The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Jen-ai. The one who loves. What a name to earn – especially from a people not originally your own. This is the name given to Gladys Aylward by the Chinese in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (a slightly fictionalized account of Aylward’s missionary work in China). A beautiful story of a beautiful life, it has long been one of my favorites. In fact, if my memory serves, it was the first adult movie that I actually enjoyed.

Gladys is an English servant who longs to be a missionary to China, but the mission society won’t send her because she’s not “qualified.” So she works and saves her wages and pays her own way. She goes to Yang Cheng to work with Jeannie Lawson, a long-time missionary. When Jeannie dies, Gladys continues running the inn they’d opened together. She is also appointed by the local Mandarin to the position of foot inspector – a job which requires her to visit all the villages of the province and enforce the laws against foot-binding. Her great love and kindness earn her a place in the hearts of every citizen in the province – even the prison convicts and mountain bandits – and her courage and firm resolve earn her their respect as well. Her total immersion into their world opens doors that other missionaries who spent a portion of each year back “home” could never touch.

inn of the sixth happiness

Along the way, she adopts 5 orphan children as her own and finds a true friend and eventually true love in Lin Nan, a Chinese military officer who is half Dutch. Two outsiders with the odds stacked against them – my kind of love story. When war breaks out, the number of orphans she cares for swells to 100; and when they are in imminent danger of being overrun by the enemy, she leads the children on a perilous 3-week trek through the mountains to safety. This is where we see the sterling character that has been forged through years of hardship and toil. This is what she was put on this earth to do; this is her calling. Jen-ai’s strength, courage, compassion, and love made a deep impression on 11-year-old me and are traits that I am trying to learn to emulate.

Captain Blood – Heroically Human

I love old movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love new ones too of course. But the great classics – there’s just something so magical about them. One of my all-time favorites is Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn. Loosely based on the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, Captain Blood was Flynn’s breakout role. His co-star, Olivia de Havilland was also relatively unknown before this picture. Both turned in stellar performances and launched their careers with this 1935 film.

This is the story of Peter Blood – soldier of fortune, doctor of medicine, slave of Jamaica, and captain of pirates. No matter what turn his fortune takes, our hero always maintains both his honor and his chivalry. This is what makes Captain Blood one of the greats. Peter Blood is a true hero. Never broken, never bitter, and always someone we can admire. This is what sets classic films apart from most of today’s movies. There is a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, hero and villain. And yet, the heroes and villains of this picture are not caricatures. They are completely human and there is some gray shading on the scale of good and evil.

Take Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) for example. On the scale of good and evil, she is very clearly all the way on the good side. And yet, for a large portion of the story, she is both wrong and an antagonist to our hero. On the villain side, we have pirate Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). Pure evil, he is nevertheless on Blood’s side for a time. And he is not without a certain code of honor. Then we have Arabella’s uncle, Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). He has no honor or integrity, yet he is not solidly on the side of evil. But he is unequivocally the primary antagonist of Peter Blood – the villain we love to hate. And of course we have our hero, Captain Peter Blood himself. He is truly a hero, yet he has one foot on the wrong side of the line. This is what keeps him human and relatable. This is what makes his heroism accessible, making us believe we can be heroes too. That is why Captain Blood has stood and will continue to stand as one of the greatest pictures ever filmed and one of my all-time personal favorites.

Roy Rogers, Real-Life Hero

I flipped the TV on today and one of the rerun channels was playing old Roy Rogers movies. My very first celebrity crush, Roy and his movies hold a very special place in my heart. I am the only Roy Rogers fan that I know. (Mama used to watch his movies with me; we were our own little fan club.) I find myself defending him and his movies every time the subject comes up. Seems like no one else appreciates his work.

Roy never played a villain. Or even a morally ambiguous hero. Straight-shooting, straight-talking, thoroughly on the up-and-up, Roy was your cookie-cutter white-hatted hero. And sometimes his movies had lame plots and corny dialogue. Through no fault of his, of course. And, sadly, most of the versions you can find today have been heavily edited. But they are still something incredibly special.

I don’t know if it can be put into words, but Roy Rogers had that indefinable something that set him apart from the rest. If he was anyone else, I’d say it was what’s referred to as “star quality;” but somehow that’s not the right term. In my book, he wasn’t a star. He was quite famous of course, an iconic screen cowboy, but not a star. At least not to me. I guess because he never really seemed like an actor. I don’t think he ever acted a day in his life. I think that every time he got in front of a camera he was just himself. Which is what makes him so incredible – he really was the hero he portrayed on screen. The innocent, boyishly charming, straightforward hero that a whole nation fell in love with.

