Friday, October 31, 2014

Magnificent Seven: Seven Scary Films!

I'm taking this week off from doing my Academy Award Best Picture Reviews to help celebrate Halloween! And although Halloween in Hollywood usually means Horror Films, I want to expand on the theme a bit to write about scary films in general. Thrillers? Suspense? Horror? They are all here. And right up front I want to admit that my list will not match yours. For one thing, you won't find films such as Halloween or Friday The 13th on this list. To me these types of films are too formulaic, and what thrills that they have fade away with time. Sure, we remember the fisherman from I Know What You Did Last Summer. But watch that film again and the scares are pretty obvious, don't you agree? So here are my choices, films that have scared me half a dozen times or more, in chronological order, The Magnificent Seven Scary Films!

1. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The original Frankenstein, also directed by James Whale, is a classic "horror" film. However, if you watch it or most of the other classic Universal Monster films, they are not actually all that frightening. The Bride, however, features The Creature with an agenda. Boris Karloff is excellent as a pseudo-man who is looking for companionship,and he's willing to kill to get it. He threatens his creator, played by Colin Clive, as well as his creator's wife. There is a real sense that this Creature could cause incredible and immediate harm if provoked, so you had better watch out. The ending, with the iconically made-up Elsa Lancaster scared of her groom, is absolutely unforgettable.  
2. Psycho (1960)
The Bates Motel. Janet Leigh in the shower. Anthony Perkins as Norman. The music of Bernard Herrmann. Although (or perhaps because?) all of these have become pop cultural icons, some may argue that this is not a "scary" film. I say to you that this Alfred Hitchcock directed classic IS still scary. All you need to do to prove it is to watch it with someone who has not seen it before. I guarantee that you will realize how scary (and creepy) it is all over again by watching it through their eyes. 
3. Jaws (1975)
This was another one of those happy accidents that happen in motion pictures every once in awhile. Director Steven Spielberg had intended to show the shark in many more scenes than he ended up doing. He didn't because he couldn't! It turns out that the mechanical shark, named Bruce, kept breaking down. So he was replaced by yellow buoys and by staccato music. Result: fewer shark sightings = increased suspense = better frights = great movie. Has anyone ever seen this film and not be scared just a little bit when swimming in the ocean? It helps immensely that Everyman Roy Scheider represents the audience, and that he's scared out of his mind.
4. Alien (1979) 
One of the  more traditional "horror" films on my list, Alien is also one of the two science fiction films on my list. There are plenty of "alien invader" science fiction slash horror films out there, but most of them are not particularly scary. The great films The Day The Earth Stood Still and This Island Earth are both more similar to social commentaries than to horror films. It doesn't help that most of these films were made in the Fifties and Sixties. Alien, however, has modern special effects to go along with the disgusting invader. Sure, this film created what turned into an industry, but stick to the original. Cringe-worthy scenes abound. Also eye-coverings and gasps. In theatres, everyone can hear you scream. 
5. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
The most classically "horror" film on my list, it's a favorite. Werewolves, vampires, and zombies can be scary, but until this film was made the transformation make-up was mostly "stop-motion" or "off screen." I love Universal's The Wolf-Man, but it is more of a melodrama than a horror film, don't you think? This John Landis production shows us the wolf transformation in all its glory, and actually won an Academy Award for Best Make-Up (the first one ever given out!). However, after this film, and Alien before it, too many film-makers tried to go the other way and show us EVERYTHING. Films such as John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) for example would have been a better film if they had remembered "less is more," especially with the gore and gross out. An American Werewolf In London has its moments of gore, especially with the continuing-to-decompose Jack, but it still manages to strike just the right balance between technically cool and fantastically frightful.
6.  The Fly (original 1958, remake 1986)
This is the only double-entry on my list, and is the rarest of events in Hollywood: an original and a remake both being equally good, although in this case very different ways. Both tell the story of a scientist who is working on a matter transporter (or teleporter). Both scientists then try their inventions out on themselves, but inadvertently include a fly in the mix. In the original, the head and arm of the fly is exchanged with the scientist's body parts; in the remake, the DNA of the two creatures combine. The original stars Vincent Price is a rare sympathetic role (the scientist's brother) and the remake stars Jeff Goldblum. Both are great movies, and I haven't seen them in awhile. I think I'll go watch them this weekend!

7. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
I have chosen Silence... to represent all of the modern day "horror" films. You know, the ones about the psychological killers with axes, chainsaws, saws, ice picks, and whatever else they will use to terrorize you. And they are really out there. Hannibal Lector is a cartoon villain, but Buffalo Bill is unfortunately all-too realistic, and that is what makes this film so scary to watch. Come for the horror, stay for the Academy Award-winning performances of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chariots of Fire (Best Picture 1981)

This is a nice little film about the 1924 Paris Olympics and the trials of two men as they struggle to represent Great Britain on the British track and field team. 
One of them is Harold Abrahams, a Jew who faces persecution at Cambridge University, where he is studying to be a lawyer. He has something of a chip on his shoulder, and maybe he runs to alleviate that frustrationi. he is challenged to run around the inner path of the Cambridge College within a set amount of time. He and his friend Lindsay race, and become famous around the university for their endeavor.
The other is Eric Liddell, who is "home" in Scotland after growing up in China, the son of a missionary. He, too, is famous for being fast. His best friend wants him to continue to race, but his sister wants him to commit to being a missionary like their father. At a race between Scotland and France, Eric gets knocked down but gets up and still manages to win the race. 
Their lives intertwine at a British tournament, where Eric beats Harold. Harold has a moment of doubt, whining, "I run to win!" Through the advice of his girl-friend and his new coach, Mussabini,  Harold decides to re-commit to running. Harold is called before the deans of the college and told in no uncertain terms that a Cambridge man should not be using a private coach to train. He rebuffs them, admitting with pride that Mussabini is half Italian and half Arab. Still, their rebuke stings him. Eventually both Eric and Harold, as well as several of Harold's Cambridge friends, are selected for the British Olympic team. 

 Unfortunately, the initial heat for Eric's best event is scheduled on a Sunday, and Eric refuses to run on the Sabbath. Eric is called before the British Olympic Committee, which includes The Prince of Wales, but is adamant that he will not run. Lindsay then comes forward and volunteers his spot in the 400 meter race, as he had already won a medal in the hurdle race. Eric graciously accepts the offer, and on the day of their races both Eric and Harold win. 
I remember seeing this film when I was younger and thinking, what's the big deal? Sure, it's a nice intimate drama about two men and their struggles to "win their races." But the persecution that Harold feels is not clearly shown (I guess it's veddy British, but to this American who is used to in-your-face racism, this is mild stuff). Also, I don't quite understand why not running on Sunday is such a big deal, either. I guess in the current world where everything is open on Sundays, it would be even more of a "hassle" to hold an event on Sunday and not have the athletes run. 

Ben Cross is remarkable as Harold. He is, basically, a stubborn jerk. Somehow, Cross makes him likeable. Ian Charleson is equally memorable as Eric. He is quiet and stubborn in a similar way to Harold, but smiling and non-confrontational. That makes his later scenes, when he insists that he will not run on the Sabbath, all the more impressive. There are plenty of other noteworthy cameos in the film, such as Ian Holm, John Gielgud (who won Best Supporting Actor this same year for his role in Arthur!), Dennis Christopher, and Brad Davis.  

This film is most famous now for the scene where the runners practice by running on the beach to the theme song by Vangelis. The song went Number One all over the world. 

Although this film won Best Picture, it is noteworthy as one of the few whose Director did not also win the Best Director Award (Warren Beatty won for Reds.)

Chariots of Fire
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1981*
Produced by David Puttnam
Directed  by Hugh Hudson
Screenplay by Collin Welland 

I don't know about lifting my spirits to a new high,
but it's a fine little film.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Atlantic City
On Golden Pond
Raiders of the Lost Ark
This is a year where I have only seen half of the nominees. I saw Raiders, of course, but obviously that is not a Best Picture. I have seen On Golden Pond, which won acting awards for Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. It's the story of two married people growing old and trying to reconcile with their daughter. It is even more intimate a story than Chariots of Fire. As for Reds, it's too long and its subject (Americans participating in the Russian Revolution) is not of interest to me. As for Atlantic City, I have simply never gotten around to seeing it. It features a young Susan Sarandon and an aging Burt Lancaster in a crime drama set in New Jersey. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ordinary People (Best Picture 1980)

Ordinary People is an extra-ordinary film. Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, and Tim Hutton appear to be an “ordinary” Eastern Coast family. Good money, good home, good family. However, their eldest son has recently died in a boating accident, and younger son Hutton has attempted to kill himself. Now mother, father, and surviving son are walking on eggshells around each other. Hutton wakes up in the middle of the night because of nightmares about his brother’s death (they were together in the boat when his brother drowned) Although he fights against going because he has been raised to be private and keep problems to himself, he ends up deciding to see a psychiatrist (Judd Hirsch) because he knows he is falling apart. “I want to be more in control,” he repeats to his doctor. Agonizingly slowly we get bits and pieces about what is bothering this family….quick enough not to lose our interest in the overall story, but slow enough so that we feel the pain and the anxiety and the frustration that is bothering them.

