which my eyes would never’ve fallen had it not been for random fortune (or misfortune, in some cases). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for instance, is a movie I had never heard of until one steamy summer night as a teenager, on my way out to play baseball a-la The Sandlot with some kids from my neighborhood, my eyes fell upon the screen where a long medical car of some sort was driving in the wee hours of the morning, the music was literally a saw, and the credits said, “Jack Nicholson.” Needless to say, my friends survive without me striking out for the 100th time that night.

This was an example of stumbling upon a well-known flick and falling in love. But this month, we are talking about obscure movies, and I have to say that there have been a handful of instances, usually late night, that I have stumbled upon some stuff, quite unintentionally, that engrosses and (often) entertains.

And once in awhile, the movie is so good (to me), and yet, when I mention it to others, nobody has ever even heard of it.

I must’ve been a freshman in high school, and I was working on a spring term paper. My first-ever term paper, in fact. Now, I must tell you that in high school I was a homework animal. I didn’t screw around when it came time to get the work done. I didn’t require discipline or following up, either by parent or by teacher . . . it was just my duty, the way I saw it, ya’ know? Sure, I worked on homework during school during times when I maybe should’ve been paying more attention in class, all in an effort to avoid carrying home books, but I was pretty studious, all in all.

So, for my term paper, I’m sitting on my bed organizing these things called, um, “note cards,” or something. I wish for the sake of this otherwise thrilling story I could recall the topic of this term paper, but sadly I do not. Anyway, I’ve got books open, there are rows of note cards lined up and down atop the bedspread, and I’m actually enjoying this project.

And then, the sound of the silver HBO call letters flying over the buildings and out into space, declaring that a feature presentation was about to begin, whooshed throughout my bedroom while that familiar song echoed in the background, and I looked up from my work to see which movie-I’d-seen-1000-times this one was going to be.

The opening scene, nay, the opening SHOT of the 1991 movie Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, Rosie Perez, Isabella Rossellini, John Turturro, and Tom Hulce depicts a mildly disoriented Jeff Bridges leading people away from a precarious and smoky scene. Moments later, we are in a cornfield where we see severely injured people, dying in fact, and rescue workers running in slow motion, tending to one victim after the next. And seconds after this, the camera angle switches to a helicopter’s perspective, and we learn that these people are in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash. The low, droning, ominous cinematic score flows very eerily over the visuals, people are crying, screaming, and dying, parts of the plane are exploding in fireballs all around the survivors, and the look on Jeff Bridges’s face is one of, for lack of a better word or phrase, confused euphoria. This is all in the first threethree mi of the movie.

For the next two hours, this dedicated-to-homework and always-ahead-of-the-curve student sat among piles of note cards and open books and didn’t take a single note or read a single word.

The very next sequence of scenes finds our main character, played by Bridges, trying to understand whether or not he actually survived the crash. In fact, much of the rest of the film is about Bridges trying to cope with the PTSD of being one of only a handful of passengers who, referred to by many other survivors as the Good Samaritan for his deed of leading survivors out of the wreckage, walked away from such a tragic event.

Through unsuccessful therapy, marital disaster, a coupling with another struggling survivor, and multiple run-ins with a greedy settlement attorney, Bridges slides down a cascading spiral of what he perceives as indestructibility, but what others know as self destruction.

I learned, years later while in college, that this film was used by psychology professors to teach depression, PTSD, and the “high,” as referred to in the film, that Bridges receives as he tries to defy death again and again in the wake of surviving the crash. I realized that this movie is not a movie about a plane crash, it is about a guy reaching out to be saved from a death that he doesn’t fully understand.

Directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show), Fearless is an ode to the human psyche, and to the many wondrous ideas and philosophies we can derive from it. But it is also a bitter case study that illustrates just how fragile the psyche can be, and how we all must look out for each other in moments of tragedy and loss.