This is what sets him apart from the crowd. Why his movies are still around when just about every other B-western from that era has been forgotten. The reason a Roy Rogers movie could rise above its low budget and sometimes poorly-written script to become a classic. Because he was a real-life hero. He was an inspiration to a whole country then and he’s still inspiring today. He embodies the best of what it means to be an American and a Christian. From his refusal to remove prayer from his shows to his and Dale’s opening their hearts and home to orphans. Roy Rogers is a real-life American hero – yesterday, today, and tomorrow too.

Ever After – Cinderella Reimagined

Charmingly sweet and riotously funny, Ever After occupies a special place in my heart. Perhaps because it is a realistic reimagining of the familiar Cinderella story; a story of another ordinary girl who becomes a real princess. Although it does not gloss over the tragic points of the story, it still paints a beautiful picture of life and love.

The classic pieces are all there: cruel, designing stepmother; 2 stepsisters; a charming prince; and a girl who dares to dream beyond the dreadful dreariness of her present life. There are also a few changes to the “pumpkins and fairy godmother” version of this story. The prince is named Henry, not Charming, and he both meets and falls in love with our “Cinderella,” Danielle de Barbarac, before the famed ball where she loses a glass slipper. Leonardo da Vinci replaces the traditional fairy godmother, substituting a paintbrush for a wand, adding a sense of humor, and playing matchmaker as only an old man could. There is also the addition of a villain in the form of a creepy guy who has eyes for the lovely Danielle and will stop at nothing to have her.

I don’t know which Ever After scene is my favorite. Perhaps Henry and Danielle being attacked by the gypsies. Or when Danielle punches Marguerite in the face. Or da Vinci walking on water – “It looks like rain!” Or Jacqueline and Laurent at the ball. Or the part at the end in the royal laundry. Or Henry’s altercations with his father. Or the wedding with the Spanish princess. Or Henry and Danielle in the gypsy camp. Every moment of this movie is fun to watch.

Our spirited heroine wins the prince’s heart by showing him how arrogant and self-centered his life has been and what it means to truly live – but will his ardor cool when he discovers she is only a commoner? Will Baroness Rodmilla’s scheming win her daughter a princess’s crown? This interpretation offers both a twist and an eminently satisfying ending. Ever After is far and away my favorite fairy tale movie.

Frank Reagan for President

This year’s presidential election certainly has people fired up. Some hate Hillary, some hate Trump, and some hate both. I don’t think anyone is indifferent. For me, it’s a matter of hating one and not really caring for the other. I am not an ardent fan of either. But you know what campaign I could get really get excited about? Frank Reagan for President. Oh yeah, he would make a phenomenal commander in chief. Not only would I vote for him in a heartbeat, I would sign up as his most enthusiastic campaign volunteer.

Frank Reagan is the fictitious New York police commissioner from the TV show Blue Bloods. Honor, patriotism, integrity, conservative views, strength, unimpeachable character, family values, tact – Frank has everything it takes to be a first-rate leader. Frank Reagan for President. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Blue Bloods is far and away my favorite current TV show. The writing, the characters, the old-fashioned values, and the family aspect all add up to one absolutely fabulous series. It’s a tough call, but I think Frank is my favorite character. And in light of recent events, I think we need a former cop in the White House. And his stint as PC has proven his leadership ability.

Okay, so I know we can’t really elect a fictional character to public office. As much as I wish we could. But here’s what we need to take away from this: any candidate needs to be compared to Frank Reagan. When considering a field of candidates, one simple question will make the choice easy. Which one would be as good as Frank Reagan? Actually, that probably wouldn’t work. I know. Which one comes closest to being as good as Frank Reagan? That is my plan from now on. Which candidate has the sterling character, unshakeable patriotism, and strength of will that Frank repeatedly shows as police commissioner? And if we all make “Frank Reagan for President” our unofficial motto, I think we just might be able to turn our great country around. If we approach politics with that ideal in the back of our minds, I think we could really make a difference. Maybe we could even return this country to what it once was.

Audrey Hepburn, Radiant Beauty

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailerConsidered by many to be one of the most beautiful women who ever lived, Audrey Hepburn was beautiful inside and out. She was never afraid to be herself. While other iconic beauties of the day were of the more voluptuous goddess type, her charming elfin-like beauty and inner glow has made her more enduringly beautiful than many of her contemporaries. Part of her radiance stems from the purity and beauty of her soul.

Born in Belgium in 1929 to a British father and Dutch mother, young Audrey divided her growing-up years between these 3 countries. She studied ballet from the age of 5; dreaming of one day being a prima ballerina. The hardships and hunger of WWII in the Netherlands forever destroyed that dream. The horrors of war would remain with her forever, making her a passionate advocate for starving children, and working with UNICEF in particular. This is the beauty of Audrey Hepburn’s soul: to have survived what she did, yet still retain a serene joy inside that nothing could take away. The things she saw and experienced made her sensitive and caring, but not bitter or cynical. She saw to the full the ugliness mankind is capable of, but still chose to see the good in humanity too.

