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Feel-good films. July 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were talking just last night about favorite films, and OFB pointed out that many of my favorites were films that made me feel good. I agreed; I love films that cheer me up, that make me feel good, that give me hope, that make me laugh. So OFB challenged me to come up with my “Top Ten Feel-Good Films” list. I accepted the challenge, even though I was sure that I’d forget some of my favorites, and that there were so many more than ten that the list would necessarily be incomplete. But given those limitations, here are the ones that sprang to mind:

Bride and Prejudice. The Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice.” I love many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Emma,” Ciaran Hinds’s magnificent performance in “Persuasion,” and Alicia Silverstone’s adorable “Clueless,” but the high energy, hijinks, and general color, lightheartedness, and mayhem of “Bride and Prejudice”—not to mention the gorgeous Naveen Andrews as Balraj (Mr. Bingley)—takes it over the top.

Young Sherlock Holmes. I love all things Sherlock, but for the ultimate feel-good Holmes film, I’ll take “Young Sherlock Holmes” any day. Alan Cox as Watson would be enough to make the film a classic, but the marvelous Anthony Higgins as Moriarty and the hysterical, campy Egyptian stuff really make it priceless. After seeing it, just thinking of the line “My name is Lester Cragwitch!” will make you roar with laughter.

Flashdance. This isn’t the most cheerful of films, but its ultimate message is so uplifting: Go for your dreams and never give up. The heroine, played sensitively by a very young Jennifer Beals, faces a lot of hardship and heartbreak on the way to reaching her dreams, but she succeeds (and her friends don’t) because her inherent optimism, kindness, generosity and drive attract allies that won’t let her down, no matter what. And there’s tons of energy in the music and dancing.

Blow Dry. Like “Flashdance,” “Blow Dry” takes us through the full range of emotions, especially since Natasha Richardson plays a woman dying before her time and we all know what happened to her. But this film is so full of humor as well as sorrow, so full of great actors (like Alan Rickman), so full of hysterical moments (Bill Nighy is priceless, as is his film partner, Louie, and the mayor of the small town in Yorkshire where the hair competition is held). Ultimately, it’s about the triumph of love, but it reaches its end with plenty of humor along the way. Best line: “He looks like bloody Sid Vicious!” Wait ’til you see who it is.

The Full Monty. This riotous film is also overflowing with humor, but the underlying message is uplifting, about the power that comes from sticking together. A bunch of very unlikely, unemployed men from the former booming steel town of Sheffield, England, decide to improve their fortunes—and love lives—by staging a Chippendales-style act of their own. After many misadventures, including being thrown into jail, losing their homes, losing a son through custody issues, a botched suicide attempt, grocery-store burglary, and so on, the guys get it together. And the attack of the garden gnomes during a job interview still makes me laugh so hard I cry.

Julie and Julia. Who doesn’t love Julia Child? Who doesn’t love Dan Aykroyd’s parody of Julia Child? Who wouldn’t love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci as Julia and Paul Child? Not me. Seeing any of the above onscreen makes me feel good, especially the onion scene. Seeing Julia’s modern-day follower, Julie Powell, trying to make lobster thermidore while her totally adorable husband dances around singing “Lobsta killah, lobsta killah” is the greatest thing ever.

Smoke Signals. Based on Sherman Alexie’s novels of life on the Rez, this film brims over with laugh-out-loud humor and dry wit. The ultimate coming-of-age story and road trip rolled into one, it’s filled with great characters like Lester Fallsapart and the great Gary Farmer as Arnold Joseph, father of one of the protagonists, who ironically really does fall apart. But the true hero of the movie is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a happy-go-lucky visionary who helps Arnold’s son Victor reconcile his relationship with his father, and with life, over the course of the road trip. As the Rez’s DJ says, “It’s a good day to be Indigenous.”

