Patton!

SHORT TAKE:

One of, if not THE most, brilliant portrayals of a historic figure (OK Oldman's Churchill makes this a two way tie) ever filmed. General George S. Patton, U.S. military genius, Commander of the 3rd Army, without whom we might easily have been defeated by the Nazis. George C Scott, U.S. acting genius, winner of two Academy Awards and numerous other awards, without whom this movie might easily have been reduced to a forgettable biography.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Everyone, at least every American, eventually, should see this masterpiece. I saw it when I was twelve and despite the language and violence, it facilitated my unadulterated respect, appreciation, and love for our American Military. BUT – because OF the language and scenes of violence and war time brutality, (not nearly as unfiltered as Saving Private Ryan or Lone Survivor though), parents would be well advised to see it themselves to accomodate to their individual child's temperament and sensibilities.

LONG TAKE:

Patton. Some movies are an education unto themselves. No secret messages. No particular underlying themes. Just something to learn from watching. In 1970 I fell in love with both George C. Scott and General George S. Patton at the same time. Both men, geniuses in their given fields of endeavors.  Scott's portrayal of this iconic World War II figure is a stunning example of acting ability. He IS Patton – probably more Patton than Patton himself. This movie inspired an interest in the General that I continued for years. I am proud that General George S. Patton was OUR General. America's hero. Possibly the best American General in our history (possibly equaled by sheer nerve and determination  only by George Washington). Every battle Patton undertook he won. Every plan he pursued was brilliant.

But the man himself, as portrayed in this movie and backed up by the research I did on him in the years after, showed George S. Patton to be a complex man of ridiculously proportioned contradictions. Devoutly religious but verbally profane, he believed "give it to them loud and dirty and they'll remember it". Fought with his men on the front lines but almost courtly in his manner and dress. Reverent of life but in love with death, he wanted to die "by the last bullet fired in the last battle of the last war." Fiercely loyal to his men but intolerant of weakness as potentially lethal to the soldier and those around him Fiercely patrioticbut admiring of Rommel, his counterpart in the German Army tank division. Devoted student of the Christian Bible but believed in reincarnation. As a matter of fact he believed he had been a participant – often a humble one – in battles dating back thousands of years to the Roman military legions. He even wrote a poem about it, "Through a Glass, Darkly", a poem about reincarnation which harkens (in typical inherent contradiction) to a Biblical quote from 1Corinthians 13:12:

So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.

And I see not in my blindness
What the objects were I wrought,
But as God rules o'er our bickerings
It was through His will I fought.

So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more. (General George S. Patton)

Patton recounts brilliantly the most important slice of life of this larger than life man during his involvement in the latter part of World War Two to its European end. In the process of this recounting, the movie examines not just the man but his strategies, the view the German military intelligence had of Patton, and the horrors of war through the eyes of this man who was both appalled and enamored of it.

There are some people born for (or made by – sometimes hard to tell the difference) the challenge of the time with which they are struggling: Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, William Marshall, Pope John Paul II. Patton was one of those people.

Watching this movie is a history lesson and a biography.

But be warned – the language is ROUGH. No "f" bombs or any language directly relating to inappropriate sexual encounters. But there is a bucket load of damns, hells, and a few son of a b****, s***, and G-d***. There is NO sex in it whatsoever. His interactions with women are limited to PR talks with tittering elderly British tea drinkers. He was as devoutly faithful to his wife as he was to his country. But if the language offends you or you are concerned for your children then either limit this movie to your older kids or catch it when it is shown on TV. While current TV sports FAR worse language, the TV versions of this movie were edited at a time when auditory sensibilities were more attuned to a gentler culture. In other words – they cut out more profanity than they would today.

Patton is a, straight up, history lesson and presented in one of the finest performances by, in my estimation, the premiere American actor of his time. The finest American General during one of the finest hours of American history portrayed by the finest American actor of his generation. Can't get much better than that.

5-31-15

Monsters(sic) University: A Monstrous Lesson

Betcha didn’t know that the origin of “monster” was from the Latin word “monere,” which not only means “to warn” but it also means “to instruct or teach”. So Monsters University (if we can here on out forgive and forget the missing apostrophe punctuation error in the title) really means – a teaching university.

But that is not what I came here to talk to you about. Monsters, Inc., which came out in 2001, 12 years before Monsters University, was a very cute movie. My oldest was 13 and my youngest 3 and they all loved it. Bryan and I did too. Unique quirky movie about gentle giant monsters who scared kids to make them scream, to power their world the way electricity powers ours. The story focuses  on two inseparable best friends: Sulley, voiced by John Goodman and Mike by Billy Crystal. Sulley is a big blue furry Big Foot kind of guy and Mike is a round one-eyed green basketball shaped monster who is Sulley’s coach. As a team no one can beat them in scream units. Their world believes children are toxic so they NEVER EVER touch a child or anything they own. They are transported through warp-portal-like doors which can take them instantly anywhere in the world. One day Sulley walks into the bedroom of a very small child who is just not afraid of him but follows him back into HIS world. They discover she is not toxic, there is a lot of running about, misunderstandings and learning about how friendships can traverse enormous differences. Blah blah blah. Cute.