I won’t soon forget Fearless. Heck, it resonated so clearly with me that I recalled where I was and what I was doing when I saw it first on HBO twenty-nine years ago.

Murray Christmas, Indeed

Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang the Stephen Stills lyric, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

Christmas will be over soon, whether we are ready for the music, the movies, the festivities, the sentiment, and the happiness to be over or not, and that heavy feeling of saying goodbye to the magic known only at this time of year surrounds us like that dark cloud of wrong that fills the sky around Dana Barrett’s building at the end of Ghostbusters.

My fellow nerds and I hope your spirits remain high right through the end, and your dreams will be realized during the season of what can only be best described as joy and wonder. It is those around us, those we let into our weird little worlds, who make the light of the holiday brightest. Whether speaking to them in the same room, or face to face on the computer, or voice to voice on the phone, the lives we touch with our hope and cheer may not fully realize that it is their light and their vigor that touches us, giving us that hope and cheer for which we thirst so fondly on the Eve of Christmas and on the Day of Happiness.

All of this brings me to my entry this month, my favorite month. A movie released on Netflix a few years ago that had Bill Murray critics and fans evenly divided on its merit and general entertainment value. Actually, I think a lot of Bill Murray fans found themselves disappointed after the first few minutes and may not even have given the 56-minute ode to togetherness the chance it deserves, which is why we are going to talk about it here.

It’s a bizarre vignette, if you will, filled with equally bizarre cameos, a buried theme, and dark comedy of the blackest kind. But A Very Murray Christmas also had something else hidden between the one-liners and awkward performances: a message of togetherness so tender and so sweet that the movie has catapulted to very near the top of my Christmas favorites each year.

A quick note on the plot, as this is already getting long: Bill Murray, as himself, is set to host and perform at a star-studded, televised Christmas special on a night that brings with it the worst snowstorm in recent New York City memory. None of his guests arrive at the event, his nightmare producers who care only about money, their jobs, and kissing celebrity arse, won’t let Bill out of the contract, instead concocting a farce so non-sensical that even the TV land zombies wouldn’t believe it to be real, and Bill is on the verge of professional and psychological collapse.

A glimmer of hope and success brought on by Chris Rock (as himself) fades quickly into the darkness of failure, and Bill retreats into depression and alcohol as his dreams of togetherness with all of his celebrity friends coming to his rescue blow away with the falling snow outside, leaving him with a sense of palpable loneliness from which he is not certain he can recover.

And then something amazing happens…

Bill and his musical director, Paul Shaffer (as himself) visit the bar lounge, where a Christmas Eve wedding that had to be cancelled because of a power outage coupled with the cold feet of a groom, finds the bride and groom to be, the hotel staff, a very familiar bartender, a waiting-in-the-wings mistress, and a few other kooky (as Paul would say) guests are waiting for something…anything…to happen.

Through the magic of Christmas and through song, accompanied by Paul at the piano, this group of misfits finds something grander than the most extravagant present under a tree: each other. This group, especially Bill, learns that the tragedy of loneliness is but a mind game he has been playing with himself. He learns about the miracle of togetherness, not by spending time with those who, in his eyes abandoned him, but by spending time with and giving back to those who are having trouble making their own miracles happen (to quote from Scrooged). In short, the Christmas special Bill dreamed of falls well short of the Christmas special he lived in terms of fulfilling his sense of purpose; and that, dear readers, was the true miracle of Christmas for this not-so-lonely curmudgeon.

I’d like to say a word about three of the performances, and then a word about George Clooney, and then a word about the man in red, and then I’ll wrap it up. By then, I hope I will have finally sold at least one or two of you on this Christmas package of delight, once and for all.

