Inspirational Movies & You

I’m a movie buff. I enjoy great drama, exciting action, and a good story. The best movies inspire me to be better, to reach higher, or to look deeper. I’ve watched thousands of movies in my lifetime. Everything from cheesy camp to the greatest classics. I’m familiar with many of the greats. But I need your help.

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Setting Records with Manning

I had a dream. It was a sports dream, which is unusual for me because I’m not exactly the world’s most athletic guy. I don’t watch football and I don’t ski downhill. In fact, I’m more likely to make great chicken wings for people who watch football and more likely to fall downhill.

But last night, in my dream, my wife and I heard that Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark were trying to break a record for the most receiving yards on a ski slope. It was a pretty ingenious set up. Dallas was on skis. Peyton was at the top of the ski hill; this is Indiana so it wasn’t really a mountain. Peyton would yell Omaha and Hike! and fall back while Dallas would shoot off in a downhiller’s tuck. Peyton would cock that shotgun arm and throw the ball. As Dallas approached the bottom of the slope, he would reach up with grace and ease and snatch the ball out of the air, pulling it into the numbers every time.

Because it is a dream, my wife and I decided to go to the slope and see if we could help. My reasoning was that I could be sliding down the hill and receive a ball or two while Dallas took the ski lift back for another run. We could double the yardage thrown (and set the record as a team).

When we arrived at the top of the slope, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were sorting through a box of my old bank statements. While everything else about the dream felt real, that part didn’t make any sense and the illusion began to fade. Al and Cris said that Peyton had just thrown a whopper of a pass to Dallas and in his enthusiasm, had run downhill to celebrate with his receiver. Not to worry, they would be right back.

I agreed to wait. My skis were strapped on and I was ready to get into the game. My wife, while nervous for me, was supportive and encouraging. As we waited I practiced my snow plowing, because it’s been 40-years since I strapped wooden boards to my feet and voluntarily threw myself headlong down a mountain.

But minutes turned into hours and despite Al and Cris’s reassurance, I realized that Peyton and Dallas had gone into the ski lodge. They’d set their record and left the slopes, without me.

From there, my dream shifted to a school and/or diner / and or Welcome Back Kotter episode and the entire storyline fell apart.

As a general rule, I don’t interpret dreams but I’d like to give this one a try. We all know that dreams reveal our subconscious desires. It’s obvious that my subconscious somehow connected to Peyton’s subconscious, subconsciously. What I learned in that dream and from my subconscious connection to Peyton Manning is that he is trying for a comeback, and my subconscious knows this. He’s calling out for help. I think I’ll email him today and ask how I might be able to ease his pain.

I have no idea why Dallas was in my dream. He’s a nice guy and all but just like a yellowshirt character on Star Trek, he is just an extra in my movie of the mind. Al and Cris were simply obnoxious.

I feel better unpacking that little drama; now here is to helping set the record!

Bus Stop Stories

20150321_095113When it comes to books, the not-so-classic “Forest Gump” is one of the oddest pieces of literature I’ve ever read. If you are looking for something to read this summer, I do not recommend it…and not just this summer, but ever.

On the other hand, the movie has become a classic; a cultural icon in which the main character engages in many major moments in modern history and includes the now famous lines, “Run, Forest! Run!” and “We go together like peas and carrots.”  And of course everyone’s favorite, “Life is like a box of chocolates…”.

But beyond the pithy sayings, and the journey through time, I enjoyed more than anything else the creative device the film makers use to tell Forest’s tale: As the main character awaits his city bus, he retells his life’s story to every unwitting stranger who shares his bench. It’s a fascinating narrative and if anyone had taken the time to wait the day, they might have heard the entire account. As it was, each person only gets a quick glimpse into Forest’s life and by itself, each section of the fascinating yarn might make no sense at all. However, in total it is a chronicle that illustrates a life of perfect timing, blind luck, high adventure, and faithful dedication to one true love.

I can’t help but wonder how many people in my own life could have shared their entire story, but I climbed into the departing bus before I could hear it all. It’s likely I lost interest part way through and walked away from the story of a lifetime. Is it possible that I heard only the unbelievable portion and failed to grasp the entire moving saga of a life well-lived, a love fully given, a grace perfectly extended?

