The Sunday Magazine: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

It seems like the mid 1960’s has become a fertile ground for storytellers recently. It was certainly a time of great social flux which makes for conflict to arise more readily. These stories have also become a way of looking back and assessing whether we have really advanced in the fifty-odd years. A debut novel by author Emma Flint, Little Deaths, provides one of the most recent examples of this.

Little Deaths is set in 1964 Queens during the summer. Single mother Ruth Malone puts her two children, five-year old Frankie Jr. and 4-year old Cindy, to bed only to wake up and find them missing. The first part of the book is the search for the children. The middle part is the mystery of whether Ruth was responsible. The final part is the culmination of tabloid reporter, Pete Wonicke’s investigation.

Little Deaths is not a spectacular mystery. It is quite obvious who committed the crime early on. The story is more about Ruth and how a single mother was viewed in 1964. Ms. Flint paints Ruth with a compassionate brush even though some of her life choices are reckless. It shows how there was no formula for a single mother to know what to do in those days. She was already under suspicion just for not having a father around.

Ms. Flint also really understands the New York City psychology of living in a borough that is not Manhattan but yet close enough to see the skyscrapers. I know Ms. Flint is British but I have to assume she spent some time in Queens to portray this so well on the page.

Pete Wonicke while not as vividly depicted as Ruth is present to provide the look at tabloid journalism fifty years ago. The same tactics of innuendo, morality, and sensationalism as part of a journalistic rush to judgement hasn’t really changed; just moved to cable TV. Pete is one who realizes there might still be a criminal out there when the sideshow which has decided the harlot was guilty has moved on.

I found Little Deaths to be a real page turner and I was through it very quickly. It shows a real skill at character building by this first-time author. If she is going to stay in the mystery genre I would advise she spends some time improving that aspect of her plotting. Come to read Little Deaths not for the mystery but for the sharply written characters. Ms. Flint may find it easier to get to Manhattan than Ruth if she gets better from here.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: La La Land

I always spend that time after Christmas trying to see all of the movies getting awards buzz. One reason is I like to have rooting interests in the categories on Oscar night. It is usually one of my favorite times of the year because I end up seeing a wide array of very good to great movies infused with laudable performances. Two years ago, I remember walking away from seeing Birdman and wondering what I was missing. It was winning awards left and right but I hated the movie; it was torture sitting through it. It was such a bad experience I almost did not go see the same director’s next movie last year’s The Revenant which I enjoyed much more.

So far this year I have caught up to almost everything I suspect will be nominated. I saved what I thought was going to be the best for last, La La Land. La La Land is a modern musical by director Damien Chazelle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It is the story of Mia (Ms. Stone) and Sebastian (Mr. Gosling) as they meet in current day Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a musician whose affection for jazz is the most important thing in his life. Through four season-themed chapters the story follows the relationship of these two. There are big showy musical numbers like the one which opens the movies as the people stuck in an LA traffic jam break into song and dance while sitting still on the freeway. There are also some simple more personal numbers. Right there was my first issue.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

When I name a musical, there is always a show-stopping tune that you remember. The adjective itself means a performance so amazing the entire story telling takes a moment to catch its breath before moving on. La La Land has none of that. The new songs are thematically and musically bland except for the very last one, “Audition”, which has killer lyrics but no tune. One reason for this is Ms. Stone and Mr. Gosling are not singers and so the songs have to be kept within their narrow vocal range hobbling them fatally. There is a part of me that would like to see a real musical actress like Idina Menzel give “Audition” a go. First flaw was this is a musical which has nothing I care to listen to after the movie.

Second flaw is the main characters themselves. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be Mr. Chazelle’s commentary on how shallow a personality you must be to chase acting or music. If that was his aim he succeeds at that because the two characters I’m supposed to root for to fall in love are so vapid I couldn’t ever invest in their relationship. Even as spectacularly staged production numbers tell me I should. The acting was the second flaw.

The final straw was the way the story was constructed. This over two-hour movie meanders along until the final 15 minutes or so. Then it is like hitting the fast-forward button everything that hasn’t been happening happens almost immediately. The whole final act felt like sloppy writing with an ending where Mr. Chazelle, who also wrote this, just couldn’t pull the trigger on the ending the characters had earned. Instead it is this stupid montage meant to evoke the idea that life is nothing but a variety of jazz riffs.