The Commitments. This movie about some kids in Dublin who form a soul band, “The Commitments,” is hilarious. Many of the best lines are provided by the Elvis-worshipping father of the protagonist, played just brilliantly by Colm Meaney, who has a portrait of Elvis hanging just under his portrait of the Pope. The adorable (and bizarrely named) Outspan Foster, played by Irish musician Glen Hansard, will win your heart, and Maria Doyle (now Maria Doyle Kennedy of “The Tudors” fame) is marvelous. Not to mention that the music is great.

Princess Caraboo. The movie that presumably introduced Phoebe Cates to her husband, Kevin Kline, is simply marvelous all-round. Catesby plays a servant girl in Regency England (the Jane Austen era) who runs away and pretends to be an exotic princess, named Caraboo. She is taken up as a novelty by high society and eventually even meets the Prince Regent himself before being unmasked by an investigative reporter, Gutch. But the film has a happy ending, as Gutch has fallen in love with the girl and arranges for her to make a fresh start in America rather than being hanged, and then joins her. Kline as Frixos, the Greek butler of the house that takes her in, is simply priceless, and a strong supporting cast, including Jim Broadbent, John Lithgow, John Sessions as the Prince Regent, and the marvelous Stephen Rea as the reporter, make this a total feel-good hit. Wait for Kevin Kline’s “Unfortunately.”

Last Holiday. Queen Latifah at her finest, playing Georgia Bird, a gifted cook who worships Emeril and longs to open a restaurant but instead is working in the cookware department of a department store run by a greedy, horrific monster who embodies every moronic, “hot” management trend, much like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss. When Ms. Bird is misdiagnosed with a terminal illness and told she only has two weeks to live, she decides to chuck it in and spend those two weeks at a super-elite hotel and spa in Switzerland, enjoying the delicious dishes prepared by their outrageously eccentric chef, played marvelously by Gerard Depardieu. When her horrid uber-boss shows up at the same resort, hilarity follows on a grand scale, and Georgia eventually triumphs. Don’t ever forget Depardieu’s secret to happiness: butter. (But he forgot salt.)

Independence Day. What red-blooded Earthling wouldn’t love this movie, where, as star Will Smith says, we “whup ET’s ass”?! Jeff Goldblum is simply priceless as the nerdy genius who saves the day, but it’s his onscreen father, played to perfection by Judd Hirsch, who steals all the scenes. At Hawk’s Haven, we watch “Independence Day” every Fourth of July. But I could probably watch it every week.

Honorable mention:

Scrooge. The musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Albert Finney, is hilarious, and the music is fantastic. David Collings as Bob Cratchit, Karen Scargill as his adorable daughter Kathy, and one of Scrooge’s debtors, Tom Jenkins (Anton Rogers), a soup seller, are so great, and we’re treated to guest appearances by Sir Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Sir Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But it’s really David Collings who steals the show as Cratchit. My other fave is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which also has really memorable music. The reason these fall in the “Honorable Mention” category is simply because they’re seasonal.

Conan the Barbarian. Ah, gotta love the two Conan movies, “Conan the Barbarian” and its sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” These films introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world beyond weightlifting and made him a household name, mainly because they were filled with great Arnold one-liners that came to define his subsequent film roles, such as another favorite feel-good film, “The Running Man.” (“See you at the 25th prison reunion.”) It was “The Running Man” that first gave us Ah-nold’s deathless line, “I’ll be back.” But it was the Conan films that gave him the opening to inject humor and laughs into what could have been just another pair of tedious muscle/fantasy films that took themselves way too seriously.

Bend It Like Beckham. I suppose I’d appreciate any film that allowed an ordinary girl to triumph over the bizarre-looking, anorexic Keira Knightley. The parents of both the heroine and her best friend (played by Ms. Knightley) are marvelous. And like all Jane Austen romances—of which I think this was a modernization—there are plenty of twists and turns before the star-crossed lovers are finally united with a kiss.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A gentle, delightful film about a bunch of British seniors who are, for a variety of reasons, forced to retire to India to spend their “golden years” in an affordable hotel. Plunged into an exotic culture and less-than-ideal accommodations, they discover who they truly are and even find late-life love and new careers. Meanwhile, the adorable proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel faces romantic and financial crises of his own, but amid considerable hilarity, all turns out for the best. Super ensemble performances, with standout turns from Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel (as the proprietor). Impossible not to feel good by the end of this!

