Posts from the ‘Movies’ Category

People Are People Wherever You Go

“People are People” has been playing in my head the last few days and sort of sums up my experiences out on the road working this week. I’m in sales by the way, in case you haven’t deducted that from following this blog any length of time. I’ve found that in sales, in particular, your attitude has a tremendous influence on the outcome. I think that’s true with many things in life. It’s not simply that having a better mindset improves your own outlook and makes you more effective, but I’ve also found that it has a tremendous impact on those you encounter.

Despite having several days in a row of bad news and being generally disgusted with my job and the current economic plight we find ourselves in, I woke up feeling pretty good yesterday morning. (Thanks to the extra-long good morning hug from a four year old.) I had a few stops in South Louisiana which were really pleasant conversations. Yesterday evening when I got to the hotel on the North Shore where I was staying, there was a guy talking to the front desk clerk who seemed rather frustrated. As I waited in line, I heard that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to check in now or go into New Orleans and come back later that night. The clerk was growing impatient and didn’t want to answer his questions.  I talk to strangers all day long everywhere I go and interjected myself into the conversation. I learned that he was a farmer from Illinois and his landlord recommended he stay on the North Shore while he was in the area rather than New Orleans.

He asked me very nervously, “what’s it like?”

I said, “Well, today is Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras ended last night and most of the tourists are clearing out today. I just came from New Orleans this afternoon and the traffic was fine. You won’t have a problem getting a hotel there if that’s what you’re worried about. I’m staying in New Orleans tomorrow night and had no problem making a reservation, so you should be fine.”

He still looked frustrated and told me his landlord recommended he stay here but he and his wife were thinking about going into New Orleans but wasn’t sure if they should.

“Oh, are you worried about whether it’s safe?”

He said, “Yeah, I mean I don’t know where to go, and I’m not sure if it’s a good idea.”

“I work down here two to three months a year since Katrina. It’s fine. The French Quarter is a tourist trap and one of the safer areas you can visit. I took my wife and kids to New Orleans last summer. They had so much fun my kids are begging to go back. I think you’ll be fine.”

So he left the hotel and headed to his car where his wife look exasperated from waiting in the car, waiting on her husband to make up his mind, or both.

This morning I was up early and loading my stuff before heading off to a meeting. As always in south Louisiana, there are a lot of laborers leaving for a job in the morning loading their gear into trucks next to mine. I went back to the room to steal a phone book and left the door open. An older weathered hispanic worker stopped by the room and asked, “Hey, are you staying another night?”

Thinking he was one of the guys doing the remodeling on the hotel I said, “No, I’ll be out of here in just a minute.”

“Do you have any coffee left?” he asked.

“Well, I drank both regular packs, but I got some decaf left. You want it.”

“Oh yeah, if you don’t mind, I’d love to have some more,” he said gratefully with a smile as I handed him the coffee.

As I followed him out to the parking lot he said, “We’re headin’ up to Seattle, and this will come in handy,” he explained as he stuffed the decaf coffee into a black garbage bag in the back of a small pickup and climbed in the cab with three other guys.

I could tell those same stories about the waiter today, the cashier at the drive thru, the hotel clerk tonight, and on and on. I finished the day eating chargrilled oysters with my supervisor. We talked for an hour and a half about just how screwed up things have gotten with our company and how fed up I was with all of it. We talked about how each of us and the powers that be see things differently but also about how we can work to make the necessary changes to improve things for everyone. I appreciate that he listened and that we found common ground to move forward on, even though many things have yet to be resolved. If you look people in the eye, listen to them, and talk to them like they matter, their entire disposition changes, including mine. We can even disagree with one another without destroying one another. Whenever we encounter people in different places or people who are different from us, too often we do so with the baggage of suspicions and sterotypes.

So we’re different colours
And we’re different creeds
And different people
Have different needs
Its obvious you hate me
Though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you
So what could I have done
I can’t understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand
People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully

Since January I’ve worked in some pretty rough neighborhoods in a few cities. I’m a fish out of water in a big urban town with all the traffic and the one way, no u-turn, four lane roads, but I’m naive enough to be the only white guy in a McDonalds and make small talk with the cashier. I’m brass enough to ask a stranger if he needs help with directions. I’m also considerate enough to realize that a migratory hispanic laborer enjoys a good cup of coffee just as much as I do, whether he’s legal or not. I also realize that a young gay black guy working a drive-thru window is working just as hard as I am to make it in this world.

