Traditions start flying pretty fast and furious this time of year, some more welcome than others. Trees in the living room, new sweaters, and rich, boozy, drinks? Bring it on. Trying to find just the right thing for that hard to buy for relative? Not so much.
Film is no different. We all have our favorite December treats. Some are filled with a warm, gooey nostalgia that would seem cloying any other time of year; others are so extravagantly over-baked that they become guilty pleasures we try to gobble up when we think nobody is watching. And of course there’s the fruitcake: that one movie that pops up every year you just can’t bring yourself to like.
Valley filmgoers should be able to find a bit of everything this week, with area theaters bringing in a plateful of holiday treats. And in a time when people are camping out in the mall to save a few bucks on a nose hair trimmer, it’s worth remembering that there are other family activities available just a few doors down at the movies. So put down the sale circular, pick up the kids, and take in a movie or two.
Cinemark gets things underway in Hadley and West Springfield (where it operates as the Rave theater), with a one-two punch for the traditionalists among you. On Sunday and Wednesday, the chain will be screening the Christmas miracle movie for all time It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday touchstone is, to be honest, my fruitcake. As much as I’ve tried, it just doesn’t do much for me. That said, there’s no denying it’s an American classic. James Stewart stars as George Bailey, a small town building-and-loan businessman who finds himself on the verge of losing everything through no fault of his own. To salvage things, he plots to throw himself off a bridge so his wife can collect on his life insurance. He’s stopped, of course, by the angel-in-training Clarence (Henry Travers), who takes him around Bedford Falls to show him just how different things would be without him. Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore are along for the ride as George’s wife and business adversary, respectively.
Wedged in between those screenings is a presentation of The Nutcracker, coming all the way from The Royal Ballet in London’s Covent Garden. Tchaikovsky’s glittering score, so associated with December magic, underlines the sense of mystery and wonder of a young girl’s Christmas adventure. Clara, here played by Emma Maguire, is fascinated by a wooden nutcracker that will prove to be much more than it appears. At 130 minutes it may not be for the youngest crowd, but for those old enough to be mesmerized, it may be the start of a new tradition.
Also this week, Amherst Cinema brings in a movie that practically defines guilty pleasure for a generation: Die Hard. The 1988 Bruce Willis shoot-’em-up launched a career—before John McTiernan’s movie, Willis was best known as Cybill Shepherd’s co-star on television’s Moonlighting, where he played a wise-cracking detective (the one-liners came with him to the big screen). Today, it’s best known in my family as the movie I watch at two in the morning when I’m home visiting for Christmas. Willis stars as John McClane, a damaged NYC cop who treks to Los Angeles to patch things up with his estranged wife. When he arrives at her office holiday party, he finds that a group of Eurotrash terrorists have taken over the company skyscraper. Christmas miracles ensue.
And finally this week: if you just want to get away from the holidays entirely, The Hobbit can whisk you off for the better part of a day. The Desolation of Smaug is the subtitle to the second film in Peter Jackson’s trilogy (itself a sort of prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy), and it arrives in area theaters this week. At 156 minutes, it makes The Nutcracker look like a short story, but for true fans, Cinemark is offering a double feature that includes the first Hobbit film, which tacks on another 170 minutes to the total run time. (If your math isn’t up to the task, that’s about five and a half hours of furry feet.) With the first film starting at 9 p.m. Thursday, the newest installment will open just after the clock strikes midnight.•
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.