Cinema Paradiso. Some sad things happen in this Italian tale of a small town cinema’s rise and fall, but there’s such delightful interplay between a little boy, the man who operates the film equipment, and the village priest that it more than compensates. Lots of laughs and smiles along the way. And, in the end, two delightful surprises for the boy, now grown to become a famous director. Beautifully acted, great music, and totally heartwarming.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. This hysterical film pits a timeless, gentle, primitive culture against modern society, all because a pilot tossed an empty Coke bottle out of his plane. The Kalahari people on whose land the bottle falls at first believe it to be a gift from the Gods, but realize when it stirs up envy and enmity among the people for the first time ever that it is “the evil thing.” One man volunteers to take it away, and in the process has many misadventures as he meets more “advanced” cultures. At the same time, a hapless ranger has ludicrous, hilarious disaster after disaster, especially after he meets the woman of his dreams. Fortunately, all turns out well for the tribesman and the star-crossed lovers.

Sister Act. Okay, okay, I know it’s hokey, but it still cheers me up. Whoopi Goldberg may not be convincing as a casino act, but she’s simply great as a pseudo-nun in the Witness Protection Program. Dame Maggie Smith does a great job as her Mother Superior, and Whoopi’s fellow nuns are priceless, as she turns a hopeless choir into an irresistible act. I dare you not to sing along!

Okay, enough from me for now. That’s 18 movies that make me happy. Which films make you happy?

‘Til nex,t time,



What would the Founders do? And what should we do? July 4, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Does this sound like any form of government you know?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Our friend Ben, a lifelong United States citizen, has never known a form of government that actually worked to safeguard the happiness and liberty of its citizens, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence, from which the passage just quoted is taken. Instead, our government is a huge, bloated, impersonal entity, peopled by career politicians who are bought and paid for by special-interest groups and the corporations that can, thanks to our Supreme Court, have the rights of individuals and “contribute” to campaigns accordingly. I’m not even allowed to decide whether or not to wear a seatbelt in my own car.

I’m sure the Founders, from George Washington down, are spinning in their collective graves. This was not the government or so-called “republic” that they envisioned. I wish with all my heart that our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, were here to lend his perspective, and possible solutions, to the parody of democracy America has become.

Just this morning, I read an op-ed piece advocating the use of the internet to level the political playing field. The article suggested doing away with the Electoral College and instead allowing the President and VP to be elected directly by popular vote, which I entirely approve. It’s an outrage that our leaders are still chosen by a clunky, archaic proxy system when the people themselves should cast the deciding votes, and we finally have the technology needed to tally them accurately.

The author of the op-ed piece went on to suggest that people should be allowed to vote on legislation themselves via the internet as well, which is an intriguing thought. That would certainly be true democracy in action, if anyone could tear themselves away from texting and Facebook long enough to actually read the proposed legislation.

Our friend Ben was on board so far, but the writer’s third suggestion threw me: That citizens be allowed to nominate candidates themselves online, and that those who garnered the most votes would run. In our celebrity-driven culture, this brought an immediate “American Idol”-like vision to my mind: “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our new Chief Executive, Justin Bieber, and VP, Lady Gaga!” (Oh, wait: Justin Bieber’s Canadian, isn’t he? But my point still stands.) I think those who believe themselves prepared to lead our country should stand and declare their willingness to serve, and then people should decide who among them is most fit to do so.

In the absence of Ben Franklin’s wise guidance, our friend Ben would like to propose three additional ideas for returning power to the people, in addition to doing away with the Electoral College and electing the President and VP by actual popular vote (as in the vote of the populace, as opposed to a popularity contest). They are:

* Limit terms of office. Like the President, no member of the House or Senate should be allowed to serve more than two terms. Not a single Founder envisioned a political position as a career. It was, instead, a duty, a time to step up and serve your country, after which you returned to your plantation like George Washington or your lawyer’s practice like John Adams. This was an excellent counter to corruption, and should certainly be applied to the Supreme Court as well.