Coincidentally enough, I just watched Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine film on tv this past weekend. I’ve heard all the trash talk about him and his movies, but I was curious. I actually enjoyed the movie. It’s just clips of Michael talking to people. Yeah, just talking and asking simple questions. No brain washing. No arm twisting. He actually asked a lot of the same questions that I would have. He stood on a street corner in South Central Los Angeles with an expert talking about actual crime statistics versus our misconceptions. Which I thought about when I met the farmer worried about going to New Orleans for a night on the town. What I realized most from watching it was just how much people are being manipulated by fear in this country. Fear of terrorism, of aids, of crime, of young black men, someone taking your money, of being sick, and on and on. Worst of all is that we’ve been conditioned to be afraid of each other. That same fear drove the last election cycle and cost John McCain the presidency. (That point was driven home again by an HBO documentary that I stayed up too late to finish last night called Right America: Feeling Wronged | Some Voices from the Campaign Trail, which I highly recommend you watch if you can.)

Worst yet, that same fear could cost us our very way of life and all that is decent and right in this country… each other. I hope that if any good can come out of this economic depression we are facing, it will make us realize, like after September 11, 2001, that we are all in this together. We rise or fall together.

I say all that to say this. People are people wherever you go. I refuse to be afraid. I refuse to be manipulated. I choose to hope. I choose to listen. Will you?

Reign on Me Oscar-worthy

For all the laughs that Adam Sandler has delievered over the years his role in Spanglish set him apart as a serious actor. His performance in Reign on Me far surpasses even that achievement. I’ve always loved Don Cheadle. He’s just such a classy, likeable guy. Liv Tyler is so demure and ethereal. The cast as a whole works so well in this film, but the writing and directing are masterfully orchestrated. Mike Binder really amazed me. Who knew he could be capable of such art? He even has a small role in the movie.

The film is heavy without a doubt. How can you make a movie about a 911 widower struggling with grief light hearted? Nonetheless there is tremendous balance with just enough laughs and brevity to rivet your attention and keep your heart from breaking completely until just the right moment.

I haven’t cried watching a movie since Where the Red Fern Grows when I was 9. I cried during this movie! Did you hear me? I cried for God’s sake. I couldn’t help it. What was odd was that I finally broke near the end of the movie during a happy scene of all things. The film takes you into the depths of pain and heartache like few have done before, but it’s not a sad movie. It’s really not. It’s heart warming and endearing. It will make you cherish your life and all those in it that you love. It is a must see, and a must win for an Academy Award.

Transformers delivers

I was first in line at Blockbuster Tuesday morning to get Tranformers, and I was not disappointed. Wow! I thought the FX were impressive, the story was pretty good, and Megan Fox was amazing. As a Gen X kid, or whatever they call kids that grew up in the 80’s these days, I was a huge Transformers fan of both the cartoons and the toys. I like the way the storyline introduced the whole franchise to a generation that weren’t familiar. There was just enough humor in it to tone down the intensity and remind you what it was to grow up with the franchise. I think Michael Bay did an outstanding job directing. It has got to be one of the best cartoon to movie transitions I’ve ever seen. Five stars all the way!

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Rise of the Silver Surfer

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was ok. The special effects were good. You gotta love anything with Jessica Alba in it, but there was no real wow factor to the movie. I didn’t really enjoy the first one much either. It’s great for kids I guess. Although I’d rank it higher than a lot of B-rated comic movies of recent years, it falls short of Spiderman by a skyscraper.

