The Unknown Variable, the ‘X’ in Fiction

“Rough business this movie business. I may have to go back to loan sharking for a rest.”
– Chili Palmer, Get Shorty

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It’s probably similar for most bloggers – you plan your next post, you sit down to begin writing that idea you have in your head and . . .  up pops some unknown variable. Your idea takes on a life of it’s own; it leads you in a direction you never really expected.

A couple of months ago I read a novel by Harold Robbins that was published in 1949. The Dream Merchants, a story set in the early 20th century, is in a way historical fiction I guess, that dealt with one of my favorite subjects – Movies.

And because Woody Allen’s new film, Cafe Society, set in 1930’s Hollywood, was recently released, I was so looking forward to seeing it, and posting a comparison/reflection on the two.

Then, as I said, the unknown variable, raised it’s . . . well, not it’s ugly head, but it’s disenchanting head. Somehow I had come to expect Allen’s film was about 1930’s Hollywood. But it’s not really, that’s just a loose backdrop to the story.

I’m a big fan of Annie Hall (1977) and Woody’s films in the 1980s, Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), and Radio Days (1987).



A few years back I really liked Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris (2011), a wonderful romantic/comedy/fantasy starring  Owen Wilson as a Hollywood screenwriter in Paris. Then one evening, Gil (Wilson’s character), is walking the city streets alone at midnight, and he is magically transported back to the 1920’s Art Scene.

Characters in that film included Picasso, Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cole Porter.

Midnight in Paris is a fun bit of fiction incorporating those characters. I was expecting a little more of that in this new movie.

Cafe Society is a nice film, good cast, fine acting, and Woody Allen’s trademark humor, but…it’s just not really what I expected.


Now, the Harold Robbins novel, The Dream Merchants, was a complete delight. The setting is 1938 New York and Hollywood. Then in the second chapter it goes back to 1908 and the story of ‘moving pictures’ is told through the lives of Johnny Edge and Peter Kessler and the fictional Hollywood studio, Magnum Pictures.

“Peter looked at him. A peculiarly fanatical light had come into Johnny’s eyes as he spoke. Moving pictures had captured Johnny’s mind. He ate, slept, and dreamed moving pictures.”

This is an enjoyable look at early Hollywood. It’s not about the stars, it’s about the growth of the film industry. The book presents the ‘birth’ of the movies, as it tells the story of it’s main protagonist Johnny Edge, along with a wonderful set of characters, mainly Peter Kessler a small town hardware store owner. Kessler, through the circumstances of meeting a young Johnny, goes from opening up ‘Kessler’s Nickelodeon’ to becoming a studio owner. And then there’s some great supporting characters –  friends, lovers, and enemies that include Rocco & Jane, Doris & Dulcie. It’s set in 1938, but jumps back and forth between the ‘present’ and the past, giving Johnny’s back story from 1908 up to 1938.


Since I was a kid movies have always been wonderful entertainment to me. And as I got older I became a fan of history in general. So enjoyment of the history of the movies would be natural for me.

I’ve read a few Hollywood biographies, a great book on the history of Pixar (The Pixar Touch), and one or two other books of fiction set in Hollywood and the film industry like Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty.

Lately, over the last year or two, I’ve guess I’ve been setting my expectations too high. I hope this book or that movie is going to be better than they turn out to be. Or, as in the case of Cafe Society, I’m disappointed, not because it wasn’t a good movie, but because I was expecting something else.

Most every book I choose to read is the result of research. Films also, but not as much as books. Part of it is because I realize how precious time spent on anything, is time ‘spent,’ and then it’s gone.

I’ve shared this quote a few times from a post on Victoria Dougherty’s “Cold” blog speaking about men reading fiction, “The novel has been an unfailing aid in [a man’s] evolution – in learning to love, becoming a husband and a father, being a friend. Doing what is right and understanding the consequences of shirking his morals and ethics.”

All I’m saying is fiction (and non-fiction) in the form of books and movies is more than just entertainment. Sure, everything I see and read is not going to be some great life changing classic. But I can find insight and maybe a bit of inspiration and encouragement in a lot of them.

I love the stories. And if the story is about the movies and film making, that can be an extra treat. The unknown variable, the ‘X’ that I’m now searching for is, where will I find that next story, the delightful, fun filled book or film that deals with “the movies.”

