Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doomsday House


Not all that far from Dallas, someone has erected a very large, very ornate fountain. Right now, it looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s not exactly nowhere, but it is Fannin county, which isn’t a well-known county* to people who don’t currently live there.

A flat field with wind turbines located nowhere near Ector, TX
The fountain, according to this article (here) is the first step in a planned development for people who want to spend a whole lot of money to ride out an apocalypse.  And I mean a lot of money. The builders of the complex expect to spend $330 million on this place, then sell individual lots/bunkers to rich people who think they’ll be able to use it when disaster hits. As the article states, there are other places like this going up all over, including one in Kansas you may have seen on the news recently where they have taken over an old missile silo and are breaking it up into high-end bunkers, complete with butlers and chefs.

Now, I’m all for capitalism, but I think PT Barnum had these particular capitalists in mind when he said, “The circus doesn’t open until tonight, kid.” Wait, the Barnum quote I meant to insert here was, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

I’m not addressing this from a religious or metaphysical standpoint (though I may later on in this paper if what first drove me to write this blog doesn’t generate enough words), but merely from a practical standpoint. The above-referenced bunker-condos are located near the town of Ector, TX, which if Google maps is any indication, lays across the countryside about 71.8 miles from Dallas, less from such northeastern suburbs as Plano or Garland, but still at least half an hour away.

So let’s say you’re a Dallas millionaire, living in one of those tony areas like Highland Park or a motel on Harry Hines, and the early warning sirens go off. Let me be frank: you are not going to get to your bunker in or near Ector before the bomb lands even if you have a helicopter. For one thing, all the other rich people are going to have their helicopters in the air and you’re probably going to collide somewhere over Richardson and then fry in the radiation while plummeting to the ground.

That silo in Kansas? It’s not near anything, let alone a big city. If the word comes down that a bomb is also coming down, you’re cooked before the chef can fix you anything. If you have to drive to one of these places … well, let’s just say the only way they’re going to protect you is if you’re already there when whatever the disaster is happens.

Some of my thinking is because I was in high school in the 1980s. Back then, we were sure the Russians were going to nuke us at any moment. Being in Abilene, Texas, as we were, with Dyess Air Force Base just outside town, we all assumed that—in the event of nuclear war—we were all going to be baked to a crisp in the first volley. In fact, we were told in school as if it were fact (and why not?) that if the early warning sirens ever went off, we had 26 minutes before the nuclear blast gave us all instant and irreversible suntans.

Another place, even further away from Ector, but this one is
of the place where my novel is set.
While the Russians still have nukes, as do the Chinese--and the Norks are on the verge of having them--I get the sense that what worries these modern “preppers” (as they’re called in the vernacular) is a much slower-moving apocalypse, like a plague or an invasion or a volcano (see my book on surviving a volcano here). In which case(s), these rich preppers will have Jeeves ring up the helly and pop on out to the country, where Jeeves 2.0 (who can bother to learn all those names?!?!), will have a hot meal and a bath ready upon landing.

Pardon me for being skeptical that this will work out. Not only are such events notoriously hard to predict, when/if one does come, I still think it will be so sudden that most preparation will have been for naught. The only people those bunkers will save will be the people who happened to be there the day the disaster hits because they go out there a couple times a year anyway just to see the hole they threw their money down. (These people will then, of course, brag to the 3 other survivors about how they knew something was coming and how it was their wits that allowed them to survive when the hoi peloi have all passed deservedly away.)

Speaking of which (I’m expanding on the parenthetical statement from the last paragraph), many of these facilities also offer DNA storage  in case (I’m not kidding) someone in the future has the technology to clone you. Really, it’s probably just so they’ll have a DNA sample with which to identify your charred remains from amongst the helicopter wreckage.

The literature and sales pitches are designed to make one think that, with the purchase of one of these plots (I use that word intentionally), the purchaser has secured some sort of long-term security for themselves and/or their families. The reality is that the only people securing anything like near-long-term security are the people selling these places. They’ll make their money and retire to some place where they can live comfortably, comfortable in the comfortable idea that they will remain comfortable until either they die a natural death or the apocalypse comes and everyone else dies with them.

Honestly, I think the real purpose of owning a space in one of these places is for the same reason you’d buy that house in California with a life-size statue of the Airwolf helicopter on the roof: so you can tell your friends. It’s not going to save your life, it’s not going to prolong your life, but you can tell your friends—especially those who don’t have a doomsday bunker—that you have a hidey-hole you will no way in hole ever get to use for its intended purpose.

