The Movies, 5 x 5

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, that I love the movies. I like movie soundtracks. I love throwing out movie quotes at appropriate moments, sometimes just to see if anyone will catch it. And frankly my dear, I DON’T like much of what has been coming out of Hollywood lately. Not because of the content, although that is certainly bad enough.

No, my complaint is that most directors, producers and screenwriters seem to have forgotten how to tell a good story visually. Twenty-seven explosions in search of a plot does NOT make a good movie, in my opinion. CGI is no substitute for genuine character development, and SPFX cannot take the place of a good, you know, story.

I write this, knowing that I have friends in the movie business, both writers and actors. And truthfully, I don’t object to good visual effects – in fact, I love them. I think the “Star Trek” reboot movies are a good example – especially this most recent film, “Into Darkness.” I thought it had a really good story that was really well told, and for once, the effects – including the 3D – actually ADDED to the movie’s effectiveness. I saw it in both 2D and 3D, and the 3D shot of the Enterprise rising up out of the clouds was simply gorgeous.

And this from a diehard fan of the original Trek TV show, who really wanted NOT to like what these young whippersnappers were doing with my franchise.

All of that to say, I don’t think I’m just being an old curmudgeon, “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” sort of guy. I don’t hate technology in movies. I just think I have a right to expect more than that for my $12.

I got to spend some time with my brother David and his family last week, and we got on the subject of favorites movies. Actually, I like playing a little game with other movie fans. Here’s how it goes: you pick a category of movie, and list your five favorites from that category. Drama. Action / Adventure. Horror. Comedy.

Yes, I know it’s nerdy. And geeky. What can I say? I AM a nerd. And a geek. But you must like the movies too, or you wouldn’t still be reading at this point, right? So here’s how we’re going to play. I’m going to pick five categories of films, then tell you my five favorites in that category – 5 x 5, get it?

You are welcome to disagree, debate about which movies should have been listed, wonder how I could be so dense as to have left off one of your favorites from a given list, or whatever. That’s part of the fun here. And I’m not saying these are necessarily the best movies of these categories ever made, just my favorites.  If you really want to get into it, you can always sign up at, and create your own lists that you can post.  It’s showtime, folks! (Quick: what movie is that line from?)

FIVE ALL-TIME FAVORITES –  These are my favorite movies.  They are not all necessarily “great” films, but all them continue to touch me deeply.  Here’s a link to the complete list of my Top 25 favorites.

  • 5.  The Shawshank Redemption.  This movie meets one of my criteria for “favorite,” which is that I watch it any time it comes on TV.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are a treat.
  • 4.  Tender Mercies.  Talk about redemption: at the end of the movie, when Robert Duvall is throwing the football with his stepson, you have the answer to the question, “Why?”  Incredible movie.
  • 3.  The Quiet Man.  The John Ford Company Players at their best, along with stunning Irish scenery.
  • 2.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  A sentimental favorite because it was the movie Kathy and I went to see on our first date.  Then 30+ years later, we went to see it at the Paramount on our anniversary.
  • 1.  Casablanca.  Is it a war movie?  Is it a romance?  Is it a character picture?  Yes, all of that, and more.  Bogart.  Bergman.  For all sorts of reasons, everybody comes to Rick’s.

FIVE FAVORITE WAR MOVIES – So-called “war” movies are sometimes accused of glorifying violence, but I think a good one has just the opposite effect, showing the waste and futility.  Here are five good ones.

  • 5.  Gettysburg.  Jeff Daniels shines as the speech professor-turned-colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who receives the Medal of Honor for his actions at Little Round Top.
  • 4.  The Enemy Below.  Robert Mitchum and Curd Jurgens are amazing as the American and German captains opposing each other.  Who – or what – is the real enemy?
  • 3.  Saving Private Ryan.  I always wondered what it would be like to be behind a landing craft door when it dropped open.  It ain’t pretty.
  • 2.  Twelve O’Clock High.  Gregory Peck as a good man struggling under the burden what he must do to push his men and accomplish the mission.
  • 1.  The Guns of Navarone.  Another great Gregory Peck role, with another fine cast.  David Niven is terrific.

FIVE FAVORITE JOHN WAYNE MOVIES –  John Wayne is, and always will be, known for his Westerns.  But I think he was often at his best when he took that persona and translated it into other kinds of movie storytelling.  Honorable mention: Hellfighters.

  • 5.  The Shootist.  The Duke’s last movie, playing an aging gunfighter who just wants to die in peace.  All actors should go out so well.
  • 4.  True Grit.  Come see a one-eyed fat man.
  • 3.  The High and the Mighty.  John Wayne is a pilot on a doomed airliner.
  • 2.  Fort Apache.  Watching him work with Henry Fonda was always a treat.
  • 1.  The Quiet Man.  Sean Thornton, home from America, to forget his troubles.

