Friday, February 27, 2009

The Other Top Five Science Fiction/ Comedy Films

Might as well finish this off:

6) Men In Black - As long as we all agree that the second film did not happen

7) Mars Attacks - Yeah, it has its weaknesses, but earns a place just for the scene where the Martians are playing the "We come in peace" recording as they blast everything to heck

8) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - I love the "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" song

9) The Man With Two Brains - Because any list of comedy films without Steve Martin is just wrong

10) Tremors - Because the worms rule.

(Honorable mention, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adverture, Cherry 2000 [don't care what Rotten Tomatoes ranks it], Demolition Man [Stallone on a list of comedies is usually problematic], Critters 1 & 2 but not 3, A Boy and His Dog [just for that awesome final line of dialouge, Lilo and Stitch)

In case the Chronicle Goes Defunk, Here's My Article at

Memories are like weed darts: Some of them don't stick
Dean A. Anderson, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, September 16, 2006

Walking my 9-year-old daughter home from school, I notice the great delight she takes in throwing weed darts. You may know what I'm talking about; it's a prolific weed throughout Sonoma County. She puts her thumb and forefinger together at the base of the weed and pulls up, plucking the darts to throw. She then flicks them at the back of whomever she is walking with (her sister, her brother, her father) to see how many darts will stick in the back of a shirt or in someone's hair.
I used to do the same thing as I waited at the bus stop when I was her age (as well as when I was a few years younger and a few years older). My family lived in a rural area of the county on an unpaved road with a dozen or so houses. Some mornings I waited 15 or 20 minutes at the stop for the bus. Of course, there were also mornings I saw the bus as I left the house and ran, hoping it wouldn't leave without me.
The following are the top five memories that come to mind when I think of our bus stop on Fulton Road and Raplee Terrace:
1) The weeds mentioned above.
2) Another weed with a head that would pop off when you twisted the stem just right.
3) Dark mornings. Because President Richard Nixon extended daylight-saving time, there were cold winter mornings when we wouldn't see the sun coming up till the bus was approaching Mark West Elementary School. I really couldn't have cared less at the time about breaking into the opponent's campaign headquarters -- making kids wait in the dark seemed the true impeachable act.
4) Kicking the bigger rocks on our gravel road from my house to the bus stop (and, of course, from the bus stop to my house). If the rock went in a ditch, it was lost. And, of course, I didn't want any other kid kicking MY rock.
5) Karen Cameron and Rachelle Merian repeatedly asking me to tell them whom I liked. I didn't tell them for a very long time. This was highly classified information that couldn't fall into the wrong hands. But day after day, they asked. It seemed their duty to collect all the data in our class about who liked whom. They needed this information because, well, I'm not sure why they needed to know, but it certainly seemed important to them.
Day after day, they asked, at the bus stop and on the walk home, with the promise that they would keep this information to themselves. No one would know. Their persistence paid off. Eventually, I told. And they told. The very person I most dreaded being told. The girl I liked.
So I had no choice to tell this, the cutest, funniest and kindest human being on the planet at that particular time, that I liked her, "You know, as a friend."
This was obviously a traumatic incident in my young life. That's why this memory had stuck with me. But I became curious. Would Karen and Rachelle remember this tumultuous event? Surely, something of this magnitude, they must. I decided to find out.
