Monthly Archives: June 2015

Matinee Monday: The Maltese Falcon

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Where do you begin with such a movie? The Maltese Falcon is one of the definitive examples of film noir, the gritty crime and gangster pictures of the 40’s, and is still considered one of the best films ever made. In 1998, the American Film Institute rated it as the 23rd greatest film of all time, and in 2008, the 6th greatest mystery film of all time.

Do you begin with the fact that the movie is adapted from the the great Dasheill Hammett’s novel, or that it’s directed by one of the greatest directors of all time, John Huston? What about the cast? After all, you begin with lesser lights, like Peter Lorre and a young Elijah Cook, Jr., who would have a career into the 80’s. Then you add the wonderful stage actor (London and Broadway) Sidney Greenstreet and Mary Astor, and top it off with one of the greatest actors of all time, Humphrey Bogart.

Ah, Bogey. With that clipped delivery, that hoarse laugh, and that worn face, Bogart was born to play the hard-boiled gumshoe, Sam Spade. I’m not going to try to say a whole lot about the movie, as it is iconic. My attempt to praise it would be a futile exercise in gilding the lily. Instead, for the next couple of weeks, I’ll share a few things from the movie that make it just great.

I’ll leave you with this clip, Bogart and Elijah Cook. The snappy but terse dialogue, with lines like “People lose teeth talking like that” make the movie crackle.

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Bad Teaching: Unconditional Love

I’m writing about bad Church teaching, and this week, I want to discuss a popular teaching about God: His Unconditional Love. I truly believe that when the Church starts taking its teachings, doctrines and beliefs from pop songs rather than the Bible, it has lost its way. The problem with today’s teaching about the Love of God is that it has its roots more in the sappy lyrics of Billy Joel than the Bible.

Here are the first and last couplets of Just The Way You Are, by Billy Joel:

Don’t go changing to try and please me
You never let me down before

I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are Continue reading

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Matinee Monday: Mary Wickes

This is another of the many “Oh, yeah. Her!” character actors and actresses that are part of our collective memory, but we never think about until we happen to be watching an old movie or TV show and their faces flash on the screen. Mary Wickes began her acting career in the 30’s, on Broadway, and spent some time with Orson Welles’ Mercury Players, in radio. Tall, gangly and awkward, with a distinctive voice, once she hit the silver screen, Wickes never stopped working.

Always a supporting character, usually one who cracked wise, Wickes’ career spanned all forms of entertainment. Broadway, radio, movies, television, commercials and, finally, animation. Wickes last role was as the voice of Laverve, one of the three gargoyles in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But prior to that, Wickes worked with just about everybody in Hollywood. Two of her roles are iconic, and make calling her to mind easy.

Working with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, Wickes was the busybody housekeeper/operator in the holiday classic, White Christmas. Late in her career, Wickes re-familiarized herself with moviegoers when she played Sister Mary Lazarus, in Sister Act 1 & 2. Around those films, she squeezed in a career in which she worked with Hollywood greatness: Bette Davis, Abbott and Costello, Orson Welles, Doris Day, Robert Preston, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell and Lucille Ball. A close friend of Lucille Ball, Wickes made several guest appearances on all three of Ball’s TV shows.

So, here’s to one of those often recognized but not remembered actors that make up our collective memory, Mary Wickes.

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This Is My Father’s World

Today is Father’s Day, 2015, and just like every church in Christendom (or at least in the US, anyway), our local Methodist Church honored fathers with several of the Father songs in the hymnal, and a sermon about Joseph being the pattern for a godly father/step-father. Routine fare, done once every year.

But this Father’s Day had a tragic lead-in: Charleston.

As Methodists, we have full fellowship with the African Methodist-Episcopal denomination, and our brothers and sisters in Christ were hit and hurting. Come to think of it, all of us are. Every time something like this happens, it boggles the mind. “How can something like this happen?”, we ask, as if we believe that people aren’t capable of such evil.

But Alexander Solzhenitsyn knew where evil is:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
~ The Gulag Archipelago

Rest assured, this is not a harangue about sin and depravity. This morning’s service gave me an an edelweiss, a surprise of joy and encouragement. As I said, for Father’s Day, various “Father” songs were gathered for the congregation to sing during morning worship, and one was the old hymn, This Is My Father’s World.

If you are like me, you know the first verse of many of the hymns in the hymnal, but maybe aren’t that familiar with 3rd, 4th or 5th verses. Anyway, I found myself “strangely warmed” (I am a Methodist, after all) when I read the third verse as we sang:

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

Yes, there is evil in this world, and, yes, the battleline of good and evil runs through the heart of every man and woman. But evil did not create this world. God, Who is Love, created this world, and in spite of all the evil we are capable of, this is His world, not ours.

