Theme: Natalie Portman; Week: Jan 31-Feb 6/14

Jan31-Feb6 2014

Léon: The Professional (1994, #27)
Black Swan (2010, #235)
V for Vendetta (2005, #151)

Which Natalie Portman flick should be MOTW next week?


Switching the subject for just a moment…

This blog is about movies, but where it’s the space I use to write more than a short status update, I thought I’d use it to post some closing comments on a discussion a group of us had on my Facebook wall. The status was: “Attention Christians: If gays are being beaten, imprisoned and killed all over the world for being gay, 1) Are you upset about that i.e. do you believe this isn’t right? 2) Do you believe the church should do something to stop it? 3) Do you think the church will?”

Here is a kind of rejoinder from that conversation:

I am sure it was no surprise to anyone that the original post I made brought out much debate, emotion, and difficulty in communicating ideas. I thought it was great experience. The only classes I really remember well while in school, college, and university were the ones that a) had something unexpected happen, b) involved a discussion where the topic really mattered to us and we all got involved emotionally, and c) when I was challenged in my thinking and learned something new. So, here are some points that I’d like to make in closing:

1) I was determined to make sure the topic didn’t get diverted somehow, which can easily happen with controversial subjects (and I accuse no one of doing this. It just happens easily.). I do wish we–and I am much worse with this than anyone I know–did more for the oppressed around the world, but that’s not what I was trying to address with my questions. We did well, but just to reiterate: my conviction is that evangelical Christians are generally not concerned about the gay community and what may or may not happen to them. Agree that the physical persecution is wrong? Yes. Do something? Not likely. Agree as a group to help them and do so with the same kind of resolve, unity and funds that is done with helping oppressed children, the sick, the dying? No. Denying this seems crazy to me.

2) There was a sentiment along the lines of, “Isn’t this obvious? Of course we think this should not happen. Who wouldn’t?” I agree wholeheartedly, though this isn’t what troubles me. If it was this simple, why would these questions lead to such an intense discourse? As I shared, if any other group of people would be substituted for “gays” or “LGBT” in the wording of the post (say other Christians, special needs people, migrant workers, etc.), this conversation would have been much shorter with a whole lot of agreements and not much disagreements. Why? That is what troubles me.

3) I have always hated it when a powwow would form for the purpose of complaining about the church. In fact, I don’t even like discussions that center on how bad the world is getting. In so many ways it’s getting better and better. I have, however, always been a big fan of questioning our behaviour, practices and ways of thinking. This does require speaking in generalities unfortunately (i.e. “the church”, “Christians”, etc), but it’s necessary. If we never did that we would still be making crusades to Israel, denouncing the devilish movie theatre and refusing to believe that the earth revolves around the sun.

I was humbled when one comment in the thread reminded me that “church bashing” is typically nothing more than annoying. It has to get to a real extreme for anyone to really get hurt, which usually would be church leaders (I know–I’ve been there). But “gay bashing” always results in at least deep emotional damage, and at most physical harm or death. It’s funny that gay bashing wasn’t even brought up, but church bashing did. I think we’ve been too far removed from the persecutions that Christians used to experience that we’ve lost the ability to empathize, even sympathize.

4) I am very thankful that there was no mention of some “secret agenda” that the gay community has. The only agenda I can discern from any of you who are gay is the desire for equality. I will be happy when we’re not saying “they” and “them” so much anymore. We Christians don’t like division within the church, nor should we. Humans being divided is equally distressing.


5) For 17 years I carried the title of pastor. My intention, which I trust you all know, was not to accuse pastors of anything. I do believe that it would be easy for a pastor or church member to say we need to help oppressed people, no matter who they are. But I also believe that an initiative in a church to help stop persecution of gays and lesbians would, indeed, be controversial. It would spark emotions and debate much like this post did. Again, I don’t accuse. I believe I would be nervous trying to make this happen. But maybe for some pastors it wouldn’t, and maybe now some will?

Thanks everyone. I have felt for years that we don’t talk about the church’s poor relationship with the LGBT community enough in the world of Christians. Part of me felt anxious after the discussion, but most of me felt great. I look forward to the day when we go beyond the talking. And to think… I didn’t even bring up the issue of many evangelical Christians believing that all gays are bound for hell. Maybe next time??

This week’s (Jan 24-30/14) movie of the week is… Cinema Paradiso!

