Gratitude – The Secret to Happiness

“Like most teenagers, I spent part of my teens reveling in my angst. One day, however, the thought occurred to me that being unhappy was easy – in fact, the easy way out – and that it took no courage, effort, or greatness to be unhappy.  Anyone could be unhappy.  True achievement, I realized at an early age, lay in struggling to be happy.”

– Dennis Prager, Happiness Is a Serious Problem –

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Last week, on the fourth Thursday in November, we American’s celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday. There were many people talking about or posting thoughts on “Giving Thanks.”

I want to take a little bit of a twist on this idea and point to the secret to happiness which I believe is gratitude.

According to Aristotle, ‘the supreme good for man’ – is ‘Happiness.’ And Aristotle said, “Happiness depends upon ourselves.”

Over the last couple of years I’ve been pursuing and developing, not so much “Happiness,” but seeking to be more grateful. It’s a daily exercise I’ve been working on to be grateful not only for the “wonderful” experiences, but also for the simple things, the good things in my life, even in the face of great challenges. I’m still struggling with gratefulness for the hard stuff, but I do believe from very difficult circumstances good things can be the result.

“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”
– Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

There is a book I’ve yet to get around to reading called Happiness Is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual. It was written almost 20 twenty years ago by Dennis Prager. I’ve heard Mr. Prager talk about the subject of Happiness on the radio many times, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be in agreement with the contents of the book when I do finally get around to picking up a copy and reading it.

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A quote from Prager’s book:

“Yes, there is a “secret to happiness”—and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”

Everyone goes through hard times in their life, obviously some more than others. Over the last few years my wife and I have experienced several things, just one or two of which, could knock a person down to the point that they don’t ever think they could get back up.

I’ve lost a couple of jobs. My wife has had several setbacks with her health (three surgeries over the last five years). One thing, then another, and another, resulting in the loss of our house.

Through it all our faith in a good and faithful God has been chief in our keeping our heads above water in the face of an ocean of despair. In the Psalms, chapter 30, are words that encourage – “you lifted me out of the depths” . . . “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Looking at the present, and to a future, where a personal God understands and is as close as a simple prayer away, I’m able, sometimes giving it quite a bit of effort, to find peace and strength, and look for and find so much to be thankful for.

“I’m choosing happiness over suffering, I know I am. I’m making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Our mom, divorced and with five kids on her own, raised us in her Catholic faith. In my late teens, I met the girl who would become my wife at a Passover Seder sponsored by a Baptist church. We now attend a non denominational protestant church.

I had a great example growing up of a woman who kept moving forward in the face of adversity, finding a way to enjoy the good things that came along the way. My wife too, through the challenges she has faced over the last several years, continues to look to the simple pleasures that put a smile on her face – a humming bird at the feeder, several moments of rest and relaxation at a Starbucks, with a good book and her current favorite beverage to sip.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Yeah, that’s pretty simplistic, . . . but, it does point out something important. A lot of lemons come our way in life. It’s what we then choose to do that makes the difference. I am trying to more often than not, choose to look around to find something good, something that helps to get a smile on my face.

“The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up.”

– Mark Twain

The smile on my face is not only good for my soul, it’s good for that person who see’s me, and then smiles back.

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“Got no checkbooks, got no banks. Still I’d like to express my thanks – I’ve got the sun in the mornin’ and the moon at night.”

– Irving Berlin

 

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Halloween: Not Really Into the Current Traditions

“No one really runs away from anything. It’s like a private trap that holds us in, like a prison. You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

– Norman Bates in Psycho

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Halloween has become a much bigger holiday than when I was a kid. Back then, we would smear some green makeup on our faces (to get a bit of the Frankenstein Monster look) and a bit of red dripping from the corner of the mouth. Add some old torn clothes and we had a decent costume to go around the neighborhood to collect our yearly treasure of candy.

A house might have the porch light on and a carved pumpkin next to the front door. However it was nothing like the elaborate and over-the-top home displays folks put together today. And there are all those adults, and kids as well, that put together pretty detailed not to mention often expensive Halloween costumes. But I think I’d be a bit embarrassed to still be Trick or Treating when I got to my ‘teens’ as some of these older kids do.

Still, I’ll be handing out candy to the dozens of (something like 8 to 10 dozen) kids in our neighborhood on Halloween. A bit of pay back for all the loot I collected back in the day.

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Anyway, I already celebrated the holiday two weeks ago in my own way.

We have a Regency Movie Theater not far from where we live. There they have ‘Throwback Tuesday’ evenings presenting one time showings of classic movies from the 1930-60’s as well as other popular movies from the last 50 years.

I’ve had the immense pleasure of seeing some of these older films, presented on the ‘Big Screen’ – a fantastic experience.

Some films include: North by Northwest (1959), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Vertigo (1958), Jaws (1975), Casablanca (1942), Jurassic Park (1993), Rear Window (1954), Jaws (1975), It Happened One Night (1934),  Ghost (1990), It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), did I mention Jaws (1975), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and The Third Man (1949).

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The ‘Horror’ movies today really don’t interest me. My taste leans toward the Universal Studio’s early 1930’s classics: Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula.

So two weeks ago my local theater played Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). My lovely wife for some incomprehensible reason wasn’t interested. But my dear friends Kevin and Annette met me at the theater. And I didn’t find out until afterwards that they had never seen Psycho. It was great fun sitting next to them. Kevin had seen bits and parts of the movie, and Annette had only seen the famous shower scene.

It’s a beautiful black and white film; one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces – a wonderful experience to see it in a theater, with an audience, on the big screen.

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Everything about the movie is so much better when seeing it in a theater – visuals: Beautiful Big Screen Black and White, and sound: Bernard Herrmann’s score is of course amazing. Then there is the marvelous performance of Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, and the absolutely spot on Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates – “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

It was the perfect way to celebrate the month which seems to me to have gotten a bit out of hand. Maybe the only thing left for me besides handing out the candy on Halloween will be to sit down and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

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It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

– Norman Bates in Psycho

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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).

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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