Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Journey through the top 100 Part 1

You can’t call yourself a real movie buff unless you have seen the “best.”
I have recently been making my way through the American Film Institution Top 100 films of all time, and I have come to find some treasures I never knew, as well as some — what I feel — are movies that don’t exactly deserve the title of “best.”
This will be the first of a few columns I write about the list and my journey through it. I hope you enjoy.
In this first column, I would like to go over the films I have discovered or re-discovered from long ago that have moved their way into my list of favorite films of all time.

Singin’ in the Rain
For the longest time, my wife was trying to convince me to watch this film, knowing my love of musicals. I always knew I would watch it eventually, but never felt like sitting down and soaking it in because I wasn’t “in the right mood.”
One day, when I had nothing going on, my wife put the movie in and told me to watch it. After about five minutes, I knew it was going to be one of my favorite films of all time. The humor, dancing and singing were all perfect and held up to this day.
Nothing seemed cheesy or silly in “today’s society.” It was a hilarious film with a great love story and talent that seems to be lost in the films of today. If you haven’t seen this movie (and I know most have) you should watch it as soon as you can get your hands on it. It is great for the whole family and will give you a happy, new outlook on the world for at least a couple of days.

The Best Years of Our Lives
This is a film, I admit, I had never heard of before my journey through the list. After watching the film, I did a little research into the making of the movie and fell even more in love with the story.
The movie follows three World War II veterans as they return home and have to adjust to life at home. One of the men has a family to return to and remember how to love, one has a wife he barely knows and a new love in his life, and one has two hooks instead of hands and a bleak outlook on the future.
Harold Russell, a disabled WWII veteran, played the role of the handicapped Homer Parrish. He won two Oscars for that one role. One Oscar was for best supporting actor and the other was an honorary award for being an inspiration for disabled war veterans throughout the U.S., making him the first (and only) actor to receive two Oscars for the same role.
Most of the crew on the film were WWII veterans as well as the actors. While most movies about war today are played by actors who “study” people they are portraying, these men were simply showing the world what they deal with.
There are themes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as a heartbreaking look at those who came back after losing body parts in the war. In one heartbreaking scene, Russell shows the woman he loves what she is in for by describing himself as “a big baby who can only cry for the things he needs” at night when his hooks are removed.
I’m sure Sean Penn would do a good job, but nothing compared to the real man who dealt with the real pain.

City Lights and The General
I don’t know what I was expecting when I popped in Charlie Chaplin’s most famous film and Buster Keaton’s classic, but I didn’t think I would love them as much as I did. When I would hear “silent movie,” I would automatically think “boring and unentertaining.”
I was wrong.
Not only were the films great stories — they were downright hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud more than I have in a lot of modern-day comedies. It just goes to show that funny is funny no matter when it was made.

Obviously, there are several other films I have found in my search that have made a great impact, but these were the few I wanted to touch on. I also hope to talk about the films of Humphrey Bogart and some of the films I haven’t been so impressed with in a future column. If you have any comments or want to ask me a question about the list, please feel free to e-mail me at the address below.

Luke Harris is the editor of the Burleson Star. He only has 30 films left in his journey through the AFI Top 100 films, and is wondering what number Robocop is on the list. He can be reached at

A Dream come true: Inception Review

When people are asked, “What is Inception about?” the answer is usually going to be, “Well, it’s about dreams and — well I don’t want to give anything away and ruin it.”
The only better answer is to say, “You haven’t seen it? You should go see it — right now.”
Inception is one of the best films of the year and by far the best film of the summer. I’m not going to try to explain the plot other than to say it involves dreams and when dreams are involved you can pretty much get away with anything.
Even though you can get away with anything and it would be very easy to make a film that was overly confusing and too artsy for its own good, director Christopher Nolan doesn’t take that route. Sure, in the beginning of the movie you are confused and frustrated, but, as the movie progresses, the film is slowly peeled back layer by layer.
It is such a refined process that moviegoers don’t ever have time to be upset about not understanding something because it is explained or there is something so mind-bending on the screen, you forget what you were thinking about.
Not only is the plot superb, but the casting of characters is pitch-perfect. Every actor plays his or her role to perfection and does nothing but elevate the film. Leonardo DiCaprio, as always, gives an award-worthy performance. The person I was most worried about was Ellen Page, as she has recently only been cast as a snarky teen with a sharp wit and even sharper tongue .
I knew there would be no room in this film for that type of role, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Page play the role straight and do a good job of it, as well.
Aside from the great acting and great story, this is one of those films you want to take a nap after seeing because of its intensity. It is a nail-biter for a good two hours or so of its two hours and 22 minute run time. The action is mesmerizing and intense to the point where you want it to be over while simultaneously never wanting it be over.
This film had the potential to be a terrible movie. All it had to do was mess up one aspect and the whole film would have been ruined. But it didn’t. Every aspect of the film was spot-on and it deserves to be seen almost as much as you as viewers deserve to see it.

