Saturday, December 2, 2017

My 20 Favorite Movie Soundtracks of All-Time

Yes, I have already told you about my 101 favorite movies, which you can see here, and which may need to be expanded because Cars 3 should be on the list. Considering that got me to thinking about what my favorite soundtracks are.

It may be no surprise that nineteen of the twenty soundtracks here are from movies that are on my list of 101 favorite movies because, often, a soundtrack makes a movie. Can you imagine what Star Wars would have been like without John Williams' iconic score? Or a decent movie is made great by the soundtrack. (I'm looking at you #6!)

Anyway, in no particular order other than numerical by preference ...

20. Pride and Prejudice by Dario Marianelli
     This is the only soundtrack on this list for which the accompanying movie is not on my list of favorite movies/ In spite of the fact that the movie is filled with very attractive young women, I've tried to watch it and just lose interest. However, the DVD of it I got for my wife came with a CD of the soundtrack and I have fallen in love with that. To the point that I even thought, "I should give that movie another try!" Uh-huh, just couldn't get going on it.

19. The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian by Harry Gregson-Williams
     This is my favorite of the three Narnian soundtracks mainly because of the songs "This is Home" by Switchfoot and "The Call" by Regina Spektor. The orchestral parts, by Harry Gregson-Williams, are good, too, and evoke the best scenes from the movie.

18. Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk
     I have never cared for Daft Punk, but their work on this movie was phenomenal. Probably, in my opinion, because of the movie, which lifts the music. No, it's the music which lifts ... no ... it's just an almost perfect blend of music and movie and both would be mediocre without the other.

17. The Natural by Randy Newman
     Fresh off making fun of short people, Newman penned this almost perfect soundtrack. So many moments that capture the screen action so magnificently that when I listen I am seeing the Whammer strike out or Roy knocking the cover off the ball or, best of all, Roy rounding the bases in slow motion while the lights of the ballpark explode and rain down on the field for no easily explainable reason.

16. Casablanca by Max Steiner and Herman Hupfeld
     OK, I'll admit: the soundtrack for "Casablanca" is pretty forgettable, with two notable exceptions. The first I'll mention is the scene where the Nazis are singing their national anthem, but then all the French people stand up and start singing their anthem, only louder, and drown the Germans out. And then, there's the song everyone who has seen "Casablanca" associates with this movie: "As Time Goes By". The funny thing is: it wasn't supposed to be in the movie at all. They had planned another song to be the key to the movie but couldn't get the rights in time and went with the "filler tune" they had been using all through rehearsals. I have no idea what tune they wanted, but can you imagine "Casablanca" without Dooley Wilson singing "As Time Goes By"? (I can't.)

15. Who Framed Roger Rabbit by Alan Silvestri
     This is an excellent soundtrack that could be ranked much higher just on the strength of the moving and haunting "Valiant and Valiant". The rest of it varies from good to fun. It wasn't until I got the soundtrack (as opposed to just listening to it during the movie) that I realized that as Eddie Valiant enters Toontown the 'toons are all singing, "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!"

14. Star Trek: Insurrection by Jerry Goldsmith
     The opening song for this soundtrack is the best, but there are good tunes all the way through. I also like the soundtracks for Star Trek II and IV, but this is my favorite Trek score (though the closing music for IV is probably my favorite single tune from a Trek movie).

13. The Man From Snowy River by Bruce Rowland
     A beautiful soundtrack that just makes you want to snap a whip while riding across a prairie down-under. It also kind of makes you want to ride a horse over a cliff, so make sure you are firmly ensconced in a chair before listening.

12. The Lone Ranger by Hans Zimmerman
     This much-maligned movie (which I thoroughly enjoyed) has a fantastic soundtrack. Of course, the one tune most people remember from it is Zimmerman's treatment of the "William Tell Overture", but there are actually several good pieces. "Never Take Off the Mask" and "Home" are both stand-out numbers.

11. Tomorrowland by Micheal Giacchino
     Michael Giachinno has had some wonderful soundtracks over the last few years, including "The Incredibles", "John Carter", the recent "Planet of the Apes" movies and even "Rogue One" (replacing John Williams is no mean feat for anyone), but this is my favorite of all his works. This was also a great movie that many people never saw and one of those where the music and movie blend together to make a very good whole.

