Tag Archive - Film

Regarding Oscar

There is a certain magic in good storytelling; a chance to slide inside another’s skin for a space; to see the world through new eyes.

Mine is a great heritage of story, from my grandpa, from my mom. Perhaps that’s why I love it so. I love it any way it comes: across a table, around a fire, or flickering across a screen in a dark room with sticky floors and a prevailing scent of popcorn.

For several years now, it has been my objective to see all the best picture nominees before the Academy Awards. In a good year, I will have already seen a few before the candidates are announced. In other years, well, let’s just say January and February get really busy.

While I am no expert, I offer herein a few thoughts on the nine films nominated this year for best picture. They appear in the order in which we saw them.

La La Land
In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Emma Stone said La La Land is a film for dreamers. That description is pretty apt. In a year when most of the films are heavy, when life itself has been heavy for many, it is a gift to spend a couple of hours with two creative, passionate people who are giving their all to pursue those callings that are uniquely theirs. It doesn’t hurt that all of this is wrapped inside some fabulous music, enchanting dance numbers, and a generous dose of whimsy. It also doesn’t hurt that it features two of my favorite actors. While it lacks the happy ending one might expect, it concludes in a way that feels honest and right.

Moonlight
Moonlight is a courageous film that took me inside a world completely foreign to me. A world of complex, nuanced characters: a mother who is doing her best, except when drugs turn her into a monster; a drug dealer who becomes an unlikely protector and father figure; a best friend whose love is sometimes called into question and other times takes unexpected forms; a little boy who has to figure out how to navigate between all of them to build some kind of life. Juxtaposing this raw, rugged world against an exquisite classical soundtrack is disorienting, yet it bespeaks the epic nature of the questions being explored. This film stretched me. In a good way.

Manchester By the Sea
Grief and guilt are experiences common to us all. This film dives deep into these, and into the idea of family loyalty and responsibility, and how love sometimes makes unreasonable demands, and how taking care of another might be the only way to move past the stain of the past and learn to live with yourself. The bleakness of the landscape mirrors the interior landscape of our main character, played compellingly by Casey Affleck. I have to say I found the ending abrupt and frustrating. Given some time to ponder it, I suspect this might have been intentional. One last device to allow us to completely enter into the bitter desolation.

Lion
Lion is a love story. It is a story about the love that compels a mother to make profound sacrifices for her family; love that causes a boy to bring his little brother along on a great adventure; love that causes a man and woman to make a home for a chosen child born in a far away place and make him their own; love that persists; love that seeks out; love that gives wings; love that returns. The film is gorgeous and generative and inspiring. The one great horror was coming face to face with the plight of the many thousands of children who are lost and misused in the world every year. I have not been able to forget about them. I hope I never will.

Hidden Figures
Marianne Williamson says, “…There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine…We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

If you have ever doubted that, you must see this hero tale about three women of extraordinary intellect, tremendous courage, and indomitable human spirit, who work inside an impossible system of prejudice that every day attempts–without success–to steal their dignity. Still, they shine. They “make manifest the glory”, and their elegant nobility elevates everyone around them. A beautiful, heartening film.

Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is a modern day iteration of the classic western. We find ourselves cheering for a couple of outlaws because we know they have been hard used, and we believe the establishment to be in the wrong. Our lawmen, who do in fact wear white hats, are sturdy and honorable, but not invincible. We get glimpses of their soft underbelly, but this makes sympathize with them. The film offers an intriguing exploration of the concepts of honor and loyalty, and just how far we will go for each.

Fences
I can’t make myself like Denzel Washington’s character in this film, but his performance is spectacular, as is that of Viola Davis. His long, gin inspired rif early in the film where his words come so fast and furious I can’t think how he has time to figure out what to say next is pure genius. That said, I found the story heavy and hard. Troy and Rose Maxson seam to have far more than their share of heartache, and his unfairness to his son is almost unbearable. And yet, there is generosity here. And great strength. I imagine I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, though I strongly suggest you have La La Land queued up to watch after just to make your heart stop hurting.

Arrival
To be honest, this was the film I was least interested in seeing. However, it surprised me. The premise is far more complicated than it first appears, but you don’t understand this til near the end. Also, there is a whole lot in here about language and words and who doesn’t love that? 🙂  It will mess with your mind a little, but it’s a good kind of mess.

Hacksaw Ridge
War movies are hard for me because I abhor the gore. But this one is so noble and inspiring that it is worth enduring those terrifying images. Andrew Garfield turns in an Oscar worthy performance as army medic, Desmond Daws, the first man in American history to win the Medal of Honor without firing a shot. His strength of conviction and his dauntless courage have much to teach us all about what it means to be truly human.