Finally, do I have a moral or spiritual objection to this whole concept? After all, wasn’t Noah the ultimate doomsday prepper? Yes, but with one crucial difference from all the other ones: God told him to do it! Now, I know there are probably people in these modern locations who claim God is telling them to do this, but until the animals start showing up at their door by twos (or 7s, in the case of hooved, edible animals [go read Genesis]), I’m going to think they’re just kooks.

My spiritual objection to this concept is one that I think we all battle, though we don’t have the money to do it on the scale of these doomers: the idea that with the right materials we can save ourselves. We can’t. Even if you ride out the volcano, you’ll still die. Just as dead as the homeless person who died in an old refrigerator box under a freeway on a cold night. To buy a spot in any of these places, you better have a good credit rating; but all that really matters is whether Jesus is your Lord and Savior. All the rest is just cardboard.


* Why is anything in Texas named after Fannin?!? His incompetence cost the lives of several hundred Texans and lost the town of Goliad.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My 101 Favorite Movies of All Time, 1-10

If you've been following along here (of course you have), or have ever met me in person, you have probably guessed what my all-time favorite movie is. You may have been curious what the other members of the top 9 are. Now's you're chance to learn!

To heighten the “interest” or “excitement”, I've decided to “build up” to the “climax”.

10. Cars
The newest movie on this list, Pixar's “Cars” hit the theaters in the summer of 2006. I remember going with a group from our adult Sunday school class to see a flick that (like all Pixar movies), had been advertised with a trailer that told us nothing as to what the movie would be about. So I went because friends had invited me and … the next day I took my sons to see it. And then I think I saw it at least one more time in the theater and bought it the day it came out on DVD. The visuals were (and still are) amazing, there were a slew of quotable lines (of both the pithy and humorous variety) but it was the story that really won me over. Self-centered Lightning McQueen gets stuck on Route 66 in Hillbilly Hell and finds humility, friendship and—except that they're all cars—humanity.
“I'm a pre-cision instrument of speed and aeromatics.”
Am I saying there hasn't been a movie this good in the last 11 years? Yes. Yes I am.

9. The Great Waldo Pepper
Directed, produced and co-written by George Roy Hill (who actually has another movie on this list: “Funny Farm” [#50]), it's the story of the second-best pilot to come out of World War One. When the movie starts, we find Waldo hopping from town to town in his bi-plane, giving rides to locals (for cash) and telling stories of what it was like to fly in the great war. He especially likes to tell about the time he had Ernst Kessler—the greatest German pilot—in his sights, but his guns jammed. Meanwhile, Waldo and his friends (and competitors) are determined to be the first pilot to complete an outside loop—if the newly formed FAA will let them stay up in the air.
Look for a very unconvincing mannequin to make a cameo appearance as a young Susan Sarandon.
“Go get 'im Waldo!”

8. Jeremiah Johnson
This movie only has about fifty lines, but almost every one of them is quotable. “March is a muddy month down below.” “Winter's a long time goin' this high up.” “Elk don't know how many feet a horse have!” and “Some say you're dead because of this. Some say you never will die, because of this.” I could go on and on. “I told my mam and pap I was gonna be a mountain man. They acted like they was gut shot!” See? Once started, I can't stop. Another one of those movies where there's hardly a wasted shot. And so much beautiful scenery it's like taking a 2 hour vacation just to watch it.
“Hawk, headin' for the Musselshell. It'd take me two weeks ridin' to get there and he'll be there in … hell, he's there already.”

7. Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back
Very few sequels live up to their progenitor, but “Empire” came closer than any other sequel in movie history. From the snow-covered plains of Hoth to the snake-infested swamp of Dagobah and the wispy clouds of Bespin, this one picked up right where the first one left off stylistically and action-wise (give or take a few years, not like the fifteen minute gap between “Rogue One” [#15] and “A New Hope” [#4]). Rather than just recreating the characters, “Empire” allowed the characters to grow and change.
Now, why was Luke any competition at all to Vader in their lightsabre duel? Did the light side of the force exude some kind of dampening field that slowed Vader down? Was Vader just getting old? Or maybe, deep down, Vader didn't actually want to kill his son?
“I know.”

6. Snowball Express
My favorite Disney movie ever! Dean Jones plays Johnny Baxter, a New York insurance guy who inherits a hotel in Silver Hills, Colorado (portrayed by Crested Butte, CO) so he quits everything in NY and heads west, reluctant family in tow. Once in Silver Hills, they find that the hotel is just above a shambles and the local banker would—for reasons unknown—like to get the hotel from Baxter. Even though this movie was made after Walt himself passed away, it's filled with the humor he was famous for. A chase scene, a couple tear-up scenes, a family that sticks together. You could call it formulaic, but this is one of those cases where the formula comes out just right, like that one “cake from a box mix” that turned out better than all the others.
“I need a bank loan.”
“You caught me at a bad time.”