Rocks of Life

I attended my brother’s wedding in Oregon on July 4. My brother was shrewd enough to schedule the wedding for July 4 to make it that much easier to remember his anniversary.
Some people reading may know that my wife is also from Oregon. To many, it is a magical thing that my brother and I both fell in love with girls from Oregon. For my parents, it is magical that two girls fell in love with us at all.
Before the wedding, my wife, Sarah, and I traveled to see her family in their hometown of Boring. I am not making that up, my wife comes from a town named Boring.
The churches in the area tend to adopt the name of the surrounding cities as to not be the Boring Baptist Church or Boring Church of Christ.
While visiting the in-laws, we took a trip down to the Oregon coast. If you haven’t been to the Oregon coast, it is a beautiful site, but is not a sunny California beach. Much of the beach is filled with rocks and the sky is normally gray, but it has a certain charm and beauty all its own.
My mother-in-law wanted to travel to the Devil’s Punchbowl while we were on the coast. The beach is called the Devil’s Punch Bowl because it is a cave you can walk around during low tide, but fills up with water. It isn’t a scary looking place until you realize the water that was 20 feet away five minutes ago is now at your ankles.
Luckily, I didn’t get caught and wind up being one of those stories you hear about years later.
“Some guy in his mid-twenties was jumping around on a bunch of rocks like a 3-year-old and drowned in the punchbowl. Remember kids, don’t be idiots.”
I didn’t make it off the beach unscathed, however. I have a brother-in-law who is slightly younger than me and constantly challenges me to feats of strength or athleticism. If you have seen me, you can guess that most feats of athleticism that I am involved in are running to the fridge to get the last piece of pie.
However, I am constantly intrigued by the challenges presented by my brother-in-law and try to participate in them. I wind up hurt or tired — usually both — and think, “I’m not doing that again.”
But I do. And I did.
The challenge for this trip was to climb a rock on the beach which was quite tall and not easily accessible. My brother-in-law activated some sort of anti-gravity belt he was wearing and easily scurried to the top. It was now my turn and I looked the rock over, decided that I would jump, land on a foothold and lift myself up on top of the rock.
I didn’t consider, however, that I was wearing my rubber Crocs on my feet. As I said before, I am not athletic and don’t understand the concept of “correct footwear” when it comes to any kind of activity. If it is hot outside I wear sandals or Crocs and if it is cold, I wear my boots.
Well, I was casual on this day and wore my Crocs. Needless to say, the rubberness of the Crocs didn’t go greatly with the wetness of the rocks. I grabbed hold of the top of the rock, but my feet slid out from under me, leaving me dangling above the ground.
I was terrified that I was going to fall a good 10 feet into some rocks below and break something other than my pride which already lay shattered on the ground. Well if my pride wasn’t broken by the failed attempt, it was definitely broken when I looked down to see there was a good two inches between my feet and the ground.
I was hanging for dear life, kicking in the air to find a foothold when I could simply drop and land in the soft sand. I wish that was the end, but God, having a sense of humor, decided it wouldn’t be.
I was able to say, “That was embarrassing,” before I started walking, slipped on another rock and fell face-first into the sand. At that time, I thought it best to take a rest in the sand considering I was already there and I was pretty much terrified at the idea of getting back up.
Despite the broken dreams and bruised ego at the end of the trip, I had a great time. I allowed myself to go out and climb on rocks and just let loose. There are too many times where I decided not to do something because it would make me look silly or I might not like it.
I’m pretty much always going to look silly, so I don’t really have to worry about that anymore. I have decided that certain opportunities only come by every once in a while and it is best to try them. The worst case scenario is you fall a few times, get back up and decide to wear tennis shoes the next time you go to the beach.
Go out and climb some rocks in your life before it is too late because time flies and pretty soon, the water has risen and you won’t have the opportunity to do the things you once did.

Why get a medium when you can get a large?