The Mystery of Art

MysteryThere is a fairly good chance that you know Jonathan Jackson as an Emmy award winning actor from television shows like General Hospital and Nashville, or from films like Tuck Everlasting and The Deep End of the Ocean. You might even know him as part of the band Enation. What you might not know is that he is also a philosopher poet, a budding theologian, and an Orthodox Christian. All of this coalesces in his new book, The Mystery of Art, a beautiful and compelling articulation of what it means to be “an artist in the Image of God.”

Following in the tradition of artists like Flannery O’Connor, C.S Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Makoto Fujimura and others who have spoken insightfully about the intersection of art and faith, Jonathan stitches together wisdom from saints, authors, filmmakers, and friends with stories and observations of his own to clean the lens of our perception.

This is one of the most thought provoking books I have read in a long time. I frequently find myself recalling passages and ruminating on them even though it’s been two months since I read it. I wanted to include more than twice as much of the author’s content in the post than is here. Whittling it away has been excruciating. So, I will keep my remarks brief and mostly let the author speak for himself. I hope you will be intrigued and read the book so that you too may be nourished and inspired.

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet. ~St. Porphyrios

In the introduction, the author invites us to remember a Christianity that “experienced Christ by means of a holistic, sacramental, and artistic reality” and to embrace art’s unique ability to penetrate to the heart of things.

Whenever an artist brings someone into the presence of meaning, in that moment his work becomes incarnational instead of ideological…he awakens the heart to a deeper significance.

Art as Beauty:

Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man. ~Fyodor Dostoevsky

Because we are made in the image of the Creator, we ourselves are creative, regardless of vocation. “We are artists in the way we love. We are poets in the way we pray.” In this, we operate in concert with the Trinity:

The artist is never more himself than when his heart is united with the Holy Spirit; when he approaches his craft as a kind of symphony with God.

Art as Mystery and Madness:

Man is at once glorious and broken–magnificently radiant and deeply wounded.

We are all familiar with the image of the suffering artist. This suffering can be “destructive, narcissistic, and tormented” or “therapeutic, selfless, and holy“. Dostoevsky is given as an example of one whose “inner illumination” made it possible to “transform his suffering and give it meaning.”

Art as Prayer and Intercession:

The artist is to become a living prayer.

With personal examples of roles that brought him close to the sufferings of others, Jonathan explains how these became unique opportunities to intercede on behalf of these people; to stand with them in their pain.

The artist’s performances are destined to become not only seamless acts of prayer but also holy acts of intercession. The spiritual artist creates from a place of wounded love and humility–like Christ.

Art as Listening:

If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet…maybe we could understand something. ~Federico Fellini

Silence teaches the artist to listen–it creates space inside of him to discover secrets and encounter mysteries. To be silent before anything or anyone is an act of humility…Humility has no reason to hide or falsify itself. Therefore, silence teaches the artist how to tell the truth.

Art as Belief:

The most brilliant artists possess the gift of faith, whether they are conscious or subconscious participants in this grace.

Art as Prophecy:

Creating is meant to be a form of prophecy…To be prophetic means to live in communion with the Spirit. His intentions become the artist’s intentions, through ceaseless prayer, love-filled repentance, and the transformation of the mind…When an artist abandons the illusion of autonomy, he becomes a vessel of the Divine Flame…

Contrived art for the sake of preaching to people is an offense to the mystery and sacredness of creation. Beauty and honesty are the primary inspirations of the artist: he trusts the grace and presence of the Holy Spirit to lead hearts into the truth. The prophetic artist is one who breaks open the remembrance of humanity, creating an atmosphere for the Spirit of God to breathe new life into creation.

Art as Sacrament:

Poetry is unhindered paradox and contradiction. It seeks to communicate something mystically before that thing can be apprehended cognitively. It is the music of words.

We have become a dualistic society, opposing the physical world to the spiritual. But this was never meant to be. We were created to be fully integrated beings. There is a physicality that is absolutely essential to faith. “Human beings are, in a very real sense, symphonic creatures.”

Art as Offering:

It may seem strange to portray events and characters that are not holy and beautiful or to write songs about troubled souls. But, in reality, it is not strange at all. Who better to prophetically enter into the depths of humanity than those who are living in ceaseless prayer with God?…The holiness of Christ brings us closer to humanity: closer to our true beauty and fearsome darkness. Any talk of Christianity that displays a haughty distance toward the brokenness and vulnerability of humanity has nothing to do with Christ.

Rejoice, O Artists:

Our society seems to think that joy is a conflict-free, lucid state of contentment. It is not. It is an act of rebellion: a holy and sacred rage…It is not placid, passive or docile. It is the madness of love.

One of the lovely gifts of the book is the inclusion of several original poems and prayers. I close with a short excerpt from one of those (from the chapter Art as Mystery and Madness).