But this is not what I have come here to talk to you about. The lesson that I have come to tell about was in the sequel — er, prequel, Monsters University.  THAT story is about how Sulley and Mike meet. Throwback, in Sulley and Mike’s time, some 12 years before we meet them in Monsters, Inc., and we have Monsters University. This, in a kind of backwards time warp, is the length of time it took the filmmakers to getting around to make Monsters University. In Monsters University, released in 2013, we find that Sulley is the academics-avoiding BMOC at Monsters U and Mike is the new guy and misfit. Mike is the smart one who will never be wanted for a team but knows every trick written in every textbook about scaring. They hate each other on sight for obvious reasons but they are thrown together by a series of events to struggle in a common challenge and learn to benefit from each others’ strengths – Sulley becomes the brawn to Mike’s brains. This is not much of a spoiler as we know they are friends in the first movie, Monsters, Inc. Blah, blah, blah.  Cute – we’ve seen it before.

But this is not what I have come here to talk about. The brilliant homeschooling moment comes in the last 10 minutes of Monsters University. Now, I promised I would not give away any spoilers without warning. Normally I don’t like to give spoilers at all but occasionally it is necessary. This is one of those times. OK, the following includes spoilers – kind of a “duh” since I AM going to discuss the end of the movie.

3–2–1– you have been warned. At the end of Monsters University , the pair overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles by doing what countless other movie protagonist pairs or groups have done in many many other movies. They overcome the odds the same way Captain Kirk conquered the Kobyashi Maru — they cheat. They break the rules. Now, there ARE grounds and justifications for these actions but nonetheless the rules are broken. In most cases, including in my beloved Star Trek scenario, rule breakage is usually not only forgiven but rewarded. Punishment is usually – to use a Catholicism – indulged, in that given the circumstances the intrepid heroes are cut about a mile’s worth of swathe and they get everything they want and are seen in the end as the champions to be emulated. To me this has always been a mixed message. Yes, whatever they did was brave and for a good cause but —– they did something wrong. Often terribly wrong. And kids are supposed to imitate this??

Well, guess what? In the end of Monsters Univerity our heroes, Sulley and Mike, who we have come to love and laugh with and cheer for over two movies, who we KNOW become champions in Monsters, Inc.,  are NOT forgiven but ——- are expelled! They are thrown out!! Their one track to success, financial reward, employment in their dream jobs at Monsters, Inc. seems thwarted – forever! But how is that possible? Do they plan a rethink of the first movie? Furthermore this breaks the mold! The campus BMOC and the one who would have otherwise been valedictorian are —-kicked out! I was astonished that reality would be appropriately crashed into this little film.

But then the pair, instead of giving up their dream as a hopeless cause, make a very realistic decision. They apply for work at Monsters, Inc. —- as mail room clerks. The rest of the movie is without dialogue but shows the duo, in a series of news clipping and photos taped to the inside of their workroom locker, making the absolutely best out of the bed they have made themselves. They are promoted again and again, given more and more responsibility. Until one day they apply for and are accepted as scarers. The rest is …well, history from the first familiar movie.

OK – what to make of this? Two important lessons, I think. The first is that actions have consequences. One does not often see that in movies. From people who sleep around without getting pregnant or STDs, to car crashes without passengers going into shock, to celebrity police breaking every rule and never getting more than a token slap on the wrist, to intrepid (often teen) heroes  being given carte blanche for a “good cause”, the heroes are never really chastened.

Here, Sulley and Mike ARE punished.  If you decide to break the rules, violate the law, even for a good cause, you must accept the consequences of your actions – even if, in the scheme of the bigger picture, those rules seem unfair. Sulley and Mike expect and accept the responsibility of their punishment with dignity and grace. They are neither angry nor bitter but understand it is the consequence of what they have done, no matter the exigent circumstances. There is a nobility and maturity written into these characters which you just do not often see.

This is a valuable lesson by itself. But THEN they demonstrate yet ANOTHER extremely important life lesson – that if you do not get what you want through conventional channels, perhaps you just need to take another route and WORK YOUR BUNS OFF TO GET IT!

I think the messages from the end of this movie were surprising and wonderfully applicable to the real challenges all of us eventually face. Monsters, Inc. was a nice kid film. That kid audience grew up in the 12 years between Monsters, Inc. and its prequel and, interestingly, the growth of maturity of the lesson in this sequel/prequel is tandem to the growth of its first audience. The kids who went to bed with stuffed animal versions of Sulley and Mike from Monsters, Inc. would be the teenagers and young adults observing their childhood friends accepting responsibility for their actions and making responsible decisions in Monsters University. That is truly a large life education. So — Monsters University really IS a monstrous lesson.

