Toshi feels emboldened these days, and he's getting a bit ahead of himself.
After he saw “The Terminator,” he spent an afternoon going through my Blu-ray shelves and moving things around. It always makes me laugh when he leaves because I can see exactly what he's been thinking about. He's got a bunch of R-rated movies on his mind, and for the vast majority of them, he's out of his mind. No way. Not for years still.
But there are some films that are going to sneak into the rotation, and this year, I was given a very clear mandate for one of the weekends the boys spent here: Christmas movies only. The boys were in a particularly rowdy mood when we got together, and at the end of the day, I told the boys they were going to get a double-feature if they got totally ready for bed before the movies. Pajamas were changed into, pillows and blankets moved out to the couch, and we settled in for an evening together.
When the first film began with the 20th Century Fox logo, they thought for a moment that I was showing them “Star Wars,” but then the actual film began, and when the title came up, Toshi was the one who recognized it, and he jumped up so he was standing on my couch, arms up like he'd just won a fight. “YES! 'DIE HARD'! YES!”
That got Allen up and cheering as well, although I'm not sure he knew why. As the movie got underway, the boys settled in. Toshi was surprised by the way Bruce Willis looked as McClane, since he only knows him so far from “The Fifth Element.” What entertained me most in that first stretch was the way they didn't recognize Alan Rickman when he showed up. We just finished the entire run of the “Harry Potter” films, but it wasn't until Rickman spoke that they both leaned forward and yelled “SNAPE!” at the same time. Visually, they didn't connect Hans Gruber at all, but that voice was unmistakable.
“Die Hard” is, I think it's safe to say, the roughest movie they've seen so far. John McClane has a foul mouth. To be fair, so does their father, although I try not to indulge around them. There's very little they're going to hear in a film that they haven't heard at some point in their life, and one of the things I've tried to teach them is that there are no “bad words.” Language is just a tool. How you use it and what you mean by the way you use it… that's very revealing, and I want my kids to be unafraid of language. The most important thing I've taught them so far is context. There are times and places where you have to speak and behave in certain ways, and that's not something that you can negotiate. Because I've been honest with them, I don't hear them freaking out about language, and I don't hear them misusing it. They can watch a movie with John McClane swearing up a blue streak, and they won't automatically turn around and start using that same language everywhere. Now, having said that, we did have one mishap that same evening.
I think about this stuff because I firmly believe it's ridiculous to say what someone can or can't see because of age. Maturity should be the metric we use to determine when we show certain things to kids, and narrative literacy. By that, I mean that there are films that people should only get to see once they've demonstrated a certain degree of sophistication as an audience member. My kids are able to follow plot and they're able to digest morality and so when I show them “Die Hard,” what they're going to take away from that is precisely what they're supposed to take away from it: a pure adrenaline kick.
And, yes, I know it's a bit of a dick move calling this a “Christmas movie,” because no matter when it's set, it's not a film that is changed in any significant way by that particular setting. It's an excuse for the big party that everyone in Holly's office is having, and an excuse for John to be visiting. But I took that excuse, and the result was one of the most fun screenings of the film I've had since I saw it the first time in the theater. I forgot how many twists there are in the film for a first-time audience because I've gotten so familiar with it over the years, and that's maybe the most interesting thing that happens to me with these films. I see them again fresh because I see how the kids react. The way each new beat in the film landed was so exciting. When McClane gets the machine gun, the boys were thrilled to see him start to take control. They loved it when Al shows up at the building and almost walks into the gunman inside.
When Hans Gruber bumps into McClane on the roof and started speaking in his big fake American accent, it was like we were watching a wrestling match and the heel was working the crowd. They were furious. They were out of their mind watching Gruber walk around fooling McClane. And when the twist was revealed and then McClane turned out to still be one step ahead, they lost their minds.
When I say, what I mean is, “Toshi connects the dots, Toshi reacts, and Allen reacts to Toshi reacting.” Toshi spelled out a lot of what was going for his brother, and I don't think Allen knows quite how much Toshi's playing into his own enjoyment of things. It's so sweet to see right now. Allen aches to be as grown up as his big brother, and he is constantly struggling to seem like he's already done and seen it all. But when the film reached its big finish and McClane approaches the last few terrorists, gun taped to his back, the boys were standing. They couldn't even stay seated. They were too invested, too wrapped up in it.
The one unfortunate moment of the evening involved me hearing a word come out of Toshi's mouth for the first time, but I could tell he was as surprised as I was, and it was totally my fault. On my phone, I have it set so that when I get certain notifications, I have an audio cue, and it's John McClane saying “Yippee ki yay, motherfucker.” I have it set so low that it's really just a sound, and while I know what it's saying, no one ever actually seems to be hear it as a quote. It's just this very soft little sound. The kids pay attention to every detail of the world around them, though, and I forget that. So in the film, when we got to the moment where McClane actually says that, Toshi looked totally flattened. “That's what your phone's saying! 'Yipee ki yay, motherfucker'!”
