Monday, November 29, 2010

The season 'tis, my lovely lambs

That's right! It's time for Cheesy Christmas Movies!

Every so often, as the fit takes me, I'll post a movie that makes Christmas feel by turns tawdry, silly, maudlin or just plumb sentimental. There'll even be a couple of awesome flicks tossed in. Most of them come from the Internet Archive's stash of public domain film. (Some of them, the public probably should have turned down.)

The first offering comes under "sentimental." I posted it once before, but I'll re-up the commentary for the benefit of new readers:

Beyond Tomorrow is the sort of movie you simply don't see anymore. Three elderly bachelors who both live and do business together set up a little test to see what kind of people are walking outside their window. They each toss a wallet with ten dollars and a business card inside, and wait to see who returns the money. Naturally, it's a man and a woman, both single and lonely, and both at loose ends for the holiday. The bachelors invite them to Christmas dinner, and the result is what you'd expect, either in 1940 or today.

It all takes a different turn when (a) the three men are killed in a plane crash and (b) the young man finds himself being led astray by a woman of easy virtue. From here on out, it's chock-full of the sort of thing that Hollywood would roll its collective eyes at today, even for a hokey Christmas flick.

For starters, the theology is a bit clear-cut for a modern film, even though for people who take their religion seriously it's kind of facile. The afterlife is presented without self-consciousness or wisecracks. Good is good, and evil is evil, and there is forgiveness for the repentant. It's a morality tale, pure and simple. If you don't like moral absolutes, you won't get this one.

Besides that, the acting is really good for such a low-budgeter, and there's a nifty little background/subplot thing with two Russian servants, refugees with Romanov connections. Maria Ouspenskaya is the sort of treasure that belonged in a museum; to see her in this B-flick is like seeing Olivier in a soap commercial. So get the hankies out and skip the cliche repellant:

Update three years later: I always knew Jean Parker was wonderful, and this film just reaffirms it. I'm also very struck by the treatment of George's afterlife. Allan is met by his family and taken to heaven, and Michael remains Topper-like to help his friends. But George... George takes a route seldom seen in movies.

It's clear that he has some dark sin in his past, though we're never told what it is. When he steps off into his dark, ominous destination, it's very foreboding. But foreboding of what, exactly? Is that Hell he's going to? Is it Purgatory? That he goes without a fight suggests the latter, but there's no actual identification made of it and the rest of the film implies kind of a generic pseudo-Protestant heaven-and-hell-and-nothing-else. Still, he emerges after repenting and is admitted to Heaven. Very intriguing. (On re-watching the ending, no. It's very Catholic in its treatment of the afterlife. Not only does George describe Purgatory to a T, but Michael is also interceded for by his mother, which is a completely Catholic take on the Communion of Saints. I looked up both the writers, and they appear to have been solidly Catholic. It makes sense.)

So what did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

An Angelina Jolie two-fer

She can be pretentious and ungrateful at the same time! Is there no limit to her talents?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yes, it's true. We're teapots.

Last November I made a bet with Pastor Paul (who's basically a good guy apart from his revolting UW loyalties) on the outcome of the Apple Cup game. Well, the Huskies came, they saw, they defiled us like a fire hydrant.

So a year later, I'm paying up as promised.

From the left, that's Covarr, Long Drink and me with Visigoth in front. (And Octopus Boy occasionally popping in in the lower right corner.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pope changes his mind. Well, not really.

So the pope reiterates the Church's position on condom use, expands on it a little, and the media hear a complete reversal of position. (Must resist bawdy pun. Must resist...)

Look, the basic Church teaching on sex is still the same. Intentional artificial contraception is a sin. Period. So is any sexual activity outside of a sacramental marriage. Period. So (by extension) is all homosexual activity. Period.

None of that means that the same devices that can act as contraceptives are forbidden for other purposes. I have a friend (not Catholic but maintaining Christian chastity) who asked me once if my Church considered it a sin for her to take birth control pills for the purpose of regulating her womanly schedule. It's fine.

In the case the pope was commenting on, the sin is already taking place in the form of homosexual activity. The additional sin of contraception is irrelevant; the male prostitute isn't going to get knocked up this side of the Weekly World News. The condom isn't the sin; the buggery is.