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“A good movie can take you out of your dull funk and the hopelessness that so often goes with slipping into a theatre; a good movie can make you feel alive again, in contact, not just lost in another city. Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption. The movie doesn’t have to be great; it can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance, or the joy in just a good line.”

– Pauline Kael


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So Much More Than Just “The Master of Suspense”

“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”

– Alfred Hitchcock

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Saturday, the 13th of August was Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday. Although he passed on to that Great Drive-In Theater in the Sky in 1980, his far reaching impact on the culture and cinema remains.


A few years back I happen to find a really terrific bio – Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Life by Patrick McGilligan. The author has written several biographies on other Hollywood legends including Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, James Cagney, and most recently a young Orson Welles. If they’re anywhere near as good as this one I have several wonderful Hollywood stories to look forward to reading.

As for his Hitchcock biography, McGilligan covers everything from family and early childhood to significant details on each and every one of Hitchcock’s films. And there are sooooo many great films, including Psycho, Lifeboat, Vertigo, Notorious, North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train, The Birds, an unusually funny The Trouble With Harry, and my favorite Rear Window.


Sure, the book gives all kinds of terrific behind the scenes details about Hitchcock, his life and his films. But what I was pleasantly surprised to find was that his work was a lifelong partnership with his wife Alma. There really was this huge contribution Alma Reville made to her husband’s success. Alma’s advice and collaboration contributed greatly to making Hitchcock the legendary director he has become.

Hitchcock, though he was the man behind the camera, really was the king of self promotion, the master of making himself the star of his movies as much as any actor. He did love life and he loved to have fun. Hitchcock added to his public persona with so many ‘quotable quotes:’

“Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.”

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”

“Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement.”

“Revenge is sweet and not fattening.”


Alfred Hitchcock is not only a Pop Culture icon on a par with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, he is for me a mentor. His stories and characters, however much pushed into the ‘thriller’ category, still reach deep into my being. I relate to the fears, insecurities, and struggles of the characters. I love the protagonists and their weaknesses, finding some kind of strength that only raises it’s head when they’re pushed beyond their limits.

Hitchcock films, like all storytelling, often get me to think, and maybe understand some things about myself. They are more than just entertainment. There’s a subconscious self-evaluation going on as I relate to a character. Have I got what it takes to push through a ridiculously crazy situation that in it’s own way is anything near to what’s presented in the movie? Would I hang in there when things get rough, and see it to the end?


Maybe it’s silly to say that an Alfred Hitchcock film makes me a better man. That some mystery-thriller from 60 years ago can have any kind of maturing affect on me.

But they do. For me, all storytelling does.

And the life of the man, Alfred Hitchcock, and his collaboration with Alma that helped create such an amazing body of work, inspires me in my relationship with my wife. It reminds me that our relationship, the challenges we face together, and our ‘life’s work’ will leave a legacy behind. I hope it’s a good one.

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“I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat [Patricia Hitchcock], and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”

– Alfred Hitchcock, when accepting the American Film Institute Life Achievement award

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What was your Greatest Childhood Inspiration?

My blog for the most part has been about sharing that in life, as I see it, we never stop growing and learning. Themes such as mentors, inspiration, self-discovery, family and friendship are the most common, whether I happen to discuss books, films or experiences in general.

Here’s a post of mine from two years ago about inspiration from my childhood.

“Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life. They’re people who don’t give a hang what the Joneses do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – sometimes it isn’t much, either.”
– Walt Disney

As a child I loved T.V. shows like Mission Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
I found inspiration everywhere in pop culture. I wanted to be in a band but couldn’t play an instrument and my singing voice has never been something anybody would really want to be subjected to.

I also liked the comic book characters Batman, Superman, Thor and Green Lantern. Other T.V. characters that inspired me came from the Tarzan movies and those Italian Hercules movies dubbed…

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Part 2 – Movie vs. the Book

The Grandson: A book?

Grandpa: That’s right. When I was your age, television was called books.

– The 1987 film, The Princess Bride

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It’s stating the obvious, but there have been so many terrific movies based on books.

This post is taking another look at movies and books, again stating my preference for one over the other. I’ll mention again the phrase we so often hear, “The book was so much better than the movie.” For me that’s not always been the case. In my last post for the most part I looked at movies that came out between the 1930’s to the 1960’s.  In this post I wanted to compare books made into films that were released from the 1980’s till now, again sharing which I prefer.