Even Money: Don’t waste yours

Even MoneyShari Rhodes deserves an academy award for casting Even Money. How she got these people to sign up for this one, I’ll never know. Consider the A-list here: Kim Basinger, Nick Cannon, Danny DeVito, Kelsey Grammer, Ray Liotta, Jay Mohr, Tim Roth, & Forest Whitaker. The beginning was good, as in the first 15 minutes. I liked the layered intro of the characters, but after that it went down hill quickly. It was terribly written and ridiculously predictable. It starts getting worse, but you keep hoping that something’s going to turn it around soon. It doesn’t happen. About half way through Basinger has an argument with her husband Liotta when this corny background music starts playing. Right then my wife looks up and says, “This sounds like a Lifetime movie.” I could not have described it any better. It would be a perfect Lifetime Original were it not for the all-star cast. Oh, Kelsey Grammar was good though, if only they didn’t bury his face in prosthetics and makeup, as to disguise the fact that it’s Kelsey Grammar.Don’t waste your money or your time on this one. You’ll have better luck with the nickel slots!

Confessions of a die-hard romantic

I’m in love with words and dusty books,
the taste of deep red wine and salty ocean air,
drunk on a lonely tune and a sunset sky.

You might say that I am a romantic, in the classical sense. I go weak in the knees for ideas. I love nuance, symbolism, and possibilities. This makes me especially vulnerable to the seductive language of scripture.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “in love with the idea of being in love.” Dorothy Boyd’s description of her feelings for Jerry McGuire describe my affair with Christianity well, “I love him! I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is.” One of my favorite bloggers Real Live Preacher expressed this idea succinctly in a recent post:

Christianity has already shrunk in my lifetime from being the shining center of all truth and purpose to something less than that. Even looking at things from the inside, even willing to give the benefit of every doubt, Christianity seems like a bumbling, prosaic movement which is, as often as not, violent, anti-intellectual, and xenophobic.

But I love Christianity so much. Or at least I love what it could be. I want to hug it. I want to throw my arms around the beautiful language of salvation and redemption. I want to curl up in the warmth of my faith community, the people I love so deeply in this world. Truly they are like family to me. I feel I could get drunk on our ancient symbols, myths and stories, the ones that speak in luscious tones vibrating through a million voices across the centuries.

With time and disappointment love can change and devotion can wane, but for all that I have learned and all that I question about my faith I just cannot bring myself to walk away completely. In The Painted Veil Mother Superior said:

“I fell in love when I was 17… with God. A foolish girl with romantic notions about the life of a religious, but my love was passionate. Over the years my feelings have changed. He’s disappointed me. Ignored me. We’ve settled into a life of peaceful indifference. The old husband and wife who sit side by side on the sofa, but rarely speak. He knows I’ll never leave Him. This is my duty. But when love and duty are one, then grace is within you.”

I don’t stay from a sense of obligation or from fear of divine retribution. I think I stay because it’s familiar. These words I’ve heard so many times bring comfort when few others have. For all that I know there is more that I don’t know. I no longer look at the Bible as a rubik’s cube waiting to be solved. It has become more like a painting to me. One that requires long gazes from an open mind to appreciate. Every time I return I see something new in something old. Faith is not having all the right answers to spiritual questions. Faith is loving the idea of what could be, and the test of faith is in making small choices that bring those possibilities to life.

Levity and Redemption

Without a doubt one of the movies with the most spiritual impact that I’ve seen in a while has to be Levity, starring Morgan Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Kirsten Dunst. I warn you, it’s gritty. The characters aren’t just flawed, they’re seriously messed up. Three lives intersect, each needing their own measure of grace in hopes of finding redemption. I’ll leave you with a few quotes in hopes that you will see it for yourself:

Miles Evans (Morgan Freeman): You think God talks to me? We argue maybe, but He don’t participate. It’s all right. I’ll see Him one day. When I do, I’m gonna whip His holy ass.

***********************************

Miles Evans: You know, you could get lucky. God might decide to grade you on the curve.
Manuel Jordan (Billy Bob Thornton): It wouldn’t matter either way.
Miles Evans: You don’t know what the hell you talking about, do you? Why be afraid of a God that you don’t believe in? Oh, I know, it seems like people are making up shit so they can feel good about all the pain, all the cruelty, loss, violence, suffering, death. Famine, bigotry, small-mindedness, repression, depression, oppression. Want me to keep talking? ‘Cause I can go on forever with this shit.
Manuel Jordan: No, I get the point.
Miles Evans: The point is: I believe in the lie. Never underestimate its power. Now, as for me, well, I’m lying through my teeth. I’ll see you soon.