Basically, Papa Ratzi said exactly what he's said all along, that nobody paid attention to. Now all of a sudden, they hear what he's saying and think it's the opposite of his previous position. No it's not; it's the opposite of their distortion of his earlier statements.

And they have the effrontery to call journalism a profession.

Oh, but this could never happen!

Death panels are merely the product of Sarah Palin's delusions. Liberals would never dream of such a thing.

Remember, our children are going to pay the taxes that support people like Krugman.

Sidebar updates

I'm embarrassed to see that it's been so long since I updated my sidebar, all my kids' ages are a year short. I also got rid of a couple of blogs that look to be defunct. I left some others in place, because I hold out hope of seeing more posts from them.

Meanwhile, I've also got a couple to highlight. First is Lyme and Back Again. Kaari is my best friend's little sister, and while it's strange for me to think of her as a grown-up (I remember her being born, for heaven's sake), she does write a good blog post. I listed her under "Prods" because she and her husband pastor a Protestant church in Mexico. She's mixing her reflections on living with a chronic disease with some good insights into the Christian life.

Under "Papes" is a man who makes me want to remove my hat when I read him. He struggles to balance same-sex attraction with his Catholic faith. While there are a great many gay activists who want to see guys like him disappear altogether, I'm proud to link him. Despite what you read daily, it's not a foregone conclusion that anybody who is homosexually inclined must live out the gay lifestyle. In other words, free will doesn't stop at your willie. I'm not sure where in Washington Courageman is, but I hope I get to meet him someday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Requiem for a rogue

A friend of mine died this morning. I got the news from my boss, who also knew him, when the funeral home e-mailed the death notice. He was almost 80 and his health had been failing, but it still came as a shock.

I've been assigned to write a memorial story on him for the Greatest Newspaper in the Northwest™, once all the dust settles and the family has time to talk. I sorta wish I could do a first-person one, but then, most of what I remember best I couldn't put in the paper anyway. I used to handle a lot of his correspondence and assorted office stuff, as well as editing his legal contracts and (at one point) sorting out 14 years' worth of tax receipts. I even typed a book he'd written, beginning to end, outlining a salmon-protection system he was trying to sell for the Columbia and Snake River dams.

It wasn't the first book he'd written. He also published a book on waterfowl that I think is still in print, and a couple of children's books, and a book on how to survive a Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, based on his own experiences.

The memories come back piecemeal. Among other things, some of my most colorful obscene phrases I learned from him. He was the only person I ever knew who could turn a consistent profit gambling. Until he turned 75 or so, I'd have bet there wasn't a skirt in three counties he hadn't chased. I remember ordering flowers for, oh, maybe five different women one Valentine's day on his behalf. I had to hand-create the cards to go with them, because several of them included suggestions that no florist in town would have accepted.

He could never find a lawyer who knew more than he did. He had an entire law library on the walls of his office. I know, because I moved those damn books four or five times. He used to hire a lawyer to rubber-stamp the papers he had drawn up himself by longhand, which I then typed up. The reason he had hired me to sort his tax receipts was that he was going eyeball-to-eyeball with the IRS. He did, and won back every penny they had seized. How many people can say that?

He had a stroke about five years ago, and had to be in rehab out of town for several months. He used to phone me to go over to his Moses Lake office and play his answering machine, then fax him the messages. Technology was never his strong suit. But he knew people. He had his fingers in real estate, agriculture and a hundred other enterprises. He didn't really need the money by the time I knew him; it was the fun of making it that appealed to him. He used to tip waitresses more than the cost of the bill, just for the hell of it. He didn't trust banks, but he carried a roll of hundreds for walking-around money. He always gave it away as freely as he made it, which was saying something.

When he closed the office a couple of years ago, Long Drink and I helped him pack up forty years of doodads and debris. He gave me boxes of stuff, including an obscenely-shaped glass flower vase. Long Drink and I bought flowers and put it on the mantel to see how long my wife would take to notice. Eventually she had to ask why we were snickering. She wasn't surprised; she knew where it had come from.

He was a charmer, a bastard, a rogue of the old school. He wasn't always easy to get along with, but he was always interesting. I'll miss him.