Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Groupthink Is The Enemy Of Truth

What is groupthink?  A quick Google search defines it as "the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility."  That's a pretty good sum-up I would say.  And it is a big problem that I see in our society today.  

I've been thinking about it a lot lately.  I think it all started when my school started performing the play, The Crucible.

For those of you who don't know it, it's about the Salem Witch Trials that took place during Puritan-era America.  A group of girls are caught doing things they shouldn't in the woods, and to cover up for their sins, they take advantage of the village's fear of El Diablo by calling out people as witches.  And to keep up the charade, they must keep lying about more and more people, with one vengeful little shrew, Abigail Williams. using her power as a way to get to her married crush, John Proctor.  And there's this other jerk who uses it to get ahold of people's land, too, and it's all quite maddening. 

I've read the play and seen the movie a couple times, so I am quite familiar with the story.  And I know it's symbolic of the McCarthy era and all that.  But seeing it performed here by people I know kind of drove it home more that this play is still extremely relevant today, with people who jump on bandwagons, whether out of fear or hunger for power.  

Two lines that really stuck out to me:  One has to do with how we should take Rev. Parris' word for everything.  Because if he's an ordained minister, surely he must be a man of God, right?  Well, not this time.  Turns out he loves having power over the community as well and only tires of the affair when Abigail's treachery finally bites him in the ass late in the play.  Sadly, I do see this happening now.  Yes, I'm going to call out my own people here and say that Christians are just as guilty, if not more so, than others of groupthink.  I hate to keep beating this dead horse, but Christian media is a big part of it.  Whenever some studio craps out a lazy movie, we're told to support it because if it's Christian, it must be good!  I also see it as it pertains to people or politics.  I don't think a lot of people are aware that there are political issues that you can feel differently than all your friends about.  Obviously, if you're a Christian, there are some issues that it's impossible to not take sides on, but there are a lot of neutral ones.  But a lot of people don't see this because at some point in their lives they start to confuse Christianity with patriotism and say that if you don't agree with them, you're not only a bad citizen, but a bad follower of Christ.  Like, really?  And I have had occasion where I've questioned the legitimacy of something a church had going on, and someone told me that if it's Catholic, I should believe it!  That's not an interpretation or summary of what this person said either, they said exactly that!  And it really both saddens and angers me because the old-time Catholics believed that Christians should be free and logical thinkers instead of just blind sheep because we need both faith and reason.  Check out some Aquinas or C.S. Lewis if you want something more recent.  Their work is fascinating in explaining why they believe what they believe.  But the difference between them and the modern mob mentality is that they tell you what has led them to accept these things as true, instead of just following what someone else said.  These days, people just go with it and throw out reason, whether out of fear or arrogance, I don't know.

The other quote that stuck in my mind kind of goes back to what I was saying about Christianity vs. Patriotism.  They said at one point that if you're a good Christian, you must accept the word of the court as true.  No.  Just, so much no in this.  Following your faith does not always mean following the law.  I know the Bible commands us to obey and respect authority and everything, but that doesn't mean we should always accept the law as right and worth obeying without any questioning.  I'm a Christian who thinks taxation is theft and socialized healthcare is a horrible, horrible idea.  There are actually those who would say I can't claim to follow Jesus and think like that!  "But give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, David!"  And what belongs to him exactly?  And who decides this?  Caesar, you say?  The one who says I owe the man some of my paycheck is the one who benefits most from it?  How convenient.  But that's another conversation.  Sorry, I'm not hear to talk about my politics today.  Just using it as an example.  

I also saw the Danish film, The Hunt, recently.

If you're like me and don't mind R-rated movies and don't mind generally feeling like crap, I highly recommend this one.  In this, a little girl develops a crush on a kindly daycare worker, and when he warns her about liking him, she gets angry and lets slip a lie that leads everyone to believe the man is a pedophile.  Even after he's acquitted due to inconsistencies in made-up stories about him, his community continues to shun him and his family.  And I got mad.  So mad I actually kind of understood when the son lost his temper and spit at the girl and called her a bitch.  You're making me okay with cussing out and spitting at a child, movie, not okay!  But that's just to give you an idea of how this stayed with me.  I think it may just be one of the most important and relevant films I've ever seen.  

