Monday, July 9, 2012

Scene It: A Movie Appreciation Post

So, I've decided to make a post dedicated to my favorite movies. Most of my friends would call me a film-snob, but I prefer "cinematically selective." Actually, like books, I find films to be cathartic. To make my list, a great movie depends on several things; originality, writing, and cinematography pretty much make it or break it for me. Here are the top 15 movies that I couldn't live without having seen. I'm certainly no critique, but I think people's preferences say a lot about them. Be warned, spoilers ensue.

In no particular order----------------------------

1.Life As a House- This film is the perfect mix of wit, humor, and truth. A story about a broken family and a dying wish, it's lyrical but unpretentious, and a film everyone should see.

2. Top Hat- Ginger may bring all the beauty, but Fred brings all the class. Top Hat is funny and tender. The entire Art Deco motif of the movie is on reason in one-hundred as to why I love this film.Irving Berlin's iconic soundtrack also includes Dancing Cheek to Cheek, which is one of my favorite songs of all time. This scene makes Grace Kelly look uncultivated and crass.

3. Mystic River- This movie makes my list because the acting is simply outstanding. Clint Eastwood made this novel into a masterpiece by casting Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. The story feels as real as any.  Sean Penn plays the part of Jimmy Markum with perfect vulnerability (as seen below). It's pretty resounding. Most of all, the thing I love most about this movie is the fact that it's not predicable in the least. I dare you to guess the ending.

4. A Little Princess- When I was little I was obsessed with this movie. Based on the book "Sara Crewe" by Frances Hodgson Burnett ("The Secret Garden"), this film is magical and heart-warming. I prefer the 1995 version to the old Shirley Temple one. Frankly, it's more charming and much prettier to look at. I used to watch it every time I was home sick from school. It's the perfect movie for any daddy's girl, and the ending still gets me every time.

5.The English Patient- My favorite book adapted by my favorite director... The stunning rhetoric of Michael Ondaatje combined with the cinematic talents of Anthony Minghella make this film near perfection for me. The cave scene is heart-wrenching, but also really perfectly beautiful. Many might find this film too much of a sweeping 90's epic, but I love every second of it. How could a combination of Ralph Finnes, Juliet Binoche, Kristen Scott Thomas, Willem Defoe, and Collin Firth ever be bad. If you've never seen it, you should. The writing, acting, scenery, and music are all really as good as it gets.

6. Love, Actually-A story about stories, this movie has an amazing cast and is extremely well written. In fact, Mr. Bean, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Collin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, and Laura Linney are just a few of the title characters. Despite being more appropriate for Christmastime, I find myself watching it often. British humor combined with a healthy dose of romance and realism make for an extremely entertaining couple of hours. A couple of hours very well spent.

7. Elf- "Elf"may, in fact, be one of the most quotable movies of all time. It's splendid. I have never in my life met someone who didn't love this movie. That would be unfathomable, because only the most angry of elves could ever hate a movie so full of happiness.

8. The Fall- One of the most visually stunning movies I've ever seen. Really, this film is a bed-time story seen from the imagination of a little Romanian girl. What most impressed me about this movie is the fact that it contains little to no CGI. It's the definition of eye candy.

9. Almost Famous- "Almost Famous" is a story that everyone wishes they had for themselves. Based on the Director, Cameron Crowe's, own experiences writing for Rolling Stone and touring with the Allman Brothers, this is a coming of age story filled with great writing and an even better soundtrack.

10. Midnight in Paris- Pedantic as it might be, this Woody Allen film is meant to be seen by those who love history, art, music, and celebrity of the past century. As per usual, Allen uses witty dialogue and humor to showcase his storytelling skills. This one is for the romantic dreamer in all of us.

11. Shawshank Redemption- I'm pretty sure this one makes everyone's favorite's list. No explanation needed.

12. Fever Pitch- A movie all about being a Red Sox fanatic. What else can I say? It's not only hilarious, but it was filmed during that fateful 2004 season when the Sox finally reversed the curse. Maybe it's not as intellectual as my other choices, but that's why this is my list and not yours.

13. Good Will Hunting- Another movie set in Boston. Really, what I love most about this film is how genuine the characters are. Robin Williams does a great job of being a great counterpoint to Matt Damon. I can watch this one on repeat and pretty much never get sick of it. It's amusing and smart, stirring, and everything I love in a movie.

14. The Green Mile- Okay, the truth is I can barely stand to watch this movie. As much as I love it, I'm not that much of a masochist. Never has a film reduced me to tears the way this movie has. Literally beginning to end, I'm a blubbering fool, but nevertheless, it's an astonishing story with great characters and acting. If I feel brave I might watch it again soon. Oh, another reason to love this movie is the tribute it plays to "Top Hat", which is also on this list.

15. A League of Their Own- I love baseball. I love Tom Hanks. I love to laugh. What else can I ask for in a film? If you haven't seen this one you need to crawl out from under the rock you've been living in and rent it now.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Sign, or Two, or Three

Today, on a bit of a whim, I decided to go book shopping. It was rainy outside, I had little to do, and books make me happy (BOOM- justified!). I always like to look at the "religion" section at my local Barnes & Noble just to see if there are ever any relevant books on Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, as time goes on I find there are less and less books pertaining to The Faith, and more and more books dedicated to any particular quasi-faith that someone decides to dream up. I was equal parts amused and horrified by a book entitled "Where Has Oprah Taken Us: The Religious Influence of the World's Most Famous Woman". I mean, in what world does that merit an existence, let alone a spot on a shelf right next to The Bible?...... How sad.

