Showing posts from July, 2010

A different shade of normal

In the 1990s, the band Offspring came out with a song called "The Kids Aren't All Right." It was an anthem that bemoaned the death of the American dream among the new generation. In a lot of ways it was about people getting sucked into an idea that ended up destroying all the hopes and dreams they had about what it meant to be an American.
In a lot of ways we could consider the 2010 film "The Kids Are All Right" to be an anthem the demise of conservative values in American culture. Sure, our cultural values have been iffy for a while, but it's films like "The Kids Are All Right" that provide a sure sign of just how far we've slipped.
The film is well-acted, well-crafted, and is almost certain to earn a Best Picture nomination as well as a handful of other nominations. It tells the story of a modern American family, a committed married couple trying to raise their two teenagers. Sound nice huh? I'm sure that the filmmakers and a large segment…

Committed to Winning

In the weeks since "The Decision," there has been a lot of debate about LeBron James and whether he is really totally committed to winning. I guess time will tell with that, but the more I've thought about it, I think that quietly there is another NBA superstar who has shown his total commitment to winning — Kobe Bryant.
Bryant was largely regarded as being near the top of the league prior to July 8, but since LeBron's big show, Kobe's esteem has continued to grow. That's because he has five championship rings. That's because he's been one of the best on the floor for a long time. But mostly, that's because Kobe really does putting winning above everything else.
That wasn't always true. After winning three titles and missing out on a fourth, Kobe was more interested in his star rising. He had a tiff with his best teammate — Shaq — and managed to cajole the team into removing his Hall of Fame coach — Phil Jackson. In that, Kobe got what he always…

Now available

Thursdays are usually a time when I write about movies I've seen during the week and offer reviews. Except this week, due to travel commitments — tornadoes and airports — I didn't see any. Well, that's not true either. I saw "Inception" again, but I don't think I need a third post on that movie... at least not until it's been out longer than two weeks.
So I thought I'd fill this space with a look at a couple projects from Joss Whedon that have developed a cult following that you can check out on home video or Netflix during these long summer months.
Joss Whedon is a unique writer and director. He's probably most well known for his work creating both the film and TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and it's spin-off, "Angel." I have to confess, I never really got into those two series. His most recent series, "Dollhouse," offered an intriguing premise but probably took too long to get going.
What first made me a Whe…

A proud moment

There were a lot of unique experiences for me last week as I attended the Presbyterian Youth Triennium at Purdue University in Indiana. Having been born and grown up in California, the idea of Midwestern weather — specifically summer humidity and thunderstorms — was more of a concept than something I could actually wrap my mind around.
Turns out that was a problem. The first day we arrived, I knew I was in for a different experience when it began pouring as we made our way to the hotel. Of course, even though it was pouring, it was still in the 80s with about 80 percent humidity. In other words, not the ideal climate for a boy from Central California.
Things only got weirder from there. It rained at some point every day we were in Indiana. I, of course, packed nothing but shorts, T-shirts, and polo shirts. I was prepared for heat — nothing could have prepared me for the daily storms or the humidity.
I think Midwestern humidity is something that defies description. People tried to tell me…

Faith in Film — The Godfather

"The Godfather" is a unique, complex, and challenging film. It was Best Picture in 1972, and deservedly so. It is a wonderfully made film with great performance, excellent technique, and a story of some depth. It's also a story about broken people that can serve as an example and warning to people of faith.
I believe the central lesson that can be extracted from the film is a warning about the nature of temptation. I believe the film shows how the central character — Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) — was caught in between two worlds. He saw the path he wanted to go down, which is somewhat represented by his relationship with Kay (Diane Keaton). Then there was the path he felt pulled towards which was his family business. He felt that pull, in part, because of his great love for and loyalty to his father (Marlon Brando).
It's an interesting dynamic that Michael's father cared for him so much and loved him so much that he didn't want Michael to be a part of the fami…