I know I'll probably come under some fire for this, probably more so than anything else I've said in this post, but I see this in relation to the #MeToo movement.  Yes, I know that sexual abuse is real and the Hollywood epidemic is real.  I'm not implying in any way that this is just like The Salem Witch Trials or The Hunt.  I know that it's happened and the predators involved should be punished harshly.  Okay?  Okay.  But one would be foolish to say that none of the many, many accusations popping up hasn't been the result of power hunger or revenge.  As a person with a penis, false accusations like that terrify me because I keep hearing about innocent people who get accused of this and then shunned by their society because the universal groupthink right now has told society to always believe the accuser no matter what.  I know that's not popular to say right now, but that's my point.

So, what can we do to combat this mob mentality?  I actually got the immense privilege this weekend to meet Mr. Paul McCusker from Focus on the Family, one of the main men behind one of my favorite shows, Adventures in Odyssey.  "Pics or it didn't happen, David."  Okay, fine.

Can I get back to what I was saying now?  Okay.  Anyway, I asked him what he thought could be done about it since the topic was on my mind.  And he basically said that people have a tendency when they hear something they don't like to immediately look for the imagined motivation of someone opposing them.  The trick is to look first for the truth and then think about the why.

And that's really what it all comes down to, I think.  Truth.  People, for lack of a better way to say it, truly can't handle the truth!  But if we're to move past mob mentality and have real justice we have to look for Truth.  Always pursue it and don't stop until you've got it.  Even if you're scared the Truth may go against everything you or your group has ever believed or held dear, just look for the Truth, wherever it may be.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What Are They So Afraid Of?

Pardon my French, but protests are a shit show.  No matter what you're protesting, or how positive/negative the reaction to it is, the purpose of a protest is always to provoke some sort of a reaction.  But, somehow you never expect the reactions to be as childish as they often are.  Take yesterday for example.

I attend the school Franciscan University of Steubenville, which is a Catholic university.  Needless to say, we are a very pro-life school.  So, yesterday, for some reason only God knows, former President and possible future First Husband Bill Clinton came to town to deliver a speech.  You can bet as soon as some of our students in leadership positions heard about it, they immediately formed a pro-life group to go protest at the rally.  I, being a very pro-life person myself, was very excited about it and did everything I had to in order to attend.  (I have no car.)

Anyway, this was a peaceful protest.  There was no standing in the back with signs and screaming at Billy Boy (or calling him a rapist, which Alex Jones is allegedly offering a $5,000 reward to the person who does, FYI), we just stood there with red tape on our mouths with the word "Life" written on them.  At first, the event was pretty...uneventful, actually.  We just stood there listening to what Clinton had to say.  He didn't even really address life.  But, I did notice us getting quite a few looks from the crowd.  We must have gotten at least a little attention because toward the end of the speech, some little woman with an ear-piece (I honestly don't know her role in this.  Maybe she was the event organizer or something) walked up and asked if we were planning to cause trouble.  I believe at some point, she asked us to leave, even though that is completely not within her rights.  Turns out our plan all along was to just stay in the back the whole time and then turn around to face the news cameras at the very end of the speech.  Now Little Woman (hope she doesn't mind me calling her that, we never exactly got on a first-name basis.  My mouth was covered, and I doubt she was in a listening mood anyway) can't stand that, of course.  So, what does she do?  The most immature thing possible.  Since, legally, she can't do a damn thing about us as long as we're not causing any problems, she got her cronies from the rally to stand in front of us and try to block us by waving their signs in our faces.  Keep in mind, their signs were facing away from the cameras, so the cameras couldn't see them.  They were only there as a barrier to us!  Wow, just wow.  And can I just say these people must not be used to opposition because they were terrible at their job.  They were leaving enormous gaps that even the most amateur cameraman could film through.  It was quite laughable, really.  At one point, I even went back further behind my colleagues to make sure the cameras could at least see one person.  Little Woman does not like that one bit.  She first asks, then tells me to go join the rest of them, but I just shake my head, "no."  Now, since as I said before, she can't make me do anything (plus, she's like half my size), she brings over a sign wielding person just for me!  Boy, do I feel special.  Eventually, we all left...but not before one of our naysayers actually started pushing one of my friends!  I'm glad I wasn't there to see that part.  I might have become very unpeaceful, and that wouldn't have helped our cause...