5-28-15

If there was only one movie I could have on a desert island………

……….I would choose It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It is astonishing to me  how many people have never heard of this classic. It is the perfect movie: funny, warm, family friendly, yet deals with issues from suicide to accusations of embezzlement and adultery.  Faithful to Catholic teaching yet respectful to all religions. Diverse population without being politically correct. Time travel – of a sort as we review a man’s life. LARGE ensemble cast but every one three dimensional, each given at least one memorable defining moment. Beautifully and purposefully filmed in black and white with shots that take advantage of the natural shadings the way a master artist might lovingly shape a charcoal sketch of their family. Tragedy, hope, despair and redemption. Thoughtful, witty and moments of slapstick. This REEL life is much like REAL life. Some of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter, some of the best acting you will ever see, shots long enough to impress Alfred Hitchcock… forgive an apparent hyperbole but — it really does deal with the meaning of life, and the danged thing makes me cry EVERY — SINGLE — TIME — I — WATCH — IT!

The story starts in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve. Snow is falling and as you pan over the night of this idyllic town you hear in voice over the prayers of men, women and children on behalf of a man named George Bailey. Then we hear a conversation taking place among Saint Joseph and his superior and….Clarence – an angel Second Class, at which point we immediately understand this movie, while dealing with serious adult and even theological issues, will not mire itself in the somber. One of the brilliances of this film is the way it balances humor with the serious – and in such a way that is completely natural.

You will meet your friends and neighbors, family and — yourself. There is something of the familiar and relatable in all the characters. Bert the cop (Ward Bond of many war movies and old Western TV shows), Ernie the taxi driver (Frank Faylen). (And yes, this is the origin of the Sesame Street characters’ names.) Mr. Gower the druggist (H.B. Warner), Uncle Billy the eccentric (Thomas Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame), Violet the local vamp (Gloria Grahame), Mary Hatch (Donna Reed – the perfect homemaker LONG before Martha Stewart) plays the girl next door, Peter Bailey (Samuel S. Hinds) – owner of the local Building and Loan…and of course George, his son, the protagonist of the movie played by none other than Jimmy Stewart…and many more. The actors are either famous or classic character actors whose faces you will recognize if you have ever haunted TV Land, Turner Classics or just watched old favorite movies with your grandparents.

While the movie follows, in a very Our Town kind of intimate but universal way, the details of life in this small mythical but archetype town, the plot traverses timeless struggles about the definition of success, responsibility versus one’s personal desires, love versus lust, fame versus family, and with a protagonist who is definitely not perfect. He is truly an Everyman. George wants to be a SUCCESS – build skyscrapers and bridges – but, well, life happens, and instead he builds modest but beautiful houses for a lower income population. He wants to be famous but is pretty much only known by his friends and family. And then there is Mr. Potter (THE Lionel Barrymore, in REAL life the patriarch of three generations of distinguished actors including Drew of ET the Extraterrestrial fame) – the clear antagonist who is the “richest man in town” and who hates/envies the Building and Loan in general and the Baileys in particular. The whys don’t really matter but are easy speculation – the Baileys are competitors for Potter’s banking business and the Baileys have what he can’t – love, home and family.

It is hard to talk about this movie without giving away essential details but I do try to be VERY careful to avoid spoilers. So I won’t say much more but to tell you that this is a film that I would recommend to ANYone.  Child, adult, priest, grandmother, roommate, your 5 year old little sister and your Army buddy.

OK How does this relate to homeschooling? Well, I’ll tell you. I saw It’s a Wonderful Life probably half a dozen times when I was a kid then probably once a year for every one of the 33 years of our marriage. That makes dozens of times. And I plan to see it in the future every year that God gives me. I no more tire of it than I would the face of an old friend. And I see something new in it EVERY time I watch it.

Bryan and I  have been homeschooling for 24 years. As I explain to newbie homeschoolers, homeschooling is not a curriculum, it is a way of life, seeing everything as an opportunity to teach your child something. And I can tell you that not a week has gone by since my adulthood, especially since we have been having kids, without SOMETHING from that movie informing a moment, a thought, a decision. It has inspired me to let an unfair comment go unrevenged, a temptation be avoided, assure an unwanted obligation was lovingly fulfilled. I cannot think of a single challenge in life that could not benefit from an example set by at least one of the characters in this movie. What feats of strength will love for a brother help a man perform? What burdens can be born guided by a sense of honor? What trials can be endured with a sense of humor and just the smallest spark of love for another person? Simple honesty, trust in a parent, the keeping of a confidence, courage to keep a friend from making a terrible mistake, love for your spouse and child, understanding what makes life worth living………

These are lessons that are beyond school books.

I am honored to have seen this movie and to be able to make it the subject of my very first post of my very first blog. I hope Mr. Frank Capra is pleased.

BTW – there was a remake with Marlo Thomas in the lead called It Happened One Christmas, but sadly and all due respect to both Ms. Thomas and her wonderful father, Danny, who founded St Jude’s Hospital – um — just see the 1946 version.

5-26-15