In most instances I saw the movie before I decided to read the book on which it was based. But that’s not the case with this first choice. I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and loved it. Steven Spielberg produced and directed the critical acclaimed 2012 film Lincoln based on part of the book, the last four months of Lincoln’s life.  This movie is the only film released in the last five years to secure a spot on my Top 25 All Time Favorite Films list. I love the film, but Team of Rivals beats the film by ever so slight a margin.

In two weeks the fourth Bourne movie that has Matt Damon in the title roll is being released here in the U.S. The original trilogy are among my favorite action movies. I saw them all before I read Robert Ludlum’s first Bourne novel, The Bourne Identity. The book is excellent. But because it was written in 1980, this is one where I like the 2002 movie even more because of the more contemporary setting that made such excellent use of technology in the story. It’s just a great film all around.


The Rainmaker, from 1997 (another movie starring Matt Damon) was pretty good. But John Grisham’s book is just oh so good! It’s so much better than the film. The novel is one of my favorites. I usually do a bit of research before I pick up something to read (“So many books, so little time” – Frank Zappa). My investigation found that The Rainmaker was reviewed well and that it’s Grisham’s most humorous writing. My diligence was well rewarded. The book deals with serious subjects yes, still as it’s written from the first-person perspective of Rudy Baylor, it was wonderfully funny to listen in on his thoughts.

A few years ago I had a 40 minute commute to where I was working. During my lunch hour I usually spent the time reading in my car.  Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was one I read with my car parked at the far end of the parking lot where there were very few cars. Most cars were all clustered around the main building. I faced a low row of bushes. Beyond them was a deep gully and then a few barren hills, with the exception of scattered oak trees rising up from the gully. Although this wasn’t far from a very busy freeway, from where I sat my field of vision was filled with these bushes and trees, and I could hear all kinds of birds and the rustling of leaves from a gentle breeze.

It was an excellent spot for this city boy to read Jurassic Park. I think the setting contributed to the experience and enjoyment.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film version, which I had seen several times before reading the novel, is just fantastic. Still, the book, and the circumstances in which I happened to find myself enjoying it, puts the book above the movie.

The movie The Princess Bride (1987) begins with and weaves in a simple story touching on the gap between generations. A grandfather shares a special book with his reluctant grandson. But this isn’t just any story, it’s a fable packed with adventure, courage, friendship, romance and a whole lot of laughter. The film is one of my all time top 10 favorites. The screenplay was written by William Goldman who is the author of the book. Looking forward to reading the book, I was disappointed when the book, although much of the dialogue went straight to the screen, still didn’t capture the magic of the film. It amazed me that a good book was destined to become a better movie. The Princess Bride, perfectly cast, wonderfully directed by Rob Reiner is one of the very best comedy/adventure/romance films ever made.


Shoeless Joe, a book by W.P. Kinsella became the movie Field of Dreams (1989). I’m not sure which I love more. They’re both wonderful. The movie has a much stronger focus on the main character Ray Kinsella and his relationship, or lack there of, with his father. In the book Ray dealt more with questions of whether or not he was doing the right thing; if he was making a mistake. It touched more on his apprehensions and fears. I’m a sucker for father/son and self-discovery themes. See the movie! Read the book! They’re both terrific! It’s a toss up as to which is better.

In my opinion Peter Jackson was able to pull off the impossible when he created The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. He really stumbled when he made the The Hobbit into 3 films. They were okay, fine for “popcorn” action adventure movies. Still, they were nothing like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

But that in no way diminishes what Jackson accomplished in turning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy into a magnificent set of films capturing this grand mythic story. The themes of courage, friendship, responsibility, honor, loyalty and sacrifice are all there. I’ve argued with a good friend who is a Tolkien purest. He cannot forgive some of the changes Jackson made and things he left out. I on the other hand say the director was able to infuse the films with the spirit of the books and bring the stories and characters magnificently to life. I love Tolkien’s books, but his great personal love of language and inclusion of so much poetry make it easier for me to give the movies a very slight thumbs up above the books.