When is the last time you took the time to listen to a bus stop story all the way to the story-book end?

Story Telling 101

The best story tellers paint a picture in few words.  They illustrate the situation with vivid colors and active verbs.  They draw you in and capture your imagination.  They engage you with each and every fascinating detail.

The best movies do the same.  Every angle, every shot, every sound strengthens the story and allows the viewer to experience the highs and lows of the characters and follow the progression of the narrative to its final climax and resolution.

Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel works his magic to rebuild a devastated football program.
Matthew McConaughey as Coach Lengyel works his magic to rebuild a devastated football program.

The 2006 film, We Are Marshall is a good example of a movie that takes you along for that ride.  In the final play of the pivotal football game, we sit on the edge of our collective seat to learn if the player will catch the ball and save the day for the team, the coach and the school.  But the film makers didn’t just set a camera in the bleachers and let the play run.  No.  They tell the story of the entire year in that one play.

The scene requires two minutes and 44 seconds, from the lineup over the football to the award of the team ball.  And in that short amount of time, editors place 104 different clips.  They tell the story from every angle.  They give you a close up, a wide shot, from under the ball on the line, from the stands.  The film makers take you back in time.  They return you to the game and they help you celebrate the win, moving you from anticipation, to grief, to celebration.

The best story-tellers can do that.  The best movies can do the same.  We Are Marshall is just such a movie.

We Bought A Zoo

We Bought A Zoo is perhaps one of my favorite movies that I’ve seen this year. It made me laugh out loud and moved me to tears in the short two hours and four minutes.  It is brilliant filming and story-telling.  It is cinema done right.

Maggie Elizabeth Jones (Rosie Mee) is brilliant, especially for her age.  Matt Damon is moving and authentic in each and every scene. Thomas Haden Church is the perfect comic relief.  The sound track drives and moves the entire show.  It is a film I could watch again and again.

There are so many special moments in this film that make it uniquely wonderful.  Look for the red kites.  There is an absolutely beautiful kitchen/picnic scene that caused tears to run down my cheeks as I marveled at the story and the art.  The “Little Dom’s” tail, the children’s tears, the mother’s presence and 20 Seconds of Courage is the true essence of the entire movie.

While you might not love the movie as much as I did, it is worth the $1.29 at Red Box and the two hours of your evening.  Rent it today.  You won’t be disappointed.

A Whale of a Tale

My role: Frank the Pirate.

This has been a big week.  Last Friday I received an email from my friend, John.  He asked me if I would like to try out for a part in one of his movies.

The set-up for filming on Friday night at Frank’s place.

By Sunday, I was recording voice over work.  By Friday, I was setting up for the shoot of our first scene.  Today, I spent 8 hours dressed as a pirate and using all the “ARRRR’s”, “GRRRRR’s” and “Blimey’s” I could muster.  My throat is sore, my face itches from the beard and I am exhausted.  I could just fall asleep while I write this…

BUT, despite the fatigue and laryngitis, it was just a great experience. Above all, I had the privilege of working with Pam and John Gaither as they lead their summer interns in the Keynote video production process.

Frank on the big screen.
John, Frank, Missy & Pam.

Young men and women come from around the country to learn how to write a script, shoot a film and edit the final product.  It is challenging and hard work and I loved every minute of it.  The Gaither’s are a wonderful example of love in action and they provide amazing direction and support all along the way.  They serve as producers and mentors for the entire process.

We shot the final footage this afternoon.  My “co-star” Missy Shopshire, was great to work with and kicked my butt in the fight scene!  She joined the cast even later than my call but filled the role perfectly and was a great sport.

The crew is still hard at work on many aspects of the film.

And now the production team has less than two weeks to come up with a final edited version of the film, appropriately titled “Overboard”.  Look for it on VIMO and Transworld Squirrel Pictures in the coming months!

A Saturday With Family

Yesterday was one of those great days that make you happy to be alive.

I spent the morning with my youngest son, Ben and my 8 year old friend, Javi.  We ate breakfast together, picked up some shorts and a shirt for Ben, bought supplies for the garden and washed the car.  Nothing special but still a great time with young men who mean so much to me.

