The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Favorite Flicks: My Picks

This morning as I was gathering up my stuff at the conclusion of our Wednesday morning Bible Study, one of the participants approached me and asked an unexpected question. Where it came from I haven't a clue, and I probably should have asked that of the questioner. But I'd been taken by surprise and wasn't prepared to examine motives or offer an answer. She had simply asked, "What are your favorite movies?"

It's not the sort of question one expects after an hour of enthusiastic discussion of the relationships among Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Abimelech, and God Himself. My first thought was to avoid the question by saying, "I really don't go to the movies very often." This really is the truth, as Dear Diane, an avid movie-goer, will be happy to confirm. But I realized that would have been a cowardly cop-out, so I simply put off the inevitable and replied, "Let me think about that. I'll let you know next week." I hoped that after a week's delay she might forget and I could as well. This, of course, will not happen.

I suppose I could have blurted out a few safe answers, like, "Gone with the Wind, It's a Wonderful Life, and Doctor Zhivago." Or, even better, I could have just ignored the question and made some polite excuse for having to leave quickly. After all, the answers to these kinds of questions often have a dark side, and cause others to think differently about you, perhaps unfairly. 

I remember participating in  a workshop (or was it a seminar? who knows the difference?) well over 40 years ago. Aimed at new youth group catechists, the day-long, Saturday-wasting program was conducted by a team of facilitators employed by a diocese in California that will remain unnamed. The program opened with a question: "If you were an animal, what would you be?" We then spent a half-hour -- that's 30 long minutes -- in small groups defending our critter choice before exposing it to the entire class and allowing others to cheer or jeer at our selection of totem spirit. As you can imagine it was a bizarre experience, and I still don't understand its purpose. 

Dung Beetles at Work
My choice, however, generated serious scorn from the facilitators until I explained my rationale. You see, I told all present that if I were an animal, I'd be a dung beetle. The facilitators correctly assumed I was cynically deriding their silly question in particular and their seemingly useless workshop in general. But in the face of their criticism, I assumed an air of a deeply hurt participant. The dung beetle, I explained, is among the humblest of God's creatures, and offers us the perfect, paradigmatic model of self-effacement and abandonment to the will of God. (Facilitators respond really well to phrases like this.) Well...for the rest of the morning I was the fair-haired child whose opinion was actively sought. This changed radically when, during our lunch hour, I made the mistake of telling a couple of other participants that my "dung beetle thing" was all a joke. One of them ratted me out to the facilitators and for the rest of the day I was persona non grata. It was a very unpleasant afternoon.

So I guess the best approach is simply to tell the truth and reveal my favorite movies to her who asked me...and to you, my select, holy remnant of readers. I won't provide more than a simple rationale for my flick picks, simply because I don't have the time to offer more detail. goes, my five-star movies in no particular order.

Groundhog Day (1993). I love this movie, simply because it's a wonderful, funny story of gradual (very gradual) self-awareness, repentance, and redemption. As the story progresses we see the transformation of a man from a self-centered and pitied misanthrope to a selfless, caring person who has learned that the gift of life demands a loving response. And this conversion occurs despite the fact that he sees no escape from his predicament, one which can be described only as supernatural. Although God is rarely mentioned in the film, the situation in which the hero finds himself can come from no other source. Bill Murray is at his wackiest best and I can't imagine any other actor in the role of Phil the once-pompous, self-absorbed TV weatherman.  A clip:

Tender Mercies (1983). Robert Duvall played the role of Mac Sledge, a seemingly washed-up alcoholic country-western singer, and he played it to perfection -- so perfectly he won an Oscar for best actor. The story is one of redemption and conversion (Do you see a pattern here?), and a story of the importance of family. It's a story of God's continual call to the sinner, to each and every one of us; and it's a story God's tough love, of His forgiveness and our need to extend it to and ask it of others. The script was rejected time and again by many directors who were no doubt turned off by its openly Christian theme. Remarkably, Robert Duvall did all his own singing in the film -- an example:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). Okay, I like this movie -- really like this movie -- because it's so uproariously funny and depicts the teenager most guys wish they were back when. Matthew Broderick was perfectly cast in the title role, so well cast that I find it hard to think of him as anyone else. The story might demand a suspension of disbelief to an extraordinary degree but that's true of many good comedies. It's all about a high school student who decides to act sick so he can enjoy a day off from the tedious boredom that most parents and educators inflict on their charges. The day that follows, a day into which he recruits his friend, Cameron, is anything but boring. But throughout it all, despite Ferris' cocky attitude and total chutzpah, we encounter a likable character who cares about his friends and their problems. We also sympathize with him as he tiptoes through the minefield of typical teen problems generated by clueless parents, jealous younger siblings, suspicious and bureaucratic school officials, and distressed friends. It's the perfect movie to watch when you have a day off. Here's the opening scene. It sets the stage for all that follows:

The Wind and the Lion (1975). As a retired naval officer I can't help but like this movie. It has a great cast that includes Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, and Brian Keith. A fictionalized account of an incident that took place in Morocco in 1904 in which an American woman (Candice Bergen) and her two children were kidnapped by a Berber rebel (Sean Connery) with the intent of creating an international incident. (The reality was quite different, but it's a movie so we expect to encounter a little alteration.) In response to a ransom demand, the US President, Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith), decides to make use of the incident in his campaign for reelection. The story continues developing the relationship between the Berber rebel and the kidnapped American. My favorite scene involves none of the principle characters but depicts a contingent of US Marines sent to convince the Bashaw in Tangier to pay the ransom. The Marines are, of course, magnificently successful. It's a complicated plot, but a wonderful story. My kind of movie. Here's the trailer:

That's enough for now. Maybe more another day.

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