* Mandate free campaigns. Having to raise money—lots of money—for a campaign guarantees that even the most idealistic candidate will be beholden to—bought by—his or her contributors long before the election results are tallied. If you win, you owe us. Instead, I think we should implement a system where every candidate is given the same amount of free air time to present themselves and their platforms, leveling the field and freeing politicians from the Godfather grip of “the offer they can’t refuse.” 

* Do away with political parties. George Washington himself strenuously opposed the formation of political parties, presciently seeing how damaging they could be to the idea of a “united” States. Our current poisonous political separation and the rise of hate politics proves our greatest President right. Forget parties, and let every candidate stand on his or her own convictions and plans for governing the country. In the age of the internet, the concept of parties is outdated and not just divisive but destructive. Let each speak for him- or herself!

On this July Fourth, let’s set down the picnic fare long enough to contemplate what a government “by the people, for the people, of the people” might actually be.

Know your (Bill of) Rights. July 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today with a short refresher course on the Bill of Rights and some fun facts about the Constitution. Brushing up on our basic rights as Americans seems fitting on Independence Day, and of course, I can never resist some good history trivia!

Let’s start with the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. How many of them do you remember? If your record isn’t too good, it may be because you’re trying to recall the actual wording of each Amendment or all the component parts. They’re a lot easier when you use Poor Richard’s E-Z Version instead! Hopefully, you’ll never have any of these rights infringed. But it’s useful to know them just in case. Let’s take a look:

Amendment I. Prohibits establishment of a state religion, and assures Americans of five fundamental freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of (peaceable) assembly, and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Whew! That one’s the biggie.

Amendment II. The right to keep and bear arms. 

Despite all the hoopla over the Second Amendment, as the Supreme Court recently confirmed, there’s really no ambiguity on this one at all. That’s because, when the Amendment was written, most families needed firearms to survive: to hunt for meat; to protect yourself, your family, and your property from wild animals, thieves and desperadoes, and various warring factions; to slaughter your livestock. Unless you lived in a city, life without a gun was a death sentence, and the Founders—as well as everyone alive at the time—knew that. This Amendment reassured the citizenry that a tyrannical government was not about to deprive them of their means of livelihood and defense.

Having said that, just because that situation existed back in the day doesn’t mean it exists now, or justifies the sale of semiautomatic weapons or other weapons of war to those outside the military and police force. It’s always an option for Congress to propose and pass another Amendment restricting the sale of ouzis, machine guns and the like!

Amendment III. No turning of private homes into free bed and board for soldiers without the homeowner’s consent, unless in time of war, and then only as prescribed by law.

This one probably seems far-fetched, but remember, the newborn America had just endured just that at the hands of the British.

Amendment IV. Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. 

As timely now as when it was written.

Amendment V. Right to trial by Grand Jury for capital offenses; right not to witness against one’s self; right not to be put at jeopardy of life or limb twice for the same offense; right to due process; right to just compensation for property taken for public use.

It’s that right not to have to witness against one’s self part that people mean when they talk about “taking the Fifth.” Thing is, we seem to have come to believe that a person can’t be tried twice for the same offense, when the Amendment clearly states that the only limitation is that a person can’t be “put at jeopardy of life or limb” twice for the same offense. Seems to me that leaves the door open to throw the bastards into jail if evidence comes to light later that proves they’re guilty.

Amendment VI. Right to a fast, fair, public trial by jury.

‘Nuff said.

Amendment VII. Right of suits over $20 to be tried by jury and not subsequently reexamined by a different court.

Twenty dollars was probably close to a year’s wages for an unskilled laborer in 1791, the time this Amendment was set into law. Thank goodness today’s legal fees prevent most people from taking their $20 grievances to court!

Amendment VIII. Freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, including excessive bail and fines.

