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Entries in movies (4)



Last night, after hastily unpacking and loving the dogs and grabbing a quick dinner in town, we high tailed it to the Michigan for yet another fantastic event. Strangely, after years of not setting foot inside the historic theater we've been there three times already this year, each time for a truly unique and unforgettable experience. In May it was Fitzgerald meets Luhrmann for The Great Gatsby—favorite book by a favorite author made into a movie by a respected director culminating in a grand experience. Two weeks ago it was Shakespeare meets Whedon for Much Ado About Nothing—an enjoyable story by a respected author made into a movie by a favorite director culminating in a brilliant movie (think stunning black and white with surprisingly skillful acting for a modern take with the traditional language).

Then last night's event went something like this: star struck literary fans meet extremely talented author for a delightful signing event. Neil Gaiman came to town. We're old fans of his. Jon and I were introduced to his work many years ago through Neverwhere, then moved through all the rest of his existing adult stuff and pounced on new titles as they arrived. Later, when Calvin was reading chapter books, we introduced him to Odd and the Frost Giants, and, my personal favorite of them all, The Graveyard Book. He has a new book out that reads like a dream, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and he planned just four U.S. stops for a signing tour; Ann Arbor happened to be one of them.

But, after rushing to the theater and taking our seats with just minutes to spare, the announcement was made that due to major airport delays Mr. Gaiman was, in fact, not yet landed in Detroit. Remarkably, and I think this says a lot about his fandom in general, the two hours that we ended up waiting for his arrival passed smoothly, and the theater was still packed when he finally arrived. I think it also helps that he is active on twitter and posted constantly for waiting fans during much of that time. Social media is fun that way. We knew the moment he landed, and that he was very, very sorry, and that he was hurrying as fast as he could, and that, regardless of what the directors said about cutting things short at the event, he would honor the original signing agreement because we were such great fans to wait (a concession that kept him at the theater wielding a pen until 3am, but which makes him that much more awesome in our eyes).

We passed the time reading the books we'd brought for signing and munching on popcorn with beer and lemonade. Then Calvin decided at last to fill out a question card and drop it in the jar just before we were finally summoned to our seats. Fortuitous, because during the short question answering portion of the event, Mr. Gaiman selected and answered that very question.

"Are you going to write a sequel to Stardust? P.S. I love your books. -Calvin, age 7," he read on stage, "Really? Age 7? Or is that a 1? No, it must be a 7."

Calvin, Jon, and I looked on with a giddy delight and a sense of incredulity that actually matched Mr. Gaiman's own surprise later when he recognized Calvin in the signing line due to the name (for personalization) and his obvious youthfulness. I got the impression that he thought the age on the notecard had either been a joke or a sloppy misprint. Calvin was the youngest fan there, by at least a few years, and I don't think he actually expected him to be 7. He signed his copy of Graveyard with a little extra—a sketch of a tombstone personalized just for Calvin. As the usher standing there said to me, "from anyone else that would be creepy, but from him that's really awesome."

And that 3am finishing time? Well, when they started the call for the signing line, being in a balcony section we were slated to be one of the last. But they called for the usual exceptions first—people with mobility issues, pregnant women, and people with young children. So we took advantage of their offer, which got us out of there slightly after nine.

In Chicago time that's only slightly after eight, and well within bedtime limits.


Stage and screen

Last night, Jon and I had a chance to go out, just the two of us, and enjoy the opening night of The Great Gatsby. Opening night for most movies is a real hoot, and this was no flop. We got our tickets to see it at the historic Michigan Theater in town, where we also enjoyed a live band, a sing-along, 1920s cocktails, and the occasional flapper before the show. Most screen performances pale in comparison to the books they try to enliven, but Baz Luhrmann is no slouch, and it turned out to be a great show. Even in 3D it was classy. Just don't expect ragtime. In true Luhrmann style (think Moulin Rouge), the sounds of this prohibition-era film are a unique blend of modern hip-hop with just a hint of the roaring twenties. We loved it, every note, every line, every actor, every moment.

Speaking of flappers...

Speaking of classy?

Earlier in the day was a different kind of celebratory performance. I raved last year at this time about our wonderful group and all the opportunities it provides. We meet indoors only during the cooler months, and we use that time to offer classes to the kids (in the warmer months we meet at parks, the only structure about the meeting being the agreed location and the suggestion of timing). When our indoor meetings draw to a close we celebrate with a party, a hobbies display, a talent show, and the theater class's play, the culmination of their semester's work.