CSL

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Apostle’s Creed, part 18

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father Almighty.
from thence he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** Church,

   the communion of saints,

The past month has been a watershed for the discussion of “identity”, what with Bruce Jenner and Rachel Dolezal. And Anna Waldherr, of A Lawyer’s Prayer, wrote an article about the white supremacist Christian Identity movement. We talk a lot about identity in our society today, but the Apostle’s Creed cuts across all of gibberish by giving us one identity.

There are many descriptors that might apply me, that would help someone attempt to define me. Here are some that are applicable: I am male, I am Scotch-Irish, I am caucasian, I am a librarian, I am college-educated, I am Southern, I am politically conservative. Different demographic descriptors are used to define, categorize and differentiate us. A female Chinese acrobat should have nothing in common with me, and we should see the world differently. These descriptors, though, are not my identity or definition.

The one thing that defines me is my faith; I am a Christian. Male, Scotch-Irish, caucasian, college, American Southern? Yes, but all are subservient to my identity as a Christian. And because of that, because, for Christians, Christ is our identity, similarities and/or differences don’t matter. A female Chinese acrobat who is a Christian is a sister to a male, Southern librarian who is a Christian.

A good example of this is the woman I mentioned in my first paragraph, Anna Waldherr. Ms. Waldherr is a self-described liberal lawyer; I am somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. Despite our political differences, I find many of her posts challenging and thought-provoking, and she has commented on some of my posts, so I know that she reads my posts, as well. Why? Because we speak the same language and share in “the communion of saints.”

Back in the Cold War era, one of Billy Graham’s associate evangelists (for some reason I want to say it was Grady Wilson, but I can’t be sure), was doing some advance work in an Iron Curtain country. One evening, as he was walking back to his hotel, Wilson(?) saw a man turn a corner a couple blocks ahead of him and start to walk in his direction. Wilson(?) didn’t feel particularly threatened, but was wary as he continued down the street. As the two got nearer, Wilson(?) heard the man whistling, and recognized the tune as a Christian hymn. Wilson immediately started whistling the hymn as he approached the man, whose face lit up with a big grin. It turned out that the man didn’t speak a word of English, so Wilson(?) couldn’t say anything to him, but for just a moment, each experienced a moment of family reunion.

Grady Wilson, a southern preacher, and an anonymous eastern european man shared the same identity and so rejoiced in each other. As Christians, they experienced the truth of the Creed’s statement, “the communion of saints.”

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Bad Teaching: Soulmates

Confession time: My wife and daughters think I’m a hopeless romantic. I know, I know; that doesn’t sound like the Curmudgeon and Coot that you see on this blog, right? Well, they might have a good reason for their misguided assumptions. After all, my favorite movies are things like You’ve Got Mail, 50 First Dates, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (and the Adam Sandler remake), and Notting Hill.

One of my avocations is storytelling, and as a storyteller, I recognize the difference between reality and fiction. People will ask me how, as a Christian, I can tell stories that I know aren’t true (fantasies, myths, etc.), and I have an answer: “Because they are such that I WISH that they could be true.” Yes, I realize that they aren’t real, but I could wish them to be true. Hence, my love of Narnia.

However, the Church has swallowed, almost whole, a Greek myth mated with Hollywood lies, and is accepting it as gospel truth. I am referring to, of course, the idea of Soul Mates. Continue reading

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Netflix Gold: Proud

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Normally, on Mondays I post about classic movies, sharing about the films, actors and actresses that I dearly love. However, I am going to add a new feature to my movie posting, and start sharing about some of the finds I come across on Netflix. One quote I remember about Netflix is that it is where you go to stream old TV re-runs and crappy movies.

That has not been my experience, however. I do like to watch old movies, and regrettably, Netflix has entirely too few for me. However, in looking about for films to watch, I often come across a movie I’ve never heard of, and when I watch it, I am blown away. It could be that the film is just a vanity piece of an actor or director. It might be that the film didn’t attract an audience during its initial release. Who knows? But what I do know is that I am discovering a hidden gem and I truly enjoy, and feel I’ve got to share. So I’m staring an infrequent ‘feature’, Netflix Gold, to tell folks about something that I am over the moon about. And today, that is the Ossie David film, Proud.

Proud is a small film about the USS Mason, the first ship in WWII to have an African-American crew. Filmed in 2004, there are no big names, but it is a lovingly crafted tribute to the sailors of the Mason. It tells the experience of three seamen who cross the Navy’s barrier of prejudice, joining the first crew of black sailors that were able to serve as anything but stewards and busboys.

There are many wonderful scenes, but some that I really loved were the shots of the crew quarters. I was in the Navy in the late 60s, during the Viet Nam war. I served on the USS Kennebec, which had the distinction of being the oldest ship in the fleet, when it was decommissioned. The Kennebec was actually built as a merchant ship in 1938, and was pressed into Naval service by the war, and was actually older than the Mason. Seeing the quarters on the Mason reminded me of life on the Kennebec, as we had the same rack set-up shown in the film.