Give credit to my daughter, a big Shakespeare fan, and Kenneth Branagh, for getting me to read some of his works. I’ve only read two Shakespeare plays- Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, both made into very good films directed by Kenneth Branagh. And I needed help when reading Shakespeare’s ‘Old English’ so what I actually read were those “Simply Shakespeare” versions where the original words are on the left hand page and a modern translation on the right. Reading the plays was a bit more work than I would want when reading a book. Branagh’s films were wonderful. I would have to say I preferred the movies to the book/plays in this case. Another of Kenneth Branagh’s films that I really enjoyed was Henry V, with it’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech. That is next on my list of Shakespeare plays to read.

There are a few other movies, among them, the The Harry Potter films based on the J.K. Rowling books. But these and others are ones I would have to see the films and read the books again to decide which I truly enjoy more.

Jaws 01

Lastly here is a list of some books that I’m looking forward to reading. These are those which again were made into some wonderful movies that I’ve seen and loved.
They include:

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Henry V by Shakespeare

The Green Mile by Stephen King

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

The Martian by Andy Weir

Jaws by Peter Benchley

Catch My if You Can by Frank W. Abagnale

A Good Year by Peter Mayle

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Fortunately, there is no lack of great books made into excellent films, so I look forward to seeing and reading many more in the years to come.

– – – – – – – – –

“This is a real cheap shot, but for some reason I couldn’t resist…
Drummond’s scowl intensifies, and I smile in return. In the few brief seconds that we stand and watch each other, I learn an enormously valuable lesson. He’s just a man. He might be a legendary trial lawyer with lots of notches in his belt, but he’s just another man. He’s not about to step across the aisle and slap me, because I’d whip his ass. He can’t hurt me, and neither can his little covey of minions.
Courtrooms are level from one side to the other. My table is as large as his.”

– Rudy Baylor, John Grisham’s The Rainmaker



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Books vs. Movies – – Movie based on the Book

“And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings”
– Philip Marlowe, in the movie The Big Sleep

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Not long ago Get Shorty, a movie from 1995 happened to be on TV.  I really like John Travolta as the lead character, Chili Palmer. It’s a fun movie and it’s one that got me interested in reading the book on which it was based.

Beyond the entertainment books and films provide, I’ve come to believe most men don’t realize how ‘stories’ affect them. We aren’t very good at self-evaluation, so part of our love of movies and books, maybe even subconsciously, is the idea that stories and characters help us process our feelings.

The obvious advantage a movie has over a book is that you enjoy the story in a compact two hours, often with stunning visuals. The advantage of a novel is the detail that’s laid out on the page. With a book the use of the imagination fills in and adds to the experience. And there’s the extended pleasure that a good book provides as it’s enjoyed over a longer period of time.

So often you hear people say, “The book was so much better than the movie.” In many instances I guess that’s true. Taking a look at the the movies I’ve seen based on books, I thought I would see which side I landed on when it came to the 30 or so movies and books I’ve both seen and read. In my case, because I’m such a big fan of the cinema, in most instances I’ve seen the movie before I gave any thought to reading the book.

There are a few ‘classics’ where I would most definitely say the book was better. Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island is a favorite book of mine. Captain Cyrus Harding is an awesome fictional character. One of my all time favorites. The 1961 movie is only loosely based on the book. Although I have fond childhood memories of many Saturday afternoon viewings on TV, the film doesn’t hold up to the book.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is another great classic. The two film versions I remember seeing include the 1934 version with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper which is excellent. The other, Disney’s 1950 version was pretty good too. Both movies are worthy contenders but the book is just terrific and easily comes out on top.


I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (the book). Surprised because as a guy, I considered it the literary version of the ultimate ‘chick flick’ (I blogged about it here). My wife was happy that I sat down with her to watch the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley. The movie was fine, most definitely a chick flick. Still, the book is excellent – far better than the film.

The Big Sleep (1946) is such an amazing movie. It’s number 26 on my Top 40 All Time Favorite movies (the post about the list is here). Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are terrific together. And Bogart is perfect as Philip Marlowe in this screen version of the Raymond Chandler novel. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by how closely the movie followed the book. It isn’t easy to pick between the book and movie in this case but because of how perfect Bogart and Bacall are, I might lean just a bit towards the film.