Sorry, I couldn't resist.  

And don't worry, I have no intention of pulling a Pureflix here and acting like all liberal pro-choicers are like this.  I'm saying these particular people were behaving like children and it's disgraceful.  Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against opposition, as apparently they do.  I welcome discussion.  Granted, I may not always be the most polite person once the discussion gets heated, and I'm working on that.  But I do believe people should have the right to oppose me.  But that's not what was going on here.  These people weren't offering opposing viewpoints.  They were just doing everything in their power to silence our voices, or lack thereof.  Think about it, they were worried about people standing like statues with tape on their mouths?  What, even...

And I would guess these are the same people who would tell you how "intellectual" and "tolerant" they are compared to the rest of us less-enlightened masses.  They have proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are the opposite of that!  And the cameras couldn't even see their signs, like I said.  Their only interest was silencing our voices (so to speak).  Like Steven Crowder once said to SJW protesters attempting to disrupt his panel, "You're not fighting for free speech.  You're not fighting for rights.  You're fighting for the right to be a pussy and not hear opinions you don't like!"

So, if you reading this were one of these detractors, or you feel you would have done something similar, I ask you this:  What are you so afraid of?  What sort of threat does a harmless, silent protest pose to you and your kind?  Most importantly, would you be open to a dialogue about our differing viewpoints?  If you're reading this and want to talk it out like adults, comment below and we'll be in touch.  I hope I could reach some sort of middle ground with these people, but I'm not optimistic, to be honest.

Friday, April 8, 2016

God's Not Dead...And Neither is Manipulation

So, if you're someone who talks to me a lot, or follows me on Facebook, has been reading my other blog for a long time, you know that I love movies. and more often than not, I have a bit of a distaste for Christian movies.  Don't get me wrong, I don't hate all of them.  There are a few that I enjoy and even find meaningful to my life sometimes.  It's just that nine times out of ten, they're not very well done movies.  The writing and acting are pretty mediocre, and even the message can sometimes be a bit half-baked.  Now, if those were the only problems with Christian movies, I probably wouldn't make such a big deal about it.  But then, this new wave of Pure Flix movies happened.  The most popular of these movies was God's Not Dead, which like some of the company's other films, makes it its main goal to paint Christians as a victimized poor-little-us minority, and every non-believer as an ignorant jerk.  I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard that the recently released God's Not Dead 2 does have a non-believer who defends Christians, which is certainly an improvement, but doesn't change the fact that its still existing stereotypes are just as prevalent and just as ridiculous.  I could go on forever about why I hate the God's Not Dead franchise, but for the sake of time, I'll just focus on one specific article I came across today over godsnotdead.com, which was mostly made up of quotes from Movieguide, entitled "Let's Stop Attacking Movies for Saying Something."  Clearly, this title is very out of touch with reality already.  If that was the reason for the attacks, no movie could pass by critics!

I will attempt to break down the article and respond to each part one-by-one.

So, it begins with a quote from C.S. Lewis, who said, "This is not what is called an ‘apologetic’ work. I am nowhere trying to convince unbelievers that Christianity is true. I address those who already believe it, or those who are ready, while reading, to ‘suspend their disbelief.’ A man can’t always be defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.”  

Okay, a few things to say here already.  One, you're comparing yourself to C.S. Lewis, which is pretty arrogant.  Two, C.S. Lewis was actually a good writer, so he at least had something of an excuse to respond to criticism this way.  Three, the difference between you and him is that he actually wrote truth, instead of writing some half-a$$ed stereotype trying to pass itself off as "truth" or "revolutionary."

"Have you read some of the critics’ reviews of GOD’S NOT DEAD 2? As Ben Kayser, the managing editor of Movieguide, writes, most of these critics consider “it’s bad because, in their eyes, a movie that preaches and teaches by definition cannot be a good movie.”