O Spirit of Grace, you are complete and utter bliss. You are the ecstasy of a thousand kisses beneath the ocean. You are the rain of restoration and hope. You are the trembling inside my frame. You are the tears that have no end. You are the lightning of inspiration within my temple of wanderings. You are the heart of desire and the warmth of intimacy…Wisdom is your presence. Salvation is your embrace. Heaven is to be seen by you. I fall into your arms of love…

*All quotes in the post taken from the book. All unattributed quotes: Jonathan Jackson.

Regarding Oscar

The 85th Academy Awards® will air live on Oscar® Sunday, February 24, 2013.

A well made film has a remarkable ability to carry us deep inside the life of another person, another time, another place. It enables us to share the grief and the delight, the heartaches and dreams of persons very unlike us and, in the process, to know ourselves. Some films make us uncomfortable. Some of them help us imagine a world that is nobler and more whole. The very best of them leave us better than they found us.

Eight of these are Academy Award nominees this year for best picture. This is a diverse company, each outstanding in its own way. Though I am unqualified to make predictions about winners, here are my strictly personal viewing notes.

americansniper

American Sniper is a modern day hero tale. In Chris Kyle, superhuman vision and marksmanship are wed to a strong sense of loyalty and honor. He finds himself in a place that is more dark and difficult than most of us can even imagine, but for a moment we are there with him. Through his eyes, we taste the terror, the incessant tension and necessary vigilance, the impossible life or death choices that are his every day. We share the whiplash of moving back and forth between the relative safety and ease of life stateside and the horror that is life on the battlefield. And we see its terrible personal cost.

I have not been able to stop thinking about this film.

At every service in the Orthodox Church we pray for our armed forces in defense of freedom everywhere. I never hear those words now without a catch in my throat and a picture of what it is costing them every day to be there on my behalf.

Bradley Cooper gives an astonishing performance in this film. He is a worthy contender for best actor.

birdman

Birdman:

A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

This quote on Riggan Thomson’s dressing room door sets the tone for the film. It is, at heart, an exploration into what gives us worth. Michael Keaton plays an actor who became famous in the role of an iconic superhero some twenty years ago. His fans are not the only ones who have a difficult time separating the man from the myth. Birdman seems to have become an alter ego. A voice he can’t get out of his head. Riggan’s hold on reality is tentative at best.

But he is trying. Trying to shake off a false self he has worn for far too long. Trying to make up for some of the mistakes of the past. Trying to say something worthwhile with his life.

He is not the only one. His daughter Sam is fresh out of rehab and is struggling to stitch together the fragments of her life, while working in the unenviable position of production assistant to her father. Emma Stone gives an extraordinary performance in this role and is hands down my pick for best supporting actress. Broadway darling and diva, Mike Shiner, who is a last minute addition to the cast, adds to the whole existential dialogue, confessing to Sam that the only time he feels like he is telling the truth is when he is on stage.

Michael Keaton is utterly believable in this film, even when he is doing unbelievable things. A stellar performance. And Zach Galifianakis is a great surprise, rendering the role of best friend and tether of sanity, Jake, with dramatic intensity.

boyhood-poster

Boyhood was filmed over the course of 12 years using the same cast. It is impossible to overstate the impact of watching these same people evolve, year after year after year. Sometimes, just watching the character appear on screen with a new haircut (or new piercings) tells something about who he has become before he says anything.

Life is less than perfect for Mason whose single mom is stretched to her limits providing for two kids, and working to improve their situation. Dad is frequently absent, but is all in when he is around. They move too much, and there are a couple of drunken, abusive step-dads along the way. But there is a lot of wonderful too. Baseball games and camping trips, bowling, and bed time stories, and good friends.

This is a coming of age story, with all the best and the worst of what it means to grow and change, to win and lose, to leave and come home. These people become so real that sometimes I feel like I am watching home movies and not an award winning film. And Mason and his sister are not the only ones growing up before our eyes. Mom and Dad are also finally growing into themselves.

grandbudapest

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute delight. The language, the cinematography, the subtle humor, and the lavish ostentation are a veritable feast. Monsieur Gustave H is the consummate hotel concierge; genteel, precise, punctiliously polite. This wins him many admirers and friends. But when a fabulously wealthy admirer leaves to him a very valuable painting in her will, he finds himself accused of her murder.

Thus begins a great adventure which includes, among other things, a daring escape from prison, a snowy pilgrimage to an alpine monastery, a deadly encounter with the henchman employed by the deceased woman’s family, and a shoot out in the upper gallery of the hotel. In all of this, he is aided by his protege, young Zero Moustaffa, the lobby boy. He is vindicated in the end, but alas his life is cut short by an encounter with militants aboard a train.

