Things I Wish I’d Written #9: Saving Private Ryan

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Mar 312012

Private Ryan, now an old man, wondering if he lived a life worthy of the sacrifices these men made for him.

Saving Private Ryan did something no other movie has ever done, at least not that I am aware of. It showed us, in gory, vivid, horrible detail what American soldiers did to save us. Then it asks us all if we, and the way we live our lives, are worthy of their sacrifice.


It didn’t have to exaggerate the horrors of war for the magnitude of their sacrifice to sink in. All it had to do was show war as it actually is, and make us feel like Private Ryan, the one these men give so much to save.  That was done magnificently, and it was overwhelming to me and many other people, but that’s as it should be. The enormity of what these men- and other soldiers throughout history- gave for us cannot be understated.  We should all be immensely grateful, and this movie made us feel that, and that’s why I wish I’d written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #10: Unforgiven

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Mar 302012

The open plains and skies in Unforgiven show that the characters have options. What happens is their choice, and no one else's

Westerns were popular in this country for a long, long time. We loved to watch stories of good guys and bad guys shooting it up, cheering as the good guys gunned the bad guys down, rejoicing with them as they rode off into the sunset, fondly wishing we could do the same thing.

It was all a lie, and Unforgiven blew the lie up.

Unforgiven tore our absurd Western movie archetypes to shreds. William Munny, the ‘hero’, is a murderer, a drunk, but also a man who loved his deceased wife and loves his children. Little Bill is a bully of a sherriff, but he values the rule of law. Plus he has dreams- he’s building a house. Ned Logan is a reluctant sidekick, a man who has killed before and learned better. When the times to do it again, he cannot, even thought we would think it justified . While the cowboys who commit the crime that launches the movie’s plot did something bad, they aren’t bad guys. Every character in this film could be a real person, with flaws, blessings, hopes, dreams, and fears. We could have been any one of them.

But we weren’t. We were The Schofield Kid.

The Schofield Kid is a young outlaw wannabe who sees William Munny as a hero, just like we all do. But when The Schofield Kid sees what it really means to do that, and how it feels to actually pull the trigger, he can’t stomach it (click here to watch the scene). Most of us couldn’t. Killing people is a terrible, awful thing. Ask any war veteran and they will tell you that, while it may have been necessary, killing another person is not something to celebrate. The only reason William Munny could do it when he was younger was by getting drunk. That’s how he counsels The Schofield Kid to handle his guilt, because it’s the only way he knew how to handle it, and Munny has to get drunk to kill again.

There is no ‘riding off into the sunset’ in Unforgiven. It shows that revenge, and killing people, is a terrible, ugly mess that wounds the revenge taker just as much as those they take revenge upon. If anyone, at any point in this movie, could have forgiven anyone, none of that horrible mess would have happened. But they can’t, showing us that the Western movie characters that we have seen as heroes really aren’t. The real heroes are the people that forgive. That’s what Unforgiven showed so brilliantly, it’s why there have been only a handful of Westerns since it released, and it’s why I wish I had written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #11: The Shawshank Redemption

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Mar 292012

"Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side."- Red, in The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption was on again last week, and once again I was mesmerized. It is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen.  The Stephen King short story on which the film is based, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is amazing as well.  It was published as “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”  in the book Different Seasons, along with “Apt Pupil,” which was number thirty three on my list, and The Body, which became the film Stand By Me. “Different Seasons” might be the best book no one knows about.

“The Shawshank Redemption” and the novella that inspired it are very similar. I would consider myself wildly blessed to have written either. It’s a story of hope, and how infectious hope is, and how important is to never lose it. Andy Dufresne never gives up. Eventually, through sheer persistence and belief in himself, he finds a way. No matter what happens, he maintains his identity. Andy is Andy at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. His identity remains despite all the injustice he endures. The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful story about the power of remaining true and keeping hope. It inspires me every time I see it, and every time I think about it, and that is why I wish I had written it.

Things I Wish I’d Written #12: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Mar 282012

I could explain why I love this movie so much, but why bother when I can just post clips? These are so unbelievable, and so funny, that you might laugh so hard you will need to change your shorts. That’s why I wish I’d written this movie.

You’re welcome!


The Peasants


The Black Knight

French Taunting

She’s a Witch!

