Nana

My grandmother has never been a picture of health, especially over the past decade. There have been many days that looked to be her last, but she has always pulled through. When she went to into the hospital with abdominal pains this past Monday, I’m not sure why any of us thought this time would be any different. Her blood pressure dropped dangerously low on Wednesday, but the doctors continued administering pain medication and scheduled a number of tests for Wednesday. Still, for some reason we thought we should make the 90-minute trip to see her.

My mother, my wife, my son, and I piled into the car Wednesday night and drove to the hospital where my grandmother (I call her Nana, pronounced NAH-nuh) was staying, where my grandfather and aunt had been staying with her all day long. When we arrived and were allowed to enter the room—she was in a non-contagious unit, so Tater was allowed in—she was barely conscious. Tubes penetrated her arms, and some sort of medical contraption made its way into her body through her nose.

We spoke to her. She opened her eyes to see her nine-month-old great grandson smiling at her, and she smiled in return. She drifted back to sleep as nurses entered the room to perform a cryptically named and apparently grotesque-looking procedure, so we had to wait in the hall for about an hour. During that time, Grandad played with Tater. They both smiled and laughed and had a grand time. When we were finally allowed back into the room, Mrs. Happy, Tater, and I got to spend about fifteen minutes with her. She fought sleep so she could talk to us. She asked about specific issues in our lives and held my hand as I stood beside her bed. She was still in a great deal of pain, so we kissed her and left her to a blissful combination of sleep and morphine.

Wednesday morning, we received a phone call from my aunt saying that Nana had died during the night. By all accounts, she went peacefully and without pain, never having lost her wits. She had apparently been watching The History Channel when she passed (it was playing on her TV when we arrived at the hospital that morning, though out of respect I will refrain from any snarky comments about that).

There’s always a void in your life after the death of someone you love; the unique part of you that surfaced only in that person’s presence dies with them. There is grief, confusion, fear, hope and, when you believe in Heaven, joy. Family comes together in ways they never would otherwise, and sometimes relatives reconnect or forge new connections in the process. For my part, I’m thankful to God that I was able to see Nana and say good-bye before she died. I’m glad Tater got to see her and bring her a measure of happiness in her last hours. I’m happy she was able to know about another little one we’re expecting in February (more on that later), and that it made her smile as well. One of my fondest memories of Nana will always be how from her hospital bed she lifted a shaky hand to point at my pregnant wife and with supreme effort whisper, “How is she feeling?”

Nana and Grandad were married for 59 years. Grandad handled the affair with bravery, grace, and good humor, though it was obvious to everyone how hard he took his bride’s passing. Toward the end, she was elderly, feeble, and sometimes cranky, but I’m sure he didn’t see that. He saw the young girl he married within a year of returning from war. I love the fact that in a time when many people see marriage as expendable, my Grandad will tell anyone that he spent 59 years living with his best friend, and that he doesn’t regret one second. I can certainly identify with that.

Funny movies, according to me

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been busy, lazy, and uninspired. Somehow, though, MCF (as he so often does) has found a way to put a burr under my saddle, as we say in Texas. He made a list of what he considers to be the 20 funniest films of all time, and it is such a travesty I feel I must set the record straight.

First, a few disclaimers:

  • I hereby admit that humor is subjective, and that my sense of humor does not completely coincide with anyone’s, though there is bound to be some overlap.
  • I have never, even as a child, found The Three Stooges to be funny. I can respect the Marx Brothers and their pioneering ways, but I’ve never been able to sit through one of their films.
  • I love gross humor, but only if it makes sense. I thought There’s Something About Mary had some wonderful bits in it, but American Pie was trying a little too hard.
  • The easiest way to fake a sense of humor is to do a spoof. In general, spoofs hold no appeal for me. Airplane is the only film in this category that deserves even an honorable mention, unless you count Scream as a spoof. Scream was brilliant.
  • My list of “funniest” movies has less to do with how funny they are and more to do with how good they are.
  • My definition of “good” as it applies to any art is “something that stays with me for a long time, teaches me something, makes me think, and makes me want to watch it again.”
  • My list holds no particular number of movies and is in no particular order, but I have divided the movies into categories.
  • This list is not definitive. There are too many movies I haven’t seen, and in fact a number of them (six) are on MCF’s list.
  • My favorite movie ever is The Princess Bride, but I do not consider it a comedy. It transcends genre, though when pressed I call it a fairy tale.

Movies that probably no one but I would put on a list like this

Ishtar
I hesitate to include this film because 1) I haven’t seen it in nearly 20 years and 2) it is universally reviled. I saw it in high school, and I remember laughing hysterically. Granted, I was a teenager at the time and had the sensibilities of a teenage boy, but in my memory, Hoffman and Beatty were brilliant as Simon and Garfunkel wannabes to whom international espionage was a necessary evil in their quest to get their awful music heard. I want to see it again to see whether I’m remembering correctly, but it will probably never be released on DVD.

Addams Family Values
This film is the exception to the rule that sequels suck worse than the movies that spawned them. This follow-up to the mediocre original had an actual story to tell, three-dimensional characters who behaved consistently from beginning to end, brilliant one-liners, wonderful performances (I will never forget Christina Ricci’s “smile”), and hilarious situations that the Addamses breeze through with humor, passion, and a strangely morbid love of life.