Moore is absolutely chilling, cast against type. We want to see her as one of her TV characters, perky and fun and loving. However, here she portrays a woman who is emotionally shut-down because her son has died. When Hutton starts talking about wanting a dog, and how his brother always wanted a dog, too, she shuts down. When Sutherland talks to her about vacationing as a family, she shuts down. There is a painful scene where Sutherland is trying to get a photo of her and Hutton, but she doesn’t want to have it taken, and Hutton ends up yelling, “Give her the damn camera!” The most painful thing about these scenes is that they are communicating perfectly fine until the dead son is brought up, and then you can almost see the shutters come down. They are at cross purposes during the entire film, mis-communicating every time. 

Hirsch, too, is wonderful as the “voice of the audience,” asking the questions that we want to ask, allowing Hutton and Sutherland to bring into focus the tones and moods we are feeling from the bits and pieces we are getting shown. As for Sutherland, he has the most thankless role: he has to maneuver between loving husband and loving father, and also grieving father. For the majority of the film he is a cypher, trying to hold on to his wife and son just by sheer force of love, hoping that will be enough.  
Obviously, I am trying hard not to spoil the film by talking about it in too much detail. Suffice it to say that this perfectly “ordinary” family is broken, and by the time the film ends it has started taking steps to fix itself.
Timothy Hutton won Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this, but he is really the star of the film. He is amazing in his portrayal of a boy who loved his brother very much, and loves his parents, but doesn’t know what to do about his feelings of “survival guilt.” In the last half hour, he learns that his friend from the hospital (a terrific Dinah Manoff) has killed herself, and this so upsets him that the “loses it” with Hirsch and we finally find out exactly what has been bothering him. There is one scene where he has such a frantic look on his face when he fills a sink full of water and the camera lingers on his slashed wrist scars that I was deftly afraid that he was going to kill himself, too. Instead, he explodes outward, and Hirsh is able to bring him back to Earth. I’m tearing up just writing this.(I freely admit that I am a sucker for scenes where men cry. If I am emotionally invested in the scene at all, I’m going to start crying, too. This is a powerful, powerful scene between these two great actors, and in the vernacular “it’s worth the price of admission.”) The follow-up between the two parents is heart-wrenching as well. Finally, we get the feeling that Hutton might be okay, after all.
This was a difficult film for me to watch, and not just because of the subject matter. Mary Tyler Moore reminded me of my own mother in several scenes; her sense of disdain at “what people think” and “the proper thing to do” reminded me of her attitudes. Don’t get me wrong, my mother was not the emotionally wrecked woman that Moore’s character is. However, I always did get the impression that she loved my older brother more than she loved me, and that my father often was in a similar position as Donald Sutherland here, “why can’t we all just get along?” I had not thought about my high school years in these terms in quite a long time. After all, I went away to college and had a successful and happy life. However….seeing that look on Moore’s face as she seemed to be comparing her sons….that brought me back, and not in a good way. This is an absolutely wonderful, powerful drama and I thoroughly recommend it. However, if you have any sibling rivalry issues you might get more of a jolt from it than you might anticipate. 
Robert Redford won Best Director for this film, which caused some minor controversy at the time because it was his directorial debut. However, from the initial scenes establishing the beautiful east coast environment to the mixing of the nightmare flashbacks with reality, the story flowed. At the end when Hutton explodes, the scenes are handled very, very well. 
Ordinary People
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1980*
Produced by Ronald L. Schwary
Directed  by Robert Redford
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent
Based on the book by Judith Guest
Yeah, watching this trailer....sigh. 
I don't think I'll watch this movie ever again. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Coal Miner's Daughter
The Elephant Man
Raging Bull
I watched Coal Miner's Daughter a few years ago when I was on a Loretta Lynn thing. Sissy Spacek won Best Actress for her portrayal. I saw The Elephant Man several years ago and if you have not seen this, you should. John Hurt is awesome as the man with the terrible, disfiguring skin disease in  turn of the century London. Robert DeNiro won Best Actor in Raging Bull. I tried to watch this film, but I only got about an hour in before I gave up. Lots of angry, mean people. Tess was directed by Roman Polanski as a suggestion from his murdered wife, but after half an hour of it I couldn't take that, either. So I guess the best film won. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Kramer vs. Kramer (Best Picture 1979)

Kramer vs Kramer is a Best Picture film in the intimate, small-scale way that Marty or The Apartment is, instead of in the EPIC way of, say, Lawrence of Arabia or Patton. There are only six real roles in this film, and three of them are named "Kramer."  
Ted trying to block Joanna rather than listen to her

The film tells the story of Joanna Kramer, her husband, Ted, and their son, Billy. The first few minutes of the film tell two parallel stories: Ted at the office, and Joanna at home. When these stories mesh, there is disaster. Ted isn't listening to Joanna, who simply vanishes (in the elevator) rather than try to communicate any more. Ted is devastated to realize that he really did not know his wife. The first morning after Joanna is gone is the classic "making breakfast" scene with his son Billy, who is five. Ted tries to bluff his way through making french toast, but we all know, including Billy, that he is not up to the challenge.

At the office, Ted tries to talk about his feelings, but his boss/friend suggests putting Billy with relatives. He believes that work is the most important. When Joanna writes, Billy enthusiastically listens until she admits that she doesn't know when she will come back, and then he shuts down. Ted puts all of her things, including photos of her and them, away.
The next few minutes of the movie are vignettes of the father and son trying to get along together. Ted cooks TV dinners, rushes to the office with groceries, reading the paper or comics at the breakfast table, and basically going through the motions. Ted finds a photo of Joanna that Billy had gotten out of the boxes, and he realizes that Billy needs his mother. Ted puts the photo out on Billy's night-stand.
The "ice cream scene" is one of the most famous father-son scenes of all time. Billy doesn't want to eat his dinner, and when he learns that Ted did buy ice cream, Billy goes to eat it without eating his dinner. What follows is a typical child-adult "power struggle" where Ted snaps, tossing Billy into his bed without any dinner at all. When Billy screams, "I hate you!" Ted snaps back, "I hate you back you little shit! But we're all we've got!" A little while later Ted comes in to tuck his son in and Billy wakes up, crying and begging his father not to leave him. Billy believes that Joanna left because of something he had done, and Billy is desperately afraid that his father will leave, too. Ted tears up while he tries to explain to Billy that Joanna left because of Ted, and stayed as long as she did because she loved Billy.

After this the two seem to get along a lot better. Ted seems to be less "self-centered" and more attuned to what his son needs. Suddenly, Billy falls off the jungle gym at the park and Ted rushes him to the emergency room. While Billy gets stitches on his face, Ted is there holding him, crying with him.

Then Joanna comes back, and she files for custody. Ted gets defensive and angry, vowing to fight by yelling to her, "You can't have him!" Suddenly, Ted is let go from his office because he has started to put Billy before work. All Ted can say to his erstwhile friend is, "Shame on you." He  rushes around NYC all day until he finds a job, making much less than he had just so that he can say he is still employed.
The court-room scenes are painful to watch, but illuminating. Joanna tells her side of the story, and by watching Ted we get the impression that he is listening for the first time in his life. He realizes that he made mistakes in their marriage, and sees Joanna in a different light. Her point, of course, is that she should have Billy *because* she is Billy's mother. When Ted speaks, he talks about how he has regrets. He then ends his testimony by talking about how "parenting" is not gender-specific work. He makes an impassioned plea to keep his son, because he loves Billy as his father just as much as Joanna loves him as his mother. Unfortunately, Joanna's lawyer brings up the park injury and Ted losing his job, which makes him look incompetent. 
The trial goes the way you expect, and Joanna is awarded custody. When Ted meets with his lawyer, he is told that they can continue to fight, but would have to put Billy on the stand. Ted refuses to do that, knowing it would cause Billy to "choose" between the two people he loves. Ted reluctantly admits defeat. 

The second heart-breaking scene is when Ted has to tell Billy the verdict. By now the two have such a great relationship that Billy doesn't want to go. Billy can't control his emotions, and is blubbering all over the place talking about bed-time stories and breakfasts together and going to school. All the while Ted is trying to maintain his control, but you can tell that he is just as upset.

On the day Joanna has set to come and get Billy, he and Ted have one last breakfast together. In  wonderful symmetry, they make french toast, the same meal Ted butchered so badly the day after Joanna left. They are a team, now, and the french toast is made with style. Billy breaks down again, and Ted does, too.

I remember watching this film when I was in high school. I remember distinctly thinking that what Ted said was correct: that mothers are not innately better parents than fathers. Don't we all know this? I remember how some of my friends' fathers were more involved in their kids' lives than the mothers, and how in my specific case my father was just as caring as my mother was.

Kramer vs Kramer swept the Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman, Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, and Best Screenplay (Adapted Material). Justin Henry as Billy was the youngest performer ever nominated at that time. He lost Best Supporting Actor to Melvyn Douglas in Being There. I haven't ever seen that, but every time I see Kramer I think Henry should have won.

Kramer vs Kramer
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1979*
Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe
Written & Directed  by Robert Benton
Based on the book by Avery Corman 

This trailer actually has some of Ted's testimony about parenting. Very well edited trailer.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
All That Jazz
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
Norma Rae
What an odd assortment of nominees! I saw Apocalypse Now when it first came out because my father and brother wanted to see it. I think I enjoyed it more than they did, having read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I saw it again in college and liked it better. I never saw any of the other nominees until recently. I watched Norma Rae, which won Sally Field Best Actress. It's a great role for her, but not such a "great" film. I tried to watch All That Jazz, but having experienced some live theatre, I wasn't too keen to experience Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical film. And Breaking Away is a charming story about a group of young bicycle racers who want to "break away" from their small-town Indiana lives.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Deer Hunter (Best Picture 1978)

I always take notes while I watch these films. To prepare for these reviews I note the important plot points, because sometimes I don't have time to write reviews immediately after watching the film. I also note interesting scenes or I note something I may want to comment on here.

Here's what I wrote about the first 45 minutes of The Deer Hunter:
Friends work at a steel mill (PA?). Somebody (Stevie) is getting married. Stevie, Michael, and Nick are going to Viet Nam. 

Yes, that is the first 45 minutes.

I would like to write that The Deer Hunter is a fantastic 90 minute film about the US involvement in Viet Nam. It uses Russian Roulette as a symbolic representation of the conflict that the US could not hope to win. All of the characters are scarred by their participation, and these characters are brought to wonderful life by award-winning actors. The film runs at a breath-taking pace, with a steady Director holding the reigns on a production that bounces back and forth between Pennsylvania and Thailand (standing in for Viet Nam).

I would love to write that. And I truly believe that there is that film buried deep inside this film.

The Deer Hunter is a mess. It is a three hour film that meanders, like a tipsy old man, through Pennsylvania to Thailand (standing in for Viet Nam) and back again, babbling on about how Russian Roulette symbolizes the conflict (it hurts just to have to participate and nobody walks away unscathed). The actors do the best they can with the badly delineated characters, making us care about some of them in spite of the awful pacing and direction of the overall production.

Let me give you another reason this film is flawed. The movie takes 68 minutes to get through Steve's wedding and a hunting trip. Then suddenly we are in Viet Nam. Mike is somehow wounded at a VC village. He watches an enemy kill the whole village, so he fire-blasts them. Steve and Nick suddenly show up, and all are suddenly captured. So...the story and director feels obligated to show us an hour of drinking, wedding, and hunting, but we don't get one minute of how the guys are not in the same outfit, or how they came to be in the situation we find them in? I mean, come on. If you're going to argue that we need 68 minutes of scenes of their so-called normal lives, don't we deserve a few minutes of their Viet Nam situation? 
There are plenty of great scenes in this debacle. The scenes playing Russian Roulette in the VC POW camp are taut and powerful (although historically inaccurate). The helicopter rescue scene is breath-taking. Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro in their scenes are stunning. Christopher Walken portrays Nick, who is DeNiro's best friend and competent enough to survive on his own. When he is rescued but Steve and Mike are not, his guilt is over-powering and he ends up going AWOL. His scenes later in the movie are terrific, and he totally earned his Best Supporting Actor award.

If you are committed to watch this, just be ready to spend a looooong time at the Bingo game and at the Pennsylvania mill and at the wedding and at....

