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Showing posts from May, 2010

Faith in Film

In 1839, English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase "The pen is mightier than the sword." That is as true today as it was then.
Ideas are a powerful force, and when wielded correctly can be a tremendous force for change. Physical oppression for most is difficult, but ideological oppression becomes unbearable. It was, in part, because of ideological oppression that our Founding Fathers rebelled against England, creating America.
Today, ideas continue to flow freely through all our art forms, including mainstream movies, songs, and TV shows. Sometimes those ideas are inane, sometimes they are meant to convey a view of the world the creators hope to share. But the hard part is, I think that often people don't realize the ideas being presented to them.
When you learn to open your eyes to what is being presented, you see film in a different way. Even ideas that don't conform to your view of the world can have a powerful effect in your life if they cause you to thi…

Bigger Than Two

Each week I'm fortunate to get a little information about the sermon in advance as part of being on staff. Usually, for me, this is a chance to think about it, absorb it, and reflect on the topic throughout the week. I'm the kind of person that likes to marinate in ideas for a few days before I really form an opinion or figure out how to apply it.
Of course, all the marination in the world doesn't really help you to grasp concepts in a marriage series when you're not yet married. However, I was thinking about the concept of "Bigger Than 2" during the week and on Saturday afternoon, when I made my weekly (or more) trek to the theater.
Of course the big new release this week is the worldly "Sex and the City 2." And it was about as self-absorbed and shallow as I expected. But I was struck by the fact that, during a week when we were talking about how to be bigger than two in marriage, that topic was the same one Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) was…

God's Creation

I have never been much of an animal rights activist. I respect animals, but I guess I never really thought about all the abuse that goes on in the world around us and our responsibility, as Christians, to address that.
Until recently.
A few months ago I watched the documentary "The Cove." The film was about the abuse, torture, mutilation, and murder committed in Japan each year against dolphins. Some of the dolphins are used for meat, others sold to museums, but regardless of the end destination the torture and abuse the animals suffer is unconscionable. Watching the hidden camera footage was startling and certainly gave me a few moments of pause.
I have been thinking about that film ever since, but I didn't really know what to think about it. Then last week I watched another documentary, "Food, Inc." The film is about our food process, and some of the abuses we are all suffering as a result of the way the food process has been manipulated in this country. Though …

Last Second Heroics

Last year, in the Western Conference Finals, Trevor Ariza made a couple big plays that were enough for the Los Angeles Lakers to squeeze by the Denver Nuggets on the way to an NBA Championship.
The Lakers rewarded Ariza by letting him go to the Houston Rockets, instead opting to sign Rockets forward Ron Artest. Artest has a checkered history. He's a bit aloof, and he's been involved in some of the game's ugliest moments, including a major role in the melee that occurred at the palace at Auburn Hills between Artest's Indiana Pacers and the host Detroit Pistons.
And it's fair to say that Artest has had an interesting run during these NBA playoffs. His shooting has been marginal, his defense has slipped and there have been a number of times when critics have openly questioned his ability to help the Lakers reach the NBA Finals again.
Thursday night was one of those times. Artest was 1-for-8 shooting, including a pair of bone-headed misses that had allowed the Phoenix Sun…

Now Playing

It was a weak week at theaters. Forgive the double wording, but the lack of creativity and depth in this week's releases has sapped my own creativity... Let the horror begin.

MacGruber Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Powers Boothe, Val Kilmer, and Ryan Phillippe Quick Take: Based on a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, this movie is about 90 minutes too long. It's total run time is 99 minutes. There are probably nine minutes worth of jokes if I'm being optimistic, the rest is pretty bad. And, to spice it up, the writing team — Forte and a pair of other SNL scribes — decided to veer into hard R territory because swearing, violence, and nudity always make up for gaps in a story... Two summers ago when I reviewed "Tropic Thunder" I gave the film four stars despite the fact the Jack Black segments were in poor taste. The rest of the film was funny enough to make up for it. With "MacGruber," it's like 99 minutes of Jack Black segments with a couple…

Summer films

It is a common misconception that the only thing that plays during the summer are blockbuster action films. While the blockbuster action films — sometimes known as event films or tent pole films — get a lot of the publicity, they really comprise one of five types of films released during the summer season.
As with most things in life, movie producers seek to foster diversity. That's true in the summer too. As a result, there are basically five types of films released during the summer. The most well known are blockbuster films, which can include comic book films, epic adventures, or straight up action flicks.
But there are always other options. Each year a host of comedies — most of the ridiculous and guy-oriented are released. Occasionally you get gems like "The Hangover," but most of the time you get things like the recently released "MacGruber." Ditto for cartoons. Sometimes you get winners — "Wall-E" and "Up" were both summer films. Someti…