Bring Out Your Dead

Nights Who Say Ni

Three Questions

Things I Wish I’d Written #13: Jack Shephard & John Locke in “Lost”

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Mar 272012

Jack Shephard and John Locke

For me, Jack Shephard and John Locke are what made Lost so compelling. Sure, I wanted to know what the deal was with the island (to be honest, I still do). The storylines of the other characters were both interesting and engaging, and there were many, many people on that show that I cared about deeply. But ultimately, Lost was a story of faith, and the struggle to believe, and that struggle was best lived out by John Locke and Jack Shephard. John, the ‘shaman’ of the island, believed. Jack, the logical, scientific doctor, did not. There was more to it than that, but there also wasn’t. That was the core of their struggle. This is my favorite conversation between the two:

Those are great questions, and the answers to them are long, complex, and moving. Further, what happens to them as a result of their choice to believe or not, and what to believe in, or not, was stunning.  There are very real consequences to the choices each character makes as a result of their faith, and how those choices changed them was profound.

I didn’t love this show because of the island, the plot, or any of the other characters. I liked it because of those things, but I loved it because of John and Jack. They were the reason I watched, and they are why I wish I had written “Lost.”

Things I Wish I’d Written #14: Season One of “24”

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Mar 262012

I suck at picking TV shows. I really do. Usually, when I see something advertised and decide to give it a try, it turns out to be terrible. The most recent example is Terra Nova. Man, what was I thinking? The opposite is also true- I usually start watching the good shows long after they have started, because I thought they would suck, and only once they are rolling do I find out how awesome they are. That’s true of The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, Seinfeld, the list goes on and on.

24 is one of the rare shows I got right.

I sat down for the first episode of 24, and the roller coaster first season started, and I never missed a single second of that first season. I saw it all. It was absolutely riveting. In fact, it reminded me more of a feature film than a television show, a twenty four hour long movie with great characters and epic plot twists. As the season went along, it got more and more intense, and I kept waiting for the big letdown. The end was controversial, but I thought it was perfect. It exemplified the courage and truthfulness which ran throughout the season. I moved heaven and earth to not miss an episode, and there have been few shows like that in my life.

The succeeding seasons were never going to be as good, and I stopped watching midway through season two. That does not diminish how great the first season was. It was the best single season of any television show I have ever seen, and that’s why I wish I had written it.


Things I Wish I’d Written #15: Memento

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Mar 252012

Memento blew my mind. I saw it years ago, I still can’t believe it, and I have no idea how Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan wrote it except to say that they are geniuses.

Memento is the story of Leonard Shelby, who is trying to find his wife’s killer while hindered by a memory loss disorder. Leonard has no long term memory after his accident, and his short term memory goes back only about fifteen minutes. He often “wakes up” without any idea where he is or why, so he leaves himself sticky notes. The film has two converging story lines, one told in black and white and in chronological order, the other in color and in reverse order. They all come together masterfully at the end.

This just blows my mind

Here you see the plot of Memento charted out in parallel, and here is a link to a version you can actually read. As I mentioned before, I am in awe. It is the most creative movie structure I have ever seen, and I remain mesmerized by it today. That’s why I wish I had written it.

Sermon Podcast: Who’s Your Mechanic?

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Mar 252012

Who’s your spiritual mechanic? When your spiritual life is busted, where do you take it to get it fixed? Today we will hear about where to take it to get the best bang for your buck.  Based on Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Things I Wish I’d Written #16: The Sopranos

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Mar 222012

The Soprano family sits down for a meal together.

The picture to the right sums up why I loved The Sopranos.  A lot of people will say it was a show about the mob, and that’s true- partially. But it was only true because the mob is a family, and that’s what the show was really about.

Tony Soprano is a guy with two families,- the mob, and his wife and children. The show is about how he balances those two as a very flawed man.  Right from the start, Tony is clearly a man of many contradictions. He is a big, strong boss of a mob family, but he needs therapy to cope with the pressure. He loves his wife, but he cheats on her.  He has all the things a person could want: power, money, and a great family. Yet he’s miserable.

Tony Soprano is a set of walking contradictions, and yet it’s all amazing. He’s one of the greatest characters in television history, a man of such depth that when we felt like we knew him. Most of us were glad we didn’t because he was a scary guy, but that’s part of what made the show work too. On the one hand, we all loved Tony Soprano. On the other, we loathed him. That was another contradiction that worked so well, and made the show so incredible.

Characters like Tony Soprano don’t come around very often. Getting to know him was quite the journey, and he is the reason I wish I had written this show.

Things I Wish I’d Written #17: The Usual Suspects

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Mar 212012

The Usual Suspects has one of the best endings ever written. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend you watch it. I’m sure some of you reading this hated the ending, and you are certainly entitled to  your opinion, but I absolutely loved it. Believe it or not, I had correctly guessed the secret in the beginning, only for the movie to change my mind until the big reveal at the end. That moment, that reveal, was one of the best, if not the best, that I have ever seen.

Whether you liked the end of The Usual Suspects or not, I think we can agree that there has never been and ending like it, and there never will be again. That’s why I wish I’d written this movie.