First up in the performances is Maya Rudolph, as a lady-in-waiting, who chronologically delivers the first of a handful of the film’s show stopping performances. Rudolph, known for her over-the-top SNL impressions of Oprah and Whitney Houston, to name a couple, sings one of the most heart wrenching versions of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” that I’ve ever heard. At the onset of the performance, you think she’s doing her satirical thing again. But a few moments in, you realize that she’t not. Her sad eyes and her broken heart work together to pound out those lyrics of loneliness, not unlike Bill’s own, as Paul pounds out those notes on the piano, and you can feel each of those punches in your own chest.

Next up is Miley Cyrus…yes, that wrecking-ball-riding Miley Cyrus. We all know the girl can sing! She just always seems to be trying so hard to convince us all of that, finding the need in  the process to add the shock value that really nobody cares about. But in her earnest and utterly pleasant performance of “Silent Night,” she lets every bit of that angst and sexual showmanship go, and she turns in a raw, emotional delivery of this Christmas classic that makes you sit back and go, “holy shit…that girl is REALLY good!” Of note (again) is Paul Shaffer’s arrangement of Silent Night, a la SNL’s “Waltz in A.” Only Paul can turn the background orchestration of Silent Night into a bluesy, jazzy, totally enjoyable experience. What is “Waltz in A?” It has been the theme song for the closing credits of SNL since 1975. And his arrangement of “Silent Night” sounds just like it, downward chord progressions and all, making you feel like the cast of SNL just took their bow for the evening and transporting you back to a time when you watched the Christmas episode of the show with your family, and they are about to cut to a shot of the performers ice-skating in front of Rockefeller Center. This piano arrangement might be the best of the show.

And finally, the Christmas medley sang at (where else) Paul’s piano at the end of the night, featuring all of the show’s players in one way or another, brings tears to my eyes every single time I see/hear it. And guess what: until typing this, I never knew this medley is not an original, but instead it is “Fairytale in New York,” by The Pogues. It is in these final moments of their evening together, even though Bill is clearly almost done, that they all realize this is one of the best Christmases they have ever had…because they were together, because they uplifted each other, because they loved the company of each other, and because they let the Christmas miracle overcome them. It’s a truly remarkable scene, and perhaps the best scene in the movie. We’ll talk more about this scene in a moment.

Second on the list of things to discuss: early in the movie, Bill runs into an agent (another celebrity cameo) who has been trying to sign Bill to a contract for what sounds like years. Not only this, but the agent is trying to talk Bill out of doing what the agent believes will be a train wreck of a Christmas special. Bill says, “But we’ve got George Clooney,” and the agent says, “I rest my case.” You might think nothing of it at first other than it is a funny jab at Clooney, who happens to be in real life one of Bill’s celebrity friends. But this slick little one liner comes back at the end of the movie in what I will call the most clever callback in recent memory. You see, at one point, Bill, shall we say, falls asleep, and then dreams of the “real” Christmas special he’d of liked to have. The whole thing, though bright-colored and loaded with production value, and though contains the scene with Miley and Silent Night, is mostly nonsense and unemotional, especially when compared to the 30 minutes of scenes in the bar immediately preceding this one. And then George Clooney comes into it, and it is by far the worst musical number in the entire movie. Now, I don’t know anything about anything, and I doubt any director would intentionally make bad scenes in their films. BUT…imagine the balls Sophia Copolla must have if she DID do this as a deliberate call back to the train wreck comment from the agent at the beginning of the movie, and Bill, in the movie, is subconsciously recalling this comment in his dream as this truly awful and unfunny scene plays out in Bill’s fantasy Christmas special. It’s brilliant! I’d like to believe this is deliberate. Which would make it genius. Not only this, but it would prove all of my points from before that the joy of Christmas is all about the ones you spend it with and what you can do together, not what others can do for you, and not about those you think love you who don’t turn up when it counts.

