Raiders

While listening to a technology podcast today I was reminded of just how good the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark is.

Not like I needed reminding. It’s always been my immediate response when asked for a favorite movie. But I tend to chalk up my affection for it as a bit of nostalgia rather than simply an appreciation of the merits of the film.

I saw it when it was first released in the summer of 1981. I was a rising high school senior. My family went to see it on opening weekend at the downtown theater In my hometown and sat in the balcony. Classic.

But, we arrived a few minutes late and missed the opening scene. We then sat through what was the most sensational film I had ever seen. We were all delightfully stunned. It was unlike any other movie. And when the closing credits rolled, we decided to stay for the next screening to see just the first few minutes we had missed. And then we ended up staying and watching the whole film again. We couldn’t stop watching. We went through some popcorn that night. And happily.

The very next weekend I was back at the theater to watch it again, this time on a memorable first date with a girl from my high school.

That movie was etched into my consciousness. Indiana Jones’s  improvisational heroics and authentic, rough-around-the-edges cool became my inspiration.

But it was more than just a happy teenage summer memory that endears the film to me. It was also a remarkably well crafted film. Spielberg and Lucas were in their prime, and the great Lawrence Kasdan wrote the script. The casting was spot on. There were no wasted scenes. The story was tight. The dialogue rang true and remains so quotable. There was clever humor and action and an unconventional love story. The cinematography was impeccable. The music was epic.

I took a screenwriting class a few years later in college. The professor had us over to his home one night to watch Raiders (on VHS tape, of course, at a time when owning a copy of a movie was expensive). Raiders was my teacher’s example of an ideal screenplay. The class gathered around his television while he charted the plot points with us. And we all marveled at the skill of the filmmakers in creating an unapologetically fun film that could stand as a work of art as well.

Yes, it’s just an action/adventure film, but it’s impeccably made, crafted by true icons of the film world. I would not hesitate to rank it with some of the best films ever made. I can’t think of any Spielberg film that’s better than this one, and that’s saying something.

I went back today and listened again to the episode of The Incomparable podcast that’s devoted solely to Raiders. And those guys feel the way I do. It’s such a satisfying film on so many levels.

If you haven’t seen Raiders, go fix that. And make an event of it. Watch it on the biggest screen you can. Make the room dark. Pop some popcorn (not the microwave kind, certainly), and enjoy a truly great escape.

Cinderella’s Stoic virtues: Courage and kindness

I took my wife and daughters to see the new live-action Cinderella movie yesterday. I’m no movie critic, but I thought it was really good.

It’s visually sumptuous. The costume design, the sets, the locations, the sweeping camera movements all were dazzling and crafted on an epic scale.

Kenneth Branagh, the Shakespearean actor, directed and played the story straight and with a classic, elegant style. No clever updates. It’s in essence the same Cinderella story you know from the original Disney animated feature. But it’s done so well.

The acting performances are solid. Lily James as Cinderella lights up the screen. She’s earnest and charming and quietly strong without being sappy sweet. The prince is not a bore or a boor. The ailing king is endearing. The wicked stepmother, Cate Blanchett, is suitably cruel but finishes by coming across as pitiable.

It’s not high art, but it’s a worthwhile story, especially for my young daughters. Early in the story Cinderella’s dying mother exhorts her to always “have courage and be kind.” That mantra gets repeated throughout. It could seem simplistic, but the character solidly embodies those traits.

When Cinderella gets banished to the attic, she could have become a teary-eyed damsel in distress in typical princess fairy tale style. But this Cinderella embraces her fate with a twinkle of optimism and hope and makes the best of it. She deals with her cruel treatment and bad fortune with similar fortitude throughout the story without coming across as weak and woeful. She exhibits Stoic-like acceptance of all that happens outside of her control and remains kind in spite of the cruelty she endures.

“Have courage and be kind”, simple and obvious as it is, is a decent motto for anyone, aspiring princess or not.

No one is fearless, but we can all show courage by taking action in spite of our fears. And life is too short to be short on kindness.

Four thumbs up for Cinderella from me and my three princesses.