Magic is afoot at this time of year.
Haleakala Waldorf School's Holiday Faire is a good place to remember what it looks like.
The faire made its annual return to the Kula campus under the crisp blue sky of the first day of December. With knee-high elves in Santa hats circulating through fairytale-inspired craft booths, it always feels as though you've wandered onto the set for "The Hobbit."
Picturesquely nestled on the mountain, Haleakala School provides a nurturing refuge from a society intent on making kids grow up too fast. Instead, it honors childhood as the stage in human development when innocence and wonder still exist.
A visit to the faire always takes your breath away, mostly with the happy, wholesome, unselfconscious smiles of the kids, everywhere you look.
An extra attraction last Saturday was the entertainment. The school guards the privacy of its students, sensing the toxic danger of those 15 minutes of fame, so I'll mention no names. But in my hour and a half there, I had tears in my eyes and chicken skin from an amazing operatic voice coming out of a little 10-year-old girl. A stage of blond 5th-graders dancing in kimonos transported us to Japan.
There was the lovely Haleakala grad doing a soulful folk tune, with her movie-star dad providing accompaniment. And another gifted young singer on the brink of a professional career came back to sing where it all began for her, when she was barely able to reach the microphone on the Haleakala stage.
If the Haleakala Faire is all about cherishing innocence, new movies this week have other things in mind. There's nothing innocent - or soft -about the way Brad Pitt takes care of business as an unflappable hitman whacking low-level criminals in "Killing Them Softly." This is one of those cynical, scuzzy crime dramas full of shaggy-dog philosophizing when guys aren't killing each other in pretty gross ways.
The ever-cool Pitt plays a killer brought in to get the underground economy rolling again after someone robs an underworld card game and everyone is afraid to play anymore. The cast also features James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta heading a bunch of low-level lawbreakers who aren't nearly as smart as they think they are.
"Killing Them Softly" is nouveau noir in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino, written and directed by New Zealand's Andrew Dominik. Movies like this provide vicarious opportunities for Beverly Hills filmmakers and financial backers to vicariously walk on the wild side with paid killers, junkies, hookers and the reputable attorney (Richard Jenkins), paid by the mob to pick up the tab.
For all its adrenalized black humor and stomach-turning violence, "Killing Them Softly" manages to sneak in a political message. Set during the 2008 election, its card-game stickups and contract killings are intercut with newscast footage featuring then-President George W. Bush and candidate Barack Obama.
America's not about democracy, Pitt explains in the final scene - it's about business. This cynical, bloody message is probably easier to stomach if you're a Beverly Hills millionaire yourself, watching life in the gutter solely for amusement.
"The Sessions" takes an equally salacious premise - 36-year-old polio victim Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) who has spent most of his life in an iron lung, hires sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity before he dies. But it turns it into a unique, deeply affecting love story.
William H. Macy as a conflicted priest heads the wonderful supporting cast in this true story set in '80s Berkeley. There's Oscar buzz for Hawkes' brilliant star turn and Hunt's bravery in the almost explicit sex scenes; what's unexpected in "The Sessions" is its compassion, humor, and its touching portrait of a wonderful sort of love that eludes lots of folks who have far fewer obstacles trying to find it.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org