Faith in Film, Week 7

Title: “The Godfather” (1972)
Starring: Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Robert Duvall
Synopsis: “The Godfather” is an American classic, and for good reason. There aren’t many American top ten lists that don’t have “The Godfather” at or near the top. The film won Best Picture when it was released in 1972 and remains an iconic classic. It is often considered the consummate “guy” movie, which makes sense given the cultural and time period setting. Both the Italian culture depicted and the era where the movie takes place were highly male dominated, and the characters respond accordingly. One of the places where the tension of that dynamic is tested is between Michael Corleone (Pacino) and his wife, Kay (Keaton).
Michael Corleone and the tension he has between being pulled into the world of the “family business” and trying to be a straight citizen is the focus of the film. That tension is best demonstrated in Michael’s interaction with two key people in his life — his …

Grounded in Indy

There is a common phrase, "Men plan, God laughs." That came to mind yesterday at 5:25 p.m. Eastern Time when a U.S. Airways employee got on a loud speaker and announced our flight to Phoenix was cancelled. I was not amused.
It seems the windshield on the plane developed a crack. Instead of announcing this cancellation when they first found it — the plane was on the runway for an hour and a half while I was sitting in the terminal — they waited until a crowd gathered to make the announcement. I knew it was going to be a trying day....
I love sports with a couple exceptions. I'm not fond of golf, which someone likened to a good walk spoiled. I happen to think that's a poetic description. I'm also not fond of NASCAR. God has a sense of humor.
Turns out that Indianapolis is hosting a major NASCAR race, the Brickyard 400, today, so when we got dropped at our way station for the night — the Quality Inn & Suites in Indianapolis — it was like attending a NASCAR rally.

Taking a risk for God

On Friday night, Graham delivered his message, "The Wise Risk," to more than 5,000 high school students and leaders here at Purdue University. It was a powerful message that exhorted all who heard to take the "wise risk" on Jesus, and let him direct our lives.
That may not sound too controversial to most Christians, but it should be. One of my favorite things that Donald Miller talks about in his new book is the fact that most Christians see their conversion moment as the pinnacle and end of their journey. It's not; it's just a step in the process. That's what I thought about as Graham was speaking on Friday night.
There is an old DC Talk song called "What Have We Become." The song speaks to the progressively lost experience that we experience as a culture. Though the song's more than a decade old, the words are just as true today as then. The chorus says:
What have we become? A self indulgent people What have we become? Tell me where are the ri…

The world of dreams

I had a chance to see Christopher Nolan's new film, "Inception," again last night and remain fascinated not only by his filmmaking techniques but by the concept itself.
"Inception" focuses on the world of dreams. The simple premise is that skilled experts can extract information from subjects or plant ideas — called inception — through elaborately built dreams. As the film plunges deeper into the plot, going four and five layers deep, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred. But what's at the heart of the film is still very human struggles with the concept of guilt and remorse.
I can't help but think about what it says about the human mind. Our minds, our ability to reason, and our God-given intellect is probably the most amazing thing about the human condition. But it's also what makes us the most vulnerable. Our minds can be beautiful things but, like so much else in our lives, they are fragile.
We see this a lot. People who are great th…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films I saw this week!
Inception Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and Cillian Murphy Synopsis: Christopher Nolan is probably the most consistently excellent filmmaker working today. He is among a handful of directors — The Coen Brothers, Clint Eastwood, Jason Reitman — that represent the best in the craft. "Inception" is a multi-layered masterpiece that will leave you questioning your perception of reality. It's a high-concept narrative set in the world of the dream, but Nolan always manages to create vibrant characters, which is what endears his films to audiences. While I still think "The Dark Knight" is his best film, "Inception" is right up there. DiCaprio does a great job in the lead role and the supporting cast, as always in Nolan films, is expertly assembled. Gordon-Levitt has done a great deal the past few years to demonstrate his ran…