Ranked by the American Film Institute as the 3rd greatest female screen legend in the history of American film in 1999, Audrey Hepburn left a legacy equaled by few. Although certainly not the most prolific actor in Hollywood, she is one of the most universally well-received. Even in films panned by critics and audiences alike, her performance was almost invariably praised. Her first starring role in Roman Holiday (with already-a-star Gregory Peck) won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award. This made her the first actress ever to receive all 3 awards for a single performance. She went on to appear in a number of movies with a number of famous actors and actresses. One thing remained constant: Audrey’s fashion style. Even today, Audrey Hepburn is considered a fashion icon – perhaps because she never followed the latest trends. Instead she opted for a style that suited her perfectly, a trend that’s always in style.

As the years went by, she appeared in fewer films, devoting more and more time to humanitarian work with UNICEF until her death in 1993. It is this which, I believe, she would most like to be remembered for. Audrey Hepburn chose a legacy, not of fame or stardom, but of loving and caring for the “least of these.” Those are footsteps we should all try to walk in.

MacGyver, All-American Hero

macgyver5MacGyver. Just his name is enough to make me smile. Everybody loves MacGyver. He’s not a dashing hero, he’s not an action hero, he’s not a superhero. He’s just an ordinary all-American guy with a good heart and some impressive skills. He can make a bomb out of anything just as easily as he can diffuse the most sophisticated of explosive devices. And he can do everything in between. Resourceful and quick-thinking, he always manages to get himself – and others – out of whatever impossible scrapes the writers dream up.

And he’s constantly helping the little guys and fighting for “lost” causes. Firmly planted on a strong, I would even say unshakeable, moral code, he always does the right thing. And he never ever gives up until the bad guys have been soundly beaten. Most important, he cares. Cares about other people and cares about doing the right thing for its own sake. He’s not in it for the money or power or glory. He is always there to help and do good. And he’s not afraid – but not because he’s the biggest, or the strongest, or the toughest. Because he knows that in the end, good will always triumph over evil.

Boyish charm and a winning smile make him an even more likeable guy. I think MacGyver/Richard Dean Anderson was my first – no, second – celebrity crush. (Come to think of it, there are quite a few similarities between Mac and Roy Rogers, my first celeb crush. But that’s a story for another day.) Simple and sweet and unpretentious, like an overgrown kid, Mac’s charm could melt any heart. Let the other girls swoon over the “bad boys;” give me a good guy like MacGyver any day. A soft heart and strong character – now that’s a sexy combination. Forget about the cute or rich or popular guys, I just want to find me my very own MacGyver.

Finding Neverland

finding neverland-neverland-11985156-351-450“It’s magical. Thank you.” So says Peter Llewelyn Davies to J.M. Barrie about his play Peter Pan. And so say I to the creators of Finding Neverland. This movie is a beautifully sweet and riotously funny look at the man behind the “irrepressible spirit of youth.”

Although he’s already a renowned playwright, Barrie’s latest creation is a flop. Then he meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her 4 fatherless boys. He finds himself drawn to them, especially Peter, in whom he sees perhaps a reflection of himself. He spends nearly every afternoon all summer with Sylvia, George, Jack, Peter, and Michael. They dress up and play pretend – pirates, explorers, cowboys and Indians. Uncle Jim, as the boys call Barrie, is really just a boy himself and he teaches them to soar on the wings of imagination.

Sylvia, beautifully portrayed by Kate Winslet, is a wonderful mother. Fun, loving, and perfectly imperfect, she is adored by her free-spirited sons. Each of the 4 boys is perfectly cast and wonderfully played. Genuine, authentic, innocent, and fun, they are a joy to watch, especially Freddie Highmore as Peter. Johnny Depp, as always, is magnificent. He so totally inhabits his role, it becomes difficult to remember that he’s ever played any other character. His James Barrie is fun, creative, imaginative, cheerful, innocent – in short, the total opposite of the story’s 2 stuffed shirts. Mrs. Barrie is a shallow, self-centered creature who married James because he is a famous author, not for love. Their marriage is therefore rather strained. The other disagreeable character is Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Du Maurier (superbly portrayed by Julie Christie). The friction between her and James, however, does not stem from self-centeredness, but rather from love of her daughter and grandsons. It is this capacity for love that, in the end, turns her into a sympathetic figure. Dustin Hoffman is brilliant as Barrie’s producer, Charles Frohman. His dry humor and wit is unmatched.

In conclusion, Finding Neverland is a magical, beautiful, and poignant portrait of life, love, family, and imagination.finding neverland