Points of Ponderation…..Episode 6.13

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

I rarely comment on the deaths of various celebrities. I have a rather pragmatic view that comes directly from my father, who always says that death is part of life.  I also don’t think most celebrities are worth wasting much time & effort on, plus I believe that my RIP tribute that traditionally ends the annual Sammy Awards is an elegantly understated way to honor siskel-and-ebertthe passing of public figures who have meant something to me personally as well as the world in general. However, I want to take a moment to mention the loss of film critic Roger Ebert. The older I get the less likely I am to really care all that much about the opinions of others, but Ebert and his partner Gene Siskel (who died in 1999) were the gold standard of movie punditry when I was growing up. Now we have The Internet, with sites like Rotten Tomatoes where there is no shortage of opinions about everything that hits the theater. But in the 80’s and even into the 90’s Siskel & Ebert were pretty much it. I always enjoyed their show. They were smart, entertaining, and persuasive. They couldn’t get me to go see a movie that I had absolutely no interest in or dissuade me from seeing something I really wanted to, but if I was on the fence and not necessarily sure how I felt about a particular film then two thumbs up or two thumbs down could be quite influential. Mr. Ebert was a raging liberal who I disagreed with on many issues, but that’s par for the course and I have had to learn to put aside such differences and enjoy the talents & contributions of many who see the world differently than me. With the death of Roger Ebert I feel as if another little piece of my childhood is gone and that makes me sad.

 

So I was out & about on a lovely spring weekend and went to the mall for no apparent reason other than to get some exercise & check out the bookstore. I might have seen a movie but I was just a few minutes too late for the only one I was interested in seeing and the next showing wasn’t for four hours and I knew I wouldn’t hang out there that long. I decided hcto get a haircut even though I didn’t necessarily need one just yet. The place was packed because there were a couple of local proms that night and several young ladies were getting all curled & styled. I signed in and left for a bit then came back. As I sat there I kept wondering how far down the list they’d gotten and was struck with another million dollar idea. Big hairstyling places need to be like the DMV where you are issued a number and when that number comes up it shows on a digital board along with a voiceover that says ‘Now serving number…”. When my time finally came (after a half hour of waiting once I’d returned) I was conversing with my stylist about how busy they were and she informed me that eventually they would be getting a system wherein you could go traipsing about the mall and they’d text you when it was your turn, which I think is an even better idea than mine. I suppose they might have that technology in some big cities already, which means it may arrive here in West Virginia sometime in the next couple of decades.

 

God help me, but I have been unsubscribing from friends on Facebook who do nothing but post about their wonderful hbspouse or significant other. I know that is awful. But when I am sitting at home every night without so much as a phone call from anyone outside of my Dad I just can’t seem to get jazzed about the love lives of people far less lonely than me.

 

One of the things I do on a daily basis is check out various news sites…CNN, FoxNews, Drudge, USA Today, etc….to, as I tell Rocco, see what’s going on in the world. During one of those recent online expeditions I was kind of surprised but not really (if that makes any sense) to see it trumpeted as newsworthy that NBC Today reporterette Jenna Wolfe is “having a baby” with her lesbian lover (also an NBC news “journalist”). First of all, who cares?? Millions of people have babies every day. It’s not news. And neither bridegroom-aisleWolfe nor her “partner” are famous enough for anyone to give a damn. But more interestingly to me was the fact that two lesbians “having a baby” (I’m sure there is sperm involved in this somehow but of course the story conveniently left that part out) is seen as something to celebrate in 21st century New America. Look, do your thing. Live your life. Sleep with whomever you please. Wallow in whatever kind of deviant lifestyle you choose. But if people are going to constantly berate Christians for trying to “shove our beliefs down other peoples’ throats” then please do not be so hypocritical as to publically rejoice in your sinful choices that go directly against the Word of God. I am not easily offended but I get a little sick & tired not just of the wayward path America is following but the fact that so many are so brazenly, gleefully, boldly taking that path while looking at those of us who embrace traditional, Godly principles as if we are the crazy ones.

 

The suits at NBC have confirmed the rumors. Next year Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show. I do like the factJimmy Fallon-SGY-008669 that they are keeping Fallon in New York. They aren’t retiring The Tonight Show name as I suggested, but I didn’t really expect that to happen. I am sure that Leno will land on his feet, whether that means fading into obscurity or getting a show on another network. Word on the street is that SNL’s Seth Myers will get the 12:30am Late Night gig and I suppose that is a safe if uninspired choice. Now CBS…it’s your turn. David Letterman hasn’t been funny for a few years now and it may be time to give him a gentle nudge out the door.