Worshipping the Lord

I think Highlands Church is pretty special. It is unlike any place I've ever worshipped, I love our band, our services, our presentation of the Gospel, and the community (people) we have there. But I think sometimes we get sucked into our church and forget about the larger body of Christ.
I ran smack into that larger body on Tuesday night as the Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT) 2010 kicked off. You can't really appreciate what it looks like to have 5,000 people — mostly high school students — worshipping God together until you see it. I saw it last night, and it was bigger and more enthusiastic than I had imagined.
We've read a lot recently about the death of the church as younger people seem to be moving away from the traditional church model. Well I am here to tell you that what I saw last night has convinced me that the future of the church is still alive and well.
The fact that this many high schoolers and adult leaders — gathering from Presbyterian churches throughout …

Faith in Film — The Exorcism of Emily Rose

"The Exorcism of Emily Rose" deals with a difficult subject, but approaches it in a unique way. Unlike "The Exorcist," which is a horror film that uses religious iconography to tell its story, "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is grounded in Scripture, religious concepts, and presents a Gospel message. The question becomes whether that message is presented in an accurate way.
I don't think it is. While I admire the effort of Scott Derrickson made with the film and the passionate way he attempts to spread the Gospel message in a unique way by making people accept and consider evil, there are flaws in the presentation.
My two major concerns stem from the demon possession itself. First, Emily Rose states she's possessed by six demons — the one that dwealt in Cain, Judas and Nero, Legion, Belial and Lucifer. The last three are demons recorded in the Bible or the Apocrypha, so a case can be made for that. But with the first three, I think it becomes a case of…

Faith in Film, Week 6

Title: “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005)
Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, and Laura Linney
Synopsis: This 2005 film is based on a true story. It tells the story of a young girl, a devote believer, that becomes afflicted by demon possession. After considering medical opinions and a variety of other methods to help cure her, Emily Rose (Carpenter) and her family turn to a local priest, Father Moore (Wilkinson), to perform an exorcism. Things don’t go according to plan, and Emily can’t be saved.
Most of Emily’s story is told through flashbacks throughout the film, which is as much a courtroom drama as an exorcism story. Moore is put on trial for causing Emily’s death, defended by an unbelieving attorney, Erin Bruner (Linney), who is grappling with aspects of her job. The prosecutor, a Christian named Ethan Thomas (Scott), is convinced that Moore’s methods caused Emily suffering and led to her eventual death. It is left up to the audience to determine what they …

Sharing Your Heart

I used to have a hard time with alternative expressions of faith and hope. I think part of it had to do with the churches I attended during my formative years, but I always had a hard time when the line between the Christian and secular art was blurred.
Now I see it as a vital part of the way people express their faith. It's not always perfect, sometimes it's quite messy, but it's also appropriate because that's the way we all live our lives. That's what I liked about the presentation in church this Sunday, and one of the reasons I thought it was neat to have it on a Sunday when we talked about heart.
Kanye West is a complicated person. I was first drawn to his music because he was a self-professed Christian in a profession — rapping — that is often far from matters of faith. Obviously West isn't a perfect person — and in some of his recent songs I have wondered if he's had a crisis of faith. But when I heard "Jesus Walks" today, it reminded me of w…

2010, the future is now

The other day when I was writing something I wrote the date and it actually struck me, we're living in 2010. I started thinking about that date and the litany of films that came out in the 1970s and 1980s about the future. I wonder what those filmmakers would say about what the work looks like now.
When you see things like "2001: A Space Odyssey" or anything based on a Philip K. Dick story, it's set in the early 21st Century. We are at or have surpassed that time, but we have hardly developed the technology for a fuel-efficient vehicle, forget flying cars, space travel or the look of the world.
In fact, many of those films feel quite dated by now. What we're missing, however, is the new wave of futuristic films and predictions. So far they don't seem forthcoming.
Today I had the chance to catch up with an old friend. I was thinking back to our early days in college, remembering that first semester when we were getting ready to go home for winter break wondering …