Yeah, you wish.  They don't hate preaching in movies.  (Look at Spotlight, for crying out loud...)  They hate that the movie is basically a two-hour sermon, rather than a compelling story.  

He goes on to say:
“They can disagree with the message, or have issues with the side it takes, but to complain that a movie or story takes a side would mean that movies should always be amoral. If this was even possible, imagine if SELMA or SCHINDLER’S LIST didn’t take sides and the filmmakers chose not to make any statements about how life should be in those real life situations. They would be bad movies, not just artistically, but morally. Let’s stop attacking movies for saying something, and instead have a discussion over what’s being said.”

Again, you're seriously comparing this movie's quality to that of Schindler's List, which is already pretty dumb.  Also, are you seriously saying that just because we may not like how one-sided this movie is, that means we can't like any movie that even remotely takes a side?  Getting upset about a movie unfairly targeting atheists means we also can't support a movie that denounces the Holocaust?!  Really?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finally, we reach the crux of this copy/paste masterpiece, which is directed at the Christians who criticize these movies.  And since I myself fall into that category, I will break that statement down line-by-line.

Another key point Ben brings up in his article is how some Christian critics have panned the movie for the same reason—despite stating the acting, cinematography, and other elements of the film are strong. His well-stated conclusion addresses this:
“If you’re a Christian, and you hate Christian movies, maybe it’s time to accept that many people do love them...
Yes, I am fully aware of this.  I never heard anyone argue that they don't.

"...and have laughed, cried and had emotional experiences because of them..."

Again, you're not saying anything that we don't already know.  I myself have laughed, cried, and had emotional experiences during Christian films.  However, that doesn't make them good mov...

"...and ultimately, regardless of how you feel, those movies may actually be good movies because of it.”

WOAH BRO!!!!  Let me stop you right there.  I'm convinced now.  The people who make these movies and those who support them have no concept whatsoever of filmmaking.  Did you REALLY just say that a movie making people emotional makes it good?  

Okay, let me paint you a picture.  Say we're talking one day, and I start telling you the story of how my parents died.  By the end of the story, you're in tears.  And then I reveal to you that the whole thing is made up.  Am I a good person just because I made you cry by lying to you?  (If that's not a good analogy of the Pureflix situation, I don't know what is.)

But, you know, I shouldn't be surprised by any of this.  These are the same people who automatically assume anyone who doesn't like their views is an enemy.  So, it makes sense that they would try to villainize the movie's critics in the same way.

The fact is, these people lack an understanding of not only film quality, but also of Christianity.  I just can't for the life of me comprehend how they think God could bless their self-righteous, manipulating crap.  They are literally guilting you into shutting up if you have anything negative to say about these movies, just because some Christians love them!  Doesn't the Bible itself preach against conformity?  Oh, but that doesn't apply here because it's something Christians made and it's something they need you to financially support just so they can make more of these movies nobody asked for.  I missed the Bible verse which says, "Do not conform to the world, unless we need you to."  And criticism=persecution, which ties in perfectly to the horrible messages these films try to promote.  

Well, I'm done with this rant.  Let me know if you agree/disagree and why and all that...see you later.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I Am Starting A New Blog

Since I talk about movies so much on this blog, I just decided I would cut to the chase and do a blog just about movies.  I will try to update it at least once a week (Sundays probably).  My posts could be any of the following things I've done on here:

-Top 10 lists (or whatever number fits)
-Spiritual Commentaries on movies

Or, I could just simply review movies.  Maybe pull a PluggedIn and talk about why they are/aren't good for Christians.  I am also open to suggestions about what to talk about, so comment to me either on here, there, or Facebook.  Okay?  Okay.  See ya.

I'll still talk about things on here.  Just no more movie posts.  This blog will focus on the other types of things I've discussed on here.

The new one is here.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

10 Christ Figures in Movies (That I Haven't Mentioned Already in my Plethora of Spiritual Movie Posts)

I love movies.  Did you know that?

I also like looking for spiritual symbolism in movies.  Did you know that, too?

I'm just going to move on before I go into self-aware humor overload...

But I do like it when I'm watching a movie, and I'm like "Hey, this could apply to Christianity."  I've already discussed this before in a few other posts, so this list will not include Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption or John Keating from Dead Poets Society.