10. Brave by Patrick Doyle
     "Brave" is a great animated movie, but it would have only been a "good animated movie" without Patrick Doyle's music. He perfectly captures the lush Scottish countryside, the fierce warriors, and even the mysticism of the wee little wood-carver. The final song, "Merida's Home", is one of my all-time favorite tunes. Special props need to be given to Julie Fowlis for her excellent "Touch the Sky", "Into the Open Air" and "Tha Mo Ghoal Air Aird a Chuan" which gets the award for "best tune to be used in the trailer but not appear in the movie for some reason."

9. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by John Williams
     Some may question this selection because they don't like this Indy movie as well as the other three. I really enjoy this movie, but I like its soundtrack the best out of all the Indiana Jones movies because of the way John Williams worked in tunes from the three previous movies in addition to all the new music he wrote for it. Listen to the finale and you'll see your favorite moments from all of Dr. Jones' career.

8. Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore
     As I considered this, I knew some bit of Howard Shore's work on Peter Jackson's Tolkien movies would make the list, but I couldn't decide on which one. All six soundtracks are beautiful and stirring and I listen to them frequently. I even have a playlist where I can listen to all six movies in order, which is really handy if I'm driving somewhere that will take me 9 hours to get there. I chose "Fellowship" mainly because it launched the whole series and because of the Enya song "May It Be". I enjoy all six of Jackson's movies, and none of them would be as good without Shore's accompaniment.

7. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by Michael Kamen
     A soundtrack so good it is now used by another studio to introduce all of their on-DVD trailers even though it wasn't made by that studio. 8 tracks of orchestral music and every one of them is musical perfection. Even the add-on songs by Bryan Adams and Jeff Lynne are worth listening to--though it took me a long time to figure out where the Lynne song appears in the movie.

6. Edward Scissorhands by Danny Elfman
     No one is more surprised than I am that I like something from the leader of Oingo-Boingo this much. I enjoy the movie, but this is one of those cases where the movie without the soundtrack would only be so-so at best. "Cookie Factory" is one of those tunes that will make you see the scene it goes with in your mind (even if you've never seen the movie) but the best song on the CD is the tragically short "Ice Dance".

5. Cars by Randy Newman
     If you look at my list of favorite movies, you'll see that this is the most recent movie in the top ten. A big part of that is this soundtrack. From the opening notes of "Real Gone" (voiced by Cheryl Crow) to the closing tones of "The Big Race", Newman's music makes this movie about anthropomorphic cars just seem that much more real. And, for the record, Newman's song "Our Town", sung by the great James Taylor, should have won the Academy Award.

4. The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein
     Start playing the opening notes from the theme music and you've already won the hearts of everyone who ever saw the movie. "Isn't that the one where Steve McQueen jumps the motorcycle over the fence?" they will ask. It's a phenomenal movie, one of the best war movies ever made, but Bernstein's score is the glue that holds it all together. Admit it: you're humming that opening scherzo now.

3. Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams
     John Williams could have easily had eleven soundtracks on this list just from Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, but for reasons known only to me (maybe), I thought I should narrow it down to one from each of the two series. I like all 7 "Star Wars" scores but I picked this one for its introduction of "Darth Vader's Theme", which is almost as iconic as the "Star Wars Theme" itself.

2. Field of Dreams by James Horner
     The second best movie ever made, has the second-best music ever recorded (if you ask me). So, considering the first place votes are split on the two lists, if this were one of those weird parliamentary votes, it might mean "Field of Dreams" wins ... something. From the opening, whimsical notes that back up Ray telling us how he bought a farm, to the misty night music of Doc Graham walking in the moonlight, to the final notes of a father playing catch with his son, every note evokes a moment from the movie, and every moment of the movie sparks the tune. 

1. A Bridge Too Far by John Addison
     Listen to the main theme from this movie and you'll see what I mean. Maybe you won't rate it as the best (you're entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong), but I think you'll agree that it's stirring and catchy and everything a movie score is supposed to be.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ezekiel and the Double Standard

A man is accused of having beat up a woman. As a result, he's being suspended from his job for 6 weeks. In his multimillion dollar business, that means he will also take a huge hit to the wallet. He's a professional athlete, so this is also a punishment on his team because they will be without his services for those 6 weeks and he's an integral part of their plans.