What I did like very much, and why I think this is getting all the award love, is the way the movie looks. Mr. Chazelle dresses everyone in primary colors against wide open backdrops. The sequence in the first chapter where Mia goes to a party is an example of bravura direction in getting these moving parts together. This is the one consistent high quality thing in La La Land.

I do now have my rooting interest and first and foremost I want a La La Land shutout. I know it will get the nominations but everything I’ve seen so far is so much better than this.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nix by Nathan Hill

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I miss bookstores. When I got my first job I used to go to my local bookstore every Thursday when the new releases would arrive. I would read the description on the dust cover and decide if it was something I wanted to read. The bookseller would learn my tastes and would recommend something they thought I would like. I no longer have that weekly visit because the internet keeps me updated in real time. My authors are on a list and the moment their new book is released I get an alert. Which is great. What I miss is that chance of holding a book by an author I have never heard of. Eventually liking that debut effort so much they would be added to my list of writers I read. The other problem with that is I feel like I am out of touch with the best new authors.

This all came together at the end of the year and I was looking at the various Top 10 fiction lists. As I looked I realized that I now had barely read a third of the books that were being lauded. The main reason was 2016 seemed to be a year where first-time authors were really making a mark. As I looked at these books there was one which leapt to the top of my list; The Nix by Nathan Hill.

The Nix is the story of Samuel Anderson in 2011 an English professor who once published a novel which allowed him to have a moment but that moment had seemingly passed. That is until 2011 and the mother, Faye, who abandoned him becomes a media sensation for an act of civil disobedience. Asked to do a biography of her Samuel realizes it is his opportunity to even the score for her leaving him at 11 years old. The story leapfrogs from 1968 to 2011 making stops in between as Faye recounts her story to her son. It all comes together in a moment of elegant storytelling

Mr. Hill can follow an acerbically witty passage with one that touches depths of emotions. I would go from wiping away tears of laughter to doing the same with emotional versions a few pages later. The Nix is one of those disjointed narratives that can be frustratingly aloof to get in to. Mr. Hill’s prose especially early on doesn’t draw you in as effectively as it might. But once The Nix get to the heart of its story I found it hard to stop reading. This is a book where I urge you to get past page 200 before giving up. What happens in the last two thirds makes up for the too careful construction of the plotline.

If, like me, you miss finding new authors at the local bookstore let me be your guide this time. Mr. Hill looks to be a major new talent and The Nix shows why.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Westworld

When I was fourteen years old, in 1973, I went to the theatre to see a movie called “Westworld”. I was fascinated with the idea of a theme park populated by robots where you could live out a fantasy in a specific era. In that movie besides the titular area based on the American Old West there was also Medieval World and Roman World which are what you might expect them to be. Of course, the movie is the story of what happens when the programming stops functioning and the safe robots become dangerous. It was one of the earliest movies to explore the idea of artificial intelligence growing beyond the boundaries of its internal code. There have been so many cautionary tales since then it is a wonder people are so comfortable talking to Siri, Cortana, or Alexa. The storytelling potential is so great that it has come full circle with the recently released ten-episode series called Westworld on HBO.

This new version tells the story of a theme park which only is set in the American Old West; no knights or togas in this version. It tells the story of the robots referred to as Hosts. The humans who come to the park as Guests as well as the humans who keep it all going. In the first episode, you realize this is not only going to be a story about the humans but the Hosts are also undergoing change. The remainder of the series is whether that change is evolutionary or programming.

This should have been something which I should have wanted to see every week as it came on but for some reason the story moved too slowly for me. There were moments of genuine surprise but they were between long stretches of characters repeating some of the same actions. There is a plot device to that but it began to feel like I was treading water more than I was moving towards something. One of the cleverer devices used to delineate specific chapters was a player piano which you would see catch and begin to play as the paper roll unspooled. What made it fun is sometimes the piano is playing a Joplin rag and sometimes it is not. In those times, it is foreshadowing of things to come.

Jeffrey Wright (l.) and Anthony Hopkins

While I have some quibbles with the speed of storytelling the performances greatly helped my motivation to keep watching. The two which interested me the most were Robert Ford as played by Anthony Hopkins and Bernard Lowe played by Jeffrey Wright. Ford was one of the original architects of the robots and has been at Westworld from the beginning. Bernard is his current Head of Programming. There is one scene at the end of episode seven which reveals exactly who is in charge at Westworld that stands out.