This is not a film that will change the world. But, it is quirky and compelling and nourishes that part of me that loves the creative and the beautiful. I have seen it twice already and am not done yet.

imitationgame

The Imitation Game:

Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Alan Touring has always lived on the outside. He has a brilliant intellect, but little understanding of how to interact with others. Yet, untold thousands owe their lives to this outsider.

He becomes the unlikely leader of a team tasked with breaking the enigma code. This unmerry band of confederates will fight and claw and mistrust one another.

And accomplish the impossible.

However, it is decided that it would be a tactical error to let the Germans realize that their code has been broken. This leads to the excruciating task of deciding when to intervene and when not to. Who lives and who dies? It also means that these genius code-breakers will not be properly recognized for their extraordinary contribution until many years later. But this is not the greatest trial Touring must endure.

Early in the story we realize Touring is gay. He experiences a very difficult loss at boarding school when a young man who has become very dear to him dies. He experiences loss again when he realizes it would be selfish to marry his colleague Joane, even though he loves her, because he can not be in all ways a husband to her. But the most tragic loss comes at the end of the film. When, following an investigation into a break in at his home, Touring is found to be homosexual, he is prosecuted for indecency. He is forced to endure medical treatments for two years, intended to reverse his condition. They destroy his health and his mind and eventually drive him to end his own life. It is an outrageous tragedy.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a compelling and sympathetic performance, complete with all the necessary idiosyncrasies of genius. A challenging and ennobling film.

Are you paying attention? Good. If you are not listening carefully, you will miss things. Important things.”

la_ca_1021_selma

Selma

If I have been able to see further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” ~Sir Isaac Newton

Selma introduces us to some of these giants. From the intimate portrait of Dr. King and his lovely and courageous bride, to the snapshots of ordinary men and women who risked everything to make the world right, this film allows us to step inside their lives for a space. To feel the anguish of being dehumanized and unheard. To feel trapped by a system that every day betrays the ideals it espouses.

These were men and women with the audacity to imagine a world that did not yet exist, and with the courage to make it be so. Many of them did not live to see their dreams come to pass. But they believed in the inevitability. Knowing them, being with them, makes each of us more human.

Every day you and I live in a grace purchased for us by the courageous acts of those who have come before us. May their memories be eternal.

theory

The Theory of Everything

Three things I have “known” for some time about Stephen Hawking: Brilliant physicist, pernicious atheist, physically challenged.

Labels. Categories.

“The Theory of Everything” makes him real.

In this film he becomes curious and funny, quirky and disorganized, and vulnerable. I was surprised to like him so much. His relationship with Jane is sweet, and terrifying, like all relationships are at the start. But in her he finds a partner of great fortitude and persistence who pushes through the hardest trials, and in the process, calls out the very best in him.

While I certainly disagree with a good bit of his philosophy, I must admit that his story is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.

As acknowledged by the Golden Globes, Eddie Redmayne gives an outstanding performance in a very demanding role. And Felicity Jones is lovely. (Though I am still rooting for Emma Stone)

Whiplash-5547.cr2

Whiplash

If you have ever given your sweat and blood to something you love, especially if that something is music, if you know that anything worth having comes at a price, you will find yourself in this film. It is visceral and intense. I literally found myself feeling nauseous at times.

The pin-ups on the wall of Andrew Nieman’s room are drummers. The greats, like Buddy Rich. Someday, he wants to be one of them. And to make it be so he practices relentlessly, til his fingers bleed. When we meet him he is a first year at Schaffer Conservatory of Music.

Enter Terrence Fletcher, prestigious (and feared) director of the studio jazz band at Schaffer who invites Nieman to take the position of alternate drummer. Nieman quickly discovers that Fletcher employs a vocabulary of terror and intimidation to push players past their perceived limits and to their ultimate potential.

There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job’.

The film is shot mostly in tight frames: in practice rooms, at a table with not enough air, in a crowded theater. This contributes to the palpable feeling of entrapment. There are plot twists aplenty, and just when you think you know where it is going, you don’t. But everything fits. And it goes where it should in the end, whether that’s where you wanted it to go or not.

J.K Simmons is extraordinary in this film as a bad-ass masochist whose conducting hand conveys just enough tender, artistic underbelly to make him human. If he does not win the Oscar for best-supporting actor, it is a travesty.

—————————————

It has been a good year at the movies, and  I am grateful to artful storytellers who give us all the opportunity to see the world through their lens.

May your tribe increase.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Hushpuppy lives with her daddy in the Bathtub. It’s the only home she has ever known. Theirs is a meager existence, raw, uncertain. But it is also a life of wonder. Of camaraderie and spirit. “The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world.” It is life lived close to the earth and her rhythms, and subject to her volatility.

