100 Favorite Movies…..36-40

It is more than likely after today’s sojourn into cinema that we’ll be taking another little break from this series. There are some other things that The Lord is laying on my heart to write, some that I have already begun such as the Sermon on the Mount analysis and the examination of the Fruits of The Spirit. I do not anticipate that this breather will be a few months like last time…more like a few weeks. Until we pick things back up, please enjoy this entry and take a look around The Manofesto at the other subject matter I attempt to write about with some semblance of intelligence and affection.


 

 

40 Cast Away

Any hardcore sports fan will tell you that success in baseball requires a collective effort, as does football…but in basketball one superstar can put a team on his back and carry them a long way toward victory.  Similarly, in film, occasionally a single performance is so brilliant that it makes an otherwise flawed film great. Tom Hanks is another actor, like Jimmy Stewart & Robin Williams, who seems equally adept at comedy and drama. I tend to prefer his more lighthearted performances, but that is a byproduct of my overall gravitation toward comedy and not really a commentary on Hanks’ abilities. In 2000’s Cast Away Hanks plays Chuck, a globetrotting FedEx systems guru who is constantly called to all corners of the world to put out fires (in a figurative sense). He is on the verge of proposing to his understanding girlfriend Kelly on Christmas Eve when he has to fly off on yet another problem solving endeavor. He tells her “I’ll be right back”, but his plane crashes and he ends up marooned on an island in the middle of nowhere. The plane crash scene is attention-grabbing and disturbingly realistic, but in a good way. A large chunk of the story is then told on the island, as we see Chuck evolve…or maybe devolve…from a harried, Type A, always on the run, white collar yuppie wannabe into a lonely, boney, grizzled survivalist. The island scenes are, in my opinion, sublime. There are long stretches with no dialogue, and it’s only the subtle, skillful craftsmanship of Tom Hanks that keeps us invested. Cast Away should be shown to every acting student in order to teach how a performer can convey so much with their eyes, small gestures, and sheer physicality. I cannot avoid spoiling things by saying that Chuck does find a way off the island after four years and is rescued. His return home is the portion of the film that is a mixed bag. On one hand I applaud the writers and director Robert Zemeckis for not giving into the temptation to give us the trite, happy ending. Kelly has moved on with her life, gotten married and had children, and that is dealt with effectively. And there is a scene where Chuck’s co-workers throw him a welcome back party complete with a smorgasbord that includes crab legs. Chuck picks one up and tosses it aside dismissively, which is absolutely exceptional. The man has just returned from a deserted island where he has eaten nothing but seafood for four years and these thoughtless jackasses put that kind of stuff on the buffet?? It is almost a throwaway moment, but for me it is one of the most memorable scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, the ending leaves something to be desired. Chuck has held onto one unopened package that washed up on the island and delivers it. The note he leaves says “this package saved my life”, which I don’t get. Maybe I am just being thick, or overanalyzing. Then he comes to a crossroads…literally. The film ends with Chuck standing in the middle of a four way road with a slight grin on his face. It’s a very odd ending that I suppose was meant to have a thoughtful, ponderous tone. Instead it just leaves me…every time I watch…thinking “That’s it??”. At any rate, the film’s shortcomings are trumped by Hanks’ unforgettable performance and its “read between the lines” commentary on the value of time and the importance of priorities. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis put on what happens after Chuck’s re-entry into civilization, but that likely would have meant shaving the amount of time spent on the island scenes, which would probably lessen the overall impact.

 

39 The Shawshank Redemption

Sometimes I wish Hollywood could figure out a way to put Morgan Freeman in every movie and television show. He automatically makes whatever he is in better. He has a certain something…call it class, or maybe gravitas…that draws the viewer in like a magnet. In 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, Freeman plays Red, a grizzled veteran of prison life and a man with “connections” who is able to get his fellow prisoners almost anything they want, which makes him an important guy. Red becomes good friends with the newly arrived Andy, played by Tim Robbins in his only notable performance outside Bull Durham. Andy has been wrongly accused and convicted of killing his wife and her lover. He begins to become an important guy like Red by tutoring fellow inmates to get their GED and helping the guards with their taxes. The warden utilizes Andy’s skills to launder kickback money. Eventually, after 20 years, Andy escapes in a unique and unforgettable way that involves a rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster, exposing the warden’s illegal schemes in the process. Not long after Red is paroled after having spent 40 years at Shawshank for a murder he did actually commit. The ending is all about hope and…well…redemption. But before we get to that ending we get realistically harsh glimpses of prison life, from brutal & crooked guards to gang rape to the suicide of an old convict who has been released but cannot function “on the outside”. The Shawshank Redemption is not light entertainment, and thus it probably ranks lower than many films of lesser quality on this list simply because it isn’t the kind of movie that one watches over and over again on a lazy rainy Saturday on one of the abundantly available cable TV channels. Or atleast it’s not the kind of movie I am going to watch that often. When I do watch stories like this my palate has to be immediately cleansed with something frivolous and optimistic. Nonetheless, Shawshank is a brilliantly written tale with a cast second to none.