I really wanted this to be about two or three episodes shorter. I think there are moments when the writers are too enamored of the importance of the tale they are spinning that they become too repetitive in delivering the desired message. In my favorite moments of the series it is the times when a character is revealed to be something beyond their social or literal programming where it is at its best.

I’ll have to sit down with Siri, Cortana, and Alexa to get their impressions.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

There are times I am not ready to watch something when it is being shown on TV. That was the case about a year ago, when the FX cable channel began showing the miniseries “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story”. The beauty of the current day is when I am finally ready it is there to be watched. Over this long Holiday break, I went through the entire series to find something that was much different than expected.

My reticence sprang from having lived through the trial itself. We were on vacation in North Carolina when OJ Simpson led a police chase in a White Bronco on the LA expressways. From that moment, it was nearly impossible to escape the coverage. I found everything about the case and the attending media circus irritating even while it was being shown everywhere. Throughout the trial everyone involved were turned into two-dimensional caricatures who almost all came off as some differing shade of con man or fool. I don’t think there was anyone covered in glory when the “Not Guilty” verdict was read that day in the courtroom. I know it felt to me like the justice system had somehow become sullied. This was why sitting through ten episodes of television depicting this seemed like it was going to be depressing.

Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran

What The People v. OJ Simpson managed to do was to add in the nuance of personality to what were punchlines. Throughout the series, the people involved in this case mange to come alive in a way which recaptured their honor. Nowhere is that more apparent in the portrayal of defense attorney Johnnie Cochran by Courtney B. Vance and of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark by Sarah Paulson. The series showed these were people who not only believed in the idea of justice but their part to play in the system. It shows the flaws in both characters but it also shows the humanity which shaped both. Both actors deservedly won Emmy Awards for their portrayals.

Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark

The best episode is the sixth, titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” which concerns Ms. Clark and all that was going on in her life outside of the courtroom. One of the reasons I started watching this at all was a perfume reason. Ms. Paulson tracked down a 1990’s vintage bottle of Lancome Magie Noire to wear every day she portrayed Ms. Clark. In this episode Ms. Paulson truly does inhabit the psyche of Ms. Clark and turns that caricature into something to be admired.

By the end of the series the verdict was the same as it was in real life. Yet somehow it felt less like a pyrrhic victory for Mr. Simpson and more like redemption for everyone else. If you stayed away because of the subject matter, like me, I recommend giving it a try I think it might allow you to see something you thought you knew very well quite differently.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2016

As we enter the final week of 2016 it is a time for lists of all kinds. I am no different and my year-end perfume lists will appear towards the end of the week. I’m also going to remember 2016 for some non-perfume things and in this last The Sunday Magazine of the year I thought I’d share those.

Favorite movie: Arrival– There was so much for the geek in me this year; Deadpool, Rogue One, Captain America Civil War, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I had a veritable smorgasbord in front of me of these kinds of movies. The one which has stuck with me since seeing it has been Arrival which is about a couple of scientists trying to communicate with extraterrestrials who have just landed. Themes of how we communicate intertwined with how we fear have stayed with me since leaving the movie theatre. I also said it when I wrote about it but Amy Adams performance is beyond brilliant because there are so many nuances she must communicate wordlessly none more so than her final hug. If she does not get nominated for an Academy Award for this performance I will be very surprised.

Favorite Album: “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” by The 1975– This is a band and album that snuck up on me. As I’ve mentioned I like looking back at the number of plays on my iTunes list. This was my most played new album of this past year. Ever since I downloaded it in March there has not been a week where I haven’t listened to it. It is a pastiche of so many 1990’s influences that I think that is what draws me to it along with the lyrics. “She Lays Down” is an amazingly insightful song about addiction and depression. Despite the material, I am always moved by this song and I’ve listened to it over 150 times this year. The 1975 exist on the perfect knife edge of indie and pop; I hope they never fall off.

Favorite Single: Cheap Thrills by Sia ft. Sean Paul– My song of the summer of 2016. Sia cuts loose with a song extolling the joy of dancing the night away which is what summer is all about. It is still in heavy rotation because I don’t want to admit the summer is over.

