Lighter Fare: A Dozen Great Movies You May Not Have Seen

Taking a break from preparedness and politics...in case you’re in the mood for something different this Friday night, here are a few movies you may not have seen. Some are old, some foreign and some just obscure. I've tried to give you some idea as to the "family friendliness" of each. In alphabetical order:

The African Queen (1951)—Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are at their best in this John Huston film. Set in Africa during WWI, Hepburn plays a missionary and Bogart a coarse riverboat captain who get thrown together fleeing the jungle and attacking Germans. A great blend of drama, comedy and adventure. Family friendly.

Amelie (2001)—(French) If you’re like me, this movie will just paste a big smile across your face. Though Audrey Tautou took an unfortunate turn starring in The DaVinci Code, she is nonetheless a charming actress and the closest to a modern Audrey Hepburn in film today. Amelie is just magical filmmaking, typical of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Sadly, this being a French film, there is some minimal but unnecessary nudity and sexual content which make it inappropriate for pre-teens. If you like Tautou, check out He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, a fun movie with a great twist.

The Apostle (1997)—Robert Duvall wrote, directed, funded and starred in this challenging film. His character is a Southern Pentecostal preacher who finds out his wife is having an affair and knocks the offending man into a coma. He then goes on the run, changes his name, wrestles with God and himself. What I like about this movie is that it portrays Believers accurately, “warts and all.” Believers are flawed people striving to grow in a real relationship with a real God. Check it out. Family friendly and likely to spur conversation.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)—Cary Grant stars in Frank Capra’s excellent film-adaptation of the popular stage play. Grant plays a normal man who discovers that his sweet, churchgoing aunts are poisoning transients who come to stay at their room for rent. As the hilarious plot unfolds, he begins to realize that he is surrounded by madness and begins to question his own sanity. Family friendly.

Brazil (1985)—Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame has directed a number of movies, all strange and many quite good. Brazil is a black comedy set in a totalitarian state in the not-too-distant future where bureaucracy reigns supreme. Starring Jonathan Pryce with a cast of other familiar faces, including Robert DeNiro, Brazil is about a simple bureaucrat who dreams of freedom and love and unwittingly becomes an enemy of the state. There is nothing too objectionable here, but the sheer bizarreness might cause younger viewers some distress. I haven’t included it in this list, because I think it was much more popular, but Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is a must-see. Go rent that first if you haven’t seen it.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)—Screwball comedy at its best, this movie barely stops for a breath. Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant star in this fast-paced caper as a free-spirited heiress and an uptight paleontologist who end up entangled in pursuit of a dinosaur bone and a leopard, “Baby”, on the loose with many misadventures and romance ensuing. Family friendly.

Charade (1963)—Though it looks and feels like a Hitchcock film, it’s not. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), this thriller stars Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant with Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy supporting. When the husband of Hepburn’s character dies under mysterious circumstances, she discovers that she didn’t really know her husband and now has to figure out who she can trust as a whole host of characters are looking for money she knows nothing about. Though this movie is primarily a thriller, they throw in enough humor and romance to please a broad audience. Family friendly for the most part with a couple of briefly disturbing scenes.

Chungking Express (1994)—(Cantonese/Mandarin) The talented Wong Kar Wai directed this fun but odd little movie. The plot is simple and convoluted at the same time, but it is more an experience than a story with delightful visuals and quirky characters. The film is split into two somewhat parallel stories about two different cops in Hong Kong, one of whom is mourning the breakup of a relationship and longing to be re-united with his love, the other is an oblivious cop who’s caught the eye of an impish deli clerk who manages to get the cop’s apartment key and redecorate his home. (Note: Quentin Tarantino was responsible for getting this film distributed in the U.S. but it lacks his characteristic brutality. The great cinematography and direction were the appeals, no doubt.) Family friendly but probably won’t appeal to kids.

Delicatessen (1991)— (French) An early film by Amelie director Jeunet, this black comedy is a hilarious look at a post-apocalyptic world where cannibalism isn’t quite as taboo as it used to be. Lots of fun visuals and the typical menagerie of quirky characters that frequent Jeunet’s work…it’s just a hoot. Not family friendly (again, it’s French) but nothing graphic or overly offensive. Much is left to your chuckling imagination. If you like Jeunet's work, also rent The City of Lost Children.

Never Cry Wolf (1983)—A great movie to watch when the mercury’s spiked and the A/C’s out. This movie is so engrossing and Arctic, it will make you cold. This movie, directed by Carroll Ballard, is the true story of Farley Mowat, a researcher sent to northern Canada to study the threat of wolves against other species. He does this alone, dropped off by plane in the middle of the tundra with a pile of gear and provisions. Though the reviews of this film tend to concentrate on this man’s growing understanding of the wolves and their integral part in the tundra ecosystem, it’s also a fascinating look at a man trying to make it on his own under extreme circumstances. It is a quiet, beautifully shot film. Family friendly.

