Han Senior Citizen

The new trailer for Star Wars:  The Force Awakens is out.  It gives us our first peek at my favorite character, Han Solo, and his faithful sidekick Chewbacca, who gets to utter one of his trademark worried growls.  It may as well be 1977 all over again.

Of course, Han Solo is a lot older, but he’s still looking pretty darned sprightly for a death-defying smuggler in his 70s.  And while he may be older, is he any wiser?  That’s one of the reasons why I’ll be heading to the theaters when the new movie is released.

The Wrath Of Columbus

Columbus isn’t exactly Hollywood, California, but this week it sort of seems like it, because they’re making a movie on the streets of Ohio’s capital city.

IMG_5153The film will be called I Am Wrath and it stars John Travolta.  According to the IMDb website, it’s about a husband out for vengeance when his wife is killed and crooked police officers can’t, or won’t, catch the murderer.  It sounds vaguely like Death Wish and a number of other vigilante and quasi-vigilante movies.

There have been a number of Travolta sightings around town, including some shooting along Parsons Avenue close by German Village.  Today the film crew was supposed to work downtown, in the alley that runs between Gay Street and Broad Street.  (Our receptionist said, somewhat breathlessly, that they were going to film a scene in a neighborhood eatery and had cast an actual waitress and cook as extras.)  As a result, the parking spots on our side of Gay Street were unavailable so the movie trucks and trailers would have a place to park, and there were a number of random people — women, especially — wandering around hoping to catch a look at the star of Welcome Back, Kotter, Saturday Night Fever, Urban Cowboy, Grease, and Pulp Fiction.

I didn’t get to see Mr. Travolta, but I’m glad that they are using Columbus as a backdrop for a movie.  I’m not sure how much revenue a movie crew and actors pump into a city’s economy, but every little bit helps.

Atonality Aversion

On Friday we’ll be going to another performance of the Columbus Symphony.  Part of the Symphony’s American Roots Festival series, the performance will mix familiar pieces — such as George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and an overture by Antonin Dvorak — with some works that are totally unknown to me, including George Antheil’s Jazz Symphony and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music.

I’m always game to listen to a new musical composition, but I approach such performances with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.  I love classical music and enjoy just about everything from the baroque era forward — until we get to the “modern” classical music of the mid-20th century.  Atonal and jarring, discordant and squawking, the modern compositions are just not pleasant to hear in my view and suffer by comparison to the richly melodic and beautiful compositions of the masters.  It’s as if the classical music world hit the wall around 1950 or so.

Some people suggest that those of us who don’t like the modern stuff simply aren’t sufficiently refined and sophisticated in our musical tastes.  Their arguments remind me of the scene in Defending Your Life where Albert Brooks and his after-life guide are eating a meal.  Albert’s steak looks very tasty, while the guide’s plate is filled with what looks like elephant droppings.  When Albert asks about the difference, the guide explains that because Albert only uses a tiny fraction of his brain, much less than is used by the guide, he can’t possibly appreciate the exquisite and nuanced flavors in the plate of crap.

So perhaps my brainpower isn’t adequate to the task of enjoying modern symphonic  music — or maybe I just like steak.  I’ll be interested to listen to what Friday brings.

The Cold Weather Workout

I think there are lots of good reasons to walk in the morning, especially on cold mornings.  But is losing weight one of them?

There is an intuitive logic to the notion that walking — or for that matter, doing much of anything — in the cold will help you lose weight.  Calories are, after all, units of heat.  If you’re out in the shivering winter weather, it stands to reason that your body will need to burn calories just to keep warm.  So you would expect that cold weather would be a plus factor beyond the benefits provided by walking, generally.

IMG_5799Some medical research supports that reasoning — and also indicates that walking in the cold affects the fat cells in the human body.  There are unhealthy white fat cells — presumably the jiggly, blobby glop that Brad Pitt and Ed Norton stole from the liposuction clinic to make soap in Fight Club — and healthy brown fat cells, which help the body burn heat.  If you’re out in colder temperatures regularly, you apparently increase your supply of that good brown fat.  (Incidentally, am I the only person who didn’t know there there was good fat and bad fat?)

Of course, as is always the case in the health area, there are contrary findings.  One recent study questioned whether cold-weather exercise burns more calories and also found that low temperatures increase the amount of an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, in the blood stream.  So, when you walk in the cold, you’re not only not burning more calories, you may be setting yourself up for a post-walk, diet-killing chow down of epic proportions.

I’ve long since stopped trying to figure out which of the competing health studies should be followed and simply tried to do what seems to work for me.  I like walking in the cold because I like breathing the crisp air, and I feel mentally sharper and more fit when I get to the office.  Whether I am actually sharper and more fit, I’ll leave to the researchers.