Favorite TV Show: Game of Thrones– This was the same choice as last year but I can say what the producers had to contend with in Season 6 was more difficult. For the first time, they had to forge ahead beyond the written words of George RR Martin. Which was a change for me because over the first five seasons I knew what was coming. In Season 6 Game of Thrones upped the ante with more epic visual storytelling culminating in the final two episodes of the season; “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter”. The former had an epic battle that would have done any major blockbuster proud. The difference for me is there were characters I had invested in over the books and episodes who were in real danger. By the time it was resolved I realized I had leaned forward for most of the final half of the episode. The latter has an opening twenty-minute sequence done with very little dialogue along with an ever-ratcheting increase in tension. The moment of release is cataclysmic in many ways. At this point I am happy to let the TV show take me to the end of the journey Mr. Martin started because they haven’t missed a step yet.

Favorite TV Performer: Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live– This was the year Kate McKinnon’s star went supernova as her impersonation of Hillary Clinton throughout the Presidential election was spot on. Her comedic timing with Alec Baldwin who portrayed Donald Trump was a highlight. She is also a MVP throughout the broadcast as every sketch she is in seems funnier. She is the reason I stay up late on Saturday night.

Favorite Book: Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip– The Hero’s Quest has become so codified the early going of every fantasy book can begin to seem the same. With Kingfisher author Patricia McKillip delights in turning this conceit on its head and shaking hard enough to empty its pockets. Modern technology exists next to traditional fantasy ingredients. It made me laugh while making me realize writers need to send the Hero’s Quest off the rails more often.

Favorite Spirits: Barrel-aged Gin– Gin is usually distilled and bottled fairly quickly. This year I discovered two versions in which the gin was aged in barrels after distillation; Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat and Russell Henry Dark Gin. The basic gin from both companies is unique in its own right but the additional aging in barrels adds off-kilter depth. I’ve enjoyed using these in my favorite gin cocktails like Aviations or Bee’s Knees but they shine best when used in a dry martini as the vermouth seems to interact with the wood spectacularly.

Favorite Wines: South African Walker Bay Chardonnays– I’ve been down on Chardonnay and the cynicism with which they have been made especially by the large American producers for years. Over the summer, I realized that in other parts of the world they were doing it without the cynicism. I tried a trio of South African chardonnays from the Walker Bay region; Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, and Hamilton Russell. They all share a crisp apple quality before heading towards a creamy finish. These are balanced, nuanced chardonnays and I had forgotten how nice that was to drink.

These are what brightened 2016 for me outside of the perfume world.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Rogue One- A Star Wars Story

I think it is almost human nature to be suspicious of big corporations. Especially when those business behemoths gobble up something we are quite fond of. The perfume industry is full of these stories with results both good and bad. Most of the time I hope for the best and brace for the worst. This was my attitude when Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October of 2012. Disney had done the same with another company beloved to me Marvel Comics three years earlier but by 2012 it seemed to be something where hope for the best was coming true. Lucasfilm was another thing entirely because Star Wars might just be the most beloved franchise on the planet. There was so much which could go wrong.

Disney announced fairly quickly after the deal was signed that we were going to get new Star Wars movies. First a new trilogy of Episodes 7-9. Hope for the best was again rewarded with last year’s release of Episode 7 The Force Awakens. Disney wasn’t done though they also announced an ambitious slate of movies that were going to come out in the years in between the main Episodes. They were calling these Star Wars Anthology movies.

Star Wars Anthology movies were meant to be standalone movies exploring a side story within the Star Wars universe. This was where my brace for the worst instincts kicked in. This was where it felt like maybe the Mouse Machine was trying to enact a cash grab on the affection of the fans.

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The first of these Anthology movies was released this weekend called Rogue One-A Star Wars Story. The plot is to visually explain everything we read in the opening crawl of the very first Star Wars movie released. If you need a reminder here is what the first thing anyone who viewed Star Wars saw.

“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…."

Rogue One tells the story of how those plans were acquired. Director Gareth Edwards promised a war movie and Rogue One is the Star Wars version of The Dirty Dozen who are assembled to chase down the plans. The movie has a typical structure for these kinds of plots. We meet the fringe characters who have endured tragedy. The specialists who bring their specific skills to the job. The comic relief. All of those are here. I loved movies like Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and The Great Escape when I was a kid. Rogue One fits in that tradition except it is also a full-blooded Star Wars movie too. What that means is it ties in to the other seven movies we have seen in ways big and small. This is where the difference really laid for me because at the end of Rogue One I really understood what it took for the Rebellion to win that first victory along with the importance of the plans.

I am not going to go much deeper into the plot and spoil any of the surprises in the movie but I do want to comment on one thing which was just spectacularly done. In the original Star Wars, George Lucas told how he was inspired by the old World War 2 dogfight movies. How he wanted the battles between Rebel X-Wings and Empire TIE Fighters to feel like that. The final battle of Rogue One has evolved that to the ultimate space dogfight footage in the entire series. The battle above the surface of the planet is as mesmerizing as the one going on below. It is this sequence that you want to see in IMAX 3-D.

As much as I dread prequels because as a viewer you know where it has to end; Rogue One foils that by letting you see the effort needed to reach that goal spoken of in the Episode IV opening crawl. I came home and watched
Episode IV after seeing Rogue One opening night and it changed the way I saw that movie now. If Disney can commit to this kind of filmmaking hope for the best is just the beginning.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Father Christmas by The Kinks

My Holiday playlist is a mix of traditional standards and songs which look at the Season with a different perspective. As much as I like a Christmas song which brings a tear to my eye; I am just as happy with one which brings a sneer to my lip. When it rotates around the song “Father Christmas” by The Kinks is one which does this for me.

The Kinks were one of the original British Invasion bands of the mid-1960’s. It is likely they would have risen to the heights of some of the other UK bands except they were so rowdy during their shows the American union which oversaw musicians hit them with a four-year touring ban. This effectively closed them off from one of the biggest markets from 1965-1969. It is one reason when many UK bands cited them as an influence many Americans were surprised. The Kinks evolved over the years but they always had a bit of the proto-Punk in their music. The Who and The Rolling Stones were the only other bands of the era to capture the sense of anarchy which would be tapped into in the second half of the 1970’s.

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It was during that time that the new bands kept covering The Kinks early songs which in turn drove interest in the band anew. This newfound popularity convinced the band they should release a Christmas tune. In true The Kinks fashion it was not sugar plum fairies and candy canes.

Father Christmas was written by band co-founder Ray Davies. It tells the story of a department store Santa who is surrounded by a group of street kids who want money instead of toys. In five lines the chorus captures the mood as this is what the kids sing to the Santa:

Father Christmas, give us some money
We got no time for your silly toys
We'll beat you up if you don't hand it over
We want your bread so don't make us annoyed
Give all the toys to the little rich boys

That’s the part I curl my lip on when I’m singing along.

The arrangement is also fitting as it starts off with jingly happy piano before the guitars crash into everything. That happy piano returns near the end as the chorus provides a contrasting lyric to go along with it.

The Punk Rock movement in the UK arose out of the economic issues surrounding the younger generation at the time. While The Kinks were riding a nice wave of success in 1977 Father Christmas felt like it was a song which could have come from the streets. In the video above, despite the poor quality you get an idea of The Kinks at their anti-Establishment best.

Father Christmas almost acts as a palate cleanser when it shuffles to the top as it often can be sandwiched between Dean Martin and Bing Crosby. Even during the Holidays I need a few minutes when my inner Punk Santa can be allowed to sneer at things until the next song.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Holiday Lights

One of the great harbingers that the Holidays are upon us are the lights which go with them. Usually with the weekend after Thanksgiving in the US the first lights go up on homes and in cities. My fondness for Holiday lights came from a tradition as a kid growing up in the very warm South Florida. During the month of December, the large local bank had a tour of local homes with elaborate displays. In South Florida, these kinds of displays would tax the creativity of the homeowner. Depicting a wintry scene while the nighttime low was in the 70’s was not easy. One answer was to load up on the lights which was what many did. Those were always my favorites. Although the person who covered their lawn in cotton batting to simulate snow also has a soft spot in my heart.