Run Lola Run (1998)—(German) Directed by Tom Tykwer and starring Franka Potente, this adrenalin-infused movie plays like a long, very good music video. It’s essentially a day in the life of a couple of young, German punks played out three different ways, with tiny decisions changing the way each day unfolds and determining the fates of the characters. If you like this, The Princess and the Warrior is another Tykwer/Potente film that is engrossing, though slower-paced. RLR should be OK for junior high on up. TP&W is not appropriate for youth.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)—I love the gaslight era and, though not based on an actual Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, this film does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of that time and speculating on the young lives of Holmes, Watson and other Doyle characters. It was directed by Barry Levinson, written by Chris Columbus and produced by Steven Spielberg with impressive special effects done by Industrial Light and Magic. It is a great adventure and mystery movie with a nice dash of romance thrown in. Family friendly but will be too scary for young children.

If you can’t find one at your video store, let me know and I’ll loan it to you. If you've seen any and enjoyed them, drop me a comment. Thanks!


Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part III

Now that we’ve looked at storing water and food and equipping yourself with supplies and materials, let’s address Strategies and other considerations for staying put. While it’s not possible to prepare specifically for every eventuality, here are some things you can do:

Pray—“What?!” you may be asking. Yep, pray. Pray for peace and joy from God in preparation for, and in the midst of, hard times. Pray that He would help you to be wise and frugal and diligent in planning, like Joseph in Egypt. Pray that He would give you discernment in knowing how to help others. Pray.

Lay low—Unless you have boundless surplus and your neighbors are prepared as well, be discrete about your stores. Don’t flaunt your cases of MREs or your firearms to the maintenance man. Don’t have a huge barbecue on your back porch, letting the smell waft through the neighborhood. Don’t leave your blinds up at night and let the world see your generator-powered lights and fans cooling you on a hot evening. Lay low. The less you expose yourself, the less likely someone is to see you as a jackpot.

Be a good neighbor—This is basic Christianity but can pay great dividends during difficult times. Be considerate of your neighbors (e.g. keep your music down), try to settle disputes peacefully and look for opportunities to go the extra mile. I recently gave each of my neighbors “shaker” flashlights, and I plan to do something similar each season. My wife baked cookies once for a neighbor we’d been having problems with, and this simple gesture seemed to work wonders. In the city, people keep to themselves, but try to at least get to know your neighbors by name.

Acquire skills—There are numerous things you can learn now that will benefit you in times of crisis. Learn how to start a fire without matches or a lighter. Learn how to make questionable water drinkable. Learn how to proficiently operate any gear you buy, including firearms. Learn First Aid and CPR. Get a HAM radio license and know how to use your rig. The list is endless and can and should be a lifelong quest. Few of us are SpecOps soldiers trained in surviving in any environment and across different cultures, but we can make the effort to always be learning something new.

Network—I don’t mean schmooze or get together with folks for the sake of sales. I mean network with like-minded people before hard times hit. Share resources and knowledge. Do group buys, if you’d like. Talk about preparedness with your friends and agree to band together and come to one another’s aid should the need arise. You may find that one family has a marksman and a small arsenal while another may have a garage where you can store fuel while yet another may have EMT training. Churches are great places to make these connections.

Inventory—Make inventories of your material supplies. This will help you rotate your perishables and let you (and your family) know what you have. It will also help you identify areas of need that you can address the next time you see a sale on canned soups, batteries, etc. Also, store operational manuals or write one up for items that may not be familiar to others in your household.

Prepare your family—Talk to them about your plans. Let them know what you have, where it’s located and how it works. I recently pulled out my FRS/GMRS radios and played with them with my family to re-familiarize myself and them with their use. I let my toddler help me unpack my “get out of town” bags and repack them, updating my inventory. There is a sense of security and stability that you impart to your loved ones when they know that in the event of A, B, C or D, you’ll be just fine.

Plan ahead—While you can’t prepare for a direct comet strike on your neighborhood, you can think about what you’d do in the event of a tornado (head to the basement or windowless room on a lower level), a riot (lock your doors, cover your windows, arm yourself), a blizzard (make yourself cozy), etc. How will you handle using the toilet with no power or running water? How can you cook that meat in your freezer that’s going to spoil? What disasters could you not stay put for? (Flooding and garden apartments do not mix.) Part of that planning includes thinking about how you’ll...

