Friday, November 26, 2010

Did I Tell You About The Book You Should Buy...

No, not just another Bill the Warthog book (fine as they are), but this one here:

"Self-published" is such an ugly word. Think of it as created for you and a few other very special people.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Poor Say Thank You By Asking for More

For the December issue of our church newsletter, I’ve been prone to write two kinds of articles. One: a rehash of the Best Christmas films ever (so if you haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life – go watch it already. And have a hankie ready for the film’s finale.) Two: a preview of holiday films to come, on occasion based on their literary pedigree (I’m looking forward to True Grit, based on a good book and a remake of a fine John Wayne film. Usually, I’m not thrilled with the idea of remakes, but since this is from the Coen Brothers, this is an exception.)

Instead, I’m going to write about an anti-Christmas film (really an anti-Christian film, but we’ll see in this context it’s the same thing.) Most films that attack the Christian faith take a safer route than the film I’m going to discuss. Many films, Elmer Gantry for example, attack the clergy. Well, most Christians are more than willing to admit that all have sinned and more than a few scoundrels have abused their roles as evangelists, pastors and priests. Some filmmakers (such as the Pythons when they publicized The Life of Brian) claim that they have no problem with faith itself, just with “organized religion”. But I see very little virtue in the apparent alternative, “chaotic religion.”

But Viridiana, filmed in Spain in 1961 by acclaimed writer/director Luis Buñuel takes a much bolder stand. It attacks Christianity on the grounds that acts of charity and compassion are futile and without worth.

The film tells the story of a young novice (the Silvia Pinal ably plays the title character) who is instructed by her Mother Superior to visit her uncle before she takes her vows. She has up until then had little contact with the uncle who financially supported her.

She obeys and visits her uncle (played by Fernando Rey) at his vast but decaying estate, and finds him to be a man of rather depraved tastes. He tells Viridiana that she reminds him of his late wife and asks the much younger woman to marry him. When she refuses him, he drugs her coffee and takes advantage of her (to an unclear degree.) After this incident, the uncle kills himself because of his guilt.

Viridiana learns she has inherited her uncle’s estate, but it is to be shared with her uncle’s illegitimate son, Jorge. Like his father, Jorge, is a man who pursues pleasure above all else.

Viridiana decides to open the estate to the poor in the village, inviting the blind, the crippled and the destitute. But they take advantage of her hospitality, staging a party in the house that becomes not just an orgy, but a mockery of the Last Supper.

In one of the film’s famed sequences, Jorge is seen trying to perform an act of kindness. He sees a man dragging a dog chained to his wagon. Jorge buys the dog from the man so it will no longer be abused. But they we see another man, another wagon and another dog even more greatly abused. The implication is any act of charity can only change a minute faction of the evil in the world.

The film implies that those who are charitable will be betrayed and abused and no lasting good will come of any of it. Better to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die”.

But these charges come as no surprise to anyone who knows Scripture. Jesus acknowledged the futility of ending all need when He said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7.) His entire life is an example of generosity responded to with ingratitude, betrayal and violence.

But He came to save His enemies (Romans 5: 7 – 8). He came in the flesh that first Christmas, knowing that He had come to die. But His viewpoint is bigger than ours. He knew that after the cross would come the resurrection. We can know that acts of compassion are not futile because every gift we give in His name, He receives (Matthew 25:4.)

Friday, November 12, 2010



I won't go into why, but today I thought I heard that Bill Murray was dead. I misheard, fortunately. But it me think again about one of the only actors working today that will inspire my attendance, just because he's in the film (unless it's a new Garfield movie, of course.)
Most Saturday Night veterans have a hard time sustaining a long team film career. Chevy Chase made some good funny films after a year on the show and then went on to make truly heinous ones. (Fortunately, he is funny again on Community after years of anti-funny following Christmas Vacation.) Dan Aykroyd's last good film was in 1997 (Gross Point Blank), Eddie Murphy's 1999 (Bowfinger) and Mike Myers has had over a decade since the first Austin Powers film. (I found Shrek to be funny, but Murphy and Myers have long since killed the good will for that film with lousy sequels and TV specials.)
But Murray is arguably the third funniest screen personality after Buster Keaton and the combined Marx brothers.

So my top ten:

1) Phil Conners in GROUNDHOG'S DAY - A very thoughtful film and a very profound film.
It was voted by some group or other as the most spiritual film. But still a very funny film.
Phil is a weather man but more importantly, a jerk. But the process of living the same day again and again makes a better man of him. Murray manages the transformation of redemption quite ably (much better than in SCROOGED.)
Quote: People like blood sausage too, people are morons.

2) Carl Spackler in CADDYSHACK - Perhaps Murray's most insane character, the ground's keeper with a vendetta against a gopher (that looks like a groundhog.)
Quote: So I've got that going for me.

2)Jeff Slater in TOOTSIE - Another comic masterpiece. Murray plays a small role as Michael's (Dustin Hoffman) boyfriend. But he steals much of the picture playing the straight (in many ways) man.
Quote: That is one nutty hospital.