This is a joke, right?

Anyways, after some perusing I decided to return to my favorite spot in the religion section. I'm a bit of an enthusiast of C.S. Lewis' writings, both as a contemporary Christian apologist, and as lyrical genius. Although I have read many of his books, there was one title in particular that caught my eye. I felt compelled to buy it.... and so I did. I really think it was something that I was meant to read in this moment of my life.

"A Grief Observed" was written by C.S. Lewis after the loss of his beloved wife. You see, Lewis so loved his wife, he married her despite the fact that she was terminally ill with cancer. He so loved his wife, her death nearly took him away from the Faith that he spent his life studying and defending. The book is profound and full of pathos, and Lewis has the uncanny ability to take his grief and examine the rationale behind his thoughts. His doubt of the benevolence of God, is eventually turned around into defending the true nature of God; A good God who loves all mankind. His arguments come naturally to himself as he works out his grief on paper. What was most compelling to me as a reader was the sense that Lewis came to his conclusions because of his grief and not despite his grief. It made him seem so human, and it made his arguments for the loving nature of God all the more valid.

C.S. Lewis and wife,  Joy Davidman
I, of course, have not suffered a loss like that of C.S. Lewis. However, there were parts of this book that made me relate to the inner-plight that Lewis suffered. There are several excerpts of this book that spoke to me, and I was stuck at how elegantly Lewis is able to explain how your own mind can be your own worst enemy. It can be the one thing that magnifies your worries, and in doing so, takes your thoughts away from God...

“I once read the sentence 'I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache an about lying awake.' That's true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer."

 Furthermore, Lewis is able to explain that we are not tested by God to see how faithful we are. God is not a cruel sadist who tries to push us until we break. On the contrary, He challenges us to make us realize how strong our faith is. It's only in these realizations that we can grow. 

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn't. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” 

 Most notably, Lewis made me realize that it is my own inner-panic that may be keeping me from hearing what God wants to tell me. I can't really tell you what it meant to read this and realize that  desperate implorations and constant mental churnings are a possible (and probable) hindrance to any sort of progression within my own life. It is self-actualizing and somewhat shameful at the same time...

“The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.” 
On top of everything else, today I saw two more things that really made me think that God was trying to tell me something. One was a Facebook post from a Priest that read...

"Focusing on yourself will never reveal your purpose. You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense. Only in God do we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny."- Dr. Rick Warren. 

The other thing was a marquee in front of a Church that simply said "The only thing keeping you from happiness is your ego." I couldn't help but laugh at how true that one was. 

So I suppose if I pray for God to guide me, I better be prepared to accept whatever He has to say.............

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Foresight Without the Future

When I was little, I would often sit and daydream about what my life would be like as an adult...At least, this is when I was naive enough to think that my early twenties actually warranted the title of adulthood. In my young, wistful mind I had it all figured out. I would be married, with children, by 28. My steady, power-driven job would pay me a hefty, yet substantiated salary. I would move away from Tulsa to a bigger and more worldy city. My varied travels would make me cultured and knowledgeable, yet sympathetic to the plights and needs of others.

Well, guess what.....? My elementary school self would have kittens if she knew how things actually turn out.

I'm at a point in my life where I need want direction. As little as two months ago, I still somehow managed to believe that I had my life all figured out. I am as passionate about education as I could ever imagine being, and I know I'll be great at my job (my completely hypothetical job, that is), but I'm in a serious rut right now. 

I feel like everyone and their dog has had an amazingly revelatory year. I, however, feel like the same person that I was last year- but with a degree. My best friends seem to know where they are going. Their trajectories are set, and over the past year or so, they have been presented with opportunities that have taken them to a new place in their lives. People that I've grown up with are beginning to get married and have babies... in that order.... and on purpose.... It's all very unnerving and very exciting at the same time.

I don't believe in fate, but I do believe that God has a plan, of sorts, for each of us. My question and fear is, what if my aspirations in this world are not aligned with what I'm supposed to do with my life? I feel uneasy about the future. I don't know if I'm missing my calling- not that I have any inkling as to what that calling may be. Although I know what I want my calling to be, how can I be sure I'm not missing out on something that I may be better at or happier doing. Do I wait for a sign, or do I take my chances and just go for it? I'm not self-centered enough to think I'm the only person who's ever thought of these things before, so someone out there must have some answers. I guess it all boils down to this; how do you stop existing and start living? I know that I can do great things with my life. I know that I can multiply my talents and bring something more to the table. What I don't know, is how you actually take a leap.... and which way to jump.

When in doubt, Cross it out.

A very wise person recently brought up the notion that The Faith is directly concerned with the present; the Kingdom of God is here and now, and it resides in all of us. I loved hearing this... but it also scared me a little bit. I realized that I'm spending so much time concerning myself with my future, that I might be missing my present. I don't want to be the only thing standing in my way. I need to be grateful for what I have before what I have can be multiplied.

So, I can't promise myself that I'll live in the moment 100% of the time, but I can certainly try. Maybe my answers actually do lie in the present. I wish things could be like the Book of Daniel and the Hand of God would come down from the heavens and write a clear, unambiguous, grammatically correct message on my wall (granted I would like it to be under less macabre circumstances).

Okay, so I know that that is unlikely, but I am hopeful that something will come my way that will reaffirm my calling. Until then, it's all about the here and now.


Speaking of signs... I just stumbled upon this Bible passage, and I will leave this inner-discussion at this....

"She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future..."
-Proverbs 31:25