Young Einstein
I have found in talking to people in the film business that great movies are not usually the ones that inspire. What makes most people get into films is seeing something of poor quality and thinking, “I could do better than that.” When I saw Young Einstein at the age of 20, I watched it no fewer than 15 times simply because Yahoo Serious has a sense of humor remarkably similar to my own, and an acting, writing, and directing abilities that are roughly equal to mine. If he can do it, I can do it.

Joe Versus the Volcano
I hated this movie when I saw it in the theater. Years later, I saw it again on video after I had worked for some time in a door factory. With that experience, I understood that JVtV was not the romantic comedy I had taken it for but rather a comic fairy tale written by someone who knew the feeling of losing your soul to a tedious job. It is not laugh-out-loud funny, but rather an internal, ho-ho, I-recognize-myself-in-that kind of funny.

Movies whose merit can be respectfully debated

Rushmore
Jason Schwarzman is perfect in his debut as an average high school student with aspirations of greatness. He lives and acts as if he has already achieved something, as if he’s capable of achieving anything, when in reality his earnest delusions affect people in ways true ability never could. I think this movie must be a guy thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who enjoyed or even understood it. I saw it with Mrs. Happy and a friend of hers, and they didn’t crack a smile from the titles to the credits. I, however, could barely catch my breath from laughing so hard and so constantly. It is the funniest, most heartfelt movie the Anderson/Wilsons trio has yet produced.

Dumb and Dumber
The Farrelly brothers know what’s funny, and this is freakin’ hilarious. Most people I talk to claim not to like it because “it’s stupid,” to which I reply, “You were expecting Shakespeare from a movie with this title?” For the record, the characters are ridiculously stupid, but the movie itself is wonderfully bright. If it were otherwise, the guys who sold a decapitated bird to a blind crippled boy, traded a van for a scooter, and tried to return lost luggage to Ms. Samsonite (they found her name imprinted on the suitcase) would have accepted the invitation of a bus full of supermodels at the end of the movie instead of directing them to a nearby town where they’d be sure to find a couple of guys happy to service them.

Blazing Saddles
No one thinks this movie isn’t funny. I include it in this category because all the profanity it contains lowers it slightly in my estimation. The censored TV version actually showed more wit and verve than the unedited theatrical release. Mel Brooks is not my favorite moviemaker. I think his films tend to contain more self-conscious parody and jokes-for-the-sake-of-jokes than original thought and storytelling. Blazing Saddles is an exception, as is Young Frankenstein, and both are among the funniest movies ever made.

The Cable Guy
Movies rarely admit that movie behavior is borderline psychotic. We all imitate what we see in the theater and on TV to some extent, but what happens when someone goes all the way and truly becomes the characters he idolizes? Jim Carrey show us in this film. It is dark and disturbing, yes, but highly entertaining and eye-opening. It didn’t do that well at the box office, but I think that was because people went in expecting another Ace Ventura and just didn’t get it.

Life Is Beautiful
Like real life, this is both comedy and tragedy. Roberto Benigni shows us what humor is for as he perseveres in an unbearable situation (a Nazi concentration camp) and saves his son’s life in more ways than one. No single movie has made me both laugh and cry as hard as this one. Some people object to it on grounds that the Holocaust is in no way funny. I agree, but I don’t think the movie makes light of suffering. It simply shows how one man mustered impossible levels of bravery and strength with his sense of humor and love for his family.

The absolute funniest movies I have ever seen, and any arguments to the contrary will have to be settled with fisticuffs

The Muppet Movie
Is there anything this movie doesn’t have? Wonderful songs, great characters, sharp dialog, brilliant jokes, celebrity cameos, a barely-there fourth wall, a ludicrous road-movie plot, and all those wonderful muppets.

This Is Spinal Tap
The mockumentary to end all mockumentaries and, ironically, the one that started them all. What I loved about Ishtar, Rushmore, and Dumb and Dumber was the exuberant earnestness of characters that had no business taking themselves as seriously as they did. That trait is embodied by every member of England’s loudest band, and delightfully so. It is full of amazing performances.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Every film requires its audience to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. The opening scene should let the audience know exactly what the rules are, and if the film is worth its salt it will stick to those rules. The first character we see in THG is King Arthur pretending to ride a horse, and he is followed by a stooped servant clacking two empty halves of coconuts to make a horse-clomping noise. So we know it’s a movie where ridiculous things will occur. But then the first bit of dialog has another character questioning where he managed to find a coconut in Britain’s temperate zone, so we know that the main characters are the ridiculous ones, and others are more sensible. The line between farce and nonsense is razor-thin. Many have tried to walk it, and most have failed pathetically. It has always been the Pythons’ strength. The Holy Grail is the pinnacle of their comedic achievement.

Raising Arizona
The Coen brothers are masters of their craft. How they came up with the idea for this movie is something I’ll never understand, because it’s not something that can really be explained. Their pitch for the studio had to be something like, “Okay, there’s this guy who’s a chronic convenience store robber, and he falls in love with the female cop who takes his mug shot every time he gets arrested. They get married and set up home in a trailer in Tempe, Arizona. They’re devastated when they find out they can’t have children, so when the local bigwig furniture dealer has quintuplets, they decide to kidnap one and raise it as their own, figuring the family won’t be too upset since they have four others just like him. And that’s the opening sequence.” The characters speak in a sort of redneck, high-brow poetry that seems not only natural but preferable to regular speech. The visuals are stunning. Certain camera movements are nothing short of breathtaking. The scene where John Goodman and his younger brother try to rob a bank is one of the funniest scenes in the history of cinema. It’s not often one can describe a comedy as “stunning.” In fact, there may be only one that can be described as such. This is the one.