The State of Jones

On Monday, I looked at "The Da Vinci Code" as part of Faith in Film class. There is one line in that movie that has stuck with me since the first time I saw it. It happens when professor Lea Teabing says, "Ever since there has been one God, there have been people killing in his name."
Sadly, the history of the church is one of violence. First the violence done to people who first tried to spread the Gospel — just look at the violent ends of the apostles. Then, once the church and Christianity hit the main stream, the violence was done on behalf of spreading the Gospel. Times like the witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusades are a black stain on Christianity because they are in opposition to the true Gospel preached by Jesus Christ.
I encountered another such time in our own American history as I read the book "The State of Jones." The book, written by a pair of journalists and telling the true story of a Mississippi man named Newton Knight an…

Now Playing

Here's a look at a couple movies that made debuts last week — one in theaters and one on DVD, Blu-Ray, and ON-Demand.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Starring: Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace Synopsis: This film, made in Sweden, is based on the novel from Stieg Larsson. The book has become a world-wide phenomenon, and this first film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray last Tuesday. I got a little caught up in the hype and felt hopeful that this might be a compelling film. (By the way, they are working on an American film version, possibly starring Daniel Craig and Carrey Mulligan. Actually I guess that makes it an English version.) Had I realized the literal translation of the Swedish film is "Men Who Hate Women," I might have had a better idea about this film. It contains rape scenes — yes plural. And they aren't done in the typically implied American way, rather they are a bit graphic at times. Then there are other sex scenes, then there is the actual murder mystery cas…

Buyer beware

I am an indiscriminate movie viewer, but I'm usually not a clueless viewer. I go to see almost everything, but since I'm a film nerd, I usually read about it quite a bit before going — reading plot summaries, watching trailers and, at times, reading reviews.
But sometimes I lead out blind. I have, on a couple regrettable occasions, listened to hype and gone to see films blind or, worse, purchased DVDs blind. Rarely does it work out. Most of the time you end up with what I like to call buyers remorse. This last weekend was just such a situation.
I am a loyal subscriber to Entertainment Weekly. I like reading the articles, the TV and movie previews, and the weekly reviews. I don't always take it seriously — often comparing my own take on shows and films with the reviewers in the magazine to see where they're coming from and how we differ. But it's a great way to get information about upcoming and popular projects.
Three issues ago, the cover featured a strange novel — &…

Faith in Film — The Da Vinci Code

John 14:6 — "Jesus answered, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"Maybe human is divine." — Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), "The Da Vinci Code."
"The Da Vinci Code," to say the least, is a controversial film. I think last night's discussion reflected some of the tough ideas contained in the film and some of that was reflected in the comments made. I think it's a film that will always create debate and, ultimately, opens a dialogue about who Jesus is, and that's never a bad thing.
In terms of "The Church" or the larger Christian community, I feel that too often we withdraw from things in the world that we don't understand. That's a problem. We can't be the light of the world if we're not a part of the world. When we run from controversial films like "The Da Vinci Code" it creates two negatives — it makes it look like we've got something to hide, es…

Faith in Film, Week 5

Here is a look at the worksheet for tonight's fifth film, "The Da Vinci Code."
Title: “The Da Vinci Code” (2006).Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, and Paul BettanySynopsis: This film, directed by Ron Howard and based on the novel by Dan Brown, was a worldwide phenomenon. It was also a source of contention between the Christian community and filmmakers, leading to a number of boycotts. The contention in the film centers around the quest in this film by its central character, Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks). Along with French police officer Sophie Neveu (Tautou) and Professor Leigh Teabing (McKellen), Langdon is searching for the Holy Grail.But it’s not just the search that creates the tension between the religious community and filmmakers, it’s the nature of the search. Previous films have tackled the subject of the Holy Grail, but none have ever done it in quite the same way. In “The Da Vinci Code” the Holy Grail is a person — th…