5. The Natural
Robert Redford's third movie in my top ten and my second-favorite baseball movie of all time. Roy Hobbs, “the best there ever was”, gets sidetracked on the way to greatness by a crazy lady with a gun. Years later, before he's too old (a marker he has already passed in the minds of the coaches) Roy shows up in the dugout for the New York Knights, a “dead from the neck up ball team”. It takes a while, but eventually the coach is reluctantly forced to put Roy in the lineup and history is made. Loosely based on the Bernard Malamud book by the same name, but with a way more upbeat ending, my wife and I watch this movie every year, usually near World Series time.
Randy Newman (“Short People”) composed the score for two of the movies in my top 10: this and “Cars”. Both are soundtracks I listen to frequently—especially while driving.
“Don't look back, Max! You should never look back!”
“I think we all have two lives: the one we learn with, and the one we live with after that.”

4. The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring
When this movie came out, I was 36 years old and had read The Lord of the Rings probably ten times. I didn't think any movie could do justice to the books, but I decided to give it a try. The only actor in the movie who looks anything like how I pictured him in the books is Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, and Frodo is no where near what I pictured, but THIS MOVIE BLEW ME AWAY!! I still love it and I still watch it at least once a year (as well as read the books approximately every other year)—which then leads to watching the other 5 movies, usually within the next 5 weeks.
There are some changes from the books, but it's also amazing how much of the books Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens included. So much of the dialogue in this movie (and the other two in the LOTR trilogy) is directly from the books—even if sometimes it's lifted from a different part of the book from where it appears in the movie(s).
“I don't suppose we'll ever see them again, Sam.”
“We may, Mister Frodo, we may.”

3. Star Wars – A New Hope
1977 and I went to see this movie I had never heard of on the first day it appeared in Abilene, TX, because my sister and her husband had seen it a couple days before in California and told my parents they thought I would like it. Like it? I was enthralled! I ate it, slept it, breathed it. I've read most of the “Star Wars” novels, all of the making of books, hundreds of the comic books, watch the other movies (and TV shows) regularly … but the first one is still the best.
For better and worse, this movie changed the movie-going experience in a myriad of ways. The special effects, the toys, the first run that stayed in the theater for a year in some places. All things we're used to now (except for lasting that long in the theater), but were a new phenomena back then. And it all comes down, really, to the story: Young man makes his way into the world, meets some unlikely friends, and deals the decisive blow in the battle against evil.
I would also like to point out something Lucas and company did here (that I should have mentioned in conjunction with “Return of the Jedi”) that so many other sci-fi franchises have never caught on to: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) was presented as smart first and pretty second. Didn't even get around to sexy until the third movie. A standard (and annoying, to me) trope of almost all other sci-fi franchises is to establish the females as sexy first, then surprise us later with smart. Kudos to George and Carrie for doing it right.
“I think you overestimate their chances.”

2. Field of Dreams
When I heard that a movie was coming out based on the book Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella, I called my then-fiance and said we ought to go see it. She had never heard of either the movie or the book, and when I described it to her she was pretty dubious. “A guy builds a baseball diamond in his corn field and dead ball players come back to play on it?” But she went (probably just because she loved me) and we both fell in love with the 2nd-greatest movie of all time. I would see it several more times in the theater (at least once more with her, and once with my best man on the night before my wedding) and I couldn't wait to buy the VHS tape, and then the DVD.
I think of movies in terms of color palates somewhere in the back of my mind, and “Field of Dreams” moreso than most: green. But not just any green. The green of an outfield on a summer's day. The green of cornstalks taking the place of an outfield fence. The green of spring and renewal itself.
An almost perfect movie that some have tried to read deep spiritual meaning into, I think it clicks for me because it's really just about fathers and sons playing catch. All else—what's in the corn? Is it heaven?—is subsumed to the simple picture of a father playing catch with his kids.
“You guys are guests in my corn!!”

1. It’s a Wonderful Life
THE greatest movie ever made and the only item that deserves consideration if a new Council of Nicea ever convenes to discuss adding to the canon, “It's a Wonderful Life” is Frank Capra's and Jimmy Stewart's masterpiece (heck, it's cinema's masterpiece). What can I tell you about it that you don't already know? George Bailey (Stewart) is the brightest young man in Bedford Falls, but it looks like he'll never get out of his hometown. Every time he tries, he gets sucked back in. He's got a great (and beautiful) wife (Donna Reed), four sweet kids, and a house that barely leaks anymore, but he feels like a failure. Intervention of the divine nature comes George's way one Christmas Eve and George finally realizes just how much his life—and any life—is worth.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, this movie had fallen through the cracks as far as copyright renewal so any channel could show it any time they wanted. This led to its being broadcast almost 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This was not good for me because I could hardly stumble across it but what I would stop and watch to the end. I still watch it at least once a year—usually in the week before Christmas, but sometimes elsewhere in the year as well—and the ending still makes me mist up.