Universal Studio’s Classic Horror film Frankenstein (1931) is the one monster movie I most “fondly” remember from childhood. It gave me countless nightmares as a kid. When I read Mary Shelley’s book a few years back I was actually a little disappointed. Boris Karloff will always be the Frankenstein monster in my eyes. The movie easily wins as far as I’m concerned.

Frankenstein 01

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett is such a good book. In the 1934 film William Powell and Myrna Loy are wonderful as Nick and Nora Charles. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie. I’d have to see and read them again to make a decision, so for now that’s a toss-up.

Is it a bad thing that I can’t help but picture the actor or actress that played a character in the movie when I read the book? Such was the case when reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Oskar Werner as the Firemen, Guy Montag and Julie Christie as Clarisse seem to be pretty good casting. Still the book is better.

Again, how can anyone read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and not think of Gregory Peck when picturing Atticus Finch in their mind. I did see a play based on the story about a year or so ago but haven’t read the book or seen the movie for 20 years or more. Both are great. So which do I like better? I’d have to check them both out again.

atticus-finch 04

Get Shorty, the 1995 film I referred to at the beginning of this post, is excellent. But I have to admit that picturing John Travolta as Chili Palmer while reading the book, I think contributed to my enjoyment even more. So I would have to say, with a little help from Travolta, Elmore Leonard’s book is better.

Also mentioned at the beginning of this post I said how much I feel stories impact men. More than once on my blog I’ve referenced an excellent post a year or two back on Victoria Dougherty’s “Cold” blog. Her “10 Reasons Why Men Must Start Reading Fiction Again” is superb. She speaks of how men used to read, especially fiction, but not so much any more. Victoria says, “The difference between fiction and non-fiction is the difference between learning morals and learning manners. One will get you through a dinner party and the other will get you through life.” She goes on to say, “The novel has been an unfailing aid in [a man’s] evolution – in learning to love, becoming a husband and a father, being a friend. Doing what is right and understanding the consequences of shirking his morals and ethics.”

Victoria puts it so well I don’t have much else to say at the moment. I’ll end with just saying I have always found encouragement and inspiration in the characters and stories we find in books and movies. I’ll look at a few more in my next post. This one touched mostly on film 50 to 75 years old. I thought I’d split it up and in my next post cover ones a bit more recent, like the last 50 years.

Till then . . .

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Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

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Friday Lite: Addicted to LOST/Love

Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh yeah
It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough
You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to LOST

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The title of this post may be a bit misleading if you don’t know where I’m going with it. A big Pop Culture fan, once in a while I post something just for fun. So I wouldn’t be offended if you stop reading because you don’t want to waste your time on something completely frivolous.

Listening to the radio not long ago I heard an old Pop/Rock song from 1986 by Robert Palmer. The song – Addicted To Love. It was a huge hit in America and a big part of it’s popularity was the music video that went with the song.

When I heard it playing on the radio that day as I drove home from work, I cranked up the volume. The song, and the video, are great just as they are. Still, I wasn’t so much thinking about Palmer’s classic video with it’s group of identical female band members. My mind drifted back to one of my all time favorite TV series, the Sci-fi Drama LOST.

The song Addicted to Love was adapted for a Super Bowl commercial in 2005 with just one word changed at the end of the chorus , “you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to LOST.”

That first-rate commercial (if any commercial can be labeled first-rate) was lengthened into a full 3-minute video of the entire song.

I was very much addicted to the series LOST, which was a mixture of Survivor and The X-Files, with bits of classic literature and science thrown in.  It was really my first exposure to the now well known director, J.J. Abrams, who was one of the creators of the series and directed the pilot episode.

Abrams in now best known as the director that was able to pull off the impossible, producing and directing a satisfying Star Wars, Part VII.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens was critically acclaimed and a huge international hit movie.

Pretty much all the LOST characters are terrific, but I’d have to say my favorite is ‘Hurley’ played by Jorge Garcia. He’s such a down to earth character and he added a lot of humor and fun to the series.

The Addicted to LOST video combines some very cool images from the original music video with scenes from the T.V. Series. It’s just pure Pop Culture fun that makes me want to watch the whole series again.

I do happen to own DVD’s of all six seasons. When I have the time (haha, like maybe spread over 8-10 months) I’ll watch them all again.

