Sunday, May 22, 2011

Memorial Day

A Navy Seabee from Feb. 1966-Nov. 1969; Mike was wounded in Khe Sanh, Vietnam where he had been sent to work on an air strip and portable, floating bridges.
Mike was awarded a Purple Heart, and a Bronze Star. This much I know from papers I found in his things after he died.

He once thanked me for never having asked: “did you kill anyone?” He never wanted to talk about Vietnam. But sometimes he would be reminded of it and volunteer something;
like how he arrived in Vietnam under heavy fire and how men died there beside him on an airstrip barely having stepped out of the airplane.
How close Khe Sanh was to Laos where snipers hid and fired into Khe Sanh.. And that they were not supposed to shoot back into Laos. And how the wounded and the dead were packed and transported in helicopters. How his less fortunate traveling companions were fork-lifted from the plane and stacked in their body bags.

I did not know about the Bronze Star until after Mike died. I have never seen it.
There were other things I learned after he died. He was an organ donor. I had never had reason to look at his driver’s license. But there it was. And I learned about many kind things he had done for people; things which he never mentioned to me for people I never met until after he died.

I know Vietnam is part of what made Mike who he was: inexhaustibly magnanimous, generous, kind and humble. He even carried bugs out of the house instead of squishing them. And he was strong. I can't recall a single time he complained of his wound, even when his knee had swollen horribly and he walked with obvious pain.

Mike, it was an honor and great privilege to walk with you a while.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Chocolate" 2000

"I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*... Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create... and who we include."

Sermon of Pere Henri, village priest

Community and strong connection is the two edge sword. Most of us crave it. It gives peace of mind when our own good and aspirations are supported. But it also can also crush a spirit; the cost of acceptance and belonging.

Vianne, Juliette Binoche, is a wanderer. She seems torn between her need for personal freedom and the need for connection. A human condition.

In a small French village she has a glimmer of hope for some measure of balance between freedom and connection; a hope for kindness and tolerance.
I always enjoy watching Chocolat. Simple truths and pleasures are seldom simple.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sleepless In Seattle, 1993

Are our lives shaped by destiny or do our wishes and dreams play themselves out in what appears to be chance?
"Sleepless In Seattle" plays with that question in a lighthearted way.
Set between Christmas and Valentines Day, the plot of Sleepless is inspired by that of "An Affair to Remember".
It is based on the idea that in the world there are people destined to be in each others lives. They are attuned to us and we to them. A mere touch of the hand can be enough to reveal them to us.

Sam is grieving for his dead wife and Annie is engaged to Walter, a man who, conveniently for the plot, lacks the magic touch, at least for Annie.
Destiny or a combination of chance and intention bring Annie and Sam together.
The theme of the radio show that first put Sam on Annie's radar was: "Wishes and Dreams". Seeing Annie in an airport by chance or destiny made Sam aware of Annie.

I like that in several places the movie acknowledges the dark side of destiny. When asked "What do they call that when everything intersects?" Sam answers: "The Bermuda Triangle".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bicentennial Man, 1999

What does it mean to be human?
Andrew is an android who like Pinocchio, became a "real boy"; he has a personality, emotions and the the capacity to expand both. The movie is the story of his growth toward being human and his struggle to be acknowledged as "human".

Stars: Robin Williams as Andrew Martin and Embeth Davidtz as Little Miss Amanda Martin and as Portia Charney.

"One is glad to be of service" Andrew always said when given a task.
When Andrew's ability to sculpt and create were discovered the question of who would profit from his creations came up too.
Sir Richard Martin played by Sam Neill, declared Andrew to be "a form of property, not a person".

This set Andrew on one of many quests: "how does one obtain freedom to no longer be property?"

His ultimate quest is to be "acknowledged and recognized for who and what I am". This movie provides many ideas and themes for exploring the question of what it means to be liberated. Maybe the answer to that rests on first answering: what does it mean to be human?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Accidental Tourist, 1988

Stars: William Hurt as Macon Leary, Geena Davis as Muriel Pritchett and Kathleen Turner as Sarah Leary, wife of William.

Macon and Sarah are struggling to rebuild their lives after the loss of their son; shot and killed by a mass murderer.