I had no problem getting in touch with Rachelle. After the bus stop years, in high school, I had driven her to school. Ever since our 20th high school reunion, we have kept in touch with Christmas cards and the occasional e-mail. I sent her a note asking for her bus stop memories.
In a phone call, she responded with these top five memories:
1) Her mother not walking with her to the bus stop.
Rachelle was much farther down the street than I, and she would have liked company for some of that walk, but her mother had to stay home with her younger brothers.
2) All the other kids that waited with us various times throughout the years: her older brothers, Randy and Ricky, and her sister Renee; my brother, Dale; the twins, Ronnie and Gary; and too many others to name, but the list would include Jack, David, Eddie and, of course, Karen.
3) The many times her grandfather driving along Fulton Road would slow down and wave. That made her feel quite special.
4) The mornings it rained and we all would take cover under the garage overhang of the last house on the street. But we would already be drenched from the walk.
5) The morning she had money to buy "The Boxcar Children" from the Scholastic Book Club. She wasn't usually given money to buy when book-order time came around, so this was a big deal. She had two quarters to pay for the book, and was playing with the money.
And what happened was what parents always warned would happen if you play with money. She dropped a quarter -- into the weeds. She didn't know what to do, so she threw the other quarter into the weeds, hoping it would find its companion. And it did. She heard them click and she found the quarters and bought the book.
This coin-finding trick never worked for her again.
You may notice that this list of memories makes no mention of her pleas to know my beloved (or more appropriate to the time, my "beliked"). When I asked her about the incident, she had no recollection of it.
(And upon further questioning, she was unable to recall the name of the girl her inquisition had dragged out of me, though she did remember some of the girls I liked in high school.)
It took a little more work to get in touch with Karen. After elementary school, she had gone to a different junior and senior high schools, and during that time moved off Raplee Terrace. I hadn't talked to her for decades. I checked with my mother for Karen's married name and her assurance that Karen was still in the area. After a calling a few wrong numbers, I finally reached her.
These are the memories that first came to her mind:
1) Our bus drivers, Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Albritton. (Both were moms of students at our school, Susan and Stephen, respectively, as I recall. Both were always threatening to give "tickets" for misconduct. I was never sure what these tickets would do, but it couldn't be good.)
2) Also the dark mornings.
3) Also the rainy mornings.
4) Being chased by chickens. Karen was also farther down the street than I was. I never encountered this fowl problem (there was a particularly nasty rooster, she recalled). She dislikes birds to this day because of these chickens.
5) During her kindergarten year, Karen broke her leg. She recalls struggling to get on the bus with the cast.
You might note once again, a glaring omission. When asked specifically about the afternoon when she and Rachelle implored me to share my heart, the moment my resolve broke and the consequences of it all, Karen had no recall.
I now know something more about those little weed darts my daughter throws, and that I used to throw (all right, I still throw them on occasion). They are wild oats. They are not indigenous to Sonoma County, but were brought long ago from Europe. The weeds with the pop tops are plantains.
These little factoids may stick with you, they may not. Like memories and wild oats thrown at the back, you just never know what will stick.
And you may wonder who it was that I had a crush on in the sixth grade. You're not hearing it from me.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Top Science Fiction Comedy Films