Game Changers

There are really five critical junctures during a television season. First is the season premier, which gets the season kicked off and sets the path. Next come the sweeps periods. These are periods where the ratings are measured and the worth of a network's programming is determined by audience size. The networks respond to these times by pulling out all the stops.
Each year in November, February and May, characters undergo trials. This is the time of year when pregnancies, deaths, personal crisis and other trials come to all our favorite characters. But all of that pales in comparison to the final mile marker for the season — the season finale.
The season finale has to accomplish a lot, so writer's are under a tremendous amount of pressure. The finale has to be memorable, it has to tie up all the storylines from throughout the season, and it has to build the excitement for the show to a fever pitch until it returns in the fall. That's why so many writers proudly explain the…

The End of LOST

On Sunday, the end of an era of television came as LOST aired its series finale. By now it's clear that heavily serialized dramas like LOST aren't in fashion, which is fine because no series ever really managed to capture the elements that made LOST special. Some of those elements were on display Sunday night.
I have been hooked on the show since Sept. 22, 2004, when it premiered with a pilot that introduced us to a handful of great characters through one of the most unique television spectacles in history. There were so many questions, and it was clear the show as going to take viewers on a journey unlike anything they'd experienced before.
And it did.
But LOST wasn't always great. There were times — OK almost all the time — when it didn't make sense. There were weird plot twists, a lot of weird theology, and a number of mysterious plot devices that just sort of disappeared. And, of course, despite all the build up for the final season many of those questions were ne…

Glee Live

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to see the best live show I've ever seen — "Glee Live." The show featured all the principle cast members from the TV series "Glee" performing some of the best choreographed numbers featured on the show. It was a sold out show, as have been all the dates on the tour.
It was probably the best live show I've ever seen. It's not because of the music — though the singing and the music was great — it's because it was a complete show. It gave each of the performers a chance to shine in the way they shine best, it paired great music with fantastic visuals and offered a mix of comedy and craft that made it a true experience — something you'd hope for in a live show.
But what I liked best was watching the performers. There was great energy among them and you could tell they really applauded each other's efforts, enjoyed being out there and enjoyed feeding off the crowd. There was a joy in the performance, the kind of j…

30 Years After "Empire"

On May 21, 1980, some would argue the legacy of the "Star Wars" saga was cemented with the release of "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back."
It's fair to say the release of "Star Wars" three years earlier changed film and created a name for George Lucas. But without the last two parts to the trilogy, it's fare to say "Star Wars" wouldn't have created the same enduring legacy it has today. A legacy that survived the tarnish of three ill-fated prequels, a few animated series, and millions of strange conventions.
I love the original "Star Wars" films and have seen them dozens of times, but "Empire" has always been my favorite. It is often counted as a favorite among "Star Wars" fans despite the fact it's regarded as the darkest of the three films. But that could be because there is some hope in the darkness, for it's often been said it's darkest just before the dawn.
"Empire" als…

Now Playing

Here's a look at this week's new releases as summer rolls along. If the first two weeks are any indication, we could be in for a long summer...

Letters to Juliet Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave, and Gael Garcia Bernal Quick Take: This romantic comedy provides whiplash to the viewer. It starts as terrible, perks up to something interesting during the middle two thirds then bottoms out again in the final act. It's a frustrating film because there are moments that really work and moments that don't work at all. After the first 10 minutes, I was ready to write this movie off, then it redeemed itself, only to end with a thud. I think one take away here is that while Seyfried is charming and a fine actress, she's not a true leading lady. A true leading lady makes the other actors around them better and can lift even a mediocre film. That's why sometimes we have fond memories of Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts movies that weren't so hot.…

Freedom through giving

At the Men's Retreat last weekend, the theme was freedom. We talked a lot about freedom, how to get freedom in our lives, and some of the things we needed to be free of. I have continued to think about that idea as I've gone through my week.
I think one of the hardest places to get freedom is from the fear and need we have wrapped up in money. It's a fear I know well. I am what my mom affectionately refers to as a "tightwad." It's not that I'm afraid to spend money, I just constantly run through a list of possibilities in my head. There have been times when I considered buying something, then thought maybe it would be smarter just to sit on the money in case a catastrophe happened.
And let's be honest, the economic state of our country the past few years hasn't really made those kind of fears easy to shake.
That fear also affected the way I looked at tithing. I tithed sometimes, but it wasn't a regular part of my routine. This past year I've …