Proud is a personal labor of love for Davis, and his pride in the accomplishments of the Mason crew comes through in every frame. From battling the institutional prejudice of the Navy to battling German submarines and Atlantic weather, the story of the Mason is every bit inspiring as the story of the Tuskeegee Airmen.

If you have Netflix, put this in your queue. And when you finish watching the film, let the credits roll. The music during the credits is great.

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Are “Anti-Pearls” Hurting Your Relationship?

“Anti-Pearls?”, I can just hear someone saying. “CSL, have you been at the barbecue sauce again?” I actually have something in mind, so bear with me. (And, no, I haven’t been hitting the BBQ sauce.)

We all know the little pearl analogies and homilies that are told ad nauseum. How God puts a piece of sand in an oyster, and how the sand is an irritant to the oyster. And we are told that the oyster immediately goes to work and begins to transform that irritant, that piece of gritty sand, into a beautiful pearl by covering it with layer after layer of nacre thus transforming it from miserable irritant to fine gem. Therefore, boys and girls, God gives you irritants in your lives so that you, too, can bring forth pearls in your life, in the form of good character. Thus endeth the lesson for this morning….  **

These nice little sermonettes are alright, as far as they go, but they are always a little short on the “how”, aren’t they? Oh, they are nice little object lessons, but other than a standard “be nice” type of response, there usually isn’t any explanation on “how to transform that irritant”, is there? Continue reading

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“All You Think About Is Sex!”

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In my last post in the Addressing The Sexless Marriage series, I addressed some of the most common accusations and deflections of Refusers. In that post, I discuss one of the recriminations that is commonly thrown at a spouse who tries to initiate sex, “All you think about is sex.” In my post, I took the tack of ‘owning’ the truth of the statement, saying, in effect, “Yeah, that’s probably true. Just as it’s true that a starving man thinks about food and a drowning man thinks about oxygen.”

Recently, I read of yet another poor sod telling how his refusing wife trotted out that old line, “All you think about is sex!” It’s like a mantra: “Om, all you think about is sex. Om, all you think about is sex. Om, all you think about is sex.” I’m beginning to wonder if there is a correspondence course that teaches these tactics. I can see it now. Lesson 1 – “All you think about is sex.” Lesson 2 – “You’re such a pervert.” And so on.

I have been chewing on this, for several weeks now, thinking about addressing this particular statement; my inclination was to offer something that met the accusation head-on, turning the statement on its head with the rejoinder, “Well, all you think of is NOT having sex.” My reasoning for that is based on what different refused husbands and former refusing wives have said, that actively strategizing how to avoid sex is something that refusing spouses do. I have reached out to a couple of friends and gotten mixed feedback on the idea, and I’ve been chewing on their responses for some time. Continue reading

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Movie Matinee: Sherlock Holmes

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Continuing to look at popular movie series in Old Hollywood, I present Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. Between 1939 and 1946, there were fourteen Sherlock Holmes movies made. However, there is a little bit of a twist to them.

First off, casting. Tall, suave, handsome Rathbone was the perfect man to be Holmes. With his perfect British accent and his Shakespearean-honed talents, Rathbone transitioned gracefully from London stages to America’s silver screen. Nigel Bruce, however, was nothing like the Dr. Watson of the Conan Doyle stories. Instead, he played Dr. Watson as a clueless tag-along, a sort of mascot for Holmes, much like Pancho for the Cisco Kid (now there’s an obscure reference!)

Twentieth Century Fox made the first two of the Holmes movies in 1939, and both were adaptations of Conan Doyle stories: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Fox made these with care, using big budget and high production values, seeing these films as first-run movies, bill-toppers, if you will. However, Fox released the rights to the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Universal Studios then acquired those rights.

At this point, there is a change in the series. Whereas under Fox, the movies were ‘art house films’, Universal made the Holmes movies with low budgets, seeing these films as B movies, intended to be the second film in a double bill. Unlike today, when you go to see one movie (most recently we went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron), back in the 40’s, it was an evening out in the theater. Two movies on a double bill, newsreel, cartoons, trailers and shorts.

Universal was able to get Rathbone and Bruce to play Holmes and Watson, which is amazing, when you consider the studio/star contracts in the 40’s. They made the films with low budgets, but the biggest thing that they did was to change the venue of Holmes. Instead of solving crimes and mysteries in his normal Victorian Era, Universal made Holmes a contemporary of the times, and had him fighting Nazies during WWII.

In spite of this, apparently, some of those B-movie Sherlock Holmes flicks were pretty good. I did a quick trip over to Rotten Tomatoes, the film review site, and was surprised to find that three of the Rathbone/Holmes movies have been reviewed, and have very high reviews from the critics. I’m crediting this almost entirely to Rathbone, the Shakespearean. To get an idea of the content of these movies, go was the trailers for some of them at Internet Archive.

CSL

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