Clearly the excesses of the Inquisition and the persecution and torture of Protestants, Catholics, Freemasons, Jews, and pretty much any powerless group by Henry VIII, his daughter, Bloody Mary, Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads, not to mention the torment of Protestant sects in much of Europe at the time of the Reformation, weighed heavily on the Founding Fathers. Many of the Colonies had been founded as refuges from religious persecution, though some notoriously imposed it themselves, as in the case of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Nonetheless, in this case, the Founders wisely kept the good and forbade the bad. Every American has the right to live free of the fear of government-imposed torture.

Amendment IX. Just because a right isn’t mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights doesn’t mean it isn’t a right.

To me, this is THE most important of all the rights in the Bill of Rights. The Founders never intended the Constitution and Bill of Rights to define the rights of the people, to say that anything not specifically mentioned wasn’t a right. Instead, they wanted to spell out a group of basic rights they felt were threatened in their time (by the British or for whatever reason), and to guarantee those rights in writing. But they had no intention of limiting Americans’ rights to a few set out in a document, and they made that very clear in the Ninth Amendment. The exact wording is: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Keep it in mind.

Amendment X. Any rights not specifically granted to the central government by the Constitution shall be retained by the respective States and/or by the people.

This one was intended to limit the power of “big government.” The battle over strong central government versus States’ Rights is as old as America. It pitted the likes of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John Jay (big government guys) against James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry (States’ Righters). The debate sparked the Civil War and continues to this day. Too bad our hero and blog mentor, the great Ben Franklin, wasn’t able to contribute his words of wisdom to this issue! But, though he was around to sign the Constitution itself, he died in 1790, a year before the Bill of Rights was added.

Okay, everybody got their rights down now? Then let’s move on to some Constitutional trivia.

* At the time the Constitution was written the U.S. population was 4 million. Philadelphia, the Nation’s capital, was its largest city, with a population of 40,000.

* Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the Constitution into law on September 17, 1787.

* It took exactly 100 days to write the Constitution.

* James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution, but it was that marvelous but overlooked Founding Father, Gouverneur Morris, who actually wrote it. Madison would be more fairly credited as the Founder who gave us the Bill of Rights, which is arguably the more important of the two documents.

* The word “democracy” never appears in the Constitution. The Founders considered themselves to be founding a Republic such as the Romans had before the Caesars and the Roman Empire.

* The Constitutional Convention, where the Constitution was developed, written, and signed, took place at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. This was also the site where the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776.

* One now-humorous issue that arose during the Constitutional Convention was how to address the President. John Adams proposed “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties.” The outraged Congress and appalled George Washington insisted on a simple “President of the United States” instead. But political foes of the short, fat Adams referred to him from that day forward as “His Rotundity.”

Finally, in honor of this day that commemorates the cry for freedom that created America, let me quote the portion of the Declaration of Independence that explains the Founders’ vision of the purpose of government. It is as far removed from today’s massive, impersonal government, with its professional politicians and complete disregard for citizens’ input and approval, as it is possible to be.

Most of us know the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What you may not know is that the Founders envisioned government as being established for the sole reason of establishing these three essentials for its citizens.

Today, when we look at a cancerous, massive body of indebted and thus inherently (even if unintentionally) corrupt professional politicians who serve the interests of corporations at the cost of our health, our planet, and our freedoms, folks who could not give less of a damn about anyone’s individual freedom save their own, it is virtually impossible to believe that the Founders could really have held this vision for us all. Yet they did. Let us read again the moving words through which they conveyed their vision for America the Free:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Oh, wow. A government designed solely to ensure the life (safety), liberty, and happiness of its citizens, and otherwise to get out of people’s way? Surely that is, indeed, the American Dream.

Have a wonderful Fourth!



Ben Picks Ten: Films for the Fourth July 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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At our house, watching “Independence Day” on the Fourth of July is a family tradition. So our friend Ben decided to present my Top Ten list of great films to watch on the Fourth, in case you’re planning a little July Fourth Film Festival of your own. Maybe your family will pick a favorite and start their own tradition!