Real leaders show up

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that all men are created equal." Strange as it may seem, that was the first time in history that anyone had ever bothered to write that down. Decisions are made by those who show up." President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen), "The West Wing."
I have had a lot of ideas about leadership and faith running through my head the past few weeks since attending the Catalyst conference. I've also had a lot of ideas running through my head about being proactive in our "stories" as a result of reading a book by Donald Miller. Some combination of the two has had that quote resonating in my mind recently.
Yesterday I talked about one of the ideas that has resonated most strongly with me from Graham's message. I had the honor of hearing it — or at least a variation of it — two different times. The first time was during our Presbytery meeting and then again on Sunday, and the same thought kept oc…

A leap of faith

One of the most stirring scenes in the "Indiana Jones" films comes in "The Last Crusade" (which, ironically, didn't end up being the final crusade) when Indiana Jones is trying to get to the Holy Grail and he gets to a spot where he has to cross a seemingly uncrossable valley. After a few moments of weigh the options, he takes a step forward. His faith is rewarded by an unseen bridge that guides his path and helps him complete his quest.
All of us face a seemingly uncrossable valley at some point in our lives. And all of us must decide whether we will step forward or retreat. That was one of the things that resonated strongly with me after Sunday's message.
Graham talked about the "Shalom of Going Forward." In the Scripture, Moses faced that leap of faith moment. God called him to step out of his comfort zone and lead the people out of Israel. Moses felt totally unprepared and unequipped to do that, and he tried to look for a way out of it. But, ult…

Male Pattern Bonding

"Every man dies, not every man really lives." — William Wallace (Mel Gibson), "Braveheart."
I started with that quote from "Braveheart" because it not only was the theme of this year's Highlands Men's Retreat, it also summed up some of why I went. Of course I had a job to do as part of Highlands' staff, but also because I have been taking those words to heart. I think what William meant is that life is about taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zone. This resonated with me when reading a book by Donald Miller, "A Million Years and a Thousand Miles." In the book he talks about the complacency we allow to rule our lives, and that fact we need to make an effort to shake ourselves out of our comfort zone.
So you're asking yourself, how does the Highlands Men's Retreat factor in? Well, I have a confession. First, I'm not overly fond of large groups. I am an introvert in the biggest sense of the word. I like my quiet time…

An Heir to LOST

As frequent readers know, ever since Sept. 22, 2004, I have been a faithful LOST viewer. The description of the premise and the fact the cast was led by Matthew Fox got me in the door, and the quality of the writing, directing, and mystery kept me there all season.
It hasn't always been easy to stay with LOST since then. There were times the series meandered, times it didn't make a lot of sense and times when it was down right frustrating. But heading into this year, I still wanted to see how it would end. Badly is my new prediction for how it will end, but that is a discussion for another time.
When LOST first gained prominence, it was compared to a number of shows with a dense mythology that developed a cult following, chief among them being "The X-Files." And after LOST took off in the ratings, nearly every network (not CBS, because it has settled on being the older viewers network) tried to find a similar show.
NBC threw it's weight behind "Heroes," wh…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films I saw this week, including a summer blockbuster and a pair of documentaries.

Babies Quick Take: This is a documentary film about the first year of life for four babies around the world — one in San Francisco, one in Tokyo, Japan, one in Mongolia, and one in Namibia. Director Thomas Balmes was very sparse in his work on the film, which provides no narration and precious little in the way of a true statement. It is what it seems like — montages of baby activity strung together. One can infer a bit about the different environments the children are brought up in, though the film doesn't really seem to make any judgements. The cute factor is certainly ramped up given that the stars of the film are babies, and there are some humorous and some heart-warming scenes. It's a unique idea and good counter programming against the typical fare this time of year. Some of the scenes are pretty raw. Rating: PG for cultural and maternal nudity throughout. Verdict: Thr…

