The following are introductions or sign-posts (very descriptive sign-posts) to some of my favorite stuff—books, mostly, and movies, and maybe other things—in the hopes that it might inspire you to check them out. I’ll try to minimize spoilers, while giving enough information to answer the question, “Why is this [book/movie/other thing] worth my time?”
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Braveheart opens with a harrowing scene. The king of England, Edward the Longshanks, invites Scotland’s nobles to peace talks after claiming their nation’s throne. The young William Wallace (James Robinson) receives a lesson he’ll never forget in the King’s notions of peace when he witnesses the aftermath of the meeting: the lifeless bodies of each of the nobles and their young pages swing from the rafters of a barn. When his father and brother are later killed in battle, William is taken away to be raised by his uncle Argyle (Brian Cox). William’s father had told him that “It’s our wits that make us men,” and now his uncle echoes those words when William says he wants to learn to fight. “First learn to use this,” Argyle says, tapping him on the head. “Then I’ll teach you to use this,” he says, pointing at his sword.
Except for the Bible, there isn't a book I've read as many times as Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Again except for those found in the Bible, there isn't a story I'm more familiar with than that of the mean-spirited, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who repents one year during the holidays and ever after knows "how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." And I've not only read A Christmas Carol, I've watched countless movie and theatre adaptations of the book. Some are great, some merely good, others are best forgotten; some are faithful to a fault, some are updated retellings (I love Bill Murray's Scrooged), others twist and play with the central idea (none better than Blackadder's Christmas Carol, about Ebenezer Blackadder who, at the beginning of the movie, is the kindliest man in England). As good as some of them are, though, none of the adaptations can hold even a nineteenth-century candle to the original.
G. K. Chesterton was a man who discovered the secret to a happy life—I doubt one can read much of his work without coming to that conclusion. The most natural reaction to his body of work, I think, is amazement: to wonder what secret this man discovered that allowed him to take so much delight in a sheet of brown paper, for example, or where he found the energy to defend his faith in a land growing faithless with so much gusto and wit.
In Manalive, a short novel full of events as improbable as the name of the story's protagonist, Chesterton shares his happy secret with the rest of the world—a world that has grown old and weary because it has grown melancholy.
Casablanca was shot in black-and-white, as were most movies made in the 1940s. That, and the fact that the film is considered a classic, has probably contributed to many people avoiding it who might otherwise give it a chance (expanding Mark Twain's definition of a classic to "a movie that everybody wants to have watched and nobody wants to watch.")
But if other classics can be accused of being difficult to relate to for a modern audience, Casablanca effortlessly dodges the charge. Immediately the films plunges us into its story and we're not allowed to come up for air until the tale has been told—a tale of murder, war, intrigue, love lost and regained and lost again, and most of all, of sacrifice. Because the movie is so captivating, one forgets that it's in black-and-white within a few minutes.