After returning Javi to his home and dropping Ben off at his friends’, my lovely wife and I made the trip to visit my mom and dad.  We spent the afternoon eating lunch, looking at their garden and playing Wii Frisbee Golf.  It was such a pleasant time.

One of the flowers that was considered but later rejected by the selection committee.

From Albany we drove in to Muncie to buy flowers with my wife’s family.  It’s been five years since the death of my nephew, Alex.  We’ve gathered together every spring to purchase flowers for his grave.  It’s become a family tradition that means something to us all.  We spend an hour evaluating daisies, grasses, petunias and more in an effort to pick the perfect mix.  But, in the words of my wise niece, Andrea, “Alex wouldn’t care what flowers you buy.”

We stopped at a local Mexican restaurant and had a pretty good meal and after celebrating Cinco De Mayo in fashion, we drove back home.  Though tired, we sat together on the couch and watched the movie, “Everything Must Go”.  It isn’t one of those feel-good movies that you often hope to find at the end of a long day but it is a fine example of Will Ferrel’s great acting ability.  We were both satisfied with the experience at the end of the two hours.

Over all, it was a long day with a lot of driving and running but it was good to be with family, laugh with parents and remember those we’ve loved and lost.

 

And the Academy Award Goes To…

My family likes movies. Over the years, I’ve made that abundantly clear.  We watch a lot of movies.  And I like it, won’t apologize for it, and will keep doing it.  Movies move me in a way few art forms can.

This year has been a very good year for movies.  So far this year we’ve seen several Academy Award Nominated films, including War Horse, The Help, Money Ball, and Midnight In Paris.  We didn’t pick these because they were nominated.  We watched these before the nominations were announced because we like good movies more than we like bad movies.  We like good acting more than we like bad acting.

And because of that, we try to watch movies with great actors.  One of my favorite actors is Tom Hanks.  But a great actor doesn’t guarantee a great movie.  Over the years, Hanks has graced our local big screen and our living room’s little screen with some real losers and some real winners.

For instance:

Joe Versus the Volcano = Very Bad Movie

Saving Private Ryan = Very Good Movie

One Red Shoe = Bad Movie

The Green Mile = Amazing Movie

Punchline = Sleeper

Apollo 13 = Great Movie

Forest Gump = Great Movie

Turner and Hootch = Okay, stupid movie but I like it.

Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close = “And the Academy Award Goes To….”

This post-911 tale is about how we chose to live our life in this Post-Traumatic existence.  It is a beautiful tale of every person’s loss, every person’s suffering, everyone’s story.  The movie reminds us that we discover these truths about others and ourselves as we open the doors of friends and neighbors.  As we talk.  As we share life together.  As we live life to its fullest, despite the fear that keeps us shaking in our boots.

In life, Thomas Schell (Hanks) teaches his son to son overcome all obstacles.  He does this by teaching him to solve mysteries, real and made up in search of the truth. His son, Oscar (artfully played by new-comer Thomas Horn) is on a search for the biggest secret of his life one year after his father’s death. Despite his near-crippling fear, Oscar journeys throughout New York City to find the person who holds the key to his puzzle. In the process of his search, he relates the story of his grief to complete strangers who themselves have a story, a secret and a deep pain.  In the end, Oscar discovers that overcoming the pain, unlocking the mystery, finding his father’s last great secret takes him full circle, in a way he never thought possible.

This movie left me in tears.  It is beautifully written, artfully filmed, perfectly acted, masterful in its composition and execution. It touched my heart and the hearts of those in the theater.  As the credits rolled, people sat all around me, silently wiping away tears and pondering the message.

Of course, I haven’t seen all the nominees and this film may not win best picture on the stage tonight.  But in my mind, it is clearly the best picture I’ve seen all year.

Life According to Hoosiers: An Awful Name

"I thought I already had the job."

In Coach Dale’s first encounter with his new co-workers, he gets off on a very wrong foot.  It is probably because his other foot is now in his mouth.  After being grilled by fellow teacher, Myra Fleener (played by Barbara Hershey), he makes a big mistake.  Rather than walking away (as we’ve discussed earlier), he opens his mouth and with his words he sets the stage for a rocky relationship from that point forward.