Straight Outta LA

I think one of the things we love about sports is the clearly defined roles. There are heroes and villains, though who serves in what role tends to change depending on your perspective. Just ask residents of Boston and New York. (I side with Boston on that one, in case you're curious).
On the diamond, my loyalty lies in Atlanta and on the hardwood I love to watch the Lakers. But when it comes to my most favorite sport, football, I am a Broncos fan all the way. That's why it was hard, at first, to appreciate ESPN's latest "30 for 30" documentary, "Straight Outta LA" directed by Ice Cube. The film focused on the 12-year period when the Raiders called Los Angeles home, and documented the cultural impact of the Silver and Black.
I know that the Raiders began their franchise in Oakland, most of their best years were in Oakland, and the corpse formerly known as the Raiders franchise still resides in Oakland, but to me they will always be the L.A. Raiders. When …

Writing a better story

I have been reading a book recently by Donald Miller that focuses on the idea of story as it pertains to how we live our lives. Basically the premise of the book is that our lives are stories, and if we want our lives to be meaningful, like any good story, we have to make them about something meaningful.
It's been a challenging and interesting book to read. Miller says story is "a character who wants something and has to overcome conflict to get it." It sounds simple, but it's anything but simple when it comes to our lives.
Another thing Miller said is that if we want to have more meaningful lives, we need to find a bigger vision for our lives and make it happen. I've been thinking about that and about all the impediments that stop us.
I've also been thinking about the message this weekend, where Star talked about fear, and about how fear works in our lives. It's the voice in our head that says we can't do something, will fail if we try, and would be bet…

The death of the video store

So Hollywood Video is closing. They aren't the first video store to go out of business, and my guess is they won't be the last. Of course it's not just locally that video stores are feeling the pinch. The Blockbuster chain has been on the verge of bankruptcy for some time. You see, consumer tastes have changed.
At first I couldn't believe it when I heard Hollywood Video was closing. Then I started to try and remember the last time I went to the video store to rent something...I think it was in February, or was that January? And the time before that — Fourth of July weekend maybe. Therein lies the problem.
When I was growing up, the video store was a staple. It was that way in college too. I went a couple times a week, pulled out stacks of movies, and watched them in my down time. Mostly VHS, then some DVD. But you see, as we've moved into the digital age, the whole process of how we see movies has changed.
It used to be a film would come out in a theater, then six to …

Faith in Film

As those of you that read the newsletter know, this summer I will be leading a small group/discussion class at Highlands called "Faith in Film." I hope that it will be a chance for those in attendance to explore their faith in a new way by considering the ideas and world views presented in major films. It will be a 10-week journey that I hope will forever change the way Christians interact with major media.
The series will begin on Monday, June 7 and will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Highlands Church. I will also be posting materials and discussion on my blog each week leading up to and during the course. I hope that this will be a further outlet to continue these discussions as I've used this forum since I started it as a way to share some of my thoughts on media, world events, and my faith. I hope you will feel free to do the same.
To get you all excited about this unique series, I thought I would begin by posting the list of films we'll be going over during this 10…

Documenting our world

Yesterday, I had the chance to catch a couple new documentary films — "Oceans" and "Babies." Both provided interesting food for thought, especially as I considered the genre itself.
The average moviegoer probably doesn't see many documentaries each year. After all, documentary-style filmmaking isn't usually the reason why we go to the movies in the first place. And I'll be the first to admit that it's not my preferred genre, either, but in recent years I've seen the benefits of documentary films, especially in their ability to engage us in critical thinking and shed light on ideas and issues in the world around us.
Over the past decade, viewership and readership for major news programs and publications is down. It's not that surprising given the cultural entertainment norms. Worse than that, major news publications and broadcasts have adapted to cultural entertainment norms as a means of retaining viewers. Most news programs are more about ent…

In defense of horror

I have often been asked how I can stand watching horror films. I guess that's a fair question given the violent nature of the genre — particularly lately — but I must admit I actually like horror films. In fact, while in college, I wrote a communication thesis paper on the evolution of slasher films. So I guess I will try to explain my fascination with the genre.
Horror is a staple genre. They are cheap to produce, aren't really character (and therefore performer) driven, and the story isn't that hard to manufacture. I do find it ironic that, according to the latest research, the primary audience for horror films are women age 16-34.
Horror films have also provided the start for many famous performers. Kevin Bacon, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Aniston, and Jamie Lee Curtis all got their start in horror films.
It is harder to defend modern horror films, which is one of the reasons why I think the genre is in trouble. Modern films have focused primarily on vicious human degradation an…