I was faced with a question the other day that rocked me to my core.
“I can get you a large pizza for the same price as a medium, would you like me to do that?”
For most, this question doesn’t rival Sophie’s Choice, but most people are not me. I love pizza. I would walk across broken glass to get to pizza.
I’m also slightly overweight. I say this not in a “feel sorry for me” way, but in a “I realize how I look” way. In college I was once told I looked like Ryan Gosling in “The Notebook.” Recently, I have been said to look like Zach Galifianakis and Jack Black. Obviously, something has changed.
Luckily for me however, I joined a local church in Burleson and befriended a family that happens to own The Burleson Athletic Club, a local gym. They remind me of my family and, therefore, I have an inherent need to make them like me.
They encouraged me to start going to gym and start changing my life for the better. I was wary at first because, come on, it’s the gym.
However, after looking at a photo with my wife and thinking, ‘I could paint myself white, where a beret and look like the Michelin Man,” I decided I might need to go to place I have dreaded since the days of elementary school.
I wasn’t exactly what you would call athletic in school. I was the kid they let just hang on the chin-up bar instead of doing actual pull-ups.
In high school, I was on the varsity football team because they needed players and my friends were playing. At practice the coach would say, “Everyone get out here in 30 seconds or you are running laps.” He would then look behind anyone and see me trying to put on my shoulder pads over my helmet and add, “except for Harris.”
I was also, supposedly, a lineman, and when one of my teammates was knocked out during a game, the coach turned to me and said, “Harris, get up here.”
I jumped up and ran to the front, thinking (A) I’m getting into the game and (B) I should really take off my glasses. When I got to the line, my coach said some words I would never forget.
“We need your jersey.”
Apparently, you can’t have a certain number on the line or they just wanted to put one of my teammates in the game pretending to be me. Either way I had two more realizations standing on the sideline (A) My jersey was going to get more playing time than I was, which I was fine with and (B) that half-cut shirt that was funny in the locker room is not nearly as funny when standing in front of your entire school wearing bare shoulder pads and a helmet.
All this to say, obviously, I am not an athletic person. However, I spoke with my new friends and they encouraged me to not try to go cold turkey on everything bad in my life, because, most likely, it would not last. Instead, they said, I should begin to cut back, slowly eliminating the bad habits in my life.
This was great advice and I have taken it to heart. Where I would once drink a 12-pack of Coke a day, I have switched to Crystal Light waters. Still delicious, not nearly as bad for me. Where I would once order a large pizza for myself, I order a medium and save some for later.
Therefore, the question posed by the local pizza man was a difficult one. Did I get the large pizza? You betcha. I’m not shaking my nose at that kind of deal. However, I didn’t eat but three pieces and saved the rest for a future lunch.
This is not that great accomplishment to many people, but it is a big deal for me. I was blessed with new friends who have helped me on my path to being healthy.
It is important to be healthy. There are many ways to try to change your life, but not all of them are smart. If you are lucky enough to have people who care about you and know how to lose weight in a healthy manner, talk to them.
I am excited about the possibility of one day playing a game of flag football or baseball and being put in the game instead of my jersey.

A lesson learned through puppy love

It is a dog eat dog world out there, but every once in a while, you need a dog to show you what really matters in life.
I have a little sister whom I love dearly. When we were children, we would often be grounded together for one reason or another (it often involved one party making a snarky comment to a parent and causing the other to laugh or a bad report card).
We would pass the summer days when we were grounded by making up ridiculous stories and using the home video camera to document them. One particular video consisted of me falling out of a chair which we filmed for about an hour and still laugh about to this day.
However, in recent years, my connection with my sister was critically injured by the monster that devours relationships — addiction. My sister went to college and encountered a partying lifestyle she had not been familiar with at home. She was thrown into the deep end of this lifestyle and almost drowned.
My family intervened and helped her seek assistance for her addiction. It was a hard process for the whole family and extremely hard on me, because I felt I was a reason she was there.
As an older brother, I always felt it was my job to protect my sister and when I was in another state and knew she was living a dangerous lifestyle, there was nothing I could do to help her. I felt crippled and afraid I would hear something horrible had happened to her and would be helpless to do anything.
When she finally got the help she needed, I was still weak from being helpless to protect her, but I was also angry at the way she had betrayed my trust.
As addiction does with so many, it had driven her to lie and betray the people she cared most about. I was foolish and believed it was a personal strike against me, not having the knowledge of how powerful something like addiction can be and how much it can reek havoc on a person’s mind and soul.
As a brother scorned, I would often lash out at my sister at family outings or avoid having contact with her altogether. She had hurt me and I was angry.
Then something happened. I adopted a puppy.
Two months ago, one of my wife’s co-workers found a box of puppies on the side of the road in the snow. She couldn’t keep the dogs, so Sarah sent me a photo of one to see what I thought. My first reaction when I saw the photo was, “bring him home immediately.”
When she brought Whirley home, we were both instantly in love with the pup. We loved playing with him, watching him play and just having him lie beside us, content with life.
One night, while driving home, a still, small voice many know about told me I should call my sister so she could meet her new four-legged family member. My immediate response was to protest because I was foolishly happy avoiding contact with my sister and any pain she might cause me.
I accidently dropped my dog off the couch that day and he hurt his leg. I apologized profusely and explained that I didn’t mean for it to happen, but he didn’t care. He loved me anyway.
I realized I had been called to love my sister always because she was my sister. She was my little sister and it was my job to protect her and love her, even if it meant I may get hurt in doing so.
I called her and invited her to come hang out with the family. She was convinced my mother had put me up to it, but it was my Father. When I picked her up at her dorm room, she told me she was sorry Mom had made me do this.
I told her I was tired of being angry and I wanted to have a relationship with her. I want to be her friend and I want her to feel like I am there for her — because I am.
Since that time, I have spent several weekends with my sister and have felt the connection I once thought would never re-kindle burn brighter and brighter. I am loving every second I get to watch my relationship with my sister grow along with my dog — whose head could barely fit above the toilet a month ago and is now often found in it.
Life is too short and too hard to stay mad at people. Is it easier? Yes. But the reward of forgiveness is greater than anything you can comprehend. Many people may believe there are things you just can’t forgive, and maybe they are right.
But why not try?
In the end, I can be successful at any job or hobby, but nothing feels as good as when my sister called me last week and asked me for advice for the first time in five years.