Macon attempts to cope by creating and maintaining a sense of routine and predictability.
But to cope Sarah needs change. This leaves her at odds with Macon and she decides to divorce him and live on her own.

Macon writes travel books filled with advice on how to avoid experiencing the strange and new while traveling.

Into Macon's safe, circumscribed world comes Murial Pritchett.
Murial is a single mom who faces much financial hardship with somewhat unfounded optimism.
She has left no stone unturned in her struggle to stay afloat financially: dog boarding, grooming, training... whatever is needed and she can do.
And she is determined to find a man to be in her son's life.

When Macon enters her dog grooming business in "desperate" need of dog boarding, she notes he is single and launches an immediate, obvious and aggressive campaign for Macon.

Though Murial and Macon have almost nothing in common Macon is drawn to Murial.
Macon uses Murial and her son's great and very real need as his rationalization for this attraction. They bring a purpose and shape to his life.
Is Macon's need for a safe routine in which to live his life simply greater than his aversion to Murial?

In a subplot Macon's sister and Julian, his publisher have a similar, parallel romance. That romance too is based on needs.

Macon feared change. Murial faced serious circumstantial limitations. But how many of our needs can we reasonably expect others to fill? And at what cost? At the end of the movie I feel they have all lost something more than their way home.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blast From the Past, 1999

"One from the vaults" Dr. Frank N. Furter

In Blast From the Past Brendan Fraser and Alicia Silverstone were adorable as "Adam and Eve".

Adam has spent the entire 35 years of his life living under the city of Los Angeles in a fallout shelter. Adam's father, Christopher Walken, sealed himself and his pregnant (with Adam) wife, Sissy Spacek as Helen, into the shelter during the Cuban missile crisis.
After 35 years the little family has run out of supplies. Adam volunteers to go "up to the surface" and gather supplies to replenish their vault dwelling.

The family has many fears based on assumptions that the world they knew endured a nuclear war. Adam's assumptions lead him into several amusing situations.

While searching for supplies Adam has great hopes of meeting a potential mate, preferably not a mutant.
On the surface Adam meets Eve, a street smart lady with a well developed sense of morality, you know, what is right and wrong. Adam employs Eve to help him gather supplies.

Will the cynical but charming Eve fall for the naive but charming Adam? Watching their situation unfold is thoroughly enjoyable.
The soundtrack has some gems. For one, I have "Hell" by the Squirrel Nut Zippers stuck in my head now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Easter Parade", 1948

I have been humming the title song to this Irving Berlin musical for weeks. To me the song is tremendously positive, optimistic and hopeful. What woman wouldn't want to "walk down the avenue" arms linked with a "swell" who sees not a myriad of imperfections and failings but "the grandest lady" when he looks at her? Wow!

Judy Garland plays Hanna Brown. Hanna is a dancer in a small chorus line.
Fred Astaire plays Don Hewes, a dancer who has achieved a degree of fame and fortune.
Nadine Hale played by Ann Miller is Don's dancing partner. When Nadine informs Don that she has quit their team in order to strike out on her own Don is greatly disappointed. Don's career is now on the line. He must replace Nadine and as he is miffed at her, decides to do it Pygmalion style, by choosing the first dancer he sees. Of course he sees Hanna.

The story takes place within the space of one year, from one Easter to the next.
When Don and Hanna pass Nadine the first Easter Hanna is intimidated. Don assures Hanna that the next Easter she will be as confident and successful as Nadine.

Besides Irving Berlin's songs, (IMDb lists 18 in this movie!) there are wild, brightly colored costumes and wonderful dancing. Ann Miller was elegant and graceful, I thought, a treat. If you don't mind getting a song or two stuck in your head, dust off "Easter Parade".

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Odd Couple, 1968

Oscar Madison:
I can't take it anymore, Felix, I'm cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you're not here, the things I know you're gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can't stand little notes on my pillow. "We're all out of cornflakes. F.U." Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!

Valentine's Day is a good day to make a pot of spaghetti (or was that linguine?) and spend time with my favorite couple; The Odd Couple.
This is my absolute favorite, warm fuzzy, feel good movie.