God's Plan in Our Lives

Today we looked at planning. Graham referenced something the Christian author Donald Miller said about God's plan in our lives. I thought I would expound on that a little bit as we look at the idea of planning.
Miller didn't say God doesn't have a plan for our lives, he said he believed God had a very specific ministry plan for some people and a general plan for others. I kind of agree with that idea. Miller talked about people in the Bible like Mary, Moses, Noah, and Abraham who received a vision of how God would use them to accomplish a specific purpose. Moses didn't have to wonder what God's plan for his life was; God appeared in a burning bush and told him. We don't always get the message that clearly.
That's not to say God doesn't have a plan for our lives. Miller said he feels like the general plan God has for our lives can be summed up by Micah 6:8, which says, "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To …

Reality Nation

What does it say about our culture that we actually have popular shows that allow people to watch other people living in a house together. Of course, I'm referring to "Big Brother."
Now I've never watched the show, so maybe there are some tangible cultural benefits to it that I'm overlooking, but seriously, how can this be on? We take a group of people — usually several of whom are mentally unstable — and throw them in a house together and let people watch for months. There are hour-long episodes on the network, nightly live footage on Showtime and, for those that just can't get enough, an Internet feed you can subscribe to. Really, this is what we've come to as a culture?
Reality TV in general gives me the creeps. Sure, there are some competition shows — "American Idol," "The Amazing Race," "America's Got Talent," "Dancing With the Stars," and "Survivor" — that showcase competition. But most of it is co…

The Decision that rocked the world

On Thursday night, the landscape of professional basketball, perhaps professional sports, changed forever. Usually we see fireworks on the Fourth of July, but this year the Fireworks began on July 5 and continued with massive explosions last night at 9:20 p.m. eastern time as LeBron James said he was taking his talent to South Beach.
It was simultaneously one of the most interesting, exciting, self-indulgent, over-blown, ridiculous, and incredible moments in sports history. The idea of a mega team that features three incredibly talented players all in their prime taking less money to come together and win titles is intriguing. Just the though of an Easter Conference Finals match up featuring Miami and Orlando, or Miami and Boston, followed by a battle between Miami and the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title is tantalizing.
But then there's the city of Cleveland, which had the wind evacuate from its sails at a record pace. The city didn't react to the news well. There was weapi…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films that are now playing in theaters locally.
City Island Starring: Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Straight, and Emily Mortimer Synopsis: This is a quirky comedy that has moments of brilliance and banality. Garcia and Margulies are great performers, and they both make the most of their characters, but there is a lot going on in this film. Everyone in the family has secrets, some strange secrets. And that becomes the problem. Not all the story lines seem to get a full treatment, which is good in some circumstances. Dominik García-Lorido, Garcia's real-life daughter, and Ezra Miller play the two kids, each with their own set of problems. Garcia-Lorido lost a college scholarship and turned to stripping and Miller's nerdy high-schooler is secretly a chubby chaser. Neither of those stories is truly fleshed out, but the young actors do their best with the material. In addition, the wild third act brings all the characters together too conveniently to…

Picking Some Emmy Nominees

The Emmy Awards are somewhat like the forgotten middle child of the major awards. The Grammy Awards have the best show, the Golden Globes are the biggest party, The Tony Awards have some pretentious novelty, and the world pauses for The Academy Awards.
Then there's the Emmy Awards. Part of it is timing. The awards always take place just before the start of the fall TV season, sometimes going against original programming and sometimes against NFL games. Never a good plan.
Then there's the fact they don't get promoted that well and the fact that, despite the quality of TV in recent years surpassing the quality of storytelling being offered in feature films, a celebration of excellence on the small screen doesn't feel like a big event.
But since the announcement of the nominations will be tomorrow morning — how many even knew that? — I decided to offer a list of the shows and performers I would nominate. This list is based only on shows I actually watched during the 2009-201…