Here are my top picks:

Independence Day. The unlikely but lovable team of Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from evil aliens on the Fourth of July. Lots of good humor and camaraderie as well as epic battles. A must-see for us every July 4th.

1776. The beloved musical presents the Founding Fathers as they wrangle over the Declaration of Independence, face the prospect of war and a split from the Mother Country, and generally rub each other the wrong way. Highlights include (of course) our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin and a classic role for Richard Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee.

John Adams. Okay, I’m cheating, since this is a series rather than a single movie. But if you want to really experience what it was like to live in Colonial times and post-Revolution America, don’t miss this marvelous series. Its realism is just riveting, down to the tiniest details. John Adams is an unlikely and unlikable hero, but strong appearances by Abigail Adams, George Washington, and Ben Franklin (who steals the show yet again) make this a series we want to own and watch again and again. Our friend Ben thinks every American should watch it at least once. 

Glory. This stirring Civil War movie documents another revolution: the fight to free America from the abomination of slavery. It portrays the true story of the first Black U.S. battalion. This brutal but brilliant movie pulls no punches: There is no happy ending, so if this one’s your July 4th pick, consider yourself forewarned. But if you’re looking for bravery and valor, this movie would be hard if not impossible to beat. 

The Long, Hot Summer. Don Johnson and Cybill Shepherd sizzle in the fantastic 1985 remake of the 1958 classic starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Based on a novel by famed author William Faulkner, this pre-air-conditioning look at Mississippi life during an unforgettable, sweltering summer will have you sweating as much as its characters. But you’ll love every steamy minute.  

The Empire Strikes Back. Jedi knights strike a blow for galactic freedom as they take on the Evil Empire in my favorite of the Star Wars movies. May the Force be with you!

The Fellowship of the Ring. Humble hobbits battle the evil overlord Sauron for the freedom of their world in the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings.”

Jimmy Buffett Live in Anguilla. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere! Chill out with a margarita or bottle of Land Shark Lager and enjoy the beautiful beaches of Anguilla and the antics of the colorful and wacky Parrotheads on this live concert DVD. There are two CDs for the car, too, the best recording of Jimmy Buffett’s music our friend Ben has ever heard. So kick back, wiggle your toes in the sand, pig out on cheeseburgers and Junior Mints… but watch out for those land sharks!

Avatar. This time, the movie’s about struggling for planetary freedom and environmental wholeness as Good battles Greed. The computer-generated planet is light years beyond anything created before; it really has to be seen to be believed. And like the other movies here, there’s so much going on that every viewing shows you something new. Enjoy!

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music. The revolution of the Hippies, the late-’60s/early ’70s Peace and Love generation, vegetarianism, the Back to the Land Movement, the Flower Children, and their flowering of clothing, art, ornamentation, and above all, music, is always worth revisiting. The Summer of Love may not have coincided with the Woodstock Festival in 1969, Joni Mitchell may have composed “Woodstock,” with the immortal line “We are stardust, we are golden,” having never been there, but this 1970 documentary captured the music, and the feeling, that sparked a genuine revolution in search of a better world. Hungry for more? Try Across the Universe and Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same for a real Sixties flashback.

And some very close runners up:

James Bond. When it comes to Bond, our friend Ben goes for the gold: Goldfinger, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Goldeneye. But all the James Bond movies make for entertaining summer fare, so pick your faves and settle down with a martini (shaken, not stirred).

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe is on the case in these episodes set in her beloved Botswana. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood love Alexander McCall Smith’s novels and the subsequent film series. The action is low-key, but the temperature is hot!

Pirates of the Caribbean. Aaarrrrr! What’s summer without a good swashbuckler or two? Who could resist Cap’n Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa, Davy Jones, Tia Dalma and the crew? My favorite is the first of the series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, but I think Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are almost as much fun. Grab a bucket o’grog and plenty of pirattitude and enjoy ’em, you savvy?!  

That’s it for us. What are your favorite summer movies?!