Know when to leave—Civil authorities may give you some guidance regarding evacuation, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide. If a dirty bomb were to go off in Chicago and mass panic spread through the city, there would likely be an initial spurt of evacuations followed by massive gridlock on a scale we’ve never seen. With typical prevailing winds, most of the city would probably be completely unaffected by the attack unless they decided to jump in their cars and get stuck in traffic like everyone else. In many circumstances, it may be wise to wait a day or two for the initial evacuation problems to subside then make your way out of the city. And there may be some circumstances where you know, for whatever reason, that you need to get out of town before problems even start or begin to escalate.

While we’ll take a brief intermission for some lighter fare, we will pick up shortly thereafter with a continuation of Building Tangible Margin and a look at Heading Out.


Building Tangible Margin: Staying Put, Part II

In the last post, we looked at storing water and food for staying put in the event of an emergency. Here we will look at Tools & Materials.

[It should be noted that we are looking at short-term survival—roughly four days to two weeks. While long-term preparedness may be addressed here in the future, the fact is that most people don’t even have the basics for the short-term. Once those basics are in place, you can build towards self-sufficiency for a month, six months and beyond. Many of the principles and tools are the same, regardless of the time you’re looking at, but you’re obviously not going to need a hand-powered grain mill for four-day survival, so keep that in mind.]

This is a basic “What You Need” list. If you live in places that are earthquake or flood-prone, you may need some specialized items like hardhats or a small boat. While I have Chicago-area residents in mind, these core basics should serve anyone well:

Radio—Stay informed. While the Web, TV and telephone may be available, don’t count on it. Assume your power will be out and get a good crank-powered radio with battery backup. Eton/Grundig radios are solid choices and can be had in both AM/FM/Weather/TV (FR300) and AM/FM/SW (FR200) configurations, with the former being preferable in most situations. A cheaper option with fewer features is the crank-powered AM/FM/Weather radio from Jensen/Emerson, the MR550.

Corded phone and/or cell phone—If you haven’t gone completely wireless, a traditional corded phone can be valuable if the power goes out. Your cordless phone won’t work, but a corded phone may since the telephone network is separate from the power grid. A cell phone can be valuable if charged or you have a means of charging available. Not the best choice, as they are unreliable on a typical day and the cells can be easily overwhelmed during an emergency, but worth maintaining if you have one.

First Aid Kit (FAK)—This should be as fundamental as smoke detectors or fire extinguishers in each home but is all the more important during a time of crisis. Buy the best kit you can afford but avoid equipping yourself with tools you can’t use. A field surgery kit may sound good, but you’ll do more harm than good if you don’t know how to use it. If you take prescription meds, be sure to include an emergency supply. If you have small children Ipecac syrup and activated charcoal should be on hand for poisonings. Watch the expiration dates on meds but know that they are very conservative and, if stored in a dark, cool place, likely have a longer shelf-life than indicated. A good thermometer, basic sphygmomanometer (“b.p. cuff”) and stethoscope are good additions to your FAK and not generally included with most kits, though be sure you learn how to use them to take vitals beforehand. Lastly, if you live in a large urban area or downwind from a nuclear power plant, you should have a supply of potassium iodide (KI). It is not to be used lightly but, taken correctly in the event of a radiological disaster, can prevent one of the most common problems from radiation exposure, thyroid cancer.

Lights—Your choices for lighting are endless. Minimally, it’s a good idea to have some type of area lighting (e.g. lanterns or candles) and some type of directional lighting (e.g. flashlights or headlamps). If you opt for flame-based light sources, be sure you can use them safely, have adequate ventilation and redundant means to light them. Lights using electric bulbs can give you dramatically longer life if they have LED bulbs rather than traditional bulbs. LEDs have the added advantage of being almost indestructible. A flashlight or headlamp per person is a good idea.

Batteries—Whether for flashlights, radios or Game Boys for the kids, a good supply of batteries is important. For short-term survival, bulk alkalines are a good, economical way to go. Lithiums are more expensive but have a longer shelf-life (10 years). If you have a means to recharge them (solar most likely), rechargeable batteries can be a very good investment, particularly for longer-term scenarios and everyday use. It’s a good idea to standardize your batteries as much as possible, keeping yourself to two or three common types (AA, AAA, D, etc.).

