Showing posts from August, 2010

Faith in Film, Participant Suggestions

Hopefully everyone has gotten past the first Monday without class. It was a little rough for me as I almost instinctively hopped in the car and drove to church. But as we enjoy a little break before the next cycle, I thought I would take some time and look at a few participant suggestions over the coming weeks that were provided on the surveys.
This first response will be carried over two days — today and tomorrow — as I take on the suggestion of comparing and contrasting C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" series with J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series.
For those not familiar with the works, both Tolkein and Lewis are well-respected Christian authors. And the larger Christian community traditionally claims both the world of "Narnia" and "Lord of the Rings" as fiction that supports our faith. Both series have also been transformed into epic film series in recent years.
Without question, both series incorporate ideas of faith and ele…

Exorcising Doubt

This weekend featured the release of the film "The Last Exorcism." Going in, based largely on the title and crude trailer, I expected this film to be another rehash of traditional exorcism-related story lines. What I got was something more engrossing and thought-provoking.
Here I will put a warning for those that want to embrace the film without any knowledge that there will be spoilers from this point forward.
I'll start by saying that "The Last Exorcism" features one of the most misleading trailers and marketing campaigns of any film released this year, much to its detriment. The marketing campaign and trailer would have you believe this is the "Blair Witch Project" of exorcism films, a cheap horror fest. The fact that it's marketed as coming from producer Eli Roth — the director that gave us "Cabin Fever" and "Hostel" — only adds to that belief.
But that marketing campaign sells this film short. This film does have some "B…

Where the Journey is Sustained

Today we wrapped up our Journey series with a look at the final part — how we feed others. This has been kind of a personal topic for me because I think I have really been growing in this particular pursuit this year.
Last week, I referenced a clip from "Angels and Demons" where Tom Hanks' Robert Langdon answers the question of whether or not he believes in God. That scene stuck out to me and stuck with me for days. Last summer, when I was talking to Graham and another friend about the movie, explaining that scene was an indication to me of a more open spirit toward the Gospel, Graham simply responded by asking if I'd ever thought of teaching a class on film. To that point, I never had.
That suggestion kind of stuck with me. Being an introvert and a writer, I decided to mix my passions by writing a non-fiction book tearing apart the worldviews displayed in films. I called it "Faith in Film." I worked on it for months, making good progress, but there was still…

Picking some Emmy winners

The Emmy Awards are like the Jan Brady of awards shows. They are overshadowed by the prestigious older sister (The Academy Awards) and the wild and unpredictably fun younger child (The Golden Globe Awards). Plus, it's nearly impossible to work up the energy to figure out how nominees and winners are selected, but most of the time it's disappointing.
However, since the awards take place tomorrow and the marketing effort of this year's telecast seeks to make you believe the show is relevant, it's time for some fearless predictions. If I even get close to 30 percent, I'll call it a win!
Best Drama: "Breaking Bad" "Dexter" "The Good Wife" "Lost" "Mad Men" "True Blood"
Will Win: Mad Men. Critics seem to love this AMC drama, and it has a passionate and dedicated fan base. Thought "LOST" could get some love in its last season, I think the voters will take the safe choice.
Should Win: "Dexter." This is …

Avatar Returns

It's probably a sure sign of the weakness of the Box Office in 2010 that just a few months removed from ending its theatrical run as the highest grossing film of all time, "Avatar" is back in theaters. And now it's longer. And no doubt many will flock to see it again.
I won't be one of them.
"Avatar" was a Best Picture nominee and it shattered the previous Box Office record. Because I believe in giving credit where credit is due, I will acknowledge that the film is also an impressive technical achievement. Director James Cameron has always been on the forefront of film technology. The way he used special effects in "The Abyss," "Terminator," "Terminator 2," and "Titanic" helped him craft his reputation. But he outdid all his previous work with "Avatar."
From a technical and visual standpoint, "Avatar" stands alone. The film makes beautiful use of color, 3D techniques, and other visual effect techn…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new films I saw this week.