Jack Lemmon plays Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau plays Oscar Maddison

Oscar is a simple man with a big heart and some great friends to go with it. Unfortunately Oscar's marriage failed. Divorced, Oscar rambles around in a big apartment full of things left by the wife and child.

Felix is a complicated man with some great friends and many emotional and physical difficulties.
The movie begins on the night Felix's wife asks for a divorce. After tinkering with suicide a distraught Felix eventually arrives at Oscar's door and into the care of friends. As the friends go home Oscar takes up suicide watch on his own.

Oscar's house is too big for him and he is not interested in cleaning it. His kitchen is a bio hazard.
Felix is now homeless is a cleaning fanatic. Sharing a home seemed like a good idea at the time.

But Oscar's casual approach to housekeeping and life quickly clash with Felix's agonizingly picky standards. Another blowup was inevitable for him.

My grandmother used to say you could tell a lot about people if you knew what made them laugh. This movie makes me laugh and I have no idea what that says about me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pat and Mike, 1952

Spencer Tracy stars as sports promoter Mike Conovan and Katharine Hepburn as Pat Pemberton, a diversely talented athlete..

William Ching plays Collier Weld, the man Pat is engaged to marry.

A college administrator, Collier has big plans for his future. Collier hopes to finagle a large donation for the college from a wealthy couple during a game of golf. The talented Pat is to partner with the wife assuring her of a win. The wealthy couple will then presumably be in a generous mood.

But Collier has no confidence in Pat’s talent. He dogged her around the course pressing her to “do better”. . To make things worse, the wealthy wife gave Pat non-stop pointers and free advice. As people tend to do under that kind of pressure, Pat preforms poorly and disappoints Collier’s ambitions.

Pat is at a crossroads. She fancies having a “50-50" partnership with her man. Her self respect and confidence hinges on her athletic ability. But she cant preform well when Collier is around. Pat decides to prove to herself that she has what it takes to preform (and hold up her end?)

Here comes Mike Conovan, sports promoter. Recognizing Pats ability he takes her on as a client. Both Mike and Collier intend to profit from Pat’s ability. But Mike truly believes in her. Where Collier would say: “don’t screw up”, Mike says “well done”. Not hard to see where this is going.

But what about Pat’s goal of a 50-50 partnership? In one scene Pat saves Mike from a young Charles Bronson and a couple of other tough guy types. Mike was none too happy about being protected by a woman and brooded about it.

I wonder, is 50-50 really achievable? In any partnership one will always be the smarter, stronger, kinder and so on. The balance is always shifting. If you cant shift with it you end up brooding or worse.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Egg and I, 1947

The Egg and I was the first of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies and in this movie, Ma and Pa are supporting characters.

The stars: Claudette Colbert as Betty MacDonald, Fred Macmurray as Bob MacDonald, Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle and Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle.

Eugene, Michael and Eileen Irwin, 1947

"The Egg and I" has many beginnings. The post WWII world picks its self up and dusts its self off, to renew the business of living. Newly weds Betty and Bob are beginning their life together. They learn and begin a new occupation; chicken ranching. They move to a new home where they meet new neighbors. In due time, in all this newness they begin their family.

There are plenty of hardships and disappointments along the way, the same sort endured in the real world. But Betty and Bob overcome or find their way around the obstacles.

As this new year begins "The Egg and I" is a pleasent reminder that hope and courage are alive and well. Out in the "real" world there will always be brave souls beginning new jobs, lives and any number of things. Hopefully they are having an occasional laugh along the way.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Design for Living (1933)

The plot in a nutshell: Three young, struggling, American artists are trying to make a living in Paris: Fredric March as Tom Chambers, Gary Cooper as George Curtis and Miriam Hopkins as Gilda Farrell.
Both of the men become romantically involved with Gilda.
Tom and George have been friends for many years and the romance threatens to break them up. This is unacceptable. The solution:
All work and no play. They call this their “gentleman's agreement”. Instead of hanky panky all their energies are to go into the MEN’S work. ( It was a given that the woman’s work had no merit and was not worth improvement!!) The woman’s role in the men's work was that of a ham fisted critic, all stick, no carrot. Funny

The art of both men progressed. Each man had a variety of successes.
But does the "gentleman's agreement" work? Well, Gilda was "no gentleman".