And finally, who is the man in red? Who IS the man in red? You know you know him. Where have you seen him? If you know your movies and your 80s pop culture, you’ll recognize him pretty quickly. And if not, well, I’ll let you toil a bit. In this film, the man in red is the bartender in the background of nearly every single shot filmed in the bar after the failed wedding. Sometimes he is in focus, sometimes out of focus, sometimes speaking, sometimes singing, sometimes making drinks, and sometimes drinking drinks, but he is always there. Always. So what? Who cares? I believe that this Ghost of Christmas Past behind the bar is a foggy reminder to Bill and company of those truly forgotten during the holidays – those even further down in the dumps and more forgotten than Bill wrongly believes himself to be – those with nowhere to go, no one to be with, nothing to do but serve drinks to other forgotten souls like himself – those with nothing to smile about, but who smile anyway. And why? Because these people who smile through life’s turmoil don’t know another way. They smile because that is what they do. They live, whether they know it or not, to quietly bring those together who may not’ve otherwise come together. They remind us (and eventually Bill) to reach out to those who stay in the background and bring them in to the foreground. For without these people, or to take it a step further, without these memories of grander times implanted in Bill’s or in our own heads, there’d be little to celebrate; for the people and the memories of good times are what the Christmas miracle is all about. I think THAT’S who the man in red is and what he represents. In one scene, when the actors in the foreground are singing a carol of sorts, we see this man in red in the background, slightly out of focus and casually shaking a drink in a tumbler. Moments later, this heretofore lonely man in red sees something off camera that makes him smile a smile that will light up your heart, making you realize that he, on this Christmas Eve, is finally realizing his very own Christmas Miracle, and he is loving every minute of it. Later, when singing The Pogues “Fairytale in New York,” the man in red sings the line, “I could have been someone,” (which invokes more than one tear, if you have a heart) to which the backup singers echo the sentiment by caroling much louder than he, as if to stamp out his worry, “well so could anyone!” This line, sung by this character, in this moment, spells out in black and white what the entire movie is about: a person may be down, but that person is never out…the ones you’ve let into your weird little world are going to make sure of it.

Now I’m getting all preachy again.

A Very Murray Christmas is more than a Christmas special, it’s a work of brilliance. It makes my heart happy, as they say. It makes me smile, it literally makes me cry, and it makes me want to watch it again and again. Like I said before, you gotta look closely, because this movie is most certainly odd. If you don’t look deeper, the oddity is all you’re going to see. But way down in there is a heart of hope that people are, in fact, good, and that people are worth being there for, remembering, and sharing with all of the magic Christmas brings.

You Otter Be Ready For Christmas

I’m sitting in the garage with my feet up. The temperature outside is 26 degrees. Inside, thanks to my trusty kerosene heater, it’s a balmy 63 degrees. It is starting to snow. Christmas is in the air. I’ve got a Captain Morgan and Coke in the cup holder, my laptop is out, and a DVD is playing in the 20-inch TV/DVD-Player combo, which sits on a shelf next to a red can of gasoline for my lawnmower.

The DVD is not National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and it is not A Christmas Story. It is not Elf. It is not The Polar Express, It’s A Wonderful Life, or Scrooged.

It is Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.


Remember this 1977 gem that aired on a then-new channel called HBO seemingly every day, every December?

Pa Otter has passed away, leaving his son Emmet and Emmet’s loving mother, Ma, alone together. They both miss Pa immensely, but they love each other dearly and would do anything to guarantee the happiness of the other. Which is why for Christmas, both secretly wish to enter a talent contest to win the $50 cash prize to be used towards buying a true Christmas present for the other; the first either has ever given or received.

You see, Emmet wants to buy Ma a piano so she can sing again, and Ma wants to buy Emmet a guitar so he can play with his jug-band.

Trouble is, the Otters are so poor that Ma can’t afford a costume to wear so she can sing in the contest, and Emmet can’t afford a washtub bass so he can play with his band in the same contest. But Ma could sell Pa’s tools and have money to buy that costume, and Emmet could punch a hole in his Ma’s washtub to make that bass, the same washtub she uses to do other people’s laundry as their primary source of income.