The Expendables Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Eric Roberts, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, and Mickey Rourke Synopsis: This film oozes testosterone, muscles, and PEDs. This is the film equivalent of watching an exhibition baseball game featuring Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmero, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and Jose Canseco with Roger Clemens as the all time pitcher. You know it's probably fake, you know they're trying too hard to win your respect, you know you deserve better, but you can't take your eyes off it. This is cheese of the highest order in the writing, directing, and execution. Not to mention its an orgy of explosions and gratuitous violence in the final act with no real dramatic payoff. But that's the kind of film Stallone wanted to make. In some ways he is correct that it is a throw back to a different era of ac…

Jordan Rides the Bus

Michael Jordan is universally recognized as the greatest basketball player ever. He is the gold standard in that sport. He did things no one else had done, and he was wildly successful doing it. He won six titles, each time carrying his team on his back. And for all he accomplished, it could have been more had he not walked away from the game for two years in his prime.
In the summer of 1993, Jordan and the Bulls capped their third title in a row. Then a few months later his father, James Jordan, was found murdered. That event, coupled with controversy surrounding Jordan's private life, and the pressure he was under as the greatest basketball player in the world took its toll. And in October of 1993, just before the season was to begin, Jordan retired.
At 31 years old, having not played baseball since he was 18, Jordan decided to go pro on the diamond. It was a move that shocked the world. The film "Jordan Rides the Bus," directed by Ron Shelton and produced as part of ESP…

Faith in Film, No Country For Old Men

I want to thank everyone who came out last night and who has participated in this class. This has been a real growth experience for me, and I hope that it has been a learning experience for you too. I think of this class as a chance to learn, fellowship, and grow together as believers by thinking about what we believe and how it compares to the beliefs of those we're trying to reach as reflected in the popular art form of the day, the world of motion pictures.
Last night's film was a chance to come full circle. "No Country For Old Men" won Best Picture in 2007 and was one of the finest films released in the first decade of the 21st Century. It is also one of the most challenging. There were many who were challenged by the ideas presented in the film and by the film itself. It is a violent film at times, but I think that violence is meant to emphasize the point that the filmmakers, and the author that wrote "No Country For Old Men," Cormac McCarthy, felt abou…

Faith in Film, Week 10

Here is a look at the worksheet for our final class session tonight, which focuses on "No Country for Old Men."
Title: “No Country For Old Men” (2007).
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem
Synopsis: This was the Best Picture winner in 2007, and is one of the best films of the decade. It is a sparse, beautifully told film based on the gripping novel from Cormac McCarthy. It’s a film that works on a couple of levels. First, there is a straightforward narrative of a crime saga gone badly. The Coen Brothers, who wrote the screenplay and directed this film, specialize in that type of dramatic storytelling. In the film, Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) is a normal, hard-working guy who stumbles into something he doesn’t fully understand. While out hunting, he stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad where all the participants are dead. What they’ve left behind is a bag full of money that proves too great a temptation for Moss.
When he takes that bag, he becomes embroiled in a plo…

Where the Journey Continues

Today we had a chance to talk about the second stage in the Journey series, how we develop as believers. We've been thinking about this concept of a believers journey for a few weeks, and everyone has different ideas about the way we frame these stages.
I like the quote that Graham called upon from "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring." In the film, Frodo is in the early stages of his perilous journey, but it has been a difficult task and he is beginning to have doubts about his ability to see it through because of all the challenges and temptations he faces. He tells Gandolf, "I wish the ring had never come to me."
Gandolf responds, "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an enco…

Deception in Marketing

One of the most popular ways to get someone interested in your new film, aside from a well-crafted trailer, is to name drop. When you can reference other popular films in the same genre, that usually gets people excited about what you have to offer. But how much truth is in that advertising.
Sometimes not that much, unfortunately.
Take, for example, "The Switch." The film is a new romantic comedy. The trailer has some amusing moments, but it might not make you run out and see it. The film features Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston in the principle cast, but that might not make you run out and see it. However, when the trailer flashes the words "From the people who brought you 'Juno' and 'Little Miss Sunshine,'" it gives the film some credibility with the audience. But how accurate is that.
Well, the answer to that question depends on who you credit with creating a film. If you credit producers, or executive producers, then those claims hold water. If …