The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.

The six year old poet philosopher stitches together an understanding of the world from all she sees and hears. She presses baby chicks against her ears to listen to their heartbeat. She drinks in the music and fireworks and renegade joy as the community revels in this outside way of life they have chosen. In the wilds of the Delta. Outside the levy.

When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe…

Hers is an epic story. Of melting polar ice caps, of prehistoric aurochs, of floods that threaten to take everything. Of a quest to find the  mother who was lost to the river. Because her father is sick. The father who taught her to be “a man”. To be strong and take care of herself. Who protected and cared for her in the only way he knew how.

She draws her story on the walls of her house, on a cardboard box, on her bedclothes. Because it matters.

In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.

It is a remarkable film. Beautiful. Poignant. Heart-rending at times.Little Quvenzhané Wallis is brilliant as Hushpuppy. Compelling, fiery when she needs to be, completely natural. And so vulnerable, at times, that I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and take her home.

Winner of 4 awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it is now playing in limited release. Look for it wherever art films are played in your area. In Nashville, you can find it at the Belcourt.

Regarding Oscar…

Usually when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its nominees for best picture, I commence a movie watching frenzy to catch up on all the ones I missed. One year, I had not seen any of them. But this has been a great year at the movies. This year I have seen all but one.

I possess no peculiar aptitude for film. But I do LOVE a well told story. For your consideration: viewing notes on eight of the nine.

The Artist A visual feast. A poignant tale. Storytelling without words. Gorgeous. Read my full review HERE.

The Descendants Life is messy. It is wonderful and awful and confusing and ecstatic and funny and crazy and good. This film has all of that. Provocative and painful. Humorous and healing. I hurt for Max and his family. I grieve over terrible choices and deep hurts. But I also cheer them on as they refuse to give up. As they carve a way forward. As they become family all over again. Redemption. Unexpected, but beautiful.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close One of the better book to film translations I have seen. In fact, and this will surprise you, in some ways I believe the movie was even better. Partly because of the genius of young Thomas Horn. He articulates the eccentricities of our quirky, brilliant little hero with an artistry that would be exceptional in someone twice his age.

Oscar Schell loses his father on September 11th. He keeps him close by fulfilling a secret mission his dad left for him. The mission will push him to do things that terrify him. It will people his life. It will be a bridge to his mother. It will make him brave. And it will give him one last chance to hear his father say he is proud of him.

There was audible sobbing in the theater when I saw this film. Oscar’s grief is our grief. He teaches us how to speak it. How to share it. How to keep breathing, even when everything seems extremely loud and incredibly close.

The Help Another admirable adaptation. Casting is superb. It is remarkable to me how like these women are to the women I saw in my head as I read. The storytelling is clean and uncluttered. And this story is very important. It takes us inside a world that many of us barely begin to understand. And it reminds us that some of the most courageous work in the civil rights movement (as in every work that has changed the hearts of men) is done by ordinary men and women whose names you will never know.

Midnight in Paris What if the things we taste and see and touch are not the truest things? What if there is a world more real than this one if only we knew how to find it? This film is a luscious, whimsical arabesque though an extraordinary city, in the company of extraordinary persons. Magic! More thoughts HERE.

Moneyball It is a great story. One of courage and tenacity. The acting is very good. But as a whole, I do not find the film to be remarkable. It seems somewhat disjointed, with random scenes that contribute little to the overall story. Just my opinion…

The Tree of Life Life is not tidy. It rarely ties itself up into neat little packages. Not surprisingly then, art that lingers in my brain and pricks my soul is art that reflects this. More questions than answers. Willing to live with mystery. Paradox. This film is such. More HERE.

War Horse An extravagantly beautiful film. The cinematography is genius. Even stark, desperate scenes are framed with such an exquisite eye, such deliberate artistry, that it gives me chills. It is a heart warming story, to be sure. Do not hate me if I admit that it seems a bit contrived at times. But, we meet some heroic and generous characters, and witness noble graces. And those are in lamentably short supply.

I have yet to see Hugo. It is not playing in my town at present.

I would not presume to predict which of these will win. There are others far more qualified to do that. I can tell you that if I were choosing I would place Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close at the top with The Descendants a close second. I will also say that, though I purchase only a few films, I will buy Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life because I am not nearly done with them yet.

Which films have you loved this year? Do you have an Oscar pick, prediction or preference? Which film should have been nominated, but was not?

The Artist

Our collective imagination is flabby. Atrophied, I fear, from disuse.

Many of us would rather wait for the movie than read the book. Incarnating a character in our heads is too much work. We have an appetite for car chases, and explosions, and skin. These seem more accessible than subtle beauty or complexity of story.

