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Great Odes to the Open Road

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Oh, but the tug of the open road is contagious. We’re draw to the uncertainty, the adventure and the promise of new experiences. Any number of artists and ordinary souls have been inspired to share this excitement. These are some of my favorite examples.

ON THE ROAD

For many, Jack Kerouac’s classic story of wondering and wandering is the last word on road trips. It’s a marvel of stream-of-consciousness writing. “On the Road” perfectly conveys the intoxicating, surreal, gritty, dangerous sexiness of hitting the open road.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a road trip and found myself warbling Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” It has such a pleasing lilt and sense of movement. Road trips may be grueling sometimes, but they usually start off happy.

MIDNIGHT RUN

Here’s an action movie comedy, featuring odd couple Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. DeNiro is a bounty hunter bringing in a mob accountant, played by Grodin, who has skipped bail. Like many great tales of the road, it’s a journey of transformation – in this case, with guns, punches and comedic slow burns.

TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY

Toward the end of his life, the great John Steinbeck directed his magnificent reporting skills and humanity to a cross-country road trip. He and his dog, Charley, traveled the highways and byways in an RV. Through brief interactions and keen observations, he painted an insightful picture of postwar America. Some critics have questioned his journalistic accuracy, but the power of his writing is unassailable.

ROADFOOD

In a way, road trips are just an excuse to search for the best slice of banana cream pie or the best plate of cheese fries. Jane and Michael Stern dug deep into the heart and soul of America’s glorious greasy spoons and dreamy diners for this gem. On a personal note, I found the best banana cream pie, ever, while traveling a mountain road in Montana.

TRAIL JOURNALS

For more than a decade, Trail Journals (www.trailjournals.com) has provided a digital home for hundreds of thousands of photographs and pieces of writing by long distance hikers around the country. The Appalachian Trail is prominent here, but there are many other trails represented, as well. The best trail journals are utterly engrossing. They tell stories of beautiful vistas, animal encounters, physical hardship, budding friendships and deep, solitary thought – all unfolding day by day.

THE FUGITIVE

I loved everything about this old TV show from the 1960s. The variety of locales, the gritty narration by William Conrad, the central storyline of a guy on the lam from the law for a murder he didn’t commit. Mostly, I loved David Janssen’s low-key, understated hero. After four seasons, “The Fugitive” ended with one of the most satisfying finales in TV history.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT

Hundreds of films since 1934 have attempted to recapture the chemistry and romance of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night.” It’s a silly story about an heiress and a newshound making their way across the country during the Great Depression, but it’s sheer bliss. Witty banter, funny supporting characters and a classic hitchhiking scene. For a different sort of road story from the Depression, there’s …

THE GRAPES OF WRATH

We return to Steinbeck for one of the great American novels. “The Grapes of Wrath” follows a family searching for work and dignity as they flee from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Instead, they encounter greed, poverty and indignity. It’s a harrowing journey, one that strips individuals down to their core beliefs and little else. I’ll never forget reading this book for the first time and thinking about the pure poetry of a human being deciding who and what he is.

Now let’s go a bit beyond the reach of the American road.

THE AMAZING RACE

This show actually IS amazing. You want to test a marriage/friendship/relationship? Send people halfway around the world in the middle of the night and ask them to go from the airport to some out-of-the-way local landmark as fast as they can without killing each other. It exposes every hidden grudge and emotional sore spot before the first commercial break. Want to have your mind blown? Imagine your parents as contestants.

THE WIZARD OF OZ

Best. Road. Ever.

DANCING MATT

Matt Harding, also known as “Dancing Matt,” has recorded a series of videos of himself doing a crazy, happy dance in dozens of countries around the world. Millions of people have watched these videos and been charmed by the simple joy of a goofy, global dance. That’s what I call a great road trip.

So tell me, what are your favorite road trips from pop culture?

Color My Black & White World

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Sometimes a dash of color makes all the difference. That’s never more true than when a black and white movie mixes in a splash of red, blue or yellow to heighten the emotion or present a bit of handy symbolism. Naturally, I have a few favorites.

PLEASANTVILLE (1998)

“Pleasantville” is an underrated film with a great cast that includes Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tobey Maguire, Jeff Daniels, Reese Witherspoon and J.T. Walsh. Two teens are transported to the world of a black and white TV sitcom. As the locals experience strong emotions – love, creativity, desire – they burst into color. It’s also a story about conformity, prejudice, fascism and fear.

RUMBLE FISH (1983)

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rumble Fish” is a surreal swirl of testosterone and youthful disillusionment. At a key moment it offers a tiny slice of color: blue and red fighting fish that Mickey “Motorcycle Boy” Rourke frees from a pet store.

SIN CITY (2005)

Rarely have random bits of color exploded and popped with the ferocity they do in “Sin City.” It’s a comic book adaptation, and the colors reflect a dazzling, hyper-stylized sensibility. They’re perfectly matched to the dynamic, black and white performances of Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Clive Owen and Mr. Mickey Rourke.

WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)

Bruno Ganz plays an angel who dreams of seeing the world in color and experiencing life as a mortal. He gets his wish after he falls in love and falls to Earth. This Wim Wenders film is a personal favorite of mine, and the transfer from black and white to color is amazing.

SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

One of the great films of the past few decades. Steven Spielberg’s story from the Holocaust includes a couple of emotionally devastating scenes featuring a little girl in a red coat. We see her walking in one scene; later, we see the red coat in a pile of bodies. No dialogue, just a haunting image.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945)

This is Oscar Wilde’s famous story of a young man who wishes that his portrait would age, but he himself wouldn’t. Years pass, and the portrait absorbs all of Dorian Gray’s physical age and moral depravity. The 1945 black and white version boasts a pair of color sequences featuring the portrait itself. I love how the use of color here is both beautiful and garish.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

A good case can be made that the scene in which Dorothy emerges from black and white Kansas and steps into the colorful land of Oz is the best special effect in movie history. It is stunning, even disorienting, in the way it instantly takes us to another realm. Here’s a shout-out to the boys in The Lollipop Guild.

I’ll bet there are a few good ones I’ve missed. Drop me a line and add them to The List!

25 Great Movie Exit Lines

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Like the last bite of pie or the end of a great novel, the final line of a movie can be a beautiful thing. It sends you on your way satisfied and just a little sorry the experience is over. Here are some of my favorites.

SHANE (1953)

“Shane! Come back! Bye, Shane.”

As you might guess, this line is shouted by a little boy as gunslinger Shane rides off in the distance, never to return. Is the kid’s plaintive cry annoying? Yes. But it absolutely works because you know how he feels; you feel the same way.

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

“There’s no place like home.”

In a timeless classic full of timeless lines, this is one of the best. Corny, but great.

THE CANDIDATE (1972)

“What do we do now?”

Here, the final sentence of the film is also the whole point of the story. It’s as true now as it was in ’72.

BABE (1995)

“That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

This oddly beguiling movie, full of fun, fantasy and food for thought, ends in the perfect way: A heartfelt affirmation between a man and his pig.

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972)

“Attention, gonads, we’re going for a record.”

Unquestionably, the winner of the “Unlikeliest Final Words of a Movie” sweepstakes. Also, the best pairing of Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds EVER.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956)

“You’re next!”

By the time Kevin McCarthy gets all up in your grill with this warning, the movie already has worked its terrifying mojo. Be sure to check the basement for pods before bed.

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

“After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Confession time, folks. This makes the List for me not because I love it, but because I’ve always been amazed at the nerve it took to end such a sprawling, high-profile film this way. Kind of like the end of “The Sopranos.”

APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

“The horror. The horror.”

Nothing is easy about “Apocalypse Now” – not the lighting, not the sound, not the surreal dialogue. Yet the cumulative power of the whole experience, including the final words, is immense.

THE SEARCHERS (1956)

“Let’s go home, Debbie.”

What’s remarkable about this ending is that you’d never have predicted it.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)

“As you wish.”

The great Peter Falk delivers the goods with a perfect twinkle in his eye. I have serious questions about anyone who doesn’t like this movie.

THE PRODUCERS (1968)

“We open in Leavenworth Saturday night!”

A zany movie HAS to end with a big punchline. Thanks Mel. Thanks Zero. Thanks Gene.

THE PLAYER (1992)

“Traffic was a bitch.”

The biting satire of this last line wraps up the movie in a sarcastic little bow.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Matched with the visual of Gloria Swanson in full nutjob mode, the final line is wonderfully creepy.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

“He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”

This one’s kind of a cheat, because of the incredible source material. It doesn’t get better than Harper Lee.

ARMY OF DARKNESS (1993)

“Hail to the king, baby.”

I love this line. It’s got that Elvis-kicks-an-alien’s-ass-in-the-parking-lot kind of vibe, just like the rest of the film.

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Fittingly, this has become one of Clint Eastwood’s many iconic lines. It’s both spare and ironic.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

“Well, nobody’s perfect!”

How do you finish one of the wittiest, most absurd blockbusters in film history? With a line that’s witty and absurd, naturally.

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999)

“Goodnight, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England.”

Hokey, to be sure, but you have to admit this recurring line has a certain lilt.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

In this case, the last words pull double duty. They need to leave you wanting to see the sequel. Mission accomplished, Doc.

KING KONG (1933)

“It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Who knew Fay Wray could have this kind of effect?

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)

“Nice to meet you. I’m Autumn.”

Of course this is the last line of this smart little movie. How could it not be?

THE APARTMENT (1960)

“Shut up and deal.”

Looking back at this one through the lens of “Mad Men,” the end line is exquisite – all about longings that find their expression in loaded language.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

“I hope.”

I could listen to Morgan Freeman’s concluding narration a hundred times. Oh, wait. I already have.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

“And we’ll go on forever, Pa, cause we’re the people.”

What’s important to me is that even though the film ends much differently than Steinbeck’s brilliant novel, it still carries the same message of faith in human perseverance against all odds.

CASABLANCA (1942)

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Does that line sing or what? Not only is it true to Bogie’s character, it pretty well sums up a whole generation of tough, duty-driven people. Compared to “Casablanca,” most movie exit lines aren’t worth a hill of beans.

That’s my two cents, ladies and gents. Feel free to add yours.