Cinema Paradiso has a very cool distinction that few other films have: it makes me love movies even more. Watching them, going to the theatre, talking about them, writing about them–everything. Each time I see LOTR: The Return of the King, I love it more. Every time I see A Few Good Men, I love it more. Same with Finding Nemo and The Apostle, no matter how many times I see them. But Cinema Paradiso, though I love the movie itself, makes me love all movies more. In the story there is an admirable, even enviable, relationship between a kind adult and a great kid that just shines, from beginning to end and in the good and the bad. You get the feeling that you’re watching something very tangible and special.

I have tried to write children’s stories and tell them to my kids. Sadly I only have a few to speak of. But they are still a strong connection I have with them. Erika and I like to sit and tell each other the story of “Hope at the Movies.” It’s a little girl and her dad who loves movies so much, they go every Saturday to the theatre. The joy we have telling that story is more than just bonding through storytelling. It’s more than just that we like the story. The subject is as much a part of that strong affinity we share when we tell the story together. It involves a theatre that’s kind of magic and people who go end up in the movies themselves and become a part of the adventure for real. Each time I tell it I wish I could really do that with Erika. Cinema Paradiso gives me this same feeling.

Now if you’re reading this and you’re Italian, don’t get a big head. Sure, this is only the second foreign movie to be MOTW and both have been Italian, but watch out that you don’t get a big ol’ Das Boot to the can. This German movie was simply captivating. I had someone recently say to me, “How can it be good? It’s about a bunch of German men in a submarine. And that’s it. For two and half hours!” But that’s the wonder of it. In theory, that should bore the tears out of anyone who tries to watch it. Even the title is boring… it means “the Boat.” Yawn. But somehow, the director and his team of actors and crew made me chew my nails, hold my breath, even hold out hope that the British don’t find these men. The fact that they pulled that off makes it a great movie.

Now at first I was perturbed by Grave of the Fireflies. I thought I had watched all 100 of the top 100 movies on the IMDb list, and then this one comes along, cracked the 100 list and messed everything up. (Note: Twelve Years a Slave is the new troublemaker. Gotta see that one.) By the time I got around to watching it, Fireflies climbed up to #92. At the time of this writing it sits at #83. I liked this one better than the highly esteemed Spirited Away, which is also a great Japanese animation film. Hard to watch, but also hard hitting. If you decide to watch it like I did, you will be moved. By a cartoon, no less.

And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Amy Jones, the voice of the Aunt in Grave of the Fireflies.
Best Actor: Salvatore ‘Totò’ Di Vita, who played Salvatore Cascio in Cinema Paradiso. Lovable kid who actually celebrated his eighth birthday while filming this movie.
Best Quote: “Life isn’t like in the movies. Life… is much harder.” – Alfredo, Cinema Paradiso

Writing this post, particularly the story of my daughter, is making me want to get back to writing. I love to write, but as Alfredo says, life is much harder. Going to take some discipline, but it will surely make me love writing and storytelling all the more.


I’m addicted to lists… Here are my favourite actresses and actors of all time in order:


Image of Daniel Day-LewisImage of Brad PittImage of John CusackImage of Christian Bale
1. Daniel Day-Lewis      2. Brad Pitt            3. John Cusack           4. Christian Bale
Image of Robert DuvallImage of Jim CarreyImage of Tom HanksImage of Edward Norton
 5. Robert Duvall     6. Jim Carrey     7. Tom Hanks     8. Edward Norton
Image of Morgan FreemanImage of Charles ChaplinImage of Bill MurrayImage of Steve Buscemi
9. Morgan Freeman       10. Charles Chaplin      11. Bill Murray         12. Steve Buscemi
Image of Ricky GervaisImage of Will FerrellImage of Kevin SpaceyImage of Jack Black
13. Ricky Gervais     14. Will Ferrell    15. Kevin Spacey   16. Jack Black
Image of Jack NicholsonImage of Steve MartinImage of John CandyImage of Gregory Peck
17. Jack Nicholson          18. Steve Martin           19. John Candy           20. Gregory Peck
Image of Matt DamonImage of Johnny DeppImage of Chris FarleyImage of Heath Ledger
21. Matt Damon             22. Johnny Depp             23. Chris Farley             24. Heath Ledger
Image of Ian McKellenImage of Bruce Lee
Tied for 25. Ian McKellen and Bruce Lee


