Do you see what I see?

“Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see?”

A star, a journey, a baby, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

I offer five interesting and unusual films for the Christmas season.  I hope this collection provides an opportunity for enjoyment and reflection.

A star, a star, dancing in the night…

The gorgeous 2007 film, Stardust, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, is an adult fairytale. I find Gaiman’s writing a little beyond me − his target market is more likely the fan of graphic novels. But the creativity and originality of this film grab, and hold, my attention. In a nutshell, the story concerns a young man named Tristan (played by largely unknown Charlie Cook) who sees a falling star and vows to capture it to woo the girl of his dreams. In following that star, young Tristen embarks on a terrific adventure that employs reality, fantasy, magic and a fine romance. It’s quite the journey for Tristan and it’s equally fine for the audience. The star-studded cast includes Claire Danes, Peter O’Toole, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ricky Gervais. The result is light-hearted, delightfully quirky and highly entertaining. 

The opening voice-over asks, "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?" Perhaps this movie is effective because we all dream and wonder what might be in the stars for us.

Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy…

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty began life as a short story by James Thurber, written in 1939 and published in The New Yorker. Danny Kaye starred in the 1947 production of the film, and Ben Stiller has both directed and starred in a new version of the exploits of Walter Mitty. In this under-appreciated film, Mitty is a negative assets manager at Life Magazine. He lives most of his life dreaming of what might be. And who hasn’t imagined a scenario where one’s adversary gets his comeuppance, or a chance to utter a perfectly brilliant retort at the time of a perceived sting, rather than days later in one’s mind?   

When Walter’s job is on the line as the iconic magazine becomes an online publication, he decides to take action. All those dreams he’s harboured for years become reality as he takes to the skies − to Greenland, Iceland and the mountain ranges of the Himalayas. The scenery is stunning, the music is splendid, and the story manages to hold together − mostly. I’m a Ben Stiller fan and the film is very much his, although Kristen Wiig is tremendous as the object of Walter’s affection. Ultimately the cinematography tops them both.  

A child, a child shivers in the cold…

The little-known 2007 film, Martian Child, concerns a recently widowed science-fiction writer and his foster child who claims to be from Mars.  The film slipped under the radar when first released, probably due to its lack of computer-generated images, violence, a car chase, sex − and it’s not part of a trilogy.

Martian Child is a heart-warming tale of a foster father and his relationship with his child. While there’s a certain predictability − John Cusack as David, the father, doesn’t stray much from his usual style − the story is charming and the feel-good message works for me.  At Christmas, after all, we appreciate the arrival of an out-of-this-world child!  

Pray for peace, people everywhere!

2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of one of my favourites, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This teen classic is set during Ferris Bueller’s last weeks of high school when he decides to take the day off to have some fun.  He drags his best friend, Cameron, along for the ride. Thirty years ago, I loved Ferris Bueller. Like many of my peers I still quote the movie and sometimes use Ferris to justify a day off myself! For me, now, however, the movie’s all about Cameron.  While Ferris wanders through a life where all the lights are green, Cameron slogs along in his wake, taking the heat for the chaos his friend creates. Ferris gives Cameron no choice but to face his fears, to own his life. Ferris’ actions are mostly unforgiveable.  He uses people. He takes his parents for fools and outsmarts his school administrators. 

Perhaps we might consider Cameron as the face of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In a homily on 23 September, 2015, Pope Francis said, “Go out, and embrace life as it is and not as you think it should be.”  The book of Leviticus describes the jubilee year as a time when God restores all creation to right relationship with one another...a time when debts were cancelled, possessions returned to their rightful owners and workers and crops rested. Cameron shows us the power of gratuitous mercy.  After all, if we deserved forgiveness for our actions, it wouldn’t be mercy. 

He will bring us goodness and light

The Chinese film, Hero, released in 2002, almost conforms to the traditional Chinese genre, wuxia or ‘martial hero’. The wuxia films adhere to a code where protagonists right wrongs and fight for justice. 

Coupled with adherence to this code, writer-director, Zhang Yimou, employs a particular style and use of colour. Each segment of Hero is drenched in one colour. The palace is all blacks and greys; the first version of the story is all in red.  A second version of the story is completely blue, while a back-story is told entirely in green. Yet another story is told all in white. I’m sure there’s much to be written on the meaning of each colour and its use; suffice to say it’s visually stunning − like nothing I’ve ever seen.  It’s almost as if every shot could be frozen and captured as its own work of art. 

There’s a lot of swordplay in the film, coupled with the characters’ ability to fly, skip across water and cover huge distances in a single stride. I don’t particularly grasp the significance of how or why gravity does not affect the characters, but I certainly appreciate the artistry. With all this visual artistry, you can expect the story is also somewhat stylised. The plot moves slowly and deliberately. Each story is told carefully and purposefully. At the end, we come to understand anew the word ‘hero’. Tan Dun’s musical score is a masterpiece, punctuated with violin solos by Itzhak Perlman.  But the amazing sound effects are also part of the musical soundscape. Hero is tremendous.

So, what do I see? What do I hear? Gorgeous cinematography and beautiful soundtracks.  More than that, I perceive these films as great holiday fodder.  Most are cheery (we save the ones where someone dies at the end for another season).  Most make me happy.

So, what do you see?  What do you hear? 

Anne Millard is Director of Music at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Click here for a Mercy movie playlist. 

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Anne Millard Image
Anne Millard

Anne Millard is Director of Music at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

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