Evaluating Art

During class on Monday night, I broke down the ideological flaws I saw in "The Dark Knight." The worldview presented in that film doesn't match my own, and in fact stands in contrast to our worldview as Christians.
I also said "The Dark Knight" is one of my favorite films. That's also true. I also said I thought it was the best film made in the last decade. But I got a question from one of the attendees wondering how I could say I liked a film or that it was well-made if it was ideologically flawed. A fair question. Let me explain.
I think movies are an art form. Paintings, sculptures, songs, TV shows (sometimes), building designs, novels, comic books, articles, and poems are also art forms. They are creative expressions of their authors. They also reflect the passions, beliefs, and worldviews of their creators. Evaluating art is a very subjective process. There are plenty of country music songs I strongly dislike, but I know I'm not the right person to e…

Now Playing

Here's a look at a couple releases from last week.
Eat Pray Love Starring: Julia Roberts, Richard Jenkins, and Javier Bardem Synopsis: In this adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's popular memoir, Roberts plays a woman who takes a year to eat, pray, and learn to love again, hoping re-open herself to feeling her life vibrantly. Co-writer/director Ryan Murphy ("Glee," "Nip/Tuck") does a great job making the film's locations come to life. Liz (Roberts) divides her year abroad in Italy, India, and Bali. The locations become like a character in the film which, if nothing else, adds to the visual spectacle of the film. This is a film, however, that will rise and fall with audiences based on how well you enjoy the story. If you appreciate Liz's problems and her quest, the film will resonate with you. If you don't, at 133 minutes it will be an exercise in patience. I didn't find her quest particularly moving. I felt like she was self-indulgent and whinny. …

The Art of the Trailer

The other day as I was sitting in the theater waiting for my movie to start, the movie in the theater next door began. Since the door was still open, I could hear the trailers as they began. Within seconds, by audio cues alone, I knew what trailer was playing. It was the trailer for "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." It was a sign to me that the trailer had developed a familiar pattern that was easy to recognize and that I had seen it WAY TOO MANY TIMES.
But that got me to thinking, there is an art that goes into crafting a trailer. One of my favorite parts of going to the movies is sitting there and seeing trailers for coming attractions. Sometimes they make you groan, sometimes they make you cry, and sometimes they get you pumped. But the idea is that a trailer is supposed to give you a window into the coming attraction.
Of course, sometimes that works to the benefit of the film that's coming out and sometimes it works to the detriment of everyone. You probably don't…

Faith in Film, The Dark Knight

Some really great, interesting comments last night. Hopefully you all enjoyed a chance to view the movie and then break down some of the themes. I felt like there were several times last night where I got some really great insights into the film.
I think "The Dark Knight" is a complex, but beautifully made film. I think when we're looking at the medium of film, as with other art forms, there is a distinction to be made between appreciating its artistic merits and agreeing with the social views or worldviews presented. I deeply love the artistic qualities that I think make "The Dark Knight" the best film made in the last decade. But I struggle with the worldview presented in the film because it differs from our own.
Batman tends to be the most humanistic of all super heroes. In humanism, what we see is the idea of man becoming God. The idea that man is inherently good and capable of creating his or her own morality. Batman already lends himself toward that worldvi…

Faith in Film, Week 9

Here is the worksheet for "The Dark Knight." We will be going over this film tonight after screening it last week. Can't wait to see what ideas you gleaned from the film.
Title: “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Starring: Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Michael Caine.
Synopsis: This starkly brilliant film from director Christopher Nolan serves as the second in his rebooted Batman franchise. Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, delivers one of the best performances of his career, as does Eckhart as district attorney Harvey Dent. However, the film was largely dominated, and overshadowed by, the performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Not only is Ledger’s performance brilliant, the tragic circumstances surrounding how his life ended helped give it a new life and a new meaning for audiences.
“The Dark Knight” is the rare genre picture that transcends its genre in a revolutionary way. It would be a mistake to pigeonhole this as a comic book fi…

Where the Journey Begins

There is a scene in the movie "Angels and Demons" that I think perfectly sums up the struggle with becoming a faith follower. Ewan McGreggor, playing a priest, asks Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) if he believes in God. Langdon replies, "My head tells me I'll never understand God." The priest asks what about his heart. Langdon replies, "My heart tells me I'm not meant to. Faith is a gift I've not yet received."
I couldn't help but think about that this week as we took the first step on our series called Journey. This week we looked at where the Journey begins. I was also reminded of the way we started our Words of Wisdom series with the idea that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." I think that really sums up what it is to first grapple with the idea of God.
That moment when you first realize God is real and that he's so much bigger than us, the fear and wisdom begin. It comes from knowing that our whole conception of…