If he truly did what he was a accused of, I have no problem with the punishment.

What I don't get, though, is that our modern culture keeps telling us that there is no such thing as "man" or "woman", that such distinctions are strictly the choice of the one using them.

Incongruous picture of the highest military post in the U.S. Army
So why was it wrong for this guy to punch a woman? Shouldn't she be able to take it as well as any man?

The answer is two-fold. First, the cultural watchdogs who take care of such things live and die by the double standard. Like that woman who gave birth a couple weeks ago while thinking she's a man and getting a lot of publicity because men aren't supposed to be able to give birth (hint: they still can't) and then getting more publicity when she said her baby was a "boy" (i.e. saddling him with a gender stereotype from birth) and receiving no backlash from the useful idiots in the press who think she's a he, these same who have no problem in telling us that men and women are the same until a moment when they can advance another agenda by saying they aren't.

Second, and I stand by this: men and women are different. And while there are plenty of women in this world who could beat me up if they so desired, the reality is that--on average--men are stronger than women and, therefore, have an advantage in face-to-face fights. For millennia, then, it's been a standard rule of human behavior that men do not hit women. I think this rule also has some grounding in the idea that men should honor the gender of their mother, wife and daughters by treating all women with respect.

So, for the record, I whole-heartedly agree that if this young man struck the woman as alleged he should pay a penalty. I'm just surprised the SJWs agree with me.

P.S. Just as a matter of curiosity, would this guy have received the same penalty if he had struck a woman who self-identifies as a man and it could be proven that the blow had nothing to do with gender? (Maybe if there were witnesses to testify that they were arguing politics or sports.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Amazon is Not the Problem

The American mall, that symbol of the 1980s, is going away. People who once took haunting photographs of failing Detroit, have now moved on to taking haunting photographs of semi-abandoned shopping malls. (Here’s hoping they next move on to taking pictures of the offices of congresspersons who have been voted out of office.)

People, some of whom are actually writers—a subset within that who are even good writers—have written articles to lament the disappearance of these malls. Somewhere in the article, and in most other articles about the state of the American retail front, there will be a statement or two blaming the problem on the behemoth known as Amazon.

Can I offer another side to this argument?

It’s not Amazon’s fault.

No, I’m not saying Amazon is perfect. Neither am I saying that I’m happy these other companies are going out of business (and putting my friends and neighbors out of work). I’m just saying that if it hadn’t been Amazon, it would have been someone else. (For grins, look up an international company called AliBaba and then tell me Amazon’s the problem.)

Go back 80 to 100 years and look at the American neighborhood. Every neighborhood had one (or sometimes more than one) grocery store. It was about the size of our modern convenience store, but it had groceries and sometimes a few sundries. But then came super-markets, which drove the little stores out of business (and I’m sure there were articles in the paper then saying this was the apocalypse for American retail). Service stations got replaced by convenience stores, photo developers got replaced by digital cameras and personal printers, and newspapers are getting replaced by the web. And one of these days, something will probably replace Wal-Mart and Amazon—whether something bigger and less personal or smaller and more friendly, I have no idea (but it will be interesting to see).

For anyone sitting here thinking, “Amazon’s too big to go away”, that was probably said about the above-mentioned industries. The thing is: things change. Right now, Amazon (Bezos) has been the beneficiary of spotting the change and jumping on it at the right time. He might continue doing that for the rest of his life, but the odds are that one of these days Amazon/Bezos will miss some indicator someone else saw and another company or industry will jump to the fore. Amazon will lay people off or Wal-Mart will close stores or Love’s will shutter some convenience stores. Yes, it will be hard on some people, and I’m not trying to discount that, but it’s not necessarily anything sinister.

It's Not Amazon's fault.

It’s just the way the world is.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Comic Books Are Not Comical

One of the many modern industries that is questioning how to maintain its existence is that of the manufacture and sale of comic books. This may come as a surprise to you, partly because there are so many comic book-based movies these days and partly because you didn’t realize they were still making comic books.

