Somehow, it's that time again. When this column hits the streets, Christmas will be one issue away (due to the havoc holidays wreak on my deadlines, I always plan my December by issues instead of a calendar). It hardly seems right: put aside our freak Halloween snowstorm, and we've had nary a hint of the white stuff. Maybe this is par for the course in California, but this is New England. We should be fishtailing down the street on our way to the family homestead; today, I walked the dog in a T-shirt.
Clearly, the holidays need a bit of help this season—and where better to look for inspiration than the silver screen? Classics old and new, long and short, animated or not; everyone has their favorites—movies they would likely never consider watching any other time of year nonetheless become essential pieces of the holiday pageant. My favorite addition to the Yuletide moviescape thus far this year is Netflix's hosting of Fireplace For Your Home: Holiday Edition, a digital fireplace that users can stream to their home TV set. It provides all the crackle and pop of the real thing without any of the heat (a handy thing when the temperature is a balmy 60 degrees). I prefer mine soundtrack-free, but Netflix also provides a version—"Episode 2"—that includes a selection of holiday chestnuts to roast over the fire.
Of course, a fake fireplace is not for everyone. Traditionalists will insist that their fires be on fire and that their holiday movies be directed by Capra. For them, I have good news: Pleasant Street Theater will be hosting two special screenings of his 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life on Dec. 17 and 18, with shows at 11 a.m. both days.
On the off chance you're not familiar with this touchstone of cinema, it stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a building-and-loan man whose family have long dedicated themselves to their home of Bedford Falls. When a business enemy threatens to bankrupt Bailey, George tries to throw himself off a bridge—only to be stopped by a guardian angel tasked with saving him. (Jingle All The Way it's not.) Truth told—and at the risk of losing my critic's card—I've never been much of a Stewart fan; for me, the gee whiz quickly curdles to cheese whiz. And yet, I absolutely love many of his films, and there's no denying that this is one of his best. Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore are along for the ride as Bailey's wife and nemesis, respectively.
Also this week: Non-holiday movies are happening as well at PST and Amherst Cinema. Amherst opens The Skin I Live In, the latest from legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Like much of his other work, his new film is transgressive, pushing at the boundaries of sexuality and identity. And, also like his earlier work, it is proudly, even showily, melodramatic. There are secret identities and parental uncertainties, captive patients and suicides, rape, revenge and more.
Part of Almodovar's genius has always been that he can take what seems like the most banal of soap opera plots (it can't be an accident that his star and longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas seems born for the soaps) and turn it into his own wild art. Here, Banderas stars as Dr. Robert Ledgard, a Toledo surgeon whose personal tragedies have left him obsessed with the creation of a new, burn-proof skin—which he tests on a mysterious woman he keeps captive at his estate. Mixing high and low like few others can, Almod?var always creates something worth your ticket.
Back at Pleasant Street, Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt star in Young Adult, a new film from Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, back together for the first time since they scored with Juno. In their new collaboration, Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a writer of teen novels who returns to her hometown in an attempt to recapture her youth. But if Gary hasn't quite moved on, most of the world has—including her old flame Buddy (Patrick Wilson), now a married father. Stranded in the present, she finds herself falling in with Matt (Patton Oswalt), a one-time punching bag for school thugs who, in his own way, is just as trapped as Mavis.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.