“To my big brother George: the richest man in town!”


To see what movies show up in slots 11-20, click here.
To slog through the whole list, go here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This World Is Not My Home


“How’re you doing these days?”

“Better above the ground than below it!”

Everyone chuckles.

If the second person in that conversation is a Christian, though, I have to wonder if they’ve fully researched their topic.

We used to sing a hymn that went, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through … “ Have we forgotten that? I’m all for modern medicine and am amazed at some of the things doctors and nurses can do nowadays, but have we (or I, maybe I shouldn’t put this all on you) gotten so attached to holding onto this life that we forget not only that it’s temporary, but for the child of God, the next life is going to be way better?*

Hymns aren’t exactly canon, though, so think about what Paul said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Paul wasn’t in a hurry to die. By that, I mean he wasn’t suddenly jumping into traffic or cutting his wrists with a pocket knife. But he was looking forward to heaven.

As a hospice chaplain, I’m around death all the time. Some people look at my job and say, “I couldn’t do that. It’d be too depressing.” (I usually think that about their jobs, too.) Sometimes it is depressing, but more often it’s not. It’s not all about loss. There are so many great moments where a family, even among their tears, can cheer a life well led, or rejoice in the fact that their loved one is now where they wanted to be (in heaven).

The saddest moments are when the person passes away and some family member (or maybe all of them) don’t know where she/he went. Did they go to heaven? Hell? Is there a heaven? I think the very saddest ones, at least for me, are those cases where the patient on hospice has a relationship with God and is confident where they’re going, but they have a child or friend who has not found that assurance. In some cases, the patient has tried all their life to share their faith with that person and they are worried that it has fallen on deaf ears.

Me, I’ll keep on singing. And sometimes I’ll do it in Bugs Bunny’s voice: “Dis woild is not me home, I’m just a-passin’ true … “

* Where did we get the idea that heaven would be us sitting around on clouds and playing harps? John Bunyan makes a point of that in “Pilgrim’s Progress”, but it’s not really Scriptural.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My 101 Favorite Movies of All Time – 11-20

Making this list (and the similar list of my favorite TV shows), I started wondering if I could do a similar list of favorite songs. The answer is no.

Not that I don't like music, but there's a tie for #1 between “Hotel California” by the Eagles and “King of Hearts” by Randy Stonehill. After that? Who knows. My “favorites” playlist includes close to 200 songs—and I'm constantly changing it—so there's no way I could number them. And as subject as this list is to change, other than those top two, my favorite songs list would change during the playing of each song.

Aren't-cha glad I've decided not to write out that list? (I know I am.)

So anyway, here's the penultimate section of my list of 101 favorite movies.

11. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Up until 2006, this movie was sitting in the top ten. According to legend, George Lucas and Steven Speilberg were sitting on a beach in Hawaii, trying to avoid the news and decompress, when George pitched an idea he had: let's do a swashbuckling movie such as Hollywood used to make, but with modern technology. So eventually, they teamed up with Lawrence Kasdan (the writer) and Harrison Ford (the star), and history was made. One of those movies where I practically have all the words memorized but I can still watch it (and a smile will soon appear on my face).
Harrison Ford is and has been great as Indiana Jones, but as a fan of Tom Selleck I hope some day in an alternate universe we get to see what it would have been like with Selleck in the lead.

12. Casablanca
Casablanca is one of those movies I had heard about for all my life but hadn't actually sat down to watch until I was in my mid-thirties. From the beginning, I was hooked! Perfect writing, excellent acting, and not a wasted shot in the movie. And no, it does not contain the line I have heard all my life: “Play it again, Sam.” But, man! There is a LOT of cigarette smoke in this movie!!
One of the things I love about this movie (and a lot of old movies) is that they had to hold to the Harris code and there were just some things they couldn't show. Watch this movie and tell me what Rick and Ilsa did in his apartment? Did they go to to bed? Did they talk all night? You can make a pretty good case either way, based on given clues. But if this movie were made today, we would be subjected to a graphic depiction of the two of them in bed. I contend that the ambiguity makes for a better movie.