Watching the John Carpenter film "Dark Star" which has some interesting ideas, but such a low budget, it is tough going at times. I was thinking about what the top sci-fi-coms would be. I don't think this film would make the top ten.

So here is a the beginning of a list:

1) Dr. Stangelove - I think it qualifies for sci-fi because of the Doomsday device and this film is very funny, particularly the performance of Peter Sellers, but I also love George C. Scott and Slim Pickens.

2) Back to the Future - One of the best time travel scripts, it almost makes sense.

3) Galaxy Quest - The best Star Trek film after Wrath of Khan.

4) Buckeroo Banzai - If you don't get it... That's your problem.

5) Ghost Busters - Is this a horror comedy? A fantasy comedy? I'm counting it because of the gear they have "Don't Cross the Beams".

I'll have to figure out the other five later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

God of the City

To hear people talk sometimes, you’d think that God is barefoot, wearing a straw hat and bib overalls. You’ve probably never heard God described in that exact way, but you’ve probably heard this, “I feel most close to God when I’m out in nature.” People talk about how they don’t think they can find God in a church building but they can find God when they’re camping.
You get the impression, from this kind of talk, that cities must all have a “God Free Zone” sign (like cities with “Drug Free Zone” and “Nuclear Free Zone” signs) and that God honors those posted signs. Sadly, drugs get past those signs, and I don’t think a sign would stop a launched thermonuclear missile. Fortunately, even if someone posted a “God Free Zone” sign, I think God would pass it by. He’s not just a country God. He is the God of the City.
I was thinking of this while watching a recent movie, Paris, Je T’Aime (2006). The film is really a series of very short films made by a variety of prominent writers and directors. There are also a variety of actors, and the only character in all of the stories is the city of Paris.
I hope this doesn’t sound like damning with faint praise when I say one of the best things about this film is the establishing shots. “Establishing shots” in films are those short bits of footage that we see before the action proper begins, shots that establish where and the scene take place. This film has wonderful panoramic views of the City of Lights as well as more focused views of streets and alleys. We see the Eiffel Tower as well as an underground railway station. There are lovely views of the Seine River and markets and restaurants. A variety of cinematographers filmed a love letter to the capital of France.
The stories within the film are a bit hit and miss. I’m a big fan of the work of Joel and Ethan Coen (Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men), and they wrote and directed a segment about a tourist getting to know some Parisians more intimately than he would have hoped. Their contribution to the film is funny and cynical, as one who knows their work would expect. Alexander Payne’s segment about a provincial American tourist seems like a female version of his About Schmidt. My favorite segment of the film comes from Isabel Coixet, a Spanish writer-director, about a man who considers leaving his wife but changes his mind after he learns that she has a terminal illness. A narrator notes that he began to act, again, like he loved his wife and soon discovered that he felt that love again. It captures quite well the thought C. S. Lewis had that we must act on God’s command to love before we will ever feel that love.
There was an old TV show which ended with a narrator saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city.” In this film there are eighteen little stories in Paris, some quite wonderful -- and those that aren’t, are at least over quickly. And after watching the film, one does wish the Concorde was still flying. The title is accurate; the film makers obviously love the place.
Other cities have received cinematic Valentines through the years.
On the Town (1949) with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra was one of the first musicals to film on location in New York City. The film follows three sailors on leave who explore the big city where “the Bronx is up and Battery’s down and the people ride in a hole in the ground.” The film was directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen and written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden -- the same team that made Singin’ in the Rain. It’s funny and has great song and dance numbers. And it is one of many films that make NYC look like heaven on earth (which could be set alongside films such as The French Connection and Serpico that picture the city as hell on earth.)
Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) opens with a wonderful image of a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus over the city of Rome. The arms of Jesus are open wide, and the look on the face of the statue is one of love. Throughout the film we see characters that are lost and confused, but we remember that opening image that intimated that these characters are being looked at tenderly from above. And again, after watching the film, the viewer wants to go online to see how cheap one can get airfare to Rome.
Steve Martin’s L.A. Story was obviously made with Fellini’s film, parodying that famous opening shot. The film mocks the pretensions of the rich and famous of the film world, but also highlights the wonderful museums and quirky architecture, and even finds beauty in the freeways.
There is even a film that pays loving tribute to the city of Santa Rosa. There are many reasons to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), from the master’s trademark chills to Thornton Wilder’s subtle screenplay to Joseph Cotten’s chilling portrayal of a killer. But if you live in Sonoma County, the chief attraction of the film may be to see World War II era Santa Rosa, from the library to the train station. It was a small city then, but a city nonetheless. (Hitchcock obviously loved the area. He came up again to film The Birds [1963].)
These films capture the beauty of cities, and that beauty is not separate from the presence of God. The most wonderful thing about cities is the abundance of people and their creations, and those people were made in the image of God.
Scripture makes it clear that God loves cities and cares about them deeply.
In Luke 19: 41 – 44 we find Jesus weeps when He looks over the city of Jerusalem because the people of the city are like sheep without a shepherd.
And if we look at the description of God’s final creation in Revelation 21 (verses 9 – 14), the place He made for us to enjoy for all eternity, we find that He made a city:
“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
So the next time you think that you can only find God by a mountain stream, on the desert sand or on a snow capped peak, remember…in the seediest hotels in the darkest parts of Gotham, one can usually find a Gideon Bible.