The endearing and bittersweet tale of a family’s love during the tragedy of loss and the challenge of adversity is propelled along by an amazing soundtrack of tunes like “Washtub,” “Barbecue,” and “Brothers.” And then, there’s the The River Bottom Nightmare Band, the local gang who also enters the contest, singing their song of the same name.

Jim Henson made this movie on the cheap; you can see the marionette strings above the forest creatures and the puppeteer sticks underneath the ducks as they fly swiftly over the lake. But in interviews, Henson always said he felt very attached to the selflessness and determination of the characters in this Lillian and Russell Hoban story, which compelled Henson to adapt it quickly, but lovingly, in the midst of his rapid rise to fame with The Muppet Show.

Not to sound preachy, but I guess what has always resonated so much with me about this movie (besides the fact that Dad used to show it to us incessantly as kids– he loved it, too) is that, as we tend to wrap ourselves in our own projects, lives, and worlds, especially during the holidays when we become (make ourselves) overwhelmingly busy, the show reminds us of the heartwarming nature of Christmas, and how those selfless acts we commit, particularly around the holidays, serve to not only brighten the sometimes dark worlds of others having trouble with their own miracles, but they also become one more in a string of candles of light in our own windows of Christmas happiness. And that, I reckon, becomes a prize to us worth way more than $50, in ways we might not even expect, as the conclusion of this treat of an overlooked holiday classic teaches us.

Give it a look, why don’t ya’? Not hard to find, and its anniversary edition and accompanying soundtrack are going to be released again in December. Heck, some theaters (including mine, if I get my way) will be showing it “special-event style” in the coming weeks. It truly is a sweet little number about the joy of making others joyful and the unexpected rewards that come with it.

The Scariest Witch We’ve Never Seen

I can’t escape the month of October and our Halloween-themed movie essays without saying something about The Blair Witch Project. I just can’t. The film is too important to horror, and to me, to avoid mentioning it in some way.

blairwitchGotta be honest, the film’s shaky handheld camera, the incessant use of the F-bomb, annoying Heather, the sense of “nothing’s happening” that many had while watching this movie for the first time, all made a lot of viewers unreceptive to the pop culture phenomenon. I get it, and I will even concede that the film isn’t for everyone.

What I can’t get around, and what the naysayers would also be unable to deny, is how this horror movie single-handedly revolutionized the always-dying-in-some-way horror genre.

You see, every few years, the horror genre goes through a long period of unoriginal duds, each and every one spawned by some sort of re-invention of the genre brought on by a handful of gems. What I mean is, the horror genre is all about scaring you – Greg’s “duh” moment of the day. But there are only so many ways to accomplish this, and once you’ve been subjected to them a few times, you aren’t scared anymore. . .you’re numb to it. Horror writers and directors are faced with the dilemma of finding new and interesting ways to scare you. I’d suggest a theory that horror is harder to pull of than comedy, but this is another debate.

So, when the slasher movie comes out (Halloween in 1978) there are dozens and dozens of slasher films to follow until they are eventually run into the ground. When the ghost story comes out (Poltergeist in 1982) there are dozens and dozens of ghost story films to follow until they are eventually run into the ground. Slasher was reinvented with Scream, ghost stories were reinvented with The Conjuring and Insidious (both of which James Wan had a hand in making – Wan being a horror innovator in a league all his own, if you ask me). And so you go through the years of horror and its various subgenres.

Which brings me back to The Blair Witch Project, the very first hand-held, found-footage movie of the entire horror genre. The Blair Witch Project was a movie genre all its own, and the behind-the-scenes marketing that transpired was, simply put, perfect for its time and place.