Blankets and heating—Imagine you’re staying put during a blizzard and your heat goes out. You may need two or three times the blankets you normally use to stay warm. Chemical hand-warmers work well, and are particularly good to store in automobiles, but you’d have to stockpile an awful lot of them to keep a family warm for several days. Heavy blankets, particularly wool, are very good insulators and should be your primary means of retaining heat. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, store wood or coal and keep it dry. Another option is a propane powered heater. There are some with oxygen sensors that will shut the unit off if oxygen gets too low, such as the Heater Buddy, but they all must be used in ventilated areas and kept away from children and flammables. Most take the one pound propane canisters and some can be connected to the grill-style 20 pound tanks. Other materials good for heat retention are…

Duct tape and plastic sheeting—These are recommended by the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. primarily for nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) emergencies to seal windows and doors. This may be effective for the short term, but do not seal up the doors and windows of a small room and expect to survive for a week there. Unless you live in an old drafty building, you will likely suffocate eventually. Duct tape is endlessly useful, however, and the combination of tape and sheeting is good for sealing windows during cold weather.

Stove—If you lack the gas or electricity to operate your stove/oven/microwave, a free-standing, compact stove can be a valuable asset. While most of the emergency food you have (the stuff you stocked up on after reading the last blog post :) does not require heating, many of the staples available in your fridge, freezer and cupboards do. And a hot can of soup that could be eaten cold offers invaluable benefits on a cold winter evening. If your budget allows, a propane camp stove (with lots of spare fuel) can be a very good solution. Cheaper options include small hibachi grills, Sterno cans and pocket stoves with fuel tabs, e.g. Esbit. As with all flame-based heat and light, use proper ventilation and keep it away from flammables and children.

Sanitation supplies—Assuming you already have water stored, you already have some level of sanitation available. To help stretch your water supply, baby wipes and alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful. Toilet paper will be appreciated by everyone and a means of “using the toilet” would be good. Depending on your plumbing and electrical situation, you may or may not be able to use your toilet as you normally do. For hygienic and aesthetic reasons, it’s wise to have a backup. Liquid waste can probably be captured with a bag or bucket and poured down a sink drain. A 5 gallon bucket with a tight-fitting lid, double-lined with plastic bags, can serve well as a backup toilet, particularly if you put a Luggable Loo or similar toilet seat atop it. There are chemical toilet treatments that can be sprinkled over the waste to keep the odor down; cat litter or a small amount of bleach will work too. Sanitary napkins/tampons should be stored as well.

Basic tools—If you’re handy at all, you probably have basic tools already. If not, you can outfit yourself fairly inexpensively with a pre-assembled toolkit. At minimum, you’ll want a claw hammer, flathead and Phillips screwdrivers, slip-joint pliers, needle-nose pliers, adjustable wrench, tape measure and a utility knife. Beyond that, a socket wrench set, Allen/hex head wrench set, hand saw, hack saw, hand-powered drill, staple gun, etc. (look around for potential needs for special tools) are valuable additions. An assortment of hardware is a good idea as well—basic roofing nails, wood screws, bolts and matching nuts, wire, cord and rope.

Home security tools—Good locks are important. You may have little control over this if you live in an apartment but, if you have the option, good locks are your first line of defense. Peep holes on any door to your home or apartment that doesn’t have a window are valuable, as well, and actually required in apartments, though many landlords neglect this. An alarm system is great but may not function for an extended period with no power. Door chains are nearly worthless and should be replaced with much sturdier swing bar door guards. A determined intruder will only be slowed by these obstacles, however, necessitating two tools—a powerful, reliable flashlight (I recommend SureFire or similar) to insure that your intruder is not a desperate friend seeking shelter/food/water/safety and a firearm to dissuade an intruder with malevolent intent. The latter is not for everyone, but far more effective than any other option. If you are not willing to learn and safely maintain a firearm, or a legally prohibited from doing so, you’ll need to go the baseball bat/crowbar/pepper spray route. Feel free to contact me for specific home security firearm recommendations if you’d like, or visit the blog Plinkers and read the “Buying Your First Gun” post.

Advanced tools—These are devices that are either specialized or expensive and not something I would recommend for everyone or things I can necessarily afford myself. Nonetheless, they can be invaluable. First, a generator is an invaluable tool and very important if you have a member of your household who relies on electrical medical devices or refrigerated supplies. They are generally expensive, noisy and require fuel, however. A good investment if you own your own home. Not worthwhile if you live in an apartment. Second, a CB or HAM radio. The former is less expensive, requires less skill but also has a limited range. The latter requires an FCC license, a fair amount of skill and a bit of an investment for a good setup but can be a great way to communicate with friends, family and emergency personnel over great distances. A more limited option than both of these would be FRS/GMRS radios for local communications. GMRS requires an FCC license.

In the next installment of Building Tangible Margin, we'll look at Strategies for staying put.