3) Bill Murray in ZOMBIELAND - One of the great cameos. Of course he would survive a zombie apocalypse out of sheer coolness and laid back disposition.
Quote: Garfield, maybe.

4)Dr. Peter Venkman in GHOSTBUSTERS - The character Phil in the show Modern Family tries to prove bravery by bragging about how many times he watched this film. There are a few scary special effects, but basically the film is just hysterical. Venkman is described as a game show host in the film and he does achieve that level of smarminess.
Qoute: Yes, the man has no neck. (That's the TV dubbed version of the line. The line in the film is about a thousand times better.)

5) Herman Blume in RUSHMORE - This is the film in which critics began to recognize the genius of Murray. It was always there, but they finally started to figure out that he wasn't just funny. (But funny is plenty.) A man in a romantic rivalry with a high schooler could be just sad, but it is so much more.
Quote: She's my Rushmore.

6) Bob Harris in LOST IN TRANSLATION - I believe this is the only Murray film that was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. He was actually talked about for Best Actor, but the Academy does not have that much sense.
He was hard to believe as a Big Hollywood Action Star, but he was quite believable in his tender interaction with Scarlet Johannson.
Qoute: Whatever he whispered into Scarlet's ear.

7) Frank Quinn in GET LOW - Bill Murray, one of the great comic actors versus Robert Duvall, one of the great comic actors. So much fun to see them together. His funeral director gives Murray another chance to showcase his patented world weariness and cynicism.
Qoute: I sold 26 of the the ugliest cars in the middle of December with the wind blowing so far up my ass I was farting snowflakes into July.

8) Bunny Breckinridge in ED WOOD - This role almost makes it based on the name alone. But this tale of the world's worst director is Tim Burton's best film. Bunny, you may not be surprised, is not a terribly masculine character. A small role again, but wonderful.
Quote:What about glitter? When I was a headliner in Paris, audiences always liked it when I sparkled.

9) Tripper in MEATBALLS - Yes, imaginary reader (I don't want you, or me, to think I'm so delusional as to think someone reads this after I write it) you are wondering where is STRIPES? That is a better film than MEATBALLS, but his character has funnier lines in this film. Especially in the morning announcements.
Quote: Kids are starving in India and you're walking around with a sombrero full of peanuts.

10) Badger in FANTASTIC MR. FOX - I was going to rant about how Bill Murray should never do voiceover work because of GARFIELD and OSMOSIS JONES, but this makes the list. His second film on the list with Wes Anderson, but there are good Anderson films that didn't even make the list. A film starring in a film makes an awesome film. But his small parts often manage to make a film awesome as well.
Quote: The cuss you are.

I don't think there is another Saturday Night Live star that has ten great films. And Murray has more good films that did not make this list. Very cool.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Another Random Top Ten List

Commercially Produced Candy

Not the best, just what I like.

1) BUTTERFINGERS - This will not be the only chocolate/peanut butter candy on the list, I love that stuff. Tastes the best and has an interesting texture. If the chocolate is pealed away, it is sort of like a wood chip, splintering in the same way. Love these.

2) PIXIE STICKS - Really just artifically colored and flavored sugar in paper straw containers. What's wrong with that?

3) GOOD AND PLENTIES - You have to love black licorice, and I do. Plus, "Choo-choo Charlie was engineer" will never leave my head.

4) JUNIOR MINTS - Second only in the world of mints to Girl Scout Cookies, but they're, you know, cookies. Fun to smash between your fingers as well. (Honorary nod to Peppermint Patties.)

5) PEZ - Okay, the candy doesn't case that great, but it's alright. But the toy dispencers rule. The little heads of everything from Little Orphan Annie to Han Solo, from Tigger to Bilbo Baggins. Even featured in a classic Seinfeld episode (as many fine candies have been.)

6) REESE'S (CUP & PIECES) - Gotta love the classic PB & C match-up in the little paper wrapper, but ET and Elliot's brand can not be forgotten either.

7) FLICKS - The little chocolate candies from Ghiradellis that just make the list because I used to get rolls of these at the movies. Big nostalgia points.

8) MILK DUDS - The carmel chewiness just kills the teeth. But it is tasty and is fine theater food as well.

9) MILKY WAY - Boy, the milk candy just pulls it out at the end here. These are especially good straight from the freezer. (This spot almost went to THREE MUSKETEERS which are also excellent freezer candy.)

10) EVERLASTING GOBSTOPPERS - If it's good enough for Willy Wonka, it's good enough for me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Random Top Ten List

Top Ten Sitcoms

1) CHEERS - Managed to have characters we cared about and yet remain very funny. Classic one liners (What's up Norm? My nipples, it's freezing out there.), slap stick and subtle character based comedy.
Also survived and thrived with character changes (Coach to Woody, Diane to Rebecca) which killed shows like M*A*S*H and News Radio. Also was able to spin off an excellent show when it left the air (Frasier). Good guest characters like Harry the Hat and Andy, Andy.
As a conservative, I love that writer Rob Long and Cliff the postman have gone on as advocates of conservative institutions and causes.
It even managed a decent final episode (though not as great as the final episode of "Newhart". But of course, "Newhart" is not making the list.)
Everyone join in on the "Kelly, Kelly" song.

2) ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - In an interview, show creator, Mitchell Hurwitz. recently admitted that he set such a high standard of cramming jokes, plot lines and characters into a small period of time in this classic that he was having a hard time reaching his own standards in his new sitcom.
Yeah, it could have raunchy jokes, but they were funny and they flew by fast. Most of the characters were morally repugnant, but they were so personally unselfaware that you forgave them. Briliant use of Charlie Brown theme songs and "Afternoon Delight".
Before the phrase "Jumping the Shark" jumped the shark, they had Henry Winkler acutally jump a shark in the most casual manner possible.
David Cross was hysterical with his thoughtless double entendre and his business card for himself as an analyst and therapist was awful and awesome.
Everyone join in on their own chicken dance.

3) SEINFELD - I didn't appreciate this show until I realized you weren't supposed to like the characters. This show has added an amazing number of catch phrases to the culture ("Yadda, Yadda, Yadda", "Not that there's anything wrong with that", etc.).
It was great to have Jerry's best stand up bits committed to film (I love the one about sports fans really rooting for laundry.)
It was never really about Nothing, but it cleverly set up situations where very little happened in a Chinese Resteraunt or a parking lot.
And I met Julia Louise Dreyfuss and she was very nice. (Though the final episode was not as great as "Newhart"'s or "Cheers"'s or probably even "Bossom Buddies"'s.)
Everyone join in on the Elaine dance.

4) THE OFFICE - The BBC version. The American version has had great moments, but also such lows that it doesn't make it.
But Ricky Gervais' two seasons and a special are such artful pain that it has never been matched. (Though Ricky came close with the wonderful Extras.)
It captures the most awkward moments that have ever taken place in the workplace.
Everyone eat some stapler jello in this show's honor.

5) MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE - The best family sitcom of all time. This show was willing to have great absurdist touches (such as the hamster in a hamster ball that roamed the country throughout a season) but it also had real touches such as deciding which bills to pay based on the color of the paper (obviously red is more urgent than white.)
Bryan Cranston has gone on to win Emmys for his work in Breaking Bad, but he was brilliant in this show as well. Jane Kaczmarek was also great capturing both the nuture and the neurotic nature of motherhood.
Malcolm was the narator and the title character, but I always was rooting for the fourth born, Dewey and his special ed class was one of the bolder and funniest of sitcom inventions.
Everyone sing along Meow Mix song.

6) THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW - Pioneer in meta comedy, being a comedy show about the making of a comedy show (while also a domestic comedy.) Van Dyke was one of the great slapstick comics but he also came across as a real person. You really believed he was in love with the graceful and lovely Mary Tyler Moore.
The Walnut Alien Invasion show was a great science fiction spoof and yet also really scared me as a kid.
Carl Reiner was originally supposed to star in the show, and kudos to him for recognizing that DVD would do a better job. And Reiner was great as ego mad TV star Alan Brady. Also wonderful was Richard Deacon as Mel (whose great work on Leave It To Beaver was sadly never recognized with an Emmy.)
The only real weakness in the show was Larry Mathers as one of the most annoying child stars in sitcom history (and that competition is fierce.)
Everyone trip over the ottoman (or not.)

7) THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW - If only for the single episode,"Chucles Bites the Dust" which had Mary laughing at a funeral, this show might have made the list. A great cast of characters that were lovable and yet very funny.
Lou Grant drank too much and was gruff, but someone you would like to work for ("You've got spunk. I hate spunk.")
Ted Baxter was an dim, ego driven newscaster that one believes can easily be found on the local news.
Georgette was one of the sweetest characters ever, and Sussanne was one of sluttiest and they got along in this universe.
Sadly, its spinoffs (Rhoda and Phylis) were not that great and just deprived the show of great characters.
Everyone join that show ending hug.

8) THE BOB NEWHART SHOW - No one did a drunk, let alone a one way telephone call, as well as Bob. Great supporting characters and wonderful writing made this a classic.
Newhart managed two other decent shows ("Newhart" and the sadly unappreciated "Bob".)
Everyone join in on some Mu Gu Guy Pan.

9) 30 ROCK - The one current sitcom that makes the list (Community and Modern Family might make the list if this was made in the future.) Great balance of the absurd and sly satire. Though made by political liberals, they really do take on targets from both sides of the political spectrum.
Everyone agree we are tired of this bit of using "Everyone".

10) NEWS RADIO - Barely bits out WKRP as one of the great workplace comedies. But this one makes the list for the wonderful out of not where season ending episodes such as News Radio in Space and News Radio on the Titanic.

(The Simpsons is arguably one of the great sitcoms, but I'm saving it for a favorite animated shows list.)