It was at least a full year before The Blair Witch Project hit theaters that I first heard of the legend. In fact, the legend is all I was aware of; The Blair Witch Project movie was not a thing or a glimmer in the eyes of an unsuspecting public. There were just some blurbs on the SyFy Channel and The Discovery Channel about the mystery of these three people who got lost in the woods somewhere in Maryland, USA. The internet was still in its infancy, but there were soon rumors about haunted woods and missing persons and student projects gone awry. In a world before anyone ever (misleadingly) used the term “fake news,” my friends and I became obsessed with this mystery and these rumors. There were even missing persons reports and “missing” posters circulating. It was unbelievable.


Never, for nearly a year of these intermittent blurbs in news and on the internet, was there even a discussion about a movie.

Until the internet blew up again with rumors that, although the students had not been found, their camera and all of their footage had been. Authorities were piecing it together, trying to unlock the mysteries of what went on out there in the woods a few years before 1999.

Our thirst for knowledge knew no bounds, and we scoured the edges of the internet and back to figure out what the deal was. It was fascinating to our inquiring minds, and spooky to our macabre tastes.

Then it all came to a head in 1999 with the announcement that they had pieced together the found footage and were going to release it for a limited time in theaters.

I saw it opening night, and my love for horror movies grew three sizes that day (that’s a Grinch reference, in case you were wondering). I’d seen hundreds of slasher movies, ghost stories, demon movies, monster mashes. . .The Blair Witch Project was NONE of that. It was something all its own. Something that had never, and I mean never, been done before.

I truly did not know if this was real or fake until the very, very end, and even then I was still skeptical. I swear I saw Heather in a Steak ‘n’ Shake commercial (a chain of nostalgic burger joints peppering the sides of freeways all through Illinois and western Indiana). I swear it was her. . .”but she’s still missing,” I recall thinking. “Just looks like her,” I thought.

It literally wasn’t until the MTV Movie Awards that year when Mike, Josh, and Heather herself all walked onto the stage, months after the movie debuted in theaters, that I knew I had been duped. And I loved it.

The Blair Witch Project was, for me, the Andy Kaufman of horror films. The filmmakers were the ringleaders of this big joke, and we were the butts of it. I have never felt so happy to feel so stupid.

But then there came an onslaught of found-footage horror movies. For better or for worse, love them or hate them, there were tons. Still are! But none of them match the originality of The Blair Witch Project, and until the next James Wan comes along and reinvents THIS genre, I’m sure they never will.

By the way, in terms of popularity, The Blair Witch Project is one of the most profitable movies of all time. Made for a scant $60,000, it made well over $250 million worldwide. The jitterbug camera may have made some puke, but it made some others very rich, indeed, and it captured the imaginations of a whole new generation of horror fans for years to come.

The Breakfast Club: A Great Stand-Alone, or Sixteen Candles, Part II?

The film I wanted to discuss for my solo entry ties in very simply to our theme movie, because it’s Sixteen Candles. Same director, a few of the same cast members, and the same teen-angst themes. Another killer soundtrack, too.

sixteen candles

I’m always perplexed by the debate concerning which John Hughes movie is better (The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles?). People generally seem to lean heavily towards the former (and that’s fine, even though those people are inherently wrong), but in picking a film to favor, all are missing out on the bigger picture: both together are the definitive one-two punch of teenage anxiety and release of the 80’s. You really can’t have one without the other, can you? Sixteen Candles found some members of our beloved Brat Pack pining over crushes and letting loose at the eternal house party of some rich kid that everyone knew but nobody really “knew.” The Breakfast Club found those same Brat Packers, with the addition of one or two others, coming down from that party high of a year or two before and realizing that the people they thought they were are merely shadowy reflections of the people everyone around them wanted them to be. Heavy, right? I watch a lot of Dr. Phil.

But how do you get from the party days of Point A to the introspective days of Point B? Well, they say everyone’s tastes (not just taste buds) change every so often. . . maybe when you’re an impressionable teenager, those tastes change at the drop of a hat, or a forced Saturday detention.

In case you haven’t figured out where I’m going with this: I’m suggesting that The Breakfast Club, in a few ways, is a bit of a sequel to Sixteen Candles.