13. The Great Escape
The Third Reich attempts to put all of their escape artists in one, supposedly escape-proof, prison camp. The prisoners concoct an ambitious and elaborate plan to break 200 of the inmates out of the camp and cause havoc all over Germany while trying to get back to the west and rejoin the fight. 76 of the Allied prisoners made it out, 3 eventually made it to freedom, 23 were returned to the camp … and 50 were re-captured then murdered in a mass war crime by the Nazis. If this sounds too bleak, you haven't seen the movie! It's a triumphant movie about man's indomitable spirit.
This movie is based on (and follows pretty closely) the real events detailed in the book of the same name by former prisoner Paul Brickhill. Some characters are composites and the time-line is condensed in places, but over-all it's one of Hollywood's more faithful retellings of a real event. [With one notable exception. There were no Americans in the real “great escape” because the Americans had already been moved out of the camp after 4 American POWs escaped through an audacious tunnel in the early days of the camp.] Some of the actors in the movie were actual prisoners of war and were said to have had nightmares over the realism of the sets.

14. Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King
One of the most beautiful and majestic films ever made, Return of the King is the real (and perfect) ending to the Tolkien saga. I watch this movie (and, actually, the whole 6-movie saga) at least once a year, and I love seeing it in the pristine format of HD, but if I could travel back in time I would love to go back to that anticipation of seeing it on the big screen for the first time. Fellowship of the Ring (#4) two years before, then waiting a year to see The Two Towers (#38), by the time this finally came to the theater, I was at a fever pitch. And then I would see it four times in the theater (and if I could do it again, I'd go see it on that big screen again). Another soundtrack I listen to frequently, and I've already requested that “Into the West” be played at my funeral.
I don't have one quote or moment from this movie that sticks in my mind (they all do!), so if I could, I would embed some of the music.

15. Star Wars – Rogue One
The best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back (#7), this is my favorite movie of the last eleven years. The crazy thing is, we knew going in that all of the characters in this movie were going to die (otherwise wouldn't they have shown up somewhere else in the saga?), yet we still wound up caring about them. Rogue One features numerous nods to the rest of the series (even The Ghost from the Star Wars Rebels TV show shows up!), but it doesn't seem like a retread of old Star Wars stories (like some other movie I won't mention here [#95]). Felicity Jones was a fantastic casting choice in the mold of Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley: very pretty, but also real women who you might actually meet in real life (not plastic super-models). [See my note on the next movie.]
Jimmy Smits doesn't have a big part in this movie (and rumor has it he was a late addition), but his work alone moves this film from “great” to “spectacular”.
I only have two quibbles with this movie: 1] when Cassian “disguises” himself as an imperial officer he should have shaved, because all other un-helmeted Imperials are clean-shaven; and 2] like trying to eat just one potato chip, I can't watch this movie and not watch at least the opening of A New Hope.

16. Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith
The best movie of the prequels (see #s 45 & 54), we finally got to see how sweet little Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. It wasn't just one event. It was the war, his upbringing, his mentor, and even some intransigence on the part of the Jedi. Two things that both bookend this movie and bump it so high on my list are the incredible space battle at the beginning and the lightsabre duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
For the record, I didn't list Natalie Portman in my note on the previous movie because, while an excellent actress, I do think she is one of the most beautiful women ever. (My apologies if this reads in any way as insulting to any of these ladies.)

17. The Incredibles
The 2nd-highest rated animated movie on this list, The Incredibles story somewhat defies definition. Is it a super hero movie? Well, yes, but it's also a spy movie. It's also got a pretty strong message about family and telling your loved ones the truth. There's also the idea that by trying to say that everyone is equally special, we run the risk of forgetting what makes us all unique. Pixar's animation continues to improve to mind-bending levels, but the animation here still holds up well—owing much to the prescient decision to give everything a “not of this time” look. It's futuristic and nostalgic and will probably still look great 20 years from now!
“As fast as I can?” “As fast as you can.”

18. Return to Mayberry
The highest-rated made for TV movie on this list, it's here because (as you've seen on my list of favorite TV shows) The Andy Griffith Show is my all-time favorite show. Andy Griffith had been pitching the idea of a Mayberry reunion for years, but it wasn't until the mid eighties that he finally got the powers-that-be go along with the idea. In reality, this was probably the perfect time. Andy and Barney/Don were still young enough to still be believable as the law in Mayberry, but enough older to have a whole new set of issues to deal with. Not only did they bring back most of the cast (Aunt Bee is the notable exception), the movie was written by two of the old writers (Harvey Bullock & Everett Greenbaum) and directed by one of the old directors (Bob Sweeney)—all people who knew Mayberry intimately.
“Sheriff Andy's back in town! His hair's turned gray, your pants fall down. Make that monster go away! It's me it's me it's Ernest T.”