The Deer Hunter
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1978*
Produced by Michael Deeley, Michael Cimino, and John Peverall
Directed  by Michael Cimino
Screenplay by Michael Cimino, Deric Washburn,
Louis Garfinkle, and Quinn K. Redeker

Something about the trailer, no spaces between link and text

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Coming Home
Heaven Can Wait
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman
The race this year was between The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, two films about the Viet Nam War with wholly different points of view. Although Jon Voight and Jane Fonda won Best Actor and Best Actress for Coming Home, the film did not win Best Picture. Also nominated is the excellent Midnight Express, the story of Brad Davis spending years in a Turkish prison. An Unmarried Woman was another "independent woman" film that seemed to be so popular in the Seventies. And Heaven Can Wait is the "WTH?" film of the bunch, a sweet comedy romance starring Warren Beatty.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me

Funny, I don’t FEEL fifty.

When I was a kid in junior high and high school in the late Seventies I used to think that the year 2000 was SO far away. I couldn’t wait to move forward into the 21st Century….to turn sixteen…then eighteen…then twenty-one. Eventually, however, we entered the New Millennium and I turned into Jack Benny; I wanted to stop at age thirty-nine.

As a younger person did you ever look at a certain celebrities and think, “he’s old!” As a kid everybody is older than you, but some “look” older to you, right? And some never look their age. Jimmy Carter was 52 when he was elected US President in 1976. Tom Bosley was 47 when he started playing Howard Cunningham on TV’s “Happy Days” in 1974. And Julie Andrews was 29 when she won an Academy Award for “Mary Poppins” in 1964.

Speaking of age 29, traditionally that was the age of Superman, Batman, and Aquaman. DC Comics had announced that their heroes were in their late 20s because they didn’t want to break that psychological barrier of having them turn thirty. And when I turned 30, I actually stopped and realized, “Wow, I’m now older than Superman.”

Now I guess I’m as old (or nearly as old?) as Jonathan and Martha Kent, the foster parents of Superman! 
I always thought James Dean was young when he died at age 24. George Reeves, who portrayed Superman on TV, died when he was 45. Marilyn Monroe died too young at age 36. Robert Kennedy was murdered when he was 42. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was murdered when he was only 39 years old. Flo Ballard, one of the original Supremes, died at age 32.  Elvis died at age 42, but let’s face it, by that point his body was physically much older than that. Three years later John Lennon was murdered at age 40. Marvin Gaye was murdered when he was 44.
The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show Feb 9, 1964
And every time I surpassed these celebrities’ ages I thought, “Wow, I’m now older than (that celebrity) was when s/he died.”
Schwerner, Chaney, & Goodman, murdered June 21, 1964
Not to be maudlin, but is it natural to think about these things as you get older? Or am I just weird?

Closer to home, my paternal grand-mother died when my father was in high school. So she died relatively young. However, my paternal grand-father and maternal grand-parents all lived until they were quite old. My mother died last year at age 79, although my father is still alive at the same age. I’m the youngest of four kids, and my older brother and sisters are all still quite well. So it’s not like I’m exactly at Death’s door. I recently saw the movie “Annie Hall” and Woody Allen’s character went off on “fear of death” soliloquies twice in that film; his character was age 40. That isn’t me.
Shinkansen unveiled Oct 1, 1964!!

So here I am, looking at “the twilight” of my years. It’s been a great life, and hopefully I still have a lot more years of fun and friendship to enjoy. There are stories I want to tell, movies I want to watch, books I want to read, places I want to go. I realized years ago that I will never have the chance to do every single thing I wanted to do in or with my life. Don’t we all get *there*? But I relish every single day, and every experience, and I appreciate every one of you who are out there supporting me. Looking over my fifty years I don’t have any particular regrets. Although I’m reminded of the song “Jack & Diane” (Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone), I am also reminded that “it’s really been a wonderful life.”  I guess I’m pretty lucky to be able to balance that dichotomy.
If you’re reading this because you meant to (you’re not here by accident to read, say, a review of “The Deer Hunter”) then this is addressed to YOU: Your love and friendship has helped make my life worth living, and I appreciate you more than I can possibly say. Thank you for being there for part of my fifty years, and I look forward to many more adventures with you. Happy Birthday to Me gets a Thank You to You.

By the way, the reason I arbitrarily picked out Jimmy Carter, the late Tom Bosley, and Julie Andrews for my example above is because we all share the same birthday: today! 
Dr. MLK, Jr receiving Nobel Peace Prize Dec 10, 1964