You’ve got a bunch of kids worrying about love and popularity and being the life of the party in the first, and then after a couple years of high school, those same kids (as in, those same stereotypes) are forced harshly into the realization, by way of some catchy David Bowie song lyrics, that they are painfully growing up and away from their former selves and into scared young adults about to embark on a new journey with no idea who they are or who they want to be.

Of course, now I’ll REALLY try and make your head spin. . . What if it’s the other way around and The Breakfast Club is a prequel to Sixteen Candles? What if those kids in Saturday detention finally got so sick of the way others saw them and decided to finally cut loose and ask out the hot guy, or stop playing video games and ask the girl for her underwear, or just shut up and GO to the party?

This particular entry was supposed to be an exercise in brevity, so. . . I’m done. See you next time!

Two Idiots & A Movie

I thought I’d tell you the story of two idiots and their incredible (and stupid) journey to see a movie. One idiot is me, and one idiot, to protect his identity from those who may know him, shall be henceforth referred to as…Larry.

I’m sharing this story with you all in the “gettin’ to know ya'” spirit of this month’s introductory posts. We’ve been discussing all month some of the things we like most about the movies – what genres we love, which actors we adore, etc. But, a-la Aaron’s Stardust solo entry, the circumstances under which we see movies, on occasion, make the movie going experience that much more unforgettable. A sentiment left out of many of our movie-going recollections that, in some cases and under the proper direction, might just make a good scene in the movie-story-picture-show of our own lives.

Once upon a winter’s eve, while we were still in high school, Larry and I wanted to go to a movie at Wings Cinema in Rantoul, IL. Remember that place, Central Illinoisans? It was most definitely a school night, and the forecast was for heavy snow that wasn’t supposed to start until much later in the evening. Why did my folks let me travel and take the risk? Because Larry lived on a farm and was coming with me and they trusted him a lot more than they trusted me to get out of a jam on the road should we find ourselves in one. In other words, they thought he was more skilled behind the wheel than I was. I’m pretty sure they liked him more than me, too. Anyway, the hole in their logic was that Larry didn’t have a license at the time (that’s another story, and also, the parental units didn’t need to know that when we begged to go to the theater).

We get halfway to the theater, which was probably twenty minutes from our homes in Gibson City, and the snow began falling. It was falling hours earlier than the weather people said it would fall, and it was heavy. Cell phones didn’t exist, except on Saved by the Bell, so our parents couldn’t call us to tell us to come home, and we were in the country, miles away from a payphone, so we decided we couldn’t ask for permission to stay out. So, the two idiots, Larry and myself, decided that clearly the best decision we could make was to forge ahead and see the movie. Mistake #1.

After having a great time together, as we usually did when we went out on an adventure (Larry and I, it seemed, couldn’t ever go anywhere together without having some sort of adventure, and they were usually dangerous), we set out for home.

In the two hours we were in that tiny little theater in Rantoul, it must’ve snowed six inches.

But the worst of it was over, and, luckily, there was little to no wind. The challenge would, therefore, be for us to navigate unplowed roads in town and REALLY unplowed roads out in the country.

We made it to where 136 turns onto the Elliot-Dewey-Fisher road. We made the turn. Mistake #2. I turned way too fast (mistake #3) and lost control and immediately ended up in the ditch at the intersection of 136 and the EDF road.

I was scared because we were stuck and the road was too high from the ditch we were in to get back onto it. But a lightbulb went off in my brain – Dad let me go out because I was with country Larry who would clearly know what to do! And he did! He said not to worry. All we needed to do was find a tractor-access point back onto the road, a culvert, drive onto it from the ditch, and everything would be fine. Now…us two idiots knew we couldn’t drive along in the ditch until we came upon one, so we decided the best, most logical decision would be to drive up into the field and then move along parallel to the ditch until we found one of these mythical culverts. So, we drove up into the field…a snowy, soybean field. Mistake #4. But country Larry offered to drive – without a license – so at least that pressure was off. Mistake #5.