Pinocchio

I’m pretty sure that Pinocchio was the first movie I ever saw in a movie theater.  In those pre-video and pre-DVD days, the classic animated Walt Disney films were reissued to the movie theaters on a multi-year rotation basis, there to be enjoyed by a new generation of little kids.  The Webner kids saw Pinocchio on one of the reissuances, in a full-sized movie theater with a huge screen and top of the line sound system.

When people think of Pinocchio, they typically think of the charming and friendly Jiminy Cricket and the helpful Blue Fairy, of Pinocchio’s funny nose growing with each implausible lie, of Pinocchio dancing with Geppetto and his squeeze box, and of the great songs — Give A Little Whistle, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (An Actor’s Life for Me), and of course When You Wish Upon A Star.  Not me.  I thought Pinocchio was terrifying, and even now when I think of the movie the little boy inside still cringes.

Of course, Pinocchio is a morality tale; real boys are supposed to be honest, good and true and listen to their consciences.  But the real eye-opener for this little kid was the notion that there are bad people lurking out there who act like your friends but are ready to lure you from school, clap you into a bird cage, make you sick with a cigar at Pleasure Island, and turn you into a donkey.  Used as I was to walking to school every day with UJ in our tidy Akron neighborhood, that notion was astonishing.  And even though I was pretty sure that little boys who misbehaved couldn’t be turned into donkeys, the scene where Pinocchio’s big-talking miscreant pals are transformed into frightened braying jackasses still had a huge impact.  What if the seemingly nice people I encountered during the day were like the initially jolly Coachman who turned out to be evil incarnate?

I haven’t seen a Disney animated movie since Richard and Russell were little, so I don’t know if their films still have scary characters and scenes.  Pinocchio packed a punch because the bad guys were truly frightening and the terrified realization of the boys changed forever into donkeys seemed indisputably real.  I’m not saying Pinocchio cured me of bad behavior — Mom and my siblings would certainly dispute that notion — but the scary parts introduced new concepts about the potential costs of naivete and naughtiness and the presence of wickedness in the world that had a real impact.

I thought of Pinocchio and the awful Coachman the other day when I was reading about the latest bad person to take terrible advantage of trusting people.  The lesson endures.

In Praise Of Christmas Vacation

Squirrrrellllll!

We normally wouldn’t associate the panic-shouted name of a bushy-tailed rodent with Christmas, but any fan of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation knows that a squirrel can play a key role in a  family Christmas — and ultimately in achieving payback against a bitchy yuppie neighbor, too.

Every year come the holiday season I want to see some of the standard shows at least once.  A Charlie Brown Christmas, of course, and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Ralphie in A Christmas Story.  One of the old versions of A Christmas CarolIt’s A Wonderful Life.  And Christmas Vacation, which is one of those movies that I’ll watch whenever I run across it during channel-surfing time.

It’s a guilty pleasure, but the simple story of everyman Clark Griswold and his doomed attempts to achieve the perfect family Christmas — notwithstanding the unexpected arrival of dickey-wearing cousin Eddie and his cheap RV with its chemical toilet, uncooperative Christmas lights, ill-advised applications of food technology to sleds, cheapskate bosses, dinner-destroying dogs, and other malignant forces that threaten to thwart him at every turn — seems to perfectly capture the magic of Christmas in a modern world.

Some might bemoan that our family Christmas traditions now include TV programs and movies as well as Christmas carols and other, more conventional aspects of the season.  I’m not too troubled by that.  In the Webner family, there will be a holiday sit-down to watch Christmas Vacation this year, just as in years past.  Anything that brings families together for some hearty laughter seems like a pretty good Christmas tradition to me.

Censorship And Safety

Who is responsible for pulling the film The Interview from its planned Christmas Day release in the face of threats from terrorist hackers?  Was Sony craven, as many have suggested, or was it the theater chain owners who triggered the decision to pull The Interview because of liability concerns, as Sony responds?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this:  Totally removing a movie, or any other form of expression, from widespread public distribution because of threats is censorship and sets a terrible precedent.  Does anyone really dispute the conclusion that somewhere in Pyongyang or some other rathole the terrorist hackers are high-fiving over their success in this instance, and that terrorist groups elsewhere haven’t taken note of the new weapon that has now been added their arsenal?  What movie, book, play, or TV show is going to be the next target of this technique?

The Interview isn’t the kind of movie I would ever go to a theater to see, but that’s obviously not the point.  The next time it might be  controversial biography I’ve been eagerly anticipating, or the next installment of the Game of Thrones series because the terrorists disagree with how religion is depicted by George R. R. Martin. Regardless of the subject, a free society cannot tolerate a world in which terrorists dictate who gets to see, read, or consider what.

One other point: if I were an author, actor, or historian, I would be thinking long and hard about who brings my work to market and whether they have the courage to do it in the face of threats.  I don’t think I’d want to entrust my creative work product to a company, or a theater chain, that crumbled and caved in the face of threats.  Are actors, directors, and producers going to shy away from Sony projects?