19. The Peanuts Movie
I was pretty dubious when I heard someone was making a Peanuts movie without Charles M. Schulz. When I then heard that Schulz's son and grandson were writing the script, I determined to give it as open of a mind as I could … and wow!! I love that they didn't try to make the animation look like Schulz's (or Mendelson' or Melendez's) hand, but they kept it in his spirit with an impressive mix of black pen lines and realistic 3D rendering. Some of the jokes are straight from the strip, but even those that aren't, seem like they are in the spirit of what Sparky would have done himself.
Is it wrong that I still burst out laughing at the sight of a little girl getting hit in the head with an old, metal typewriter?

20. Wall-E / Up (tie)
OK, so there are actually 102 movies on this list.
Two great stories, fascinating and charming visuals, with lovable characters and myriad quotable lines, I tried and tried but I cannot rank one of these ahead of the other, but they both belong in my top 20. I even listen to the soundtracks of both movies about equally.
“Squirrel!”
“Eva!”



To see what movies fill in #s 21-30, click here.

To see the whole list (so far), click here.

Monday, April 3, 2017

My 101 Favorite Movies of All Time, 21-30

I've already established that my favorite actor is Jimmy Stewart (see this section of the list), but then I got to wondering who my favorite director is.

I'm not sure. Peter Jackson appears on this list more times than any other director (6 movies), but I really only like his Tolkien-based stuff (enough to put on this list, anyway—some of his other movies are enjoyable but this sentence is already going on too long). Next up is Frank Capra, with 5 entries on this list (including the—spoiler alert—#1 absolute best movie of all time and my personal favorite), so I wouldn't object to anyone thinking he was my favorite. But then there's George Lucas, who has four movies on this list, all of which I rank higher than the bottom four of Capra's.

So, even though Hitchcock has three movies on this, as does Spielberg, I think I'm going to declare a Capra-Lucas tie.

21. Star Trek II – The Wrath of Kahn
The greatest of the Trek movies—and maybe the best moment of the whole Trek franchise—Wrath of Kahn was the movie we were all hoping for when Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, renewing the promise of the last frontier: Action, adventure, and a really great bad guy, and the whole crew back on the ship, it was a magical formula that still holds up after all these years.
“Khaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnn!!!!!!”

22. Pot O’ Gold
The only musical on this list (though “Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii” would have made the cut if it had contained a plot), it's funny, it's inspiring, and it's a gentle if forceful reminder why Jimmy Stewart didn't do more musicals. And even though this movie only comes in at 22, Paulette Goddard gets my vote for most beautiful woman on this list—and she can sing and act, too.
I think what bugs me about most musicals is not that someone will break out in song in the middle of the street, but that everyone else will sing along with them and dance in time.

23. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
This is another instance where I know I am a bit out of the main stream as it has become quite fashionable to dislike this movie. People especially like to complain about Indy saving himself by hiding in a refrigerator but didn't complain when he jumped out of a plane with only a life raft, or held onto the top of a submarine for several hundred miles, or eluded all the Nazis in Berlin(!!), but what I love is that—like me—Indy has gotten older. Yes, he's still over-the-top, but he's more worn, a little more tired, and he's realizing what really matters to him.
In one of the “making of” shorts, they show Speilberg presenting an Indiana Jones hat to John Williams. No one, maybe not even Harrison Ford, deserves one more for it is Williams' score that made Indiana Jones!

24. The Sacketts
There are three made-for-TV movies on this list (see #s 18 & 27). An adaptation of two Louis L'Amour novels (Sackett and The Daybreakers), I remember skipping a rare junior high party (rare in that I was invited to it) because I would rather watch this movie on TV. Looking back, and remembering other school parties I would attend, I'd have to say I made the right choice. Two Tennessee brothers head west to find a place they can settle their mother (and younger brothers who are in the books but not the movie), they sign on with a cattle drive, go wild horse hunting, then rise to prominence in Santa Fe politics. Meanwhile, their older brother may have found the gold strike of a lifetime.
This is great movie for couples because men love the horses, guns and shootouts, while women seem to enjoy watching Sam Elliot and Tom Selleck for some reason.
I wish someone would release the score for this movie, or even just the opening theme music, because it's stunning and stays with me (in a good way) for days after each viewing.

25. Brave
Like almost every Pixar movie, the trailer was designed to make you go, “What the heck's that going to be about?” Then, “But it's Pixar. Guess I'll go see it.” And then we were blown away. A far cry from talking toys and cars, Brave is a mythical Scottish tale that feels like it really could have come to us right out of the middle ages. From Merida's incredible hair, to her loveable father's wooden leg, to her mother's pride, this movie is a masterpiece of storytelling and visuals. Pixar's made some good movies since this one, but none since have been as grand as this one.
Does anyone else think the wood sprites look like Jack-Jack, though?