Another era ends

Tonight is the final episode of "At The Movies." It airs locally at 6:30 p.m. on ABC. I'll admit it, I'm a little bummed.
The show hasn't been the same since Roger Ebert left, but it's still an entertaining show. I've been watching the last few weeks as the new hosts, A.O. Scott and Michael Philips, reviewed new releases and counted down some favorite memories. I don't know what to expect from tonight's show except more of the same.
Of course life won't change that much now that "At The Movies" is gone. There are still print reviews — which I write and also read in the "Ticket" and "Entertainment Weekly." But it feels like a sign of the times.
I'll miss tuning in and being upset at the reviews, confused as to how intelligent men could like something, or relieved to find out I wasn't the only one enthralled by "Step Up 3D." But I guess all good things must come to an end.
Life is about transitions. No…

End of an Era

When I first started watching baseball in the 1990s, it was the Atlanta Braves that I most often saw and it was the Braves that became my team. I used to flip on games while I did my homework after school. The Braves, playing mostly in Atlanta and on the East Coast, came on at 4:30 p.m. in California. I could watch the game in the afternoon, and I did.
I got to know those teams, for which a division title was a foregone conclusion but playoff wins were hard to come by. It feels like it's been years since the team was successful, and now that TBS gave up airing all the games, I don't get to see the Braves as much as I used to. Still, it's been nice to see that, in the last season for manager Bobby Cox, the Braves are once again in the playoff hunt.
Of course, this week the team got dealt a further blow when Chipper Jones injured his knee, ending his season. For Chipper, who contemplated retirement earlier this year because of the fall off in his productivity, it could be the …

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I took in this week!
Charlie St. Cloud Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, and Donal Logue Synopsis: Efron is making a noble attempt to move away from his teen heart throb status and demonstrate his acting talent. "Charlie St. Cloud" is a big step away from "High School Musical" and "Hairspray," but it's not a big step forward. That's largely a result of the story. There are some flaws that are untenable with this film. It's like "Ghost" meets "The Sixth Sense" aimed at teens. There is a plot twist in this film that I find creepy, and a second plot twist that I find even creepier. It's hard to say that you don't see it coming, because I think the film telegraphs all its moves, but it is not a plot twist that sits right at the time and it gets worse the longer you think about it. That's a problem. Efron has an affable screen presence and does a decent job in the role …

Secret treasures

I tuned into "At The Movies" on Saturday eagerly awaiting the review of "Step Up 3D." I had seen the film on Friday and loved it more than I thought possible. But I couldn't help but wonder if I'd gone soft or deluded. So I waited to hear from Michael Philips and A.O. Scott.
The review began that the story was ridiculous, the acting was cheesy and the plot was predictable. Then came the words I was waiting to hear, "And I absolutely loved it," Philips said. Scott quickly echoed that sentiment and the both gave it high marks.
So now you're wondering, was it a good movie? Yes and no. "Step Up 3D" won't win any Academy Awards, and it probably won't make many Top 10 lists, but it was entertaining. Sometimes there are movies that just grab you and hold you and defy explanation. That's the reason why, two weekends ago, I stayed up until 1 a.m. watching "Stick It" on USA. It's not a great movie, it's not even a g…

Faith in Film, Survey

A big thanks to everyone that brought snacks to last night's meeting. I really feel like our class has bloomed into a small group and I appreciate the insight and support of everyone.
When I started this class, I didn't really know how it would work. I am passionate about films and I am passionate about my faith. I also love the process of discovery. I hope that through these first 10 weeks you've enjoyed that process too. And I hope you've learned something.
Messages come to us in a variety of ways. Movies are just one type of media that carry messages that offer a glimpse into the world view of the general public. Someone said to me recently that they felt like, since they didn't go to the movies that much, that some of the class was lost on them. I don't think that has to be true. I think the principles of Bible study and of uncovering messages we've learned from analyzing films can be applied to a number of areas. Plus, just knowing some about the views o…