I’ll end the post with a few favorite Hurley quotes:

Charlie: “Hurley, look, I appreciate the help. You don’t have to. I killed Ethan, I can bury him”.
Hurley: “Yeah, ’til he raises from the dead. Dude, I know how this works. This is going to end with you and me running through the jungle… screaming, crying… he catches me first because I’m heavy and I get cramps.”

Hurley: “So, I had an idea. I’m out here looking for some psycho with Scott and Steve, right. And I’m realizing… who the hell are Scott and Steve?”

Hurley: “So what do you think is the story with that Libby chick? She’s kind of cute, right? You know, in an I’ve-been-terrorized-by-the-Others-for-forty-days kind of way? I think I have a chance with her. I mean, it’s a classic desert island scenario.”

Hurley to Sayid: “Maybe if you ate more comfort food you wouldn’t have to go around shooting people.”

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Every once in a while on Fridays (not every Friday) I thought I’d do a ‘Friday Lite’ post. Just share something that’s inspiring and puts a smile on your face. Hope you enjoy them.


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Movies and Two Uniquely American Men

“No saint, no pope, no general, no sultan, has ever had the power that a filmmaker has;  the power to talk to hundreds of millions of people for two hours in the dark.”

– Frank Capra

This week there were two birthdays of men connected professionally and philosophically. Both men passed away in the 1990’s, but their impact on me, and many others, continues to linger.

Frank Capra was born in Italy on May 18th, almost 120 years ago, in 1897. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was six years old. He would become one of America’s most talented film directors.

Frank Capra 02

Eleven years (and two days) after Capra, the man who would become one of the most beloved actors of all time, Jimmy Stewart was born on the 20th of May, 1908.

Both of them separately made huge contributions to American cinema. Frank Capra’s biggest accomplish came early when his film It Happened One Night (1934) won 5 Academy Awards. Other classics include Meet John Doe (1941), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and one of my favorite Cary Grant movies, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

It was early in his career that Jimmy Stewart won his one Academy Award (of five nominations) for The Philadelphia Story (1940). Among Stewart’s many extraordinary films were four he made with Alfred Hitchcock: Rope (1948), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and my favorite Hitchcock movie Rear Window (1954).

Jimmy Stewart 02

Together Stewart and Capra formed both a close personal and professional relationship. Out of that professional relationship came three inspirational movies. The first in 1938, You Can’t Take It With You, won the Best Picture for that year. In 1939 the two teamed together again to make the classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Lastly there’s one of the most admired films of all time, and my personal all time favorite movie (see my favorite 25 films), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).

Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra believed in those “old fashioned” values: love God, love your country, love your neighbor as yourself. It’s the values that celebrate common, ordinary individuals, those who struggle every day simply to do good, to do the right thing, whether or not anyone is watching.

I continue to learn from their work, and their lives.

I’ve often blogged about movies and how much I love storytelling. The inspiration and even insight I find in my favorite characters and films. Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life is a vivid reminder that most of us have no idea of how our lives, however simple, can have a huge impact on the many people in our circle of influence.

It’s been said that Capra’s films were his “love letters to America.”

Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra loved America and all the freedoms, opportunities and blessings that it has given to so many. Each of them volunteered for service during WWII. Capra had also served during WWI.

I’m thankful for the creative talents of the many people who come together to create the movies. It’s not just wonderful entertainment. Along with the drama that speaks to hopes and dreams, it’s the way characters reflect traits I see in myself, strengths and weaknesses. Especially for many men I think, we aren’t very good at self-evaluation. Often as a film plays out before me, I find myself processing ideas, thinking about something in my life that I’m working through.

Stories in books and films have always been helpful for me to look at myself and reveal an understanding I wasn’t able to put together before.

One thing I take away from some of Capra’s and Stewart’s films is an appreciation of providence. You don’t get to choose where you were born. And a big part of my ongoing development of an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ is being thankful for the blessings of being born in America.

“Someone should keep reminding Mr. Average Man that he was born free, divine, strong; uncrushable by fate, society, or hell itself; and that he is a child of God, equal heir to all the bounties of God; and that goodness is riches, kindness is power, and freedom is glory. Above all, every man is born with an inner capacity to take him as far as his imagination can dream or envision-providing he is free to dream and envision.”
― Frank Capra, The Name Above The Title


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