Image of Scarlett JohanssonImage of Meryl StreepImage of Renée ZellwegerImage of Amy Adams
1. Scarlett Johansson        2. Meryl Streep          3. Renée Zellweger           4. Amy Adams
Image of Kate WinsletImage of Natalie PortmanImage of Catherine Zeta-JonesImage of Chloë Grace Moretz
5. Kate Winslet       6. Natalie Portman       7. Catherine Zeta-Jones   8. Chloë Grace Moretz
Image of Glenn CloseImage of Judi DenchImage of Nicole KidmanImage of Kate Hudson
13. Glenn Close               14. Judi Dench                 15. Nicole Kidman         16. Kate Hudson
Image of Jodie FosterImage of Donna ReedImage of Sigourney WeaverImage of Charlize Theron
17. Jodie Foster              18. Donna Reed             19. Sigourney Weaver    20. Charlize Theron
Image of Marilyn MonroeImage of Halle BerryImage of Helen MirrenImage of Rachel Weisz
21.  Marilyn Monroe         22. Halle Berry         23. Helen Mirren          24. Rachel Weisz

Decade: The 80’s (Week: Jan 24-30/14)

Actually, this is a combination of decade and theme. The decade is 80’s, but the theme is foreign movies. Even if you haven’t seen any, perhaps vote for the one that you would be most interested in seeing.


1. Cinema Paradiso, Italy (1988, #57)
2. Das Boot, Germany (1981, #69)
3. Grave of the Fireflies, Japan (1988, #83)


This week’s (Jan 17-23/14) movie of the week is… Alien!

Let’s play a guessing game. See if you can guess what age I was when I allowed this movie to scare the poop out of me. Here are some initial hints:

  • The movie was made in 1979, you can know there wasn’t a chance I saw it in the theatre–I was only 7 years old.
  • I was twelve or thirteen when my family first got a VCR and we stayed away from R-rated movies.

Ok, so there are a few years you can shave off. The movie certainly did make an impression on me. Like most people, it was the look of this alien that really stayed with me. But there was so much more at work that made this movie so eminent. Apparently there was a “reader” (someone producers hire to read the script and summarize it) who described the movie by saying, “It’s like Jaws, but in space.” What a great way to describe the experience of watching this movie. Just like the shark, you eagerly await the sighting of the beast. Your brain doesn’t want to but wants to. There is also significant build-up to seeing the alien, just like in Jaws.

  • Another hint: in 1992 a friend of mine in college saw Alien 3, but I didn’t. In fact, I hadn’t seen any yet.

As David pointed out, this movie was a sci-fi/horror combo, and a perfect one at that. So, it was definitely influential in its unique form as well in its unique measures for making the picture. I’m always impressed when a movie can take something as outlandish as aliens and make it seem so real. The film’s director, Ridley Scott used some pretty creative measures to acquire this. Strange things like oysters, sheep’s kidneys and shredded condoms were used to make different alien forms look organic and authentic. The inside of the ship, Nostromo, was made up largely from pieces collected from an “airplane graveyard.” It is this realness that brings out the fear in us so well. And what a tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.”

  • Next clue: I had reached my full potential in baldness by the time I watched it, which will eliminate my college years and first five years after. Please do not draw conclusions on the cause of said baldness neither referencing Joy nor my kids. That just wouldn’t be… It was my kids.

There is one more quality to this movie that truly puts it on the top shelf of great sci-fi movies, and that is the protagonist, played by Sigourney Weaver. Initially this role was intended for a man. This wasn’t the last time Weaver pulled this impressive stunt either. According to IMDb she has taken the part in a movie originally planned for a man at least three times. She is perfect for the role of Ripley displaying heroic acts of inventiveness, courage, acumen, and inner strength in the face of horrific circumstances with just the right amount of vulnerability to make her relatable. With Jaws, even though Richard Dreyfus stars in it, mostly you hear people talk about the shark. Today people still talk about Weaver as Ridley every bit as much as they talk about the hideous alien.
Congratulations Alien, this is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…
Best actress: Sigourney Weaver. When it comes to actresses, definitely one of the greats.
Best actor: Sylvester Stallone.
Best quote: “I think we make a real sharp couple of coconuts — I’m dumb, you’re shy, whaddya think, huh?” (Rocky Balboa in Rocky). Sorry, The Sting. I did enjoy the movie, particularly the ending, but all I ever think of when you are brought up is that when you were about to receive your award for best picture a streaker ran out on stage at the Oscars.

  • Last clue: While watching this I was in the midst of a new business venture. So that’s the biggest clue yet. And if your guess was 41 (my current age), then you would be right.

I’m not sending you popcorn, though.


250 Introductions from the Movies

Watch this from beginning to end and you’ll thank yourself for time well spent. A few f-bombs, so be forewarned: