Theme: AFI top 100; Week: Oct. 3-9/14

AFI 100

So back in 1997 the American Film Institute released a top 100 list of the greatest American movies ever made. They  update it every ten years and it’s interesting to compare it to IMDb’s top 250. I tend to agree with IMDb’s more, but I am quite shocked at some of the titles in AFI’s that is not on IMDb’s. Here are three. Which one should be deemed movie of the week?

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982, #24 on AFI’s list)

The Sound of Music (1965, #40 on AFI’s list)

American Graffiti (1973, #62 on AFI’s list)


A Day in the Life

As I said in my previous post, I love biopics. Everything from Malcolm X to Erin Brockovich, I find them fascinating. I like asking people who they think Hollywood would choose to play them in a movie about their life. For me, I’d either choose Brad Pitt (one of my favourites) or Jason Statham—great bald head on him. But who am I kidding? I think I would end up with someone like Jason Alexander.

This brings me to a topic I have been enjoying exploring. Who are the people whom I would most like to see a biopic made of. And who would I choose from today’s actors?

Hariet Tubman – Abolitionists in the 1800’s weren’t very popular. They went through a lot just to hold the beliefs they had, nevermind doing something about them. Then there is one who is black. And a woman. And a slave. She went through all the horrors we’ve heard about slaves going through at this time including a serious head wound from a large metal object thrown at her when she wouldn’t help a white man wrestle down his slave. She survived it with no medical attention whatsoever, and even went back to work the fields with blood still running down her face. She pressed on with faith, vision, and stubbornness and changed the world. This woman is an easy hero to any forward thinking 20th Century human being. She was involved in one of my favourite historical events: the Underground Railroad. It’s one of those significant events that unites Canada and the US in heritage. But she didn’t stop there. Even after slavery was outlawed she was active in giving women the right to vote. Now that’s a movie I’d wait in line to see. Who would play her? My first thoughts go immediately to Halle Berry or Queen Latifah; however, after thinking some more I think Janet Jackson was do a great job.

JUDAH MACABEE – This guy! He kicked so much Seleucid butt! Ok, that means little to most of us, but just think: behind the wonderful observance of Hanukkah there is a warrior. The greatest military genius Judaism has ever known (well, since King David anyway). His father refused to sacrifice a pig to a god he didn’t believe in and went on to kill two men who brought him the news that if he didn’t he’d be imprisoned or killed. Along with his brothers he saved Israel from being completely swallowed up by the Roman Empire. Who would play him? Seems like Russell Crowe would be a shoo in for this role, though I think he’s played too many of these kinds of characters. I would therefore choose Daniel Craig for this role. With dyed black hair.

MOTHER TERESA – I don’t think I have to do too much convincing here of why this woman needs a big budget movie made about her. No one in recent memory comes close to this woman’s compassion and dedication to the poorest of the poor. And to think she served in India. None of us can even fathom what “poorest of the poor” means without taking a good look at India. Who would play her?  This would be a tough one, though I believe Glenn Close could pull it off.

RODDY PIPER – He’s a professional wrestler, so you can only believe about half of what he tells you. However, even if his stories were only partly true, they’d still make for a great movie. He ran away from home and started wrestling at the age of 15 after a Catholic priest set it up, was awarded a black belt in Judo, plays the bagpipes (yes, for real), was a skilled and decorated boxer, got kicked out of Japan, enraged the entire population of Mexico, headlined the first Wrestlemania, and busted a coconut over Superfly Jimmy Snuka’s skull. And believe me, that is just the tip of the Scottish iceberg. Who would play him? Christian Bale or James McEvoy.

JIM AND TAMMY FAE BAKKER – Ok, bear with me on this one. These two need a movie made about them. Even if it’s a comedy. Their story is so interesting, though insane, and even their look: you just can’t turn away. It’s like they are caricatures of their own selves. Aside from the laughs we all get at their expense there is a lot to be learned from their experience. Their movie could say so much. Who would play them? As strange as it sounds, I think Billy Bob Thornton would make a great Jim Bakker. For Tammy Faye I’d choose Melissa McCarthy or Jennifer Lawrence.

VINCENT VAN GOGH – He is by far my favourite artist and his story is one that needs to be told, especially since it seems so relative to today. When you read about Van Gogh his life is a textbook example of a man wrestling with mental health. Most of us have heard some variation of his ear slashing over a woman’s affections, or lack thereof. But there is much more to this artist. The story even has an ending that producers drool over: a mysterious death. He died of a gun shot to the chest, which most people believe was a suicide. But no gun was found. Dunh–dunh–duhhhhhhhh! And the soundtrack would have to include Don McLean’s “Vincent.” Love that song. Who would play him? If only Heath Ledger were still alive. He’d make an awesome Van Gogh. Back in the day Al Pacino would have been great too. Today I’d say Gary Oldman or Aaron Paul.

Although I love all the movies in this week’s choices, I give the Movie of the Week to Amadeus. This was one of the first movies that made me appreciate more serious and artistic films.

Congratulations Amadeus. This is your week.

braveheartAnd the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Jennifer Connoly in A Beautiful Mind.

Best Actor: Tom Hulce as Mozart in Amadeus.

Best Quote:  “In the Year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland – starving and outnumbered – charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets; they fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.” – Braveheart. Anybody hear how that referendum went?


And hey, why not a list? Here are my top ten favourite biopics:

10. Invictushappyness

9. Dallas Buyers Club

8. Walk the Line

7. The Fighter

6. Cinderella Man

5. Milk

4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

3. Downfall

2. The Pursuit of Happyness

1. My Left Foot

Theme: Biographies; Week: Sept 26-Oct 2/14

Sept 26-Oct 2 14

I love biographies. There are many great ones on the IMDb top 250, but these ones come the closest to showing the character’s life story, as opposed to a particular event in their lives (like The King’s Speech). Who would play you if they made a movie about your life? But more importantly, which movie ought to be Movie of the Week?

1. Braveheart (1995, #81)

2. Amadeus (1984, #90)

3. A Beautiful Mind (2001, #161)

4. Gandhi (1982, #198)

The day I saw a dead body

Inspired by Stand By Me, which is based on Stephen King’s novella The Body, the following tale is my own experience of witnessing my first dead body. Actually, my second time you might find even more interesting. You be the judge.

Oh, and I’ve changed the names of people and places to protect the innocent.

As a young and idealistically enthusiastic college student I was jobless, girlfriendless and somewhat homeless (summers in between semesters are kinda like that). I was so eager to work in a church that I was willing to get paid a ridiculously low amount of money to do two jobs with a ridiculously high amount of work. Somehow, I found a church who would be willing to oblige me.

The lead pastor was also eager. Eager to teach me things about ministry. And I was eager to learn from him. It was a bit discouraging at times though, because in the learning process I wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise. Maybe I just needed to keep my mouth shut and be a good listener, I thought. But I would walk away from our one-sided conversations wondering if I really understood what I had just learned. I wanted to ask questions but by the time I thought there was even a second of dead air he was needed by someone or just needed to get back to his work in his office.

Just a quick aside: I really did love this guy. He was fun, inspiring and I learned a ton from him. But he was a lead pastor. They are a unique animal with unique characteristics. Sometimes it was a joy to observe and interact with them in and out of their natural habitat, but sometimes you could get bitten, taken aback by a roar, or looking down to find you’ve stepped into a pile of rich yet pungent fertilizer. Animal and nature lovers, you get me, don’t you?

So anyway, one day in the early stages of this ministry/learning experience he asked me to do him a favour. A woman in our church had just lost her grandfather. I had heard of this, felt for her and hoped I could somehow help her, her family, and the pastor. “Can you go to the visitation for me?” I readily agreed but wondered what he meant. To me “visitation” was visiting folks at their home and praying with them after some pleasant conversations over a cup of tea.

“It’s tomorrow at 2:00. Do you know where Sunnyside funeral home is?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering what that had to do with my visiting of this family.

“Ok, well can you ask her when the funeral will be?”


Turning to to his office door that would swallow him like a giant man-eating Greek lexicon he said, “Ok thanks Troy.”

But I was quick this time. “Um, Pastor Eli?”

He half turned. “Yes?”

“Where does she live?”



“Well… you don’t have to go to their house.”

“Oh. I don’t?”

“No. Just go to Sunnyside.”

“Oh, right.”

The door shut and his office seemed satisfied with tucking this pastor away once again into its thoughtful, spiritual recesses.

I stood outside the door thinking I should know what’s going on. Surely I could figure it out. But since I’d never been to a funeral, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as family gathering a couple of days before the event took place. As a matter of fact it was two years later that I had even heard of this being called a “wake.” A rather ironic synonym.

To that point in my life, the only death of a person close to me was my maternal grandfather when I was eight. His funeral was out of town, out of province so I wasn’t at his funeral, let alone this newfangled visitation wake thingy. In my mind I was going to visit a church family, and for some reason I was to meet up with them at the funeral home, precisely at 2:00 in the afternoon.

The next day I walked up the steps of Sunnyside, opened the big wooden door and looked in for the first time of my life at the inside of a funeral home. I saw a social gathering that taking place in a room to the right for some reason. Ok, whatever. I didn’t want to interrupt them, but there didn’t seem to be a front desk or anything. Who was I supposed to talk to? And then I saw something that didn’t make sense. It was the name of Helen’s grandfather spelled out on a sign that sat on a tripod easel beside the threshold of the room hosting the pleasant finger food get together. Were these people and their party somehow connected to him? What in the wide world of sports is going on here??
I decided to take a deep breath and walk into this room. Slowly I walked in hoping no one would notice. I mean, I wasn’t invited. Wouldn’t they wonder why I’m crashing the party? Half way in is when it happened. There was some kind of big furniture to my right that called my attention from my peripheral vision. I looked over. A casket. But not just a casket. A casket with the top wide open, as if it was supposed to be. But why would it be? Why… A body!!!

No Ace. Just you.

What looked like a wax statue of a complete stranger was laying there with too much make-up on. I have trouble comparing the shock I felt to any other experiences I’ve had. This was new and startling. Why was everyone else ok with this?? (My brother had a similar experience. He says at that point he looked around the room and thought, “You sick people…”).
Just then the deceased’s granddaughter approached me. I prayed silently and quickly that she didn’t see the shock on my face. I was blindsided. Thanks Pastor Eli. Learned a ton today.
The second time was less traumatic, but most people tell seem almost traumatized at hearing it. It was only two years later, but I was now a full-fledged licensed pastor. Assistant pastor that is. This means that I carried on the illustrious arrangement of high level of hard work and stress without the burden of an unnecessarily high salary. But I really did enjoy myself. The people were great and I loved the work I was doing. I was living in an apartment in the basement of the church that year, and one night we hosted a wake in the “old sanctuary.” After that I went to meet up with a friend and didn’t get back until 10:00 at night. Not wanting to disturb the pastor and his wife who’d offered their guest room to me for that night, I decided to just go to bed in my own apartment—which was situated directly below the “old sanctuary.” So that night I wasn’t alone as I slept in my bed. One floor up and almost directly above me was a casket. Thankfully he didn’t make a sound.

It’s funny, but despite the shock I’d experienced at Sunnyside Funeral Home, I had no uneasiness, no fear, no heeby-geebies that night. I slept sound and even vacuumed around the casket the next morning. I guess by then I’d finally seen a human corpse as what so many describe it as: a mere carrying case for the human soul. Ever since I have always felt at ease at funerals, even at the ones held for dear friends and family members. I enjoy helping people through those difficult events. Thanks Pastor Eli. And I mean that.

Congratulations Stand By Me. This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Cathy Moriarty. Not only is she a great actress but I love her story. Her parents were Irish immigrants living in NYC when she was born. As a kid she acted a lot in dinner theaters and was only 17 when she auditioned for the role of VickMoriartyi LaMotta in Raging Bull. And despite her youth she kicked that role in the teeth and got an Oscar nomination. She’s been in other movies, but not enough memorable ones in my opinion.

Best Actor: Well, how do you not give it to Robert DiNiro? He’s got one of the highest representations of lead roles on the IMDb top 250 and his performance in Raging Bull is argued by some to be the greatest of all time. Props though to Kurt Russell, Cory Feldman, and that kid who played Gordie LaChance (Wil Wheaton).

Best Quote: The sole quote suggested this week is awesome and it comes from both the movie and the book: “I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve” – Narrator in Stand By Me.

If you’ve never seen this week’s movie, it’s probably because you’re either too old or too young to be considered “generation X.” And if you do fit in the genX category and haven’t seen it, what’s wrong with you? The rest of have seen it! Get busy! But seriously, I promise you that this movie is timeless and it will win you over. It’s the perfect portrait of the deep waters that lie deep within every boy and every man.

And if any of you are attending a funeral and need a steady rock, please feel free to invite me to tag along.

To Learn Beauty, Look Closer

I am in a precarious situation. I am a movie fan and a parent at the same time. I remember how much I loved Dumb and Dumber in my early twenties. The bathroom humour (literal) and innuendo made me laugh out loud. When Joy and I had a baby girl in 1999, well that could have ended the whole movie-loving thing. Or at least maybe be altered to all G-rated movies. John McClane and his Yippee-ki-yay blankety-blank would have to move over and make room for Aladdin and Stuart Little. But that didn’t happen. The kids didn’t and don’t watch these movies with me, but how can I justify continuing to watch movies with content that I wouldn’t let them watch? is it hypocritical? Well, it comes down to the beauty that is found in some of the more offensive things in life.

To help clarify, here are some points that may or may not make any sense. Here goes…

1. Some people do. I try to use this saying as often as I can with my kids. “Daddy, that guy over there is drinking beer!”
“Yes, some people do.”
“I don’t like her. She swears.”
“Now don’t judge her. Some people swear.”

I want my kids to know that just because they refrain from things like premarital sex, smoking or coarse language doesn’t mean they are any better than anyone else. In fact, we sometimes watch movies with them now (they are 10, 13 and 15) that have characters doing such things. I want them to be able to experience a little bit of this stuff (Calm down now… nothing too crazy—we won’t watch Friday the 13th or Boyz n the Hood with them or anything!) so they can shake off the shock and deal with the reality of it.

2. A low level of influence. Movies can influence us, but mostly in the way they make us think or feel. We make our own decisions, but movies bring other opinions and perspectives to our minds. Kind of like… oh, I don’t know… BOOKS! I personally don’t believe they influence our actions as much as is popularly believed. Yes, I’m sure there were some copycat van surfing after Teen Wolf came out, but for the most part we make our own big boy / big girl decisions. Though I love Planes, Trains and Automobiles, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Office Space I’ve never once driven a car into a hotel, wailed on a printer in the middle of a field with a baseball bat, or even danced near an indoor pool.
Right now we are living in a golden age of G and PG rated movies. It’s not hard to find a good—even great—movie with one of these ratings, and few times do you not find one playing at the theatre any given week. But if we are to believe that movies are highly influential on individuals and society at large, then why not say that Monsters Inc or Up is changing everyone around us? What is this world coming to? People are being nice to each other and helping each other find out their inner beauty, life purpose and all kinds of crap like that! It’s those stinking G movies I tell you! Our kids are going to get numb to this stuff…

3. But what about the nudity, sex and gratuitous violence? The question is simple and fair: does a movie really have to have either of these? Any movie producer or director would answer with yes. But they’re only people who make movies for a living and make lots of money doing so. What do they know? But I have to say I agree. You can’t tell the story of 12 Years A Slave without the violence and other scenes that are difficult/uncomfortable to watch. Being exposed to it, I believe, is an important thing to do and we are fortunate to live in a time when we have movies that bring the reality to us in such a vivid way. There’s no turning a blind eye or deaf ear to the atrocities committed in the past century by our own fellow human beings. Movies will see to that. But even with movies like Lethal Weapon or Rambo: First Blood Part 2 where the violence seems to be just used for entertainment’s sake, we have to at least admit that violence is a reality in the human experience. Perhaps it’s not that we are getting a kick out of seeing blood. Maybe in some strange way we can relate to it. No I don’t watch violent movies with my kids, but they will become adults someday.

4. You didn’t answer the question… what about the sex? Yeah, this is a big one, I know. In fact, in my social circles there are a lot of Christians, perhaps even mostly. And Christians can handle violence on the screen much sooner than boobs or a steamy bed scene. Now this week’s movie, American Beauty is a perfect model for when this is necessary. First, let’s establish why nudity and sex is on screen so much:
a) We’ve all heard the principle that sex sells. Yes, many movies use sex as bait. We’ve all seen this when we were young and it did, indeed, influence us. Sometimes in negative ways, sometimes not. When I was young I was convinced movie makers would simply get together and say, “Hey, you know that actress from that one movie? We should make a film where she has to get naked. Wanna?” I suppose I didn’t think it was quite like that, but pretty close. And that kind of “let’s do it because we can” attitude does happen in the entertainment business. However…
b) Yes, sometimes it is artistic and necessary. Even Michelangelo used full-on frontal nudity. I saw it. I was in Italy. What a sicko. In American Beauty, there is an infamous scene. It is uncomfortable to watch. Even if nudity wasn’t a part of it, the subject matter is abhorrent. It can even cause you feel guilty for continuing to watch. But (and I won’t spoil it for you), something happens at that moment that is so crucial to the telling of the main character’s story. And the contrast of the before and after is critical to the telling of the story and for the audience to experience it with its main character, Lester Burnham.

For the most part, we are all adults who can handle this. And if it is too much for us, we don’t watch it. Simple as that. And we don’t judge those who do. Personally, I really wish Michelangelo would’ve chiseled out at least a pair of boxers for poor David. But someone who says it’s exquisite art won’t receive any judgment from me.
And if I can add here, the journey Lester travels through in this movie really is a beauty. It’s definitely a movie you may watch and say, “What was that all about?” when you’re finished, but that’s the best part about it. You really need to talk with someone afterward. Amid the taboo fantasizing, the swearing, the pot and the violence, there is beauty. Look closer.

Congratulations American Beauty . This is your week.

And the Oscar goes to…

Best Actress: Annette Benning in American Beauty. She’s pretty entertaining in this movie, but her believability is also pretty amazing. I’d share my favourite scene that she does but it would definitely spoil the ending.
Best Actor: Kevin Spacey, for sure. But let me mention here that 3 Idiots has some pretty great actors in it. It’s a fantastic story and has the coolest example of a plot that comes together in the end. It’s also the one movie whose story has more to do with education than any of the other ones we chose from this week. Look it up and give it a watch. It’s totally worth it.
Best Quote: “F.A.O. my Schwartz!” – Lotso Bear in Toy Story 3 (voiced by Ned Beatty).

I hope my kids learn a lot this year. More than that, I hope I do. If I don’t, they’re likely to follow suit.

Theme: Lessons Learned; Week: Sept 12-18/14

Sept 12-18-14

School starting is old news now, but seeing my kids head off to the place where they spend 35 hours a week (plus homework) always gives me high hopes for their learning experiences. As Leo Da Vinci put it, learning never exhausts the mind. Though it can sometimes be difficult, true learning is always good, healthy and most often exhilarating. The following are all movies with characters who learn big, significant lessons. Whether it’s learning about the true beauties in life, the causes worth fighting for, the importance of moving on, or the value of true education, each movie invites you to take their stories and drink deeply.

1. American Beauty (1999, #60)

2. Toy Story 3 (2010, #68)

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, #119)

4. 3 Idiots (2009, #127)