 

I like cereal. I’m not quite on the Seinfeld level yet where I have a dozen or more boxes in my kitchen, but I usually have 2 or 3 atleast. I have been trying to eat a bit healthier so I lean toward high fiber, low fat varieties, although being the minimalist that I am my favorite…as it has been since I was a kid…is Rice Krispies. Anyway, I was fixing myself a bowl one day and began pondering packaging. The package that several products come in has evolved over the course of my lifetime. Not only is milk no longer delivered straight to one’s door but it also doesn’t come in glass bottles anymore. Ditto for glass bottles of cereal cola. The beloved silver foil that Ho-Ho’s used to come in disappeared decades before Ho-Ho’s themselves vanished from supermarket shelves. McDonald’s…bowing to pressure from environmentalist wackos…eliminated Styrofoam in favor of simple paper or cardboard years ago. When I was a kid we had to drink water from the faucet, but now it comes in handy dandy bottles. I remember my mom coming home from the store with big ol’ brown paper bags. Now all your groceries are packed in plastic bags at the checkout counter, although once again the environmentalists are trying to persuade everyone to convert to permanent cloth bags. At any rate, what I am wondering is why cereal packaging hasn’t advanced?? Cereal comes in a transparent plastic bag which is then placed inside of a rectangular cardboard box. If one doesn’t tear open the cardboard just right (and I never do) the little tabs they put in place to enable one to reclose the box is useless. And if one doesn’t tear open the inner plastic correctly then the cereal doesn’t pour out right and can potentially end up all over the place. I find this troubling and am calling upon some enterprising soul to fix the problem. Yet another million dollar idea I am offering up free of charge.

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..11-15

Okay…so I know it’s only August, but today you get two holiday films, with both Christmas and Thanksgiving being represented. It is also another tribute to the genius of John Hughes, as three of his movies show up. I want to take this opportunity to thank my loyal readers who have stuck with this series in the year since it began. When I originally envisioned it I had no idea it would take over a year. I suppose I did not realize I would have so many other things to write about, but I believe that to be a good thing. Enjoy.

 


15 Office Space

I have to give a shout out to a former co-worker of mine, Brad, who brought Office Space into my consciousness somewhere around 2002-ish. Somehow I had missed it when it was originally in theaters in 1999 but I wasn’t alone. Office Space has become a cult classic thanks to home video and television, not because anyone went to their local cineplex and paid $7 to see it. They didn’t. Anyhow, for me the timing of my introduction to this movie was perfect. Brad and I were both supervisors at a despicable telemarketing company at the time, and the plight of Peter, Samir, Milton, Michael Bolton, and the rest of the gang resonated on a myriad of levels. I had never…and still haven’t…read the Milton cartoons, but I was intrigued by the fact that the film’s director is Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis & Butt-head. I was a huge fan of Beavis & Butt-head in college. Needless to say, Office Space does not resemble Beavis & Butt-head in the least, but it is somewhat surprising that Judge has not had wider success on the big screen. Office Space is a look at the day-to-day grind at a software engineering company and focuses on Peter, a miserable white-collar worker bee who realizes that “Ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.” Now tell me…who among us hasn’t had a similar thought pattern at one time or another?? I would feel safe in betting that the vast majority of the working population aren’t spending 9-5 at their dream job and that in many ways a lot of people are somewhere along the scale of unfulfilled, unhappy, or downright miserable. And that’s just in their professional life. But this is a movie, so unlike real folks Peter stumbles onto an escape. During some sort of wacky couples therapy he is hypnotized to basically quit giving a damn, but the therapist keels over dead before Peter is completely brought out of his trance. The next day Peter feels happy and relaxed, without a care in the world. Hilarity ensues. The ensemble cast is superb. Peter’s best work buds are Samir, a man of Indian descent who is frustrated by people who cannot pronounce his name, and Michael Bolton, a guy who liked his name until he was 12 when “that no-talent assclown became famous and started winning Grammys.” They work with an eclectic group of oddballs, including muttering milquetoast Milton, who has an odd attachment to his stapler and who was actually laid off years ago but no one ever told him and a glitch in accounting keeps the paychecks coming, Tom, who invents a Jump to Conclusions board game that he hopes will be the next Pet Rock, and Lumbergh, the annoying, clueless, oblivious, hilarious boss that we all have had in one form or another. Along the way Peter gets a new gal pal, a waitress at a chain restaurant who hates her job as much as Peter hates his, interacts with a nosy neighbor whose biggest desire is to have a threesome, gets promoted by The Bobs, efficiency experts who love his frank directness & blunt honesty, and hatches a plan to slowly embezzle money from the company in a way that won’t be noticed. It’s all very absurd yet vaguely familiar, and if you’ve ever had a job you’ll appreciate Office Space as I do.