Faith in Film — Remaining Schedule

A big thank you to everyone who brought snacks last night. It was fun to see everyone watch the film and to discuss the varied reactions to the material. Sometimes it's easy to forget that films, at their most basic level, are the artistic expressions of their creators. Of course films, like all art, inspire varied reactions to the themes, messages, and presentations. I think last night's discourse was a great example of that.
As I said last week, I remain torn with "Joshua." As an evangelism tool, it could certainly open some doors. There are also some beautiful descriptions of faith and the power of giving your life over the Jesus Christ — although his name, oddly, is never mentioned in this Christian film. As a more mature Christian audience, however, I think we lock on to some of the issues and themes with a different lens. There are some conflicts with Scripture due to the construct of the narrative.
I think "Joshua" will continue to be a film that divid…

A Holiday Classic

There are two things I look forward to each Fourth of July — the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and an annual screening of the ultimate summer classic, "Jaws."
I guess the reason for the first of those things is obvious. The Coney Island celebration pretty much sums up America, as spectators around the world travel to see the hot dog eating contest live or watch it on ESPN. It slays me that the announcers treat the contest as a real "athletic" battle and that competitive eating is a sport. I think it probably speaks to our culture of excess, but I still can't turn away. Watching someone down 54 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes is entertaining, though yesterday's American victory for Joey Chestnut felt a little hollow with competitor Kobayashi, a six-time champion, watching from the crowd.
The second of my Fourth of July passions probably seems a bit harder to fathom. "Jaws" was given to the world 35 years ago. It was one of the first summer bloc…

Defending the Weak

I have always admired those that felt the call of God so strongly in their lives that they were willing to pick up and go serve him overseas. I think that is a special blessing, and it takes a special kind of person to serve God in that way.
But I don't think you have to travel to a far off land to fulfill the mission of the church. In fact, I think the church has been so focused on missions as a global movement that we miss the fact there are hurting, needy people that we can reach with the love and message of the Gospel right in our own backyards.
Recently, a couple that help serve and volunteer in our high school program went on a Missions trip to West Virginia. I thought that was an inspiring example of answering the call to help those in need and defend the weak in our own country. Today, we focused on that need and the mandate for Christians to do that as part of the Words of Wisdom series.
There are countless ways we can help those in need just by looking at our own inner citi…

A Historical Turning Point

This time of year I usually like to watch the movie "Gettysburg." In year's past I have watched the film in real time — meaning I watched the portion for that day on the day. It also helps to break up a five hour movie into smaller chunks.
I have always loved studying the Civil War period. I have read books about it and even took a college elective focused on the Civil War. It was a rough, violent, and difficult period of American history and also one of the most unique because the enemy wasn't a foreign nation but someone with ideological differences within your own country.
In Gettysburg, Penn. 147 years ago today, the tide of the Civil War turned. After nearly three years of bloody conflict, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, pushed into Union territory seeking to end the war by marching on Washington, D.C. The Union troops sought to cut off his advance, taking a defensive position on the heights surrounding Gettysburg.
After two…

A united policy

There is a line in "The West Wing" that always resonated with me. "'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."
For months, we have been a nation divided. Actually, it's been longer than that, but a certain Arizona law certainly put it into focus. Yesterday, our President stood up and tried to take a step to address that division over immigration laws. Time will tell how good his plan is and whether or not it can make it through the legislature, but at least he is trying to address the breach.
I, personally, have mixed feelings about the Arizona law. However, I don't think the content of the law is the reason we're divided, I think it's a failure of leadership. Our last three administrations — Presidents from both parties — talked about an immig…

Now Playing

Here is a look at the new releases that have come to theaters since last week.
Grown Ups Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Salma Hayak Synopsis: An Adam Sandler comedy during the summer has become an annual tradition, with varying degrees of success. The past three summer offerings — "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," "Don't Mess With the Zohan," and "Funny People" — certainly left something to be desired. From that standpoint, "Grown Ups" is a step up. But it's not in the top five of Sandler's comedic offerings. When he's at his best, Sandler's movies create indelible characters that resonate with the audience long after the film is over. Whether "The Wedding Singer," "Mr. Deeds," "Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," or "The Waterboy," fans remember the characters, the story and the hilarious sequences. I think a telling sign that …