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Snowflake on 5th 1984

As my education and career drew me northward I would begin to experience Holiday lights in different ways. I remember my first NYC holiday season in 1984. There were two new holiday efforts that have endured to today but at the time had their share of detractors. One was the snowflake at 57th St and Fifth Avenue. It was designed by the man, Douglas Leigh, who did all the lighting schemes on the skyscrapers. Like those designs the controversy around the snowflake was from a distance as you walked towards it the illusion was gorgeous. Once you got underneath it all of the wires and lights seen up close lost the magic as if you were somehow seeing the trick. The other new feature in 1984 was putting floodlights on the façade of Rockefeller Center behind the Christmas tree. The complaint was it made 30 Rock look like The Rock as you expected a spotlight from a guard tower to wash over you. Both have evolved tremendously over the years. In 2002 the conceptual snowflake transformed into a giant crystalline snowflake and has become the centerpiece of the annual UNICEF Snowflake Ball. The stark flood lights at 30 Rock have become less so as they have been softened into an icy blue which complements the skating rink in front of it all.

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Harvard Square "Galaxy"

When I moved to Boston I also presided over the installation of a new set of Holiday lights in Harvard Square. The large set of lights look like a version of the Milky way galaxy to me. To others a swirl of windborne snow. To others it was a secularization of Christmas. Those who felt that way would be mollified the next year when a star joined the swirl a year later. I walked past this every Holiday season going to and fro from work. One early December blizzard it was the beacon in the night to draw me towards the path home.

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Poolesville, MD Lights in front of the Old Town Hall

When we moved to the Washington DC area we decided to live in a small town called Poolesville surrounded by farms. What is amusing to me is after loving these grand exhibitions of lights I have been around over the Holiday season; the ones here make me the happiest. In our sleepy little town with one main drag the Holiday lights crisscross above the road through much of the town. Each year they add a few more strings extending it further. Within a few years, they will cover the entire town. For now, what is here does the trick for me as the twinkle of many light bulbs has the ability to put me in the spirit of the Season.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Family Man

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I am a creature of Holiday traditions. Those of you who have been following along with me over the years have seen me write about many of them in this column. Now that we have truly begun the Holidays one of the first things I will do in the next day or two is to watch the movie “The Family Man”. To me it is a movie which unabashedly celebrates the hope the season brings.

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The Family Man is not one of those universally loved Christmas movies. You won’t find it on many lists. It wasn’t well received when it was released in 2000. When I read back over those reviews I am always surprised to find that one of the more consistent flaws found in it was the happy, hopeful, ending. This is what I watch movies at this time of the year for. I think much of the reason for the tepid reception has to do with the director Brett Ratner and the star Nicolas Cage.

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Brett Ratner

Mr. Ratner had been one of those who had made the leap from music video direction to feature film direction. One of his first videos was for Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” in 1988. By the time, he had finished The Family Man he had a monster hit behind him with the movie “Rush Hour”.

Mr. Cage had been doing movies for nearly twenty years by the time he took on the starring role. By that point you were either a fan of Mr. Cage’s acting style or you were not. I thought casting Mr. Cage in the title role of The Family Man was a great choice because his method is to react broadly to situations which is an asset to a movie like this.

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Nicolas Cage as Jack and Don Cheadle as Cash (r.) in The Family Man

The Family Man tells the story of Wall Street mogul Jack Campbell who, when the movie opens, is in the middle of closing a big deal which will require his staff to work through Christmas. Fairly rapidly the movie sets up Jack as the man who has taken the path to business success at the expense of family. As Jack stops at a convenience store he runs into Cash, played by Don Cheadle. Cash is trying to cash a winning lottery ticket for $238. The clerk is suspicious of the ticket causing Cash to pull a gun. Jack using his negotiating skills offers to buy the ticket off of Cash. After the confrontation, Jack offers Cash his help. Cash smiles at him and tells him he doesn’t need his help but Jack is about to be taken on a journey into the path not taken. The next morning Jack wakes up in a house in New Jersey next to the woman he left behind when he went to London to start his career. He has two kids and works at the family tire store. From here the movie is the typical redemption story as Jack gets a glimpse into a man who chose family over professional success. By the end the natural order is restored but Jack is changed.

The Family Man is a beautiful parable on the value of family and friends played against the background of the Holidays. It never fails to scrub away the last vestiges of my crusty edges leaving me smiling broadly at the possibilities of the next few weeks. If you would like to find a new movie to add to your seasonal rotation I think The Family Man is a worthy addition to this time of the year.

Mark Behnke