Faith in Film, Week 9

Title: “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Starring: Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Michael Caine.
Synopsis: This starkly brilliant film from director Christopher Nolan serves as the second in his rebooted Batman franchise. Bale, as Bruce Wayne/Batman, delivers one of the best performances of his career, as does Eckhart as district attorney Harvey Dent. However, the film was largely dominated, and overshadowed by, the performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Not only is Ledger’s performance brilliant, the tragic circumstances surrounding how his life ended helped give it a new life and a new meaning for audiences.
“The Dark Knight” is the rare genre picture that transcends its genre in a revolutionary way. It would be a mistake to pigeonhole this as a comic book film, it is an incredibly deep, well-acted, and well-crafted drama. The film was not only worthy of Best Picture nomination the year it was released, it was my pick as best film of 2008 …

The Power of Words

Today's message, in fact the whole topic, was hard for me. Sometimes messages seem practical, sometimes they seem like they offer us guidance, and sometimes they feel like shinning a spotlight on an area of brokenness. Today's message felt like the latter to me.
Words are important and powerful. They convey ideas that are important and powerful too. Sometimes I think it's easy to underestimate how much our words affect others. This is something I've begun to consider more over the last few years.
I had a friend and colleague when I was younger that use to say he'd cut another person so low they were playing handball with the curb. He had a great wit, was a quick thinker and had a low tolerance for people that he felt were his intellectual inferiors. Yes, it's fair to say I idolized him, and unfortunately I adopted some of his tendencies toward annoying people.
I carried that attitude into college. I once, and I'm not proud of this, sent a flame e-mail to a spo…

Showcasing passion

One of the parts I liked best in the Michael Jackson documentary "This Is It" is the interviews with the backup dancers that started the film. The passion they had for their craft and for getting to display their skills as part of the show really came through in their one-on-one interviews with the camera crew.
I felt the same way during parts of "Step Up 3D," a new fictionalized dancing movie that opened Friday. It was one of the most interesting uses of 3D technology, and the film was one of the most visually stunning I've ever seen. But I think what struck me most was how much the film was about the raw passion that drives these dancers.
I don't really know a lot about dancing, especially of the style and skill level showcased in the film. But I know about passion. When someone has a passion for something, it can be contagious. What I saw in this film was one of the best jobs anyone has ever done at showcasing passion in a fictional film.
There were a lot o…

Standing Up

I read an article on Wednesday about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow is an outspoken Christian, the son of missionaries. He has never been afraid to share what he believes in or why, and even participated in one of the most controversial commercials during the Super Bowl — a commercial that advocated a pro life stance.
Tebow was in the commercial with his mom because it is a part of his story. While pregnant, doctors suggested that Tebow's mom should abort him due to complications. She chose not to follow that suggestion, and that is part of why they did the ad, because all Tebow is and stands for could have been erased in an instant before he even entered the world.
The article was about the fact that Tebow's faith was causing division among fans. Some were grateful to find a positive role model in the world of sports. Others were angry that he is so public with his faith and think it detracts from his ability to play football. Sadly, Christians in all fields seem to get p…

Now Playing

Here is a look at the movies I saw this last week.
Dinner for Schmucks Starring: Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Ron Livingston Synopsis: As a disclaimer, I missed the first 40 minutes of this movie due to an unavoidable circumstance, and when I returned I was worried I'd be lost. Five minutes after returning, those fears disappeared. I had no trouble figuring out what was going on and, after the film I asked my sister if I missed anything. She shrugged and said I saw all the really funny parts. I think I could tell you the same thing if you watched the trailer, and that's the problem with this film. It's a curious situation given that there is so much talent in this cast. I like Rudd and Galifianakis a great deal, and Carrell is a great performer as well. Unfortunately, there is a mean-spiritedness to this film that settles over the top of what should be jokes. There are some quirks that are amusing but not funny, and then there are some droll story elements…

Carbon Copy

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, if that's true that ABC's summer drama, "Rookie Blue," certainly has an affinity for another of the network's hits, "Grey's Anatomy."
One of the biggest trends among the networks is importing Canadian dramas for limited summer runs. CBS was the first to experience success in this with the drama "Flashpoint," but now others are following suit. Since the television options that aren't reality shows are limited in the summer, I decided to give "Rookie Blue," ABC's Canadian import, a try. Something about it felt a little familiar.
It's not a great show, but it has been kind of entertaining. But not for the reasons you'd think. I guess it is partly a statement on how low the entertainment bar is being set, but not only did "Rookie Blue" follow the pattern in terms of characters, it is following the basic story line pattern of "Grey's Anatomy" as …