Ever drive by a soybean field in the winter and notice the nice, evenly plowed rows that run perpendicular to the highway? For all you cityfolk out there, those rows are heaving humps of frozen dirt. When covered with snow, your car, should you have the misfortune of driving through one of these snow-covered fields, will sink to those plowed humps of frozen dirt and make for one bumpy ride.

As we went over the snow-covered humps of the long-since plowed bean rows, the car hopped and bopped along and us two idiots bounced higher and higher off of our seats, banging our heads into the ceiling, for almost half a mile. “We’ll find an access point in a sec. The tractors need ‘em to get in and out of the fields from the roads,” said the confident country idiot (Larry) to the shaking-with-terror city idiot (me).

What happened next went down as legendary to Larry and myself whenever we see each other and discuss the old days, and unbelievable to everyone to whom this tale was, and still is, subsequently told.

Up ahead, the country idiot saw something that made his eyes widen with fear. The rows of beans ahead seemed to be a lot “humpier,” to the tune of about six inches, than the ones we had been driving through to this point. “Oh no,” said Larry, making my stomach drop into my feet. “I think those are corn rows! If we drive through those we’re not getting out of this field!” Both of us were laughing and screaming at the same time, because we both knew that no matter what happened, we were going to die that night. Either from freezing to death in the field (nobody else was on the road, and remember: there were no cell phones, boys and girls) or at the hands of our idiot parents who would no doubt destroy us, but who also actually trusted us to go out during a snowstorm in the first place.

Larry impulsively made a massive U-turn (mistake #6), taking us fifty yards deeper into the field, clipping the edge of the corn rows, changing our bumpy ride into a car-heaving, this-must-be-what-it’s-like-to-drive-a-pimped-out-car-with-hydraulic-pumps moment of terror, while I pleaded with him to stop. He insisted that if we stopped the car, we’d would never get it going again. I knew he was right.

I was screaming and on the verge of tears, Larry was laughing hysterically, like John Candy as the devil in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and I told him as we were heaving up and down in the car that I had sandbags in the trunk to gain traction if we needed. This information served no purpose, and Larry started laughing even harder.

Now, I realize I’m not painting a very flattering picture of Larry here. But I’m the one who insisted on making this night happen in the first place, and I’m the one who landed us in this predicament. All these years later, I need someone else to blame for my own idiocy. Moving on…

Larry successfully negotiated the U-turn and we were on our way through the soybean field back towards the intersection where we first entered the field. A lone white car was suddenly spotted driving down 136, also about to make the turn onto the EDF road. We thought for sure it was a cop, and that we were officially screwed. Not only was it not a cop, but whoever it was, who by the way had to have seen us, didn’t slow down or stop to help us. But then again, did the two idiots deserve help at this point?

We were going to stop the car on the corner where we entered the field and hike to a farmhouse to face the music. We got about twenty-five feet away from our original entry point, just beyond our initial tire tracks, and we both spotted something we both clearly missed (mistake #7) when we set off to drive through a bean field in winter. There, in the middle of the ditch, very, very close to where we entered that ditch, was a culvert tractor path in the ditch that connected the field to the road. Without stopping, Larry drove us onto the EDF.

We drove back home in silence, and since Larry was sans license, we pulled over once along the way to put me back into the driver’s seat. It was understood without discussion that not a word of the incident would be mentioned to any parents, a sort of silent blood oath that held strong long after that night.

It was one hell of a night at the movies. An experience I will never forget. A journey that began with a desire to see what turned out to be a great movie and ended with a quest for survival of the elements and our parents. See what I mean? The experience of seeing a movie is sometimes as good or better than the movie itself! You gotta remember that!

Wait, what? Oh, I forgot to mention what movie we saw at Wings Cinema that fateful night? It was Dumb and Dumber.