Every now and again, a work of art comes along that challenges our imagination. That calls to that creative spark deep inside each of us. A work that nourishes us along the way with such excruciating loveliness that we are helpless to refuse.

The Artist is such a work.

It is a story without words. Nearly. A silent film about the end of silent film. In fact, until George Valentin has a nightmare in which he is surrounded by sound but unable to speak, I am unaware that even environmental sounds are completely absent. No shuffle of shoes against the floor. No honking horns. Only music. And image.

It is enough.

Sometimes the images are so exquisitely framed, it is painful. Two figures at table. Back to back. The falling star and the supernova. In stark relief. Both so graceful and elegant. So captivating. Alas, she is coming into her own just as his world is disappearing.

But somewhere inside this passing of the torch is a respect…an honoring of the one who made place. Who had faith. A loyalty that is right and good. And Beautiful.

Go see The Artist. Give yourself the gift of an hour and a half without words. Let the music carry you. Feast on the scrumptious images: the clothes, the hair, the cars. The elegance and refinement of a world too unfamiliar to most of us. And trust your imagination to help tell the story. It is more capable than you think.

11 Things That Make Me Laugh

A cheerful disposition is good for your health;
gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

Proverbs 17:22 (Message)

With that in mind, I offer you eleven things that always, always make me laugh. Feel free to borrow one or two if you like. And be sure to leave a couple of your own.

Bill Cosby Himself  Cosby has a remarkable ability to transform the most ordinary things like parenthood or a trip to the dentist into comedic brilliance. Almost thirty years after its release, this is still relevant; still fresh and funny. And it gets even funnier when my usually calm, collected husband is rolling on the floor, gasping for breath because he is hysterical. 🙂

Taylor Mali, Poet  Mali’s work is intelligent and incisive. And his personal delivery is brilliant. Just be careful. Somewhere in the midst of laughing your face off, you will discover that he is making you think. I encourage you to let him deliver his words to you with his own inflection and emphasis. If you’re not sure where to start, I commend a couple of my favorites: The The Impotence of Proofreading and Totally Like Whatever, You Know? Another favorite, less humorous but profoundly good, is What Teachers Make

Winnie the Pooh  A.A Milne infused his stories with a subtle, elegant wit. I read his stories over and over to my children–the original ones, not the language impoverished Disney reductions–and sometimes had to stop and snicker. This is not knee-slapping hysteria, but a soft gladdening of the heart. A couple of examples:

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think.  Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

“Did you make that song up?”
“Well, I sort of made it up, ” said Pooh, “It isn’t Brain…but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah,” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went & fetched them.

The music of Andy Gullahorn  Like Taylor Mali, Gullahorn wraps a whole lot of truth up in his humor. This is an art. And not all his songs are funny. But they are all good. He is one of our family’s road trip favorites. We sing along, and sometimes laugh out loud. Especially to Green Hills Mall.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein  Whimsical. Clever. Unexpected. Fun. And his childlike drawings are perfectly delightful. Where the Sidewalk Ends is my favorite collection, but all are good.

Candide  You probably know Voltaire was a philosopher whose influence on the French Revolution cannot be overstated. But do you know that he was a most clever satirist? This is a fanciful tale of travel and misadventure. Voltaire puts his own words in the mouth of a naive young man who we come to believe may be more intelligent than most of those around him. I do not hold to Voltaire’s view of the world, but I admire the artistry and good humor with which he articulates it.

Homer Price  You might know Robert McCloskey better for his Caldecott award winning picture books Make Way For Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal, which we also love. But it’s this collection of short stories that kept my boys and me in stitches. Both of them would list it among their favorite books ever. Innocent small town fun involving pet skunks, a doughnut machine run amok, and an award winning ball of string, and much more.

Christmas Vacation  We watch it every Christmas….and sometimes when it’s not Christmas. We know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. And sometimes the laughter precipitates the action. Good, clean, dysfunctional family fun. 🙂

Patsy Clairmont  She has the soul of a poet. She writes words of exquisite beauty, and has a keen ability to see beyond. But, put her on a stage in front of a few thousand women, and she will have you in stitches before you know what hit you. Sample her humorous side with Crafty or Emotions for starters.

Nine Months  I do have an inordinate fondness for Hugh Grant. The good-natured, but bumbling character he plays so well is great fun to watch. But this is an ensemble piece. Robin Williams as the Russian veterinarian/obstetrician and Tom Arnold as the enthusiastic (aka obnoxious) father with the video camera are two other stand-outs. Yes, I do usually end up crying at the end. But only after laughing til my sides hurt.

Rat Race  Frantic. Messy. One misadventure after another. The kind of silly humor I don’t usually go for, but I gladly make an exception here.