This was the our second year meeting with the group, so it was our second "last day of school" party, but it was actually Calvin's fourth play. His acting debut was as an extra god in the stage production of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. That performance earned him more lines in the next play, The Wizard of Oz, when he played the lead munchkin and flying monkey, and his first character part in the third play, when he played the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Calvin has a good memory, has always spoken with relatively good diction, and loves to play make-believe, so it's not really a surprise that he has continually done well on the stage.

This semester the group performed a special stage adaptation of a book trilogy written by the dad of one of our very own members, and Calvin was one of the four main characters. Lots of lines, but he still knocked it out of the park. And he had a great time doing it.

Oh, and the talent show, too.


Four states in a day

Up at six, out the door before eight, seven hours plus of driving to go. We have a habit of pushing through on our first day of vacation so that we can enjoy the rest of the days that much more. We made it out of Michigan, through Ohio, through Pennsylvania, and into New York today before checking in and hitting the pool in Buffalo. Calvin thinks it's pretty fun that we're staying in Buffalo. I think they need to rename the town American Bison.

First stop, Cleveland, OH, to tour the house from A Christmas Story. I've seen the movie so many times, and yet there was so much to learn. Did you know they really did stick Flick's tongue to the pole? Eek. And that Randy really was terrified to go down the Santa slide? He did not know he was being filmed when he let loose with all that screaming. Kitsch abound, it was a fun stop.

Calvin has not seen the movie yet, but he was a good sport about posing for some iconic shots.

The lighting was so bad you can't even see the elecric sex gleaming in the window!

Our second stop, far more somber, was in Mentor, OH, at the James A. Garfield NHS, the family home that he refurbished with his wife a few years before his election and assassination. This stop moved me—so sad, such a waste, so heartbreaking. A young family left behind. I think this was my first mournful historic site visit.

Less mournful was Calvin's junior ranger involvement. The national park rangers are pretty darn cool, most of them. Calvin completed three required projects while we were there (a scavenger hunt for artifacts, an interview with a ranger, and decoding a Morse Code message), and was sworn in as official junior ranger. He received a badge and a certificate, which made him that much more excited for the park we will visit tomorrow.

In addition to the ranger program, Calvin read the James A. Garfield volume of the Getting to Know the U.S. Presidents series before we left. It's a good series, and helped him prepare for some of the things he would hear and see on the tour.


Happy fiction

Calvin spent the afternoon watching Happy Feet with my parents while I took care of some errands, went for a run, and agonized over finishing his Halloween costume (which has been pushing my sewing skills to their limit). This was a great arrangement because I'm not big on kid movies while I think my mom enjoys an excuse to see them. For the past few months my little boy has been in love with penguins, and he had a great time watching the video.

The minute he arrived home, in fact, he was tap dancing and summarizing the movie with gusto. I haven't seen it, and I didn't catch my parents' opinions on it, but it was clear that Calvin loved it, even though, as he and Gram said, "it was a little scary in parts." Apparently a leopard seal and an Orca, both hunters of penguins, are to blame for that description. My first reaction was that certainly Calvin wouldn't have been bothered by this—over the past few months we've watched countless videos about all those animals, about the balance of their lives in the ecosystem, and the importance of each one in the food web. In learning about evolution we've read books and watched videos about predators and prey, and have fallen in love with each in its turn. Calvin, after all, is the one who was rooting for the troll in the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

But actually he was bothered by the predator threat. In fact, my parents said he was continually on edge about the little penguin's safety. That thoroughly surprised me, but When I think about it, what does a kid's movie do better than to clearly define good and evil and pit them against each other? In fact, the story of good and evil is the driving force behind a lot of fiction, be it literature, stage, or cinema, and it is identification with these extremes that allows an audience to unite behind a common belief, or a suspension of thereof. Who doesn't recognize the dark and dissonant sounds as bad, bad, bad? If the leopard seal appears accompanied only by dark lighting and music, then of course he is to be feared.

This isn't a condemnation by any means, just an observation. It seems like one of the separations of fiction from reality is the suspension of not only belief, but also judgement. While the movie (or other media) is judging for you, your brain gets a moment of rest and can just enjoy the entertainment . We could probably watch a hundred documentaries about predators and prey and not flinch at a single one, yet still we would be drawn to root for the little penguin at the threat of the leopard seal, even if the seal were to be at risk of starvation. There will be time enough later, during our next non-fiction viewing, to root for the leopard seal and hope that he gets enough to eat.

So Calvin had a great time watching the movie today and now I get to have a great time watching him tap dance all over the house. I seem to remember a time from my past when, after my parents took me to see Aristocats in the theater, I spent the next few days crawling around on all fours pretending to be a cat. I think I like the tap dancing better.