And therein, I contend, is the problem. But let me build to that for a few more sentences.

Comic books have been around for a long time, and their sales are actually up by some metrics. One slice of the problem is that there are so many slices. When you think of comic books—if you think of them at all (and probably don’t, which is part of the industry’s problem) is that you think of DC with Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, and Marvel with Spider-Man and Captain America. But there are actually several other comic book companies, including Dark Horse, Image, and more. Each of these companies is producing multiple titles, so that in any given month the comic book fan could easily purchase more than a hundred different books.

See, part of the problem is that the percentage of the population who buys and reads comic books has remained fairly steady (increasing alongside the increase of the population in general). The uber-fan of thirty years ago, even a person of modest means, could have gone to their local place of comic purchase and bought all of the Marvel books for that month. The person of more modest means, or just more narrow fandom, could purchase all the books about their favorite character each month. Now, though, with comic books costing $3+ apiece,  its cheaper to eat at Saltgrass Steakhouse once a month than keep up with all the Spider-Man books. You multiply this problem across the demographic of people who buy comic books and it means that even though the number of buyers may have increased from forty years ago, the choices and costs have also increased so each individual title is competing for its share of the market and find their slice of the pie to be very thin.

The companies who produce the books know this, so they are putting more and more effort into advertising their product … mostly to that part of the population that already buys comic books. On the one hand, that’s standard marketing: if I am selling widgets, my first target is those people already in the market for widgets. But then, if I want to really expand my business, I need to convince people who currently think they don’t want a widget that owning one of my widgets would make their life better.

This is where I, personally, think the comic book industry has really fallen on its rear. Remember way back in the first paragraph how I said—in an apparent joke—that many of you didn’t know they still made comic books? (Take a moment and go look that up if you want.)  I was only semi-joking. Take the town I live in (please): 200k people and only three places in town where you can buy a new comic book (I only express it that way because you might find a used comic book at a garage sale or one of our many thrift stores). Two of those places are comic book shops (located about three blocks from each other) and the other is a bookstore which sells only a few DC titles. The town I moved out of about a year ago, population 15k, did not have a single place in town where you could buy a new comic book.

In other words: the only people buying comic books in this town are those who specifically got in a car and drove to one of these three locations. No impulse buying of comic books, except among the percentage of the population that was already going to buy some comic books.

As recently as twenty years ago, though, I was living and working in a rural Oklahoma town of approximately 2000 people and there were two different places in town where one could buy a comic book: the grocery store had about a half-dozen titles on its magazine rack and one of the convenience stores in town had a spinner rack with maybe two dozen titles. This was common in towns all over. Now, for those who really collect comic books (take them carefully home, put them in a PVC-free bag, a cardboard sheet to keep everything stiff, taped to keep the dust out, etc.), this is the worst way to buy comic books because they come pre-wrinkled. Especially if they were on a spinner rack, where gravity and little kids pretty much guarantee every book would have some degree of a crease across the middle.

But here’s the thing: kids were seeing those comic books as they stood in line with their parents and they were saying, “Daddy, can I have a comic book today?” Dad (or Mom) didn’t give in every time, but sometimes they did, and suddenly you’ve got a kid who likes—maybe even is hooked—on comic books. Now, though? No kid in the town where I live is even going to know about comic books unless his or her parents take them to one of the three-above-mentioned shops. This means the next generation of comic book readers is going to be—at best—the same size as the current population of comic book readers while the general population of the country continues to increase.

So here’s what I, as someone who has devoted no more study to the situation than you’ll find here, suggests: bring back the spinner racks. Put them in every convenience and grocery store you can find. Maybe even create some “spinner rack titles” that are on cheaper paper, and/or have cheaper printing techniques*, so that they can be sold at a lower cost than what the regular books go for. Remember: these aren’t necessarily intended to be collectors’ items; they are just intended to get people who aren’t currently buying comic books to do so (and, hopefully, get hooked).

* If you haven’t seen a comic book in years, you’re still probably picturing in your mind the way they looked when you were a kid: cheap, pulpy paper, ink that came off on your fingers, colors that didn’t line up with the lines, etc. You need to see a modern comic book. The artwork and printing will blow you away. (And some of the stories are pretty good, too.)

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.