*Fifth in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Yes, that absolutely gorgeous baby in the photo is in fact my granddaughter. 😉

 

11 Films to See More Than Once

I am not an acquirer of movies. As a general rule. I tend to prefer to see them once…at the theater, or as a rental…and then have done with them. But occasionally I encounter a film that merits revisiting. Chewing. Contemplating. Or perhaps it simply is so nourishing it should be eaten at regular intervals. In any event, here are eleven films I have chosen to buy. And to revisit.  Again and again.

Amelie  On the most ordinary day, this film can sweep me away to some place other. And my heart is filled with a delirious joy that I don’t even know how to explain. It is an artsy, quirky, eccentric sort of picture. Of a woman unusually aware. Who sets out to better the lives of those around her, surreptitiously. And I am overcome by the power of one. One person who sees. Audrey Tautou is lovely, and the film is beautiful in the extreme.

Casablanca  Love is complex. Not always as it seems. And sometimes the most ordinary person is a hero in disguise. Just when you think you have a story figured out, it is likely to take a most unexpected turn. And if you have the great good fortune to watch all this play out in intrigue filled French North Africa, with Humphrey Bogart as your leading man and Ingrid Bergman as the woman who stole his heart, well, you are most fortunate indeed. Every time I hope it will end differently. And every time I know the ending is just right as it is. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Chocolat  This one I love, not for the complex story (there is none), but for its remarkable facility for reaching that most sensual place in each of us. For helping us remember the pleasure to be found in the simplest things. For teaching us that a life lived in anger and suspicion shrinks us, while a life lived with arms open makes more of us than we could imagine. This one I take for nourishment. It fans that part of me that drinks in life as sacrament, as gift, as joy.

Crash  The first time I ever watched it, I couldn’t finish it. It almost made me sick. So why come back to it? Why own it? Why? Because it is important. Important does not necessarily mean easy. It still makes me sick. I need to be sick about this. Dostoevsky-like characters who are never entirely good or entirely evil try to find their way in the world….learning who they are by remembering who they are not. Oh God, how despicably we have marred Your plan! How we love to hate! How we define ourselves by our hatred! Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us all. Set the world right. Your Kingdom come.

Hero  Visually ravishing. A story told in different voices. And each voice tells his or her story in a different color. And sometimes the beauty is so exquisite that it is painful. Blessed pain. My heart hurts. But there is something so lovely and so deeply true that I can’t not watch it again. And again…

Magnolia  Only a master storyteller can weave so many stories in and out of one another and manage to keep the viewer engaged…yay, verily, enthralled. And on each subsequent viewing, layers emerge. Subtle nuances that were not visible the first time. Complex characters that only give a bit of themselves at once. And the weather helps tell the story. And the weather is all wrong. And crazy and bizarre. And I don’t even mind. Somehow it fits. And perhaps that is the most startling thing of all.

Memoirs of a Geisha  “The very word “geisha” means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.” I am thoroughly captivated by these women who endure unbelievable hardships, and yet manage to transform themselves into moving, breathing works of art. It is a concept that has completely fascinated me since I heard this line for the first time. This is one of the few occasions…perhaps the only…where I saw a movie that compelled me to read a book. Usually it’s the other way round. Difficult. Tragic. But outrageously gorgeous.

Memento  There is too much profanity. And the violence, though judicious, is cruel. But this is one of the most brilliant films I have ever seen. The main character is trying to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. But he has lost his ability to make short term memories. In a stroke of movie making genius, Christopher Nolan tells us the story in reverse, in ten minute segments, so that we may share the discombobulation of our protagonist. And just when you think you know who the good guys are…look out! Ironic. Troubling. Provocative. Enthralling.

The Notebook  Sentimental, yes. Sappy sweet, perhaps. But this is a story of loving long. Of loving when love costs everything. When everyone else says you have loved enough. And that is a story that means a great deal to me. Perhaps more than most. No apologies here. I have it. I love it. That’s that.

O Brother Where Art Thou  SO many reasons I love this film!! The rural south as portrayed in this film is very like the world I grew up in. (When one lives in a small town, it is almost as if time stands still. Though the film is set 3 full decades before my birth, much of this world is recognizable to me.) The music is my music. I even used to go sing at a little radio station like the one on the side of the road where the “Soggy Bottom Boys” make their debut. The story is The Odyssey, recast. (For about the hundredth time). I am just nerdy enough to LOVE this. I notice new parallels every time I watch it. But mostly, it makes me laugh. It makes our whole family laugh. And we recite lines to one another about being “loved up”, and about how “we thought you wuz a toad.” And I’m still on the lookout for some Dapper Dan hair pomade. Let me know if you find any. 🙂

The Tree of Life  This film is very like a poem. It is pleasing, seductive even, upon the first viewing. Yet it hides a good bit of its truth, hinting enough that you know you will come back to dig deeper. It is a truth that is not flung at you. Predigested. Sorted into compartments. It must be wrung out of you. I will submit to its wringing. I will breathe the words. I will watch the earth writhing and foaming and forming. And I will stand in awe. I will attempt to make sense of the story. And I will give truth a place to grow in me. A bit at a time.


