Sunday, April 27, 2008

So What's the Complete List?

Instead of dragging out my top ten film list any longer (and trying to find a nice photo or film clip to include with each post, which is fun when they can be found), here is a complete set of the ten films I'd like to have if ever stranded no a desert island:
  • The Shoes of the Fisherman
  • A Man for All Seasons
  • Remains of the Day
  • Patton
  • Jesus of Nazareth (actually a television miniseries, but I'll include it)
  • The Godfather
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Citizen Kane
  • In the Heat of the Night
  • Lawrence of Arabia
What films do you have on your list?

Another "Desert Island Film" Featuring a Lawyer and a King

My post last week about The Shoes of the Fisherman and my comment that it would definitely make my "desert island" list of movies got me to thinking about others that I would include. Today, another from my top ten list: A Man for All Seasons. A remarkable film about the life of Sir Thomas More, one-time chancellor to King Henry VIII who resigned his position and ultimately lost his life as a result of his strong opposition to the monarch's desire to obtain a divorce.

The 1966 version of the film (there was a later version in the 1980s directed by and starring Charlton Heston, which I haven't seen) is astounding and features Paul Scofield as More (he won the 1967 best actor Oscar for his performance), Leo McKern as Cromwell (two straight films with McKern; a pattern developing?), Robert Shaw as Henry VIII (unlike his later turn in Jaws, there's no need for a bigger boat in this one; his boisterous performance is bigger than any boat could be), and Orson Welles as Cardinal Wolsey (I think one of his most underappreciated performances). It's about two hours long, but the time flies as you get caught up in the sweep of the film.

Someone posted a classic trailer for the film that I'll include here; hopefully it's a nice teaser for you to go out and find your own copy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Movie that Entertains, Amazes, and Challenges

The best movies I've ever seen bring together three elements: a great cast, a compelling story, and a topic in which I'm personally interested. Today I watched one of my all-time favorites that more than covers these three areas -- "The Shoes of the Fishermen." It is easily one of the most fascinating stories I've ever seen, and would certainly be on my "stranded on a desert island" list.

Anthony Quinn plays Kiril Lakota, a Russian Catholic archbishop who has recently been released from the gulag where he was imprisoned and taken to live in Vatican City. Through a remarkable set of circumstances, he quickly becomes a cardinal and then pope -- a very reluctant pope who draws his strength not from isolation or seclusion, but from being in and surrounded by the lives of others. He is a man who is conflicted about his role in the church and on the global stage, and while being confronted by the problems of the world manages to directly impact the lives of a few: a doctor who is suffering through a marriage that is falling apart; a priest who is under investigation for writings on the idea of a "cosmic Christ" that are out of the norm and potentially heretical and who is dealing with a far more serious issue; a cardinal questioning the wisdom of some of the decisions made by Pope Kiril and possessing a jealousy of those with a closer relationship to the pontiff than he enjoyed.

There are many compelling scenes in the movie and some amazing dialogue (which I assume comes from the Morris West novel on which this is based, although I've never read it). I'm particularly fascinated by the theology espoused by Father Telemond during his interrogation by the Vatican commission investigating him; some samples:

Question: What think you of Christ, Father? Who is he?

Answer: He is the point to which all of evolution is tending. He is the point at which all of the universe must arrive, as the spokes of a wheel arrive at the center. He is the universe summed up; he is the cosmic Christ.

Question: Father Telemond, it is written in the scripture, "Jesus Christ yesterday, today, and the same forever. Are you not creating a Christ of your own?

Answer: I am not creating him; I am revealing a face of him we have not yet seen.

Question: Do you have a private revelation, Father?

Answer: Perhaps I have, eminence. If I have, it is no merit of mine; indeed, it is a torment for me. I cannot renounce this Christ whom I see, anymore than I can renounce him who hangs on the cross.

Question: You put us in great trouble; much of what you have said and written is of extraordinary depth and beauty. Much of it is still unclear and as you have seen, puzzling to us. It would help if you would give us one clear statement of what you believe.

Answer: I believe in a personal God; I believe in Christ; I believe in the Spirit. But if by some perilous internal revolution I lost my faith in God, in Christ, and in the Spirit, I think I still would believe in the world. Yes, I do believe in the world -- in the goodness of the world, the values of the world. That in the final analysis is the first and the last thing in which I believe. This faith I live by, and it is to this faith that at the moment of death, mastering all doubts, I shall surrender myself.

This entire movie, through every character and every plot line, explores how we see ourselves, how we see our place in the world, and how we see our relationship to God and to Christ. It's deeply moving, deeply theological, and very challenging -- without once losing an iota of its great story and emotional and visual beauty.

I can't remember when I first saw this film; I had to have been a young child. Its hold on me has never lessened in the years since, and I discover something new every time I watch it. Out of all of the roles Quinn played in his long career, Kiril is my favorite, and the performances by Leo McKern (known by most in his role as Rumple of the Bailey), Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Oskar Werner (who gives his own outstanding performance as the investigated priest; you should also check him out in "Fahrenheit 451"), and several others make it an outstanding movie well worth the watching.