“If everyone is as nice as you, Country Hospitality is going to get an awful name.”

You’ve done it.  I’ve done it.  We’ve all opened our traps at one time or another and allowed that witty statement to escape our lips only to lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships.

Today’s Hoosier lesson?  Keep your mouth shut whenever possible.

Life According to Hoosiers: “Gentlemen, its been real nice talkin’ to you. Good Night.”

Coach Norman Dale meets the men of Milan, Indiana for the first time.

Experience proves that many times people will offer their help, their opinion, even their friendship with the underlying agenda of directing your own actions.  Coach Dale, when confronted by the men in the town’s barbershop makes a wise decision.  Instead of outlining his coaching strategy, explaining his methods, accepting their direction or defending his own opinion, Norman Dale raises his hands, thanks the men and leaves the shop.

He sets a good example.  Too often we fight for our beliefs, make our stand, defend our rights.  What we should do, instead, is to politely walk away.

When co-workers gang up, when friends triangulate, when family manipulate, the best thing we can do is to stand up and walk away.

Never sacrifice your beliefs at the insistence of others, whether their methods are overt or covert.  “Thank you and good night.”

Life According to Hoosiers: Playing the Hand You’ve Been Dealt

Coach Norman Dale sizes up his new team.

Let’s see what kind of hand I’ve been dealt here.”

With those words, Coach Norman Dale begins to get to know his players and how best to play the game of basketball.

Every day we wake up, climb out of bed, and begin our day.  Many times we do this without ever evaluating the strengths and weaknesses we bring to the court.  Too often we forget our strengths and overlook our weaknesses.  Too many times we march into the field of play without considering how we should approach the game.

Before you lace up your shoes today, stop and consider what you bring to the court and how you can play to your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.

Life According to “Hoosiers”

Celebrating 25 years this year, Hoosiers has set the bar for motivational sports movies.

My wonderful wife gave me the Blu-Ray version of the celebrated movie, Hoosiers.

I watched the film on Christmas morning in the quiet of my living room as the rest of my family slept soundly in their beds (I assume there were visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads).  As I viewed the movie again, it occurred to me that this was a story that had less to do with basketball and more to do with life and how we live it.  I started thinking about the coach’s decisions, the players responses, the community’s reactions.

It was then that I determined to watch the movie repeatedly over the next few weeks and months.  Each time I view the film I will examine it from the perspective the individual characters.  I will start with Coach Dale and work through the rest of the cast.

Together, the characters and their own strengths and weaknesses will speak to us, guide us, and hopefully, make us better and this game of life.

A Little Christmas Cheer: The Sound of Music

Now on Blu-ray, this 1965 family classic is a heart touching portrayal of the von Trapp family origins.  While it is not “technically” a Christmas movie (like the obvious Christmas movie, “Die Hard”) it is a perfect film for the holidays and I highly recommend it.

After its release, the movie appeared in theaters for five straight years.  It won an impressive five academy awards, breaking the record previously set by Gone with the Wind.

This movie captures my heart every time I watch it.  I love every part of this movie; from the opening scene on the mountain as Maria spins and sings, to the very last scene when the family crosses the Alps to escape Nazi leaders who, as you know, hated music of any kind.

A Little Christmas Cheer: The Polar Express

The 2004 movie, Polar Expressed is based on the fantastic children’s classic by the same name.  The musical score has become synonymous with high school orchestra concerts around the country (I’ve heard it performed half-a-dozen times in the last four years).  The art is true to the book’s original illustrations artfully done by the book’s author, Chris Van Allsburg.

I don’t LOVE this movie but I certainly enjoy Tom Hanks and his multiple roles.  Hanks plays everything from the Hero Boy, to the Hobo on the train, to Santa himself!  It is just another reason to love Hank’s work and the primary reason I own this film.

The story, for those of you unfamiliar with the film is of a boy who has lost his belief in Christmas in general and Santa Claus specifically.  His journey on the train bound for the North Pole reawakens his faith in the Big Fella and rekindles his trust in the magic of Christmas.  Sweet.