Also, please don't get angry with this post and say that I'm trying to put any of these characters on an equal level with the Creator of the universe.  When I consider somebody in a movie or book a Christ figure, I only mean that they display certain characteristics similar to those of Jesus.  This could mean inspiring hope among a group of people, showing an extraordinary amount of benevolence, or committing a significant personal sacrifice for the good of others.  And like I said, these characters are NOT perfect pictures of Christ by any means.  All humans are called to be Jesus in the world, but we all inevitably have flaws, just as most, if not all, of these characters do.  So here we go.

1.  Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver

"You talkin' to me?"

You probably weren't expecting to see this guy on the list.  He's just a violent, mentally unstable taxi driver, right?  Well, partially true.  But, a lot of people don't take the time to delve deeper into his character.  This man was disgusted by the sinful things he saw on New York's mean streets (hey, that would be a good name for another De Niro film), and he wanted to do what he could to transform them. He was particularly interested in saving a young prostitute from the life she was trapped in.  He became willing to help somebody that was considered the lowest of the low in society, similar to how Jesus reacted to a lot of the sinners he met.  He ends up charging into the house where she stays, eliminating anyone in his way.  He rescues her, but gets shot himself.  (I don't think it kills him though.)  

Actually, Jesus was a manly man.  I'm not saying He would be like this guy, but He was definitely no pansy.  

2.  Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront

It took him awhile, but he came through.  Malloy is a guy who's owned by the town's crime boss, Johnny Friendly.  Terry comes to do the right thing, and makes the decision to testify against Friendly in court.  He boldly speaks the truth at personal risk.  As a result, all of the people he thought were his friends betray him.  But, he still wants to deliver them from his control.  He has a showdown with Friendly, which does not end well for Malloy.  The cowardly villain has his goons beat up Malloy when he's getting the upper hand.  This example, though, inspires the other men to refuse to work for Friendly anymore.  The best is the end when Malloy, despite having been beaten within an inch of his life, still gets up and walks away, and the men follow him, leaving the enemy with nothing.

3.  Batman in The Dark Knight

Yes, I am serious.  And don't call me Shirley.  Basically, he allows himself to be hated and hunted by the people he loved and wanted to protect.  After Harvey kills a bunch of people, Batman decides to take the blame for the crimes.  He takes Harvey's sins on his own shoulders, leaving Harvey Dent spotless and pure in the eye of the public.  And he rises in the third movie...

4.  Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

I know, I know.  McMurphy was a dishonest, disrespectful, foul-mouthed fellow.  How could he be a Christ figure?  Well, he did turn his attention away from himself and to helping the other inmates of the asylum.  He took certain risks, such as hopping the barbed wire fence, so that he could show them a good time outside the walls of the institution.  He taught the men how to play basketball.  Ultimately, he taught the men to think for themselves, rather than letting the tyrannical Nurse Ratched tell them what to think.  Most significantly. he had his brain fried for his "unorthodox" behavior, a sacrifice which inspires at least one of the other inmates to bust through the wall and run to freedom.

5.  Luke in Cool Hand Luke

(See what I did there?)

Like other stories I've mentioned, this is about a man who goes to prison that everyone immediately knows is different from the rest.  He challenges any sort of authority, earning the respect of his fellow inmates.  He continually attempts to escape, but he keeps failing.  In spite of that, he never loses the loyalty of his men or his resolve to not conform to the mindset that the jailers would like.  They beat him worse every time they catch him. They beat him so badly at one point, they have to lay him out on the table in the crucifixion pose you see before you now.  Finally, in the end, it looks like he will finally escape, until he's turned in by the Judas in the story.  Luke tries to escape, but gets shot.  It's unclear as to whether he died, but we do know that he never gave in, as he still keeps his perpetual smile while the police are driving away.