Now Playing

Though I had high hopes, the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is lacking in a critical area — creativity.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Katie Cassidy, Kyle Gallner, and Rooney Mara Quick Take: The 1984 film "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is a classic. Writer/director Wes Craven, who's made a name for himself as a master horror film storyteller, delivered an original film that took the standard slasher film mold and gave it a new twist. Over the past five years, Hollywood has remade most of its horror classics, including fresh takes on "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween." Even some of Craven's own films — "Last House on the Left" and "The Hills Have Eyes" — have gotten remakes. In many cases, there has been a degree of savagery introduced in these remakes that is disquieting for audiences, particularly those that are fans of the genre. Thankfully the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" doesn'…

Tough Leadership

Highlands staffers had a chance to attend a leadership conference a couple weeks ago and some ideas from that conference have been resonating with me. I've also been thinking about what it means to be a good leader.
I had that on my mind last night when I watched "The 16th Man," a documentary about the Rugby World Cup in 1995 that was part of ESPN's "30 for 30" series. The film chronicled the South African team as it tried to defend home field and, more importantly, tried to unite a nation torn apart by racism and apartheid.
This is the same story that was captured by Clint Eastwood last fall in the Academy Award nominated film "Invictus." President Nelson Mandella had plenty of reasons to be bitter. He was locked in a prison for 27 years and was nearly executed because of the deep-seeded racism that existed in his country. When he was finally freed and elected president, he seemed to have a mandate to beat back the racist culture that had long oppr…

Spielberg's legacy

Steven Spielberg is one of the most important and influential filmmakers in American history. He's been responsible for countless classics as a director and, along with George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, defined a generation.
Then there's his work as a producer, both on the big screen and small screen. He's had a hand in helping guide and support tons of projects, and his company, Dreamworks, is synonymous with quality entertainment.
So then, one might ask what his ultimate legacy will be? There is probably a tendency to focus on his classic films — "E.T.," "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Indiana Jones," and "Jurassic Park," among them. While those are iconic classics, I believe that in 20 years it will be Spielberg's other screen legacy that will prove the most enduring.
In his career, Spielberg has twice earned an Oscar for Best Director. The first was for "Schindler's List&qu…

From the May Newsletter

I believe that God can speak to us through anything and anyone. A part of being a Christ follower is constantly seeking after him and continually seeking ways to grow in knowledge and in the spirit.I also love movies. But I couldn’t always see how it all worked together. I was part of a very conservative church as a youth. Though my parents provided a great example of faith, it was hard not to be influenced in some sense by the views of others in our church.In that church a culture existed that people should be separated from the world. Many of the kids I fellowshipped with were in Christian home school programs, most weren’t permitted to watch secular films and shows, and most listened only to Christian or classical music. It felt like they were encouraged to be set apart from the world, to prevent themselves from being influenced by the evil that pervades pop culture.Sometimes I felt like less of a Christian because I went to public school and because I liked movies and TV shows. It…

A new scent for Paso?

I am not a very discriminating TV viewer. And by that, I mean I will pretty much try anything (except cartoons and reality shows) once. I think the networks secretly know this. So when I saw the commercials for ABC's strange new show "Happy Town," I knew I'd probably give it a try.
It's not great, and may even be terrible. (I think I need a couple more episodes to be sure). But the pilot (which aired Wednesday night) did provide some humor for me. The dialogue and characters left something to be desired, but early in the show I started to laugh when a character said "What's that smell" while on a tour and the lady giving her the tour said, "That's Haplin, dear." Haplin is the name of the town where the show takes place.
Soon it was elaborated that the town smells like a bakery because of the big bread factory that sits above it. Instantly I thought it would be a good idea to move there. After all, anyone that's been downtown recently…

Summer Movie Scene Pt. 2

Today I continue my look at the biggest upcoming summer releases with movies in July and August.
1. The Last Airbender, July 2 Quick Take: Sure, the past couple M. Night Shymalan films haven't been big successes, but is that any reason to give up on one of the most creative filmmakers of his generation? I don't think so. This looks like it might be a divergence from his typical pattern and looks like it might be one of the more intriguing films of the summer. Or it could be a flop. That's just the kind of year we're in.
2. Inception, July 16 Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, and Ellen Page Quick Take: This film, from director Christopher Nolan, looks like it might be one of the craziest, most intense films of the summer. It also might be the kind of film that transcends summer and is a contender during awards season in the fall. Little has been released about the plot so far, but Nolan's films always hit the mark.
3. Salt, July 23 Starring: Angelina Jolie Quick Ta…