What to watch on the Fourth. July 4, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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What does the Fourth of July call to mind? Picnics, fireworks, flags, “The Star Spangled Banner”? How about movies? Maybe our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are the only folks on earth who enjoy celebrating Independence Day with a favorite movie, followed by some sparklers in the backyard and a truly awe-inspiring fireworks display annually provided by our end-of-street neighbors. Not everyone can watch world-class fireworks from the privacy of their backyards, but anyone with a DVD player can rent and watch one or more of these great films for the Fourth:

Independence Day: A must-watch each July 4th for us, this alien-action film pairs Jeff Goldblum (mercifully still alive, despite rumors to the contrary) and Will Smith in an epic battle against aliens who are determined to conquer Earth. It’s a wonderful feel-good film for the whole family.

Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker: This fantastic Chinese film takes us back to the land that invented firecrackers and follows two great firecracker-manufacturing houses and their varying fortunes. Truly a Chinese “Romeo and Juliet,” with a surprise ending, and one of our friend Ben’s and Silence’s all-time favorite films.

The Fellowship of the Ring: For all Tolkien fans, the scene near the beginning of the film where the mischievous hobbits Pippin and Merry set off Gandalf’s dragon fireworks will evoke fond memories and provide a better show than any live firework display. Bilbo lives!

1776: Celebrate American Independence with Ben Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, Tom Jefferson et al. in the classic musical. It’s a bit drawn out for our friend Ben’s taste, but there are enough highlights to make it worth watching anyway, and Howard Da Silva’s portrayal of Ben Franklin is definitely worth the price of admission.  

Also noteworthy: The Fourth of July is all about celebrating the courage, spunk, can-do attitude, and ultimate triumph of the underdog. In this spirit, our friend Ben also recommends “Cinema Paradiso”, “Flashdance”, “Conan the Barbarian”, “Mongol”, “Witness”, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”, “Galaxy Quest”, “Gattaca”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “The Running Man”, and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”.

What movies do you watch on July 4th?

When God grows tired of us. June 21, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood watched a marvelous documentary last night called “God Grew Tired of Us.” It was about the “Lost Boys” of the Sudan, and the title was taken from one “boy’s” explanation of why the endless war and genocide continued in his country. (We rented this film through Netflix, should you wish to see it.)

Wonderful and moving as the film was—if you watch it, you’ll realize both what we Americans have in terms of abundance and what we’ve lost in terms of joy and community—it was the title that arrested our friend Ben’s attention. It brought together many different thought threads into one coherent weaving. Bear with me, please, as I show you each thread, then tie them all together.

Our friend Ben and Silence live in a beautiful rural part of Pennsylvania, where we are as likely to see an Amish horse and buggy on the road as a hybrid car. But in recent years, we have watched the desertion of local farmland as condos, townhouses, and McMansions spread across field after field like incurable cancer. We have begun to ask ourselves when the blight will come to us, and what we should do if and when it does. The one-acre Eden we have so lovingly built seems threatened by the dark shadow of ignorant, conspicuously wasteful appropriation.

In Europe, we have learned that things are different, because, being older, the countries there have long had to deal with issues of population control and resource conservation. The population tends to be clustered in cities surrounded by carefully preserved farmland. As many as three generations live together under one roof, much like our own Amish here. Suburban sprawl would not be tolerated, and children are few and cherished.

Children are few and cherished among our friend Ben’s and Silence’s friends and relatives, as well. Of perhaps fifty of us, there are no more than ten children, all beloved, all very much wanted. Given the way we humans are swarming over the earth, consuming its resources with the voracity of locusts and displacing all other life forms in our mindless expansion, this constraint seems entirely appropriate. So many children are out there waiting for love that adoption seems the obvious choice for infertile couples and those wishing to expand their families beyond the children they’ve naturally produced, and yet, from all the potential Octomoms using fertility treatments, people still can’t apparently make the leap from A to B.