6.  E.T. in E.T.:  The Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. is not just an alien visitor.  He is just the kind of friend young Elliot needed in his troubled time.  In Spielberg's classic, we see Elliot dealing with the pain of his parents' separation and the fact that he doesn't seem to have a friend he can turn to.  But, one shows up.  E.T. comes to Earth and becomes Elliot's best friend that helps him get over his hurt.  They seem to become one.  Of course, there are some obvious analogies that can be drawn from E.T.'s death and resurrection later in the movie.  But, the most obvious symbol comes at the very end when E.T. leaves.  His spaceship comes to take him back home, but Elliot begs him not to leave.  E.T. hugs Elliot, points to his head, and says, "I'll be right here."  Aside from making everybody in the room cry, this is also a reminder of when Jesus had to leave the disciples to ascend into Heaven and comforted them by saying, "I will be with you always."

7.  Jamal Malik in Slumdog Millionaire

It's as simple as this.  Jamal represents how Jesus pursues us unrelentingly, no matter how hard we make it for him.  He loves Latika because he believes they're destined to be together, and nothing stops him on his quest, even when both of their lives are threatened.  This is probably the best love story I've seen in a secular film.

8.  Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino

Hey, even this guy will back me up here.

This short-tempered man also believed in standing up for the weak.  He saved the Asian girl from the gang pushing her around on the street.  He also took a special interest in mentoring Thao, the neighbor boy, so that he won't become a criminal.  He then commits the ultimate sacrifice so the local Asian gang (led by Thao's cousin) will stop harassing them.  And he went to his final confrontation with them in a completely non-violent manner.

9.  Phil Coulson in The Avengers

It's not always the main character who serves as the Christ figure.  This guy was probably the most selfless character in the movie, simply being SHIELD's humble servant.  The only thing he ever asked for was for Captain America to autograph his trading cards.  He ends up committing the ultimate sacrifice when confronting Loki.  And it was this sacrifice that persuaded the superheroes to put aside their differences and come together to save the world.

10.  John Coffey in The Green Mile

It's pretty common knowledge that this story was partially intended to be a retelling of the story of Jesus.  He has the same initials.  He heals people when he can.  And this movie specifically says that his powers are from God.  "And I do not see God putting a gift like that in the hands of a man who would kill a child."  Indeed, his powers are what persuade the guards on Death Row that Coffey is innocent of the crimes he's been accused of.  His healing Paul Edgecomb's bladder infection could be recalling the time in the Gospel when Jesus healed the ear of one of the men arresting him.  Also, we discover that it was another character in the story that killed the little girls in question.  But, John Coffey still goes to the electric chair for the man's crime.  And he does so willingly.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

10 of the Greatest Acting Performances (In My Opinion)

You probably didn't know this, but I love movies.  I don't really talk about it much...

So, this post will give my opinion on ten of the greatest acting performances in movies.  And I just now realized that all of the actors on my list are men.  Don't worry.  It was not intentional.  Perhaps I'll do another list for the ladies someday.  Also, I do feel obligated to warn you that I'll be posting some clips some may want to avoid.  As Captain America would say, "Language!"  I'll just put an asterisk (*) at the top of the section where that will be an issue.  Finally, I want to clarify that these rankings are in no particular order, until I get to numbers 2 and 1.  (And don't worry.  This post will not say a word about The Shawshank Redemption.)

10.  Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street*

First of all, I am not saying I recommend this movie, only that I think DiCaprio did a good job in it.  I know Leo gets a lot of hate, but I honestly do think he's a very talented actor.  I think Martin Scorsese saved him from his pretty boy Titanic reputation by giving him his role in Gangs of New York, and then following up with him leading in The Aviator, The Departed, and Shutter Island.  I also loved him in Inception and The Great Gatsby.  (He was just downright scary in Django Unchained!)  However, one complaint about Leo is that he always has at least one scene in his movies where he overdoes it.  (Think of him grabbing Tom in The Great Gatsby.)  That's why his role in this movie was so perfect for him, though.  This part was supposed to be loud and excessive, and he performed that role admirably.  In fact, the real Jordan Belfort has said that he was even more over the top than Leo portrayed him to be!

9.  Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life

I've already said before that this is one of my favorite movies, and Jimmy Stewart is my favorite actor.  I like him not only for his movie roles, but because I know he was a very upstanding man in real life, as well, which is a rarity in Hollywood.  This is my favorite performance of his I've seen because he does everything I like about him:  Make great speeches, tell the people off who need it, and most of all, hold true to his values no matter what the cost.  And he does everything with such intensity, it's impossible not to be captivated by it.