14 Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

The world’s best Thanksgiving movie, hands down. I suppose there isn’t much competition, but nevertheless Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is a great film. With the combined talents of Steve Martin and John Candy, not to mention uber writer/director/producer John Hughes, how could it not be?? Martin is Neal Page, an uptight advertising executive trying to get from NY City to Chicago in time to have turkey with the family. Candy is Del Griffith, an unkempt salesman who’s a wee bit too extroverted. He is also making the trek from The Big Apple to The Windy City. Unfortunately for both men the journey is far from smooth, with snowstorms, flight cancellations, train derailments, and a plethora of other humorous mishaps turning a short 3 hour trip into a 3 day adventure from Hell, atleast for Neal who just wants to be left alone but can’t seem to shake gregarious Del. As with most Hughes films, the fun is underlined with a slight hint of pathos, but not so much that it becomes mawkish, atleast until the last 5 minutes. But I am willing to overlook the last 5 minutes because of all the goodness that precedes them. Edie McClurg, known to audiences as the secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and an ever present nosy neighbor in the short lived 80’s sitcom The Hogan Family, has a very memorable cameo role in this movie that singlehandedly takes the rating from PG to R. I am not advocating foul language, but this scene is undeniably funny and belongs in the pantheon of great moments in film. Other than that the supporting cast is inconsequential because the two stars carry the well written story all by themselves. What might have been a typical, formulaic, clichéd “buddy flick” or “road trip movie” is taken to a whole new level in the capable hands of Hughes, Martin, and Candy. It is a shame that the two actors never did anything else together because they make a great duo. In his review of Planes, Trains, & Automobiles critic Roger Ebert said “The movies that last, the ones we return to, don’t always have lofty themes or Byzantine complexities. Sometimes they last because they are arrows straight to the heart”. This is so true, as we are able to see much of ourselves in the foibles of both Del and Neal, as well as the predicaments they share. But above all else we laugh, and as anyone who has read this list thus far knows that is what I like to do and what I prefer in the movies I watch. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become as much a part of my Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, and the Macy’s Parade, and I would happily counsel anyone to follow suit.

 

13 National Lampoon’s Vacation

Thus far there have been 4 Vacation flicks (and no…I’m not counting that God awful made-for-TV deal they did a few years ago). The second, European Vacation, was forgettable. The fourth, Vegas Vacation, was lazy, ill-conceived, and disappointing. The third, Christmas Vacation, will be discussed at a later time. But nearly 30 years after it first hit theaters the original Vacation is a bona fide classic that has aged surprisingly well. My family was never the vacationing type. The funds just weren’t there, so we took what my Dad calls “The Old Italian Vacation”…a week on the front porch and a week on the back porch. Those of you that have had the opportunity to take a lot of family trips may identify more closely with Vacation than I do, but that doesn’t mean us homebodies can’t appreciate the uproarious misadventures of the Griswold clan. Chevy Chase stars as patriarch Clark, a food additives manufacturer in suburban Chicago. Clark loves his family and wants to take the wife, Ellen, and his two young teenagers, Rusty and Audrey, on a summer vacation. The destination?? California’s Walley World, an obvious nod to Disneyland. But instead of hopping on an airplane Clark decides that he wants to “drive the tribe cross-country” because “getting there is half the fun”. Thankfully the viewers are the ones having all the fun, as the trip is one calamity after another. It begins before the family even makes it out of town, with a shady car salesman tricking the obtuse Clark into buying The Queen Family Truckster, a horrific pea green wagon with way too much imitation wood paneling, 8 headlights, and an air bag that looks like it came out of the kitchen trash can. The Truckster looks like The Exorcist threw up on The Brady Bunch, and the dealer hysterically says “You may think you hate it now, but wait ’til you drive it” . Along the trek westward the family gets lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, getting their car spray painted and their hubcaps stolen…barely survives Clark falling asleep at the wheel…rouses the entire sleeping population of a small motel when Clark goes skinny dipping with a Ferrari driving babe played by model Christie Brinkley…and makes the mistake of visiting Ellen’s redneck cousin in Kansas. That cousin is married to an even bigger buffoon than Clark. Eddie is a great caricature of lowbrow Welfare culture, and his kids are a chip off the old block. One of them has a box full of pot under her bed and tells Audrey that she French kisses and that “Daddy says I’m the best at it”. The older son, in response to Rusty’s indignation that there are no video games or other modern forms of entertainment, shows his cousin a large porn collection and explains the joy of…self pleasure. Then there is Aunt Edna, who hates Clark for some unknown reason and is in need of a ride to Arizona to go live with her son. Throwing Aunt Edna…and her vicious dog…into the mix just adds to the merriment, and her ultimate fate may be the highlight of the film. Needless to say The Griswolds eventually make it to Walley World, but that too has a fantastic comedic twist. I would probably not be going too far out on a limb to assume that few who saw Vacation when it hit theaters realized what a gem they were seeing and that we’d still be watching all these years later. Part of the credit once again has to go to John Hughes, who wrote the screenplay based on his vacation adventures as a child. I am hearing rumors that a franchise rebirth is in the works, with a grown up Rusty taking his own family on a wacky vacation. One can only hope that it is a properly funny offspring of its predecessor and that we may be discussing it wistfully in three decades.