That said, the eyes of the characters freak me out!  They NEVER look another person in the eye and roll around in their heads like legally blind baby-dolls made in a dark Taiwanese factory.

I love the music, am moved by the story, and can’t get enough of Tom Hanks but those eyes keep me from watching this movie more than once a year…and even that is pushing it.

Turn it On: Life in a Day

Every so often you stumble on a film that opens your eyes to the world in which we live.  This is just such a movie.

This film gathers thousands of video clips taken by people around the globe.  Some of the clips are of the mundane (an amazing number of people felt it was important to send in pictures of themselves on the toilet) but so many are spectacular!

The film is a beautiful series of contrasts.  In one film you see a destitute hoarder and the next you witness a very proud Lamborghini owner.  In one series you witness extreme poverty and anger, in the next you see a gardener who is very happy eating on newspapers laid out on the floor.

The creativity of the videos, the wonderful filming styles, the visual elegance of so many images, the story behind each clip combines to make this film one of my favorite movies I’ve watched in a very long time.

I believe this is best 95 minutes of filming that I’ve ever viewed.  I honestly think you will feel the same.

Enjoy.

A Little Christmas Cheer: Christmas with the Kranks

You might be tired of Tim Allen.  Jamie Lee may whine a bit.  The schtick is predictable.  I’ll give you all of that.  But this movie made me laugh (food falling out of Allen’s mouth after the Botox injections) and cry(Make A Wish for grown-ups).

If you’ve read the book, Skipping Christmas, then you know where this movie is going.  If you’ve seen The Santa Clause, it is no surprise that every possible seasonal spoof is thrown into the film.  From the rush to get the last Christmas ham to the surprise guest being Santa himself, this movie offers nothing new to the genre.

But it is worth the watch, especially if you live in a neighborhood where every neighbor works to surpass the other with lights, Frosty figurines and glowing reindeer.

This movie teaches us one thing:  In the end, the reason we go endure of seasonal music, holiday cookies and Christmas decorations is for others more than for ourselves.  That’s the true meaning of Christmas and you should never skip that.

A Little Christmas Cheer: Die Hard

No Christmas movie list is complete without the 1988 classic, Die Hard.

Oh, you might think that the cussing, shooting, cussing, brief frontal nudity, screaming, explosions, more shooting, more cussing, dark humor and more cussing might take it out of the Christmas genre.  But you would be wrong.

Don’t let anyone kid you, this action thriller is all about Christmas.  Director, John McTiernan ensures that you leave the theater with that warm holiday glow.  Why else would he have placed this family favorite on Christmas eve?  Why else would he have had the events take place at a Christmas eve party?

The music alone ensures that you will love this film:  Ode To Joy is a common theme throughout the movie and Joy to the World gives you that good feeling I always look for while watching terrorists break into a highly secured vault. Additional themed music including, “Winter Wonderland”, “Christmas in Hollis” (performed by RUN-D.M.C.), and “LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW!” are sure to please.

This movie has it all:  A plastic Santa, a Santa hat on the dead guy, seasonal wrapping tape secures John’s gun to his back!  On top of that, this movie has that guy who plays Snape in Harry Potter.  Need I say more?

So gather the little kiddies around the TV tonight, pop some corn and get ready for a real family treat.  Nothing says Christmas like John McClain giving Sgt Al Powell that warm tearful hug at the end (right before he fills the bad guy full of holes)!

 

A Little Christmas Cheer: It’s A Wonderful Life

Released in 1946, this American classic has become a regular visitor to the Austin home.  This fantastic film is the first Christmas movie we watch every year and this year was no exception.  We pulled out the video cassette and enjoyed our favorite Bailey family two full weeks before Thanksgiving.  It isn’t uncommon for us to watch this great film two or three times in the season and every-so-often during the remaining 10 months of the year.

I will not insult you by summarizing the film’s story line.  Let me just point out that in my darkest hours, when my own life had no meaning or purpose, this movie was a persistent reminder that life had value, even when I couldn’t find the meaning.

In truth, my life is a mirror image of George Bailey’s.  His story is my own.  The love he experiences at the end of the movie; the support of his family and community as they come to his rescue, touches my heart every time.  (That AND my wife is just as lovely as Donna Reed.)