Which are the films you go back to over and over again?

*First in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Special thanks to Karissa for suggesting this first “11” topic.

The Way

It is the last place he ever expected to find himself. He comes to St. Jean Pied de Port to claim the dead body of his only son. A son he hardly knew. Who refused to fit his mold. Who left his doctoral program in anthropology to travel the world and live among the people who were just faces in a book.

How many times had Daniel begged him to join him? To be part of his world?

It had seemed so reckless. So irresponsible.

He sifts through Daniel’s belongings. Bits and pieces of a life. Photographs from far flung places. Of a young man fully alive. A young man worth knowing.

Tom decides he will accompany Daniel on his final journey.  The one he had only just begun. A pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He will carry Daniel’s ashes, leaving them all along the way.

“I’m doing it for Daniel,” he says to the gendarme.

“You do not walk the Camino for another,” he replies. “You walk it for yourself.”

It will ask more of him than he can imagine. He will come to know his son. He will come to know himself. He will not be alone in this. There will be a motley assemblage of comrades. Who find one another. Who need one another. More than any of them realize.

Yorick “from Amsterdam” is here to lose weight for a wedding. This, despite the fact that he seems to know the culinary specialty of every region through which they pass, and insists upon sampling it. But there is another hunger in Yorick. A sorrow. One that can only be shared with those who have walked long and lived deep with one another.

Deborah is bitter, belligerent, and guarded. She walks the Way to stop smoking. She says. But she too is fleeing dark demons. She has forgotten how to trust, to be safe with others…how to forgive…how to forgive herself.

Irish writer, James, is brash and loud. He has some serious problems with the Church, who has been the cause of much bloodshed in his homeland. He has writer’s block. He is here to find a story. The story will find him.

The Way is an artfully made film from Emilio Estevez. The story is compelling and rich, with characters who get inside your heart. The cinematography is stunning. And the invitation…to slow down, to breathe deep, to open ourselves to God and to others…is for all of us.

I implore you to see the film. It will be gift to you. You will laugh. You will cry. You might dare to dream big dreams. And with your ticket, you will cast a vote for the beautiful and the true.

Buen Camino!

Un-booklist

Firemen no longer put out fires, they start them. It is their job to eradicate any clandestine stash of books that may be found. The powers that be have decided it is dangerous to allow people to think for themselves. Therefore, they will be told what to think. And nothing poses a greater threat to manipulation and propaganda than books.

This, in brief, is the disturbing and eerily plausible world presented by Ray Bradbury in the book Fahrenheit 451. Brave souls who attempt to preserve books face imprisonment or even death. But there is a remnant…an outcast group of scholars and intellectuals living like hobos on the periphery of civilization (if you can call it civilization). They know that a culture that does not think is destined to implode eventually. And when that time comes, they will be needed.

Each of these men carries with him the books that will be needed to rebuild the world. But, he carries it inside him. Books like Plato’s Republic, Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli’s The Prince, the writings of Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, the Magna Charta, the four Gospels… have been committed to memory. Astounding, but not impossible. A recent film, The Book of Eli, explores a similar premise.

Today’s “booklist” post is a little out of the ordinary. I am posting no list. Rather, a question. If it were up to you to contribute one or two books to the rebuilding of a world that had lost all, which would it be? What truth, what idea or story is so pivotal to who we are as a human race that you would be willing to eat its words in order to pass them on?

I would like to make one stipulation in order to keep things interesting. I know that most of us would want to be sure the Scriptures would carry on. However, if you choose to memorize Scripture, will you be so kind as to specify a book? One of the Gospels, perhaps, or the book of Proverbs, et al…

I listened to Fahrenheit 451 on audio, mostly on a trail run I did a few weeks back. The finish wrecked me and left me sobbing on the trail. There has been a monstrous battle, and our outcasts are now walking back toward the smoking remains of the city to begin the long work of redemption. Our protagonist, Montag, formerly a book-burner, has told the group earlier that he can contribute most of the book of Ecclesiastes and parts of Revelation. As he begins to search within himself for words appropriate to this hour, he lands on these. May they inspire you…

To every thing there is a season…
A time to break down and a time to build up
A time to keep silence and a time to speak…

And on either side of the river was there a tree of life which bore twelve manner of fruits and yielded her fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations….

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