26. Cars 2
This movie may not be as good as the original (you'll see it later on this list), but it's still a fantastic movie. For one thing, rather than just remaking the first movie as sequels often do, it takes the characters and expands on them. What would Mater be like in the outside world? What is the outside world of Cars like? And the backgrounds are mind-blowing!
“Pistacio Ice Cream!!”

27. The Christmas Gift
Another made-for-TV movie, my wife and I watch this one every Christmas. Set in lovely Georgetown, CO (where we used to dream of moving to back when I still had dreams of being a writer), it's the story of a city dude (John Denver) who is sent with his daughter to scope out a mountain town for a future tourist destination by his greedy boss (played by somebody). Of course John learns the real meaning of Christmas and of course the bad guy gets a comeuppance that isn't fully resolved, but the movie is well-acted and it's still a fantasy for me just because I still stop by Georgetown whenever I get anywhere near.
“It's a little closer to home.”

28. The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
One of my all-time favorite books was made into my 28th favorite movie. I enjoyed the other two Narnia movies (they're on this list at #s 33 & 37), but they were not as faithful to the source material as this one was. [They also did not do as well at the box office. I wonder if that fact has ever registered on the “powers that be”?] Lush scenery and a superb cast round out this triumphal movie. The Christian message is somewhat disguised, compared to the book, but it's still there.
For my birthday or Christmas the year this came out my oldest son gave me a charm of Peter's shield (that has the prophesy etched on the back in microscopic lettering) which resides on the zipper of my camera case to this day. Thanks Nolan!!

29. Groundhog Day
I can watch this movie again and again (or just watch it once and see it again and again). It's one of those movies that only works because of the main star. Put anyone other than Bill Murray in this movie and while it might have been funny, I doubt that we'd even remember it. Bill has the perfect blend of smarm, pathos and humor to pull it off and it's become another of those movies that I (and many others) watch every year.
Other movies that, IMHO, would have settled into obscurity if anyone else had been cast as the lead are: It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart, Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Support Your Local Sheriff with James Garner. On a similar note I doubt James Bond would still be around if he hadn't been kicked-off with Sean Connery.

30. Harvey
Is Elwood P. Dowd a delusional alcoholic, or the only sane person around? Watch this movie and you'll be able to answer that question definitively both ways throughout it's course … before giving up and saying the question is unanswerable. Many people have played Elwood on the stage, and I'm sure some of them did a fine job, but the role will always belong to Jimmy.

In an interview near the end of his life, Stewart said people still came up to him and asked him if Harvey were with him or how Harvey was doing. If I had ever met Jimmy Stewart in person I doubt I would have had the presence of mind to even tell him my name.




To see the next section of the list, click here.
To see the whole list (so far), scroll through this destination.

Church Signs

On a church near where I live, someone had put on the marquee:


Heaven doesn't have walls, it has a table.


I'm guessing they were trying to make a pithy political point. Too bad they didn't have a Bible in their church.


Whatever your thoughts about walls between nations, Revelation 21 is very clear that heaven will have walls. And I honestly don't really know why because we're also told that those walls will have twelve gates that don't close. I'm sure this is imagery that will be more clear once we're there, but for now, the Scripture is very adamant that heaven has walls.


And there's no clear indication that heaven will have a table. There is eating that goes on in heaven (praise God!) in Revelation 22, but no mention of a table. Jesus also told the disciples at the last supper that he wouldn't eat of that meal again until he ate it with them in heaven, but still there's no mention of whether a table will be involved. Maybe we can infer one ... or maybe we'll just sit out on fields of heaven the way they did when Jesus fed the five thousand.


It's just a church marquee, and maybe it's handled by someone in the church who doesn't have a rudimentary grasp of Scripture while the rest of the people are Bible-strong, but what does it say about a congregation when they use a publicly visible venue to declare something that's exactly opposite of Scripture?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My 101 Favorite Movies of All Time, 31-40

Some people say there are no good movies made anymore. This is hyperbole, of course, but it rings true because there is so much made we don't care for. Even some of the movies we enjoyed, we tell people about it saying, “It wasn't necessarily great, but it was good.”

For me, though, I only have to go back to 2015 because there were four movies that came out that year that make it onto my list: The Peanuts Movie [#19], Tomorrowland [#31], McFarland, USA [#92], and Star Wars: The Force Awakens [#95]. Conversely, 2016 produced only one movie that made it onto this list (you'll find out when I get to #15). Was 2016 a bad year for movies? No. There were a lot of movies I enjoyed last year, but only one I liked well enough to put on this list.