 

38 Best in Show

I talked about my affection for mockumentaries when we looked at This Is Spinal Tap, and Best in Show is the funniest yet. Maybe being a dog owner enhances the experience?? I don’t know. There is a group of actors…Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, & Jennifer Coolidge…that have done several of these types of films together, all directed by Guest. The story centers around an eclectic group of dog owners all headed to the same show in Philadelphia. The show itself is a parody of the Westminster Dog Show held every spring at Madison Square Garden and The National Dog Show shown every Thanksgiving on NBC immediately following the Macy’s Parade. The owners portrayed include a redneck hound dog lover, a clueless airhead heiress engaged in the love that dare not speak its name with her dog’s lesbian trainer, an uptight yuppie couple, a middle aged Florida couple who keeps coming across men the wife has had sex with, and a humorously effeminate gay couple. We also get to meet the folks who actually produce the dog show, and the highlight is a clueless, over-the-top announcer that says things like “which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?” and “I went to one of those obedience places once. It was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts.” It’s all very absurd and that is kind of the point. There isn’t any message, no moral to the story, no lessons to be gleaned. It’s just a good time. Try this though…watch Best in Show and then watch one of the real dog shows. You will see just how perfectly the movie captures the essence of the actual event, and that’ll make the movie even funnier.

 

37 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

The parade of Christmas movies continues. Lost in New York is a sequel to 1990’s Home Alone, which we will discuss down the road. I feel safe in assuming that the vast majority of folks have seen both films. The sequel uses the same formula as the original, only changing the setting. And while that may indicate an all too prevalent lack of creativity, it is also quite logical. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?? The question I had when this film first arrived in theaters in 1992…and I am sure I was not the only one…was “How in the world can these idiotic parents accidentally ditch their kid AGAIN??” The answer is actually rather clever, the only part of the story with any originality. Once little Kevin has been separated from the pack he ends up in The Big Apple and is having a rollicking good time shacked up at the posh Plaza Hotel. But coincidentally the bumbling thieves from the first film end up in New York too, plotting to rob a toy store on Christmas Eve. Kevin discovers the plan and foils the robbery. There is an extended scene of cartoon violence just as in the first film, this time making use of an absent aunt and uncle’s currently undergoing extensive renovations home. Meanwhile the rest of the family is in Florida until the police discover that Kevin has used his Dad’s credit card in New York. The story is completely predictable and we can see the ending a mile away, but I don’t care. This is a funny movie and a holiday tradition. Is it on the same level as some of the more renowned Christmas classics?? No. I would put it a level below most of them. I could have done without the pious subplot involving the homeless pigeon lady, and the preachy toy store owner is a weak but necessary plot device. But those are small points of contention. Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern are once again sufficiently amusing as the crooks, and Rob Schneider & Tim Curry are modestly humorous as maybe the most inept hotel employees in history. The family plays its necessary part. The city itself is always an effective co-star in the myriad movies and television shows set there. I suppose my affection is, in this case, more a function of repeated viewings than possibly any other movie thus far. Lost in New York is inexplicably on random television channels throughout the year, so I have watched it a lot. I am fully aware that it isn’t high art or critically acclaimed, but it is innocuous enough and suits my tastes just fine.

 