Just today, an article in our local paper proclaimed that one billion people—one in six on this planet—live in chronic hunger. This is an indictment upon us all, those of us in the so-called “developed” countries who fritter away our world’s resources on our iPods and Gucci bags, and those in the so-called “undeveloped” countries who bear more children than their resources can support.

This was brought to mind again by a book our friend Ben recently checked out of our local library, Fresh Food from Small Spaces by R.J. Ruppenthal (Chelsea Green, 2008). Ruppenthal describes his system of urban food production as “square-inch gardening,” and his goal is to help city dwellers become more self-sufficient, from earthworm composting and sprouting to growing mushrooms and containerized fruit trees to raising chickens and bees. If you’d like to grow more food in less space, our friend Ben suggests that you check it out.

Fresh Food from Small Spaces may not seem to have much to do with overpopulation and squandered resources, but Ruppenthal starts the book by quoting statistics that point out that fossil fuels will run out in this decade, and then, basically, we’ll all be screwed.

Words like fossil fuels, oil, and gas seem so, well, inert. But to a fan of paleontology and fossils like our friend Ben, they always convey another message: That they’re the end product of the mass extinction of that other once-dominant race, the dinosaurs, and the other carbon-based life forms that coexisted with them. There’s a reason Sinclair oil used that famous Brontosaurus as its emblem: “Fossil fuels” are, in essence, made from decomposed dinosaurs.

Not since the age of dinosaurs has there been such a global success as mankind. We have occupied every land niche; only the oceans still hold us off, and we punish them for that by dumping our pollutants into their waters and exterminating their indigenous life by overfishing. Outer space continues to defy us as well, so we send our junk into orbit. Our unending expansion has resulted in deforestation and desertification, the overuse, abuse, and extinction of the land and the other animals and plants it formerly supported.

When our friend Ben reads about fossil fuels, I always wonder if, one day in the future, our own bodies will be supplying great quantities of “fossil fuel” to some future civilization. Assuming, of course, we are actually allowed to decompose on our own.

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and every July Fourth, Silence Dogood and our friend Ben watch one of our favorite films, “Independence Day.” In the movie, the unlikely combination of Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from an alien invasion. What’s downplayed is that the aliens have basically arrived on Earth to eat us.

To our friend Ben, this makes a terrifying kind of sense. There are so many of us, stockpiled in our billions in high-rises and condos, soft and tender and nutritious. Global warming is giving our planet an ever-higher carbon profile, sending the “free food” message into space for anyone who wants to read it. Call me crazy, but it makes more sense to me that an alien race would correctly interpret that message and arrive for their free lunch rather than to make some sort of cultural connection. Our beautiful Earth hangs in its orbit like a ripe fruit waiting to be picked. And if it really happened, wouldn’t we have brought it on ourselves through our selfish, Godless conduct?

That’s right, Godless. The priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, in his poem “God’s Grandeur,” “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” But he continues:

“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”

Hopkins was writing in the late Victorian era, the 1870s, when the Industrial Revolution was wreaking its toll upon the earth, but its ultimate price was still inconceivable. His vision of man’s dissociation from God’s Creation was a foreshadowing. 

For what is man, if not the inheritor and custodian of the Creation, the grandeur of God? We were given the gifts of mind and knowledge and power to protect the beautiful world God made, but what have we done instead? Our greed, selfishness, short-sightedness, and stupidity have finally and truly earned us expulsion from the Garden. And this time, there might be no coming back. Who could blame God if He grew tired of us, of our endless, appalling bungling?

But our friend Ben agrees with Hopkins that it is still not too late to make amends for what we’ve done, the Holocaust we’ve inflicted on our glorious, God-given home. His poem continues:

“And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink Eastward, springs—

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Our friend Ben can only pray that God will tolerate us a little longer, will give us one last chance to learn wisdom before it’s too late. Before we’re consumed by our own greed or by hungry aliens or by the destruction of such resources as we have left. Before we become the next great extinction, which some future species will use as an example in a lecture for their children while using our remains to fuel their civilization.

“God grew tired of us.” Please, no. It’s not too late to change.