As I mentioned in the last blog of this type: your opinion may be different.

31. Tomorrowland
One of the best and most hopeful movies I have seen in years, and I've watched it over and over. The visuals are great, the score is catchy, and the denouement is a pretty good pattern for evangelism (look for the people with the spark). If you haven't seen this movie, go check it out.
I'd love to know how this movie went over in Paris.
Brad Bird turned down Star Wars VII so he could direct this movie. I will always wonder how much better SW7 could have been.

32. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown
This is my favorite of the “old school Peanuts” movies. Yes, you wonder what sort of camp allows 8 years olds to raft by themselves down dangerous rivers, but once past that this is just a fun movie. As a kid, what bugged me about it is how everything gets blamed on Charlie Brown when things go wrong. But Snoopy always comes through.
This movie has the catchiest soundtrack of the Peanuts movies, too.

33. The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian
Yes, it departs from the text of the book in a couple large ways (that don't necessarily improve the movie [who thought they needed the failed castle raid?]), overall it's a good adaptation and a beautiful movie. As in the book, Reepicheep steals the show.
“This is Home” by Switchfoot is one of the best songs to ever appear in a movie, though I prefer the soundtrack CD version to the version that actually plays during the credits. “The Call” by Regina Spektor is another one of my favorite songs, making the soundtrack one of my favorite CDs (do I sense another list coming on?!?!).

34. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
In spite of what's going to appear on this list in slot #23, this movie was an excellent bookend to the original trilogy. I don't really care for Temple of Doom (don't even own it on DVD when I've got all the others and even The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), so maybe I should view this as a great middle movie of the trilogy I like. I have used Indy's leap of faith as a sermon illustration more than once.
“He chose … poorly.”

35. North By Northwest
My favorite Hitchock movie. It's well known that both Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make a Bond movie, but ultimately turned 007 down because they didn't want to commit to more than one movie. With that in mind, watch this movie and realize that they did make a spy movie. It's a travelogue, it has a super villain, and a beautiful but mysterious woman. But then, rather than being a British spy, the hero is thoroughly American and the final battle takes place on Mount Rushmore.
Still, it makes you wonder what a Hitchcock/Grant Bond movie would have been like, doesn't it?

36. The Spirit of St. Louis
Jimmy Stewart, an avid and accomplished pilot himself, lobbied for this part even though he was more than twenty years older that Linberg was when he made his flight. Part of what makes this movie so great—and so Jimmy—is that we all know how the story is going to come out but we're on the edge of our seats with anticipation anyway.
“The way you weld those sand-dabs, they're just awful!”

37. The Chronicles of Narnia – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
This movie really departs from the text, but I still enjoy it. The visuals are great, the acting is charming and, once again, a mouse named Reepicheep is the best part. Another enjoyable score, too.
Supposedly, the changes made in the movie—most especially the collection of the 7 swords—was added by the filmmakers because the original story was just a travelogue and they felt the Narnians needed a better reason to drive the story forward. IMHO it works OK, but it does make one wonder if the movie would have been better (and better received) if it had just stuck more closely to the book.

38. The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers
The middle part of a trilogy is often the hardest to achieve. It has to move the story forward, but it can't really wrap up the story. In fact, to keep the audience from getting bored with the series, you kind of need a cliff-hanger to keep people hooked. Yes, the battle at Helm's Deep is way longer in the movie than warranted by the book, but it's well done and great to watch.
“Those are the stories that mean something.”

39. Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home
The second-best Star Trek movie ever made, this one recaptured the spirit and feel of the original series (known as The Original Series to us serious fans), while also expanding on it. All of the main characters (except, maybe, Uhura and Sulu) are utilized to their fullness in service to a script with plot, humor and substance.
“He did a little too much LDS back in the 60s.”


40. Support Your Local Sheriff
The thing about a list like this is that every time I look at it, I move things around. (Except for the top 10, those have been pretty static since 2006 when the last movie to enter my top 10 was made [now you're wondering what that movie is, huh?) This movie could easily have been placed much higher on the list and I can't give you a good reason why it's not there today. A spoof, this movie tackles many of the old west tropes, but it's greatest asset is James Garner. With anyone else, this movie would have been thrown away and forgotten long ago, but he brings it to life as only he could.

Many people think of this movie as an extension of Garner's Maverick character, but it's not. The Bret Maverick of the TV show was, first and foremost, a coward, where as Jason McCullough is fearless and darn-near perfect. Garner's character of Latigo in Support Your Local Gunfighter is actually much closer to Maverick.


To see the movies that came in at 41-50, click here.
To see the whole list (so far) click here.