36 Halloween

Let us segue from Christmas to Halloween. I am not a big horror guy. I just get no joy out of seeing some deranged serial killer mow through an entire cast of characters with a knife or chainsaw or other sundry instruments of doom. People who seem a bit too fascinated with blood n’ guts have a chemical makeup in their brains with which I cannot identify. That being said, Halloween is the one movie of its genre that I thoroughly enjoy and watch annually (during the appropriate season of course). Just to be clear, I am speaking of the 1978 John Carpenter original and not the fairly recent Rob Zombie “reimagining”. I haven’t seen that one yet and probably never will. Carpenter’s film introduces us to Michael Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister to death when he was six years old on Halloween night and has been in a mental institution for 15 years. He escapes…on Halloween…and returns to his hometown. In hot pursuit is the obsessed Dr. Loomis, who has been treating Michael all these years but at some point gave up because he realized the boy was “pure evil”. We also meet teenager Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in what was her first film role. Michael Myers seems to have an odd fascination with Laurie Strode and stalks her throughout the movie, killing several innocent bystanders along the way. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween is because it really isn’t all that bloody, atleast by today’s standards. The producers didn’t have much of a budget, so they rely mostly on atmosphere and ambiance, and that works really well. Halloween isn’t so much gory as it is eerie and suspenseful. The story is well written and not really all that out in left field. The use of our scariest holiday is inspired and the music is perfect. I particularly enjoy Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis. He is borderline maniacal himself in his dogged hunt for the killer. As with so many other horror films Halloween spawned countless sequels, each one progressively more ridiculous, atleast until Jamie Lee Curtis was brought back into the mix after two decades and participated in two follow-ups that basically ignored all the insipidly silly chapters that preceded them. But even those two movies couldn’t live up to the magic of the original. Sometimes the right mix of circumstances converges and we get lightning in a bottle, and it is nearly impossible to ever repeat. Such is the case with Halloween. I would be remiss if I did not mention Halloween II, which was made 3 years after the first but the story picks up exactly where the first film left off. Michael stalks Laurie in a hospital, slowly killing various nurses and staff. We eventually learn that Laurie is Michael’s younger sister and that’s why he is after her. Michael and Dr. Loomis both supposedly die at the end, but of course death is oftentimes not permanent in the slasher genre. I just cannot put Halloween II in the list, even as a backdoor tie. The violence and gore is increased noticeably and unnecessarily, and there just seems to be something missing. It is certainly much better than the countless sequels that would follow, but not on par with its predecessor. As I said, lightning in a bottle is almost never captured again.

 

 

 

The Fruits of The Spirit – Love

An old Saturday Night Live sketch (the one with the annoying head bobbing guys in rayon suits) used the (equally annoying) song “What is Love?” as its theme. The answer to that question must be answered if we are to understand the importance of love within the framework of The Word of God and why it is a Fruit of the Spirit, and the answer is complex. I cannot possibly say everything that should be said on the subject here, but I will say what I feel is important and hope that it is sufficiently fascinating to spur independent study.


For guidance we will use the Greeks as a jumping off point, one that seems valid since the Greek language was one of the three languages used to write the earliest translations of The Bible. The Old Testament had first been written in Hebrew and Aramic, while The New Testament was done in Greek.


Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word love is used:

Agape is the verb “I love” and generally refers to a pure, ideal type of love, the love of the soul, of intelligence, of reason and comprehension coupled with corresponding purpose. It represents the divine love of God toward His Son, believers, and human beings in general and is vastly superior to any other form of love. It is used to depict the outwardly focused love God expects believers to have for one another. Agape is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. We can agape others only if God has first filled us with His agape. All the other forms of love need a reaction, something in return, but agape comes from God and those that are full of it do not need a confirmation from others, being fully satisfied in the agape of the Lord.

Eros refers to sexual, erotic love or desire.

Philia means “to have ardent affection and feeling” and includes loyalty to friends, family, and community. Philia is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. It is the root of philadelphos, meaning brotherly love…..hence the nickname “City of Brotherly Love” for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a feeling that finds attraction in another person and expects a return.

Storge is the natural affection felt by parents for offspring, which is why babies are said to be delivered by the stork.

Xenia means hospitality and was an extremely important practice in Ancient Greece. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and his guest, who could previously have been strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was expected to repay only with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology, the best examples being Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.


Eros, xenia, and storge aren’t really utilized in The Bible, so we can put them on the shelf and concentrate on the other two: agape and philia. That simplifies things to the point that when we study The Word of God we just have to ask ourselves which one is being referred to in a particular passage. This is made even easier when we realize that agape is used 90% of the time and philia is used the remaining 10%. Logic would then dictate that agape is the type of love that we need to truly have a firm grasp on, although it can’t hurt to have an understanding of philia as well.


The word “God” appears in The Bible over 4000 times, the word “man” over 3000, and the word “sin” over 1000. By comparison, love or some form of the word is mentioned just over 600 times. But I don’t think the numbers paint an accurate picture. For one thing, the perfect example of God’s love is His Son Jesus Christ, who didn’t come along until the New Testament. Secondly, without explicitly saying so, many of the other expectations God has of His creation (such as the other Fruits of The Spirit that we will eventually discuss) have love as a foundation. It is difficult to forgive or honor, have faith, and be good, kind, patient, and gentle without love. Without the love of God there is no true peace and joy. So if one looks at all the other verses in The Bible in which various virtues are talked about, it should be inherently understood that love is being discussed as well.