8.  Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull*

De Niro is Scorsese's main man (at least, he was before Leo).  Known for playing hardcore, tough guys in movies like Goodfellas and Taxi Driver, this movie actually focused on how his toughness caused his downfall.  De Niro plays a boxer who just wants to make it to the top.  Unfortunately for him and everyone who knows him, he is just as violent out of the ring because of various frustrations too complex to fully delve into here.  He loses his temper with family and friends on a regular basis, usually out of jealousy over his wife.  He abuses her and later his also-violent brother (played by Joe Pesci, go figure).  He eventually lands in jail where he cries out that he is not an animal.  (Is it just a coincidence that this came out the same year as The Elephant Man?)  By the end of the movie, he has turned his life around and is giving motivational speeches, but he has become hopelessly out of shape.  Ever the method actor, that weight gain was not an illusion, but actual weight that De Niro put on just for that role.

7.  Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbit in Rain Man*

Dustin Hoffman totally convinced me in all the roles I've seen him in, so far.  He's been serious (Stranger than Fiction), silly (Hook), naive (The Graduate), and even sleazy (Midnight Cowboy).  All of them seemed real to me.  (Okay, I haven't seen The Graduate yet, but I assume he was good.)  In this movie, he took on what would be a challenge for any actor:  playing the part of a mentally challenged man.  But, he pulled it off like he always does and I totally believed that he was the way he was acting when I watched Rain Man.

6.  Robin Williams as Jack Powell in Jack

A lot of people think of this movie as one of Robin Williams' flops, and to a certain extent, it's true.  It certainly isn't as good as some of his other movies, like Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting, but I still think it's an enjoyable picture.  Playing the part of a boy in a grown man's body sounds like one of the most complicated things I've ever heard of, but he did it with the perfect amount of innocence required.

5.  Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump

I thought of a couple other movies I could have put for Tom Hanks.  I could have said Saving Private Ryan where he plays the stern army captain that slowly reveals more of his human side to his men.  I could have said Cast Away where he plays a man marooned on an island who struggles to keep his sanity.  (I miss Wilson, too.)  But this performance always stands out in my mind because he plays the part of the dim-witted, but loving everyman so well.  This was the first Tom Hanks movie I saw (not counting Toy Story or Polar Express), and I have seen him play other more serious roles since then, and that just makes his convincing Gump performance here all the more amazing to me.

4.  Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest*

Jack Nicholson steals the movie no matter what he's in.  The Shining blew everyone away.  His Joker is the reason Tim Burton's Batman is good, in my opinion.  Even if he's playing a part that you're supposed to be rooting for his downfall (A Few Good Men, The Departed), it's still impossible to hate him.  But his role in Cuckoo's Nest set the precedent for all of his movies that came after it.  He doesn't play a crazy man.  He plays a guy pretending to be a crazy man to stay out of prison.  But that's not all there is to his character.  He wants to help the other crazy people, let them see that they can think for themselves, and free them from the control of the dictator Nurse.  He pays a big price to do so, too.  He gets his brain zapped and becomes a vegetable, and he played that part very nicely, as well.

3.  Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything

Playing the part of one of our great scientists is hard enough.  But throw in ALS into the mix, and you've got one tall order.  He remarkably portrayed Hawking as his body slowly deteriorates.  It's especially amazing when you consider the fact that movie scenes are usually not shot in chronological order.  This means he had to go into each scene at a completely random stage in the deterioration and know how to act for that stage.  But, he somehow pulled it off.

2.  Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

I have said before that I think The Dark Knight's Joker is the best super villain portrayal there is, and I still believe it.  People actually doubted that he would be able to pull this off.  But, as soon as they saw him in the movie, there was no doubt in anybody's mind that he was the psychopathic serial killer he said he was.  He actually used some interesting method acting.  Apparently, he locked himself in a room for six weeks and kept a journal as if he were the Joker.  Tragically, his method worked a little too well, and he couldn't live with himself afterword...