As soon as it came out of his mouth, he looked at me like the world was about to end, and Allen put both hands over his own mouth to make sure he didn't repeat the mistake. Everything went to slow-motion as both boys turned to look at me, ready for some sort of explosion.
“You shouldn't use that word, Toshi. John McClane has an excuse. He's fighting terrorists.”
Both boys started laughing, and we went back to the movie without any further incident. Between movies, Toshi told me that he wouldn't use any of the words from “Die Hard,” and especially not at school. I cued up the next movie, and the boys both took a quick bathroom break. Once snacks were passed out and everyone was settled again, we started the next film, this time with the Paramount logo playing along with the unmistakable sounds of Danny Elfman.
The opening sequence of “Scrooged” is funny, but when you're just wrapping up a screening of “Die Hard,” it's that much funnier because it feels like one movie is spilling into the next one. Toshi was especially entertained at the idea of a gun-toting Santa Claus. This is the first year he's openly questioned the existence of Santa, and I wanted to give him a final year of magic before that's gone completely. He mentioned it again as soon as the opening sequence ended. “Dad, Roman says that Santa's just your parents and they buy you stuff and put it out instead.”
“What do you think?”
He considered his little brother before he answered. “I think he's real.”
“We'll certainly see this year. I'm not sure how he plans to handle things for you guys at your house and here at my house.”
The boys have seen a few different versions of “A Christmas Carol” at this point. They saw the Albert Finney film one year. They saw the Mr. Magoo version. They've seen “A Muppet Christmas Carol” repeatedly. They saw the Robert Zemeckis version. I feel like it's a story they know very well at this point, and they have expressed a real fondness for Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters” and “Little Shop Of Horrors” and “Meatballs.” One of the reasons I've sworn by “Scrooged” since it was released is because of the transformation Murray undergoes in the film's big finale. For me, that's the moment that is make or break for any version of the story. None of it means anything unless we see that change and believe it.
While “Scrooged” suffers a bit of an identity crisis, an inevitability when you've got Richard Donner directing a Michael O'Donoghue script, there's a lot to like about it. Murray is a toad during the whole first half of the film, but the moment Karen Allen is introduced, a very real warming begins. Murray is at his most charming when he's got someone like Allen to play along, and she does a nice job of showing how there's a real person with a real heart buried somewhere deep inside Frank.
The boys were entertained most by Carol Kane, and we ended up watching a few of her scenes twice. Whenever she slapped or smacked or kicked Murray, Allen would let loose with these cascades of helpless laughter. They thought the ghost of the network president played by John Forsythe was very scary, even with the jokes during his sequence, and the third ghost, the Ghost Of Christmas Future, was scary enough that Allen covered his eyes.
But when Murray finally realizes he's alive and he's got his second chance, it is such an epiphany of joy, such an eruption of spirit, that I still get misty watching it, even after all these screenings and all these years. Murray is a man possessed, suddenly aware of just how much potential for happiness there is, determined suddenly to wring every bit of juice out of it. The Murray of the film's closing moments is the Murray that seems to exist out there in the world, this unicorn who shows up to do dishes during house parties or who tackles people on golf courses or who steps into photos without warning. “Scrooged” is like his origin story.
The combination of the two films left the boys buzzed the whole next day, all the way up till I took them home, and they've mentioned both of the movies a dozen times since. Watching the last three “Harry Potter” films after “Die Hard,” I wasn't surprised when they mentioned how much Dumbledore's death looks like the death of Hans Gruber, and how weird it is that Gruber's the one who does that to Dumbledore. It's the sort of connection I wouldn't have expected from them, but they're starting to be able to connect these big cultural dots because of what they've seen.
We ended up putting out the lights and talking for another hour, all of us wrapped up together, and that's the best effect that these nights we spend at my place have. The boys feel comfortable talking to me about anything and everything, and they feel like I trust them as people who are one day going to be adults out there in the world on their own. I'm already thinking about the next year of this column and the way we're going to try some very different things this year including screenings that all of you will have a chance to attend and online events as we watch things together virtually. I deeply appreciate it every time you take the time to read these and share them and respond to them, and I hope Film Nerd 2.0 continues for many years ahead, and that you guys continue to be such a big part of the experience.
We had another adventure over the holidays involving a film that is very special to me and Toshi's belief in Santa, and I'll have that for you before the year is done. One more Film Nerd 2.0, and then it's on to 2015.