Christ put such an emphasis on love that he told His apostles this: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you lovealso love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Two things must be highlighted from this verse. First, “to love one another” as Jesus loved us is a commandment, meaning it is on par with The Ten Commandments. In other words, as obvious as it is that we should not kill, steal, or commit adultery, it should be just as clear that we need to love. Most average folks in their right mind don’t go around shooting people or pilfering others’ stuff, and if one does do those things there is a legal and societal consequence. Why then is it so easy for us to feel malice in our hearts toward so many of our fellow human beings, to act on a daily basis with such selfishness, malevolence, and general disregard?? Secondly, Christians need to show our love because it is how we are recognized as believers, how we are set apart from “the world”, how we glorify God, how we “prove our metal”. Anyone can call themselves anything, but the proof is in the pudding. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, one thing about fruit is that it is tangible evidence that differentiates one type of tree from another. If we don’t bear fruit…..in this case, if we don’t shine the light of God’s love…..then we’re just another tree that will eventually be chopped down and burned up.


Studies have proven that pets (who provide unconditional love and companionship) can help lower blood pressure, ease loneliness, and help children overcome allergies. Heart attack patients with dogs are eight times more likely to be alive a year later than people without dogs. So if a dog or cat or bird can have such a positive effect on people, how much greater does a mutually loving relationship with God affect a person?? That’s not to say that Christians have it made in the shade, not by a long stretch. But “with God all things are possible”. I’ve never heard as good a review about what’s possible without God.


Two aspects of love that most of us really struggle with (I know I do), are the directives to “love thy enemies” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Let’s face it…..we tend not to love anyone quite as much as we love ourselves, no matter how noble we seem. And we really resist the whole enemy thing…..the concept of forgiveness may be one of the most difficult to master. Ghandi once said that “it is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends, but to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.” I couldn’t possibly state it any better. The question becomes “how do we truly forgive and love others as much as we love ourselves?”. I won’t lie…I’m still figuring that out myself on a daily basis and cannot honestly say that I am anywhere close to where I need to be. But I know a few things. I know that the aforementioned relationship with God is a necessary starting point. One doesn’t just get a PhD right out of the gate…..grade school, high school, a bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s are building blocks. We live in a drive thru society that desires an instant fix, but the truth is there are steps. We must develop a relationship with God, understand on some basic level His love for us, and show our love for Him before we can begin to love our enemies and “forgive those who trespass against us”. These are essential steps. The book of Matthew plainly states that “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”


God speaks to us through parables and miracles and various other means, but sometimes He just lays it on the line. One such case is the well known 13th chapter of Corinthians, commonly referred to as The Love Chapter. In that chapter Paul clearly articulates an easily understood definition of love:

Love is patient

Love is kind

Love does not envy

Love does not boast

Love is not proud

Love is not rude

Love is not self-seeking

Love is not easily angered

Love keeps no record of wrongs

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth

Love always protects

Love always trusts

Love always hopes

Love always perseveres

Love never fails

Just reading that list pierces my heart. I know I am not always kind and patient. I can be too prideful. As polite and mannered as I was raised to be I can still be rude. I am most certainly easily angered. I too often keep a record of wrongs. In other words, I’ve got some work to do…..how about you??


Paul prefaces that list by saying this: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” That is a very powerful statement. “Love” may not be mentioned as often as some other terms, but the passages in which it is mentioned pack a powerful punch.


Which brings me to my concluding point (and the crowd goes wild!!). Of all the verses and chapters and books in The Bible, there is one that packs such a punch that it is well known by people far and wide, whether they are Christians or not. John 3:16 says “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life”. That is the essence of love ladies and gentlemen. We were made by God, in God’s likeness, for the express purpose of glorifying God and having relationship with Him. Adam and Eve messed up in The Garden as bad as anyone has ever messed up. Did God hold a grudge?? Did God give us the cold shoulder?? Did God seek revenge?? Did God destroy us forever?? No. God did what only someone who truly loves can do…he forgave us and gave us a second chance. And not only that, but he sacrificed His Son in offering us that reprieve. If you are reading this and have children, look at them right now. If you don’t have children think of your most prized possession. If someone asked you to throw that child…or car, house, heirloom, or whatever else you may value most in your life…into a fiery pit in order to save the lives of not only loved ones, but strangers, and even those who have hurt you deeply, would you do it??


I’m a Trekkie, and Spock always espoused the maxim “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. But that’s a television show, pure fiction. Enjoyable and interesting, but fictional nonetheless. We humans tend to invert Spock’s maxim, focusing on the needs of the one fruit-aisle~s600x600(ourselves), then the few (close family and possibly a few friends), and maybe, on the rare occasion when we are feeling magnanimous and the sacrifice isn’t too harsh, there’s a chance we may care about the many. However, God’s word tells us that we shouldn’t differentiate, that we should love freely and without expectation. God’s instructions about love illustrate that Spock’s words of wisdom aren’t fiction at all.


We began with a song so we will end with one. The 80’s band The Cars had a song that said “I wanna know what love is…I want you to show me”. God has told us and shown us exactly what love is…..all we have to do is pay attention and follow his example.