 

12 Home Alone

The final part of today’s John Hughes three-peat is also another Christmas movie. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I cannot believe it has been 20 years since little Kevin McCallister was ditched by his family and had to fend off bumbling burglars with hilarious cartoon violence. 1990 was the year I graduated high school and entered college, so it is a very special moment in my life. Viewers had gotten a small dose of MaCaulay Caulkin the year before in Uncle Buck, but in Home Alone he takes center stage as an 8 year old boy inadvertently left sleeping while his family jets off to Paris for Christmas vacation. Now I have to admit, the setup is a bit improbable if only because Kevin’s family includes parents, siblings, cousins, and an aunt & uncle. One can realistically conceive of one or two people forgetting a small child…but upwards of 8-10 people?? One has to suspend disbelief a lot to buy into it, but I will give due credit…the writing is just clever enough that we do buy it. Kevin is doing just fine taking care of himself despite being afraid of an old neighbor fella who, local legend has it, is a serial killer and also getting a little freaked out by the furnace in the basement. Meanwhile, Kevin’s Mom is frantically trying to get back to Chicago to save her poor little crumb cruncher, with little help from local law enforcement or the airline industry. While all this is happening the McCallister’s neighborhood is being cased by Harry & Marv, two inept thieves calling themselves The Wet Bandits. Kevin fools them for awhile, but soon enough they figure out that he is…yes…you guessed it…home alone. Kevin overhears them plotting their pillage of his homestead and decides to fight back. Of course in the real world would a little kid stand a chance against two grown men?? Obviously not. But this is a movie, and Kevin takes care of business quite nicely. There are Hughes’ trademark moments of poignancy and sentimentality, but for the most part the story is ever so slightly edgy. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern acquit themselves just fine as the clueless crooks, and the family does their part in driving the plot. But make no mistake…Home Alone is all about MacCaulay Culkin. I don’t know how or where John Hughes found him, but I’m glad he did. Hindsight tells us that Culkin was like a brand new car being driven off the lot and immediately beginning to lose value…his star would never quite shine so brightly again. But to millions of viewers every Christmas season, for a brief moment in time, he is and will continue to be that cute, innocent, funny 8 year old boy. Home Alone is required viewing in my household every November & December, and I would encourage anyone to make it part of their holiday tradition as well.

 

11 The Passion of the Christ

I really struggled in deciding where this movie would fall in the countdown. On the one hand, it is not entertainment and was never meant to be. One does not sit down with a cold beverage and a bowl of popcorn on a lonely Saturday night and decide to pop in The Passion of the Christ. However, I do feel like it is an important movie that everyone, especially those purporting themselves to be Christians, need to watch occasionally. The story should be familiar to almost everyone. It is the story of Jesus Christ, His earthly ministry in the company of 12 apostles, His pursuit, capture, crucifixion, and resurrection. The plot and most of the dialogue is taken directly out of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Director Mel Gibson makes some interesting choices, especially having all the dialogue in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. I am not usually a fan of films with subtitles, but using the original languages for this film was a brilliant decision and makes the story that much more beautiful. The movie generated a lot of controversy when it was released in 2004, but that is par for the course in modern day America. Everything Muslim is cool, along with wacky Hollywood “religions” like Kabbalah and Scientology, but we dare not promote anything positive about Christianity. People complained about possible anti-Semitism because of the inference that Jews killed Jesus. Well guess what?? They did. But folks forget that Jesus Himself was a Jew and the fact that He was put to death by other Jews does not mean that we are to hate the Jewish people or that The Bible teaches that. It was all much ado about nothing. As a matter of fact, as a Christian I know that Jesus died for all of our sins including mine, so when I watch The Passion I am haunted by the thought that I did that…I am responsible for the violent flogging and crucifixion of Christ, and it convicts me tremendously. Bleeding hearts also whined about the violent nature of the film, as if they believe that Jesus was lightly spanked with a feather. The violence is what makes the film work, and I give kudos to Gibson for not holding back. The Passion of the Christ is not easy to watch. The first time I saw it I sat in the theater for about 20 minutes after the credits rolled, unable to move. Nothing I have ever seen outside the death of my own mother has ever rocked my world so deeply. I have seen it a few more times in the ensuing years, but as I said, it isn’t light entertainment that one watches for fun. I do implore every single person who has never seen it to watch atleast once though. It is an experience you will never forget.