Five stars out of five on the rating scale.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Someone Had Other Plans for the Family...

It was an amazing morning -- it was 8:30, everyone was dressed, everyone was in the car, and most importantly, everyone was in a good mood. Seemed like we were going to get to the church on time and have a good day.

And then E. decided that her little tummy wasn't feeling well, and without a second thought felt the car was a perfect place to get sick. You can't help but laugh at something like that; besides, a 14-month-old child doesn't know any better. All she knows is that she doesn't feel well, and after taking care of things she was back to her old self. So, less than two miles from home, we made the wide turn through the closest interchange and headed back to the house.

There was still a chance that MB and I could have at least made it to Sunday school, but Mother Nature thought differently and opened up the spigot. So right now, E. is playing in the basement, MB is bouncing back and forth between watching the Noggin network and playing with some new Silly Putty that she has acquired, and A. is making homemade gazpacho and flan for dinner tonight (which are two dishes that I highly recommend you try if you haven't already).

And me? I'm getting to enjoy one of those incresingly rare moments in my life -- sitting in the office out behind our house, lights out, windows open, enjoying the sounds of a springtime thunderstorm: the rain beating off the roof, a cool breeze blowing through the trees in the yard and the windows of this little room, the occasional distant rumble of thunder, and the silence that comes with the absence of cars speeding up and down our street.

I suppose that this morning -- this moment -- was provided for a reason, a "time to be silent" (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Moses/Ben-Hur/Will Penny Rides His Chariot/Aircraft Carrier/Horse Into the Sunset

I awoke this morning to the news that another Hollywood icon is gone. Charlton Heston was one of those actors who comes along once every few generations, and I seriously doubt we'll see another like him (or Gregory Peck or Spencer Tracy or Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, and on and on and on) for a long time to come.

I was privileged during my life to have the opportunity to see Heston twice in person. The first time was in early 1994, when he was stumping through Virginia with George Allen during the latter's run for governor; A. found out that there would be an event not far from her college in Roanoke, Virginia, and so we decided at the last minute to attend. If I remember correctly, it was being held in a small VFW-type hall, and the room was packed with some supporters of Allen and several other candidates for the state legislature -- but mostly Heston fans. I snapped a few pictures of him while he was speaking, and then turned when he was done and tried to beat him out of the building so that I could get a few more pictures. His group was in quite a hurry, however, and when I turned to start snapping he was standing right in front of me -- and I froze, he got in his car, and I missed the opportunity. Truthfully, I expected no less; the man towered over me in more ways than one, and it was easy to freeze up.

The second and last time I saw him was in Mobile, Alabama, in 2002, when he appeared at an event for several candidates for state and federal office (including my former boss, who was making his first -- and successful -- run for Congress). By that point, Heston had already announced that he was suffering from Alzheimer's-type symptoms, and so folks knew he wouldn't be in the best of health. When he arrived at the hotel, though, I was stunned; gone was the man who had towered over me just eight years earlier, and in his place was a man worn down by age and the early stages of the disease who walked with a stoop and a very noticeable shuffle. I got in line to have my picture made with him, and we exchanged a few brief words ("Mr. Heston, it's an honor to meet you."; "It's good to meet you."). At the end of the photo session, I watched as he walked to the ballroom where he delivered very, very brief remarks before leaving to head to another stop in Alabama. The photo was lost; the set of negatives containing my photo and the photos of several others were misplaced, and while I was disappointed at the time I later saw the photos of friends taken with him, and his poor health was so evident that I was glad that I didn't have my photo -- preferring instead to remember him as the vigorous man of nearly a decade earlier.

As far as his involvement with the NRA, I really don't have much of an opinion; I have my own feeling about guns and gun restrictions, and I leave it at that -- no plans to get involved either for or against the NRA. However, I will say that I was outraged when watching the excerpt from "Bowling for Columbine" when Michael Moore ambushed Heston at his home and confronted him about gun issues, the NRA, and the students who had been killed. It was very obvious how ill Heston had become, and despite his being gracious to even let Moore into his home the filmmaker went after him. Heston ended up walking off and leaving Moore behind, still running his mouth and leaving photos of the children propped up along the house. I don't have much of a liking for Moore anyway, but acting the way he did and treating an ill Heston with such utter disrespect killed any hope I had of watching anything else he does.

But it's not Heston the gun rights advocate that I want to remember; it's Heston the actor that I choose to memorialize here. I certainly haven't seen every Heston film, but I've enjoyed every one that I have seen. My credenza at work holds among other things a great signed photograph of him, and I'm proud that the home library contains a copy of his autobiography, In the Arena, graciously signed by him and his wife Lydia.

Don't get me wrong; there are some great actors at work today whose films I really enjoy. However, in many ways I'm disappointed that my children won't have the opportunity to grow up watching the films of people who are right labeled as icons.

So thank you, Charlton Heston, for your life, your work, and your advocacy for so many. I think I sense a mini-film festival coming on here at home; hope A. is ready for that...