FIVE FAVORITE COURTROOM DRAMAS – Trials naturally lend themselves to good movie making.  Life and death, freedom and imprisonment, right and wrong.  Another of the great ones (even though it’s not on this list): Inherit the Wind, with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March.

  • 5.  The Caine Mutiny.  Humphrey Bogart is great; Jose Ferrer is superb.  Fred McMurray is agreeably spineless and slimy.
  • 4.  The Verdict.  This was Paul Newman’s greatest role, in my opinion, as an alcoholic ambulance-chaser looking for redemption.
  • 3.  A Few Good Men.  Aaron Sorkin writes, and Tom and Demi go up against Jack.  You can’t handle the truth.
  • 2.  To Kill a Mockingbird.  All aspiring actors (and trial lawyers, for that matter) should have to watch Gregory Peck’s closing argument to the jury.  This is how it’s done.
  • 1.  Twelve Angry Men.  Oh my, what a cast.  A tense, real-time drama of a jury that votes 11-1 for a conviction.  Then Henry Fonda starts asking questions.

FIVE FAVORITE BASEBALL MOVIES –  I think it’s fair to say that there have been more great baseball pictures, than all other categories of sports movies combined.  This summer’s 42 is also really, really good.

  • 5.  The Sandlot.  Friends and summers and growing up.  And James Earl Jones ain’t bad.
  • 4.  A League of Their Own.  You know it as well as I do: There’s no crying in baseball.
  • 3.  Field of Dreams.  So many memorable lines and moments.  “No, I mean, what do you want?”  “Oh.  A dog and a beer.”
  • 2.  The Natural.  Yes, it’s cheesy and melodramatic at times.  It’s still wonderful watching Redford knock the cover off the ball.  There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.
  • 1.  Bull Durham.  Okay, this movie has some of the dirtiest language ever put on celluloid, and I really can’t recommend it for that reason.  But it captures the joy of the game and essence of baseball in a way few others have ever matched.  The rose goes in front, big guy.

There, see how easy that was? So now, get your Siskel & Ebert on, and come up with some lists of your own. And please pass the popcorn.

The Content of One’s Character

Today is Juneteenth. That’s not a misprint. June 19 is the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Federal troops arrived in Texas after the War Between the States to announce that slavery had officially been abolished, and all former slaves were now free. The day has been remembered ever since, and known by its slang name, “Juneteenth.”

It seems an appropriate day to reflect upon the current state of race relations in this country.

Item: Cheerios recently began airing a really cute commercial involving a beautiful little girl, her white mom and her black dad. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a link:

Cheerios received so much hate mail after it began airing that they had to disable comments on the YouTube page where it was posted. It’s worth noting that there were hateful comments being posted by both white and black viewers.

Item: Before a recent San Antonio Spurs NBA game, a little Hispanic boy in full Mariachi costume sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Twitter erupted in a furious barrage of hateful racist comments. Never mind that the boy’s family are legal citizens, and that San Antonio as a city is older than the American republic, and has a long history of bi-racial culture.

These two incidents point out to me that although this country has indeed made great strides in pursuing liberty and justice for all, we still have a long way to go. Yes, America has a black president, and Texas has an hispanic senator, but we’re not there yet.

(And I should point out that simply criticizing the president does NOT make one a racist. There are plenty of people who object to his policies, not his skin color. That is not the issue I’m addressing here.)

I guess my point is that while “official” racism, Jim Crow laws, and the like are a thing of the past, racism now is more subtle and in some ways, harder to notice. And it requires a more diligent effort on the part of people of good conscience to see it and to work to eliminate it. (If you want to read more about a memory of mine about old school official racism, see my post from last week, “Grayburg Memories.”)

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pointed out that the most challenging part of the civil rights struggle was NOT the vicious, hate-filled speech of the bigots; rather, it was what he called “the appalling silence of the good people” who saw what was going on, yet chose to remain silent.

It’s not enough to say, “Well, I don’t even notice a person’s skin color.” We must work to do more – even to go out of our way to help.

When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” He responded with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Someone of a different ethnic background, a different social class, a different religion, yet going out of his way to reach out to another person. Note, too, that as far as the behavior of the “religious” people in the story, their response to the need in front of them was an #epicfail.

President George W. Bush and others have observed that 11:00 AM on Sunday mornings is still the most segregated hour in America. People of good will of all races must work to change that, to bring about the multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-generational Kingdom of God. It doesn’t come by our own efforts, that’s true – it comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can certainly hinder it from coming, just as the lack of faith on the part of the people in Nazareth hindered Jesus from being able to very much in their midst.

Let us have the spiritual courage to pray for God to open our eyes to whatever prejudice or hatred may be in our hearts, and for the faith to work to build bridges rather than walls. Let us seek out others of good will, that we may be a witness to the lost of the essential Oneness of God’s people, no longer slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, but all one in Christ.

Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.

Happy Juneteenth!