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HOLIDAY SNEAKS

Midday Madness

It's a tradition: out of the minivan and into the matinee, where kids (and parents) can get more than they bargain for.

November 08, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE | Chris Erskine's "Guy Chronicles" column appears Wednesdays in Southern California Living

Last December, with Christmas and good tidings still heavy in the winter air, the kids and I stopped to watch two grown men fight in a multiplex parking lot.

It was about 4 p.m. on a Sunday, which means there was total gridlock, so bad that the ushers were out directing traffic in their little red usher vests with the popcorn oil stains and the black pants that don't fit.

When suddenly, some guy gets out of his car and starts pounding on the hood of another car with his meaty, middle-aged fists. The other guy must've cut him off. And it must've been pretty serious, because this first guy is really yelling and pounding.

I start to imagine what it would be like, being beaten to death by some father who just sat through a "Care Bear" movie. Talk about road rage. Talk about your senseless deaths.

"Lock your doors," I told the kids.

"Why?"

"We're in a multiplex parking lot," I said. "Anything could happen."

'Tis the season.

It starts in a week or two, gets really rolling around Thanksgiving, then peaks the week after Christmas, when the kids are out of school and there's nothing to do, what with the toys and games already a week old.

So the kids will arrive at their local multiplex in long lines of Suburbans and minivans packed tight, the engines gently rocking from side to side as they wait to unload. Like pods of whales, these vehicles, so full and lumbering that they can barely move.

And one by one, the cars will pull to the curb and unload their cargo. Five kids. Six kids. Eight kids. A dozen. If they're old enough--and you're lucky enough--they're heading into the theater by themselves.

The kids will get out of the car, careful not to hold the door for the person behind them, almost limping because their jeans are so wadded with Christmas cash from Grandpa.

"Can I have a couple more bucks?" they'll ask before they go.

"No," the dad will say, and the kid will close the car door and shrug and feel better for having asked.

"Hey, I tried," he'll tell his buddies.

"Let's go," one will say, and into the theater they will run.

Behind them will be a little sister or brother, tagging along, hanging out with the older ones, always about 10 steps behind.

And into a dark theater they will follow their older siblings, to watch giant apes and "Star Trek" voyages, flying monkeys and talking snowmen. That is when they're not spending what used to be your yearly allowance at the snack stand.

"Pepsi," the kids will tell the girl behind the snack counter. "No, that one," they'll say, pointing to the 2-gallon cup, the biggest soft drink cup there is.

Only in movie theaters do they sell soft drinks the size of fire hydrants, giant containers purchased by kids with bladders no bigger than their thumbs.

"Let's go," one will say, and they will run, Sno Caps rattling, the younger brother or sister still trailing 10 steps behind.

It should be a good thing, these holiday matinees. "What's great about this particular season is that there's something for all kids," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Inc., which tracks box-office statistics.

The day a parent can pull to a curb and let the kids loose in a movie theater should be one of the milestones in a family's life.

Dream on, Mom or Dad. Because this is what a kid, left to his or her own devices, will choose to see.

Boys, ages 8-12: Big, buff heroes. Big, honking explosions. No kissing. If they kiss, they die. Instantly. Preferably in an explosive fireball. Ideal movie: "Armageddon." This year's holiday pick: "Star Trek: Insurrection."

Girls, ages 8-12: Same as above, only with a dog or cat or tough girl. Ideal movie: "Deep Impact." Holiday pick: "Mighty Joe Young."

Boys, ages 13-15: Teen queens in distress. Multiple suspects. No kissing. If they kiss, they die. Instantly. Only Neve Campbell survives. And the killer. Ideal movie: "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Holiday pick: "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer."

Girls, ages 13-15: Leonardo DiCaprio. Teen queens. Lots of kissing. Love endures. Celine Dion sings. Ideal movie: "Titanic." Holiday pick: "Titanic" on video.

Boys, ages 16 and up: Car chases. Nicolas Cage. Overlapping explosions. Then fire. Celine Dion dies. Ideal movie: "Face/Off." Holiday pick: "Enemy of the State."

Girls, ages 16 and up: Brad Pitt. Serious, full-mouth kissing, the kind where someone chips a tooth. Ideal movie: "My Best Friend's Wedding." Holiday pick: "You've Got Mail."

*

Now, in most cases, preteens and teens can handle the explosions and mayhem. Even the kissing.

But when a little brother or sister is dragged along, as is often the case, the effects can be distressing.

"Again and again, the horror stories I hear involve a younger sibling being exposed to something she wouldn't have chosen herself," says Joanne Cantor, a University of Wisconsin professor who has studied mass media and children's fears for 15 years.

Cantor found that most children who reported long-term nightmares did not pick the movie that frightened them.

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