Before I reveal my top pick, here are six honorable mentions (3 serious, 3 comedic)

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List


Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather

Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas*

Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski*

Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman:  The Legend of Ron Burgundy

George Clooney as Ulysses Everett in O Brother Where Art Thou?*

Here we go...

1.  Peter Sellers as Capt. Lionel Mandrake/President Merkin Muffley/Dr. Strangelove in Dr. StrangeLove or:  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Sellers is probably better known for playing the original Inspector Clousseau in the Pink Panther films.  But, his performance in the legendary Stanley Kubrick's satirical film was what impressed me.  It takes skill to play 3 separate roles with personalities all their own.  He plays the peaceful Captain Mandrake, the mock-serious President Muffley, and the zany man of the title.  If that wasn't enough he has to do three separate accents in this movie!  The Captain is British, the president is American, and the doctor is German.  And we already know he can do French from his Inspector Clousseau role.  So, I believe that this man is one of the most unsung comedic actors there ever was, God rest his soul.

So, do you have an opinion on this matter?  What are some of your favorite performances?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Tears of a Clown

There's this song that's helped me through some dark times about how you have value and nobody can tell you different:  "Beautiful" by Eminem.  I wish I could share it here, but some of the lyrics are pretty vulgar.  Oh wait....

You're welcome.

There's a certain point in the song that really stuck with me because I can relate to it.  Minus the cuss words, that section says, "I don't need no man servant Trying to follow me around, Laugh at every single joke I crack And half of them ain't even funny like "Ha!, Marshall you're so funny man, you should be a comedian!" Unfortunately I am, but I just hide behind the tears of a clown." 

I have been thinking about this concept for awhile now.  To me the "tears of a clown" idea is about how you've become known as a joker in a group, whether it's your group of friends, coworkers, or fellow activity people.  People just know you as the guy who has the best jokes or one-liners, so they know they can count on you for a laugh when they need one.  However, it gets to the point where you start to feel that your humor is the only reason they keep you around.  I've already talked before about how insecure I can get, so maybe this is just that talking, but I'm sure anyone else who's become the group comedian knows what I'm talking about.  They like you because they make you laugh.  So much so, that they don't really know the real you.  They don't know that the comedy may be just a way of disguising things like insecurity or depression.  And, when you really do have something serious to talk about, people probably won't take your concerns very seriously.  Again, this may just be me, as I have had a problem getting people to take me seriously pretty much my whole life.  But, I'm kind of not thinking so.  There are at least two other guys that you have probably heard of that would know what I mean.  If only they were still with us...

One was Chris Farley.  He was known for being the funny, fat guy on Saturday Night Live and in movies like Tommy Boy or Billy Madison.  This man truly had some "tears of a clown," though.  This guy suffered from severe insecurity, depression, and a serious drug problem.  He never knew if people were laughing with him or at him, which I am very familiar with.  He even got in a physical fight with David Spade once because he felt left out of Spade's night of fun with Rob Lowe.  He eventually died of a drug overdose on October 25, 1997.  

The other, of course, is the Captain himself, Robin Williams.  I believe he summed up my point better than I could with this quote:  

This man is one of the funniest men who ever lived.  That's not just my opinion, that's a fact, Jack!  But, I think the world now knows at least a small part of who he really was.  He had severe depression, which his fellow actors now confirm that they were suspicious about for a log time.  Ethan Hawke, who acted with Williams in Dead Poets Society, now says that he could always tell that Robin wasn't happy, and it made him sad because Williams gave them all so much joy, but he felt like none of them were making him as happy as he made them.  He committed suicide last August, and I think his death was the saddest I've ever been about a celebrity death.

At first, I assumed I was sad because the world had lost such a great comedian and actor.  I had just seen Patch Adams shortly before this happened and wondered why he couldn't take his own advice.  But, now I know the truth.  I can relate with him being the funny man who tries to hide his pain inside.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm not really sure why I'm writing all of this down.  Maybe I'm just trying to vent.  But I also want everyone to think about the people they know and think twice before they pin a label on somebody.  You probably don't know half of who they are.

Still, as a clown, I feel obligated to finish with something funny here, but I can't think of anything right now, so I'll let the master do it.